JEP Frequently Asked Questions for Prospective Participants

Why did we create the JEP?
There is a large gap in our legal service delivery system for low- and middle-income people and small businesses who earn too much to qualify for legal aid but not enough to pay for traditional legal services at market rates. People and small business owners with modest incomes have very little access to affordable, reliable legal services. More people than ever are going to court without lawyers, and we believe many of those people could afford to pay something, but not traditional market rates. Increasing affordable, reliable legal services for these individuals will improve access to justice in our community. At the same time, new lawyers are increasingly looking for nontraditional paths into the legal profession. These lawyers are more technologically savvy, they welcome innovation, and they understand the need to reinvent the traditional law practice.

The goal of the JEP is to expand legal services to low- and middle-income people and small businesses by developing new market-based models of legal service through which lawyers in solo or small practices can sustainably serve clients with moderate incomes. The JEP practice models rely in particular on maximizing the use of “unbundling,” technology, and set fees. Lawyers with an entrepreneurial streak are provided with essential support and resources to help them develop their practices into self-sustaining businesses. While the economics are different than traditional technology and business incubators, the JEP aims to duplicate the innovation and collaborative advances that have come through those programs.

How does the program work?
Participants in the JEP develop their practices while receiving training, mentoring and other support on business and legal issues as well as space and other infrastructure as they get started. The 18-month program is broken into three 6-month modules. During the first module, participants perform pro bono work approximately 20 hours per week with partner legal aid organizations. At the same time, participants receive training and coaching on business and other issues needed to start a solo/small practice. Participants establish their own independent practices (including providing their own malpractice insurance), begin handling cases in areas traditionally needed by low- and middle-income people and small businesses, and strive to offer fees for their services. During the second and third modules, participants increase their caseloads and continue to receive training, mentoring and coaching on business and legal issues. At the end of 18 months, participants should have a viable practice that they can continue to develop outside of the incubation period while still remaining part of the growing JEP network.
What kind of training and support does the JEP provide to participants?
The JEP provides excellent training on substance, skills, and law practice management; expert coaching and assistance on business issues and client development; mentoring by experienced and respected practitioners; and free and discounted practice resources, including law practice management and research tools. The JEP also provides referral pipelines and access to many helpful networks through the Chicago Bar Association, the CBF, and other partners.
Where is the program housed, and what office resources are provided?

The participants run their practices out of the collaborative office space located in a Novel Coworking space in downtown Chicago at 73 W. Monroe St., Suite 100, just steps away from the Daley Center. The space includes, in part:

  • an open, shared workspace, with individual desks for those farther along in the program;
  • private, shared-use offices and conference rooms for meeting with clients and others;
  • a large amenity space shared by the building;
  • wireless internet access, and
  • printing and copying capabilities.

Participants working in a shared location encourages peer mentoring, collaboration, and collective innovation.

Is there a fee to participate in the JEP?
Yes, there is a fee to participate in the JEP. There is no fee during the first six months of the program. In month seven of the program, however, participants pay a participation fee of $300 per month during the remaining 12 months of the program. This fee helps cover office space and program administration costs.
Who can participate in the JEP?
The program is intended for newer lawyers; exceptions will be considered on a case by case basis for more experienced lawyers who are committed to doing things differently than in traditional practice. All participants must be admitted to the Illinois bar when the program starts. Those who have taken the IL bar exam and are awaiting exam results may apply; acceptance into the program will be conditioned on passing the bar exam and being admitted to practice. Participants must also become members of the Chicago Bar Association.
Does the JEP incubate nonprofit law firms?

The JEP incubates firms that come in many forms, including LLCs, PCs, LLPs, NFPs, and unincorporated solo practitioners. All JEP firms are committed to serving the needs of regular people and small businesses in a market based, self-sustaining manner. Accordingly, though the JEP may incubate a nonprofit firm that sustains itself solely on fees generated from serving legal consumers, the JEP does not support the creation of nonprofit firms that rely on external inputs (like grants) to be sustainable.

How many people participate at one time?
As many as 10 participants are active in each module, with up to 30 participants in the program at any given time. The inaugural class of 10 participants began in June 2013. The next class began in November 2013, followed by another group in May of 2014. Now, new cohorts of up to 10 participants start the program every 6 months, with kickoff weeks falling in January and June. Upon graduating the program, alumni remain involved by being part of an active support network providing mentoring and training for new classes of JEP participants. Alumni also retain limited access to JEP resources, including referrals.
How are participants selected?
A competitive application process identifies talented lawyers who are dedicated to working with low- and middle-income legal consumers and who have qualities needed to develop successful law practices. Key qualities include a commitment to opening a small firm or solo practice, entrepreneurial focus and ability, and a commitment to access to justice. Please see the Apply page for more details on applying.
What is the pro bono component of the program?
Pro bono is an integral part of the JEP program. In the first module, participants provide pro bono legal services for approximately 20 hours per week, while also receiving training on legal and business issues and preparing to launch their practices. In this period of pro bono service, participants establish connections in the pro bono and legal aid community, develop a deeper understanding of the spectrum of legal needs and services for low- and middle-income clients, and gain experience and skills in relevant practice areas.
Where will participants provide pro bono service?
Participants will provide pro bono service through CBF-funded partner organizations. Typically, participants will be placed at one of these partner organizations: Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, LAF, Greater Chicago Legal Clinic, Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, the National Immigrant Justice Center, the Moran Center, or Cabrini Green Legal Aid. The organizations then have a consistent flow of placements from the JEP allowing them to best utilize the participants to meet client need and provide more substantive work to the participants. The partner organizations are selected based on their capacity to host and supervise the participants and provide meaningful experience in relevant subject areas. All participants also spend time doing pro bono work with CARPLS, the legal aid hotline for the Chicago area.
What kinds of cases will participants handle and where will they get them?
Participants handle cases in areas traditionally needed by low- and middle-income legal consumers, including family, housing, consumer, immigration, criminal, and small community business matters. Participants are responsible for finding their own clients and developing their own business. However, the JEP helps participants find clients by fielding referrals from CARPLS and other legal aid organizations for clients who are over-income for legal aid and using software developed by Community Lawyer to distribute referrals. The CBA Lawyer Referral Service also recommends the JEP for clients who cannot afford market rates. Requests for assistance from members of the public also come through the JEP online intake process at www.jepchicago.org, the JEP hotline (312.546.3282), the CARPLS hotline, Illinois Legal Aid Online, and the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network.
Who will mentor the participants?
Experienced solo and small firm attorneys as well as various subject matter experts are recruited to act as mentors and/or knowledge resources for the participants.
What is the JEP target market?
Participants in the JEP will focus on serving the legal needs of low- and middle-income legal consumers who typically have too much income to qualify for free legal aid but do not have the means to afford legal assistance in the traditional legal market. The JEP target market is generally defined as people earning between 150% and 400% of the federal poverty level.
Who is overseeing this effort?
The JEP Advisory Board consists of leaders in the legal community from law schools, law firms, solo practices, legal aid, technology, funders, and others. In addition, a number of working groups are involved in various aspects of the program, from budgeting to training. These groups include representatives from virtually every sector of the legal community.
What is the CBF’s role in the JEP?
The CBF developed and continues to support the JEP. The CBF convened an impressive steering committee to develop the program model, provided the seed funding for the program’s start-up costs and core funding as needed thereafter, and continues to give participants access to a large network of top-notch partners who are providing critical resources and support through pro bono and in-kind contributions.
How is the program staffed?
Three CBF staff members provide primary staffing for the JEP. The Director of Innovation & the JEP oversees all activities of the JEP and takes a lead role in recruitment and coordinating the pro bono placements. The JEP Community & Training Manager is the point person and manager for the JEP’s growing network of law firms. She also manages, evaluates, and continuously improves the training curriculum, mentoring program, and knowledge management tools for the JEP, and plays a lead role in the program’s community education and outreach efforts. The JEP Administrative & Communications Coordinator handles potential client intakes through the JEP hotline and online referral system, JEP social media, and other administrative projects. Other CBF staff also have been actively involved in planning and developing the program and continue to provide support as well.
What is CBA’s role in the JEP?

All program participants are required to be CBA members in order to tap into existing CBA training and mentoring programs to the maximum extent possible. The CBA’s Director of Law Practice Management and Technology is a key partner and the JEP relies on her programming for many aspects of the law practice management and technology curriculum. In addition, the JEP works with the CBA Lawyer Referral Service on referral and partnership possibilities. We expect the JEP participants will remain strongly tied to the CBA after the program.

How do I apply for the JEP or learn more about the program?

Information and application details are available here. If you have further questions about participating in the JEP, please email jbednarz@chicagobarfoundation.org.