Talk about a win-win situation: lawyers in Chicago have started a program that provides legal services to poor people while helping recent graduates launch their practices.
Its official name is the Justice Entrepreneurs Project. But those who helped get it going like to call it Project Lemonade.
It all started when senior members of the Chicago Bar identified a trio of concerns:
- Unemployed lawyers needed work and income.
- Ordinary people needed legal assistance but couldn’t afford it.
- Legal aid organizations were running out of money.
What to do with three lemons like these? The answer: make lemonade.
Thus began Project Lemonade, which morphed into the more formal-sounding Justice Entrepreneurs Project.
And now, after being awarded a $400,000 MacArthur Foundation Grant, the JEP lemonade production process will become quite a bit easier.
Law Grad Incubator
From its inception, the JEP was meant to be an incubator for new law school graduates to start their own solo practices and small firms. But not just any new grads. Participants in the JEP pool are screened for the following criteria:
- They have strong legal skills.
- They have an entrepreneurial mindset.
- They have a commitment to serving the community.
- They are technologically savvy.
- They are interested in nontraditional paths into the profession.
- They welcome innovation.
- They understand the need to reinvent the traditional law practice.
And the firms they start are not just any firms. They are specifically tooled to serve low and moderate income people who fall between the cracks by not qualifying for free legal aid but also not being able to afford standard legal fees. This leaves them with little access to reliable and affordable legal assistance.
Which is where JEP comes in - and the lemonade-making begins.
One member of the MacArthur Foundation says the JEP example has “great potential” to spread across the country.
Computers and Compassion
Here are some characteristics of JEP law firms:
- They are sustainable, efficient and flexible.
- They know how to use and leverage technology.
- They offer fixed fees and a la carte services.
- They rely on cooperation with their clients.
- Their office settings are collaborative.
- They do pro bono work with legal aid organizations to gain experience and build their own networks.
The JEP’s first group of 10 new solo and small practices hung out their shingles in June 2013. The results – as evidenced by the MacArthur grant – have been positive.
Which raises the question: why can’t lawyers in North Carolina start making this kind of lemonade?
- ABA Journal http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/legal_incubator_gets_400k_grant_from_macarthur_foundation
- Chicago Bar Foundation – Justice Entrepreneurs Project http://chicagobarfoundation.org/jep/
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney who has practiced North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.