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Legal Incubators Nurture Small Firms, New Lawyers

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

It seems like incubators are finally moving into the legal world. Common in industries such as tech (AirBnB, Uber, and Hooli all came out of incubator programs), incubator programs provide funding, office space and training to small and new businesses.

Several law schools and bar associations are now bringing the incubator model to small firms and solo practices, helping independent-minded lawyers and recent grads start up their own shops.

Incubating the Next Big Small Firm

Incubators seek to help lawyers jump start their careers by offering training, a place to work, and mentorship opportunities to participating lawyers. They're proliferating at a rabid rate, as well. The ABA has identified 50 operational incubator programs in the U.S. Perhaps law schools are realizing that recent grads can be job makers, not just job seekers.

Many of the programs are focused on closing the justice gap. Take, for example, the Bay Area Legal Incubator, started by five Bay Area law schools. The incubator program takes three grads from each school and offers them training on legal skills, management and marketing. Participants are given funding and mentorship, but must ensure that half of their clients are of "modest means." The program was inspired by the Chicago Justice Entrepreneurs Project, another successful incubator focused on creating "socially conscious law firms."

Open to More Than Just Our Grads

So far, many of the programs are law schools looking to help their own. If you're not a Bay Area grad, you're not getting in to the Bay Area Legal Incubator, for example. But some programs are taking a broader approach, opening themselves to all lawyers interested in solo or small practices. The Chicago program, however, is open to all lawyers who graduated after 2010, with exceptions allowed on a case-by-case basis.

There's even a few incubators focused on niche practice areas out there as well. California Lawyers for the Arts offers an incubator program focused on entertainment, arts, and innovation law. Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services, out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Akron, Ohio, focuses on helping lawyers develop a practice in environmental and land use law. The Seattle area's Eastside Legal Assistance Program helps new lawyers build small family law firms.

These incubators can be game changers for many new lawyers saddled with debt and little practical legal experience, giving them help as they start out on their own. They certainly beat starting your own firm out of your parent's garage.

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