Laura Dym Cohen is the Director, Street Law Clinic and Public Service Programs and Clinical Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. She has created and implemented a wide range of collaborative programs and initiatives in public interest, including the Los Angeles Incubator Consortium.
Q: What is the Los Angeles Incubator Consortium?
A: The Los Angeles Incubator Consortium is a collaborative program between Southwestern, Loyola and UCLA Law Schools that supports and empowers its graduates to establish community-based solo law practices that serve modest means individuals in Los Angeles County.
Q: How does the program work?
A: Incubator participants receive the infrastructure and basic training needed to get their solo law firm practices up and running, and serve the local community’s legal needs at an affordable cost. Each new solo practitioner in the one-year program commits to 100 hours of pro bono service to clients of our legal aid partners: Bet Tzedek, Community Legal Services, Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Neighborhood Legal Services and Public Counsel.
Under the guidance of Maria Hall, Attorney Development Director, the program provides new attorneys training in effective solo practice management. Specific skills that are taught include: client communication, case management, and business development, as well as various substantive areas of law. Participants also receive mentorship and guidance from legal experts and practicing lawyers. One of the primary goals is to help the new solos build a successful and sustainable law practice.
Q: How did you think of the idea for this program?
A: I began my career in the 1990’s as a solo, so am personally aware of the challenges one faces as a brand new attorney. Since I have been working in the community for 25 years, I am aware of the needs to helping those who are not eligible for free legal aid but cannot afford market rates. I helped identify and bring together the initial partners, coordinated the development of our program model, and led LAIC through the grant application process. We established the program in 2015 with a grant from the State Bar of California’s Commission on Access to Justice. The law schools also provide financial support for the program.
Q: Are you still involved with this program?
A: I remain actively involved as a program leader. I have been responsible for grant reports and evaluations, and currently assist the Attorney Development Director, help develop training opportunities, identify mentors, and provide ongoing support for current, past and future participants to ensure the program is meeting its goals.
Q: Who is the program for?
A: Participants in the program include graduates from the Consortium member law schools: Southwestern, Loyola and UCLA. In addition, the beneficiaries include our legal aid partners as they receive 100 pro bono hours per participant. Further, the community benefits because the partnership ensures that these new solo attorneys meet the needs of the community, are trained, competent and build sustainable practices that will remain beyond their participation, therefore, helping to promote greater access to legal services for all.
Q: Why should graduating law students consider applying?
A: Those who are interested in ‘hanging their own shingle’ should apply to participate in this collaborative program to receive training, support and resources with a cohort of like-minded colleagues. In addition, the program offers numerous benefits that can be seen at the website.
Q: How does the program work?
A: The new solos are chosen for the one-year program after a competitive application process that includes the submission of a personal statement, business plan, a personal interview and a commitment to the program and its goals. The application opens each November with the selection process in December, and the program start date has been February 1st each year. We are currently in our fourth cohort, and will begin the application process for year 5 in the fall of 2018. Participants must sign a participant agreement for the program which includes their commitment to provide at least 100 pro bono hours, ensure they are in good standing with the California State Bar, and have malpractice insurance. Plus, they pay a nominal monthly program fee.
Q: What are former participants doing today?
A: The majority are still solo practitioners, while others were recruited for the knowledge and skills they learned in solo practice by legal aid organizations, government agencies, and firms. Otherwise, past participants remain connected with LAIC and the community in many ways. They serve as mentors, supervising attorneys, and are a referral source to the current participants. One of the program goals for LAIC is to build its connection between current and past participants – this part of the program has been a tremendous success and the numbers will continue to grow.
Q: Are there some areas of law that are better suited for solo practitioners who participate in the program?
A: We have seen success in sustainable solo practices in a wide variety of practice areas such as: immigration, family, criminal, housing, small business, employment, civil rights, consumer, bankruptcy and probate. The program helps new solos identify areas of law that provide limited scope representation, as this helps the participants build sustainable practices that serve modest-means individuals. Further, we have participants who have a wide range of language abilities which strengthens their practice growth as they serve diverse communities throughout Southern California.
Q: Can you describe why the program has been so successful?
A: The Consortium works well together, understands the vision, and is committed to serving community needs. We are lucky to have passionate colleagues from law schools, legal services organizations, the Los Angeles Law Library, and our Attorney Development Director supporting our participants. In addition, we have other partnerships with the bench and bar that help guide our participants with the practice of law as well as law practice management.
Q: What are the future plans for the program?
A: We will continue the program into the future, as the need is there for both the new solos as well as the community. We are fortunate to have the support of our partner law schools. We also seek funding and grants to help both the program and our participants.
Q: Where can interested students and community members learn more about LAIC?
A: The LAIC website is a great resource and can be viewed at LAIncubatorConsortium.co….