Inspired by the business incubator model, the goal of the legal incubator movement is to decrease the serious gap in access to justice in the United States while supporting new solo lawyers. Incubator attorneys are fierce in their commitment to serve underserved populations and rave about the collegiality, training and access to senior lawyers that are inherent in incubators.
In 2008, with a generous grant from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, The University of Tulsa College of Law launched Tulsa Immigrant Resource Network, the second legal incubator program in the U.S. TIRN is a fellowship model of an incubator program in which a recent graduate works closely with the TIRN director providing direct representation and community education programs.
In the summer of 2015, GKFF approved a proposal to expand TIRN’s incubator program. With space provided by TU in its newest location, the Oxley College of Health Sciences, TIRN opened two new programs to support TU law students and graduates dedicated to building financially sustainable solo practices: the TU Law Co-op (TLC) and the Solo Practice Clinic.
TLC participants must commit to providing legal services to traditionally underserved populations, including people of modest income who typically do not qualify for assistance from a legal aid program but cannot afford conventional hourly rates.
TLC then provides its incubator attorneys with support such as law office management and client interviewing training, office space, practice advisory support and networking and client building opportunities. Participants stay in TLC for 18 months and must also complete a significant amount of pro bono representation, a requirement that increases access to justice while giving participants legal experience as their practices grow.
Recognizing that there is a need to increase the access to justice in rural areas and smaller communities in Oklahoma, TLC also offers remote support to incubator attorneys who wish to practice outside of a city. TLC currently has two incubator attorneys, one who runs a practice in Bartlesville and another who runs a practice out of the Oxley building space provided by TU.
Two new participants are anticipated for a Spring 2018 start. This is an exciting time in legal education and for TU Law, as we lead a growing number of programs around the country that seek to reduce the access to justice gap while simultaneously supporting our innovative entrepreneurial graduates.
Here are what our TLC lawyers are saying:
Dani Weaver: “After law school, like many others, I realized how much I still had to learn in order to actually practice law. The majority of my time is spent researching laws and procedure. I do not have extra hours or days to research the best office management system, accounting system, office best practices or advertising, all of which are necessary to be successfully self-employed.
Kasey Curry: “I went to law school with the goal of opening up my own practice. After three years of law school, I realized not only did I have no practical knowledge of how to run a business but also had no idea of how to be a lawyer. Within a few weeks of swearing in, I attended a one-day seminar covering the basics of opening a solo practice. While informational, I still had some uncertainties about what I needed to do to get my business going. Meanwhile, events occurring across the nation spurred a desire to help. I reached out to a friend in Oregon who has been practicing immigration law for over 20 years. How, I asked, does one get started with immigration law? ‘You’re going to have to find a good mentor,’ he replied. Then I heard about TU’s incubator program. I requested some information from Mimi Marton, and I liked everything about the program: its mission to help Tulsa’s underserved immigrant community while simultaneously affording me the support I needed to practice law and manage my solo practice.”
“As an incubator attorney, I have access to intensive training for the day-to-day practicalities of running a solo practice as well as the support and expertise of local attorneys who have graciously offered to mentor me during this critical first year. TU’s incubator program is giving me the on-the-job training that is missing from the law school curriculum. Going forward, I can use the information I am learning to optimize my practice and develop a healthy income while simultaneously providing legal services to the many people who cannot afford to pay high hourly rates.”