A curriculum-based access to justice initiative at Suffolk
University Law School
Law school applications are the lowest they've been in 30 years.
Law school enrollment is down significantly from last year, and
analysts see the trend continuing for the 2014-2015 academic
year.1 The lack of current job opportunities and the
potential for massive student loan payments have discouraged many
from entering the legal profession.2 At the same time,
many people suffer harms due to a lack of affordable legal
services. Progress in achieving necessary access to legal
assistance relies on an influx of new, talented and energetic
For many decades, law schools distanced themselves from the
practice of law and operated in a world separate from the legal
marketplace. Law school education mainly focused on legal doctrine
and theory, while undervaluing acquisition of the skills and
professional values necessary to sustain successful practices. The
past practice of the bar and law firms to compensate for this
deficit by offering post-graduate apprenticeships is largely over.
Clients are no longer willing or able to pay large sums for the
work of untrained junior attorneys. Simultaneously, the justice
system has become increasingly inaccessible to low- and
moderate-income people. While statistics show that fewer jobs exist
for new lawyers, the need for affordable legal services is growing
exponentially. There is great dissonance between the jobs law
schools expect students to perform upon graduation, the actual
availability of these jobs, and the needs of people for competent
law school graduates to represent them.
Several structural aspects of the legal education's legal services
continuum have combined to produce both a "practice gap" and a
"justice gap." These include the legal academy's limitations in
instruction in the practice of law, serious disruptions in the
legal marketplace, and chronic insufficient funding for provision
of legal services to middle-income and indigent people. The
practice gap is the distance between the skills and knowledge
students need to competently practice law and the abilities they
actually possess at graduation. The justice gap is the chasm
between the legal needs of people and the availability of competent
(and compensated) lawyers to represent them. A third gap - the
"market gap" - is the widening difference that exists between the
legal academy and the legal profession. This market gap is where
most law schools currently exist: outside of, and independent from,
the economics of the profession. These three gaps have resulted in
the separation of legal education from legal practice, the
realities of the justice system and the economic realities of
modern law practice.
Suffolk University Law School is working to introduce a new model
of legal education that accelerates a student's progression from
novice to practitioner within the three years the student attends
law school. To do so, the school will expand the traditional law
school curriculum to include required instruction in 21st century
business competencies beginning in the first year, as well as
imbedding a fee generating law practice within the law school as
part of an expanded experiential program. The purpose of the
program will be to prepare students to join or start sustainable
small practices serving average-income clients. The
Accelerator-to-Practice Program (Accelerator Program) model may
ultimately serve as a basis for the redesign of legal
Over 70 percent of lawyers in private practice in the United
States are in firms of 20 or fewer attorneys.4 Nearly
half of all lawyers in the United States are solo
practitioners.5 Although most law schools send a
majority of their students into small and solo practices, much of
traditional law school education is designed to train associates in
corporate firms, with minor curricular deference to public interest
and government practice. Although many of these attorneys choose
solo or small firm practice intentionally, current economic
conditions are adding to the growing ranks of legal entrepreneurs.
These graduates need client-based lawyering experience during law
school, as well as courses in business planning, marketing, client
generation and retention, technology-based practice systems,
billing and attorney's fees practice, fee-generating and
fee-shifting statutes, and other courses related to the host of
issues that attach to solo or small firm
Low- and moderate-income individuals cannot afford to obtain the
services needed to confront the legal problems of everyday life.
These problems include maintaining a home in times of financial
crisis; family disruption and death; unsafe or unlawful leased
homes; unfair, unhealthy, and discriminatory work environments; and
unlawful consumer practices.7 Innovative law practices
are demonstrating that lawyers can earn a living representing
clients in the legal problems of everyday life through
representation in fee-shifting cases, where government fees are
available, and in contingency fee matters.8 Fee-shifting
provisions might also support the development of niche practices in
myriad specialties, such as environmental law and corporate
accountability litigation.9 Combined with available new
technologies, such practices can be supportable and
These three gaps - the market gap, the practice gap, and the
justice gap - define the current crisis in legal education, while
also revealing a practical solution.
Students in the Accelerator Program will be admitted directly into
a program that includes specialized professional development and
law practice management instruction with three successive practical
training experiences. Such a market-based reorientation of the law
school curriculum is one way to move legal education from crisis to
solution. It will enable law school graduates to find or create
gainful employment, servicing the unmet market for affordable legal
services and meeting the demands of evolving modern practice.
The Accelerator Program has four essential components that respond
to, and integrate the law school in, the legal market: (1) a
professional development and skills curriculum that expands the
required instruction to enable students to master a wider range of
competencies; (2) robust training in law practice technology; (3)
experiential training through supervised internships and clinical
experience; and (4) career development and practice supports to
assist graduates as they enter the legal services market. Each
component is integrated into a full-time, three-year program that
includes two summers and a significant portion of their final year
immersed in supervised practical training.
A. Expanded Professional Development & Skills
Law school graduates are mostly unprepared for modern
practice.10 This is due, in part, to the lack of
required instruction in key competencies required of lawyers,
including11 the business of law and law practice
economics, legal technologies, project management, organizational
behavior, business communication, professional identity and
networks, and client-centered customer service. Many employers now
require job applicants to possess these competencies. The lack of
systemic education in these areas results in the paradox of
graduates who arrive at a job required to possess the very skills
and knowledge they hope that work experience will provide.
In the Accelerator Program, upper-level required classes include
Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines, in which students build
software applications for concrete exposure to legal knowledge
engineering; Hit the Ground Running, in which students create a
business, marketing and technology plan for a small or solo
practice; Becoming a Twenty-First Century Lawyer, in which students
learn lawyer pricing to the market, craft an online presence, build
a low cost and/or virtual practice and the tenets of high quality
client service; Law Practice Technology, in which students use
existing legal technology in simulated client exercises; Law of
Attorney's Fees and Costs, in which students learn practice in
areas of representation in fee-shifting cases; Legal Problems of
Everyday Life, in which students explore the legal needs of
average-income people and the role of the small and solo firm bar
in expanding access to justice; Project Management for Lawyers, in
which students learn how process improvement and project management
tools apply to the legal profession to increase the probability of
successful outcomes; and other traditional offerings like
Non-Profit Corporations, Administrative Law, Trial Advocacy and
Alternative Dispute Resolution. This expanded curriculum will be
timed to help students integrate knowledge with their development
as practitioners as they proceed through a series of practical
B. Technological Training and Innovation
The ABA recently amended the Model Rules of Professional Conduct
to emphasize that "a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the
law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated
with relevant technology."12 Competent lawyers need to
possess a sound understanding of law practice
technology.13 This development also holds the promise of
making legal services more efficient, affordable and accessible.
For example, the Legal Services Corporation sponsors technology
initiative grants specifically for this purpose,14 and
held a summit to explore how technology can expand access to
The Accelerator Program will promote the use of technologies in
practice and teach students how to use current technologies and to
be life-long learners and innovators in legal technology use.
Suffolk Law's new Institute for Law Practice Technology and
Innovation will ensure that our graduates not only meet, but
exceed, this new practice standard.16 Accelerator
Program graduates will be able to employ, create and take full
advantage of available technology to create successful careers in
the 21st century legal marketplace.
C. Experiential Training through Internships &
Recognition that the market requires law graduates to arrive at
work with practice-based skills is evidenced by the growth of
experiential programs and opportunities at most law
schools.17 However, the common lack of pedagogically
sound integration of experiential and classroom instruction
deprives graduates of the complete education they need to actually
do what lawyers do. Post-graduate incubator programs are one
attempt to address this deficiency; but the collapse of the
apprenticeship model in the market and the requirements of modern
practice suggest the best scalable model is to imbed a sustainable
law practice within the law school.
Suffolk Law will create a non-profit entity to provide legal
services to average income individuals and families, while teaching
students how to engage in the skilled, ethical, reflective and
sustainable practice of law (the "Accelerator Practice"). Unlike
other law school clinics, the Accelerator Clinic will provide
fee-for-services replicating successful legal business models that
focus on alternate fee structures and cases which themselves
generate attorneys' fees and costs. Case selection and
practice-based decision modeling will be a focus of the program.
Case selections, outcomes and client satisfaction will be
rigorously studied to offer students the opportunity to learn
techniques to assess both the value to clients and the
organization's bottom line. Student learning will include other
practice-management tools in accounting and billing, marketing,
external controls (financial auditing and effectiveness
assessments) and other business competencies. Therefore, through
the Accelerator Clinic, students will learn a replicable model for
building a sustainable and profitable practice.The Accelerator
Program will provide students with a cumulative series of grounding
course work and practical work experiences each year, including
capstone employment in Suffolk's Accelerator Practice, to prepare
students to be competent practitioners upon graduation. In addition
to other experiential instruction (simulations or projects) in
required courses, students will complete an externship or residency
in solo or small private practice in the summer between their first
and second year of law school, be employed in the Law School's
Accelerator or in a solo or small practice in the summer between
their second and third year, and practice in the Accelerator
throughout their third year. The completion of expanded curricular
requirements combined with successive practical experiences will
prepare students to satisfy the market demand for practice- and
D. Career Development & Practice
The Accelerator-to-Practice Program will be supported by legal and
career development professionals through individual counseling,
development of alumni mentors and networks, and recruitment of solo
and small practice practitioners qualified to supervise interns and
interested in hiring graduates as part of firm succession
Practitioners who hire students and program alums will be provided
with free continuing legal education courses. Additionally, this
networked group will be offered expert assistance in assessing and
improving their law-practice business models, improving their
technology support systems and creating a succession plan.
All graduates will also benefit from school-sponsored practice
supports, including consultative services, trainings and access to
a web-based portal for peer consultation, referral opportunities
and online practice guides and document libraries.
Law students should have the training and experience they need to
practice successfully and profitably when they graduate from law
school. Through its Accelerator Program, Suffolk hopes to
demonstrate a method and a mode to meet that goal.
This article is a version of an article published at 43 Wash.
U.J.L. & Pol'y (2013) at 59, and is printed here with the
permission of that journal.
- Catherine Ho, Law School Applications Continue To Slide, WASH.
POST, June 2, 2013, vailable at
- Id. See, e.g., David Segal, Is Law School a Losing Game?, N.Y
TIMES, Jan. 8, 2011, available at
- See, e.g., Equal Justice Works, New Report Suggests Ways to Fix
Legal Education, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT (Apr. 24, 2013),
(citing the lack of affordable legal services for the
underprivileged as integral to legal education reform). See also
Deanell Reece Tacha, No Law Student Left Behind, 24 STAN. L. &
POL'Y REV. 353, 372-73 (2013). "When we find these new models for
connecting new lawyers with the pressing legal needs of so many
Americans, we will have risen to the high calling of our
profession." Id.at 373.
- ABA Serves Solo and Small-Firm Lawyers With New Online Resource
Center, AM. BAR ASS'N,
(last visited July 1, 2013).
- Id. "It is estimated that the United States has about 435,000
solo law practitioners (comprising about 48 percent of
private-practice lawyers)." Id.
- See generally, Gary A. Munneke, Managing A Law Practice: What
You Need To Learn In Law School, 30 PACE L. REV. 1207 (2010); Jay
Pinkert, Digital Immigrants, Digital Natives, and Emerging
Opportunities In Legal Technology, 74 TEX. B.J. 564, 564
- William E. Hornsby, Jr., Gaming The System: Approaching 100%
Access To Legal Services Through Online Games, 88 CHI.-KENT L. REV.
917, 923 (2013).
- Leslie C. Levin, Pro Bono Publico In A Parallel Universe: The
Meaning Of Pro Bono In Solo And Small Law Firms, 37 HOFSTRA L. REV.
699, 729 (2009).
- Scott L. Cummings, The Politics Of Pro Bono, 52 UCLA L. REV. 1,
- John McKay, Un-Apologizing For Context and Experience In Legal
Education, 45 CREIGHTON L. REV. 853, 853 (2012).
- Ryan Patrick Alford, How Do You Trim The Seamless Web?
Considering The Unintended Consequences Of Pedagogical Alterations,
77 U. CIN. L. REV. 1273, 1283 (2009).
- MODEL RULES OF PROF'L CONDUCT R. 1.1 cmt. 8 (2012).
- Steven C. Bennett, Teaching Technology Skills To Lawyers, NAT'L
L. J., Jan. 20, 2006, available at
www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1137665109054 (noting that "law
students and attorneys who take the time to stay on top of legal
technology have the best chances for success in the brave new world
- Technology Initiative Grants, LEGAL SERV. CORP.,
http://tig.lsc.gov/ (last visited Sept. 23, 2013).
- Tech Summit Spurs Ideas for Expanding Access to Justice, LEGAL
(last visited Sept. 23, 2013).
- Law School to Promote Lawyers' Technological Competence through
Online Audit Tool, SUFFOLK UNIV. NEWS, July 19, 2013,
- Michele Mekel, Putting Theory Into Practice: Thoughts From The
Trenches On Developing A Doctrinally Integrated
Semester-In-Practice Program In Health Law And Policy, 9 IND.
HEALTH L. REV. 503, 506 (2012).
- In this article, "Accelerator" refers to the third-year
capstone in-house law firm where students will participate, as
student lawyers, in a sustainable, nonprofit fee shifting and
contingency fee practice. The Accelerator will represent clients of
low- to modest-incomes who would not otherwise have access to legal
representation. The "Accelerator-to-Practice" is the name of the
entire three-year program (which culminates in third-year practice
in the Accelerator) for law students enrolled in our proposed