Three law schools in Boston have partnered to create a new legal
incubator project in an effort to foster professional skills in a
group of new lawyers while simultaneously expanding legal services
to a section of the population that could not otherwise afford
The program, Lawyers for Affordable Justice (LAJ), was first
conceived in the fall 2014, when Boston University School of Law,
Boston College Law School and Northeastern University School of Law
were contacted by organizers from a University of Massachusetts
Dartmouth-based incubator, which would come to be known as Justice
Bridge. Though the three law schools declined to participate, the
seeds had been sown for a similar project of their own. By the
beginning of the current semester and with funding from the
schools, as well as an American Bar Association Catalyst Grant, LAJ
was up and running, with law professors Robert Burdick, Paul
Tremblay and James Rowan, of BU Law, BC Law and Northeastern Law,
respectively, at the helm.
The Massachusetts Bar Association's Law Practice Management
Section teamed up with LAJ to offer a free practical workshop on
business planning. The workshop guided attendees through the
business planning process and provided a basic outline and
understanding of how to develop a more detailed plan. Practice
management matters, such as marketing, finances and law firm
operations, were also covered.
"They're huge opportunities," Susan Letterman White, vice chair
of the MBA's LPM section, said of the incubators. "They're
important because they have the potential to be mutually beneficial
to graduating lawyers who are either forced to or by choice want to
start a business of their own, and to the corresponding group of
people who might not otherwise have access to a lawyer."
Incubators, of which there are more than 100 nationwide,
essentially act as all-purpose guides for law school graduates
getting started in the professional world, offering participants a
litany of resources to bolster their own solo practices.
The LAJ participants (of which there are a maximum of 12 per
year) receive mentoring from a team of four experienced advisors in
the industry, in-depth training and a shared workspace on Beacon
Street, complete with supplies and equipment necessary to carry out
the day-to-day administrative tasks that keep a law firm
"The resources that LAJ provides are invaluable," said LAJ
participant Michelle E. Lewis, a Northeastern graduate who operates
the Law Office of Michelle E. Lewis with the help of the program.
"I knew I wanted to start a practice, but I did not know how to
execute my ideas so that I could effectively serve those in need of
legal services while building a sustainable business."
A rise in popularity
Though the concept has existed since the late 1990s, incubators
rose to prominence in the legal community around 2008, when jobs in
the field began to thin out. With years of fine-tuning, the
programs have found their own niche in an aging industry.
"When the idea of incubators gained momentum, it was for people
who couldn't get positions," said Sofia Lingos of Lingos Law in
Boston, who acts as LAJ's business law advisor. "But it's so much
more than that. It's to reeducate a generation of attorneys to find
this client base that will help them become successful, using
innovative legal practices."
These innovative practices include utilizing technology, as well
as clearing up billing structures and educating the community in
order to find the ideal client base for the startup practices.
Northeastern class of 2009 graduate and LAJ participant Chase C.
Liu, who operates Liu Law & Consulting, said that, on top of a
"deep and extensive level of substantive legal expertise,"
participants also are provided with state-of-the-art legal software
that would be "prohibitively expensive" for a solo firm on its own.
Because of this, he said, the program helps to significantly reduce
overhead for the business -- savings that the attorneys can then
pass onto their clients, reducing fees to an average of about 75
percent of market rate.
This is especially important since LAJ's target client base
includes members of a tricky slice of the socio-economic ladder --
those whose incomes do not qualify them for free legal services,
but is also not sufficient to afford typical fees from a
"Legal costs are an issue," said Damian Turco, chair of the
MBA's LPM section, who described a "hierarchy" among attorneys that
has resulted in the current standard rates. "Ideally we have a
society where everybody who wants or needs legal services can get
them. The incubators appear to be an innovative approach to
bridging the gap that exists there," he said.
Turco added that, although they will create more competition
among startups, the rise of incubators will not shake the legal
hierarchy all that much, since they target a section of the market
that well-established attorneys at the top do not touch.
"We already have a model where you tend to give more money to
the better lawyers," he said. "There will always be demand for the
best lawyers. But these programs open up a whole new market."
LAJ identified four specialty areas common to the target market
and assigned one advisor to each: small businesses, advised by
Lingos; landlord/tenant disputes, advised by Burdick; immigration
law, advised by Sarah Schendel; and employment law, advised by
"Different solos have identified an interest in working one of
these four specialties, but nothing prevents them from working in
all of them -- figuring out what makes the most sense, what they
like and what they can earn a fee doing," Burdick said.
Some participants have already begun to apply LAJ's principles
to their own legal interests, such as Hanford Y. Chiu of Night
& Day Law Firm, who is on the board of a charitable
"When I was back in law school working for a nonprofit legal aid
clinic, there were often cases where the work load was too high to
take on new cases or that the potential clients had closely missed
the financial eligibility guidelines," he said. "Incubator programs
like LAJ could provide overflow support for these nonprofit legal
aid clinics by offering a referral source of affordable legal
services to those that these clinics cannot serve."
Program participant Michael Denham, a 2015 BU Law graduate,
said, "Incubator programs can have a massive impact on the legal
field, especially as the practice of law is becoming more and more
specialized. … Many lawyers aren't thrilled with the traditional
model, but staking your own claim and going it alone is scary
enough to dissuade some of even the most veteran attorneys."
He added: "If the incubator model proves successful, I think you
could see a decentralization of the legal field that will
ultimately benefit attorneys and clients alike."
Joe Kourieh is an associate editor at The Warren Group,
publisher of Massachusetts Lawyers