A new incubator at UConn School of Law will provide affordable legal services to people who need them and help lawyers establish solo practices.
The Connecticut Community Law Center, an initiative of the law school and the Hartford County Bar Association, aims to help people who have traditionally been underserved by the justice system: low- and moderate-income clients who don’t qualify for legal aid but can’t afford standard legal fees.
“Too many people face legal problems concerning essential human needs without proper representation because they fall into the growing access-to-justice gap, between the very poor who qualify for legal aid and those with the financial means to pay a private lawyer,” said attorney Mark Schreier, who was appointed director of the Connecticut Community Law Center in October. “Standing alone and without professional guidance, those individuals enter our justice system at a tremendous disadvantage.”
The incubator is set to open in February 2017 in William F. Starr Hall on the UConn Law campus in Hartford. In addition to the services of the director, the law school will provide office space and support – including training, guidance, and legal research resources – for up to six solo practitioners. The Hartford County Bar Association and the law school faculty will provide mentors, and Greater Hartford Legal Aid will help with training and referrals.
The subsidized working environment will allow participating lawyers to provide legal services at a modest cost that is lower than standard legal fees, with each lawyer setting the fee on a case by case basis. Schreier said he expects cases to involve a wide range of legal problems, including family, consumer, probate, housing, bankruptcy, employment, immigration, and other general civil matters.
The American Bar Association counts more than 60 lawyer incubators around the country, three-fourths of them established since 2014. The Connecticut Community Law Center and the Justice Legal Center at the Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport, also scheduled to open early this year, will be the first in Connecticut.
Participating lawyers will spend 18 to 24 months at the Connecticut Community Law Center before moving on with their practices. The training and experience they receive will not only help them jump-start their practices, it will spread seeds of innovation in the delivery of legal services at an affordable cost, UConn Law Dean Timothy Fisher said.
“Our society desperately needs new strategies to breach the access-to-justice gap,” Fisher said. “Preparing lawyers early in their careers to be cost-effective for clients is a crucial step toward a justice system that can serve everyone fairly, regardless of economic status.”
Clients who qualify for services will be those whose incomes exceed the limits for legal aid but fall within three times the federal poverty level. For a family of four, this would mean a maximum household income of $72,900. Clients wishing to apply for services may do so beginning in February, when information will be available at the center’s website: cclc.law.uconn.edu.
Most of the lawyers working at the incubator will likely be recent UConn Law graduates, Schreier said, but applications are welcome from any attorney interested in establishing a solo practice serving low- and moderate-income people in Connecticut.
Schreier is a University of Michigan Law School graduate who relocated to Hartford after almost three decades as a civil litigator in Michigan, where he specialized in catastrophic injury claims and insurance law.