Author: Sullivan, Molly

County Bar Association Honors Incubator Director Mark Schreier

Mark Schreier

Mark Schreier, director of the Connecticut Community Law Center at UConn School of Law, has been honored with the 2018 Liberty Bell Award from the Hartford County Bar Association.

The association presents the award annually to a lawyer or non-lawyer who has promoted a better understanding of the rule of law, encouraged greater respect for law and the courts, stimulated a sense of civic responsibility, or contributed to good government in the community.

Schreier, a former civil litigator specializing in catastrophic injury claims and insurance law, is the founding director of the Connecticut Community Law Center, a legal “incubator” that supports new lawyers as they launch solo practices. The lawyers serve clients who don’t qualify for legal aid but can’t afford standard legal fees, providing legal services at a modest cost through such means as limited-scope representation and unbundled services.

The center, which began operation in 2017 in cooperation with the Hartford County Bar Association, has provided more than 500 individuals and families with legal services. Its work is supported by the UConn Foundation and generous donors, including CATIC, the title insurance underwriter.

Schreier said the incubator’s success is the result of collaborative effort. “The UConn School of Law, the Hartford County Bar Association, the new attorneys who have opened solo practices at the CCLC and the experienced attorneys who have trained and mentored them – all contributed to the program’s success,” he said. “Their combined efforts have provided members of our community with a voice of advocacy and support so that they, too, may participate in an essential element of our country’s democracy.”

UConn Law Dean Timothy Fisher accepted the award on Schreier’s behalf at the association’s annual Law Day ceremony on May 4, 2018.

CATIC Offers Support to Connecticut Community Law Center

CCLC Donation CheckCATIC, the title insurance underwriter, has pledged $45,000 to support the Connecticut Community Law Center, which offers legal services to low- and moderate-income clients.

The center, founded last year in cooperation with the Hartford County Bar Association, operates as a legal incubator, offering new lawyers professional mentoring and a subsidized working environment on the UConn School of Law campus in Hartford. The lawyers, working as solo practitioners, have provided legal services at a modest cost to hundreds of clients who meet income guidelines.

“We are grateful for this generous donation from CATIC and CATIC Foundation, which will allow us to help these clients who do not qualify for free legal services, but often do not have the financial resources to pay standard legal fees,” UConn Law Dean Timothy Fisher said.

The donation was provided in large part by CATIC members who contributed the proceeds from the redemption of stock in CATIC Financial’s recent corporate reorganization, said James M. Czapiga, the company’s president and chief executive officer. “We wanted to do something with those donations that would benefit the Connecticut legal community and the Law Center does great work,” he said.

CATIC’s support is vital to the mission of the Connecticut Community Law Center, said its director, Mark Schreier. “Here at the CCLC we endeavor to provide an advocate’s voice to individuals in our community that typically view the legal system as an insurmountable and overwhelming hurdle,” he said. “It is gratifying to witness new lawyers develop their practices with that goal in mind.”

CATIC has headquarters in Rocky Hill with offices and attorney agents throughout New England.

‘Incubator’ Lawyers Making Legal Help Affordable

Client ConsultationAfter Judy Bakowski moved to Arizona, she kept trying to transfer ownership of her house in Connecticut to her daughter. They even drew up a quitclaim deed and had it notarized, but they kept running into a tangle of red tape.

Deeply frustrated, Bakowski called the Connecticut Community Law Center at UConn School of Law. Within a few weeks, attorney Lynn Perry had worked through the legal issues, and the house in East Granby belonged to Bakowski’s daughter, Trayci Hogaboom.

“It took a load off my mother’s shoulders, more than I can tell you,” Hogaboom said. “Lynn just took it over.”

Housing problems, mostly eviction and foreclosure, have comprised about a quarter of the referrals to the lawyers at the Connecticut Community Law Center in its first several months of operation. In another case, attorney Santolo Odierna negotiated an agreement to avert foreclosure on a client’s house. He also obtained a court order within hours of a call from a client who was scheduled to be evicted that same evening; the court gave her three weeks’ reprieve and she found new housing for her family.

The center, one of only two legal “incubators” in the state, began training lawyers in March and the lawyers started accepting clients in April. The center helps recent law school graduates establish solo practices, providing office space in the law school’s William F. Starr Hall and offering mentors, training, legal research resources and other forms of support. Five lawyers have opened practices there to serve low- and moderate-income individuals and families – those whose incomes fall within three times the federal poverty level.

The need is dire. A 2008 study by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut found that 71 percent of low-income households surveyed had experienced legal problems in the previous year but only about a quarter received legal help of any kind. Experts believe that gap has widened in recent years.

Housing is not the only need. Family issues – divorce, custody, child support and alimony – account for about a third of the center’s referrals, according to Mark Schreier, the center’s inaugural director. The attorneys are also handling consumer debt problems, tax issues and probate cases, he said.

“We see an enormous need for legal assistance at a reasonable cost, particularly among the substantial number of people who don’t qualify for legal aid but can’t afford standard legal fees,” he said. “People confronting potentially life-altering legal issues in the courts should not be alone, and the CCLC helps give more people a voice in such situations.”

For Odierna, providing that voice requires him to be creative about how he serves clients and how he bills them. He often limits the scope of his services by taking on a single aspect of a problem – writing a letter or making a court appearance, for example – instead of managing the entire case. He also works with relatively small retainers and arranges payment plans when necessary.

Serving low- and moderate-income clients is exactly what Odierna, a 2016 UConn Law graduate, set out to do after working at the law school’s Tax Clinic as a student. “I knew this need was here. That’s part of the reason I wanted to be here,” he said.

After 24 months in the incubator environment, the center’s lawyers are expected to move their practices out into the community, spreading the seeds of innovation to make justice more affordable for more people.

New Law Incubator Will Offer Affordable Legal Help

Starr Hall on the Law School CampusA 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:

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.