We spent the past weekend at Cal Western School of Law’s 2nd annual law firm incubator conference. A group of attorneys, law school administrators, and staff members from bar associations came together from all over the world to learn more about how the incubator model works. It was obvious that there is a lot of interest in these programs, and we expect them to become commonplace at law schools and bar associations everywhere in the next few years. Here are some of the things we learned about how incubators are transforming the legal industry.
What Is a Legal Incubator?
If you aren’t familiar with the term “incubator,” it’s essentially a training program to help young lawyers who are interested in starting their own firms. Most of the programs last between 1-2 years, and are completed after law school and the bar exam.
The incubator typically provides shared office space, technology, other resources, and mentorship in exchange for a low monthly fee. The attorneys get guidance on the basics of business and marketing, and provide affordable legal services to underserved communities as well as pro bono hours.
It’s a win-win-win arrangement that benefits the attorneys, the schools/incubator programs, and the surrounding community. We believe the incubator concept is one of the best innovations to come about in the legal industry and are excited to see the impact it can have on the future.
3 Ways Incubators Are Transforming the Legal Industry
1. Improving legal education
Anyone who went to law school knows that, while it’s great for teaching legal theory and analytical skills, it doesn’t exactly prepare you for the real world. That’s what your first few years as an associate have traditionally been for. But everything has changed.
The legal job market is incredibly competitive, and just about everyone (outside the top 5% of classes from top 50 law schools) struggles to get a job. More and more young lawyers are choosing alternative career paths or being forced to hang their own shingle.
Enter the incubator…
Incubators provide the type of practical knowledge and training that young attorneys need to actually provide legal services to clients, and above all operate a business. The incubator model fills the gaping holes in a traditional legal education by providing real world experience in areas like accounting, marketing, business development, and technology within the safe confines of a teaching environment.
2. Enabling greater access to justice
Recent law grads are not the only beneficiaries of an incubator program. The surrounding communities stand to benefit significantly from incubator programs as well.
It’s no secret that legal services are too expensive for the average American to afford. This has reduced demand and created downward price pressure in the market, which gave rise to some interesting alternative fee structures. But the average cost of legal services is still far too high for the typical family budget.
Enter the incubator…
Incubators are basically like low cost or pro bono legal clinics, but without the need to fundraise or get government grants to operate. In an incubator, the young attorneys are happy to provide services for low or no cost because they’re gaining invaluable work experience and building up their referral networks. Meanwhile, those citizens who are unable to pay the typical law firm rates have critical access to legal help where they otherwise would not.
3. Creating a hotbed for innovation
Finally, these incubators are spurring the much needed innovation and creativity that is almost entirely absent in law schools. We were inspired to hear the words of some successful incubator alumni who repeatedly praised the collaborative environments fostered by their programs.
The legal industry is notoriously resistant to change and slow to adopt new innovations and technologies. But that’s not going to cut it anymore. It’s time to wake up. And it seems that these legal incubators might be the answer.
When people with diverse backgrounds are able to come together in new ways and exchange ideas, that’s where that innovative spark happens. Legal incubators are giving rise to new law firms with unique perspectives and different approaches to the way things are done. It’s just the sort of creativity the legal industry needs for lawyers to survive, as technology continues to take hold of the legal space.
Being a legal technology company, we are really excited to see what becomes of this legal incubator movement. We hope that it truly is the spark of innovation the legal industry needs to evolve and catch up with the rest of the world.
We wanted to also send a special thanks to the organizers/contributors for the event:
- Bob Seibel of Cal Western Law School (the mastermind behind the legal incubator movement)
- Fred Rooney of Touro Law Center
- Tony Luppino of University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law
- Lilys McCoy of Thomas Jefferson School of Law
None of this would be possible without their contributions.