In recent years, many law schools have started incubator programs to help graduates transition to practice. According to the ABA, the City University of New York started the first incubator program over 10 years ago, and incubator programs have really started to pop up since 2012. Currently, there are around 30 programs nationwide.
The Akron Legal News recently reported on Cleveland-Marshall College of Law’s new incubator program. See Sherry Karabin, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law helps graduates transition to solo practice, Akron Legal News (Aug. 1, 2014). Like other institutions, Cleveland-Marshall decided to create an incubator program because the economy is stagnant and many of its graduates go into solo practice. The article noted that:
“[a]ccording to a report by the National Association for Law Placement, 84.5 percent of the class of 2013 secured [employment]. Despite the slight improvement over the last two years, the employment rate still remains quite a bit behind the all-time high of 91.9 percent in 2007, which was reached prior to the financial crisis. The less than rosy job market means more young attorneys are hanging out their own shingle. In May [Cleveland-Marshall] unveiled its solo practice incubator, joining a small number of other institutions around the country with similar programs. Housed in a portion of the existing law library, the incubator offers low-rent office space with all the trimmings, along with many other benefits, to recent graduates who choose to go it alone.” Id.
One of the main things that a law library can offer a law school incubator is space. As the dean of Cleveland-Marshall said, “[a] large portion of the [law library] space had been freed up because of the conversion to electronic materials, leaving room for an incubator.” And this conversion from print to electronic materials is happening everywhere. Ultimately, the law library will house 15 offices, one large conference room and two small ones, a break room and a reception area. Those who sign on are asked to commit to a two-year lease. Id.
Like other law school incubators around the country, “[t]he main idea behind the program [at Cleveland-Marshall] is that the attorneys are also providing a service to the community by offering lower-cost services to those who may not be able to otherwise afford to hire an attorney or don’t qualify for legal aid.” Id.
As Sonal Desai discussed in a paper entitled Law School Firms and Incubators and the Role of the Academic Law Library, law libraries may also have an obligation under the ABA Standards to support the incubators. If the incubators are considered a service program under the auspices of the law school, then the law library must support the incubators as required by ABA Standard 601. See Sonal P. Desai, Law School Firms and Incubators and the Role of the Academic Law Library, 33 Legal Reference Serv. Q. 68 (2014).
When Desai surveyed law library directors from law schools with incubator programs, Desai found that none of the law libraries had a formal relationship with the incubators. Most of the law libraries were providing reference as needed, and only one library was providing instruction. To meet support requirements, Desai recommends embedded librarianship and library involvement in workshops.
To fully support the law school incubators, the law library should assign a formal library liaison. At the outset, the library liaison could provide various training sessions to new attorneys in the incubator program. One of the training sessions could include the essential resources necessary for pretrial. In this session, the library liaison could provide instruction on fee agreement and discovery form finding; helpful practice manuals; how to find statutes of limitation, sample complaints, answers, motions, and briefs; and using jury instructions. In addition, the liaison could recommend practice manuals for the collection that are geared toward the attorney’s specialty and also offer ongoing general reference support.
There is a lot of opportunity for law libraries to support law school incubators. Refer to the ABA’s website for the latest developments in law school incubators. I also recommend reading Desai’s article in full.