UMass Dartmouth Launches Incubator

umass dartmouthLast week, the University of Massachusetts School of Law-Dartmouth joined the growing list of law schools hiring their own graduates through incubators. Located in Boston’s Financial District, UMass’ Justice Bridge center will provide legal fees on a sliding scale to help people who can’t afford representation from a typical Boston law firm. Perhaps more importantly, the incubator will also hire UMass grads who want to start solo practices (which is often code for “couldn’t find jobs”) or public interest practices.

The practice of law schools hiring their own recent graduates has been widespread for a while. When the National Association of Law Placement crunched the data on the Class of 2009, it found that 42% of law schools engaged in this practice. It seems a little shady on the surface, but if grads get paid experience and schools get to increase their chances of going up in the U.S. News rankings, who’s really losing out?

The City University of New York School of Law became the first school to create an incubator back in 2007. The Incubator for Justice program’s purpose was to teach lawyers how to work with underprivileged clients. Since the Great Recession started—and since the employment rate for law school graduates began to dip—several schools have followed suit. They’re often lesser-known institutions, like Pace Law School in New York (the state), the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, and Widener University School of Law in Pennsylvania.

Still, some bigger names have joined the fray, too: In 2013, Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, ranked No. 31 by U.S. News, opened an actual law firm, complete with partners and associates.

Nine law grads—eight from UMass, and one from the Northeastern University School of Law—will work at Justice Bridge for six months as part of the incubator’s pilot program, according to the Boston Business Journal. Justice Bridge is hoping to open a second location closer to UMass in January.

The graduates will be able to earn about $50,000 a year. Once the pilot program is done, they’ll be required to pay $500 a month to cover the office space and gain access to business referrals. That amounts to handing over $6,000 a year. At first take, it might sound like a lot, but Len Zandrow, the incubator’s executive director, told the Boston Business Journal that the rent for the office space is actually much, much higher than what the graduates will be paying. To run, Justice Bridge will need to raise another $50,000 every year.

Paying $6,000 a year is also probably better than going solo with no help. Graduates will have to make a two-year commitment to Justice Bridge, but it’s a loose one—they’ll be able to leave if they find other jobs. The incubator will also give them the opportunity to meet mentors, such as retired judges and experienced partners from Boston law firms. Will this one day be the law school version of a residency period? If bleak employment statistics continue, it could—and that might not be such a bad thing.

  • JNagarya

    The “incubator” is a “jobs program” for lawyers. It is not intended to help the “underprivileged” — unless the middle class has replaced the actually-underprivileged that no one is talking about: the impoverished underlcass on which the middle class stands and grinds its heels.
    Those most in need of legal services are ignored — for the benefit, yet again, of the middle class, and others who already have power.
    The legal profession serves itself first and last and always — and to hell with the society it has increasingly abandoned in pursuit of the only thing that matters to it: money.
    Where are the pro bono services needed by those shut out and ignored by this “initiative”? Marginalized as a “probono dot net” — which promotes a responsiveness which does not exist. The profession embarrasses itself by admitting the existence of a vast population which receives no legal help whatsoever, but is steadfastly unmoved by its neglect of its duty to serve society as a whole, not instead to serve only those who can pay.
    The profession does nothing that won’t preserve the status quo, no matter how blatant the violations of law and the rights of the “unlawyered”. “Protect the powerful from the rule of law” is the underlying ideology and philosophy. The profession is a parasite profiting from assisting abuses of power. To quote Benjamin Franklin:
    “A lawyer in a town will starve. Two will prosper.”
    But not by helping those who are shut out of the sytem — and the protections of the law — who can’t pay for the “privileges” of citizenship which are guaranteed, but only in endless empty talk.