In 2012, nearly a million Americans who qualified for legal aid never got it—because there weren’t enough lawyers serving low-income clients. Others were too poor to afford a lawyer, but not poor enough for legal aid.
That jarring data spurred Melanie Rowen of Berkeley Law’s Career Development Office to help create the Bay Area Legal Incubator (BALI), a two-year program through which recent California Bar admits learn to operate solo practices while serving clients of modest means. Rowen, who pitched the idea after hearing about a similar initiative in Chicago, says the program “is for those who have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to use their law degrees to make a difference.”
Fueled by a State Bar of California grant and funds from the five Bay Area law schools participating, BALI launched in January with 13 recent graduates, including two from Berkeley Law. The Alameda County Bar Association designed a curriculum—taught by faculty from the schools involved and experienced local attorneys, based on their legal interests.
Sharing a workspace in Oakland, the new lawyers work pro bono half time during their first six months, through partnerships with legal services organizations. As they continue building their practices, they will take on more clients at manageable fees.
“We want to help make the legal profession better,” Rowen says. “Not just for the very wealthy, but for everyone.”