Pitt Law fosters job development for recent grads

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Pitt Law fosters job development for recent grads

Pitt's new law incubator seeks to help recent law grads find jobs | Aby Sobotka / Staff Illustrator

Pitt's new law incubator seeks to help recent law grads find jobs | Aby Sobotka / Staff Illustrator

Pitt's new law incubator seeks to help recent law grads find jobs | Aby Sobotka / Staff Illustrator

Pitt's new law incubator seeks to help recent law grads find jobs | Aby Sobotka / Staff Illustrator

By Emma Solak / Staff Writer

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Pitt’s law school has developed a specialized incubator program to help law graduates fly when they “leave the nest,” according to Pitt law professor Thomas Ross.

Starting in January 2016, the Pitt Legal Services Incubator program is going to support six to eight Pitt alumni as they create solo firms or connect to create small firm practices. According to Thomas Ross, professor of law at Pitt’s School of Law and inaugural faculty director for the program, the school will provide the new lawyers with office space, technology support and training in running a small law business. Pitt law grads will offer their legal services to underprivileged clientele, occasionally free of charge. Although some of the cases will be pro bono, others will be for profit. The graduates will function as professional lawyers.

“The goal is to nurture lawyers so they have a practice built but also can sustain a living.,” Ross said. “The idea is that after two years of support [the lawyers] are ready to leave the nest and go get their office space and keep rolling on.”

Ross will oversee the new program, according to a release, and the new lawyers will work within Pitt’s law school.

Pitt’s incubator is one of three in the state. According to the American Bar Association, the Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services and Widener University also have similar programs.

The law school is funding the startup with an $8,000 American Bar Association catalyst grant, meant for law schools and local bar associations to start new programs. Using the grant, Pitt will hire an “innovation fellow” for one year who will help connect underprivileged clientele to the lawyers working in the incubator. Pitt has not announced when it will select the “innovation fellow.”

To qualify, applicants must be recent Pitt law grads who have passed the bar and have their license or are working to become licensed. Applications for the program will open after the bar association releases results in October.

Ross said the law school will have no contact with the actual clients, and the incubator will teach students how to find their own clientele in the greater Pittsburgh community. The lawyers in Pitt’s incubator will find their clients in part through Pittsburgh’s legal aid offices.

Mark Martini, president of the Allegheny County Bar Association, said in the release that incubator programs are beneficial largely because they serve underprivilaged clients. The incubator attorneys will also benefit from one-on-one mentoring relationships with professional lawyers and make money from their non-pro bono work.

“People often go to legal aid offices thinking they qualify for free aid but find out they get too much money,” Ross said. “They’ll get referred to our incubator lawyers.”

One feature of the Pitt Legal Services incubator is unbundled legal services, which can help drive down legal fees. This means the lawyer teaches the client how to do as much of their own legwork as possible, which saves the client from paying the lawyer a steep hourly rate for work they could have done, Ross said.

Third-year law student Jesse Exilus said the practical experience feature of the program appeals to him.

“It’s a jump-start on people who just take the classes,” Exilus, who is specializing in immigration law, said.

Exilus said he would be interested in applying to the incubator program for the hands-on value as well as the client base.

“They get services, while law students get experience. It’s about helping find solutions,” Exilus said.

Although she sees the incubator’s merit, Susan Gogniat, also a third year student, said she wouldn’t apply.

Gogniat, who is specializing in corporate law, aims to work in a large law firm with big companies, rather than lower income cases. That’s not to say she doesn’t think it’s a viable program, though.

“The problem is law school doesn’t teach you how to be a lawyer, it teaches you how to think like a lawyer,” Gogniat said. “Law students could use that experience to start or join a firm.”

After a year, Ross hopes the program will be fully functioning with 12 to 16 lawyers.

“There are plenty of students who graduate top of their class who are not good incubators,” Ross said. “We’re looking for legal skills but as importantly, entrepreneurs and self-starters, who don’t just sit behind the desk waiting for a phone call but are out in the community.”

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