Hamid Yazdan Panah
This past fall, The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF), in partnership with the Justice & Diversity Center (JDC) and the Lawyer Referral and Information Service, started the Community Law Practice Incubator (CLPI). CLPI began as an initiative of 2016 BASF President Michael Tubach, O’Melveny & Myers. Thanks to 2013 President Chris Kearney, Keker, Van Nest & Peters, generous seed funding was provided for the incubator. In addition to Chris Kearney’s contribution, funding was provided by Michael Tubach, O’Melveny & Meyers, and several partners from the O’Melveny firm. Off to a great start, the incubator completed its first half term of operations in March 2017.
The focus of CLPI has been to provide guidance and support for attorneys with a passion for community service and the ambition to start a solo practice. The program started its inaugural class with four participants, each with their own unique backgrounds, diverse career paths, and a strong commitment to serving the legal needs of their community. Participants not only completed a rigorous boot camp to launch their solo practice but also participated in weekly meetings and CLE seminars to sharpen their practice skills.
Although the essence of building a solo practice is self-sufficiency, the philosophy of CLPI has been, “Go solo, but not alone,” and to this end the incubator has sought to foster a sense of community and cooperation. This includes providing a space for mentors and participants to communicate and share ideas about law practice management, legal strategies, and business philosophy. It also provides a sense of stability for participants in times of uncertainty and solitude.
Christina Sava, a CLPI participant, found that the incubator’s guidance helped her build a practice she felt comfortable with. “Thanks to the facilitators at BASF and the generous solo and small firm attorneys that came to talk with us, I now feel confident in operating my own practice, my own way.”
In addition to juggling all of the administrative tasks and legal know-how required to start their solo careers, participants also worked directly with pro bono and low-income clients through the incubator’s referral program. In their work with clients, participants put theory into practice and learned what life as a solo attorney is actually like.
Participants’ practical experiences included dealing with problematic clients, receiving guidance from mentors and colleagues, and ultimately serving vulnerable populations who needed legal assistance. “I graduated from law school not really knowing what it took to start a law firm. Through the incubator, I found out that it was not that hard and it was exactly what I wanted to do,” said Jason Yee, a UC Hastings College of the Law graduate with an interest in immigration and business law.
As CLPI approaches the second half of its first year, it not only is set to take on additional participants but has decided to expand its practice areas to include immigration law. This provides participants with an additional area of law to explore and also addresses the overwhelming demand for immigration attorneys within the local community.
The demand for affordable legal services in the Bay Area remains an important community issue, and there is a significant need to foster private practices that are able to take on low-fee clients who are unable to find representation at a nonprofit. As the practice of law changes and the need for affordable legal services grows in the Bay Area, CLPI serves as an important hub to foster a sense of community and collaboration.
For Nick Goldman, a CLPI participant who focuses on landlord-tenant issues, community remains a key ingredient to success as a solo. “No person achieves success on their own. There is only one name on a solo practitioner’s stationery, but it takes a group to make it a success.”
Read our incubator program participants’ profiles: