Bowen School of Law launching program to address rural attorney shortage

The UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law will launch the state’s first law firm incubator program on April 16, 2018. The kick-off event is scheduled for noon at the law school.

According to studies done by Arkansas Access to Justice, Arkansas has an attorney shortage.  The national per capita ratio is 4.11 attorneys per 1,000 residents. Arkansas’s ratio is 2.04 attorneys per 1,000 residents (Arkansas Access to Justice Policy Brief, 2016). However, in the 25 most rural counties in Arkansas, the ratio is 0.64 attorneys per 1,000 residents. The population of attorneys in these counties is aging; 28% of these counties have no attorneys licensed in this millennium, and only 14 attorneys have moved to any of these counties since 2008. (Arkansas Access to Justice Policy Brief, 2015).

In addition to these considerations, many lawyers in rural communities “wear two hats” in their practice, serving as a county/city attorney and in private practice. In some cases, the lack of local attorneys means residents are waiting for legal assistance or representing themselves.

Bowen’s Rural Practice Incubator is designed to help with the attorney need in these counties by supporting new attorneys to set up innovative business practices in underserved rural communities.

“Bowen is already reaching out to fill this gap,” said Incubator Director and Visiting Assistant Professor of Law Amy Pritchard. “Our students are involved in existing programs in rural counties such as the Delta Experience and the Delta Clinic, the Business Innovations Clinic, and the Judicial and Prosecutor Practica. The Rural Practice Incubator is the next logical step to helping Arkansas’s residents and the legal community as a whole.”

The Incubator program is open to Bowen alumni and current Bowen students who are graduating in May 2018. To be considered for the program, applicants will submit a statement of interest explaining why they are interested in a solo legal practice, how they chose their county of practice, and why they wish to practice there. They will also submit a transcript, recommendations, and a short business plan. Participants must pass the Arkansas bar exam before entering the program, and they will be required to maintain legal malpractice insurance.

“The Rural Practice Incubator is a perfect example of Bowen’s core values of professionalism, public service, and access to justice in action,” said Bowen’s Dean John DiPippa. “Our graduates want to give back to their communities and fulfill their dreams of becoming thriving, practicing attorneys.”

Four participants will be selected, with new participants selected every six months to a year thereafter. During their first 18 months of practice, each participant will receive:

  • Training and mentoring with the program director and local attorneys
  • Free case management software, legal research programs, law library access, and legal document automation programs
  • Free legal document templates and forms
  • Access to legal referrals through legal services and other sources
  • Access to scholarships for continuing legal education
  • If available, office space with a desk and chair. Participants will be expected to provide their own computer, printer, phone, and Wi-Fi
  • A one-time stipend of $3,000 for business related expenses. Participants will apply for reimbursement from stipend funds

The program is designed so that, at the end of the 18 month incubator term, participants will have the necessary skills, professional network, and client base to continue in practice on their own.

The first legal incubator was launched in New York in 2007. There are now 60 existing or planned programs in 33 states and four countries (The Iowa Lawyer, June 2017).

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