"The ABA's catalyst grants will help nurture innovative programs that bridge the unmet legal needs of our society and the unmet employment needs of our young lawyers," Silkenat said. "We are working on ways to get young lawyers to open new avenues to justice through programs that also give them practical experience" he added.
To address the dual problems of the lack of adequate legal representation for disadvantaged communities and the significant number of unemployed and underemployed lawyers, the ABA formed the Legal Access Job Corps Task Force to study the issue. Co-chaired by Chief Judge Eric Washington of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Allan Tanenbaum, managing partner at Equicorp Partners, and Patricia White, dean of the University of Miami School of Law, studied various projects and initiatives and chose the grant winners from a group of 96 proposals.
"We know the ABA can't solve the problem alone. But by joining with state and local institutions, we can work together to find win-win solutions," task force co-chair Tanenbaum said of the grants, which are not intended to be an ongoing source of funding but are meant to start or support projects that can be sustained by other resources.
The projects awarded the grants are:
- Legal Aid of Arkansas ($15,000) which will fund fellowships for newly admitted lawyers who will serve under the direction of a legal aid lawyer representing clients in rural areas for one year. After the initial year, the fellows will transition to a modest means panel serving people with incomes between 125% and 250% of the federal poverty guidelines for an additional two years.
- Nebraska State Bar ($15,000) in collaboration with the University of Nebraska College of Law and Creighton University School of Law, which will operate a project to enhance access to lawyers in rural areas by, among other things, facilitating summer clerkships for law students who will be placed with rural law firms, gaining practice experience and a sense of life in less populated areas.
- University of Detroit Mercy School of Law ($15,000) which will launch the Solo and Small Firm Incubator Program, which will provide a supportive environment for select new law graduates who are committed to beginning a solo or small firm practice, and also demonstrate a commitment to serving low and moderate income individuals.
- Vermont Bar Association ($15,000) which will launch the Solo and Small Firm Incubator Program, providing a supportive environment for select new law graduates who are committed to beginning a solo or small firm practice, and also demonstrate a commitment to serving low and moderate income individuals.
- Loyola Law School – New Orleans ($15,000) which will launch an incubator program for new graduates, who have an interest in social justice, resources including instruction, mentoring, case referral and peer feedback.
- Legal Aid Society of Orange County ($15,000) with the University of California School of Law which will develop the Incubator in a Box project, a comprehensive program that will provide a step-by-step resource to implement a regional incubator program.
- Oakland County (Michigan) Bar Association ($5,400) which has collaborated with the Legal Aid and Defenders Association and the Family Law Assistance Project to create the OCBP Pro Bono Mentor Match Program. The grant funding will allow the collaborators to expand into the areas of immigration and foreclosure.
The ABA remains committed to closing the justice gap in America and to developing new avenues of employment and practice for unemployed and underemployed lawyers. "So many of our citizens have never even met a lawyer or can't afford a lawyer,” Silkenat said. “It would seem natural to put those two together and find the funding to make that work."
An ABA short video – “Be the Change” – highlights the issues and programs that help employ underutilized lawyers while serving those who need a lawyer's help.
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