He graduated fifth in his law school class and has an undergraduate degree from Princeton, a pedigree that would make him attractive to corporate firms.
Asked why he's chosen to join the Manely's fledgling enterprise instead, Velez said, "I grew up in the South Bronx. My mission is to give back."
The Manelys said they considered making the Justice Café a nonprofit, but decided that a firm serving middle-income people should be a viable capitalist enterprise.
They want to prove that a law firm catering to non-wealthy people can at the very least break even or, even better, make money -- and that it's a model that can be replicated.
"If the only way for regular people to get a lawyer is through a charity, then the system is broken," said Shelia Manely.
UNBUNDLING LEGAL SERVICES
One of the earliest advocates for unbundling was Forrest "Woody" Mosten, a Los Angeles family lawyer and mediator. Mosten wrote a seminal book on the topic, Unbundling Legal Services: A Guide to Delivering Legal Services a la Carte, which the ABA published in 2000.
California led the way in officially allowing unbundled services and other states, including Georgia, soon followed. The State Bar of Georgia adopted Rule 1.2(c) to explicitly permit unbundled legal services in 2001. Paula Frederick, the state bar's general counsel, said the rule was updated last year to clarify that a lawyer may limit the scope of representation if there is informed consent from the client.
Frederick expressed qualified support for unbundled legal services and said her main concern is that the client understands what he or she is signing up for. "The lawyer shouldn't leave the client high and dry and in the lurch," she said.
"Generally, I think it has been a positive thing. It is a way of dealing with the fact that most people can't afford to hire a lawyer," she added. "It can be helpful when the alternative is people not getting advice or representation at all."