The Cleveland-Marshall College of Law is the latest to announce plans for a solo incubator. The school will spend approximately $1.2 million to create a suite of offices in its library for rental at low prices to recent graduates launching their own practices. 

Solo incubators are widely seen as a way for schools to help graduates establish practices at a time when law firm hiring has slowed. Around 10 such programs have been created at schools including the City University of New York School of Law; Thomas Jefferson School of Law; Chicago-Kent College of Law; the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law; the University of Maryland School of Law; and Pace Law School.

Cleveland-Marshall dean Craig Boise insisted that his school’s incubator is not a response to the job market. “We looked at our data, in terms of where our students were going into practice, and we saw that about 15 percent go into solo practice on a fairly consistent basis,” he said. “We thought, ‘We’re really not doing enough to prepare them.’ “

Two years ago, the school formed a task force to look at the issue, and since then has established programs geared toward helping students start solo firms. Courses on practice management and professionalism and ethics will be prerequisites, Boise said.

Boise visited CUNY’s incubator, launched in 2007. “I was inspired,” he said. “There were graduates who were really helping each other and there was a real sense of community. I think it’s hard to be isolated, running a practice from your basement, and these graduates had really bonded.”

Cleveland-Marshall plans to construct 15 offices plus conference rooms and a reception area in unused space within the law library, located close to the courtrooms in downtown Cleveland. Graduates will rent space at low cost and have use of the law library for between 18 and 24 months while they get their practices off the ground. Existing students, meanwhile, will have an opportunity to observe graduates at work.

Some incubators have tightly structured training and pro-bono requirements, but Cleveland-Marshall’s program will be fairly hand-offs, Boise said. “These are students who will be struggling to make a practice work,” he said. “I don’t see the value of saddling them with pro bono requirements.”

Still, the subsidized office rents would make it easier for the new solos to charge lower rates and improve access to justice, he said.

Participants will receive some support from the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, which will pair them with mentors in solo practices and offer lower-cost liability and health insurance. “This is a tremendously important project for Cleveland’s legal community,” association president Carter Strang said.

The law school plans to complete the office renovation during the summer and launch the incubator after the class of 2013 has passed the bar exam and been admitted to practice.

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