American Bar Association.
American Bar Association. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.)

The American Bar Association will pay between $5,000 and $15,000 to organizations that come up with good ways to match unemployed law school graduates to unmet legal needs for the poor.

The organization this month urged law schools, bar associations, courts and other organizations to submit requests for proposals and will reward the best ideas with financial support, ABA President James Silkenat said, under a new program dubbed the Legal Access Job Corps.

“Our nation is facing a paradox involving access to justice,” he said. “On the one hand, too many people with low to moderate incomes cannot find or afford an attorney to defend their legal interests, no matter how urgent the issue. On the other hand, too many law graduates in recent years have found it difficult to gain the practical experience they need in order to practice effectively.”

Silkenat appointed the Job Corps task force in October and the request for proposals is its first concrete action.

Bar leaders pointed to existing models including solo incubators through which law schools or bar associations help recent graduates launch solo careers by providing mentoring, office space and help finding low-income clients; and postgraduate fellowships, which pay new lawyers modest stipends to work at public interest organizations or represent indigent clients.

To qualify for grants, projects must provide both legal services to the poor or people with moderate incomes, and employment for recent law graduates. Existing projects are not eligible. The ABA said would favor ideas that involve partnerships with existing organizations; matching support from the applicant group; innovative use of technology; and a demonstration that the program is sustainable.

The ABA would not disclose whether it had reserved a set amount of money for the grants, saying that would depend on the quality and number of the proposals. Ideas are due by May 15.

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