Let’s start with the basics – What exactly is Lawyers for Equal Justice (L4EJ)? L4EJ is an incubator program that provides a springboard for recent law school graduates to start innovative, socially conscious, and sustainable law practices providing affordable legal services to low and moderate income clients. It seeks to identify talented, public-interest minded, and entrepreneurial lawyers who want to build innovative practices that “break the mold” to provide cost-effective services. L4EJ is not a law firm. Participants of the 18-month program are chosen through a competitive selection process that includes a personal statement and interview. L4EJ accepts a group of up to 10 participants every November and June, with up to 30 participants total in the program at any time. Participants benefit from a collaborative office environment; a case referral program; practical resources including law practice management technology; and top-notch training, mentoring and business coaching.
Lawyers for Equal Justice is a non-profit organization and a collaborative project of the Georgia Supreme Court, State Bar of Georgia, and the five ABA-approved law schools in Georgia – Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, Emory University School of Law, Georgia State University College of Law, Mercer University School of Law, and University of Georgia School of Law.
Why the need for L4EJ when Georgia has a non-profit legal sector? There are over 1.69 million Georgia households in the low and moderate income brackets who do not qualify for free services and cannot afford legal help. It is estimated that 90% of these Georgians do not obtain legal help for issues where legal representation could significantly change the outcome and improve their lives significantly. Practices that are born out of the L4EJ collaboration bridge the gap by providing quality legal services that are accessible and affordable.
To provide more insight in to the L4EJ experience and the resources available to participants, please find personal accounts from two Atlanta’s John Marshall graduates and L4EJ members below.
David A. (D.A.) Wilson
I graduated Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in May of 2016. After sitting for the July 2016 Georgia Bar Exam, I moved to Boston where I enrolled in Boston University School of Law LL.M. in Taxation program. While at BU, I considered two career paths, (1) go the “Big Four” accounting firm route or (2) hang my own shingle. Little did I know (or anticipate) that the U.S. Tax Code would be reformed and the Big Four accounting firms were waiting out the storm and not hiring as much. This forced me to consider starting my own practice a lot more seriously and in the Spring of 2017 I really ramped up my solo practitioner efforts. I was home in Atlanta attending a mandatory bar event when I bumped into a John Marshall alum, who was in the Lawyers For Equal Justice Program. At the time, I had no idea what the program was about but I knew if I started my own practice I could use all the help I could get. I went on a tour and realized it was for me. The resources and office atmosphere were exactly what needed and looking for. I started Lawyers for Equal Justice and my own practice on June 5, 2017 and haven’t looked back. It hasn’t been easy but I absolutely love working myself, my office atmosphere, my work life balance, and doing pro bono work.
Having spent 20+ years as an entrepreneur before law school, I knew long before I finished at AJMLS that I would eventually have my own law practice. Lawyers for Equal Justice allowed me the opportunity to step in to that role much sooner than I had planned. And I am so very grateful for this program. It’s not just the pro bono experience and office space on the renowned PEACHTREE STREET that are highlights of the program. But for me, the software resources and access to ongoing training were the selling points. I know how expensive it is to have all of the things in place to get a business off the ground. And what I’ve already received through L4EJ is worth more than the program fee!
The core law school curriculum teaches us the law and prepares us for the bar exam. But it does not teach us how to BE lawyers, and it certainly does not teach us how to run a business. The role of business owner is typically mastered by trial and error, by actually being in the trenches and just DOING it. L4EJ allows a safe environment for this learning process. And not only are we exposed to a wide range of opportunities to “practice” law (the pro bono prospects are endless), but there is also the unintentional networking that occurs. Not long ago, we had a great in-person training/presentation given by a veteran attorney, and it happened to be in one of my practice areas, Estate Planning. Just about a month or so later, I saw her at an event and we instantly connected without it being awkward or forced. Now she’s an informal mentor of mine!
My favorite part of L4EJ is the continuous collaboration among the program participants. It’s great to have someone nearby to bounce ideas off of, or to get ideas from, in such a cooperative, friendly and supportive environment!
It’s one thing to START a business, but it’s a whole other thing to STAY in business. I can’t really say enough about the program in this short article. However, I can say that if anyone wants to launch his or her own solo law practice, the support and resources that you can get from L4EJ are priceless. You already have the talent, but L4EJ adds the tools and training to keep you in this game! The under-served communities need you, and you need L4EJ.
Lawyers for Equal Justice seats two classes a year in June and November. If you are interested in joining the November 2018 class, you are encouraged to reach out to Sarah Babcock, Executive Director, at Sarah@L4EJ.org.