Law Library Involvement In Law School Firms & Incubators

In recent years, many law schools have started incubator programs to help graduates transition to practice. According to the ABA, CUNY started the first incubator program over 10 years ago, and incubator programs have really started to pop up since late 2012. Currently, there are around 28 programs nationwide.

The Akron Legal News recently reported on Cleveland-Marshall College of Law's incubator program. Like other institutions, Cleveland-Marshall decided to create an incubator program because of the stagnant economy and because many of its graduates go into solo practice. "According to a report by the National Association for Law Placement, 84.5 percent of the class of 2013 secured [employment]. Despite the slight improvement over the last two years, the employment rate still remains quite a bit behind the all-time high of 91.9 percent in 2007, which was reached prior to the financial crisis. The less than rosy job market means more young attorneys are hanging out their own shingle. In May [Cleveland-Marshall] unveiled its solo practice incubator, joining a small number of other institutions around the country with similar programs. Housed in a portion of the existing law library, the incubator offers low-rent office space with all the trimmings, along with many other benefits, to recent graduates who choose to go it alone."

One of the major things that a law library can offer to a law school incubator is space. As the dean of Cleveland-Marshall said, “[a] large portion of the [law library] space had been freed up because of the conversion to electronic materials, leaving room for an incubator.” And this conversion to electronic material is happening all over the country. Ultimately, the law library will house 15 offices, a large conference room and two small ones, a break room and a reception area. Those who sign on are asked to commit to a two-year lease. 

Like most of the other law school incubators around the country, "[t]he main idea behind the program [at Cleveland-Marshall] is that the attorneys are also providing a service to the community by offering lower-cost services to those who may not be able to otherwise afford to hire an attorney or don’t qualify for legal aid."

As Sonal Desai discussed in a paper titled, "Law School Firms and Incubators and the Role of the Academic Law Library," law libraries may have an obligation under the ABA Standards to support the incubators. If the incubators are considered a service program under the auspices of the law school, then the law library must support the incubators as required by Standard 601. When Desai surveyed law library directors from law schools with incubators, Desai found that none of the law libraries had a formal relationship with the incubators. Most law libraries were providing reference, as needed, and only one of those surveyed was providing instruction. Desai recommends embedded librarianship and library involvement in workshops. 

What the incubators really need is a formal library liaison. Desai's embedded librarian idea is closely akin to a formal library liaison. The library liaison should be designated to train and instruct various sessions to the new attorneys in the incubator.  

For the latest developments in law school firms and incubators, see the ABA's website

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