The Gonzaga University School of Law is getting ready to launch a new mentorship program designed to pair a recent graduate interested in opening a solo practice with an experienced attorney.
The Solo Practice Incubator has a focus on elder law because the stipends the mentor and mentee will receive are funded by Aging and Long-Term Care of Eastern Washington, said Genevieve Mann, co-director of the GU Law Clinics and head of the Elder Law Clinic.
The new attorney being mentored will be required to spend at least 50% of his or her time on elder law. That could include anything from divorces to wills, Mann said. “It could be consumer law, it could be employment,” she said. “The only requirement is that the client be over 60. We’d also like them to give preference to low-income clients and those of moderate means.”
Mann said she heard about the concept of a Solo Practice Incubator at a conference several years ago. “There are a number of these across the country in law schools,” she said.
Aging and Long-Term Care funds her position as head of Gonzaga’s elder law clinic, and this year the agency told her it had extra funding available. She decided to launch the incubator because she thinks it will be helpful for a new lawyer starting out in elder law.
“In general the legal profession hasn’t done a great job of actually preparing people to practice law,” she said. “I graduated with people who didn’t know where the courthouse was and had never met a client.”
It used to be that most new law school graduates would hire on at a big law firm and be assigned a mentor. Many law firms have gotten smaller and they’ve done away with the mentoring model, Mann said. “That’s just ripe for malpractice,” she said. “There’s definitely the possibility of doing something you shouldn’t because you don’t know anything.”
Things have changed at the GU Law School since Mann graduated in 2003. Students are required to gain experiential learning, either by working at the law school’s clinic or working in an externship. Hands-on learning on things like how to interview clients and prepare a case is also part of many classes now.
“We are infusing experiential education from the very beginning,” she said.
Still, it’s very helpful to have a mentor to give advice on everything from legal issues to billing to running your own business, Mann said.
In addition to getting a $1,000-a-month stipend for a year, the new attorney being mentored will be given office space in the law school for a year and free access to LexisNexis and WestLaw, two key – and very expensive – legal research websites. The experienced attorney assigned as the mentor will receive a smaller $500-a-month stipend for a year.
“This gives you a little bit of a monthly salary,” she said. “It’s a really good gig for a year.”
The program is limited to graduates of Gonzaga’s law school.
“We are also interested in growing that relationship between alumni,” Mann said.
Applications for both the mentor and the new graduate are being accepted through Oct. 11. “It’s a somewhat involved application,” Mann said. “They have to have a business plan as part of the application.”
Only one mentor and one recipient will be selected, and Mann said there’s been a lot of interest in both positions. Many attorneys applying said they mentor new lawyers anyway and would like having a more formal way to do it, Mann said.
The mentor and the recipient should be selected by mid-October, Mann said. “The plan was to have them get up and running in November,” she said. “I’d like to get moving.”
Mann hopes to continue the incubator program next year but said she doesn’t know what it will look like in the future. “It could be a different focus, it could be different funding,” she said.
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