Patrick Long ’10 was the first lawyer to move into his office at Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s new Center for Solo Practitioners on November 1.
“It feels good,” Long said. “It feels like I am working toward something productive and meaningful.”
Indeed, the goal of the new program is meaningful. It is an incubator to give the TJSL alumni who participate the skills and experience they need to be productive and successful in solo practice. And it will provide affordable legal services to people who are underserved by the legal profession.
The new offices are located in downtown San Diego in the National Family Justice Center Alliance suite and the solo practitioners will work closely with the FJCA, which founded Family Justice Centers nationally and internationally to serve people and families who are victims of domestic violence.
The program’s director, TJSL Professor Lilys McCoy, said she is “thrilled” to be getting started,” after months and months of planning working with TJSL Professor Luz Herrera, who along with Professor Steve Semeraro, helped to lay the groundwork for the incubator program as faculty advisors. It is modeled on a similar program at CUNY Law School in New York.
Professor McCoy feels that working with the FJCA is an excellent collaboration, because the solo practitioners in the program will be able to do pro bono work with the San Diego Family Justice Center’s clients.
“Lawyers have an ethical obligation to perform pro bono work,” said Professor McCoy. “Placing the incubator at the FJCA provides a nice opportunity for office space in a pleasant environment along with the opportunity to receive training in how to do pro bono work successfully and competently.”
“This is such a fantastic opportunity,” said Hannah Bingham ’10. “There is a clear need for this program. There is a huge population that needs legal services and it’s exciting to be part of that. This is a really great model.”
When Jill Cremeans ’05 showed up to move in to her new office at the center, she had her four-month-old son Max with her in a baby stroller. “It feels great,” she said. “This is really exciting.”
Cremeans has been working at the Imperial County Public Defender’s Office for the past several years. For her, being part of the solo practitioners program is the perfect opportunity. “I always wanted to start my own law firm,” she said. “When I got the email about this program, it was perfect timing.”
What kind of lawyer were they looking for to join the solo practitioners program?
“We looked for people committed to solo practice and committed to providing legal services to traditionally underserved populations,” said Professor McCoy. “In so doing, we hope to help ‘bridge the justice gap.’”
“It’s a great way to stay connected with the school,” said Ben Aguilar ’11. “I can continue to give back. I’m really excited to be part of this new TJSL venture. I plan to practice Immigration and Family Law to start.”
“Having the opportunity to work with FJCA makes it a full circle for me,” said Antoinette Gonzalez ’09. “In my prior life, I worked at two different domestic violence/sexual assault services nonprofits. Those experiences piqued my interest in the law.”
Professor Herrera is happy to see the incubator program up and running. “I sat through the orientation of the new solos thinking ‘I sure wish I had this type of support when I started my law practice in 2002.’ I am thrilled to be involved in TJSL’s effort to support its graduates as they establish their own practices.”
“The community will surely benefit from energetic, new lawyers reaching out in a secure mentored environment to provide legal services at rates middle income folks can afford,” Professer Semeraro commented.
“The Center for Solo Practitioners has the potential to become a replicable national model,” said Casey Gwinn, President of the National Family Justice Center Alliance and former San Diego City Attorney. “The civil legal needs of domestic violence victims are immense. This amazing team of lawyers will not only be able to provide tremendous pro bono support but we should be able to have a large number of clients paying for legal services on a sliding scale.”
“I think that is a wonderful idea,” said Professor McCoy. “I’m honored they see such potential in Thomas Jefferson’s program. It’s something that would be great if it could evolve from what we’re doing.”
“The Center for Solo Practitioners will provide a much needed service to hurting families in San Diego by providing help with court representation at contested hearings, ensuring clients receive the full protection of the law and holding batterers accountable when court orders are violated,” said Gael Strack, CEO of the National Family Justice Center Alliance. “Thanks to Thomas Jefferson School of Law, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault will have a small army of civil attorneys to help keep them and their children safer and ultimately help break the generational cycle of abuse. The Alliance is honored to be working with Thomas Jefferson School of Law on this innovative and exciting program.”
Patrick Long’s first order of business on move-in day was to figure out where the electrical outlets were. Then he was ready to roll up his sleeves and pitch in.
“I’ve been working my practice from my home,” Long said. “I’ve been missing the collaborative office atmosphere. I’m looking forward to working with and learning from the other lawyers and also giving back to the community through the Family Justice Center.
“This Center will be a win-win,” said Gwinn. “The new lawyers will help support the San Diego Family Justice Center’s clients and the Family Justice Center Legal Network will refer its family, housing, and personal injury cases to these lawyers.”
“This is really going to be great - it really is,” said Professor McCoy. “We’re at the beginning of a world of opportunity.”
As she looked at the directory in the lobby of the office building where the new offices are, Hannah Bingham said, “I can’t wait to see our names up on this directory!”