Lawyers for Equal Justice: Two Alumnae in First Class of Incubator
The desire to help others is the driving force behind many who decide to purse a law degree.
“When they start law school, I think a lot of students have the goal of doing public interest law,” said Stephanie Everett (J.D. ’02). “But after graduating, they take jobs with large firms because they perceive that’s what is necessary to fulfill financial obligations. That’s what I did.”
As executive director of Lawyers for Equal Justice, a new incubator program to help attorneys start innovative, socially conscious law practices providing services to low- and moderate-income clients, Everett will teach recent law graduates how to be both affordable and profitable.
Lawyers for Equal Justice (L4EJ) officially opened the doors at Peachtree Center in April.
“Lawyers for Equal Justice is at the forefront of thought on how a law firm should operate,” said Everett, who has served as a career advisor and guest lecturer at Georgia State Law.
Friends Candace Sneed (J.D. ’13) and Alicia D. Mack (J.D. ’13) are thrilled to be part of the inaugural class.
Alicia D. Mack (J.D.’13) says L4EJ provides a way to blend her volunteer work with her profession. Read more>>
“We are really excited to be navigating this together,” Sneed said.
Each participant will start his or her firm under the incubator’s umbrella. They will receive extensive training, expert coaching and mentoring in the 18-month program, with a focus on business development, including new fee models and how to utilize technology to provide cost-effective service. In return, they will provide pro bono and low bono work.
Both Mack and Sneed started firms within two years of graduating. Sneed was one of the first in her class to hang a shingle. In her first year, Sneed accepted a variety of cases to figure out what she enjoys doing most, but also because turning down work was difficult, she said.
“Year zero for me was just about figuring out how to pay bills,” she said. “Having the confidence to refuse a client took some time.”
Lawyers Can Make a Difference
Candace Sneed (J.D.’13) is looking forward to expanding her practice through L4EJ.
Both attorneys struggled with wanting to help others, but not having the means to take as many pro bono cases as they would have liked. It’s an issue many attorneys starting their firms face.
“To do your job properly you have to be compensated,” Sneed said. “While you are willing to help someone, you still have to structure your business in such a way that your needs are met because that impacts your ability to be an effective lawyer.”
Learning how to keep business costs low will enable them to offer lower rates and expand their reach within the community, Mack said.
Sneed, in particular, wants to find ways to bundle her expertise to serve as a consumer protection advocate and a quasi general counsel for small business owners who typically wouldn’t be able to afford representation.
“Right now 80 percent of Americans cannot afford an attorney,” Everett said. “They earn too much to qualify for legal aid, yet don’t make enough to pay for legal services. At Lawyers for Equal Justice, we’ll be providing an opportunity for people to really help this underserved population and make a living. It’s the best of both worlds and will make a substantial impact on people who need it.”
In addition, the opportunity to work side-by-side and gain knowledge from attorneys in a variety of fields will allow the participants to explore other practice areas, Mack said.
“There’s a great need for Lawyers for Equal Justice because practice areas that disproportionately affect the poor, such as eviction defense, unemployment benefit denials and grandparent adoptions, are not considered lucrative. The program helps young lawyers design business models that maximize revenue from such legal services,” Mack said.
Having other lawyers in the L4EJ office that she can consult with gives her more confidence, Sneed said.
“One of most attractive aspects of this program is the opportunity to brainstorm and network with other young attorneys in the same physical space—and the same growth space,” Sneed said. “Together we will figure out innovative and tech-forward ways to practice law and aggressively represent the underserved.”
The idea for an incubator was put forward first by then-Chief Justice Carol Hunstein of the Supreme Court of Georgia, said Bucky Askew, visiting professor and chair of board of directors for Lawyers for Equal Justice. After meeting with Hunstein, the deans from Georgia’s five American Bar Association-approved law schools agreed to collaborate and contribute financially to the 501(c)(3) approved nonprofit. The State Bar’s Board of Governors voted to provide three years of funding.
Interested in applying?
Applicants must have graduated from one of Georgia’s five ABA-approved law schools within the last three years, though exceptions may be made for candidates past the three-year mark.
Participants will be required to provide a minimum of 40 hours of pro bono services per month and to meet as a group regularly. There is no cost the first six months. After that, participants pay $500 per month (which includes rent for shared office space) for six months, and then $750 per month for the last six months.
Learn more at lawyersforequaljustice.com or contact LawyersForEqualJustice@gmail.com.
Inaugural Class Members
Tamara Boyd, Mercer University School of Law (J.D. ’13)
Chris Bruce, The University of Georgia School of Law (J.D. ’12)
Gregory R. Clement, Emory University School of Law (J.D. ’11)
Alicia D. Mack, Georgia State University College of Law (J.D. ’13)
JoAnna Smith, Emory University School of Law (J.D. ’14)
Candace L. Sneed, Georgia State University College of Law (J.D. ’13)
Mark Stephens, Mercer University School of Law (J.D. ’15)
Charles Wardlaw, Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School (J.D. ’15)