Earlier this month, PIAC attended the Fifth Annual Consortium for Access to Justice Conference at Georgia State University, College of Law in Atlanta. The Consortium for Access to Justice brings together so-called “incubator” programs and legal non-profits committed to public interest and social justice. The specific conference attendees represented a wide diversity of programs, but they generally fell into two major models. Incubators are often associated with law schools who are essentially non-profits designed to train new lawyers through the practice of representing people in the “gaps.” The other model is a legal non-profit engaged in either low-income or middle income legal representation.
All attendee organizations shared twin and sometimes competing goals of (1) training (i.e. “incubating”) new lawyers and (2) providing pro-bono or low-bono legal services to those in need across a wide spectrum of legal issues. The creativity of various approaches throughout the country to the legal representation for underserved populations was on full display at the conference. Key note addresses touched on broad themes of social justice representation, striking an encouraging tone for those in the trenches, particularly at this particular moment in United States. (One address went so far as to applaud the attendees for participating in efforts to save democracy itself).
PIAC co-presented a session on “Best practices in Building and Maintaining Sustainable Programs”, which was perhaps a misnomer for the actual content of our portion of the presentation. PIAC’s model of a de-centralized attorney support for social justice practice was a unique approach at the conference, and we presented on our process to developing an unprecedented model. Other breakout sessions focused on the problems facing incubator-type practice: teaching business planning, best practices for sustainability (i.e. fundraising), handling client in-take, reducing incubator attrition, etc.
The conference served a clarifying purpose for our attendees. Among the programs represented at the conference, PIAC is certainly unique. We are an organization of volunteer attorneys who exist to encourage and support both new and experienced attorneys to engage in the practice of social justice as a part of their practice, whatever that practice may be. We do not exactly fit within the incubator model in that we are not directly associated with a law school. Nor do we have overhead concerns, as our meeting space is the local coffee shop in Barrio Logan, allowing our members to conduct work on their own time and manner.
By attending the Fifth Annual Consortium for Access to Justice Conference, PIAC made a variety of new contacts, learned creative new ideas to resolving problems for incubators, and renewed our confidence in our place as a pioneer in the legal community.