Ask any freshly minted attorney about their career aspirations and the vast majority dream of starting a solo practice.
Through its California Innocence Project, Community Law Project and other notable clinics, California Western School of Law’s award-winning commitment to community engagement is widely recognized and esteemed.
Bring together these two elements, and you have the essence of California Western’s Access to Law Initiative (ALI).
Formed and modeled in 2012 after a similar program at CUNY (City University of New York) School of Law, California Western became the first law school on the West Coast to launch this incubator program to help graduates follow the path to solo or small firm practice.
“ALI was founded on the principle of ‘Doing Well by Doing Good,’” says ALI’s Director Matthew Lab. “Essentially, ALI provides tools and training to empower entrepreneurial and public service-minded California Western alumni to make a living while making a difference. It’s a win-win situation,” Lab continues.
The goals of ALI are two-fold: 1) assist new solo attorneys with launching a successful legal practice, and 2) provide pro bono and affordable legal services to underserved populations within the greater San Diego community.
“Had I not chosen California Western School of Law to pursue my dream of becoming a lawyer, I would have never considered starting up my own solo practice,” said former ALI member Brianna Davis. “The ALI program is unique to this school and presented the idea of opening up my own practice as a realistic option.”
Participating lawyers receive 18 months of training to develop their skills and practices to the point where they can operate independently. In exchange, ALI member attorneys agree to provide 100 hours of pro bono public service by volunteering with legal service organizations, community clinics, and other nonprofits.
“Many of our clients are of low-to-moderate-income, many are minorities, and are referred to the program from partner social service programs, legal aid organizations, the courts, and government agencies,” says Lab.
ALI attorneys staff two free legal clinics—twice a month. Between August 2016 and December 2018, ALI held 64 clinics providing more than 500 client consultations.
ALI’s motto of “Doing Well by Doing Good” was exemplified recently as Super Lawyers Magazine named Davis and 12 other present and former ALI attorneys as Super Lawyers-Rising Stars of 2019.
“ALI allowed me to go from being practice-ready straight out of law school to actually practicing,” said Taylor Darcy, one of the recipients of the Rising Star designation. “I have been able to help so many people that I otherwise would not have been able to with the help of the ALI program. I cannot thank California Western and ALI Director Matt Lab enough for their continued support while I grow and develop my practice.”
Lab is proud and humbled by the accomplishments of his ALI attorneys and encourages California Western graduates to apply for the program, reiterating his win-win theme.
“This program makes a difference to our graduates and to the clients they serve, many of whom would otherwise lack access to legal services,” says Lab. “Making a difference is what California Western is all about, and our ALI attorneys demonstrate this every day, no matter what the legal issue may be.”