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Legal incubator leaders hope for international growth

Editor's note: This is the last in a series about the recent international legal incubator conference in San Diego.

The legal incubator movement, which has strong roots in San Diego as a result of two local programs, is growing rapidly across the country.

Supporters of the programs offering training for new solo and small firm practitioners who provide affordable legal services hope the next frontier for expansion is internationally.

Fred Rooney, who started the first and only international legal incubator in the Dominican Republic two years ago, recently said he is confident the programs will catch on in other parts of the world.

“I see the model as having such great potential because in most countries, lawyers don’t have anyone to help them when they get out of law school,” said Rooney, director of the International Justice Center for Post-Graduate Development at Touro Law Center in Central Islip, N.Y.

Developing incubators abroad was the subject of a panel discussion at the second annual international conference on legal incubators and residencies hosted late last month by California Western School of Law.

Rooney said another reason for his optimism about global growth is the success of the incubator he helped launch in the Dominican Republic in 2013 with the support of a Fulbright Scholar grant.

Participants have focused on assisting victims of domestic violence and members of the LGBT community who have faced discrimination, said Francis Checo, the legal adviser to the incubator.

The Dominican incubator has hosted both attorneys and law students, a contrast from programs in the United States that typically accept only law school graduates.

“Since there was no clinical legal education in the country, the incubator in many ways served as a clinical opportunity for the students,” Rooney said. “They just flourished.”

Checo, whose remarks were translated from Spanish, said he attended the conference at Cal Western along with a couple of other Dominicans to take the lessons learned back home to bolster the work of the incubator.

With the support of another Fulbright grant, Rooney is hoping to start the second international incubator in Pakistan this spring.

Rooney, who has already made two trips to Islamabad, said the participating attorneys will likely focus on serving victims of domestic violence, as well as people with disabilities.

He said he would like to see more incubators sprout up internationally in areas where the percentage of people with unmet legal needs is higher than in the United States.

“If we think it is bad here, it is really bad in different parts of the world,” Rooney said.

Europe is one continent that could be home to future legal incubators.

Ostalinda Maya, who traveled to the conference from Hungary, said she would like to start an incubator for aspiring lawyers of Roma descent in Eastern Europe.

She highlighted that more Roma people are graduating from college and many are going to law school.

Maya said the mission of incubators to reduce the access to justice gap would mesh well with the goals of future Roma lawyers.

“In my conversations with the law students, they all mention that they want to practice law because they want to make a difference for their communities,” said Maya, project manager of the Open Society Foundations’ Legal Empowerment of Roma Communities initiative.

In addition, Maya said that Roma people often feel isolated and are discriminated against, so an incubator could provide a space for young attorneys to support one another.

Zaza Namoradze, director of the Budapest office of the Open Society’s Justice Initiative, also would like to see legal incubators launched in Eastern Europe.

Law students have been exposed to public-service work through legal clinics started around the world, Namoradze said, but he sees incubators as a way for graduates to continue the work after college.

“I hope in 15 years that globally there could be a vibrant movement on incubators as well,” he said.

Related articles:

· Judges: Legal incubators should include appellate lawyers

· Law school deans praise legal incubators

· Solo practitioners cite benefits of legal incubators

· Growth of legal incubator movement on display at conference

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