Ginny Bell, Interim Executive Director of CCLI

Taking legal initiative

A new initiative gives new lawyers the chance to establish themselves and gain experience while helping low- to moderate-income community members

By Grace Bymark
Tuesday, November 3, 2015

As of early this year, there is a new initiative striving to make a difference in the legal field. It’s part of a plan to benefit many, targeting low- to moderate-income community members, while giving young lawyers a chance to gain experience and establish their careers. The growing endeavor is called Collaborative Community Law Initiative (CCLI) and is currently raising donations with hopes of officially starting its program in January of 2016.

The goal is to bridge the justice gap in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul areas, and to increase the number of attorneys in the state working towards this goal. Modeling the project after a number of other successful versions of its kind, CCLI has partnered up with the local, soon-to-be merged, school Mitchell | Hamline School of Law to create a planned legal incubator. Here, graduates may apply to engage in 18 months of comprehensive training with experienced mentors to start their own community-based law firms. These young firms are intended to serve the part of the population which cannot access affordable justice – folks with an income too high to qualify for free legal aid, but too low to practically pay for a lawyer.

Current Interim Executive Director of the initiative, Ginny Bell, and the CCLI board started a crowdfunding site to raise additional money for the project last Monday. “We appreciate every dollar we receive, but we have a long ways to go and need everyone’s help to get there,” she comments. By November 24 this year, they are hoping to have raised $25, 000 in order to lease and furnish a space for the new lawyers, and to actually begin operating CCLI. In addition to cash donations, Bell mentioned that they could use some help obtaining furniture, paintings, and small items to make the incubator an office. The board is also looking for lawyers and judges with experience in poverty law, solo, or small practices, who are willing to assist in training and mentoring with CCLI.

In order to give students some experience before they graduate and an opportunity to participate in CCLI, Mitchell | Hamline is offering an Incubator Residency program for third-year students in their last semester of law school. With plans to have the program up for students this coming January, it will offer students direction to develop a plan of business for their own community-based, incubator practices and allow them to be fully immersed experience in the legal practice. Bell very clearly explained that students who participate in the residency program are not automatically accepted into CCLI’s graduate program; they must apply and be accepted.

The law firms that are projected to be birthed from this initiative shall ideally be low bono, community-based and culturally sensitive; they are being developed to serve Minnesotan’s in the face of logistical and cultural barriers, to bridge the justice gap. "There is such a need for legal services in the community...people lose jobs because they don't have a lawyer to help them," Bell explains. With the help of community members, CCLI has the potential to expand legal assistance to those who are denied equal access to justice and to help the young lawyers who are determined to do good service in their communities.

If you would like to learn more about CCLI click here for the Facebook page.