A new wave of Denver lawyers are flipping the traditional law practice on its head.
Legal Entrepreneurs for Justice (LEJ), a small business incubator supported by the University of Colorado Law School that trains talented and entrepreneurial lawyers wanting to provide affordable legal solutions to low- and middle-income Coloradans, launched its first cohort this month in Denver.
Nearly 70% of civil litigants in Colorado appear in court unrepresented by legal counsel because they are unable to find and obtain quality legal representation at a reasonable rate, said Laurie Gilbertson, LEJ’s executive director.
They are part of the low- and middle-income population in Colorado who earn too much money to qualify for free legal services but not enough money to afford a traditional attorney billing by the hour.
The 18-month program, modeled after the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Justice Entrepreneurs Project, prepares lawyers to help bridge this access to justice gap by giving them the training, resources, mentoring, and support to launch and manage innovative, socially conscious, and successful law practices. LEJ helps its participant attorneys serve this population in a creative and innovative way by using predictable pricing, flexible representation options to the billable hour, and leveraging technology to provide better service and engagement to clients, Gilbertson said.
"Colorado Law supports LEJ because it is serving the needs of Colorado citizens who lack sufficient access to justice, as well as the legal profession, by giving program participants the support, guidance, and mentoring necessary to render quality, affordable legal services. We are excited to see two Colorado Law alumni— James Marshall ('18) and Jared Ritvo ('16)— in LEJ’s inaugural cohort, and look forward to seeing the program flourish," said Jennifer Sullivan, Colorado Law’s senior assistant dean for administration and program development.
Shortly after finishing a clerkship in domestic law in Colorado’s 17th Judicial District Court, Ritvo decided he wanted to start his own family law practice. He learned about LEJ from John McKee, director for government and public interest in Colorado Law’s Career Development Office.
"I was excited to learn LEJ could help me create a socially conscious law practice that does not operate on the billable hour, that it would provide me significant marketing and business management training, and that I would attain substantive law training through the pro bono residency program," Ritvo said. "I was also excited that it could help me get past some of the isolation of starting a solo practice in that I would have colleagues doing the same thing."
The program is broken into three six-month modules. First, participants complete 20 hours per week of "pro bono residency" at one of LEJ’s partner legal aid organizations, which include Project Safeguard, Metro Volunteer Lawyers, and the Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel. In the second and third modules, participants are paired with mentors and receive supplemental training on topics such as attorney wellness, entrepreneurship and innovation, and growing their law practice. Towards the end of the program, participants develop fuller caseloads and continue to receive training, mentoring, and coaching on business and legal issues while they prepare to move their practices out of LEJ at the end of the 18 months.
“I think the program will help me create a more organized practice that engages clients better through effective use of technology, and that it will provide me valuable substantive legal training through my pro bono residency in the family law division at Colorado Legal Services,” Ritvo said.
Colorado Supreme Court Justice and Colorado Law Adjunct Professor Melissa Hart first identified the need for LEJ, and in April 2018, established an organizing committee comprising a host of community supporters and Colorado Law alumni. Among them are Colorado Law’s Jennifer Sullivan; Jon Asher, executive director, Colorado Legal Services; Jay Kamlet (’89), managing director, Kamlet Law LLP; David Stark (’73), retired partner, Faegre Baker Daniels, who also serves as LEJ board president; and Ryann Peyton, executive director, Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program.
Following seed funding from Colorado Law, LEJ was officially formed on July 6, 2018, and received its 501(c)(3) status in April 2019.
In November, the program will add its second cohort of attorneys. Practicing attorneys or graduating law students can learn more and apply at lejco.org/apply/.
Read more: Legal Entrepreneurs for Justice Launches Inaugural Class (Law Week Colorado)
Pictured (top): Colorado Law alumni Nick Troxel ('17) and Josh Fitch ('17) of Troxel Fitch, LLC lead a session on "Entity Formation and Tax Issues" at the LEJ boot camp on June 3. Fitch serves as an LEJ board member.
Pictured (below): LEJ attorneys James Marshall ('18), Cristina Uribe Reyes, and Jared Ritvo ('16) attend a boot camp session on marketing their law practices.