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January 31, 2014

CM-Law to launch solo practice incubator

By Mara Biggs

On Feb. 4 at 5 p.m. Cleveland-Marshall College of Law will hold the grand opening of its solo practice incubator. It will be the first law school-based incubator in Ohio and one of about 10 in the U.S.
Recent CM graduates are eligible to become tenants at the newly-constructed state-of-the-art incubator in the law library. The incubator will help them establish private firms in an area of law that interests them and serve any client population they choose.

“Our whole goal is to give start-up firms a better chance to get started and get on their feet during the hardest times in the life of a small firm – the beginning,” said incubator project leader Professor Chris Sagers. “We do this through significantly subsidized rent and other services, through the unequaled atmosphere of law practice within the walls of one’s own law school in the company of faculty and fellow graduates, and with the support of the entire Cleveland-Marshall alumni community.”

According to Dean of Law Craig Boise, solo practices have traditionally been fallback options for law school graduates who don’t obtain a position with a firm. The resources being offered by Cleveland-Marshall to recent graduates will make solo practices more viable.

Sagers said that they’re aiming to maintain around 10 tenants per year but that the incubator space can accommodate up to 15.

Tenants will be selected based on the quality of their proposed business plan and evidence of promise as a solo practitioner, Sagers said.

“Prior experience, training and success in law school will also be considered,” he added.
Each tenant will sign a two-year lease contract with discounted rent and 24-hour secure access. Tenants will also have access to Cleveland State University’s wireless internet network, filing space and business amenities, professional liability insurance, health and life insurance, marketing materials, financial services and free continuing legal education opportunities.

Though there is not yet a rule against lease renewals after tenants’ two-year contracts are up, Sagers said that he expects renewals will be strongly disfavored since the goal is to continue helping new start-ups, and since the law school “probably can’t justify offering substantially subsidized rent to tenants indefinitely.”

Tenants will receive guidance in the management of their firms and the handling of cases from coordinators from established law firms in Cleveland. The coordinators will be compensated by Cleveland State as independent consultants.

The incubator will have some transparent walls so that students studying in the law library can view live-operating firms throughout the day.

Cleveland-Marshall staff believe the solo practice incubator will help along the evolution of legal education by offering more practice-oriented, experience-based training.

The incubator should also encourage a new model for the delivery of legal services, with current models being inflexible, expensive and unavailable to many Americans, staff said.

“This is a tremendously important project for Cleveland’s legal community,” said Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association president and CM alum Carter Strang.

The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association is Cleveland-Marshall’s key partner in the incubator project.

Strang said he believes the partnership will cultivate a new group of entrepreneurial professionals “with the potential to create more growth in our community.”