What is the Bay Area Legal Incubator (BALI) and how did it start?
Bay Area Legal Incubator (BALI) is a vital new program of the Volunteer Legal Services Corporation (VLSC), in collaboration with 5 Bay Area Law Schools and the Alameda County Law Library. BALI is not a law firm. It is a community of solo attorneys dedicated to providing affordable legal services and promoting social justice.
BALI provides a two-year program to help attorneys accelerate the launch of solo practices serving low-and middle-income clients in a wide spectrum of practice areas. Local communities benefit from increased access to affordable legal assistance. Attorneys benefit from a shared community and office space, free resources, mentoring and training in emerging best practices and technology.
Wealth disparity in the United States has created a socioeconomic climate whereby fewer and fewer people can afford full-priced legal services. The United States is currently ranked lowest among industrialized nations on the World Justice Project Civil Justice Index for access to civil justice—behind such countries as Estonia, Iran, Ghana, and Nigeria.
In response to the increased need for affordable legal services for lower-to-middle income people not qualifying for legal aid, ACBA/VLSC CEO Tiela Chalmers conceived of the BALI program to help address this growing justice gap by training and supporting attorneys in developing “modest means” practices. Modest means is defined as between 125% and 400% of the federal poverty level – an annual gross income of $14,713 to $47,080 for an individual or $30,313 to $97,000 annually for a family of four.
BALI attorneys are able to create modest means practices in part by de-bundling legal services and charging flat, reduced fees or charging reduced hourly or contingency fees for more complex matters to make legal services affordable for a broader range of clients, while also being economically sustainable for solo practice lawyers.
What are some of the goals of BALI?
BALI stands out nationally among incubator or apprenticeship programs for its collaborative partners’ resolve to strenuously vet applicants for their demonstrated commitment to social justice and a long-term commitment to establishing modest means practices. BALI is training people who are becoming modest means practitioners by design, not default. The goal is to build an ever-increasing number of sustainable modest means practices in our community.
A commitment to social justice infuses every aspect of the two-year program design, including the requirement that BALI attorneys commit 20 hours a week to performing pro bono legal services for indigent people during the first 6 months of the program, and 20 hours a week thereafter to modest means work.
Who are the BALI attorneys and what are some of the things they have been doing?
BALI attorneys reflect the diversity of the Bay Area communities they seek to partner with to make positive change. Demographically, 70% of BALI attorneys are people of color; 30% are immigrants; 40% are first generation US citizens; over 70% are bi or tri lingual; 61% are female; over 50% identify as LGBTQI; 25% identify as living with a disability.
Already BALI attorneys are making a difference. Literally the first day BALI launched in January, one BALI attorney took on an eviction defense case of a disabled and homebound veteran who had no counsel and was able to represent the client in court that same day. Two BALI attorneys have already become active VLSC volunteers, and since January, BALI attorneys have completed over 3,100 hours of pro bono legal services, assisting dozens of people living within the modest means threshold.
VLSC is excited to have launched a program already evidencing an impact on equal access to justice in the Bay Area.
Interested in learning more about BALI and the legal incubator movement? Check out our website: https://www.bayarealegalincubator.org/. For more information on other VLSC programs, check out: https://www.acbanet.org/Volunteer%20Legal%20Services/Volunteer.aspx