Nonprofit Affiliate, The Commons Law Center

 In NewLaw, Non-Profits, Social Enterprise

80% of Americans don’t have access to basic legal services while 50% have a civil legal need at any given time, and 33% of new lawyers are under- or unemployed.

Catalyst Law is rooted in community and committed to creative problem-solving – it’s why we founded the firm with an emphasis in social enterprise law. As our way of giving back, we are proud & thrilled to announce the launch of our new nonprofit affiliate and a social enterprise venture of our own, The Commons Law Center.

The Commons Law Center is designed to do good and demonstrate a new model for legal services. First, low and moderate income Americans do not have access to basic legal services, and next, un- and under-employment for new lawyers remains high, further constricting the supply of trained attorneys providing legal assistance to the underserved.

The mission of The Commons Law Center is to revolutionize access to and delivery of basic legal services, information, and support for underserved people, businesses, and nonprofits. In January, The Commons Law Center began offering programs to income-qualified people in Oregon who need legal support for Small Business Startup, Nonprofit Formation, Legal Audits for small businesses and non-profit organizations, and Estate Planning and Administration. In April 2017, The Commons Law Center added Family Law as a practice area — about a year ahead of schedule.

As a new model for legal services, The Commons Law Center charges fees for service to limit its reliance on philanthropy (e.g. grants and donations) and instead achieve financial sustainability. Strategies, such as limiting work to straightforward matters, adopting alternative fee structures, leveraging workflow management, and relying on volunteer mentors to help provide services cost-effectively. As The Commons Law Center develops the model for a new legal practice, it plans to share what it learns to enable other lawyers to iterate on the model and further expand access.

Moreover, The Commons Law Center is committed to collaborating with the existing ecosystem of pro- and low bono public legal service providers in Oregon to build new, effective partnerships and avoid duplicating existing efforts in the furtherance of helping address the staggering unmet legal needs in our communities. The Commons Law Center looks forward to robust community partnerships that create greater access for low and moderate income people who currently go without legal help.

The Commons Law Center plans to staff a fellowship program by hiring up to three lawyers, each a recent graduate and admitted to practice law in Oregon, who are committed to creating social good. Legal fellows provide sliding-scale, flat-fee legal services to income-qualified clients, as well as free community legal education.

You can learn more about this new community resource at TheCommonsLawCenter.org. If you are interested in volunteering as a mentor-lawyer, obtaining services, working to expand access to legal services, information, or support, or anything else, please sign up here.

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