As Kate Rich tried to get her immigration law practice going after graduating from Seattle University School of Law in 2013, she often met her clients at a Denny's restaurant. Just a year later, she had her own office, a staff and a thriving practice. She credits much of her success to the support she received from Seattle University School of Law's Low Bono Incubator Program and attorney Dean Standish Perkins.
"The incubator program and Stan Perkins were invaluable to me," Rich said. "I never would have had the nerve to expand as quickly as I did if it weren't for the support of the Incubator."
The program, run through the law school's Access to Justice Institute, provides selected new attorneys with financial assistance and guidance as they "incubate" a law practice for 12 months. A low bono practice is built around serving clients of moderate means by offering reduced-fee legal services.
Perkins, a successful personal injury attorney who graduated from SU School of Law in 1985, provides funding and mentorship for four recent alumni selected for the inaugural program, including offering the use of his Seattle office and even staff time.
Perkins said it's gratifying to see how much Rich and her fellow Incubator attorneys grew in the first year. He is again providing funding and mentoring for the second group of Incubator attorneys this year. They are:
Melissa Eckstrom, who will focus on family law and criminal defense. Her goal is to assist in all aspects of family law and represent individuals with misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor charges.
Max Gibbs-Ruby, who is setting up a general law low bono practice focusing on family law, public benefits, immigration, nonprofit law, and specifically working to increase access to justice and advocacy for clients from a variety of racial, socio-economic, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic, religious, linguistic and disability backgrounds.
Jon Quittner, who is setting up a low bono practice in Long Beach with the goal of assisting the unserved population in Pacific County, where there are few attorneys. He will focus on elder law because of the large percentage of elderly people in the area, as well as landlord/tenant, criminal defense and family law.
John Varga, an Army veteran whose practice areas include estate planning, family law, criminal defense, landlord/tenant and veterans affairs. He is exploring ways to provide low bono legal services to veterans, specifically those of the post-9/11 generation. During his eight years in the Army Reserves, he was deployed to Afghanistan.
Perkins and Diana Singleton, director of the Access to Justice Institute, organize monthly brown-bag lunches on topics such as billable models and marketing. They are also recruiting attorneys to mentor the Incubator attorneys in their specific practice areas
The four new Incubator attorneys are excited to get their practices up and running and grateful for the assistance of the law school and Perkins, and the opportunity to help clients.
"I started a low bono practice in order to help children who have been abused, parents who are afraid, and individuals with moderate means," Eckstrom said. "Today, most of my family and non-law school friends would not meet the requirements to be assigned to a public defender, yet they also could not afford an attorney. I strongly believe that everyone deserves representation, and I want to do everything within my power to positively impact the lives of others."
Perkins is happy to be involved in helping alumni start their own businesses.
"I saw a little gap between the law school education, which was excellent, to passing the bar to jumping into the tank of entrepreneurship," he said. "I'm glad to be a part of it. It's the type of thing I always wished I had when I got out of school."