What Makes BALI a Social Mission Incubator?

What Makes BALI a Social Mission Incubator?

Reducing the justice gap by allying with Bay Area communities to help us all thrive


Bridging the Justice Gap

BALI is a social mission incubator, meaning we help attorneys accelerate the development of solo practices that have positive impact in our communities and our neighbors’ lives. What does all this mean in practice?

Nationally, BALI is part of a movement of legal incubators that aim to reduce the justice gap while supporting attorneys in building sustainable law practices.

There is a growing awareness that wealth disparities in the US have created a socioeconomic climate whereby fewer and fewer people can afford full-priced legal services. Very few of us can afford to pay anyone, let alone an attorney, $300 per hour for some undefined, open number of hours!

The growing numbers of people unable to afford access to our country’s legal system is referred to as the “justice gap.” And the US has a terrible justice gap.

" The U.S. 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…

According to statistics recently released by the American Bar Association (ABA), …nearly one million people who qualified for legal aid in 2012 were turned away because of a shortage of lawyers serving low-income people.

The problem is not limited to poor populations; fewer than four out of ten moderate-income people turn to the legal system for solutions, and more than a quarter of those with legal problems do nothing. This disparity has come to be called the “justice gap,” describing the growing numbers of the public who are too poor to afford a lawyer yet not poor enough to qualify for legal aid." 

-  Kirsten Mickelwait, Bay Area Legal Incubator Mentors New Lawyers to Narrow Justice Gap (7/29/15)

The incubator movement seeks to address the justice gap by training and supporting attorneys in developing “modest means” practices – 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 economically sustainable for lawyers.

Watch a video produced by the American Bar Association on legal incubators:


A Community of Community Lawyers

So what does BALI’s work to reduce the justice gap really look like?

Here at BALI, we require that our attorneys spend a minimum of half of their time taking on either pro bono/free or reduced fee legal work for people of modest means with household incomes of three times the national poverty level or less. Many of our attorneys perform much more that this baseline required level of work toward reducing the justice gap.

Our attorneys are at the forefront of legal practice in efforts to address the justice gap. The BALI community is working to make a better profession that is accessible to everyone, not merely the wealthy, and that partners with communities to help us all thrive.

Not accidentally, our attorneys reflect the diversity of the Bay Area communities they seek to partner with to make positive change. Demographically, 70% of attorneys in our hub 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. When entering the incubator program, before building their practices, 50% were living in households at or below poverty level and were receiving public entitlements; another 20% were living in households of modest economic means, within three times the poverty level. All of our attorneys are juggling significant student debt. 

Our attorneys also have a long-term, demonstrated commitment to using their legal skills to create social impact. To be accepted into our community, attorneys needed to demonstrate significant commitment to pro bono and social justice legal work with disenfranchised communities. Our attorneys hold a strong belief that pro bono practice - providing legal services free of charge - is important: our attorneys typically performed over 100 hours of pro bono work while in law school (3 performed between 1,000 and 2,000 hours while a student, and one performed over 2,000 hours); after graduating law school, most performed over 100 hours annually, and some performed thousands of hours of fee pro bono work. 

Our attorneys are dedicated to serving communities in need because those are their own communities. Working with a BALI attorney means working with a community attorney who views her or his work as reflecting the needs and interests of their own community.