October 22, 2020

Georgetown pairs up with DLA Piper, Arent Fox to open low bono firm

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Krantz-Treanor-Article-201504101255By Susan Beck, From The Am Law Daily

In a novel effort to address the civil legal needs of lower income people, Georgetown University Law Center is working with two major law firms to create a small nonprofit law firm in Washington, D.C.

The unprecedented collaboration, announced Monday, is aimed at providing legal services at affordable rates to people with modest incomes who don’t qualify for free legal aid because they’re not poor enough.

The DC Affordable Law Firm is slated to start taking clients in the fall, and will be staffed by six salaried lawyers from this year’s graduating class of Georgetown students. The law firms—DLA Piper and Arent Fox—will provide a range of services and support.

Retired DLA partner Sheldon Krantz will work for free as the firm’s full-time executive director, and roughly a dozen DLA partners and associates will be involved in training and mentoring the new lawyers. The so-called low bono firm will operate out of nearly 1,200 square feet of space on K Streeet donated by Arent Fox, which also be providing administrative support, as well as help with training.

“There is a massive population of people who do not qualify for legal aid and can’t afford the rates that lawyers normally charge,” says Krantz, who estimates that 100,000 people in the D.C. area would qualify for this firm’s services. “”Georgetown, Arent Fox and DLA Piper want to create a nonprofit firm to serve this largely unrepresented population that can be replicated nationally.”

The new firm will take clients whose incomes are between 200-400 percent of the federal poverty level. Individuals would qualify if they made between $23,540 and $47,080; a family of four could be served if its income was between $48,500 and $97,000. (Individuals with lower incomes qualify for free legal aid.)

A fee structure for the low bono firm is still in the works. Benjamin Boyd, the co-managing partner of DLA’s D.C. office, says they’re trying to avoid using billable hours as much as possible.

“We’ll work as hard as we can to set fair and reasonable flat fees for most of what we do,” he says.

If hourly rates are appropriate, they might be in the range of $50-75 an hour—a sizable discount over the average billable rates in the District of Columbia for small firms with fewer than five lawyers, which according to a 2011 survey of attorneys’ fees, stood at $287 an hour. For firms larger than that, the hourly rate was $478.

Millions of Americans who need critical legal services can’t afford them, and have to go unrepresented in legal proceedings for such vital matters as evictions, child custody disputes and veterans benefits problems. A 2008 report by the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission, for example, found that well over 95 percent of tenants in housing court appear without counsel.

“I think this is responsive to one of the great crises in the access-to-justice areas,” says Georgetown Dean William Treanor of the low bono project. “I think what we’re doing is a real model that can be replicated by others.”

Treanor adds that the law firm support is “absolutely crucial” to the project. “The law firms are necessary to make this go. We are very grateful to them.”

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