There are now 50 law school incubators, as listed by the ABA. Individual programs are listed and profiled here. This news makes the movement a highly significant one, and the time has some to talk intellectual infrastructure. In particular, it seems to me that the issues of research and evaluation now becomes critical.
I want to know what happens to the law graduates who go through these programs, and what kinds of practice they find sustainable. I want to know whether the kinds of services and resources make a difference. I am interested in who the clients are, both when the lawyers are in the incubators and afterwards. I want to know what the clients think of the lawyers and of the programs.
I also think it is critical to assess the broader impact on access to justice. Are the graduates making any significant dent in meeting unmet need? How much would these programs need to scale before they did that, and how much would that change over time? How do incubator innovations integrate with other innovations such as unbundled, online forms, navigators, technology and expanded non-lawyer options? Do they have the effect of expanding pro bono?
In addition, it would be helpful to know what kinds of supervision are most effective, and in what contexts, as well as impacts on law school recruiting, loan repayment and reputations. In other words, the research agenda is enormous.
Now, law schools are research as well as educational institutions, so the question is how to leverage the research resources and opportunities, and to do so in a way that maximizes credibility and effectiveness.
How about the incubator schools developing a research and evaluation consortium that would work on the following:
- Establishing a research agenda
- Developing typologies, terms, and definitions that would facilitate joint and comparable research
- Assist in raising money to conduct research derived from the research agenda
- Bring stakeholders into a process to ensure that the research would be practically useful.
- Communicating with groups that focus on research in education (beyond legal education), on access to justice and on the profession, and on the people needing services (such as SRLN)
- Developing evaluation tools and common comparable outcome measures.
Relatively small contributions from the schools should be enough to launch such a consortium. Indeed, $10K contributions each from the 50 schools would provide half a million dollars.