The State Bar of Texas launched the Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator, or TOJI, today in Austin, with its inaugural group of participating lawyers starting their first day of the program, which aims to bridge the justice gap by connecting new lawyers in need of employment opportunities with citizens in need of legal assistance.
TOJI, the first statewide legal incubator in Texas, provides participating new lawyers with the real-world business skills needed to establish practices that serve low- and modest-income Texans. Studies have shown that only one in five low-income Americans and two in five middle-income Americans with civil needs find legal help.
“Currently, the enormous need for justice and the enormous need for opportunity don’t meet,” said State Bar President Frank Stevenson. “TOJI will provide justice for our fellow Texans and opportunity for our fellow Texas lawyers.” Stevenson made the program one of his primary presidential initiatives.
The movement toward legal incubators started in New York in 2007 and has since gained traction, with about 60 incubators currently up and running across the nation and in three other countries. There is no hard and fast curriculum that each follows, but most all participants and training are geared toward an entrepreneurial mindset.
“A big piece of what we were looking for in our interviews and selection process is that true entrepreneurial spirit of fortitude, tenacity, and flexibility,” said TOJI Director Anne-Marie Rábago. “An understanding that there will be failure but that you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and change direction if you need to and go in a different way.”
The selection process proved difficult. After the launch of TOJI’s website—txoji.com—in the fall of 2016, Rábago and her staff responded to more than 400 phone and email inquiries from potential applicants, volunteer attorneys, and law school faculty. Rábago received more than 45 applications for the available 10 spots in the initial cohort.
“I applied to the Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator program after attending an information session and learning about its objectives,” said Jackson Gorski, a member of the first cohort who has been licensed to practice law since 2014. “I wanted to join a group of new lawyers who are starting their own practices while focusing on assisting underserved Texans. The TOJI program is a novel approach to addressing both issues, and I am very excited to be a part of it.”
The first group will start with a three-week intensive boot camp, with the first week focused on starting a business, the second on getting clients, and the third on serving clients. “It is like drinking water from a fire hose,” Rábago said. “It sets the foundation, and they leave each day with a long to-do list. This is a full-time endeavor.”
DeVondolyn Arrington, a member of the first cohort who relocated to Austin to participate in the program, said the first day has been filled with positive energy. “It has been a good day. We’re getting to know each other and getting to know ourselves and what we are really going to do from here on out.”
TOJI is an 18-month program, with a new group of attorneys selected to join every six months and 30 participating at full capacity. After boot camp, the program is divided into six-month themes: acceleration (getting up and running), fine-tuning (honing and taking risks), and maintenance (identifying and documenting processes).
“It is everything toward being a business owner and entrepreneur that lawyers haven’t had to be,” Rábago said.
For more information about TOJI, go to txoji.com.
The first Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator cohort. Back row from left to right: Jackson Gorski, DeVondolyn Arrington, Kori Martin, Carolyn Cadena, Claire Vaho, and Andrew Bernick. Front row from left to right: Mary Rios, Crystal Fletcher, Sarah Kelly, and Mario Cantu