A visit to the Mayo Clinic gave Dean Douglas J. Sylvester of Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law the inspiration for an innovative program: a law firm equivalent of a teaching hospital. Law school graduates are not generally prepared to practice law, even with a law degree. The law school would develop a not-for-profit law firm to train recent graduates of the law school with on-the-job learning and to provide the public with affordable legal services in a variety of practice areas. The result was the ASU Alumni Law Group.
The Group’s CEO and President, Marty Harper, says that the Group fills an important need in the Phoenix area for lawyers who can provide affordable legal services. There are many people in the community who need legal services but have trouble finding someone to help at a cost they can afford. Legal services have been “priced out of reach for many people.” The answer is the Alumni Law Group, with offices in downtown Phoenix, the first teaching law firm associated with a law school.
One of the Group’s supervising attorneys, Bob McWhirter, says that an objective of the Group is to create a place where “new lawyers are nurtured. You don’t learn how to be a lawyer in law school.” Traditionally, law firms provided that nurturing and learning place. But the economics of law firm practice “have shut the door to a lot of the training law firms used to do.” The Group’s intention is to provide what might be described as an apprenticeship for new lawyers.
Bradley Scott, an associate attorney with the Group, explains that the Group has speakers come in every Friday to talk about different areas of the law. The idea is to help train new lawyers to become professionals. These sessions also help prepare new lawyers to enter practice in particular specialties and to decide what practice areas sound attractive (and which do not). The Group’s experienced lawyers provide apprenticeship experience by closely supervising new lawyers. The Group provides legal services in the areas of family law, criminal defense, business and real estate transactions, election law, estate planning, employment law, consumer law, and more.
Many of the associates come to the Group with ideas of what kind of law they want to practice. However, many find new interests after they “get their feet wet” practicing law. Scott notes that his background was in business and transactional law, but what he has done while at the Group has opened his eyes to other possibilities. Associate attorney Ijana Harris says that she came to the Group with an interest (and background) in lobbying. She had no interest in criminal law. However, the Group wants its lawyers to work in many different areas. After trying her first criminal defenses case, she found it exciting enough that she is starting to lean toward criminal practice as a career choice.
The Group’s efforts have been embraced by the legal community in Phoenix. Harper explains that the Group surveyed practice areas and ruled out several, including immigration law. “There are a lot of ASU graduates . . . making a living in the immigration area.” The Group also avoids DUI cases. On the other hand, the Group got into family law. Harper notes that the Group gets a lot of referrals from family lawyers in the Phoenix area who can’t take on a particular client. Small business practice has been another good area for the Group because of the many small businesses in the community and the difficulty they have in finding lawyers.
The Group’s supervising attorneys are optimistic about the future of their enterprise. McWhirter says that the Group’s biggest evolution will be to expand its number of associates. The objective is to get as many as eighteen associates and six to eight supervising attorneys. The Group is also looking at expanding into other areas of practice to add its list of services. The future looks bright.
The ASU Alumni Law Group is located at Two North Central, Suite 1600, Phoenix, AZ 85004. They can be reached by phone at (602) 251-3620. There is a contact form on the Group’s website. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.