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Nonprofit law firm offers residency program to graduates

Legal News Reporter

Published: July 2, 2014

Those who finish medical school are required to undergo years of postgraduate training as interns and residents, and depending on the chosen specialty, perhaps as fellows. But that’s not how things work in the legal profession.

Once law students pass the bar, most put their skills to the test as associates at law firms or in other entry-level positions, unless of course, they secure a spot at a place like Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services.

The nonprofit firm is one of an emerging number in the country to offer a residency program to young lawyers. Others include Phoenix-based Alumni Law Group, which was created to provide on-the-job training to recent graduates of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Closer to home, there is the newly launched Cleveland-Marshall Solo Practice Incubator, designed to help those at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law transition into practice.

“Our goal is to provide access to justice,” said attorney Emily Collins, executive director at Fair Shake.

Therefore, attorneys who sign on to its two-year residency program must be willing to serve modest means clients.

Collins, who received her juris doctor from Pace Law School, has spent her entire career practicing environmental law and teaching. Prior to founding Fair Shake, she was in charge of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law’s Environmental Law Clinic.

The Port Washington, Ohio native said her time at the clinic allowed her to see how great a need there was for affordable environmental legal help. Collins began working to create Fair Shake in 2013, opening offices in Pittsburgh and Akron on May 1, 2014.

“Our business model is very diverse,” said Collins. “We represent everyone from individual landowners to small businesses.

“I chose Pittsburgh and Akron because of the accessibility to our potential client base, which includes many areas of environmental law, such as the full spectrum of air, waste, and water issues,” she said.

So far, there are a total of 7 attorneys; four in the Pittsburgh location at 3445 Butler St. and three, including herself, in Akron at 159 S. Main St.

The offices are structured so that a senior attorney will oversee the residents.

Resident attorney David Armstrong will be located in the Akron office. He learned about the program while working in the environmental law clinic at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, the place where he received his juris doctor.

“There are fewer opportunities for recent graduates because of the recession,” said Armstrong. “When I complete the residency program I will be able to chart a more independent course for myself, maybe even starting my own practice.

“Law school prepares you for the practice of law but it doesn’t teach you how to be a small business owner. Here I will get everything from legal to entrepreneurial and marketing training.”

Armstrong, who is licensed in Pennsylvania, plans to live in Akron and take the bar in February.

Collins said he and the other residents will have a strong voice in deciding which matters to handle.

“If they tell us they want to tackle stormwater, then we will do a lot of work in that area,” said Collins.

While the firm is focusing on the Pennsylvania-Ohio area, Collins said she would be open to starting offices in other areas. “Once we are established, I fully expect to receive inquiries from other regions,” she said.