Baylor Law School: ‘100 Million Americans Can’t Afford Legal Services. What Can We Do About It?’

September 15, 2016

Baylor launches cost-conscious Legal Mapmaker program to narrow 'access to justice' gap

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WACO, Texas (Sept. 15, 2016) – "Can you afford a lawyer?"

That's the first question Stephen Rispoli, assistant dean of student affairs and pro bono programs at Baylor Law School, asks when he speaks about the access-to-justice gap – the staggering number of Americans who have basic legal needs but cannot afford the services of an attorney.

More than 100 million poor and middle-income Americans cannot afford representation for basic human needs, according to a study cited in the American Bar Association's recent "Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States." Basic human needs are defined in the report as cases related to shelter, sustenance, safety, health and child custody.

"The demand for services is certainly there, but an affordable supply of attorneys is not," Rispoli said.

In addition to the number of people who need representation, the ABA report notes that "many lawyers, especially recent law graduates, are unemployed or under-employed despite the significant unmet need for legal services."

"In our discussions, we saw these issues not just as two separate issues, but as two sides of the same coin," Rispoli said. "We said, 'More than 100 million Americans can't afford legal services. What can we do about it?' Thus, the idea for Legal Mapmaker was born."

Legal Mapmaker is a new Baylor Law School program designed to prepare young lawyers to open law firms. It provides a model business strategy with two goals: help lawyers succeed, and help the public find affordable legal services by showing lawyers how to provide legal services efficiently and with low overhead.

"Our program shows young lawyers how to create a law firm from scratch with overhead that is far less expensive than more traditional methods for running a law firm," Rispoli explained. "The key to low overhead is in leveraging advanced technology solutions and legal workflows to accomplish more with less."

Several recommendations outlined in the ABA's report, such as "educating students about innovation in legal series delivery," "mobile apps," "procurement efficiencies to lower costs," "project management and process improvement" and "advancements in technology," were incorporated into the materials and presentations for Legal Mapmaker.

The belief is that lower overhead for entrepreneurial attorneys will translate to affordability for the clients, Rispoli said.

He said that other law schools throughout the U.S. are addressing the access-to-justice issue. One approach, he said, is the creation of incubators, designed to help lawyers start a practice, provide office space, find clients and manage cases. He pointed to the ABA's 2016 Comprehensive Survey of Lawyer Incubators, which found that "sustainability is the greatest challenge facing an overwhelming number of programs."

"This is true simply because these incubator programs are expensive to run for a small group of people," Rispoli said. "Cost was definitely a consideration in creating Legal Mapmaker. We believe that if we can help a large group of people in a very short amount of time for very little money, our impact will be much greater."

The first two-day Legal Mapmaker workshop was held in late August. More than 30 young Texas lawyers attended and learned from experts who spoke on a range of topics from business plans, staffing and financial management to client relations, technology and community involvement.

Nearly all attendees pledged to take on one pro bono case during their first year of operation in exchange for the waiver of the $250 program fee.

"Our objective in waiving the fee was to give these young lawyers a taste of how satisfying it is to do something for someone who has a problem that requires a lawyer but can't afford one," said Baylor Law School Dean Brad Toben.

Baylor Law School takes steps to create a culture of pro bono service and instill in its future lawyers the importance of helping fellow citizens. Since 2010, Baylor Law students have devoted more than 9,500 recorded hours to pro bono efforts and, subsequently, ABA honored Baylor Law School with the 2015 Pro Bono Publico Award for demonstrating "outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services for the poor and disadvantaged."

"Legal Mapmaker's mission is to help young lawyers start a law firm efficiently, economically and ethically," Toben said. "By doing so, these young lawyers will be able to serve low- and moderate-income Americans and small businesses. Importantly, they will be serving their clients and making a profit. We believe those goals are essential to addressing the access-to-justice gap."

More information about Legal Mapmaker can be found on the website.

Stephen Rispoli, J.D., serves as assistant dean of student affairs and pro bono programs at Baylor Law School. He oversees all existing pro bono initiatives, community outreach activities, and helps develop new programs. He earned his political science degree from Baylor University in 2009 and his J.D. from Baylor Law School in 2012.

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

Established in 1857, Baylor Law School was one of the first law schools in Texas and one of the first west of the Mississippi River. Today, the school has more than 7,400 living alumni. It is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Baylor Law School has a record of producing outstanding lawyers, many of whom decide upon a career in public service. The Law School boasts two governors, members or former members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, two former directors of the FBI, U.S. ambassadors, federal judges, justices of the Texas Supreme Court and members of the Texas Legislature, among its notable alumni. In its law specialties rankings, U.S. News & World Report ranked Baylor Law's trial advocacy program as #4 in the nation. Baylor Law School is also ranked #55 in the magazine's 2017 edition of "America's Best Graduate Schools." The National Jurist ranks Baylor Law as one of the "Best School for Practical Training," and #4 in the nation in its most recent "Best Law School Facilities" listing. The Business Insider places Baylor Law among the top 50 law schools in the nation. Baylor Law School received the 2015 American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award, making it only the third law school in the nation to be honored with the award since the award's inception in 1984. Learn more at