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Big Sky Connection - New lawyers in rural Montana are taking advantage of a program that not only helps them get training but also allows them to network with other, more experienced lawyers across the state. The Rural Incubator Program for Lawyers also makes law school tuition reimbursement available for some attorneys. Comments from Gillian (hard G) Ellison, program coordinator, Rural Incubator Project for Lawyers.

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Incubator links attorneys with people in rural Montana who need their services the most but who may not be able to afford them

Mark Moran

May 24, 2023 - The Montana Legal Services Association has started a program to help young attorneys get started on a path to success - becoming community leaders, run socially conscious law firms, and maintain sustainable businesses.

The Rural Incubator Program for Lawyers creates a way for new attorneys to start their careers by helping connect them to rural clients with pro-bono and reduced-rate services.

Gillian Ellison, the incubator program coordinator, said it helps underserved people in Montana - while also giving lawyers a leg up on networking and kick-starting, or incubating, their careers.

"It's looking at the problem from both ways," said Ellison, "trying to get more attorneys in the rural places and also trying to facilitate the growth of new businesses that serve low-to moderate-income Montanans."

Montana Tribal members also stand to benefit from the rural lawyer incubator program, which requires the attorneys to perform 25 pro bono hours and 225 reduced rate service hours in exchange for training and assistance with business and client development.

Ellison said while the incubator program is especially helpful to underserved Montanans and members of the state's Indigenous tribes, it is also especially useful to lawyers who are just starting out and need the help that comes from more experienced attorneys - which can be difficult to get.

"Especially in a place like Montana where things are so spread out to have networking capacity because the networking and the mentoring is invaluable to a new attorney," said Ellison, "especially if you're not going to be working in a - or getting hired on to work in - a firm. "

The program also makes some tuition reimbursement assistance available for some lawyers who participate.