Maine's first incubator program, the Maine Community Law Center, opened in the fall of 2015. With support, mentoring and guidance from experienced members of the bar, MCLC’s lawyers provided quality legal services to those who need them. Through innovative uses of technology, a streamlined, cloud-based practice-management system, and a team approach, we reduced our overhead and allowed for the delivery of quality legal services at a lower cost. Unfortunately, MCLC closed in May 2020 due to the economic effects of the Covid-19 crisis.
MCLC offered legal services to people of modest means: those who earn too much to qualify for legal aid but cannot afford a full-priced attorney. The model of the firm allowed clients to pay for legal services on a sliding scale based on income or to pay a flat fee for some services. Clients who needed a limited amount of legal advice, help with only part of their case, or required services that can be provided through technology, could further reduce their costs and make access to justice affordable. New attorneys were supported by senior attorneys in the community, who practice in a variety of fields and who can provide specific guidance on a case by case basis.
The majority of people in Maine who need to access the courts do so without the benefit of an attorney. The consequences are significant: the individuals involved may not understand the legal process and experience disappointing and confusing results. Unintended mistakes can result in serious consequences that negatively impact the best interests of children and families and create financial challenges. These errors can require a return trip to court, with all the associated costs to the parties and to the court. The public’s confidence in the courts as a source of justice and relief is threatened. The legal system faces delays, difficulties and inefficient operations due to inexperienced litigants needing more time and direction from judges, magistrates and clerks. The consumers of legal services need more options for assistance when legal aid is not available, and the retainers of a typical law firm are out of reach.
Because MCLC was a nonprofit organization, built on a sustainable model that relied on fee generation to meet its budget, it did not compete with other legal aid projects for scarce resources.