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TOJI Lawyers Flourish During Pandemic and Economic Uncertainty

Headshot of Trey Apffel

While 2020 has seen record unemployment numbers brought on by a pandemic and a volatile economy, lawyers in the Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator have found themselves well prepared to weather the uncertainty and to continue delivering legal services to Texas communities.

Over the past decade, the popularity of legal incubator programs focused on supporting entrepreneurial lawyers while improving access to affordable legal services has grown exponentially. The State Bar of Texas joined this movement in April 2017 by launching the Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator under the leadership of then-President Frank Stevenson.

In less than three years, the TOJI program helped start and build 72 solo, small, and nonprofit law firms spanning 35 areas of law. Better yet, these firms are providing quality service to low- and modest-income clients—offering much-needed access to justice to our fellow Texans.

Some people can’t afford the market rate for lawyers in their communities, and there is tremendous market opportunity for lawyers willing to offer accessible legal services.

Don’t take my word for it. We have real-world examples of TOJI lawyers and alumni who are finding success through the innovative delivery of legal services:

  • Calli Baldwin, of Richmond, was motivated to experiment with different fee structures, including flat fees, to make quality legal representation more affordable for her family law clients.

  • San Antonio immigration lawyer Mario Humberto Cantú reimagined his practice to focus on empowering clients. By offering transparent pricing and using technology to improve how he engages clients, Cantú helps them overcome systemic and financial barriers to justice.

  • Austin’s Carl Guthrie and Kannon Moore co-founded the Texas Poverty Law Project and argued the nation’s first virtual jury trial in Travis County Justice of the Peace Precinct Five. You can read more about their endeavors in “Creating Alternatives,” an article in the November 2020 Texas Bar Journal.

  • Four TOJI alums—Nicole Burns, of Georgetown; Sonya Butts, of Houston; Deborah Hubbs, of The Woodlands; and Kannon Moore, of Austin—were selected to join the inaugural class of the Advocate Attorneys Consumer Protection Fellowship where they provide access to justice for consumers in claims against debt collectors, credit reporting agencies, and other financial predators.

  • Caroline Nelson, of Austin, built concrete, creative legal service delivery options that range from traditional to limited-scope representation, client coaching to intermediation, as well as stand-alone courses that provide resources to families that may not be capable of hiring a lawyer to help them navigate a disability-related school law issue.

  • Nii Amaa Ollennu, of McKinney, developed and began implementing a video content plan on YouTube tailored to his ideal clients, individuals in the justice gap, and those who do not want to read long blog posts.

  • Alex Shahrestani, of Austin, collaborated with his wife to offer startups and nonprofits a variety of legal services using future-focused tech and billing practices, including process automation and subscription fees.

As evidenced by these outstanding examples, TOJI helps lawyers gain the skills and knowledge to grow sustainable businesses serving underserved communities in Texas.

No longer an exclusively Austin-based program, TOJI moved to a virtual platform in early 2020. Now, attorneys from across the entire state of Texas, including its more rural and distant areas, can join this supportive, vibrant community of like-minded entrepreneurs and learn to run a law office with a focus on innovation and service.

If you want to collaborate with pioneering Texas lawyers who are making a difference in their communities, then we are looking for you! TOJI will begin accepting applications for its sixth cohort on December 7. Learn more and apply by visiting txoji.com and following @txoji_a2j on social media.


Executive Director, State Bar of Texas
Editor-in-Chief, Texas Bar Journal

Trey Apffel can be reached at 512-427-1500, trey.apffel@texasbar.com or @ApffelT on Twitter.

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