Stan Perkins helps legal entrepreneurs find their footing—while helping those who can’t afford a lawyer
Published in 2020 Washington Super Lawyers magazine
on July 16, 2020
Updated on July 21, 2020
When Stan Perkins got out of law school in 1985, the first thing he did was hang his own shingle. “I was always pretty entrepreneurial,” he says, “and I always thought that I wanted to be my own boss.”
It wasn’t as easy as he thought. He ended up working on the side as a waiter at Red Robin, a model for companies ranging from REI to Nordstrom, and as an actor—even appearing on Northern Exposure as “Handsome Man.”
At the office, he says, “There were some days I would just sit there all dressed up like an attorney, ready to go, and there’d be days on end when it was a little lonely. After a few days like that, you tend to doubt yourself and doubt your decisions, and if you don’t have anyone to talk to about that, I’m sure a lot of people just give up on that dream.”
Perkins decided to try reaching out to experienced lawyers: “I would just cold-call attorneys that I’d heard about, attorneys I’d seen at CLEs. Classmates were very helpful to me. I was just trying to pick the brains of as many people as I could think of.”
The advice paid off. Now a successful personal injury attorney, Perkins is paying it forward to lawyers struggling to establish solo or small practices. For the past seven years, he has teamed up with his alma mater, Seattle University School of Law, to run the Low Bono Incubator Program for its alumni through SU’s Access to Justice Institute.
They’re bringing together two groups with needs: one for legal help, the other for clients. Participants agree to offer their services during the program at reduced fees to clients whose annual incomes are modest, but not low enough to qualify for free legal aid. In Washington state, that equates to about $13,000 to $44,000. “Most of our incubatees really have a calling for changing the world,” says Perkins.
In exchange, the newbie lawyers receive a year of mentoring, workshops, CLEs, networking—and even the use of Perkins’ office space, conference room and copy machine. Included is his coveted Pioneer Square mailing address; since many new lawyers are working out of their homes at this point, having a place to meet with people is very helpful.
“If you can say, ‘I’ve got a downtown Seattle office address,’ it gives them a little bit of credibility,” he notes.
Perkins works with Cindy Yeung, director of the Access to Justice Institute at SU, on selecting each batch of participants. The size of the group has ranged from four to 11 lawyers, for a total so far of 45.
“People talk about the can-do,” he says. “My modification is a little bit of the want-to. There’s something about the true entrepreneur. Their pilot light is burning a little bit hotter. And they’re going to be soaking up all the information we’re giving them.”
For the first five years of the program, Perkins gave each participant a $3,000 stipend out of his own pocket. Karena Rahall, then-director of the Access to Justice Institute, pointed out, “You know, Stan, I don’t think we need to do that anymore.” Some incubator programs around the country charge tuition; it’s rare to find one that actually pays participants.
Perkins has gathered the group monthly at his office, where a guest speaker addresses business topics. His own CPA offers bookkeeping tips. New this year is a life coach, who spoke in February about balancing work and personal time. Marketing experts were on tap for the summer. Other get-togethers include networking events and workshops on legal skills. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, “we’ve been using Zoom for all of our meetings,” Perkins says. “We did Zoom for the meeting with my CPA, we did a Zoom meeting with our marketing team, and then we’ve done individual marketing meetings all on Zoom. … It’s quite remarkable. We continue to meet [virtually] and encourage and inspire, if we can.”
Christopher Bhang, an immigration lawyer with Ineō Law Group, was part of the 2016 group. “You could invest as much time or as little time as you wanted,” he says. “I remember going to every single training or networking function and, every time, walking away with a new referral or a new client or some new connection that panned out in the future.”
Each participant gets a mentor who is an experienced lawyer in the same practice area. Perkins keeps a roster of solo attorneys willing to guide new lawyers. Most participants are in family law and immigration, followed by criminal defense and estate planning. Perkins’ area, personal injury, comes in fifth, though this year he is mentoring two participants in his area.
Andre Dayani, of Dayani Law Firm, was in the 2018 group. He was so impressed with Perkins that he expanded his criminal defense practice to include personal injury. Dayani says the camaraderie and support within the incubator program kept him going.
“You have a bunch of people who are starting their own thing,” he says. “That emboldens you to live out your dream and go all the way with it.”
Requirements for Applicants
- SU graduate
- Launching solo or small firm
- Admitted to practice in Washington
- Have, or soon to have, malpractice insurance
- Commitment to spend 60% of their time with clients of moderate means