Her own experiences navigating the legal system after her husband was a victim of a violent crime prompted Mindy Yocum to trade a career in food and beverage management for a law degree and socially conscious self-owned practice Yocum Law.
“I became frustrated with the injustices of our justice system,” she says.
As an average citizen Yocum was facing challenges navigating the system, and realized that if she was, others were – and some likely to an ever greater extent.
“People without access to legal help or knowledge of the legal system are at an incredible disadvantage,” she says.
Yocum wasn’t just going to sit and wait for a solution, “I need to do more about this,” she thought.
Yocum enrolled in the part-time evening program at Capital Law School in 2011. She graduated in 2015 and in February of 2016, started her own practice.
Yocum Law opened with the intention of serving clients that fall in ‘the gap’ – they make too much money to receive pro bono legal aid, but not enough to pay the average attorney fee (which Yocum found equates to 35 hours of minimum-wage work for just one hour of an average attorney’s rate). Some five million Ohioans live in that gap.
Yocum instituted a sliding fee scale based on income and started gaining clients. Through her practice though, she saw just how much of a disadvantage people who didn’t have attorneys or understand the legal system face.
She wanted to create a safe place where people could ask questions without feeling intimidated.
“Our goal is to make the legal system less intimidating and more accessible,” Yocum says.
That means handling issues efficiently and effectively before they spiral out of control. Yocum points out that it’s a ripple down effect – taking care of things head on potentially means fewer people in prison, fewer foreclosures, fewer evictions, fewer custody cases, etc.
Yocum has found more ways to make legal services more accessible than just a sliding fee scale.
“Yocum Law has evolved into a legal benefits firm that serves individuals, business and agencies, specifically with a focus on those who employ or assist people with barriers to employment,” she says.
Her innovate business model will balance a traditional caseload with reduced fee and legal benefit service programs. Yocum expects that clients that can afford a more traditional fee will appreciate knowing that their money is also going to help those that can’t typically afford it.
As the firm expands – which Yocum expects will happen quickly – she will bring on contract attorneys to both keep costs more affordable, and add areas of expertise to the firm.
As another source of revenue, and to expand her ability to help, Yocum Law will create legal benefits programs that employers and agencies will pay for on an hourly basis and offer as a benefit for their employees.
By participating in the SEA Change accelerator program, Yocum Law found the perfect business with which to run a pilot program – Hot Chicken Takeover.
“When I was talking with [Joe DeLoss] and researching how he helps people who may have some barriers to employment or need a second chance, I thought why isn’t legal one of these things,” Yocum says.
DeLoss and his HR team agreed. The HCT pilot program will offer monthly legal advice sessions where employees can get questions answered quickly. Yocum says it’s kind of like a triage – what needs fixed now, what can wait and what can they work on together. The firm will also offer one-on-one counseling for more in-depth legal issues and reduced, flat-fee services for more common asks.
The SEA Change judges saw potential in Yocum’s business model, awarding her firm $5,000 at the conclusion of the program. She plans to use the money to put processes and procedures in place to really get the ball rolling.
“The big focus right now is for me to build sort of a resource base for the legal workshops and clinics,” Yocum says.
The resources will help build consistency as contract lawyers start taking on services.
“I really want to focus on alternative methods of delivery,” Yocum adds.
She’s thinking of Skype and online clinics as additional avenues to reach her clients.
Money or no money, Yocum says she can’t say enough good things about the SEA Change program, from the mentors and connections, to the affirmation of knowing she has a strong business plan and idea in place.
For more information, visit yocumlawoffice.com.