Goodness. I often contemplate all my regrets in life. Why did I do this and not that. How come I didn’t think to do such and such. I know, it is not healthy to sit and dwell on what you cannot change, but… Well, one of my newest regrets is not taking business classes in college (other than Business Law). What on earth was I thinking??? Seriously, basic business knowledge can hurt no one- NO ONE. And now I’m scrambling to piece together some of that basic knowledge like a fool.
It was sitting here chatting with a fellow service industry individual also looking to strike it on her own (not in the legal field), that it occurred to me that it makes no sense for services orientated educational programs to not have classes geared towards teaching one how to run a business for those services. Thus, some mandatory basic business for lawyers classes would have really made sense. I’m not talking about Business Organizations, because I took that class, did very well even- and I feel lost right now. I’m talking about “Business Law for Solo Lawyer Dummies 101.” I believe some law schools are in fact beginning to do more of this. Hopefully, with a different title. And they should- remember my post from 1.11.15 where I cited to a 50-50 chance of landing a job! People have no choice, but to go solo.
The fact of the matter is most of us who graduate realize our shiny $100,000 law school education has not even taught us how to practice law, let alone know how to run a solo law practice. The old adage that “law school doesn’t teach you how to practice law, it just teaches you how to think like a lawyer” is true. Very very true. And while my school at the time did have required skills courses- they were usually only a day long class that really just skimmed the topic de jour. We also had our share of awesome legal clinics, but unfortunately Hurricane Katrina cut my year long clinical into only one semester.
I always find that the really cool stuff happens after I leave. I’m not going to lie, the fact that the class of 2000 got to go on a whale watch in Cape Cod, while us 99ers got to hit up the alpine slide at Song Mountain one town over in central NY still hurts. Yeah, you Lancer Class of 99 feel me- don’t lie. But seriously, Loyola College of Law is jumping on the Solo Law Incubator Program bandwagon and I’m absolutely green with envy.
“The Incubator Program is an opportunity for Loyola Law School graduates who are engaged (or seek to be engaged) in a full time, social justice oriented solo practice in the Greater New Orleans area. Participants will receive instruction, case referrals, mentorship, peer feedback, and access to a wide variety of resources including office space. With a requirement that at least of 1/4 of time be spent on cases that fall into the “justice gap”, participants will accept pro bono referrals for individuals who are at or below 200% of the poverty line and will receive a $6,000.00 stipend to support the year of pro bono work. Admission to the Louisiana bar is a requirement of the Program although applications may be submitted before bar passage is confirmed for the summer 2014 bar.”
If Ditka says that’s how it’s done, then golly be that is how it’s done folks.
This sounds amazing. These legal incubator programs are cropping up all over the country, but the concept of a business incubator program is nothing new as mentioned here. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in America no matter what anyone says. Unfortunately for me, I’m so far removed from law school in years and distance, involvement in a program like this is nearly impossible. I thought of starting my own, but it comes back down to this: how can I start something to help fellow solos, if I myself have never been solo? And while I am not closing the door on the idea, or one similar to it that I have been pondering, I am just not in a place to bring in the mentors needed yet. Working an hour from where I live has led me to not have many legal contacts where I live. I would not even be able to implement one of the most critical pieces of an incubator program- mentorship – at this time.
So, let’s get real. What can I do right now? Well, first, my State Bar has recently began an endeavor called “Business School for Lawyers.” And this is a great first step. The downside is the expense of it. Just to participate in 5.5 hours of “Business Plans for Lawyers” it will cost me $219. Ouch. And then if I want to do the 6.5 hours of “Business Principles for a Successful Law Firm” it will cost me another $219. Double Ouch. And then each of the lunchtime roundtables is $79. Triple, Quadruple, and so on and so on… I just sit here and think of the law student fresh out of law school, with no job prospects, having to hand over a couple weeks worth of food to pay for these. And the State Bar is not insulated from similar attacks made regarding the prices of the CLE programs. The listserves were all abuzz recently with complaints over how much CLE costs have increased, but the speakers are volunteers and we have to purchase hard copies of materials now. Something I will need to keep in mind when budgeting for being a solo. Note to self: find free or cheap CLEs.
Whereas, for $250 I can participate in a 10 week program at my local college called the “Entrepreneurial Training Program.” That’s 55 hours for only $250. The only catch is I have to apply for the scholarship and submit a final business plan within 3 months of completing the class. And since it appears that I make all this money I probably will not qualify, so then it is $750. Still cheaper than my State Bar in an hour to dollar ratio, but this is the year of frugality to save some money to go solo…
I have already participated in the $29 Western-Dairyland Business Plan Basics class. It was alright. Not amazingly helpful, but not bad for $29.
And I cannot wait for the Women’s Business Conference to come around this year. I’m counting down the days until April 30th. I think I only heard about it last year either right before or after, so I missed it. Not this year! It is on my calendar. And not even an April Blizzard is keeping me from attending, which being in WI is completely possible since we had snow well into May last year.
And last, I still have to pay my dues for my local bar association. I need to get networking and meet some people and hopefully find a great core group of mentors. My fear quite frankly is that there is so much perceived competition for services (really how much competition is there when so many people’s legal needs are not being met) that people will not be arms wide open waiting for me to join the solo field. I have tried reaching out to solos recently, and it has not gone so great. Part of me tries to bear in mind that they are solos. They probably do not have a lot of time because they are constantly working, if it is not writing a motion or meeting with clients, then it is sending out bills or marketing. However, part of me also feels pretty discouraged too.
Am I going to have mentors available? I’m an ideas-bouncer-offer. I am an independent and skillful worker. However, I do really enjoy throwing my ideas at someone. Not so much because I need their affirmation, but because sometimes I just work through legal analysis and issues by speaking them aloud to someone that has a pulse- even if I don’t necessarily need them to answer back. So, that is a huge fear for me by going solo. I do think listserves will help fill some of that void. However, it seems like it is always the same people talking on listserves and the few times I have spoken up with a question it is crickets.
But for now, I’m just going to keep taking a crack at it. Keep trying to network. Keep looking for business training courses. Keep my feet and mind moving forward. Because if there is one thing I am very knowledgeable about, it is perseverance.