In the United States, there are 1,281,432 attorneys, 470,926 of them are entrepreneurs. The National Association of Law Placement reports that the percentage of law graduates entering solo practice continues to grow year after year. With such a sizable and growing segment of the legal profession creating their own businesses, one has to wonder whether law schools are adequately preparing students for entrepreneurship.
Managing and owning a legal practice is no easy task. Attorneys who choose to start their own practice must wear a variety of hats – advisor, counselor, litigator, marketer, administrative assistant, bookkeeper, office manager, and accountant. And, while law schools are doing their lot to help students fit into some of these hats, many students continue to graduate unprepared to wear the majority of them.
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In Louisiana, Howard Conday just established his own criminal and personal injury law firm. While he is satisfied with his academic education at Howard Law School, he believes that law school did not fully equip him to manage and operate his own practice. He observed that his law school appeared to “dedicate all of its resources to preparing students to enter and adapt to the large law firm milieu.”
Is that still a prudent use of law school resources in today’s legal market, when 12 firms with over 1,000 partners have folded in the last decade?
The scarcity of large law firm jobs is just one of the numerous reasons why an increasing number of attorneys are considering entrepreneurial endeavors. Jennifer Dean, a Washington and Lee University School of Law graduate, just founded the Virginia Immigration Law Center in Roanoke. The Center’s only concentration is on immigration-related legal assistance. When asked why she chose to start her own practice, she stated that she wanted the independence to build case strategy and client relationships on her own terms. Many attorneys pursue independence not only for the sake of independence, but also for the sake of flexibility.
While many law schools offer a diverse range of courses, some question their utility. While my alma mater, George Washington University Law School, offers courses on Wildlife and Ecosystem Law and Atomic Energy Law, it does not offer any entrepreneurship courses.
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Without intending to disparage the three or four attorneys who practice atomic energy law, a bigger proportion of pupils require entrepreneurial training rather than training on geological waste dumps. Ciara Vesey, owner of Bettndorf, Iowa-based The Law Office of Ciara Vesey, believes that “law schools might do more to prepare students by giving more realistic and practical courses.”
Fortunately, a handful of law schools have recognized the rise in entrepreneurship and begun offering courses aimed at equipping students with entrepreneurial skills. For example, the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law offers courses in “Entrepreneurial Lawyering Solo and Small Firm Practice” and “Special Topics in Entrepreneurial Law.” Organizational structure, business management, and successful and ethical marketing are among the topics covered.
“Starting and Managing a Law Practice” is a course offered at Marquette University Law School. The course is intended to provide students with the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to pursue self-employment. Securing funding and insurance; acquiring and retaining clients; producing revenue; and employing and retaining personnel are among the specific issues covered.
Additionally, several state bar associations are now offering entrepreneurial training to attorneys. The Washington DC Bar Association offers a two-day seminar aimed to teach lawyers the fundamentals of establishing a law practice, including company naming and business strategies. Other states, including Illinois and Maryland, provide comparable programs.
Ben Cramer, a graduate of Case Western Reserve University School of Law and owner of Cramer Legal in Cincinnati, feels law schools might do more to assist aspiring attorneys in learning how to manage a business. He suggests that legal schools collaborate with other departments, such as those adjacent to business schools. While some law schools may lack the resources necessary to educate the complexities of entrepreneurship, now is an excellent moment to establish links with local business schools, entrepreneurship programs, and successful entrepreneurs.