Business & Practice

You’re a Lawyer, but Can You Run a Law Firm?

Aug. 17, 2018, 10:01 AM

The legal-education model of reading countless cases is evolving as law schools add courses in marketing, technology, and problem-solving to equip students for today’s competitive legal climate.

“You have to be an entrepreneur. It’s not enough to be a lawyer,” L.A. attorney Sean Bigley told Bloomberg Law. “My law school gave me an outstanding legal education, but the actual mechanics of running a law firm was the missing piece of the puzzle.”

Law schools are starting to get the message. Some are providing formal business-of-law courses, others are concentrating on legal technology, and still others have programs to help students start their own firms.

One example is the Business of Law Institute being launched Aug. 20 by New York Law School.

“We have an obligation to the profession to graduate law students who are in touch with modern practice,” New York Law School Dean Anthony W. Crowell told Bloomberg Law. That includes having “not only knowledge but also a range of skills,” he said.

Chicago-Kent Law School at the Illinois Institute of Technology offers a Praxis Certificate program, through which students attend workshops on career development and real-world practice, Jenifer Robbins, the director of Experiential Learning, said.

In addition, Chicago-Kent hosts the Law Lab, a teaching and research center that offers courses in legal analytics and legal project management and process improvement, Robbins told Bloomberg Law.

Chicago-Kent Hatches Incubator Program

The school also runs a Solo and Small Practice Incubator program, Robbins said. The one-year program helps recent graduates start their own firms by providing skills workshops, mentoring, networking opportunities, and work space.

A Law Practice Management course is also offered. It covers “all the nuts and bolts of a practice,” Russell Hartigan, who teaches the class, told Bloomberg Law.

On the syllabus: attracting clients, maintaining trust accounts, buying office equipment, and renting office space. Hartigan is a retired Cook County Circuit Court judge who ran his own law firm for more than 35 years.

Missouri Offers Lessons in Flying Solo

The University of Missouri Kansas City Law School recognized the need for small-firm management training with its Solo and Small Firm Practice Program.

It has courses and workshops on firm structure, fees, marketing, technology, personnel, advertising, and insurance, according to Communications Manager Alyssa Baker.

UMKC also has an incubator program that provides affordable office space, an office assistant, on-site attorney mentors, and guidance in managing a legal practice, Baker told Bloomberg Law in an email.

Suffolk Focuses on Innovation, Technology

Some law schools are concentrating on technology and process management to prepare their students for the contemporary legal workforce.

Suffolk University Law School in Boston has an Institute of Legal Innovation and Technology that teaches students to streamline their work by using technology, as well as legal process and project management, Dean Andrew Perlman told Bloomberg Law.

So many practicing lawyers wanted to learn these skills that in May, Suffolk started a certificate program for lawyers and other legal industry professionals, he said.

New York Law Crunches Numbers

New York Law School decided to open its Business of Law Institute after market research showed that technological and quantitative skills help law school graduates land jobs.

Specifically, 42 percent of survey respondents said they want new associates to have experience with project management, 37 percent seek familiarity with accounting and budgeting, 56 percent are looking for proficiency in legal technology, and 29 percent require an understanding of statistics.

Some schools stop short of establishing separate programs but still offer courses that expose students to firm management.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gayle Cinquegrani in Washington at gcinquegrani@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com

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