When I was growing up on the south side of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s, my father owned a small retail store. He sold paint and wallpaper, fixed customers’ broken windows, and filled glass jugs with benzene or turpentine for 25 cents per gallon. He purchased the store in 1949 from his father, who had opened it in 1911. And he ran it much like his father had. In many ways, my father was a clerk in his own store. Customers bought things, he paid his bills, and whatever was left over at the end of the month was his. Even when the neighborhood changed from middle class to poor and he moved the store to the south suburbs, he continued to run it like his father had done. Marketing consisted of purchasing the occasional ad in the Eagles Club newsletter and about once a year paying my brother and me to distribute flyers in the neighborhood.
Today, a store operated on this model wouldn’t last more than a few months.
org gbrown wisbar George C. Brown is the executive director for the State Bar of Wisconsin.
Nevertheless, these days there are lawyers opening practices who know little more than my father about running a business. They open law firms for positive reasons, like wanting a better work/life balance, or negative reasons, such as being excluded from the traditional practice of law.
Opening a law practice might seem easy because there is so much free information about how to do it. The difficulty comes from having to learn everything at once, usually with little money or support, while dealing with the added pressures of finding clients and getting work done for the clients you’ve found.
To help lawyers address these challenges, this summer, the State Bar will offer the first sessions of its Business School for Lawyers – on Aug. 13 and Sept. 16. These seminars are part of larger initiatives being developed with the U.W. Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic, Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co., and the Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference. Intended to complement the many law firm checklists, State Bar Solo and Small Firm/General Practice Section programming, and resources available through the State Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Program (LOMAP) and Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP), Business School for Lawyers will move beyond the basics of setting up an office to address the strategic planning and decision-making lawyers must undertake if they want their practices to thrive.
“Business School for Lawyers will address the strategic planning and decision-making lawyers must undertake to succeed in their practices.”
Business School for Lawyers will give you the opportunity to work with business coaches and other lawyers to learn the essentials of business planning in a highly regulated profession, basic and advanced business concepts related to operations, financial management, marketing, human resources management, and ethical considerations for starting and growing a law practice, all from a business school perspective.
Several years ago, a well-established solo practitioner was approached by a lawyer who was contemplating leaving the large firm where he had worked for many years to open his own practice. He asked the solo what he needed to know and do. She said the first thing he needed to do was establish a trust account, to which he responded, “What’s that?”
Whether your question is “What’s that?” or “Do I have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?,” Business School for Lawyers can help you find the answers. For more information, visit http://bsl.wisbar.org.