Annual solo and small firms conference reaches out to law students

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

When planning the Indiana State Bar Association’s 10th Solo & Small Firm Conference, Ted Waggoner wanted to bring some new faces into the fold. Waggoner, long-term development chair for the conference planning committee, said the committee got enthusiastic responses when it contacted law school deans about inviting students to the event.

Law schools tend to focus on large firm practice, Waggoner said, but at a time when hiring at large firms seems to have stalled, students may be looking for new career options.

“I think there are opportunities out there, and the students are starting to realize that, and the law schools are starting to realize that,” Waggoner said.

Last year, only 11 students registered to attend the conference. This year, about 30 students from Indiana law schools attended the conference in French Lick, June 2 through 4. Donna Bays, conference chair, said the students “brought a vibrancy that 50-year-olds just don’t have.”

soloHamilton Superior Court Judge William Hughes chats with law student Anahit Behjou. (Photo submitted)

Many law school graduates begin their careers as associates at mid-size or large firms. But with the number of associates outnumbering senior partners, Bays said, it’s clear that those entry-level lawyers must end up somewhere else. Solo and small firms may be a place for them to land – particularly in rural areas.

“It’s difficult to get young lawyers into rural areas of the state – it just historically has been difficult – and there are opportunities in the Rensselaers and the Salems,” Waggoner said. “I was even talking to a lawyer in Warsaw – which is, from the Indianapolis perspective, a small town – there are lawyers there who are either looking to bring new lawyers in or bring lawyers in to replace lawyers.”

As lawyers in small, rural firms retire, the need for new attorneys may increase. But Bays said that while many solo and small firms see their business beginning to pick up again after weathering the recession, at the moment, they are not confident about hiring. While she doesn’t think firms in small towns are faring any worse than those in cities, Bays said in close-knit communities it may be easier for people to detect financial woes.

Small-firm education

The adjunct staff in law schools generally comes from large firms, Waggoner explained, and students may not be learning about small firms. At least two law schools have taken steps to introduce small firms to the curriculum.

Last year, Indiana University Maurer School of Law invited Waggoner to teach a course on solo and small firm practice. Ken Turchi, assistant dean for communications and marketing, said the class will be offered again.

Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis offered a course this summer in law practice management that focuses on solo and small firms. Jonna Kane MacDougall, assistant dean for alumni affairs and external relations, said that the course is not yet a permanent part of the school’s curriculum but will be proposed to the faculty as a permanent addition. If that happens, it would be offered again in the spring semester of 2012.

Perks and drawbacks

Bays enjoys being her own boss because she is not beholden to keep particular office hours. She said she appreciates that flexibility, which has allowed her to attend family events. “When you work for someone else, they may not value that the same way you do,” she said.

solo Law students Courtney Benson-Kooy (left) and Yana Spitzer (middle) chat with Indiana State Bar Association President Jeff Lind. (Photo submitted)

She gets to choose her clients, and she passes on those that aren’t a good fit. In large firms, she said, lawyers may not have much say in which cases they handle.

A primary challenge small and solo firms face is a lack of on-site peer support. Lawyers may not have another person in the office to turn to for advice and they may feel disconnected from others like them, who are spread out across the state. Bays said the ISBA’s small firm section has a listserv that solos and small firms can use to stay connected.

“Anyone can reach out at any time,” Bays said. And the conference committee made sure to develop activities to create bonds between solo and small firm attorneys.

“We had them doing all sorts of things that would make the bonds and cause them to remember one another later on,” Bays said.•


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.