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Hebenstreit: FLYING SOLO????!!!!!

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IBA-hebenstreitNo matter how much things change, the more they seem to remain the same. Over 30 years ago, my first job out of law school was working for a small firm that served as in-house counsel for Indianapolis Morris Plan, a small industrial loan institution. I learned quite a bit, but really wanted to be in private practice. Through a friend, I was introduced to Bill Richards. Bill had a thriving practice and needed a “young guy” to help him with some of his work. That opportunity afforded me the means to learn how to practice as well as allowed me to begin to develop a practice on my own.

Bill was a terrific mentor; he did not preach or instruct. Rather he let me watch him and ask questions. He wanted me to figure it out on my own, but was always more than willing to confirm what I thought the law or proper procedure really was. He helped me learn how to practice law and to do it within the economic constraints of our clients. He was, and is, a very practical lawyer. To this day, Bill is a friend and a sounding board for legal or other life questions.

I got lucky. Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. In the current legal market, there are many lawyers, both new and more experienced, who find that they have to “go it on their own.” Perhaps they just were admitted to the Bar and have not found a permanent position, or maybe their former firm has changed, and mid career, they find themselves downsized. This is not a phenomenon only in Indianapolis. Regardless, it is a new and scary experience, particularly without one or more mentors who can ease that transition. The law schools do a pretty good job of teaching us what the law may be, but not how to actually practice law. Not much information is provided on the mechanics of opening an office and managing both the legal needs of the client (if we are lucky enough to attract some) as well as the business side of handling a practice.

Never fear, the IndyBar is here to help. Over 34% of our members are categorized as “solo or small firm” (which is defined as up to five attorneys), and we hope to be of benefit and service to our solo and small firm members. In the past few years, the Solo and Small Firm Section has become invigorated through energetic and creative leadership. They observed the need and have jumped into the fray to help. Recognizing that technology is critically important, the Section dispatched two members to the ABA Tech show in Chicago to acquire ideas. For those of you who have an IT person or IT department, technology is not a big deal, but to a small firm person, it is daunting to find a person or company able to set up a network, find case management and billing software, and create a website. To whom can you turn and what fees can you expect to pay?

This year, thanks to Kenan Farrell, there were two social media mini seminars. He covered LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and blogging tools. The second session was billed as a more advanced program. It covered information gathering and how to use social media to stay abreast with both clients as well as competitors. Marketing and appropriate tech etiquette were also covered. On a more substantive basis, the program covered using social media for voir dire and evidence issues.

Under the leadership of Jeff Meunier, the Senior Counsel Division hosted its program entitled “Hanging out Your Shingle-How Do I Keep the Phone Ringing.” It covered such practical information as law firm entity formation, malpractice issues, trust accounting and lease negotiations. The more advanced topics included website design, Google placement and search engine optimization. Very helpful information for an attorney (or group) just starting out.

The Solo and Small Firm Section will be hosting its second annual all-day program on Nov. 10th entitled “Surviving and Thriving.” This year the Section has lined up a very impressive faculty of speakers and is hosting three separate tracks. The practice management track features cloud computing, marketing, and Internet advertising rules. The substantive tracks are staffed with experienced practitioners who will share their practical knowledge about most common practice areas. The agenda and sign up are on the IndyBar website.

One new development in the IndyBar is for different Sections to collaborate in order to reach a greater audience. Several weeks ago, the Senior Counsel Division partnered with the Young Lawyers Division to host a speed networking event. Experienced attorneys and judges manned the various tables, and the younger lawyers spent about 10 minutes at each table and then moved to another table. The goal was to allow the younger members to inquire about specific practice areas as well as to meet lawyers and judges who may be able to serve as their mentors. The senior lawyers and judges invited the younger members to call upon them at any time for advice or assistance. The program was followed by a reception where all of the participants were able to mingle. It was well received and will certainly be repeated next year.

Striking out on your own is both daunting and exhilarating. We are here to help make that jump more comfortable. Be sure to take full advantage of your IndyBar membership, maybe you will find your own Bill Richards.•

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  • Practical side of the law
    Bill was a mentor to me as young lawyer, too. Over the years he has helped several new lawyers learn the practical side of the practice of law.

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