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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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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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