UDM Business Law Conference to give students, young lawyers guidance on legal marketplace


By Mike Scott
Legal News

There is little doubt that the state economy over the last few years has challenged the role and opportunities afforded business lawyers throughout Michigan.

Yet there is reason to be cautiously optimistic both for current and future prospects in the field, and that optimism can be extended to both experienced lawyers and new lawyers or current students. That is one of the messages that will be shared by Bodman PLC member and Business Practice Group lawyer Edwin Lukas at the UDM Business Law Conference held on Saturday, January 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel in Novi.

Lukas, one of the main speakers at the conference, and the current vice chair of the Business Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, will focus a portion of his discussion on the areas of anticipated growth for young business lawyers in the coming months and years.

“One of my main messages is that there are many opportunities for lawyers who are smart and know how to market themselves,” Lukas said. “It’s great if they can identify those opportunities and pursue them accordingly.”

The overall theme of the conference is “Surviving in a Drowning Economy as a Business Lawyer.” The topics will be focused on how business lawyers are conducting themselves in this economy in order to remain marketable and up-to-date on business law trends. 

The main target of the Business Law Conference is law students. However, practicing lawyers can benefit from the information as well, especially since attorneys are dealing with the same problems that law students are facing these days as well, said UDM Business Law Conference Committee Chair Kirsten Jearlds, a third year law student at UDM.

“I am hoping that the conference will provide some insight on how to promote oneself whether it is a law student, young attorney, or seasoned attorney in order to continue to be successful in what remains a challenging economy,” Jearlds said.

One of the main problems facing law students, especially in the area of business law, is finding a job after graduation and passing the bar.

“The market still appears to be sluggish for soon-to-be law school students, especially in Michigan, and students are worried about how to make the most of their time in school,” Jearlds said. “We hope this conference can be a tool they can use as part of their job search process.”

One of the opportunities that is available to business lawyers today is the nature and extent of regulation in many emerging areas, Lukas said.

One example is the counseling and advice that lawyers can provide business clients pertaining to health care reform in the U.S.

While a degree of specialization within certain segments is important, it is also critical for young lawyers to have the ability to be a counselor on both legal and non-legal issues, Lukas said. It is an expectation of clients and that approach can render a lawyer’s service invaluable to business contacts, and students who display such skills will be in a more favorable competitive position.

“You also have inbound U.S. investments from foreign countries of companies who may be setting up shop in North America for the first time,”

Lukas said. “That is another significant opportunity we are seeing.”

The skills and knowledge needed for a young business lawyer to succeed will vary, Jearlds said. Those who prefer to conduct transactional work must learn how to negotiate and understand the laws pertaining to transactions. Lawyers and students who want to represent businesses on trial need litigation skills and knowledge of courtroom practice.

“Above all, one skill expected from law students seeking a profession in business law is client counseling skills,” Jearlds said. “Law students need to be able to know what their clients want in order to advocate for them in the proper manner.”

By nature, law students also have to be more entrepreneurial now than 20 years ago when Lukas entered the field. The number of “institutional” clients has decreased over that time, and lawyers who actively bring in new business will reap more rewards.

“I look for an entrepreneurial spirit, vision and ethic in young lawyers because that is critical in what is truly a hyper-competitive market,” Lukas said.

As a 1992 graduate of the UDM School of Law, Lukas is proud to be able to participate in the conference. He also sees his role as vice chair of the

Business Law Section as helping to foster an interest in business law among students.

Being involved in the Business Law Section will give young lawyers an opportunity to gain some of those skills, improve their networking and, perhaps most importantly, benefit from continuing educational opportunities about business law trends and changes.

“It’s a great way to remain a student of the law because while practicing we hold some substantive conferences and seminars throughout the year,” Lukas said.

Those interested in learning more about the UDM Business Law Conference can contact Jearlds at jearldsk@gmail.com or (586) 713-9914. Following the program will be a post-conference mixer and networking event at The Grapevine in Novi.