By Mike Scott
Out of all courses related to the law that is taught in law schools, one aspect of practicing that often requires first-hand experience is the skill of actually running a business and creating new business leads.
That was the type of information that was shared with lawyers of all ages and experience levels this month at the Skyline Club in Southfield.
The Business Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan hosted a seminar titled, “The Business of Being a Business Lawyer.”
Featured topics included business development and marketing for young lawyers, managing clients and developing a book of business, handling potential conflicts of interest and other ethical issues and more.
Presenters included Jim Bruno of Butzel Long, P.C., Tim Damschroder with Bodman LLP, Dee Dee Fuller of Fuller Law and Counseling, P.C. and Denise Lewis with Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP. All speakers have been active members and board members of the Business Law Section.
The event was held in conjunction with the Young Lawyers Section of the State Bar of Michigan.
A broad mix of attorneys ranging from those at mid-size to large law firms and those who have or will soon start their own firm were in attendance, said Justin Peruski, a partner and business lawyer with Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP and the panel moderator for this seminar.
Attendees will be encouraged to ask a number of questions and glean best practices from the experts on the panel.
“I think the topics that we will discuss aren’t just limited to holding the interest of young lawyers,” said Peruski said before the seminar. “The lines can be sometimes blurred when a business lawyer is handling a non-litigation situation so it’s good for all of us who (are practicing attorneys) to have a reminder that we need to be aware of who we are working for.”
One of the other facts that often escapes young lawyers is that practicing law is a business — and whether they are part of a small or large firm, their growth will largely be determined by their ability to become financial rainmakers.
The more adventurous young layers might be interested in starting their own firm, which comes with its own set of challenges, Lewis, one of the panelists, said.
“You have to measure risk tolerance and so I think whether to start your own firm comes down to an individual’s personality and willingness to take chances,” Lewis said. “It’s definitely a different style of practicing law as opposed to joining a larger firm.” Fuller is one of the panelists who will provide significant feedback about starting a small firm and growing it into a successful practice.
In general young lawyers have become more nimble and flexible in the roles and responsibilities they are asked to handle at a young age, regardless of the size of a law firm, Lewis said.
Some of these trends are being addressed in more detail at law schools around the country but it can best be experienced on the job.
It does appear that law school students remain interested in transactional law. In his role as a liaison to Wayne State as a member of the Business Law Section Peruski has noticed an increase in the number of students at Wayne State Law School in recent years who want to specialize in business law, even as the economy has slumped and transactional legal work has taken a hit at firms throughout the country.
Similar trends of increasing numbers of students focusing on business law appear to be ongoing at other law schools around the state as well, Peruski said.
“I think younger attorneys are looking for that edge that gives them some opportunities to grow within a firm and become a partner (faster),” Peruski said.
In addition to covering a range of ethical and business development issues, the April 12 seminar also dealt with tactical aspects of practicing law, such as the role of document management using high-tech tools and strategies, Peruski said.
“It’s an opportunity for leaders within business law in the state to promote ethical conduct and congeniality in practicing law,” Peruski said. “And it’s a great opportunity for these lawyers to network with each other.”
Lewis considers the opportunity one that accentuated an informal, interactive atmosphere.
The information shared may have been less about lessons learned and more about drawing upon the personal experiences of the panelists.
“We all have difficult elements in this field that we deal with whether it’s working with a (challenging) client or trying to find a best practice to implement,” Lewis said.
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