By Felicia Hamilton, Holloran Center Coordinator
At its annual fall meeting, the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division’s (GPSolo) recognized Holloran Center Fellow Barbara Glesner Fines with its Difference Maker Award. The Award recognized Dean Glesner Fines’ leadership in developing a solo and small firm program at the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law. This program is explicitly designed as a professional formation opportunity in which students are guided in envisioning themselves as entrepreneurial lawyers and are required to prepare a business plan and portfolio for their solo or small firm practice.
That program, first developed with Dean Emerita Ellen Suni and Professor Tony Luppino in 2004, serves those students who have a goal of entering solo or small firm practice upon graduation. More than simply a law practice management course (though that is an important component in building their plan), the course helps students to identify and demonstrate their unique value to the community. Students articulate the values that will guide their practice. They learn about the business of law and the professional guideposts. Their portfolio provides details of financing, equipment, software, staffing, insurance, and more.
To help guide students in preparing their portfolio, the program faculty work closely with members of the bar and professional support service providers to provide expertise, coaching, and mentoring. The primary course is held during the summer and includes student participation in the Missouri Bar Solo & Small Firm Conference. At the conference, students meet solo practitioners in their preferred fields of practice and geographic areas. Students share their portfolios and pitch their business plans to attorneys for critique, attend continuing education sessions, visit with vendors of support services, and meet members of the Missouri Supreme Court and leadership of the Missouri Bar.
Alumni of the program have launched a variety of very successful solo and small firm practices, many of them by starting in the law school’s post-graduate incubator. These have included solo practices focusing on a highly specialized fields, general practices in rural and underserved communities, innovative nonprofit law firms, practices focusing on innovation or technology, and highly successful solo and small firms across a wide range of practice areas. Graduates from even a decade ago report that they still revisit and revise their original business plan prepared during law school. These alumni, in turn, guide the next generation of solo and small firm attorneys.
The program is an example of collaboration in building a professional identity formation program to successfully help students in their transition from student to lawyers. Congratulations to Holloran Fellow Barbara Glesner Fines and her colleagues on making a difference with this program.
To learn more about the solo & small firm program or to share your own experience with similar programs, contact Professor Glesner Fines at email@example.com.