Incubators are for chickens, aren’t they?

It has become very popular for law schools to establish “incubators” or “accelerators” for their grads. Accelerators tend to be less resource intensive with external support services. Incubators tend to offer greater on-site physical and logistical support. They tend to be more resource intensive for the providers. Their goals are admirable but, in my opinion, misdirected.

Incubators are for chickens, aren’t they?

Incubators are for chickens, aren’t they?

Benefits of Many Incubators

  • They often provide low cost or no cost services to the community
  • They help grads become familiar with systems approach to practice management
  • They delay entry into practice for those who are not equipped to succeed until they are better prepared
  • They foster good public relations for the institution

Problems of Many Incubators

  • They delay the graduates entry into independent business practice models
  • Incubators are limited in the number of students that they can support
  • Participants often obtain reduced compensation for their legal services
  • Most incubators control where those graduates practice initially
  • Many confine graduate’s subject matter practice options
  • They encourage continued dependency on the law school when the business environment requires independent judgment and ability to assume risk

Those lists are not exhaustive and, of necessity, they are generalizations. Incubators take many forms and are numerous and very diverse. But a common thread is the attempt to help their participants get a better sense of how to implement the doctrinal component of their legal studies in a practical and business oriented office setting with many support services and a safety net.

They are offered to foster greater success for those who wish to go solo who may not have secured employment as yet. Some provide ancillary support, while others have full-blown office environments where those graduates may practice law until they are ready to go it “alone.” Very often, they are promoted as serving the community, since many of them offer “pro bono” or “low bono” services to members of the community where these exist. Many have terms of service from 6 to 18 months.

There is a better way, in my opinion, which has greater utility for a greater number of graduates. It allows them to hit the ground running without delay even before they pass the bar. It is just one component of a complete strategy designed to better prepare students for the realities of practice upon graduation. What follows is just one component of a series of techniques that I have used for a number of years. I call this program “Solo By Design™.” But, there are other support services which I have used to help students in law school, and after law school, to succeed on their own. Graduates establish themselves with realistic and achievable goals in the community, where they intend to establish themselves upon graduation.

The Foundational Elements of the Program “Solo By Design ™” follow:

While in law school, I send them into the field – at a minimum, they must;

  • Identify the geographic location where they intend to practice and there,
  • If possible, interview solos who are of the same ethnic background and gender,
  • Interview some attorneys who are solos with greater than 10 years in practice,
  • Interview some attorneys who are solos with less than 3 years in practice, and
  • Interview local judges and court clerks.
  • They are armed with reference materials for background about the latest technology and practice management techniques.
  • They are provided a list of questions for them to use in those interviews.
  • They meet with other enrolled students in groups to share what they found as each one develops their own unique business plan, given the information gained through those interviews.
  • Finally, they prepare a business plan, based upon the recommendations of those they interviewed.

This is just one component of a complete system that I have not explored entirely in this post . . . there is much more to it. But this is one essential component to success for graduates after graduation.

I believe that the best way to prepare law students for the preparation of practice after graduation should occur while those students are still in law school through in-house, live-client clinics paired with external placements in externships where they plan to establish their practice. They also need classes to train them in accounting for lawyers, entrepreneurship and thorough and independent research in their own business start-up as identified above through “Solo By Design™.”

That way they can learn the practice principles that help them learn to collaborate and gain the confidence necessary to practice law immediately upon graduation. They have a business plan that they can employ taking advantage of the local relationships that they have already developed while still in law school with earnings that help them pay off their student loans. Their greatest fear of going into business for themselves will not be realized with the “training wheels” of incubators.

Since 1999 we have worked diligently to support students who wish to go solo or into small firm environments. This has been a work-in-progress. We have taken steps to help our graduates establish themselves in the business of law long before the idea of “incubators” became popular. Solo By Design™ has evolved to adapt to the many changes that have occured in the practice of law since our focus began 17 years ago. It has evolved to address the tremendous changes in technology and the economic downturn which has affected many graduates in their attempt to find employment

This is just part of what I do to help them help themselves and have a support system while in law school which continues after they graduate. It helps them develop realistic strategies for success in practice in the geographic area where they intend to practice. They also identify areas of practice which have potential as profit centers in their community with good earning potential. They also establish “relationships” (code for mentors) in the community where they intend to practice. Those are the true sources of information and support who will be valuable resources providing the type of support to help them succeed without delay upon passing the bar.

WMU-Cooley Professor Gary Bauer

WMU-Cooley Professor Gary Bauer

The author, Professor Gary Bauer has been a member of the full-time faculty at WMU-Cooley Law School since 1998. He now teaches Estate Planning to third-year law students and a directed study class he created called Solo By Design. His blog,sololawyerbydesign.com, provides law students, recent solo practioners, and seasoned professionals who wish to go solo, with information and resources to be successful in the legal business. This blog post was first published on October 21, 2015.

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