When you ask Indianapolis solo Steve Terrell why bar conferences geared to solo lawyers and small-firm practitioners are rapidly growing, he has a passel of answers.
There’s the fact that informational programs and continuing legal education sessions are designed specifically for lawyers who handle their own technology services, who don’t have an army of associates and who don’t primarily represent gargantuan, deep-pocketed clients.
These sessions are for those who get the clients, run the business and practice law.
There’s also the fact that these conferences are affordable. A recent Missouri Bar solo and small-firm conference cost just $219 per registered attendee –including several meals–for two days. There were more than 80 sessions, most of which qualified for mandatory CLE credits in Missouri and reciprocal states. In addition, hotel rooms at the conference resort were just $125 a night thanks to negotiations by the conference organizers. The resort offers a water park, golf, boating and other activities for lawyers’ spouses and children, making the conference an ideal family vacation.
“Really, where else can lawyers get almost all of their CLE credits in one place for a total of $219? And have fun and make great contacts, too?” asks Linda M. Oligschlaeger, the Missouri Bar’s membership services director and conference organizer.
And then, says Terrell, there are the speakers and presenters. Technology experts such as Ross Kodner and Bruce Dorner make regular appearances to share their experience with keeping small law offices humming efficiently. Law practice management guru Jay Foonberg, author of the small-firm bible, How to Start and Build a Law Practice, also appears at many conferences to share his latest wisdom.
Even the support companies familiar to big-firm lawyers show up. LexisNexis and West are regular exhibitors, as are many insurers, office suppliers and the like–evidence, says Terrell, of the fact that about 70 percent of all lawyers in the U.S. practice solo or in firms of not more than 10 or so lawyers. Legal vendors also are aware that attendees at solo and small-firm conferences tend to be their firms’ decision-makers –nd a solid pitch could turn into a sale on the spot.
A Show-Me State Success
One of the very first annual bar conferences geared to solos and small firms, the Missouri Bar’s annual get-together started in 1996. Bar employees came up with the idea after noticing that few solos and small-firm lawyers attended the bar’s annual conference, which is dominated by big-firm lawyers, says Oligschlaeger. From about 250 attendees the first year, the Missouri conference has grown into one of the country’s largest, with about 900 bar members in attendance this year. “It is absolutely the most fun I have all year. These are great people and they always have something interesting going on,” she says.
The ABA is also in on the act. The General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division hosts an annual national conference and provides CLEs geared to solos and small firms at the association’s annual and midyear meetings, as well as teleconferences throughout the year. More information is available at www.abanet.org/genpractice.
For Terrell, the proof of the value of the Indiana solo and small-firm conference, which he helped found, comes from the comments he receives from attendees. Take the time a few years ago when a 60-something lawyer approached Terrell after attending the Indiana conference for the first time. He told Terrell that he had come just for the CLE credits, and he had planned to close his practice and retire at the end of the year.
“But after attending the conference, he had changed his mind,” Terrell recalls. “Now, he said, he intended to take a couple of young lawyers under his wing, provide them with guidance and help them to develop their own practices. It was one of the best compliments any conference could have.”