Report from the 8th Annual National Solo & Small Firm Conference

Vol. 3, No. 3

Jennifer Willner s a principal in Halvorson & Willner PLLC and manages the firm’s offices in Bellingham, WA. The firm’s partners have more than 50 years' combined experience representing employers in the entire range of labor and employment law matters. Jennifer is Chair of the ABA GPSolo – Solo Strong Initiative. The goal of the Solo Strong Initiative is to identify, assimilate, organize, and publicize the hundreds of available practice resources offered by state and local bar associations and the ABA.  Jennifer is the immediate Past Chair of the Washington State Bar Association Solo & Small Practice Section. She enjoys talking with other solo and small firm attorneys about the practice of law. Jennifer is writing a book that will be published (if all goes well) by the American Bar Association sometime in 2014. Reach her at jennifer@willnerlawfirm.com.

 

The ABA GPSolo 8th Annual National Solo & Small Firm Conference was held October 3–5, 2013, in Lexington, Kentucky, in conjunction with the Division’s Fall Meeting. The Bluegrass State is simply gorgeous this time of year, and the idyllic surrounding Lexington countryside is world renown for growing the fastest thoroughbred horses in the world. The Fayette County Bar Association and the Kentucky Bar Association extended legendary Southern hospitality, which made everyone from out of town feel right at home.

This year’s conference theme, Racing to Success, focused on providing immediately useful practice management tools and practical continuing legal education for busy lawyers to gain an edge on the competition and to learn strategies to grow their practice. And, boy oh boy, did the Conference Planning Committee deliver! Here’s a quick summary of the highlights.

Attendees had to make difficult choices of what program segment to attend in the over 30 hours’ worth of continuing legal education offered at the conference. I kept wishing I could clone myself. There were three Boot Camp tracks: Technology, Trial Skills, and Law Practice Management, plus substantive CLE presentations that included employment law, representing family-owned businesses, cloud computing, the ethics of using lead-generating companies, estate planning, social media, law firm branding, ethical responses to negative web reviews, and the art and science of engagement and conflicts waiver letters, to name just a few.

Think you know Google? Think again. Derrick Wilson gave us a rapid-fire presentation on the many Google applications and products lawyers can utilize for free, and why you’d want to. People in the audience couldn’t write notes fast enough. This is one incredibly useful CLE segment that needs to be heard many times. Maybe I can convince Derrick to go out on the road. One of the best program segments offered was “Moneyball for Lawyers: How to Build a Major League Law Practice.” Chris Anderson, Product Manager for LexisNexis, gave a fantastic presentation on how to create and analyze law firm metrics and then explained what to do with this information. The hugely popular Cindy Sharp, of the Sharper Lawyer, explained how attorneys can achieve financial independence. We are often so consumed with managing and growing our practices that we often forget that maybe the entire reason we’re doing this is to someday retire comfortably!

But my personal, all-time favorite CLE segment was "The Purchase and Sale of Thoroughbred Horses” put on by the equine lawyers at the Lexington office of Stoll Keenon Ogden. It probably won’t surprise you that people in the horse business don’t care for attorneys and don’t want to put anything in writing. What might surprise you is that these equine attorneys work literally around the clock, 24/7, to memorialize an expensive horse transaction in as few words as possible. Even if I will never draft a purchase and sale agreement for a multimillion dollar horse, it was an excellent refresher on contract drafting principles.

Included in the conference registration cost were two buffet breakfasts (we’re talking full breakfasts folks, not just pastries and coffee), two sit-down luncheons, and a fabulous Welcome Reception featuring the best cuisine Kentucky has to offer. The Welcome Reception was great fun, with a hosted bar and dancing to a terrific live band. Also, I discovered the best ale ever invented: Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. I need to figure out how to import this ale to Washington State. On Saturday, for an additional low price, we joined Division Council for lunch at Keeneland. The lunch buffet at Keeneland was incredible, multiple main courses, salads, and fabulous desserts all excellently prepared by top chefs flown in from Paris. Okay, maybe not Paris, but better than Paris! After lunch, a shuttle took us to the Keeneland racetrack, the most famous and beautiful track in the world. We were there for the opening weekend to the Fall Race meet, and it looked like the entire town was there, dressed to the nines. It was very exciting to watch high-stakes horseracing at the opening weekend in choice reserved seating, all included in the one low ticket price.

The ABA GPSolo Division does not come to town without offering hours of pro bono public service opportunities. The Division supports the KIND (Kids in Need of Defense) program started by Angelina Jolie. KIND serves as the leading organization for the protection of unaccompanied children who enter the US immigration system alone and strives to ensure that no such child appears in immigration court without representation. KIND training was offered this year at the conference.

Twenty-six volunteer lawyers also participated in a financial literacy outreach public service project at Bryan Station High School in Lexington. Students watched a 45-minute financial literacy module and then met in small discussion groups with volunteer lawyers to inspire students to consider college and legal careers.

There were some incredibly inspiring lawyers on hand too. Past ABA President William “Bill” Robinson III delivered the keynote for the Thursday luncheon (such a cool guy), the Difference Makers Awards Luncheon featured a keynote address from the amazing John M. Rosenberg, who was the director of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky for 28 years (read his articles), and we were honored to host ABA President-Elect William C. Hubbard who attended the conference and underscored the importance of the Division’s work to support the largest constituency of practicing attorneys.

All in all, the 8th Annual National Solo & Small Firm Conference provided the best value, for the fewest dollars with the most fun than any program of its kind. The food was five star, the social events a blast, the pro bono opportunities rewarding, and the friendships formed lifelong.

Here are a few quotes from conference attendees:

 “Solos and small firm practitioners are in it together.” Bill Goren, Decatur, GA
“The conference had some of the best law practice management ideas I have heard over the last several years. My office was complaining about all of the ideas I wanted to implement when I came back! The ability to network with other small firm lawyers and talk about our unique practice issues was worth the price alone.” Derrick Wilson, New Albany, IN
“The conference was top-notch from the wonderful venue and food to the excellent speakers and wonderful attorneys, sponsors, and ABA staff in attendance. It’s difficult to pick my favorite things about the conference, but I will mention I did love not having to open my wallet for the two days I was there. What a great value. All food, drinks, and even live band was covered in the price of admission. Plus the 12 hours of CLE. A huge thanks to GPSolo Division Chair, Judge Jennifer A. Rymell and her committee.” Peggy Gruenke, Cincinnati, OH

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