Thursday, November 26, 2015
The new issue of Pennsylvania Lawyer Magazine has a short article describing Widener's new incubator program which launched this fall with an initial group of three students. You can read the full article called A Good Start: Incubator Program Helps New Lawyers Learn the Basics of Running a Successful Practice at 37 Pennsylvania Lawyer 42 (November/December 2015) or download it from SSRN here. The following is a brief excerpt:
The three new lawyers sat in the training room at Widener University Commonwealth Law School in Harrisburg, listening to a Philadelphia attorney talk by Skype about how to market a law firm.
“Who are you? What’s unique about you? What do you offer?” Jennifer Ellis asked the group, prompting silent reflection about what the three bring to potential clients. They also got a lesson in Google AdWords, content management systems for websites and where to buy affordable stock photos to illustrate websites without getting into copyright trouble.
The talk isn’t about zealous representation, but it is critical for new lawyers who are launching solo or small-firm careers in a modern, tight legal market. And it is just one component of a new program based in central Pennsylvania that is initiating new attorneys as much into the business of law as the practice of it.
A joint effort of Widener Law Commonwealth and the Dauphin County Bar Association (DCBA), the incubator project kicked off early this year as the first based entirely in Pennsylvania. It provides new legal professionals with Harrisburg office space, computer and printing equipment, training in the work of building a law practice, mentoring and networking support.
The three inaugural participants are recent Widener Law Commonwealth graduates who, in exchange for their acceptance into the one-year program, agreed to pay for their malpractice insurance and commit to 100 hours of pro bono legal work through MidPenn Legal Services, a nonprofit providing free civil legal assistance to low-income families in crisis. Participants are also encouraged to take on “low bono” clients.
“This program is dynamic because it not only gives the new attorneys legal experience and business skills, it adds affordable legal services to the community,” according to Robyn L. Meadows, who was serving as interim dean of the law school when the incubator program launched in January. “We hope it will build a lasting appreciation for the importance of assisting the underserved, no matter here the attorneys’ careers take them.”
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The three initial participants in the Dauphin County program, Patrick Daniels, Mark Calore and John Sweet, were all given office space on the lower level of the DCBA building on Front Street in Harrisburg. It is a professional setting in the prime business district. The bar association provides furniture, utilities and wireless Internet service as well as other less glamorous things such as mail service and trash removal, important but pesky details to new lawyers trying to get a foothold. The law school provides computers and space for files.
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Participation in the program includes a series of training sessions coordinated by the law school, such as the law-firm-management session with Ellis. Other training topics have included financial planning and setting up business bank accounts to comply with regulations, setting up accounts for tax purposes, keeping client funds separated and marketing. The DCBA makes networking opportunities available. The participants are welcome to attend all the weekly lunch-and-learn sessions at the bar association at no cost. They learn from the speakers and from the lawyers sitting next to them. “That’s a good networking opportunity,” said Daniels, who is making the continuing-education programs a priority. “It’s just an added benefit to the experience.”
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