Lawyers are an insular people. The social experiment is begun in the first year of law school. The July before you start law school, you’re a well-rounded individual. By September of your 1L Year, you can’t talk with normal human beings anymore, people are afraid that you’ll sue them and you’re muttering things like promissory estoppel over and over again to yourself, and no one else in particular. When you start to practice, nothing much changes. The lifestyle of the lawyer is not a far cry from law school and your studying for the bar exam. Long hours; total immersion in the law. It’s no surprise, then, that lawyers can get a bit squirrelly when removed from their comfort zone.
And, even though I don’t practice law anymore, I can be the same way; I can still do those sorts of lawyer things. So, it was with trepidation that I ventured out of the warmth of my office to attend the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Survival Expo in Boston on January 14. Obviously, I was wondering what a lawyer could take away from something like this, something that was not specifically geared to lawyers.
I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. And, that it took an advance of thinking to find my way to the usefulness of the event, and the importance of the vendors on display. To discover the importance of attendance at such an event, we must apply two corollaries to the way we think about law practice management: 1. the small law office is very much a small business, with certain ethical and regulatory requirements unattached to the general small business; however, those special ethical and regulatory requirements do not somehow make the law office not a business; 2. in the context of an economic recession, lawyers have to explore as many business opportunities as possible: the advantage that you find (and that your competitor doesn’t) may mean the difference between success and failure. That being said, there are a number of general small business resources that the clever solo or small firm attorney may take advantage of.
Of the vendors I spoke with at the SBA event, the companies and agencies I mention below provide services that may be helpful to attorneys; and, all of these companies indicated a willingness to work with lawyers.
The Small Business Administration’s Boston and Springfield District Offices provide free online training, can help you to access small business loans and make available free newsletters and publications. Accion USA offers small business loans and financial literacy education. The Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation facilitates small business loans for Boston and Dorchester small business owners. The Center for Women & Enterprise supports the efforts of female entrepreneurs through business management programs, networking opportunities and the dissemination of financial advice and information. The Commonwealth’s State Office of Minority and Women Business Assistance was initially formed to provide female and minority business owners access to government contracts, but is expanding, to provide more general business services.
Perhaps the best takeaway from this event was the discovery of The Insurance Partnership of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which provides assistance to qualified employees and employers who cannot pay for health insurance. Assistance from The Insurance Partnership, in an economy where every expense has to be watched, considered and reconsidered, can mean the difference between continued survival and closure, for a small business on the edge. And, I never would have known about this program if I had not attended the Small Business Survival Expo, which just goes to show: “One of the most important things in life, is showin’ up.”
Even outside of the dire circumstance of the business on the edge, in an economy this tight, every advantage that you discover, and that your competitor does not explore, provides a unique opportunity. So, jump out of your box; and, while you’re out there, think of your new surroundings. It’s sometimes the dark horse that wins the race.