Next Business School for Lawyers starts Aug. 22

By Cheri Harris,, Director of Continuing Legal Education

In 2011, the State Bar’s Business Law Section had a vision of providing curriculum to address significant business concerns of practicing lawyers and began working on a Business School for Lawyers. The ISBA partnered with Butler University Corporate & Executive Education, a division of Butler University’s College of Business, to develop and deliver the series, which is not conducted in a typical CLE format.¹ Now, three years later, the State Bar and Butler are getting ready to offer this highly regarded series for the third time this fall.

Remaining competitive in a still volatile legal market requires a law firm to have a clear strategic vision, the skills and techniques to turn strategy into reality, and the ability to adapt to and endure both internal and external change. Who are best prepared to lead law firms through these steps? Lawyers and law firm managers who have strategies to address current economic challenges are the ones who can successfully lead change, inspire innovation and manage increasingly complex business issues.

In light of the multiple demands on your time and resources, the decision to invest in an in-depth series like this requires careful consideration. It is worth noting the following:

  1. This series is designed to provide two-fold value to your career by positioning you to make better business decisions in your own practice while also giving you knowledge and experience to better understand and advise business clients.
  2. Interested lawyers can take any combination of the sessions offered in this series as each session is designed to provide value independent of the others.²
  3. An attorney who takes all five sessions will earn a Certificate of Business Administration from Butler University. ISBA members who sign up for all five sessions also get a discount of $250 off the price of the full series (compared to the price of paying for each session individually).

Evaluations of the second series, which is currently in progress, have been strong. Course attendees responded to the question “What part of the CLE did you find most useful?” as follows:

  • “It’s very beneficial, especially to attorneys without a business background.”
  • “The analysis process”
  • “All, always learn so much, real situations discussed”
  • “Practical implications, decision-making for managing employees, and culture change discussion”
  • “Importance of motivating and developing [my] staff, admin and peers”

To help gauge the ongoing value of the program, the ISBA recently asked participants in ISBA’s first Business School for Lawyers to reevaluate the program and describe any long-term effects it has had on them. We spoke with three attorneys who earned the Certificate of Business Administration in 2012: Candice D. Armstrong, a solo practitioner in Newton County; Kevin W. Betz, founding attorney of Betz & Blevins in Indianapolis; and Sean M. Clapp, managing member of Clapp Ferrucci in Fishers.

Both members of small firms, Betz and Clapp each indicated that the investment of time and money was “absolutely” well spent. As a solo attorney, Armstrong described the opportunity as “truly a valuable experience (well worth the time spent away from the office).”

Who should attend the Business School for Lawyers?
Clapp believes “any attorney, whether a sole practitioner, a manager of a firm or an associate,” will benefit from developing a better understanding of business principles. Betz would “highly recommend” the course to “anybody who aspires to lead, manage and grow a law firm, whether small, medium or large, or who finds themselves in the midst of leading, managing and growing a law firm.”

According to Armstrong, a former associate at Sidley Austin in Chicago turned solo practitioner, “There is something for everyone to gain” from taking the course – “from solo to large firms and small business to a corporate environment.”

A unique course with ongoing value
Compared to other CLE programs, Clapp noted that the Business School for Lawyers provided “more of a collaborative setting in which the participants had discussions with the professors and dialogued about experiences, challenges and successes.” As a result, he said, “We learned from each other as well as the professors.”

Armstrong recently pinpointed the distinction, stating “the combination of Butler professionals with peer-to-peer learning in a hands-on way presents a unique opportunity to explore business concepts.”

The difference described by Betz was that “instruction and execution of the course took place at such a high level.” He also cited “the well-thought-out nature of the course and expertise of the lecturers.” Particularly impressed by lectures by Dick Fetter, whom Betz described as “a superstar among superstars,” Betz took to heart Fetter’s mandate: “If you want to run a business, you must grow a business.” Betz continued, saying: “I absolutely loved the program. I thought it was tremendously well done, combining academic analysis with practical thought. The discussion among participants was really helpful and confirmed that we’re all facing the same problems.”

Positive and lasting impact
“Personally,” Armstrong said, “I found application to my small firm, another business I own and with respect to my business clients.”

Noting that “law school doesn’t teach how to run a business or many of the intricacies of how businesses operate,” Clapp suggested, “If your practice involves representing businesses, it is important to understand the details and challenges faced by businesses.” Clapp described the ongoing impact on his practice, saying:

This set of courses provided information and knowledge that enabled me to be better prepared and to better understand various business issues my clients face. As the manager of my firm, the courses were very helpful in getting me to think about aspects of my business that I haven’t considered before and to implement changes to help our firm run better and be more profitable.

Betz refers to three major areas of change he has made since taking the series:

  1. How I manage and lead my staff and fellow attorneys;
  2. How I have developed metrics or measurements to track and monitor new business; and
  3. Innovations and other ideas implemented to grow business.

The State Bar’s Business Law Section set out to provide a business education that would improve a lawyer’s ability to make well-reasoned decisions about growing his or her firm and to discuss business matters at a higher level of understanding when advising clients. It appears they have succeeded in that task.

Sean Clapp found the series so valuable that after he took it in 2012, he convinced his partner to take the series the next time it was offered. Candice Armstrong has successfully grown her business since taking the course and says:

I look forward to attending the mini sessions offered at this year’s ISBA Solo & Small Firm Conference in June to explore new applications as my practice has grown since I received my Certificate of Business Administration from the program.

Take this opportunity to refresh your approach to business management. Preserve and grow your firm’s long-term staying power in the legal market, and maximize your career success by signing up for the next series of courses at Classes begin in August. •

¹ Developed by the Butler University College of Business to teach business acumen to attorneys, a significant portion of this series is not focused on substantive law, but is eligible for Non Legal Subject Matter credit (NLS). Indiana’s rule on mandatory continuing legal education caps the amount of NLS credit that can be applied to meet the requirements at 12 hours per three-year education cycle.
² Attendees will benefit most from attending both Business Development I and Business Development II; however, Business Development I is not required in order to sign up for Business Development II. They are mutually beneficial but not interdependent.

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