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Solo & Small Law Firms

Open Your Own Academy

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Though it’s usually the other way around, every so often, solos and smalls can take a lesson from big law initiatives. Two months ago, I blogged about Holland and Knight’s security lab, where the firm tests its clients’ systems for security flaws and recommends fixes for vulnerabilities – and now, I’ve just come across The Appellate Academy, a recently launched venture by Michigan-based  Warner, Norcross and Judd. According to the firm’s press release, the Appellate Academy will run moot courts so that attorneys “can practice arguments and receive feedback as they prepare to present cases to the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and other appellate courts.”  The academy’s “bench” is compressed of former judges and firm attorneys – and it has already mooted, or scheduled moots for 20 percent of the arguments before the Michigan Supreme Court. Presumably, there’s a fee for this service, though it’s not discussed on the website.

My guess is that most solo and small firms (or more accurately, their clients, who presumably would foot the bill) couldn’t afford this type of service. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a demand for these kinds of “knowledge based services” in the solo/small community; indeed, probably more of a demand since most solos don’t have partners or associates who can act as a sounding board.  But I’m sure that lots of lawyers would be willing to pay for an hour or two of an expert lawyer’s time in exchange for feedback.

An academy needn’t be limited to appellate practice; it could sell knowledge on many specialized practice areas – from review of sentencing memos in criminal defense practice to offering feedback on trial skills. I know that some lawyers frequently share this kind of feedback as professional courtesy to colleagues – but for those lawyers, particularly newbies with less experience who don’t have mentors, this kind of service enables them to find the help they need without feeling like a parasite.

Do you, or any lawyers in your community run academies or offer “legal tutoring?” Is it a service that you would use yourself? Share your comments below.

  • Interesting idea. Love the idea of attorneys collaborating across firms to improve the quality of their work before the courts. Even better if it offers a revenue opportunity for firms/attorneys. Do you happen to know how they approach confidentiality, privilege, conflicts, etc.?

  • Tamar

    I’ve been puzzling over this for a number of years now (okay, at least 2). While the need is there for solo/small practitioners with whom I work, there is often a financial barrier to even considering an investment. I’d love some suggestions to overcoming that barrier, short of the old warhorse: “go without 1 Starbucks a week.”

  • Scott Bassett

    WNJ has many excellent appellate attorneys and they’ve assembled an all-star group of former judges. As a Michigan solo family law appellate attorney, it is unlikely my clients can afford to “moot” their cases before oral argument, but I can see the benefit for well-heeled individuals or business clients.

    I recently received my first letter from WNJ about the Academy shortly after one of my cases was scheduled for oral argument. Clearly, they are monitoring the case call calendar posted on the Court web site about a week into each month. I imagine they are being selective about when to send letters. I doubt they are going to every lawyer with a case on the upcoming case call. It would be interesting to learn if they are weeding out some or all family, juvenile, criminal and other appeals where it is unlikely the parties can afford to “moot” their arguments. Maybe they are also making judgments about cases based on who is counsel of record and they type of cases that lawyer is known to handle.

    Mooting for MI SC arguments makes more sense than for the MI COA. Given the COA’s caseload, arguments are often abbreviated and, at least in family law, the vast majority of decisions are unpublished and (allegedly) without precedential value. Although there are exceptions, briefing is where the action is in the COA. Perhaps WNJ or another firm with similar appellate expertise could start a briefing academy?

    Although it is rare because WNJ is a business-oriented firm and I do only family law, they were my opposing counsel in a recent family law appeal. If that were a regular occurrence, I might be concerned about about revealing my approach to oral argument to a firm that was often on the other side of my cases.

  • I use, and provide, this kind of service as a freelance attorney – it allows me to collaborate with other solos and smalls at a reasonable rate, without having to become co-counsel.

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