Unique Grant Program Puts Recent Graduates on the Path to Success
While exciting and professionally fulfilling, striking out on your own as a solo practitioner entails considerable work and challenges on many levels, especially for new lawyers.
In order to help graduates start their own law practice and build a solid foundation for a successful career, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law created the Solo Practice Grant Program in 2013 in partnership with the innovative, shared workspace for lawyers, LawBank.
The grant provides space for Denver Law graduates from the most recent graduating class to build their own solo practice at a LawBank location for a discounted, modest co-payment. The program helps to offset the costs of starting a solo practice, giving recipients a chance to focus on growing their client base and their future.
Funding from the grant provides a door-opener to a world of benefits that can help new lawyers launch a successful practice.
Assistance in Action
After interviewing with several firms upon graduation, alumnus Alex Buscher, JD’18, knew one thing: joining a firm just wasn’t what he wanted for his career. During law school, he had considered starting his own hemp law firm, a huge leap that would require him to go out on his own into a brand-new area of law.
“It’s kind of the Wild West,” Buscher says about hemp law. “I’m passionate about hemp and saw opportunity where there weren’t a lot of lawyers practicing already.”
The Solo Practice Grant helped him put his vision into practice.
“The program made me comfortable to go out on my own,” Buscher says.
Denver Law alumna Patricia Mellen, JD’16, knew from the time she attended law school that her interests diverged from the traditional firm route.
“I was never going to work for a firm. I always knew I was going to be a solo practitioner,” she relates.
For Mellen, who specializes in property-related dispute resolution, the grant supported starting her own firm and working at LawBank completed the formula for success.
The partnership with LawBank is critical to the success of the grant program.
Created by Denver lawyer, Jay Kamlet of Kamlet LLP, LawBank is a unique shared working space designed specifically as a collaborative, ethical environment for lawyers. It offers a secure and confidential place to work with amenities like private printing, conference rooms, career-success CLEs, and most importantly, connection with other lawyers with varying degrees of tenure in the profession and serving clients in a multitude of legal disciplines.
“Really what we're trying to do here is create a law firm-like environment without any of the law firm issues,” Kamlet relates. “It's an ecosystem of lawyers that are coming in from different practice areas, different levels of experience. It’s really just a community that is able to interact with one another on different levels, whether it's questions, whether it's mentorship, whether it's actual contract work or co-counsel opportunities where people are collaborating with each other.”
Since its inception, LawBank has grown to three locations (all of which are open to grantees) and around 115 lawyers, which would make it the fifth largest law firm in Colorado…if it were a law firm.
“We don't hold ourselves out as a law firm, but we have the resources to act like a law firm. Everything here is geared towards helping our lawyers be better lawyers and better business people because that's what it takes. We're changing the mindset of an office as being an expense to an office being an investment,” says Kamlet.
From collaboration to contract work, the environment is an ideal spot for lawyers across all levels, including those who are moving away from larger firms, preparing to retire or just starting out, like the Solo Practice Grant recipients.
Kamlet partnered with Denver Law’s grant program to help the next generation of independent practitioners gain solid footing.
“The goal is really to try to help that person coming out of law school connect with the person who's experienced to create a connection and create a relationship. We all joke here that we’re solo, but we’re never alone,” he relates.
LawBank also provides a long-term solo practice solution well after the Solo Practice Grant term has ended for Denver Law alumni recipients. Lawyers can operate their practice out of the space as long as they want, renting the size of space that works for their practice.
Mellen started her work at LawBank in a shared space under the grant, working with an experienced attorney who also had a solo practice there.
“LawBank is awesome. It would have been a lot harder to start out without it. I can’t even imagine I’d have made the connections I have made,” she says. “I’m busy 60 hours a week, and I am staying here for the foreseeable future,” she says.
Mellen has graduated out of the grant period and has since upgraded to an office to handle her growing client base.
Buscher has also upgraded from the shared space to his own office at LawBank. He has positioned himself as a leader in hemp law in the short time since he graduated, and now has two clerks working with him.
“There are a lot of great lawyers around. I like the location, I like the lawyers, and the shared space is ethical. For the near future, I’m staying here,” he said.
Paying it Forward
As part of Denver Law’s mission to serve the public good, grantees agree to provide pro bono legal services, helping to address the access-to-justice gap.
Because grantees do not shoulder the full costs of starting a legal practice, they are well-positioned to serve the growing market of modest-means clients who do not qualify for legal aid services, but who are routinely priced out of the legal services market.
Grant recipients provide six hours of pro bono work per month for the 12-month grant period, and many provide more. Buscher, for example, offers pro-bono services to the medical marijuana community, helping to ensure patient rights and medical access, as the market shifts toward recreational.
Confidence to Grow a Career
Both Buscher and Mellen believe that keys to solo practice success are an entrepreneurial mindset, as well as a lot of hard work at keeping expenses in check and building a solid client base.
But both also relate that the Solo Practice Grant Program offers another essential that is hard to develop when you start your career: Confidence.
“It gave me the confidence to say that I had my law school backing me; to at least have one person in my corner not saying I’m crazy for going out on my own,” Buscher relates.
Mellen adds that the grant gave her an opportunity that many of her peers never had.
“Getting traction, building a book of business, and networking with other solo practitioners who are making it work is priceless,” says Mellen. “It’s hard for me to overstate how important this grant has been to the launch of my solo practice. I’m sure I’d be struggling to gain clients, gain mentors and colleagues and to gain the confidence I need to make my practice successful.”
Learn more about the Solo Practice Grant by visiting https://www.law.du.edu/careers/career-development/postgraduate-programs and contacting Samantha Zandman at [email protected] or Eric Bono at [email protected].