One WBAI Member’s Contribution
By Stacey C. Kalamaras
According to ABA data, did you know that solo and small firm attorneys make up approximately two-thirds of all practicing attorneys? While there are many reasons to be a solo or small firm attorney, one thing is certain, it can be a lonely existence. The one big drawback to practicing on your own or in a small firm setting is the lack of colleagues to brainstorm or bounce ideas off of. I know many young and newer attorneys who open solo practices upon or shortly after passing the bar, and they have my utmost respect. I would have been terrified to pursue this path when I was first starting out. Many things have changed since I first starting practicing. There is so much new technology and accessible and inexpensive tools to help attorneys at every stage of their career. Social media and online tools and collaboration make it easier than ever to cooperate and seek help no matter where you are. This year alone, I’ve made some significant relationships that started from a LinkedIn invitation or from a brief conversation at a virtual conference. As much as I miss in person networking, I hope the option to attend events virtually will continue even when we return to normal, as I see some advantages. I’ve attended programs all over the world these past few months, and I could not have afforded to do that otherwise.
There are several dispersions cast upon solo and small firm attorneys, but you can turn these to your advantage. People tend to underestimate you especially when you’re a solo. People tend to believe you are not employable or good at your job, but there are so many of us Big Law alumni who chose this path. I welcome being underestimated because I use it to my advantage. Many solo and small firm attorneys I have met in the past few years know more about technology and the newest tools than I could ever hope to understand. I have all the technology I need to run my firm, but I’m always amazed at the new things I hear about time I meet with someone new. When I first went solo in 2009, many of these tools did not exist, so it truly is so much easier to be competitive today. Big law, in my opinion, still has many more resources financially, but most of those are available to solo and small firms, and often at a discounted price.
The one blind spot I think solo and small firm attorneys have is in training and development, especially for those attorneys who have spent their careers on their own or in a small environment. I am a staunch believer in practical, on the job training, and I firmly believe that young attorneys are likely to have greater exposure to work and cases in smaller firms; however, it is less likely in a smaller environment that there will be someone who has the time to teach and mentor them. This type of practical training is so critically important for our profession. Many law schools now offer clinics where students can handle actual client cases in certain practice areas like small business startups, intellectual property law, housing, and immigration, to name a few. These are usually headed by a practitioner and offer a blend of instruction with real world client cases. The down side is because of the nature of the semester system, the student may not get to see the client case through to the end, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. Acknowledging that more and more new graduates are opening their own firms, IIT-Chicago Kent College of law has a Solo-Small Practice incubator, where students can learn all that’s involved in running a solo or small law firm. Beyond the legal issues, there are many business considerations in owning and running a law firm that young lawyers need to learn. All law firms need to have proper training processes and procedures in place to ensure new attorneys are properly trained. We owe it to our clients to be sure the work we do for them is the best it can be. Our clients deserve more than trial by fire. And as a profession, we owe our young attorneys our time and the benefit of our knowledge so that they can learn from us. I hope that more law school curriculum will incorporate more practical training, but quite frankly, I believe it’s important to have a solid foundation in the law before we learn the practical aspects. I know some think law school is a waste of time. It isn’t. We must learn the law before we can learn how to apply it. I managed businesses worth between $200-$500 million prior to attending law school in my mid-30s. When I graduated law school, I didn’t know anything about the law, but I understood my client’s business issues. That was the value I brought. I can’t imagine paying a young, fresh out of law school attorney to assist me with any aspect of my business. What do they know? What value do they add? This is why we need to train them. We need to make sure they become great lawyers and serve our clients well.
My solution and contribution to the training dilemma for solo and small firm attorneys, especially, is the creation of Trademarkabilities®, an online trademark academy for lawyers. As a seasoned trademark attorney who had the privilege of being trained by some of the best trademark practitioners, having represented some of the world’s best-known brands all over the globe, I realized not everyone has had my experience, and I wanted to give back to the next generation of lawyers. In addition, the U.S. is one of the only major economies that does not require a specialized competency test to practice trademark law before its intellectual property office. Any state licensed attorney can file trademark applications on behalf of clients. This doesn’t serve the attorney or the client well at all. Brands are highly valuable business assets. In fact, they are arguably the most valuable form of intellectual property since they can last forever if used properly by the brand owner in commerce. Trademark law is highly nuanced, which explains why so many practitioners specialize in this area. It’s also a growing area of law, with trademark applications up more than 33% in 2020 versus 2019, and keeping that pace so far in 2021 – a testimony to the burgeoning number of startups in 2020, despite, or because of the pandemic. Many attorneys are drawn to trademark law because they think it’ll be fun. And it is! It’s the perfect addition to any corporate transactional practice, and it certainly can fit nicely with any transactional focused practice. With the recent explosion of ecommerce businesses, podcasters and influencers, there is no shortage of opportunities in this space for solos and small firm practitioners, especially if you are creative and visible and on social media. All you need is a foundation in the fundamentals, combined with practical strategies and tips to help you feel confident to represent clients in this area. Trademarkabilities® delivers comprehensive, practical training to give new lawyers or lawyers new to the practice area the confidence they need to handle clients’ trademark applications before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Trademarkabilities® can also be a solution for firms who need to ensure their young attorneys are properly trained and adding value to the firm and help take the initial fundamental basic training requirement off the plate of the firm partners. After all, all of us want to feel and be confident when we represent our clients, to add value to our firms and our client’s businesses, and to be paid the ultimate compliment of a referral down the line. It all starts with proper training and professional development. Make sure when you have the opportunity to give back and share your knowledge, you do.
Stacey C. Kalamaras is the founding partner of Kalamaras Law Office, LLC. She is a seasoned IP attorney with a focus on global trademark prosecution and enforcement. She has educated more than 3000 attorneys on four continents on various trademark-related issues and owns and operates the online trademark academy Trademarkabilities. She can be reached at email@example.com.