Recent School of Law graduates hatch their own practice at UMKC incubator

Roze Brooks

School of Law graduates Alexander Edelman, Katherine Haug and Sarah Liesen have taken  a bold initiative by creating a firm of their own.

Edelman, Liesen & Myers  L.L.P. is one of the first firms located in the new Solo and Small Law Firm Incubator at 4743 Troost Ave., which was started in November 2010.

The American Bar Foundation reports that 50 percent of all lawyers are solo practitioners, and 70 percent of lawyers are in firms of 10 or fewer attorneys.

“We have had courses in solo and small law firm practice and related business planning for about nine years now, but the Incubator was an innovation recommended by the Law School Dean and Associate Deans about three years ago and implemented after study and planning,” said Law Professor Anthony Luppino.

Prior to graduation, Edelman, Haug (soon to be Myers) and Liesen  agreed finding a satisfying job within an existing firm was difficult, so they decided to research how to create their own.

They contacted Luppino, who suggested the incubator.

The partners began working on a business proposal in April 2012, but were interrupted by rigorous studying for the Missouri Bar exam.

They were sworn into practice in September after their proposal was accepted by a committee of UMKC law and business professors.

As an incubator, the office space came fully furnished, with amenities such as printing and copying.

“We thought of this as a shortcut,” Liesen said. “With this route, we could surround ourselves with mentors and then immediately start practicing in the areas that we wanted to start in.”

Edelman said he hopes to encourage students to take advantage of the program by being a good role model.

Haug expressed interest in becoming a mentor for anyone occupying the space after them. There is no predetermined time limit for the incubator, but the partners expect two years maximum.

“I think there is a big psychological barrier to setting out on your own,” Edelman said.

Reactions from others have varied.

“I’ve been told by a lot of attorneys that are on their own now, that they wish they would have done what we’re doing, even though it’s not the easiest thing to do,” Haug said.  “It’s difficult to start [your own practice]. It just requires a little more ingenuity and hard work to get where you want to go.”

Edelman said the Law School is slowly adapting to the influx of graduates hoping to start smaller firms.

“The average stereotype of an attorney is someone in a tall building with a lot of offices and fancy coffee mugs, but in reality, a majority of attorneys practice independently in small firm settings,” Edelman said. “With this program, they’re starting to move closer to reality and training attorneys to be in small firms.”

One of the biggest obstacles the partners have faced is marketing and branding.

“Had we known this is what we were going to do, we may have taken some classes with the business school, but how do you really know?” Haug said.

The partners said much of the marketing for this firm has been through word of mouth and law professors networking with colleagues.  Social media and community outreach have been helpful, and the partners agree that it’s a trial and error experiment.

The partners believe the different legal practices they offer will be beneficial to marketing the firm.

Edelman focuses on estate planning law, dealing with wills and trusts.

Haug offers employment law services, such as workplace discrimination and wage issues.

Liesen practices immigration law, handling visas and citizenship.

All three partners accept traffic ticket and DUI violations.

Strategic planning to educate the community on legal rights is one major goal for the firm. Haug has contacted several organizations offering free seminars. Liesen intends on speaking to local schools.

They acknowledge that the influence of law is always changing and hope to bring a fresh perspective on the stigma that lawyers sometimes carry.

Edelman feels the general public often views lawyers as cheats, finding any way to drain clients’ money.

“Part of that is because lawyers aren’t always good at communicating with non-lawyers,” he said. “Oftentimes when lawyers explain to clients what they’re doing, they use jargon or short-hand that another law person would understand, but the client doesn’t.”

The firm offers free consultations as a service to clients, some of whom may not actually require legal counsel.

“We want people to understand what they’re getting,” Liesen said. “Some of this takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and research. That is what you’re paying for.”

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