Susan Cartier Liebel began Solo Practice University on March 20, 2009. One year later, we look back at the reasons SPU started, what it has accomplished and where it's going now.
Announcer: Welcome to GAL Radio, brought to you by the Greatest American Lawyer blog. Changing the way law is practiced through technology, innovation and creativity. Turning the business of law on its head and shaking things up to the betterment of clients, lawyers, law firms and society.
Damien Allen: Good morning and welcome to GAL Radio. My name is Damien Allen, and joining me today on the phone is Susan Cartier Liebel of Solo Practice University. Good morning and welcome to the program, Susan.
Susan Cartier Liebel: Good morning, Damien. How are you?
Damien Allen: I’m doing just fine. Hope your doing well?
Susan Cartier Liebel: I am.
Damien Allen: Well, we are approaching the one year mark for Solo Practice University. Could you please tell us, Susan, what is Solo Practice University?
Susan Cartier Liebel: Solo Practice University is the Number One educational and professional networking site for lawyers and law students. Last year, when everybody was going through Bloody Thursday with all the layoffs, it was very auspicious for us that, after two years of in the making, we opened Solo Practice University on the first day of spring, March 20, 2009, and we have had a wonderful first year bringing education nuts and bolts, professional education to lawyers who have the desire to go solo or be in small firms, and we are now in the process of celebrating that first year.
Damien Allen: What made you start Solo Practice University, and how did it get started?
Susan Cartier Liebel: Well, the bottom line is that I was a solo attorney. I came out of law school many moons ago, probably like, well, I’m trying to think, it’s been so long it’s another life time, December 1994, and I and two other people, after passing the bar, decided we wanted to open a small firm practice. There were literally no resources available to us. It wasn’t part of the law school agenda. Law schools have a very different mission, and it is to cater to getting their students employed by others. It works there, the placement figures, it helps with the US News and World Report to get their rankings up, so those who have a desire to go solo really were kind of off to the side, but they weren’t even just off to the side. They were disregarded. Often times they were disparaged, and the irony of it is is that a full 50 some odd percent of those in private practice are solos. It’s kind of ridiculous that the majority of private practitioners are solos, and yet they are often times seen as second class citizens. I never had any resources available to me, and with the advent of technology the way it is, there have been listeners out there that are phenomenal. I mean they really are. They have served a tremendous resource for solos who were looking for some form of education guidance camaraderie, and then there are blogs which have sort of proliferated in the past five to six years, and yet even that, there are maybe 5000, 6000, 7000 legal blogs out there and 1.4 million lawyers plus. They really even haven’t penetrated the full depth of the profession yet, even though it’s gaining momentum. Even when someone creates a blog, they’re not looking to educate other professionals so much as they are looking to attract clients, so you might be able to glean some information off of there. Then you have these amazing retreats. They’re very expensive, and they’re fantastic to energize you and galvanize you for a moment in time, but they’re not ongoing, and again, they are very expensive, not just in terms of dollars, but in terms of time and energy that one needs towards their solo practice. So when technology made it practicable for me to do it, I wanted to take the best of everything. I wanted to take the best of the list serve functionality, which is the camaraderie and the networking. I wanted to take the best of the education out there, which is given to us through blogging from a lot of these solo experts and larger law firm experts but created in an educational environment where there was give and take, and then I wanted to get the best of the inspiration and learning that comes from a retreat without the associated costs. Technology has allowed me to do that, and the future of learning is online. All studies indicate that. That’s how the concept of Solo Practice University came about. If we could take all those elements at a very, very, very reasonable cost, given the economic climate that we’re in right now, and give solos an opportunity, new law school grads, those who were either jumping ship from big law or being forced to leave big law, an opportunity to be in a place where they’re respected, regarded, educated on an ongoing basis and networking with similarly situated people as themselves. That’s the genesis of Solo Practice University.
Damien Allen: It sounds like it’s a very large scope. Is this something that you’re doing all on your own or is there other professionals that are helping you?
Susan Cartier Liebel: I have an outstanding professional with me, a lawyer as well, David Clarkson, and he does all the architecture behind our site. It’s not cutting edge, it’s bleeding edge. That’s how amazing it is on the inside. It’s really state of the art. It makes the online learning experience something that’s really easy and fun, and the functionality is very impressive when you go inside. Let’s say you want to take the personal injury course and learn the nuts and bolts of a client walks in the door and says, “You know, I have a case.” You have 12 different classes that take you from the time that person walks in to the time of settlement, and you have the ability to interact with the faculty. As a result, we have threading there for conversations. We have not just the educational blogs, but we have then the official study group, where people can stress how they signed up for the course. You have forms in there. You have Facebook-like threading for easy to see the conversation going. You have private messaging. We have over 100 groups that have evolved organically based upon the students’ interests. It could be demographic. It could be SPUers – Metro New York. It could be SPUers who are interested in entrepreneurial law. It could be SPUers just creating a student lounge for themselves, and we have unlimited amounts of communities that can grow because the technology and architecture behind it permits that. It’s really kind of an amazing place, and it’s gratifying. Dave Clarkson is a big part of it.
Damien Allen: Are there any other faculty members that you’d like to mention?
Susan Cartier Liebel: I’d like to mention them all. I mean they’re all amazingly outstanding, and I don’t think I can rattle off 42+ right now and then the bulk that we’re bringing on in the next month.
Damien Allen: So you’re standing at 42 faculty members. Now how many students are actually attending Solo Practice University?
Susan Cartier Liebel: We have almost 600 users as of the first of the year.
Damien Allen: Very nice.
Susan Cartier Liebel: And we have more than 350 individual classes available that can be watched 24/7 from the minute you walk in the door, and that’s growing.
Damien Allen: Well, Susan, what is going to be the ongoing mission for Solo Practice University?
Susan Cartier Liebel: The original mission and the ongoing mission is really give back. Obviously we have to charge a fee because in order to maintain the state of the art architecture, to be able to provide a salary for both myself and David, we obviously have to charge, but we charge a price for overhead because the education you’re getting is priceless. The price we charge is for overhead. But the big mission for SPU is that solos have a place to go to call home, that at a reasonable rate they can get amazing education, contact with educators, ongoing community and networking support. They get free blogs, start of the art WordPress blogs, that they can use as their professional blogs that we maintain. It’s just a place to be where you’re highly regarded, you’re valued, you’re learning what you need to learn. In keeping with that, because we were up on our one year anniversary, our title of our scholarship contest basically says it all. The scholarship contest which is open to all lawyers who are in good standing in their jurisdiction and currently have a solo practice or are verifiably in the process of opening that solo practice, they have the opportunity to enter this contest to get more than $12,000 worth of cash, products and services that will truly enable them to move forward with their solo practices. For instance, Build a Solo Practice, which is the parent company of Solo Practice University, is providing $1,500 right up front to go towards anything you want, you’re student loans, you’re malpractice insurance. We’re trying to address as best we can some of the financial hurdles that a lot of solo practitioners face. We’re providing a one year scholarship to Solo Practice University so they can start getting the education. We have books, Solo by Choice by Carolyn Elefant. The new book coming out by Ed Poll, Growing a Law Practice in Tough Times. We have a one hour and 15 minute assessment and consultation with Bill Jawitz who will….one of the key things with solo practitioners is time management. He will help you with time management with your solo practice. We have Clio, who’s offering up one year of the state of the art practice management software for the new solo. We have Toby Bloomberg of Bloomberg Marketing who is the Diva in social media offering a one hour intense consultation on developing a social media strategy, which is key today. We have Gerry Oginski, who is the guru of online video teaching you personally how to create the video that you will require today to market your practice. We have Mark Merenda from Smart Marketing providing to the recipient, our grand prize winner, a $3000 to $5000 top notch website, three to five pages, full copy, everything that you could need to develop this really amazing presence on the internet, which is also key. We have James Chartrand of Men with Pens doing professional copy for your site. And the list goes on. All of the things, 360 degree opportunity, the things that the financial hurdles, the issues, and then of course, I forgot this, of course. Maybe I’m too humble, a two hour consultation with me to help you get started with the direction of your practice, and I’m obviously the proprietor of Build a Solo Practice, LLC, and the founder of Solo Practice University. We have Ron Baker, who is world-renown for value pricing and trying to get rid of the billable hour, donating his book, The Firm of the Future. We have the new book by Nicky Black and Carolyn Elefant that’s about to come out called, Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier. It just goes on and on and on, and it’s meant to really kick start a new solo or someone who is currently solo who really needs to really gear up. That’s part of the give back.
Damien Allen: If someone’s wanting more information or they would like to enroll in Solo Practice University, where do they go, Susan?
Susan Cartier Liebel: They go to solopracticeuniversity.com. It’s that simple. And if they want to find out more about the contest, when they go to solopracticeuniversity.com, click news or blogs, and the very first thing that you will see will be the blog post about the contest, and you can click over to the contest, and I encourage any lawyer who is solo or ever thought about being solo to please enter. There’s absolutely nothing to lose, and this will be a great opportunity for you to show us how much you want to improve your practices, and that’s what we’re all about.
Damien Allen: Well, thank you very much for joining us today and discussing Solo Practice University, Susan, and happy anniversary.
Susan Cartier Liebel: Well, thank you very much.
Damien Allen: You’ve been listening to GAL Radio. My name is Damien Allen. Everyone have a great afternoon.
Announcer: This net cast is powered by Vertio.net. Vertio.net, optimizing you brand and web presence worldwide. Vertio.net. Be heard. Be seen. Be found.