Professors Andrew Garcia and James Matthews discuss Suffolk University Law School’s Accelerator to Practice program. Designed to prepare students for small and solo practice, students partnered with small law firm owners in the Lawyerist Lab coaching program. Using tenets learned in Lawyerist’s book The Small Firm Roadmap, students interviewed the owners, analyzed their firms, and presented a case study complete with recommendations for improvements.
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Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Lawyerist supports attorneys, building client-centered, and future-oriented small law firms through community, content, and coaching both online and through the Lawyerist Lab. And now from the team that brought you The Small Firm Roadmap and your podcast hosts
Stephanie Everett (00:35):
Hi, I’m Stephanie Everett.
Sara Muender (00:37):
And I’m Sarah Muender. And this is episode 451 of the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today, Stephanie talks with Suffolk professors, Andrew Garcia and James Matthews about bringing business skills to law school.
Stephanie Everett (00:53):
Today’s podcast is brought to you by Posh Virtual Receptionists, Clio, & LawPay. We would be able to do the show without their support, so stay tuned because we’re going to tell you a little bit more about them in a few minutes.
Sara Muender (01:04):
So Stephanie, I’m so excited for this conversation because it highlights one of the ways that people are actually using our book in real life. And I think that as the author of this book, you’re probably feeling really proud to hear about how it’s actually helping people.
Stephanie Everett (01:24):
Yeah, it’s always an honor. I mean, just the fact that one person in the universe has read the book is amazing. So when I think about some of this stats that over 10,000 copies have been sold at this point, you’re just mind blown. But I love that we have had several professors actually use the book as a textbook in their classroom, and what a cool way to inspire the next generation of people who are going to become lawyers.
Sara Muender (01:49):
And I honestly hear this a lot too. When I was working more on the sales side at Lawyerist and bringing people into lab, I would have a lot of people tell me that they’ve used our book with their students or they’ve bought a copy for everyone on their team. And so I think that it’s probably helping a lot more people than we realize. But today we’re going to focus on one example.
Stephanie Everett (02:14):
And I would just as a personal request, maybe if you’re finding the book helpful, if it’s resonating with you, I mean, of course we’d love your Amazon reviews because apparently Amazon thinks that’s really important. And the more great reviews we have, the more it promotes our book to people. So of course, I’ll give a little plug for that. But really even more important, we would just love to hear if the book is resonating with you, or guess what, if you have issues with it. I like that too. I’m, I’m a lawyer, I love a good debate, but I would just love to encourage people to reach out on social or email us and tell us how it’s landing with you, what’s been helpful, how are you using it? And if you’re getting success from it, because those stories help us and then we’re able to share them out with other people and generate really cool ideas within the community of how people are taking these concepts and actually putting them into practice.
Sara Muender (03:06):
Yes, what Stephanie said, please do that. I’d love to hear ’em too. Now, here’s Stephanie’s conversation with the professors.
Andrew Garcia (03:17):
Stephanie, thank you for having us. I’m Andrew Garcia. I have been running my own law business since 1992, a year after I graduated. I run a civil practice, but I’ve also been operating the estate planning division for many years now and trying to apply all the principles I’ve learned through the Lawyerist. But I’m also on the adjunct faculty at Suffolk University Law in Boston, my alma mater, where I teach a practice called the Business of Practice, which we introduced to the university back in 2011. And I’m also very fortunate to tag team in the unique accelerator practice program with my good friend James Matthews, who is with us today too.
James Matthews (04:00):
Thank you Andrew. And it’s great to be here. My name is James Matthews and I’m a clinical professor at Suffolk Law School and the faculty director for the Accelerator to Practice Program. As Andrew mentioned, the accelerator practice program is a multi-year course of study and practice that’s designed to prepare students for small and solo practice.
Stephanie Everett (04:25):
So in our marketing materials, we always say Lawyerist is here because no one taught you how to do these things in law school. And I guess you’re trying to get me out of a job because here you are actually trying to teach the business principles. We know lawyers need in law school. I love it. But to kick us off maybe how did this come about? How did you get started with this class and really this program?
Andrew Garcia (04:49):
So again, I graduated in 91. A year later I hung up my shingle after working for a law firm locally. I went out hanging my shingle up, doing a business plan on a napkin, and that’s the best I had. And within the first year, I made all the mistakes that we make as lawyers cost me probably about $40,000 in losses that year. And for years I’d see colleagues and we’d always mutter the popular refrain to each other. They never taught us how to run a business in law school. So in 2010, I approached the university with this idea of introducing a law practice management class, and they were very receptive. And that’s how we partnered up and created the Business of Practice class, which we designed intentionally as a practical class, not so much an academic class, but a practical class to teach students. Many of the things we listened to in the Lawyerist. And Steph, as you know, I use the Lawyer Risk podcast as part of the syllabus week to week. And then this is where I can kick it back to James because then sometime after 2011 when we first introduced the Business of practice class, that’s where the university expanded upon the concept, and that’s where James comes in.
James Matthews (06:06):
So back in 2014, the law school decided to launch a multi-year program that was really designed to prepare students for small firm practice. And a lot of Suffolk graduates over half go into small firm practice. And so we really wanted to create a program that was geared towards those students. We wanted to empower graduates to be able to establish and join financially successful small law firms that would help people of every income level with their legal needs. And we also wanted to give them skills that they’d be able to take with them to small firms. And we also wanted to inspire students to think about ways that they could close the justice gap through Marcus based solutions. So those were sort of the three primary goals when the program first launched back in 2014. And just in terms of how the program is structured is that we actually recruit and select students during their one L year, and then they enter into a specialized track of instruction, which includes placement at a small firm during their one L summer.
And these are internships that have been carefully curated by the Office of Professional and Career Development who co-manage the program with us. And so those supervisors and small firm business owners have really bought into the mission of the program. So in addition to providing students with substantive legal tasks, they also provide students with a window into the business of the practice. And so for a lot of students, this is their first exposure to small firm practice, and then it also helps to contextualize their upper level studies and then after their one L year or their one L summer, it’s almost similar to a concentration in the sense that they take upper level law practice management and technology focused coursework, including the business of practice that Andrew teaches. They do a second small firm internship during their two L summer, and then during their final year, their three L year, they enter into the accelerator practice, which is our in-house clinic where they have an opportunity to represent actual clients in real cases. In addition to the case work, there’s also a year long seminar associated with the practice where in addition to foundational lowering skills like negotiation and case theory, we’ve also incorporated topics around law practice management and small firm technology. And that’s a seminar with Andrew and some other colleagues. And so it really is a nice kind of well-rounded program. And it was really the seminar and Andrew had the idea, which I’m sure we’ll talk about in a few minutes, to have this case study project that would sort of be a capstone project for the students.
Stephanie Everett (08:57):
Yeah, I’m sure so many people right now are saying, where was this when I was in law school? But the good news is it’s starting, right. We can’t make change until we start to make change. So kudos to you. I’m so excited about the work you’re doing. And yeah, maybe we dive in and tell us a little bit about this case study program that you then launched this year because Well, because I had a small part in it, so
Andrew Garcia (09:22):
Well, you had a large part and you played a large part in it, Steph. So throughout the years, we’ve been really trying to introduce practical exercises for the students. So for example, for many years they would, they’d study over the semester, they’d study case management software. They’d stack three up against each other, and then they would report in on their experiences. And another year we did client relationship management platforms, which unfortunately wasn’t well received by the students, but we made them do something like that. We have co-counseling exercises. And then last summer I was thinking, all right, so what interesting thing could we do this year? Right? This year coming because these projects are getting a little tired. I kid you not, I was listening to the Lawyerist podcast, what you unique guests was on there talking about his practice, and unfortunately, I can’t remember your guest’s name.
And I said to myself, I think it would be awesome to assign a student to study what this guest is doing with his law business and then have them report back. I mentioned that to James and I said, James, what if we did this? And we base it on the small firm roadmap. We have the students read that, and then they study all the principles that the Lawyerist lays out in the small firm roadmap. What if we did that and have them deliver a really great paper presentation at the end of the year? And James was all over that, but I think his first question was, well, where are we going to find all the Lawyerist to do this? And I said, why don’t we just approach Stephanie at the Lawyerist with this idea? Let’s see where it goes. I think that was sort of the birth of it
Stephanie Everett (11:03):
Sounded good to me. So you came to me and I said, yeah, we have this whole program called Lawyerist Lab, and I bet if we go there, they would be willing. And in fact, I was right because the second I asked, everybody wanted to sign up, all the Lawyerist were like, this sounds amazing. And so maybe we could fast forward a little bit and then I’d love to just hear how did it go and what happened? So basically over the course of the year, students have been reading the small firm roadmap and studying its principles and then also connecting with Lawyerist in our lab program and learning from them, interviewing them, maybe even seeing what they’re not doing so great. I don’t know, but how did that process go,
Andrew Garcia (11:43):
James? You’re the act of the mission here, so I think you’re going to take this.
James Matthews (11:46):
Yeah. So the way that we had sort of structured the assignment is that we had students conduct multiple with small firm owners, and then we had them read the small firm roadmap. Like you said, we had them do their own sort of independent research. Also, they had an opportunity to meet with Andrew and one of our legal technology consultants, Jared Cara, to sort of debrief after some of the interviews to think about, okay, well, what are some additional questions that I might ask during the second interview? What are some challenges that the small firm business owners is experiencing that I might be able to help them to provide some recommendations on? And then after that process, the final sort of deliverable or product that they created was an academic paper, which was about 15 pages long and an in-class presentation about the firm. And Andrew could talk about this more, but I think one of the great things about the project is that they really had an opportunity to dive into the business operations of the small firm practices. And it was great because I think the supervisors or the business owners were really great about providing them with information and allowing them to really study the processes that they had gone through. So I think that was really helpful for them.
Stephanie Everett (13:10):
Yeah, what surprises came out of this? What did we learn about the state of small businesses or small law firms today?
Andrew Garcia (13:20):
Okay, so takeaways. Yes. The participants were, they were fabulous. They were as excited as James and I were about the project. They were very giving of our time because think about it, these business owners were letting students into sort of the backend to see the underside of the hood, so to speak. And the students were the learning about these principles. I think to me, some of the surprises were the legitimate recommendations that students were able to give at the end of this two semester project. I mean, James and I, mind you, this was something new for us. We had just created this project, we weren’t exactly sure of what the outcomes were going to be, and when they finally produced, we were floored by the quality of the work. And again, some of the recommendations that they were able to come up with to actually give feedback, useful feedback to the lawyer participants.
Stephanie Everett (14:19):
Yeah, I mean, are there any that you could share with us, because I think that student perspective would be fascinating because we often get stuck even ourselves in our ways and our ways of thinking about our business. So what were some of the new angles that they would bring?
Andrew Garcia (14:35):
Well, James, one that really sticks in my mind was one of our immigration participants on the west coast. She was really interested in introducing her practice to TikTok. And so the student who was not overly familiar with TikTok, she sat about and learned how to produce TikTok videos, how to produce consistent content, how to teach the lawyer, how to implement that into her marketing strategy. That one sticks out. I know James, there were others too.
James Matthews (15:08):
Yeah, I think certainly there were a number of students who had really great ideas for developing social media marketing campaigns. So I think that definitely stuck out to me as well. But there were also, I think other students who had unique ideas ar around how to brand a particular type of practice and thinking about alternative fee arrangements that attorneys might also adopt in terms of different business models. So yeah, there was a wide range, I think, of different recommendations that were creative. And I think, like you said, it’s interesting to hear the younger generation sort of perspective about what it means not only to deliver legal services to, but also to be a customer of legal services these days.
Stephanie Everett (15:51):
Yeah, I love that. Let’s take a quick break to hear from our sponsors when we come back. I want to go deeper into that because I think there’s some lessons here for the Lawyerist listening from what we can learn from those younger generations.
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Stephanie Everett (18:59):
So we’re back in, and I think one of my big takeaways so far is so often we bring interns in, we bring people right out of law school into our law firms, and we put on our trainer, our mentor hat that we’re there to teach. We’re there to give information and give our experience. But what a great reminder that we also need to flip that on its head and listen that our students are bringing such a wealth of information and new perspective to us. And of course, it’s easy to think about the social media marketing because we probably assume that they’re more hip and know about those kind of things than this old my daughter would certainly say so, but also, like you said, in business model, how to charge, think about the value that we’re providing and what else are you seeing in terms of what these students, whether it be in this program or just in the larger sense, what are they thinking about differently that we need to start thinking about?
Andrew Garcia (20:02):
So what I’ve noticed is that we as instructors actually need to flip our approach a bit as well internally, because obviously law school’s there to teach students how to pass the bar exam and get licensed, which is, it’s important for our ticket, but I think we need to flip it as well and provide them with resources like the small firm roadmap, practical resources, exposing them to actual people who are doing unique things. And I think that was what was so lucky for us here as well. And the partnership with the Lawyerist is that these students were studying very unique approaches to providing legal services. And James and I were so surprised because we had nine students working, and so we had nine lawyer participants. We were so surprised at the number of Lawyerist who were offering a subscription based model that surprised us the most. How many all of a sudden were offering this really alternative arrangement to fees?
James Matthews (21:02):
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that really resonated with many of the students, right? Because they’re used to now purchasing products on a subscription fee model. So I think there were a number of students who I talked with after their presentations who were saying, if I start my own practice or if I transition to a small firm practice, definitely going to consider a subscription fee. Because I mean, that’s how consumers are buying things these days. So it just makes so much sense business wise. Yeah,
Stephanie Everett (21:33):
I love that you guys know because I’m all for killing the billable hour, so that’s great. Yeah, we got to start school because it’s surprising too, we forget, they go to law school, they start those internships and that’s all they know is how to bill by the hour. And so I love that we’re also exposing them to, there’s other ways to think about it and that it just, they’re not fighting it because it’s what they know. They’re like, of course, why wouldn’t I buy a subscription to my law practice? I buy a subscription to every other part of my life. I mean, I have a subscription to laundry detergent for goodness sake.
Andrew Garcia (22:09):
And we approached this too, and again, Stephanie, you were instrumental in helping us design the project too. And it really was your idea, by the way, to suggest that we allow students to provide recommendations to the lawyer participant. But James and I approached it intentionally in that we were trying to pair up students with Lawyerist based upon the student’s interest in practice areas too. And so for example, we were really lucky. We had one student who for the last two years has expressed his interest in cannabis law, which it’s a burgeoning area. And we were fortunate to find a participant who was in that space as well. And he just brought so much, I think to her practice, James, and you can refresh my memory to it, he brought a ton of ideas to her and she was super helpful. I mean, she attended the participation, the presentation, she was taking notes. And I think James, did he actually end up working with her beyond the scope of the presentation?
James Matthews (23:13):
Yeah, that’s right. She had hired him to do some projects during the spring semester because she was so impressed with his acumen and the work that he was doing. So it really was, I think, a two-way street. And I think that was the other great part of this project is not only did students have an opportunity to really analyze the inner workings of the firms, but I mean these Lawyerist also hopefully will become mentors for students push graduation. And so to have an additional opportunity to cultivate that type of close relationship with a small firm attorney is really just invaluable.
Stephanie Everett (23:52):
I wonder if we could shift just slightly, because you do have these relationships with the students. I feel like you guys have a little bit of insight that you might be able to share with us as to what’s coming. These are the next people we’re going to be hiring into our firms. And we read a lot about this, we hear a lot about it. But what are you guys seeing in terms of what today’s students want, what they expect from an employer? What can we be doing to building a better workplace that’s going to attract these great students? Cause we hear about how hard the job market is. And so I wonder if there’s any insight you can give us on these new workforce coming up in the ranks?
James Matthews (24:31):
It’s a great question and I think for one, there definitely is an expectation of hybrid work for sure. And I think one of the things that we’ve tried to emphasize in the capstone clinical component of the program is we’re teaching students how to provide virtual representation, how to collaborate remotely. Since that I think is something that is certainly going to be part of practice for foreseeable future, but we also want to make sure that students are having the opportunity to meet with clients in person also. Cause I think that’s an important skill to develop and one that I think going forward is going to be difficult. So I think that’s a big piece. I know Andrew, are there other ones that you can think of?
Andrew Garcia (25:18):
Yeah, so I think students not only they’re bringing technical ideas with them, but like James said, they’re also, I think what we’re doing at Suffolk is we’re allowing students to see that law businesses can be the means for them to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve. And so I begin the class, the business of law, I begin the class by letting students know that 11 years ago we always defined success of a business as just profit, strictly profit, make more profit every single year. But over the last 11, 12 years, we’re trying to let them know there’s been a shift to that mindset that success isn’t just measured by a 30%, 40% profit. Success is measured by whatever lifestyle you want to live. Your law business can help you reach that and achieve that. So if you want to practice remotely from Fiji, you can achieve that. If you want to be running a part-time practice, you can achieve that. You want to be watch a hybrid or a virtual practice, it’s there. It’s there to do now. And so I think once we’ve unlocked that for the students, now they begin to express such unique ideas about how they want to practice.
Stephanie Everett (26:32):
Yeah. I’m curious to see if you’re thinking about what comes next, not just for this program, but what should we be learning about if we think about law school as the place we go to learn, and I know that’s not always synonymous with innovation, but I’ll, your class and your program at least is what’s on the horizon for what you need to incorporate and prepare tomorrow’s students for to get ready for what’s going to happen next with the practice of law?
James Matthews (26:59):
Well, I think a big thing that’s coming next is generative ai, certainly. And we have a very strong legal information and technology program. And so we are starting to have those conversations about how do we teach students to use AI responsibly efficiently. I think it’s something that we can’t not adopt into our own education, and it’s something that I think students are going to be using in practice. So I think educators are in a good position to be able to start thinking about ways that we can incorporate that into our pedagogy. And I think that it’s really important
Andrew Garcia (27:45):
To jump off that a little bit, James, too. I think as educators, we need to recognize the value of bringing practical materials into the syllabus, into our class, into what we’re teaching. We can’t, can’t always rely on treatises and textbooks written for academia. We have to bring in exposed students to more practical pieces of material. Don’t mean to toot the Lawyerist podcast, but the podcast exposing them to speakers who aren’t just Lawyerist speakers who actually work out there in the business, that them as Lawyerist, when they’re future Lawyerist, they’re going to be talking to. So for example, Maddy Martin from Smith AI is always willing to jump in and speak to the students on a class when we talk about client-centricity and running a client-centric practice. So exposing students to folks like that, people they’d actually be speaking to when they’re in business, I think that’s important for us as educators as well.
Stephanie Everett (28:48):
I love that. And I will just make a personal pitch. Anytime a law school has ever asked me to speak to students, I say, yes, of course this is my opportunity to share a message, to maybe share new ideas and to listen to what the students are interested in. And so I just implore anyone who’s listening to this, when the schools reach out to us, this is part of our professional responsibility and our duty. So of course we’re going to say yes and we’re going to come. So I know that this is only going to broaden your opportunity for more participants next year. I’m sure I’m going to get lots of people who say, wait, I want to do that. Can I have a law student study my business? But also if you’re asked to speak for whatever it is, they don’t call it career day anymore, but I know they’re always asking for practitioners to come in and we are busy, but we need to make it a priority.
Andrew Garcia (29:39):
And Stephanie, you for that invitation to other Lawyerist out there who may want to be part of this project going forward, because James and I, we feel as if this is going to be an ongoing capstone project for the L accelerator to practice. Yeah, practice. Is that fair, James?
James Matthews (30:01):
Yeah, absolutely. Feedback from students was really positive. And I think for many it was really, like we said earlier, the sort of capstone part of their experience because they got to apply all the knowledge and skills that they learned in their other coursework to an actual small law business. So I think it was really rewarding for them. And also through the in-class presentations that we had nine students, so it meant all the students got exposed to essentially nine different business models. So they got to really see different marketing campaigns, different systems and procedures, different fee arrangements. So it wasn’t just each student having an opportunity to study one business, but they got exposed essentially to nine different business models. So I think that was really great also.
Stephanie Everett (30:57):
Yeah, I love that and I’m excited to continue on. I think it’s great. What the work you’re doing is great. I know you’re going to get a lot of interest coming out of this podcast, and I’m just excited for what you’re doing and that we are finally making some changes, and I know other schools are too, that we’re teaching these principles in law schools. It’s so important. Thank you both for the good work you’re doing. Thank you for being with me today. It has been just fabulous to chat with you on this.
James Matthews (31:24):
Andrew Garcia (31:26):
Thank you, Stephanie. You bet.
The Lawyerist Podcast is edited by Britany Felix. Are you ready to implement the ideas we discuss here into your practice? Wondering what to do next? Here are your first two steps. First. If you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap yet, grab the first chapter for free at Lawyerist.com/book. Looking for help beyond the book? Let’s chat about whether our coaching communities, are right for you. Head to Lawyerist.com/community/lab to schedule a 10-minute call with our team to learn more. The views expressed by the participants are their own and are not endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said in this podcast is legal advice for you.