The new law firm incubator kicked off with a busy weekend of workshops to help practices find success.
By Meredith Hobbs|January 21, 2020 at 02:15 PM
The Georgia Legal Accelerator has kicked off with an inaugural class of 16 new and aspiring solo practitioners.
The unique yearlong incubator program for law firm startups is the brainchild of plaintiffs lawyers Matt Wetherington and Kurt Kastorf, who told the Daily Report in September that they saw a need for a program that offers firsthand experience and advice for those starting their own law practices.
The group spent last weekend getting acquainted amid a full schedule of presentations and workshops led by veteran law firm proprietors and newer solos, hosted by the Wetherington Law Firm in its downtown office. They also made an excursion to an escape room on Saturday afternoon for team-building.
Kastorf said that he and Wetherington chose the 16 participants, with an eye to putting together a group with a mix of practices plus gender and racial diversity.
“We didn’t want it to be all plaintiffs lawyers,” Kastorf said, noting that trial attorneys were heavily represented in the applicant pool. “We also picked people who seemed to have put some thought into what they wanted to get out of the program.”
The 2020 Class
There are nine plaintiffs lawyers for the accelerator program’s 2020 class: Warren Abel, Austin Bersinger, Jared Easter, Harrell Gunn, Jenaye Lawrence, Taylor Leftwich, Philip Pendergrass, Tyler Sniff and Matthew Wilson, who in 2018 was elected the state representative for Brookhaven.
One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Bersinger, specializes in insurance coverage disputes, and another, Sniff, handles environmental cases. Jay Everett is offering family law and other legal services, such as traffic cases and wills, for individuals. Matthew Goings’ firm advises startup companies and entrepreneurs, and Justin Berger’s firm advises small businesses, nonprofits and political campaigns on startup and ongoing compliance matters. Sherley Joseph-Roper has a general practice serving individuals.
Sheri Oluyemi’s boutique advises small businesses on employment law and represents employers and employees in workplace disputes. Michael Rethinger’s bankruptcy law firm specializes in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases. Dayna Thomas is an entertainment lawyer, representing musicians, writers and producers.
All of the 2020 class members have already started their own firms, except two of the plaintiffs lawyers: Sniff, an associate at Stack & Associates, a land-use and environmental litigation boutique, and Jared Easter, an associate at the Weinstein Firm.
Paths to Success
Over the weekend, law firm startup guru Alvaro Arauz of 3a.law management led a session on “finding your purpose,” designed to help participants refine their practice and client focus. Personal injury lawyer S.K. Rod Dixon of the Dixon Firm and plaintiffs lawyers Julie Oinonen of Williams Oinonen, which handles employment, personal injury and business litigation, and Cheryl Legare of Legare Attwood & Wolfe, which represents employees, discussed “what I wish I knew 10 years ago.”
There were also sessions on more nuts and bolts topics like choosing the right insurance and practical negotiation strategies, along with workshops to set goals and develop a game plan for the next 18 months.
Wetherington and Kastorf have connected each lawyer in the accelerator’s 2020 class with a personal mentor in their practice area, and the group will reconvene once a month for lunch with speakers on topics such as marketing, managing firm finances, hiring staff, legal ethics and malpractice, and mental health.
“Everybody wants to learn about marketing,” Kastorf said, so two lunches are devoted to that topic. The first lunch in February will be a chance to meet some state legislators at the Capitol, now that the 2020 session has kicked off, so the participants can find out how to get involved in upcoming legislation that interests them.
The organizers said building a network of solos to share experience and referrals is an important part of the experience. “The very successful trial attorneys are not just great attorneys—they’ve gotten very good at identifying a network and working with other firms,” Wetherington told the Daily Report in September—and he and Kastorf think that holds true whatever a lawyer’s practice may be.
To that end, they intend for the 2020 class to become mentors and advisers to the next class.
There was no cost for this year’s participants. Wetherington and Kastorf are footing the bill for the lunches with some help from sponsors—mostly legal vendors—but Kastorf said they will likely charge a modest fee to defray expenses going forward.
Wetherington and Kastorf are sharing the startup journey with the Georgia Legal Accelerator participants. Wetherington started his own plaintiffs shop last summer after five years in practice with his mentor, Mike Werner, and Kastorf has just ventured from the Summerville Firm to provide early-stage strategic advice on regulatory litigation and enforcement actions plus plaintiffs appellate cases.
Organizing the program has meant a lot of time and work for the two. Kastorf said that, to convince sponsors to write checks, for instance, they had to incorporate the program, and now they’re applying for nonprofit status.
It’s a way to give back to the legal community, Kastorf said, adding that he, too, will benefit and learn from the network of new law firms the accelerator is developing.