Local Market for Strategic Lawyers Wide Open

“I’ve realized clients appreciate my accounting background,” Tulsa business attorney and certified public accountant James D. Bryant said.
Bryant, a graduate of the University of Oklahoma College of Law, did not always advertise that he is a CPA.
“I kick myself for not holding that out there earlier,” Bryant said. “It gets me cases that would be difficult to get otherwise.”
According an article in the July 2005 American Bar Association Journal by Jill Schachner Chanen, Bryant is really on to something. By advertising both his business and legal acumen, he tells potential clients that he can offer strategy counseling as well as legal representation.
In the ABA Journal article, entitled “The Strategic Lawyer,” Chanen said “companies are placing premiums on advisers who understand both business and the big picture.”
Chanen wrote that “strategic lawyers” were more common 30 to 50 years ago, “before the emergence of profit-minded, specialty-touting, multi-national megalaw firms.”
The playbook is different for lawyers than businesspeople, in that attorneys “praise precedent and risk avoidance” as executives and entrepreneurs take large risks in hopes of even larger returns, Chanen wrote.
Kevin Cox at ConnectShip said as he earned degrees in business and law he could see the gulf widening between lawyers and businesspeople.
“At ConnectShip, we found ourselves in that situation all the time where we were trying to balance legal concerns vs. getting business done,” Cox said.
“That was very difficult. I would get frustrated because the legal folks didn’t seem to have any business acumen,” he said.
Cox said the philosophies he learned while earning his MBA at Oral Roberts University and his Juris Doctorate at the University of Tulsa were at odds.
“In business school, you’re taught that the greater the risk, the better the return,” Cox said. “On the legal side, you’re taught that even the smallest risk needs to be made big so that you can cover yourself in terms of malpractice liability.”
“Put the two together and you have a highly entrepreneurial business guy and a highly specialized attorney, and you end up with a conversation where the businessperson feels like the attorney doesn’t get it. You end up with this huge impediment to productivity,” Cox said.
Chanen and Cox would agree that the two camps could be bridged by how a lawyer approaches risk.
Using a breach-of-contract situation as an example, Chanen wrote that while the average business would see no other option but to sue, “a strategic lawyer would contemplate the underlying business relationship.”
The strategic lawyer would then “weigh whether jeopardizing that relationship would hinder the company’s ability to operate or even whether it would unduly cause more harm to the company than to the business in breach,” wrote Chanen.
“I think lawyers would do well to figure out the risk tolerance of a person, understand the business, and then highlight risks, but do so in such a way that you’re not highlighting the risks out of context,” Cox said.
The gulf between the attorney and a client whose case entails complex financial analysis and business advice was apparent to Bryant as he built his practice in business and family law “from scratch,” and he was determined to provide a solution.
“With a thorough knowledge of business law and finance, Tulsa attorney/CPA James Bryant helps small and startup businesses set up organizational structures and accounting structures correctly from the start,” said Bryant’s Web site, www.jbryantlaw.com.
Bryant said he is not sure if he would have been able to build his practice as successfully had he not had training in both accounting and the law.
“I look back at the cases that I know I have because of the combination,” Bryant said.
Prior to passing the bar, Cox said Bryant’s Web site and advertising was part of what indicated to him that Tulsa needed strategic lawyers.
Cox helped develop and refine entrepreneuriallaw.org, as well as visionarylaw.org earlier this year. Marc F. Conley of Marc F. Conley, P.C. owns the site.
Though he decided not to pursue an entrepreneurial law practice, Cox hopes the Web sites will be a resource and a meeting place for both business attorneys and entrepreneurs.
“The tendency of law firms is to build a Web site around your name as opposed to an area of specialization,” Cox said.
“To me, that’s reflective of these differing views. The entrepreneur would build a web site that people can get to easily and is content-rich, but the lawyer says, ‘I’m a specialist, here is where I went to school, and here is my name.’”
Cox said he has commissioned Tulsa attorneys who practice entrepreneurial and business law to write informational articles for the Web site. He said he looks forward to giving entrepreneurs a way to connect with local attorneys.
The information on the web site will fall under public domain, Cox said, but more specialized subscriber services may be added in the future. The Web site is scheduled for completion by January 1.
“It could become a portal where both sides could begin to identify each other,” Cox said.
Attorneys cited in Chanen’s article were practicing in cities like Chicago, New York City and Palo Alto. Though businesspeople were “clamouring” to meet with those strategic lawyers, the demand for such services in Tulsa has not been made of the legal community.
“I do think there will be a trend in clients demanding more from their attorneys in Tulsa,” Bryant said, “but I don’t see it yet.”
Cox said he perceives an increasing demand for business savvy lawyers in Tulsa, but that the market is wide open.
“Tulsa is a testing center for everything, and it’s an entrepreneurial town,” Cox said. “The demand is here, but I don’t think the lawyers have caught up with it yet.” ?

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