SWLAW Blog | Programs

Jaia Thomas

July 18, 2017

How to Start and Build a Law Practice – New Seminar Series from the Career Services Office

In the past year, the Career Services Office (“CSO”) at Southwestern has undertaken a series of innovative initiatives aimed at strengthening its students’ practical skills, building hubs of entrepreneurship, and creating further connections in the legal community.

On June 6, 2017, the CSO launched a six-session seminar series, How to Start and Build a Law Practice. The seminar, complimentary to current Southwestern students, is designed to provide participants with the tools needed to launch and support their own law practices, whether as a solo or as a small firm. Topics covered in the evening class include business formation, marketing strategies, electronic filing and document preparation. The students learn about the practical and ethical issues related to billing, trust accounts, collections and client interaction. Jaia Thomas teaches the course in partnership with Kimberlina McKinney. Both attorneys have first-hand experience with the unique challenges and issues involved in forming a law practice.

Six years ago, Ms. Thomas, an entertainment and intellectual property attorney, decided to leave her job at a large New York law firm and launch her own solo firm. “ I knew how to practice law, but I didn’t know how to run a business,” Thomas said. “It was a lot of trial and error, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way.”

Her personal experience prompted Jaia to write a magazine article a couple of years ago titled, “Why Every Law School Should Teach Entrepreneurship.” That article provided the spark she needed to create a course to guide law students through the dos and don’ts of opening a law office and provided tips on how to sustain/grow the practice.

This summer, the instructors invited 15 fellow attorneys to come to speak to the class about their experiences. They also provided a digital toolbox for students with resources they can use, as well as an extensive reading list. A reception culminating the end of the series is planned for July 25.

Ms. Thomas earned a bachelor’s degree from Colgate University before heading to law school. She has taught as an adjunct professor at UCLA and American University, and has guest lectured at Vassar College, Georgetown University and Carnegie Mellon University. She has been cited as a legal expert in The New York Times and USA Today and is a regular contributor for Entrepreneur Magazine.

Ms. McKinney has also been extremely vital in the preparation and presentation of the course material. She is a transactional attorney who focuses on issues related to the entertainment and digital media industries. Ms. McKinney received her law degree from UCLA School of Law and holds a B.A. in Sociology and Black Studies from Scripps College.

The CSO has received incredibly positive feedback from the seminar’s current students, and plans to continue offering the course during winter and/or summer intercession. The seminar nicely compliments Southwestern’s traditional curriculum on the subject of entrepreneurship and launching a solo practice. According to Assistant Dean, Shar Poormosleh, “How to Start and Build a Law Practice is one of a series of initiatives recently launched by the Career Services Office aimed at specialized skills-based programming with a particular focus on connecting students with the legal community in a meaningful way.” Stay tuned for more innovative options to come!