First "General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Conference" draws 100, more conferences designed for lawyers at smaller firms expected

Issue July/August 2006 By Bill Archambeault

Calling the first "General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Conference" a success, MBA Secretary Denise Squillante said she wants to see more programs help solo and small firm practitioners.

The conference, which drew 100 people to the Holiday Inn in Taunton on June 6, featured two panels of District Court and Family & Probate Court judges in addition to programs dealing with business law, civil litigation, criminal law, family law, law practice management and real estate.

"The buzz and energy were unbelievable," said Squillante, the conference's chair and moderator.

Because solo practitioners and those at firms of five people or less don't usually have the luxury of walking down the hall to a senior colleague's office for advice or information, conferences can be a valuable opportunity for newer lawyers to hear from and ask questions of more experienced attorneys, said Margaret D. Xifaras, a panelist and attorney with Lang, Xifaras & Bullard in New Bedford.

"I'm happy to share things with younger attorneys and less experienced attorneys," she said.

A conference like this, Squillante said, is probably long overdue for the types of attorneys she says are the MBA's "bread and butter."

"Practitioners seemed to have been thirsting for this," she said, noting that she would like to organize more of these one-day conferences in the future. She said she was encouraged to see attendees conversing and exchanging business cards during the networking breaks.

Squillante, who will be a vice president of the MBA for the 2006-07 term, also heads the team promoting the MBA's new Lawyers in Transition program. So far, she said, she's found that lawyers who don't work in a large office or have taken time off from practicing law "are thirsting for networking. They're working in isolation."

Patrick Francomano, of the Law Office of Patrick Francomano in North Attleboro, moderated the District Court judicial panel, which featured Southeast Housing Court Judge Wilbur P. Edwards Jr. and New Bedford District Court Judge Joseph I. Macy.

The majority of the attendees as the District Court panel, he said, had less than five years of experience, with some exposure to the District Court system, but not extensive experience.

"The great number of folks from solo and small firms don't have a great opportunity to tap into the experience of colleagues and share information," Francomano said.

Ellen Kief, a new attorney from Weston who specializes in family law/divorce, immigration law and some real estate law, said she's been getting involved in various MBA and Boston Bar Association programs.

"This conference, I find, is a very useful, hands-on experience," she said, noting that the pricing struck her as a good value ($50 for law students and new members, $100 for other MBA members and $150 for nonmembers).

"Sometimes, these programs you sign up for are so unaffordable," she said, noting that the conference helped her acquire practical knowledge she couldn't get in law school.

After the Probate & Family Court judicial panel that focused on time standards and case management practices, Kief spent time asking Bristol Probate & Family Court Judge Armand Fernandes Jr. questions. The fact that panelists stayed after their programs answering individual questions seemed to be popular with attendees, said Squillante, who said she was thrilled with the overall response.

"We had a full house right at the start of the morning. Everything was on a fast track and it kept moving all day," she said. "It brought out new faces. I really felt there were tons of lawyers who identified with this."