Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 19, 2014

Harley Luplow: Connecting business students with growing companies

BY HARLEY LUPLOW
Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The New York City Bar Association published a report in November that addressed the future employment prospects of recent law school graduates.

The study observed that many “of the nation’s tens of thousands of annual law graduates are finding themselves facing diminished job prospects, unprecedented debt, and limited opportunities to achieve the experience and training necessary for a professionally rewarding and financially sustainable career.”

The study points out that perhaps the greatest unmet demand for legal services is in middle-class households, where the expense of an attorney keeps those in need from obtaining services. To address this situation, the bar association is launching a pilot program where an independent law firm is established to match qualified attorneys with clients of moderate means. The plan is to create a business model that allows the law practice to sustain itself financially. Once this model law firm is running beyond the break even point, the intention is to replicate it across the country.

Many recent business school and Master of Business Administration graduates face similar career challenges.

Typically, business and MBA students start building their professional networks when they participate in an internship program. Very often these internships are not very purposeful in that the work to be performed by the students is mundane and does not make significant impacts on the sponsoring company. I believe there may be a better approach.

I serve on the loan committee for the Northern Shores Loan Fund in Harbor Springs. We focus on lending to start-up and small businesses that cannot qualify for traditional bank financing. These nascent companies don’t only need funding. They need guidance on sales, operations and finances. As a lending institution, we can only ask questions and require certain compliance reports. It would be a conflict of interest for us to advise these customers how to run their business, though we see the need.

Similarly to the New York Bar Association’s approach to matching legal need with legal services, I am investigating the establishment of an internship program to place business students as consultants to business loan customers that need help. The premise is that small business bankers know enough about their portfolio of clients to make high-level assessments of business consulting needs.

Connecting these companies with eager business students seems to be a good fit for all concerned.

I’ll be discussing this concept with several professors and advisors at Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business. We will exchange thoughts on this approach and develop a plan to work toward how best to set up a pilot program that can serve as a model for other communities’ small business lenders and their clientele.

Next month, I will report on our progress and plans.

Business consultant Harley Luplow earned a law degree from Indiana University and a master’s in business administration from Georgetown University. Luplow can be reached at (231) 709-9000 or www.luplow.com.