We interviewed Chicago lawyer Jonathan Friedland about how he started a CLE business, Financial Poise, while also running a law firm.
Running a law firm takes a lot of time, that isn’t a secret. It takes so much time that it’s extremely common for most lawyers to sacrifice parts of personal life.
So it’s very interesting when we come across a lawyer like Jonathan Friedland, who is not only a partner of a firm that employs 28 attorneys but is also someone who started a CLE business that provides webinars to over 20,000 lawyers a year.
We spoke with Jonathan to learn more about his business, Financial Poise, and get his insight and advice on what it takes to run two successful yet demanding businesses at the same time.
LFS: Give us a little bit about your background – what does your law practice look like and what is Financial Poise?
Friedland: My law firm, Sugar Felsenthal Grais & Helsinger, focuses on representing high net worth families and the businesses they own, and on private funds and the businesses they own. We’re fortunate to do a lot of transactional work for these same clients, as they buy, invest in, or sell businesses.
The CLE business, Financial Poise, will produce more than 100 webinars in 2018 which it will sell to more than 20,000 people. Most but not all are attorneys and accountants who earn CLE and CPE by attending.
LFS: How did you get into your side (CLE) business?
Friedland: I think of it as being sort of “reverse Victor Kiam” story. Remember he was famous for commercials for Remington where he said: “I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company”?
As a lawyer with a couple of decades under my belt, I get a lot of emails asking me if I want to write or speak for a variety of journals, seminar, and webinars.
Some of these are respectable organizations. But many are “pay-to-play” producers who spam thousands and thousands of lawyers to try to find the few who will pay money for the dubious “honor” of writing or speaking.
I thought (and think) it is a disgusting business model that plays to peoples’ egos. Someone who asks clients to pay a lot of money per hour for her or his time should not have to pay a publisher to be a “thought leader.”
I thought I could do better and, while I certainly drink my own cool aide, what we built is objectively successful. We’ve never asked anyone to pay. We’ve never sent out a mass solicitation seeking speaker or writers (Financial Poise also has robust written content on its websites). Our faculty and our audiences keep coming back.
LFS: Managing a law practice is challenging by itself. How do you manage the time demands of both projects?
Friedland: Financial Poise has its own staff that runs the company day-to-day. I act more like a board director would, managing it only from a very high level. My days are spent focused on my doing legal work for my law firm’s clients. The other thing is that I have more free time than a lot of people because I don’t golf, watch sports, go to bars, or have any hobbies.
LFS: Do you ever feel like one business suffers as a result of the other, and the result is that neither is running at their full potential?
Friedland: Quite to the contrary. In the first few years (I started Financial Poise in 2010) I took a lot of care to not do too much writing or speaking myself.
I did that because I didn’t want anyone to think that Financial Poise was just about promoting my legal practice and because in the very beginning we had far fewer contributors than we do today. If that was peoples’ impression, then the business would not have taken off because other lawyers would be less inclined to speak or write for it. And a large percentage of our speakers and writers are lawyers.
Financial Poise has nearly a thousand faculty members now, so I feel freer to speak and write without the concern that people will think Financial Poise just a marketing effort to promote my legal practice. So, at this point, I am using Financial Poise just as all the other faculty members do. And that is good for my legal practice.
With respect to competition for my time, it just isn’t an issue because the team running Financial Poise is really very strong.
LFS: Do the contacts you meet through Financial Poise ever produce referrals to your law practice?
Friedland: They do, I am glad to say. But maybe even more importantly, the experience of starting Financial Poise broadened my perspective.
Many attorneys, myself included, are business owners to the extent they are an owner of their law firm but a professional service firm is not too similar to other businesses. I’ve learned a lot of things I never would have had to learn without Financial Poise.
LFS: Is starting a side business something that you’d recommend for other lawyers? What type of lawyer do you think can best handle it?
Friedland: Not necessarily. It took a ton of time in the beginning. I had to put a lot of money into the business for years. Building systems, hiring and retaining good people, and just dealing with a host of issues that I didn’t even know existed- – these were all difficult things. I fully understand why so many new businesses fail in the first few years. I honestly do not think it is for most people.