Conversations with Innovators — Q&A with Jim Chester of VENUE

Venue sticker copy crop

Venue sticker copy crop

This week we are talking with Jim Chester, Co-Founder & CEO of VENUE, a new concept that provides professional and secure workspace to attorneys, as well as the resources, training and networking they need to succeed.

When asked what he does for a living, Chester replies that he is an “attorney for entrepreneurs, and an entrepreneur for attorneys.” Chester has staked out a leading position as an innovator in the legal profession. He has created a new law firm business model with his firm Chester Siekierski LLP, and has broken even newer ground with VENUE.

Other highlights:

  • IP, business & international attorney with 18 years of experience

  • Adjunct professor at Baylor University School of Law (15 years)

  • Former adjunct professor at University of Dallas (4 years)

  • Multi-year Rising Star & Super Lawyer; AV rated; Best in Dallas (D Magazine)

  • Father of 4, which means Chester is also an amateur flag football and baseball coach, cook, and drill sergeant – among others.

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HAT38443[3] 2

1. Jim, what is VENUE and why should Dallas attorneys care about it?

VENUE is the ultimate expression of independence-enabling. My business partner, Jeff Martin, and I began VENUE in response to what we perceived as a significant need in the legal industry: a better place for business lawyers to work, meet clients, network, and access training and resources.

VENUE is a true “working clubhouse” dedicated to creating a professional and secure place for attorneys to work, meet, network and get training. Unlike other shared office environments or executive suites, VENUE was created specifically for attorneys.

VENUE is so much more than merely an executive suite or co-working space for lawyers. Because VENUE is designed to serve the needs of partner-level independent business attorneys and litigators, VENUE has tailored its space, amenities, resources, and programs to essentially provide all the best aspects of traditional law firms, with virtually none of the drawbacks or limitations.

2. What does VENUE offer over the traditional law firm model?

VENUE is not a law firm, but provides work and meeting space, training and other resources for 100+ independent attorneys, in-house counsel and law firm partners. VENUE creates a collaborative, economically efficient environment that looks and feels like a law firm, but without the conflicts, entanglements, and obligations of a traditional law firm. In essence, VENUE replaces the need for attorneys to operate within a traditional law firm model.

The struggle many attorneys in private practice face is that they essentially have only two imperfect choices when it comes to their career: (1) traditional law firms, with their economic inequity, politics, bureaucracy, power-plays, pettiness, mismanagement, pressure, etc.; or (2) solo practices, which can be lonely, require advanced business management skills, and don’t provide any opportunities to leverage partner know-how.

Although truly novel and unique, VENUE integrates various elements of: executive suites, large law firm offices, bar associations and industry groups, co-working spaces, business incubators and accelerators and even country clubs.

By combining elements of all those concepts, for the first time, we’ve created a secure, professional place where attorneys can launch their firms, accelerate their practices, and have the image, resources and amenities they need to succeed – with or without a law firm.

3. What type of attorneys do you think would most benefit from the VENUE environment?

Our model is targeted to partner-level business attorneys (i.e., transactional and litigation attorneys who primarily represent companies and business owners). That said, we are not simply an “executive suite for lawyers”. Instead, we want to be the “light at the top of the hill” for all area attorneys, providing resources and opportunity to enrich their lives, as well as their careers.

Independent attorneys need a place to work, receive mail, and meet clients, as well as a professional identity, meet. All attorneys need training and networking - VENUE members simply do it more effectively and effectively. In addition, for our office-based members, VENUE provides a more secure, professional environment than executive suites and law firm subleases.

Thus, we have a range of membership levels to cater to a variety of needs, such as:

- “@VENUE” membership is an inexpensive, program-based memberships for law firm partners and in-house counsel who want to plug into the referral network and attend training and social events; - Ad Hoc level membership providing a virtual office, reception and mail handling, meeting space, and a professional identity to solo attorneys and micro-firms at an affordable rate; and - Private, fully-furnished, window offices for attorneys seeking an “executive suite” model, but in a much more secure, professional, and lawyer-friendly environment.

4. Where do you see VENUE headed in the next 5 years?

Changes within the legal community brought on by technological advanced, pressures on and within traditional law firms, and the independent nature of the next generation of lawyers, will make concepts like VENUE even more necessary in the future.

We opened in November 2015, so our immediate goal is to get VENUE substantially full in 2016, and launch our training and networking programs. Over the next year, we will listen to our members on how we can improve.

Once we have tweaked our model based on member input, we will look to open new VENUE centers. We don’t plan to open any more locations in the Dallas area, but expect to open perhaps a dozen more locations throughout the United States over the next 5-10 years.

5. What piece of advice would you give to an attorney wanting to leave a firm to start their own law business?

Three things:

1. Make a Plan. One lesson lawyers can learn from other start-up companies is the importance of developing a business plan. There are a number of templates available on the web, but the most important thing to do is just have one. It doesn’t have to be SBA-loan ready or consist of 50 pages and graphs and charts. But it does need to clearly define your purpose and mission, your start-up needs, your marketing plan, as well as your business management and financial plans.

While every practice and situation will require some special nuances and considerations, there are a few key areas that all new independent practitioners must address as you develop your business plan, namely: workspace and equipment, developing business, training and mentoring, and business management.

2. Seek Advice. Talk to colleagues who’ve “been there, done that.” Much like getting ready for the birth of your first child, there’s no way to 100% prepare for what an independent law practice will throw at you. Talking to folks who have done it will help give you some ideas, perspective, and perhaps even mentors. In addition, these colleagues may likely form an important part of your referral network once you are on your own. Of course, if you haven’t announced your departure from your current firm, make sure you speak only with trusted colleagues who understand the need for discretion.

3. Just Do It. While planning and consulting are important initial steps, all the planning and talking in the world is of little use without the courage to make the move. There is never a perfect time to make such a radical change, so, at some point, you just gotta jump. Most folks I’ve known who have gone solo generally regret only that they waited so long to make the move. That said, the legal community is a small one, so make sure to exit your firm with grace. You don’t want to burn any bridges. Plus, your former firm colleagues can be a great referral resource for your independent practice.

6. What’s your “one thing” that most drives your professional success?

I like to help people by solving problems.

One pervasive problem I’ve seen - in lawyers, as well as in other industries - is a desire by many to be entrepreneurial, but they often lack the information, network, or resources to successfully launch and grow an independent practice or business.

Whether it is advising my entrepreneurial clients, or supporting my entrepreneurial attorney VENUE members, because of my background, skills, and network, I can assist them in planning, launching and protecting their independent enterprise.

I call this “independence enabling,” and it gives me a sense of utility and value that no amount of revenue or professional accolades will ever equal.

For Conversations with other thought leaders and innovators in the financial industry, see innovator Kirk Bowman of Art of Value and innovator Sejal Desai of Entrepreneurs For North Texas .

For more information about related legal issues, read our Professional Services industry page.  


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