Small-business spotlight: Building a successful satellite office

Frank Johns started practicing law in Greensboro in 1976. Early on, he specialized in the fields of immigration, disability and special education law.

But by the early 1990s – as a partner in the firm of Booth, Harrington and Johns – he changed his practice to the relatively new field of elder and special needs law.

Here’s why: “The 1980 Census report showed a spike in groups older than 60,” Johns says. “A huge increase was anticipated for aging baby boomers. ... The research was saying you’d better get ready for boomer retirement.”

With the change, Johns found his niche. His practice was North Carolina’s first elder law firm, according to Johns. By focusing exclusively on guiding elders and individuals with disabilities through their financial, healthcare and legal decisions, the Greensboro practice thrived.

And that opened up another opportunity – to open a satellite office in Charlotte.

Now, with more than two decades of a continued presence in Charlotte, Johns calls his satellite office in the University area a pivotal part of the firm.

Here are his strategies for establishing a separate location and keeping it successful:

• Sharpening your skill set. Already well-versed in nursing home and assisted living laws, Johns immersed himself in educating clients and colleagues in elder law.

He joined a long list of boards and committees and became a charter member and chair of the Elder and Special Needs Section of the N.C. Bar Association. He also worked with the Mecklenburg County Bar Association.

“You need to be there, to be visible and present for meetings,” Johns said.

The involvement helps Johns serve his clients better.

“Most lawyers who practice elder law get into trouble because they don’t know to ask clients the right questions,” says Johns. “Our planning is focused on maintaining our client’s quality of life and protecting their hard-earned assets.”

• Paying attention to trends. In 1991, when the firm made the decision to open a satellite office in Charlotte, research showed that North Carolina was the third most-popular place in the nation for retirees. The Queen City was an especially popular choice.

Johns says elder law is more relevant in today’s society than ever, with the population of baby boomers growing larger every day and their aging parents living longer.

• Spreading the word: To heighten the awareness of the general public and share his knowledge with others, Johns partnered with Davidson graduate William Henry to publish their first book last summer about the exploitation of the elderly by caregivers and scammers.

“The Crown of Life Society” is a novel that recounts real-life stories gathered from Johns’ years of experience in elder law.

“Our firm represents consumers and individuals, which is how I got into writing the book,” Johns says.

“My focus is to get better skill sets to those who protect this fragile group of people.”