My Shingle

What Do You Call Yourself?

by Carolyn Elefant on April 12, 2005 · 36 comments

in Entity Choice, Questions & Advice, Solo Practice Trends

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The Greatest American Lawyer ponders a fascinating question:  what should we call practitioners who are not in a partnership based law firm, if not solo practitioners?. GAL writes:

As many of you already know, I have taken issue with the term “solo”
for practitioners who do not practice in a partnership setting. Solo has the negative connotation of being alone. When I was working in a partnership, I had no more resources than I have now. In
fact, I arguably have more resources now, since I can easily look
outside the walls of my own firm for answers to important questions.

As I posted in GAL’s comments, when I started my firm, I referred to myself as an independent practitioner.  These days, when asked what I do, I typically say that I have my own law firm – though I might say that I work for myself.  Of course, here at MyShingle, I often refer to those of us who run our own firms as shinglers – though that’s not a great description outside of the parameters of a weblog.

Do you think the term “solo” has negative connotations?  And what do you say when you’re asked where you work or what you do?

  • http://www.sctriallaw.com Dave

    Wow!
    I think GAL is being overly touchy. If he wants to work with a partner, call it a partnership.
    If he wants to work alone, then solo is as good of a word for alone as anyone else.
    Do what you want and who cares what anyone else thinks??
    In the corporate world, solo might not have as good of a connotation, but if he’s happy and his client’s happy, who cares?
    I’ve been a sole practitioner for 11 years and never worried about the ‘connotations’ of my choices. Do what you want, and let other people do what they want.

  • http://www.sctriallaw.com Dave

    Wow!
    I think GAL is being overly touchy. If he wants to work with a partner, call it a partnership.
    If he wants to work alone, then solo is as good of a word for alone as anyone else.
    Do what you want and who cares what anyone else thinks??
    In the corporate world, solo might not have as good of a connotation, but if he’s happy and his client’s happy, who cares?
    I’ve been a sole practitioner for 11 years and never worried about the ‘connotations’ of my choices. Do what you want, and let other people do what they want.

  • Anonymous

    I practice in an area that is normally the domain of large firms. Many large firm lawyers do look down on solos (and in fact can’t understand why one would turn down an opportunity to work with a large firm). Regardless of what you call yourself, their bias will not change. However, I can say that not only do I get clients who leave large firms, but I am much happier than I would be if I worked for a large firm. Ex-large firm attorneys tell me that management creates a nasty culture to get people to work harder – and of course instilling pride in the fact that they work in a large firm is part of that.
    Ultimately, I say, who cares what others think.

  • Anonymous

    I practice in an area that is normally the domain of large firms. Many large firm lawyers do look down on solos (and in fact can’t understand why one would turn down an opportunity to work with a large firm). Regardless of what you call yourself, their bias will not change. However, I can say that not only do I get clients who leave large firms, but I am much happier than I would be if I worked for a large firm. Ex-large firm attorneys tell me that management creates a nasty culture to get people to work harder – and of course instilling pride in the fact that they work in a large firm is part of that.
    Ultimately, I say, who cares what others think.

  • http://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/legal_blog_watch/2005/04/whats_in_a_name.html Legal Blog Watch

    What’s in a name for “solos”?

    Carolyn Elefant ponders a question from The Greatest American Lawyer:

  • http://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/legal_blog_watch/2005/04/whats_in_a_name.html Legal Blog Watch

    What’s in a name for “solos”?

    Carolyn Elefant ponders a question from The Greatest American Lawyer:

  • http://greatestamericanlawyer.typepad.com Greatest American Lawyer

    Dave: I appreciate your comments. Believe me, I have no insecurities about being solo, nor do I care what anyone else thinks. My practice is rolling forward so fast, I doubt I will be a one lawyer law firm for long.
    But I know that other attorneys fail to even consider solo practice because of their belief that it indicates failure, or because they fail to see that it is an attractive alternative.
    My goal is to inspire attorneys to seek their own way, outside the constructs of partnership-based business models (which I believe to be superior for both lawyers and clients). I know the task will be tough as long as perceptions about solo practice remain. I have the option of working for the ‘silkiest’ of law firms (and have done so). I spent years flying by private jet and limousine. But I was not serving my client. I was serving my law firm.
    I choose to practice independently like so many other attonreys.
    The point is not thin skin. The point is changing the way law is practiced. The point is changing the legal system. The point is that it is IMPORTANT to change the way lawyers and clients think about independent practitioners.
    We need to care what people think if we care about the system itself. We need to build up the reputation of being independent practitioners if we hope to encourage the masses to consider it as a top-drawer alternative.

  • http://greatestamericanlawyer.typepad.com Greatest American Lawyer

    Dave: I appreciate your comments. Believe me, I have no insecurities about being solo, nor do I care what anyone else thinks. My practice is rolling forward so fast, I doubt I will be a one lawyer law firm for long.
    But I know that other attorneys fail to even consider solo practice because of their belief that it indicates failure, or because they fail to see that it is an attractive alternative.
    My goal is to inspire attorneys to seek their own way, outside the constructs of partnership-based business models (which I believe to be superior for both lawyers and clients). I know the task will be tough as long as perceptions about solo practice remain. I have the option of working for the ‘silkiest’ of law firms (and have done so). I spent years flying by private jet and limousine. But I was not serving my client. I was serving my law firm.
    I choose to practice independently like so many other attonreys.
    The point is not thin skin. The point is changing the way law is practiced. The point is changing the legal system. The point is that it is IMPORTANT to change the way lawyers and clients think about independent practitioners.
    We need to care what people think if we care about the system itself. We need to build up the reputation of being independent practitioners if we hope to encourage the masses to consider it as a top-drawer alternative.

  • http://www.SCTrialLaw.com Dave

    Okay, GAL does have a point. I’m a sole practitioner fighting on the side of the little guy. Heck, even my website is http://www.DavidvsGoliath.com.
    Doing plaintiff’s work, being a one, two or three man shop is more the norm than the exception.
    I can see in the corporate world, where there is a bias against being small.
    While that is not my world, I think the best way to change people’s minds is to get good work, do good work and have fun doing it.
    Let your life be the proselytizer and attitudes will change.

  • http://www.SCTrialLaw.com Dave

    Okay, GAL does have a point. I’m a sole practitioner fighting on the side of the little guy. Heck, even my website is http://www.DavidvsGoliath.com.
    Doing plaintiff’s work, being a one, two or three man shop is more the norm than the exception.
    I can see in the corporate world, where there is a bias against being small.
    While that is not my world, I think the best way to change people’s minds is to get good work, do good work and have fun doing it.
    Let your life be the proselytizer and attitudes will change.

  • http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethicalesq David Giacalone

    All adopting a euphemism does is confuse people and (eventually) corrupt the new terminology. Maybe Special Practitioner is apt.

  • http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethicalesq David Giacalone

    All adopting a euphemism does is confuse people and (eventually) corrupt the new terminology. Maybe Special Practitioner is apt.

  • http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethicalesq David Giacalone

    I don’t believe that “solo” or “sole” practitioner is a negative term, and it is certainly not one that cannot be overcome by the quality work and integrity of the particular solo lawyer. Trying to change perceptions through the use of euphemisms is never a good idea — it tends to confuse and (eventually) to corrupt the meaning of the adopted terminology. For example, let’s not switch to Special Practitioner.

  • http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethicalesq David Giacalone

    I don’t believe that “solo” or “sole” practitioner is a negative term, and it is certainly not one that cannot be overcome by the quality work and integrity of the particular solo lawyer. Trying to change perceptions through the use of euphemisms is never a good idea — it tends to confuse and (eventually) to corrupt the meaning of the adopted terminology. For example, let’s not switch to Special Practitioner.

  • http://www.alnyethelawyerguy.com Al Nye

    How about a “soul” practictioner?
    Al Nye

  • http://www.alnyethelawyerguy.com Al Nye

    How about a “soul” practictioner?
    Al Nye

  • James

    “Special Practitioner” may be apt, but also reeks of euphemism.
    Special, however gets to a critical advantage for solos — the ability to team up with others on an ad hoc basis to handle particlar clients or cases. This allows a scalable business model where the transient associations are just as big as required to meet the needs of particular clients. Not all potential clients are comfortable with this, however.
    When done right this can be much more efficient than the traditional law firm where larger size firms seek the largest clients in order to maximize efficiency.

  • James

    “Special Practitioner” may be apt, but also reeks of euphemism.
    Special, however gets to a critical advantage for solos — the ability to team up with others on an ad hoc basis to handle particlar clients or cases. This allows a scalable business model where the transient associations are just as big as required to meet the needs of particular clients. Not all potential clients are comfortable with this, however.
    When done right this can be much more efficient than the traditional law firm where larger size firms seek the largest clients in order to maximize efficiency.

  • BT

    I think David Giacalone hit it right on the head in his first post.
    And as to GAL, I like your site, but I never understood the defensiveness about being a solo. I mean, it clearly is based on others’ perceptions (note the proximity of these quotes –
    “I have no insecurities about being solo, nor do I care what anyone else thinks”
    and then
    “other attorneys fail to even consider solo practice because of their belief that it indicates failure, or because they fail to see that it is an attractive alternative”
    and finally
    “The point is that it is IMPORTANT to change the way lawyers and clients think about independent practitioners.”)
    There is truth to the fact that you are affected by what other lawyers think, but I don’t think avoiding the term “solo” will make a difference either way.
    That said, I agree that it is hugely important for solos to go out of their way to demonstrate that their services are directly on par with, if not better than, large firms.

  • BT

    I think David Giacalone hit it right on the head in his first post.
    And as to GAL, I like your site, but I never understood the defensiveness about being a solo. I mean, it clearly is based on others’ perceptions (note the proximity of these quotes –
    “I have no insecurities about being solo, nor do I care what anyone else thinks”
    and then
    “other attorneys fail to even consider solo practice because of their belief that it indicates failure, or because they fail to see that it is an attractive alternative”
    and finally
    “The point is that it is IMPORTANT to change the way lawyers and clients think about independent practitioners.”)
    There is truth to the fact that you are affected by what other lawyers think, but I don’t think avoiding the term “solo” will make a difference either way.
    That said, I agree that it is hugely important for solos to go out of their way to demonstrate that their services are directly on par with, if not better than, large firms.

  • Anonymous

    ‘Solo’ is just fine. I doubt Luke Skywalker would have teamed up with anyone named Han Independent Practitioner.

  • Anonymous

    ‘Solo’ is just fine. I doubt Luke Skywalker would have teamed up with anyone named Han Independent Practitioner.

  • http://www.attorneyisaacs.com Marshall R. Isaacs

    Do you think anyone would have a problem hiring Alan Dershowitz or Thomas Moore if they decided to go out on their own?
    Marshall R. Isaacs
    http://www.attorneyisaacs.com

  • http://www.attorneyisaacs.com Marshall R. Isaacs

    Do you think anyone would have a problem hiring Alan Dershowitz or Thomas Moore if they decided to go out on their own?
    Marshall R. Isaacs
    http://www.attorneyisaacs.com

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  • Bob

    “Principal” or “principal attorney” are good titles.

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