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Most Attorneys Would Not Go Solo – A Survey I Don’t Believe

by Carolyn Elefant on June 2, 2005 · 6 comments

in Legal Profession Trends, Should I Solo?, Solo Practice Trends

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According to this Press Release of May 25, 2005 by legal placement agency Robert Half, 93 percent of lawyers polled said that they would not establish a law firm even if they had the necessary capital.   OK, I’m biased, but frankly, I don’t believe the survey at all.  Here are some of the problems I see.

First, according to the press release, lawyers were asked “If you had the necessary capital, would you start your own law firm.”  93 percent of respondents said no, up from 84 percent in 2002 and 78 percent in 1997.   To begin, I wonder about the phrasing of the question.   If attorneys “had the necessary capital,” it’s likely they’d decide to do something that’s not legally related at all – or to stop work entirely.  The poll might have value if attorneys were asked to choose between starting their own firm and continuing in legal employment.  In short, the poll does not inform as to how solo practice compares to other jobs in the legal profession but rather, that it’s not a top choice against many other potential career and business opportunities.

Second, I question the sampling relied on, i.e., 200 attorneys among
the 1000 of the largest firms and corporations.  Assume each attorney
works at a place with 400 other lawyers.  That’s a total lawyer
population of 80,000 which means the sample measured responses from .25
percent.  Hardly scientific.  And of course, culling from large firm
and corporate ranks, pollsters are already dealing with a population
that’s predisposed against solo practice.

Third, I know that my anectodal experience isn’t any more accurate than
a .25 percent sampling.  Still, it seems to me that every other day,
either through this site or a news article or my encounters with fellow
solos, I hear of a large firm attorney who’s gone solo.  That just
wasn’t the case eleven years ago when I started my practice – and was
just beginning to change in the mid 1990s.  So again, for what it’s
worth, the Robert Half poll doesn’t conform to my personal experience.

Finally, Robert Half is a placement agency (a pretty good one too; I
used them once here in DC with excellent results).  But just as I have
my own biases (i.e., that every lawyer should at least sample solo
practice), so does Robert Half which makes its money from placing
attorneys at large firms and corporations on a project and full time
basis.  If attorneys decide they’d rather go solo than work for the
$30/hour contract rate that’s paid for document review, Robert Half’s
profits decline.  Likewise, if qualified attorneys from top schools and
judicial clerkships under their belt strike out on their own instead of
looking for law firm jobs, it impacts Robert Half’s bottom line.

Of course, I’m not so sure why this poll riles me so much any way.  If
solo practice is our profession’s best kept secret, I’m more than happy
to keep it that way.  More work for me and those of my colleagues who share the
same vision.

  • http://basquette.typepad.com basquette

    I share your concerns about this poll, especially the concern about the targeted attorneys who answered the question. It’s been my experience that most people, assuming they are not involved in some current work-satisfaction crisis, usually have a more positive opinion of their current position in order to achieve consistency between the desire and the reality. I think we often go about modifying our wishes and dreams in order to be able to tell ourselves we’re happy. I was there myself, not so long ago. Even though nothing concrete has changed about my practice except for two small incidents which led to stress in a work relationship (certainly not something anyone would quit over), I feel very differently now about my position. That change led me to reexamine whether I was actually happy in my work. The answer was a surprising “not really, no” – and now I’m preparing to go solo myself.

  • http://basquette.typepad.com basquette

    I share your concerns about this poll, especially the concern about the targeted attorneys who answered the question. It’s been my experience that most people, assuming they are not involved in some current work-satisfaction crisis, usually have a more positive opinion of their current position in order to achieve consistency between the desire and the reality. I think we often go about modifying our wishes and dreams in order to be able to tell ourselves we’re happy. I was there myself, not so long ago. Even though nothing concrete has changed about my practice except for two small incidents which led to stress in a work relationship (certainly not something anyone would quit over), I feel very differently now about my position. That change led me to reexamine whether I was actually happy in my work. The answer was a surprising “not really, no” – and now I’m preparing to go solo myself.

  • http://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/legal_blog_watch/2005/06/not_right_by_ha.html Inside Opinions: Legal Blogs

    Not right by Half: New survey on solos

    Carolyn Elefant writes that she’s not sure why she’s so personally

  • http://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/legal_blog_watch/2005/06/not_right_by_ha.html Inside Opinions: Legal Blogs

    Not right by Half: New survey on solos

    Carolyn Elefant writes that she’s not sure why she’s so personally

  • Anonymous

    Carolyn,
    Your blog is first-rate. It is informative, inspirational and helps rally our somewhat underrepresented segment of the attorney population.
    That being said, I was dissapointed that you spent the time and energy to unscientifically dissect a poll, the results of which are utterly insignificant. I hope to see more practical and inspired posts in the future.
    Your Compatriot,
    Marshall R. Isaacs

  • Anonymous

    Carolyn,
    Your blog is first-rate. It is informative, inspirational and helps rally our somewhat underrepresented segment of the attorney population.
    That being said, I was dissapointed that you spent the time and energy to unscientifically dissect a poll, the results of which are utterly insignificant. I hope to see more practical and inspired posts in the future.
    Your Compatriot,
    Marshall R. Isaacs

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