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Have We Reached The Solo Practice Tipping Point?

by Carolyn Elefant on October 29, 2005 · 8 comments

in Biglaw to Solo, Legal Profession Trends, Solo Practice Trends

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Macolm Gladwell’s tipping point phenomenon is probably way over-referenced, and yet I can’t help but wonder whether the idea of solo practice is reaching a tipping point in the legal profession.  Indicators abound everywhere.  Consider:

The rise of biglaw mergers hasn’t quelled the growing interest in solo practice; if anything, it’s heightened it.  And that’s because even as firms grow and grow and salaries grow along with them, even young lawyers are relegated to less inspiring work, the yearning for self-determination and autonomy can’t be extinguished.  You don’t see many biglaw bloggers dispensing advice on how associates can succeed at big firm practice, partly because biglaw attorneys may not be so benevolent, but partly because frankly, there’s no audience for that topic:  no one is particularly interested in learning how to speak partner-ese. By contrast, look at how many independent solos are dishing out advice on starting a firm, not because it will help us gain clients or referrals in our “real” jobs but in the hopes of helping others discover what what will soon no longer be the legal profession’s best kept career secret.  And it looks as if we are succeeding.

  • http://www.biglawassociate.blogspot.com/ BigLaw Associate

    From inside a BigLaw firm I am seeing an exodus out of BigLaw, but not necessarily into solo practice. As I noted some weeks ago over on my blog, my firm, as well as most of the other BigLaws in town are having a serious problem with midlevel associates leaving. But most seem to be going in-house to large companies, or to government, and even to smaller firms. Not so much into solo practice. I’ll be going that route soon though.

  • http://www.biglawassociate.blogspot.com/ BigLaw Associate

    From inside a BigLaw firm I am seeing an exodus out of BigLaw, but not necessarily into solo practice. As I noted some weeks ago over on my blog, my firm, as well as most of the other BigLaws in town are having a serious problem with midlevel associates leaving. But most seem to be going in-house to large companies, or to government, and even to smaller firms. Not so much into solo practice. I’ll be going that route soon though.

  • http://gdgrifflaw.typepad.com/home_office_lawyer/ Grant Griffiths

    Well done!!!!!! And thanks for the link.
    Grant

  • http://gdgrifflaw.typepad.com/home_office_lawyer/ Grant Griffiths

    Well done!!!!!! And thanks for the link.
    Grant

  • http://www.gotbrandy.com Brandy Karl

    I have at least 2 people a month in town wanting to do lunch, etc. to find out more about opening shop. I’d say yeah, tipping point has just about been reached.
    I think it’s about personal & career satisfaction, and I don’t think that biglaw has reached the point where they are able to offer that to most of their employees. They haven’t found out a way to deliver legal services/structure their businesses to their clients in ways that don’t prevent their lawyers from having fulfilling personal lives and being able to truly serve their clients.

  • http://www.gotbrandy.com Brandy Karl

    I have at least 2 people a month in town wanting to do lunch, etc. to find out more about opening shop. I’d say yeah, tipping point has just about been reached.
    I think it’s about personal & career satisfaction, and I don’t think that biglaw has reached the point where they are able to offer that to most of their employees. They haven’t found out a way to deliver legal services/structure their businesses to their clients in ways that don’t prevent their lawyers from having fulfilling personal lives and being able to truly serve their clients.

  • http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com RJON@HowToMakeItRain.com

    NO! NO! NO!
    Carolyn, you know I love your blog & think highly of you. But this time you have it all wrong. And this is a soap box I have been standing on for at least the past 8 years ever since I started working for The Florida Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Service and had the chance to work with so many thousands, and thousands, and thousands of solos! Plus I have built my whole business around this misconception, so I have to set everyone straight. . .
    The fact of the matter is that as solos we have ALWAYS been in the majority in this country. You can’t have a Tipping Point effect when there is nothing to “Tip” to.
    And I’m not talking about being a little bit in the majority either. As solos – or lawyers in firms with under 6 attorneys (In my experience, most of these small firms operate as solo who share space and lack many or all of the hallmarks of a true “firm”), we are 5:1 the majority. For every lawyer in a big firm or in a mid-sized firm, there are no fewer than FIVE of us!
    There are about 1.2 million lawyers in the United States today. MORE THAN HALF ARE ONE OF US!!! If you look only at lawyers in private practice the percentages go even more dramatically in our favor. In other words, if there was a rumble, we would kick ass!
    This isn’t a new phenomenon. The face of the American lawyer has never been seen in a big firm up in a fancy office. It has always been and still is Atticus Finch.
    From my website. . .
    It surprises many of the lawyers I have worked with over the years, when I tell them that being a solo practitioner, or in a small firm with five or fewer attorneys, we are actually in the vast majority of lawyers in this country.
    You see most law schools get their largest endowments from big law firms. So they prepare law students for how to be cogs in the big law firm machine, not how to be owners of their own successful small law firm businesses.
    Part of that preparation is a sometimes-subtle message that you’re supposed to graduate from law school and “pay your dues”. Because that’s what the managing partners of most big law firms want their cogs to do. And for lawyers who make an informed-choice to sacrifice ten or more years of their lives in hopes of finally getting a chance at the controls of the machine, (instead of just being one of the cogs), that’s probably pretty good advice. But what about the rest of us?
    To read more, go to my website. You’ll find the stats under “Press Room”.
    Respectfully,
    RJON ROBINS
    http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com
    Helping Lawyers In Small Firms Make ALOT More Money

  • http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com RJON@HowToMakeItRain.com

    NO! NO! NO!
    Carolyn, you know I love your blog & think highly of you. But this time you have it all wrong. And this is a soap box I have been standing on for at least the past 8 years ever since I started working for The Florida Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Service and had the chance to work with so many thousands, and thousands, and thousands of solos! Plus I have built my whole business around this misconception, so I have to set everyone straight. . .
    The fact of the matter is that as solos we have ALWAYS been in the majority in this country. You can’t have a Tipping Point effect when there is nothing to “Tip” to.
    And I’m not talking about being a little bit in the majority either. As solos – or lawyers in firms with under 6 attorneys (In my experience, most of these small firms operate as solo who share space and lack many or all of the hallmarks of a true “firm”), we are 5:1 the majority. For every lawyer in a big firm or in a mid-sized firm, there are no fewer than FIVE of us!
    There are about 1.2 million lawyers in the United States today. MORE THAN HALF ARE ONE OF US!!! If you look only at lawyers in private practice the percentages go even more dramatically in our favor. In other words, if there was a rumble, we would kick ass!
    This isn’t a new phenomenon. The face of the American lawyer has never been seen in a big firm up in a fancy office. It has always been and still is Atticus Finch.
    From my website. . .
    It surprises many of the lawyers I have worked with over the years, when I tell them that being a solo practitioner, or in a small firm with five or fewer attorneys, we are actually in the vast majority of lawyers in this country.
    You see most law schools get their largest endowments from big law firms. So they prepare law students for how to be cogs in the big law firm machine, not how to be owners of their own successful small law firm businesses.
    Part of that preparation is a sometimes-subtle message that you’re supposed to graduate from law school and “pay your dues”. Because that’s what the managing partners of most big law firms want their cogs to do. And for lawyers who make an informed-choice to sacrifice ten or more years of their lives in hopes of finally getting a chance at the controls of the machine, (instead of just being one of the cogs), that’s probably pretty good advice. But what about the rest of us?
    To read more, go to my website. You’ll find the stats under “Press Room”.
    Respectfully,
    RJON ROBINS
    http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com
    Helping Lawyers In Small Firms Make ALOT More Money

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