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Solo practice: the most overlooked, underrated law option

by Carolyn Elefant on June 28, 2006 · 6 comments

in Legal Profession Trends, Reasons to Solo, Should I Solo?

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With all of the terrific solo blogs, I’m still amazed that people still don’t get solo practice.  Among the prime offenders are Ann Israel, who writes the Advice for the Lawlorn column for New York Lawyer and her correspondents.  Israel would rather advise folks to leave the practice of law than to give solo practice a chance.

Consider this recent exchange here:

[excerpt from writer, emphasis added]:  We already have too many good lawyers – why encourage bad ones to keep on plodding through the system? [...] As for the impact of law school grades on a job search, I do think that the vast majority of employers (law firms in particular) care very much about grades. Frankly – anyone who graduates at the bottom of their class should just find something else to do because their grades will always be the hurdle that prevents them from earning a decent salary and getting challenging work. The only exception that I can think of is if the lawyer has a huge network of contacts and can practice on his own.

[Ann Israel reply] Your thoughts are worth far more than two cents. In fact, what you have to say is priceless advice to someone like our hapless friend, “Dreamer.” [Dreamer, who admittedly has a victim mentality, had flunked the bar several times and after four years, could not find legal employment]

Law school grades may preclude lawyers from law firm jobs, but they don’t dictate success.  Solo practice provides an opportunity for success to those willing to work hard, no matter their grades in law school.  In fact, sometimes people who performed poorly in law school find that they do well in practice because they’re not dealing with hypothetical questions that are tricky for the sake of being tricky, but with tangible problems and real people where the right answer really matters.

Solo practice is a viable option for any lawyer, including those who did poorly in law school or those who can’t find jobs.  Solo practice probably would not work for “Dreamer” the subject of the Ann Israel post (because he’s apparently not willing to take responsibility or iniative) but it can salvage other lawyers’ careers.  Many lawyers who never found a fit in large firm practice now thrive as solos.  I am saddened at the way our profession so willingly wastes our capital:  large firms grind up young lawyers and spit them out when the economy cools, so called career experts advise less qualified lawyers to flee the law rather than direct them to explore the solo practice option.  Perhaps there are too many lawyers, but are we right to discourage those who get off to a rough start in law school or early in their career to leave the profession?  Are we merely separating the wheat from the chaff – or are we throwing away lawyers who might vindicate an innocent defendant or extricate an spouse from an abusive marriage or help a homeowner scammed by a contractor get her money back?

  • http://avacadojer.blogspot.com Jeremy

    I want to share the best advice anyone ever gave me in favor of big-firm life as opposed to small-firm or solo practitioner life. I was a legal assistant making $11/hr at my last job. The work, while interesting, was mostly filling in blanks in forms and ghostwriting discovery. My boss’s daughter, a second-year associate at a big firm, told me that big-firm life was great because she got paid five times what I did to do basically the same work.
    COMMENT: Big-firm work is boring and thankless until you achieve some responsibility with the firm. And that only happens if you’re lucky.

  • http://avacadojer.blogspot.com Jeremy

    I want to share the best advice anyone ever gave me in favor of big-firm life as opposed to small-firm or solo practitioner life. I was a legal assistant making $11/hr at my last job. The work, while interesting, was mostly filling in blanks in forms and ghostwriting discovery. My boss’s daughter, a second-year associate at a big firm, told me that big-firm life was great because she got paid five times what I did to do basically the same work.
    COMMENT: Big-firm work is boring and thankless until you achieve some responsibility with the firm. And that only happens if you’re lucky.

  • el guapo

    Ann Israel seems to be completely focused on BIGLAW. I quit my NYC BIGLAW job 4 years ago to start my own litigation practice. So far, no regrets at all.

  • el guapo

    Ann Israel seems to be completely focused on BIGLAW. I quit my NYC BIGLAW job 4 years ago to start my own litigation practice. So far, no regrets at all.

  • Pete Freans

    Interesting article and I appreciate your thoughts on solo practice. I fell into a rut in law after I failed the bar a few times and legal work was hard to come by. I have often thought about leaving the profession altogether, dutifully following the “priceless advice” of established attorneys. While our profession has many decent people (the same people that keep me in it), there is a vocal, self-righteous (and paranoid) minority that is always looking over its shoulders. I guess it is maddening for a top-tiered law schooled, law review lawyer to see a lower-tiered law schooled lawyer with average grades compete for finite legal resources. I currently have a full-time job working for a big city court system but I am in the initial stages of creating a part-time solo practice. Rather than wait for this profession to validate my legal skills (a mistake I made early in my career), I am going to carve out my very own nitch with quality legal work done with integrity. My hope is that my practice alone can financially sustain me someday. The future is very exciting.

  • Pete Freans

    Interesting article and I appreciate your thoughts on solo practice. I fell into a rut in law after I failed the bar a few times and legal work was hard to come by. I have often thought about leaving the profession altogether, dutifully following the “priceless advice” of established attorneys. While our profession has many decent people (the same people that keep me in it), there is a vocal, self-righteous (and paranoid) minority that is always looking over its shoulders. I guess it is maddening for a top-tiered law schooled, law review lawyer to see a lower-tiered law schooled lawyer with average grades compete for finite legal resources. I currently have a full-time job working for a big city court system but I am in the initial stages of creating a part-time solo practice. Rather than wait for this profession to validate my legal skills (a mistake I made early in my career), I am going to carve out my very own nitch with quality legal work done with integrity. My hope is that my practice alone can financially sustain me someday. The future is very exciting.

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