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Are Solos Helping Women At Law Firms?

by Carolyn Elefant on November 5, 2006 · 14 comments

in Big Law/Small Law, Biglaw to Solo, Work/Life Balance & Women

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The impact of solo and small firm practice is far reaching, so much so that in my view, it’s helping women attorneys succeed at biglaw.  Don’t believe it?  Consider these two stories that ran in today’s news.  The first, Deciding to Go It Alone, (San Fernando Valley Business 11/4/06) reports on how more and more, women lawyers are choosing solo practice to accomodate families and to get to the top more quickly than they might by staying at a firm.  The article also notes that with technological advancements, it’s less costly to open a firm than ever.  The second article, Part Timers Find Room at the Firm (Boston Globe 11/5/06) talks about how law firms’ part time programs, some which enable women to work from home, are giving women incentive to stay at firms.

So what does one article have to do with the other?  Plenty!  Used to be that biglaw was the only option for smart women, so large firms could call the shots, demanding that women work full time or leave.  No more.  As the barriers to starting a law firm decrease, more and more women are successfully starting firms (as I’ve discussed here) and don’t need to settle for the sham part time programs that some firms initially put in place.

The Globe article credits the firms as well as  “visionaries” who  work towards work life balance:

Effective change doesn’t happen overnight, and almost always, it’s
powered by group efforts, policies with bite, leadership support, and
visionaries, such as Williams and Henry, who keep their eyes on the
ball.

But that’s only a partial explanation.  Because of solo and small firm practice (and the technology to run a practice that serves biglaw clients), women have a real alternative to biglaw and they don’t need to settle.  Programs like The Project for Attorney Retention may never mention solo or small firm practice, but in truth, programs like PAR owe some of their success to the success of solo and small firm lawyers.

  • http://www.JasonWomack.com Jason Womack

    Amazing that it takes a “visionary” to identify a need such as WLB (Work Life Balance).
    I suppose, however, it’s ok to realize that although something as obvious as self-care, obvious to those who get it, must be as an elusive a vision as the first “iron horses” were to those who were used to working harder to get more results.
    The “stress out/burn out” age seems to be closing…thanks for sharing these links with us!

  • http://www.JasonWomack.com Jason Womack

    Amazing that it takes a “visionary” to identify a need such as WLB (Work Life Balance).
    I suppose, however, it’s ok to realize that although something as obvious as self-care, obvious to those who get it, must be as an elusive a vision as the first “iron horses” were to those who were used to working harder to get more results.
    The “stress out/burn out” age seems to be closing…thanks for sharing these links with us!

  • Susan Cartier-Liebel

    Just as a point of interest, in my class at Quinnipiac School of Law, where I teach how to open a law practice right out of law school, the female students will approach me privately to tell me opening their own practice specifically so they don’t have to compromise their desire to raise their children as they see fit, is the only reason they want to open their own practice. I have had students start the semester pregnant, finishing their semester with their newborn in tow finalizing their business plan. They don’t even want to attempt to work at a firm who will not respect their priorities and understand they can do both effectively. And not to leave out the men, I have new fathers showing me their infants’ pictures saying,”This is why I am in law school, to be my own boss and be home with my child without having to defend my right to be an involved father.” Correctly, technology is making this very possible. Now we just have to educate the law schools and those who would enact professional barriers preventing new attorneys from starting out sooner rather than later. New lawyers should feel pride, not “lesser than” for their decision to be an entrepreneur.

  • Susan Cartier-Liebel

    Just as a point of interest, in my class at Quinnipiac School of Law, where I teach how to open a law practice right out of law school, the female students will approach me privately to tell me opening their own practice specifically so they don’t have to compromise their desire to raise their children as they see fit, is the only reason they want to open their own practice. I have had students start the semester pregnant, finishing their semester with their newborn in tow finalizing their business plan. They don’t even want to attempt to work at a firm who will not respect their priorities and understand they can do both effectively. And not to leave out the men, I have new fathers showing me their infants’ pictures saying,”This is why I am in law school, to be my own boss and be home with my child without having to defend my right to be an involved father.” Correctly, technology is making this very possible. Now we just have to educate the law schools and those who would enact professional barriers preventing new attorneys from starting out sooner rather than later. New lawyers should feel pride, not “lesser than” for their decision to be an entrepreneur.

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