My Shingle

The Other Side of Solo Practice

by Carolyn Elefant on July 6, 2007 · 12 comments

in Big Law/Small Law, Biglaw to Solo, Solo Practice Trends

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It’s difficult to fully respond to an article like this one,
The Snark: Flying solothat discusses the drawbacks of solo practice because I can’t decide whether the author is trying to be funny or is truly pathetic, and pathetically uninformed.

Basically, the article is intended to discourage unhappy associates from making the mistake of starting their own firms. Fair enough. Leaping from biglaw to yourlaw is a major step, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. In fact, if an associate left a large firm to open his own shop and didn’t feel apprehensive, I’d be worried that he hand’nt given much thought to the move.

But this article goes beyond highlighting some of the drawbacks of solo practice: it screams about them, loud and clear. Unfortunately, the article is rife with the sorts of stereotypes that I’d assumed that my blog and at least a dozen other solo practice related blogs had put to rest. Consider a few:

Tech Support From the article: But when you go to log in to your new laptop, and it can?t detect your wireless Internet because your router is improperly configured, you can?t just dial the IT Hotline folks, who will solve your problem in five minutes or rush up to your office with a new computer.
The truth: Hello?! Ever hear of outsourcing? Many solos outsource tech support functions. And computers are so inexpensive, that they often have two machines, so that if one goes down, they can keep working.

Client Developemnt From the article: “But without partners to delegate document reviews, memos and revisions to contracts, you?re on your own to find clients and convince them that your skills are worth your freshly discounted $175 rate: Big Firm Lawyer, Small Firm Price!? But convincing people you?re worth that rate is harder when all knowledge and networking and rainmaking must come from you alone. No more team for you.”
The truth: When did the firm team ever try to sell anyone’s experience but that of the senior partner?

Getting Information From the article: “If a client called with some random question, one little firmwide email later you had the answer.” Apparently, this author has never heard of Solosezwhere a network of 2000 solos can find a response just as quickly as a colleague at biglaw – and they won’t bill you for it!

Practice AreasFrom the article: So when your old Big Firm clients don?t follow you and hire you to draft their employee handbooks anymore?your particular sub-specialty in the Big Firm days?you better quickly learn how to draft a will, apply for a trademark, and cross-examine a cop on the calibration of the Breathalyzer 2000. The truth: More and more clients are leaving biglaw to for smaller firms because of poor client service and bloated fees. And guess what? Lots of lawyers actually want time in a court room and before a jury – it’s experience many so-called litigators at large firms don’t have.

Getting PaidThis is the most hilarious of all. From the article: The same is true when you try to collect your own fees from your new clients. Sadly, your letterhead doesn?t scream, ?I Am Part of a Firm of 1,000 Lawyers Who Will Hunt You Down Until You Pay.?” The truth: Hello? Ever heard of money up front? Evergreen retainers? Withdrawing if clients don’t pay? Is this Cog-Author really a lawyer?

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to stay at a large firm. Maybe you’re at a point in your life where you’d really be struggling without the money and fear that you’ll risk your large salary if you leave. Maybe you’ve finally found a comfort spot after a bumpy ride through law school and other jobs. Maybe you truly enjoy working on complex pieces of a case with other people and don’t mind the long hours. I don’t denigrate the choices that biglaw attorneys make. But you’ve got to be honest with yourself – and that’s something this article isn’t. It’s one big, sad and uninformed rationalization of why lawyers at large firms should suck up the downside of large firm life, to toil in obscurity and loan your talent for the rest of your life when you should be owning it instead.

  • http://www.crablaw.com/mdweekly.html Bruce/Crablaw

    What an excellent response! As for the $175/hour rate, that is hardly a massive rate in the urbanized part of the Northeast Corridor for a solo practitioner. I clerked for a solo in 1995 who billed at $195/hour for ordinary civil litigation. Particularly for an attorney with at least five years of experience.
    I am most delighted to have found your site from the recent article in the MD Daily Record.

  • http://www.crablaw.com/mdweekly.html Bruce/Crablaw

    What an excellent response! As for the $175/hour rate, that is hardly a massive rate in the urbanized part of the Northeast Corridor for a solo practitioner. I clerked for a solo in 1995 who billed at $195/hour for ordinary civil litigation. Particularly for an attorney with at least five years of experience.
    I am most delighted to have found your site from the recent article in the MD Daily Record.

  • http://theinspiredsolo.com Sheryl Schelin

    Great minds think alike, Carolyn – I posted my reactions to this piece at TIS today, too, and like you, I can’t decide whether it’s supposed to be satire or merely exaggeration for humor’s sake. I don’t know how I’m supposed to react – with disgust that this is what the baby shark factories are churning out, or with knowing laughter – that we’re supposed to get the joke? If it’s a joke, it’s far too subtle for my tastes. As it is, it reads too much like “the same old, same old” – another Big Firm sneering dismissal of solo life.

  • http://theinspiredsolo.com Sheryl Schelin

    Great minds think alike, Carolyn – I posted my reactions to this piece at TIS today, too, and like you, I can’t decide whether it’s supposed to be satire or merely exaggeration for humor’s sake. I don’t know how I’m supposed to react – with disgust that this is what the baby shark factories are churning out, or with knowing laughter – that we’re supposed to get the joke? If it’s a joke, it’s far too subtle for my tastes. As it is, it reads too much like “the same old, same old” – another Big Firm sneering dismissal of solo life.

  • http://www.susancartierliebel.typepad.com Susan Cartier Liebel

    Carolyn,
    You gave a great answer, but I think it was very tongue-in-cheek because he definitely pokes serious fun at the Cogs. Just calling them cogs identifies their insecurity at being faceless. Actually, I think he’s poking fun at the entire profession telling us he thinks there is no green grass, just free coffee.

  • http://www.susancartierliebel.typepad.com Susan Cartier Liebel

    Carolyn,
    You gave a great answer, but I think it was very tongue-in-cheek because he definitely pokes serious fun at the Cogs. Just calling them cogs identifies their insecurity at being faceless. Actually, I think he’s poking fun at the entire profession telling us he thinks there is no green grass, just free coffee.

  • Scott K

    I was a bit embarrased to see this article in my local legal organ (Fulton County Daily Report). The Snark is generally tongue-in-cheek. So I’d take the article with a huge grain of salt. The column exists to poke fun at the “cogs”, the young associates at big firms, and their summer associate colleagues (aka “summer camp”).

  • Scott K

    I was a bit embarrased to see this article in my local legal organ (Fulton County Daily Report). The Snark is generally tongue-in-cheek. So I’d take the article with a huge grain of salt. The column exists to poke fun at the “cogs”, the young associates at big firms, and their summer associate colleagues (aka “summer camp”).

  • http://www.taxgirl.com Kelly

    Carolyn –
    Excellent piece! The bit about practice areas particularly interests me because, as a small firm attorney, I find it easier to niche than when I was in the big firm (and fell into the “if we need a warm body, you’re it” madness).

  • http://www.taxgirl.com Kelly

    Carolyn –
    Excellent piece! The bit about practice areas particularly interests me because, as a small firm attorney, I find it easier to niche than when I was in the big firm (and fell into the “if we need a warm body, you’re it” madness).

  • V. Wallace

    Loved the closing line!

  • V. Wallace

    Loved the closing line!

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