After learning that he’s one of the 83 percent majority of lawyers in New York who practice as solos, Eric Turkewitz asks just what does that mean anyway? Specifically, Eric wonders whether the term “solo” as used in these kinds of surveys means just one lawyer, one lawyer with support staff or one lawyer with a few associates but 100 percent of the equity. And he also asks a bunch of solo bloggers what definition should apply.
The first part of Eric’s question is answered most easily. At least for New York, the statistics come from the state’s Commission to Examine Solo and Small Firm Practice. The study found that
14.7 percent of lawyers practiced in firms of 2-9 an 1.8 percent practiced in firms of more than 10. From these numbers and categories, I infer that the category of solos refers to law firms comprised of one lawyer.
To be honest, I don’t really see much difference between a law practice of one attorney and one with as many as 3-5. That’s because these days, with the power of the Internet and listserves and virtual assistants and virtual associates and networking groups and bar associations galore, no solo is truly an island. Nearly every lawyer I know, has at least one close colleague who can act as a back up in a case or can take a quick look at a brief or who can serve as a sounding board for ethics questions. Likewise, most lawyers I know have on at least one occasion outsourced administrative tasks or used a contract attorney or hired a law student to work at the firm a few hours a week.
When I started my firm, I worked by myself. But I started using a local copy shop to xerox my pleadings, and developed a close relationship with the staff – so much so that soon they felt as if they were part of my team. On days when I had cases down at the court, I’d regularly chat with two lawyer who shared space in my office suite. When I needed help on some of my energy regulatory matters, I called another lawyer whom I’d helped out when I worked at a federal agency. After a while, I hardly felt as if I worked by myself at all because I’d built my own law firm out of all of these disparate connections.
So do I believe that there’s such a thing as “solo practice” at all? Truth be told, I’ve never, ever called myself a solo – I always say that I have my own law firm, or perhaps, might describe myself as an “independent practioner.” And my blog, MyShingle doesn’t use the term “solo” in its name (of course, I started the blog back in 2002 when few people ever gave much thought to how a blog’s name might impact search engine visibility).
At the same time, my book is titled Solo by Choice, a title that appealed to me because of the affirmative, proactive connotations. As used in the title, solo doesn’t mean one literally, but rather refers to a state of mind – the autonomous, adventurous can-do spirit that motivates so many lawyers to take control of their careers and start their own law firm.