[Update – January 2, 2010 – I have edited the nasty language from my post in response to one of the commenters. I’ve been responding to posts like the one at BigDebt for years now and nothing seems to make a dent, so I thought that by using offensive language, I might get the attention of those who read these sites to make them realize that we solos are neither idiots nor delusional. We understand the realities of solo practice — the hard work, the financial struggles and the disdain of other lawyers. But we do it anyway because we choose to practice law. (That’s why I called my book Solo by Choice). My use of foul language, even as a device to attract the basher crowd was a mistake, for I owe them no favors or loyalty. Rather, my first obligation is to treat with respect my present readers and those who are committed to starting a practice or willing to consider it seriously. Plus, I’m a serious blogger, not a hack like the bashers. So I apologize for my mis-step and am correcting the post. For those offended, I hope you’ll feel comfortable coming back here again].
Guess what? I do too. Solo practice can be pretty nasty [BigDebt refers to it repeatedly as “s**t law” and per my edits, I won’t repeat that phrase here again] Solos and small firms routinely encounter clients who don’t pay their bills. Who have phantom documents that will prove millions in damages that oh, shucks, are locked up in storage and the client lost the key. Who promise to send you dozens of referrals if you’ll just do them the favor of cutting your rates to nothing for this particular matter. Who ask for free advice on phone calls then use it to fill out pro se forms on their own. Who gripe about paying a consultation fee that costs the equivalent of a nice manicure. If you’re a solo, you know the drill.
If anything, the Big Debt, Small Law post doesn’t go far enough. The post doesn’t talk about how very hard the practice of law can be. No mention of big law firms who poach your clients by undercutting their rates or promising utterly unrealistic results. Nasty, unreasonable opposing counsel who set motions hearings when they know you’ll be on vacation and refuse to cut you any slack in granting extensions. Judges who show up late or lecture you in front of your clients. Grievance committees that want you to file copies of every blog post because they don’t view blogging any differently from a Yellow Pages ad. Ad infinitum, as we say in legal parlance.
I don’t post much about the pitfalls of solo practice, nor do many of my blogging solo colleagues because frankly, they’re nothing new. Few lawyers march lockstep into solo practice without an extensive understanding of the obstacles they’ll face, courtesy of law school and other lawyers who drum that message into their heads. Indeed, that’s the very reason that I started MyShingle seven years ago: to dispel the prevailing image of the solo as a hapless, bumbling loser.
Still, I’ll agree with Big Debt, Small Law, that for those who graduated from law school with big debt and big delusions of working at biglaw, solo practice is the worst possible option if only because it’s not even close to what they imagined. So what? Life comes with all kinds of unsavory tasks. My beloved daughters came with two years worth of diaper duty a piece and I clean up after my puppy three times a day. But I wouldn’t ever trade my dog or my girls to avoid the mess.
If you don’t want to put up with the hard and sometimes desperate work of getting a law firm off the ground, then do what Big Debt, Small Law advises: run as fast and as far as you can from the law. But if you’re committed to practicing law — not because you want to be an entrepreneur or earn gobs of money or work a four hour work week — but because you still believe, as I still do, that you can make a difference, then roll up your sleeves and dive in. And remember that if you’re willing to put up with all of the garbage that comes with solo practice, you just might find that something wonderful might eventually bloom in its place.