My Shingle

The Miracle of the Solo

by Carolyn Elefant on December 20, 2011 · 3 comments

in Encouragement, MyShingle Solo

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[Warning – Hanukkah-themed post ahead, if you would rather avoid religious-oriented content]

Tonight marks the first night of Hanukkah, a joyous Jewish holiday that holds special meaning for me as a solo. From the small band of Maccabees triumphing over the Syrian army to the tiny drop of oil that fueled the eternal flame for eight days, Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the small overcoming impossible odds.

Although I’m forever bullish about the future opportunities for solo and small firm lawyers, there’s no denying that that we’re under assault on all fronts.  On the one hand, we must contend with hack-ademics like Gillian Hadfield who claims that non-lawyer providers offer better service than solo and small firm practitioners, who in her view are nothing but generalists spread too thin.  Then, there’s those economists who contend that deregulating lawyers will make legal services more affordable, even though cheaper options are already available with the emergence of online services like Legal Zoom. On the other hand, many lawyers (not to mention coaches and gurus) are all too willing to encourage lawyers to cannibalize ourselves and use technology to convert legal services into commodity products (which can be automated or bulk-packaged for bargain basement sales), instead of using the commodity – technology – to deliver bespoke services –  (that which gives us value as a lawyer) more cost effectively.

It’s not just the big picture that throws a dark thundercloud over our existence.  Even on a day to day level, we solos live precariously.  We can never stop hustling because we know that any day the phone could stop ringing, we could lose all of our clients and we’d have to start from scratch.  And even as technology makes our life easier, it brings with it additional distractions and increased responsibility to ensure that our clients’ data and communications are secure.

Yet, somehow in spite of it all, solo and small firm lawyers manage to show up every day.  And not just show up, but show others up by defending our clients against powerful institutions like banks or winning long shot cases in the face of public ridicule or simply giving a damn.

The solo’s persistence in the face of mighty odds is of course a testament to both our doggedness and ingenuity.  But there’s more. Because like the drop of oil that lasted for eight days, that we solos make it from one day to the next, year in and year out; not just sputtering and struggling but standing proud, defiant and shining bright – well, that’s just nothing short of miraculous.

  • Kkarpe

    Here, Here! Well said, as always, Carolyn

  • http://rosenbergrosenberg.com/ Jeffrey Rosenberg

    Excellent post.  While I am certainly not one to minimize the miracles we celebrate on the holiday, the historical aspects of Chanukah also provide an apt comparison.  The Maccabean revolt was grounded in the Maccabees’ desire to take a stand for their way of life against the prevailing wisdom of the time that Hellenistic culture was superior.  In addition to the “assaults” you note, solos and small firms are subject to the prevailing wisdom in the marketplace that we cannot deliver the quality of service that larger firms provide.  Also, when we start out, there is the legion of naysayers questioning our choice to leave the relative security of a firm, or pass on seeking employment opportunities at one.  In the face of this, we take our stand, and we thrive.
     
    The Maccabees were a band of brothers who literally sounded a rallying cry to inspire and empower like-minded people to join them in taking their stand.  Kudos to you for doing the same for solos and small firms.
     
    Happy Chanukah!

  • STEVEN J. FROMM

    Great article.  It is tough to be a solo, but it so rewarding.  It has gotten harder the last few years due to some of the factors you discuss.  There is also the web presence thing that requires having a website, blog and all the social networking stuff that can deplete you quickly.  With all this, it is a joy to just practice estate and tax law.  But reading your article reminds me of what my dad says to me:  ” I do not know how you do it, but you somehow do it.  It is something to be proud of being able to accomplish.”

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