[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.