Every time I hear that solos have to be entrepreneurs, I cringe. Yes, we all know that solos won’t stay in business if they work for free or spend thousands of dollars that they don’t have on marketing or websites or branding — but understanding these realities doesn’t require business skills so much as common sense.
But what concerns me more about the growing emphasis on business is that in doing so, we forget what makes us unique as lawyers and worse, lose an opportunity to do what really matters. Consider, for example, St. Louis, Missouri small firm lawyer, Tony Sestric, who passed away May 27, 2012. According to this write-up:
Sestric had a small law firm, usually with one or two partners. His cases seldom generated front-page stories. Friends recalled how he told clients to pay what they could, when they could.
Some showed their appreciation by bringing homemade pies to his home.
Sestric’s generosity didn’t stop at his clients, though. Though he wasn’t wealthy, he also paid for his receptionist and secretary of more than 20 years, Nancy Troutman, to attend law school. Troutman graduated from a four-year part-time program in 1997. Sestric also supported other women in the law, working to “get more women to be lawyers,” and financially supporting a long-time female friend’s campaign for city attorney — even though her office didn’t have the funds to pay Sestric for his consulting work after she was elected.
A business coach probably surely would have flunked Sestric on law practice management. Don’t take clients who can’t pay, they would have emphasized. Don’t invest money in support staff unless she can bring in business to make the investment worthwhile. Don’t throw away money on politics unless you can get work down the line. And heaven forbid, don’t help others who may serve as competition enter the profession.
But even though Sestric may not have been the best businessman or entrepreneur, he was something far greater: a lawyer in the best sense. Isn’t Sestric’s legacy the kind that you want to leave behind?