I’m willing to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t intend to trivialize the accomplishments of small business with his controversial you didn’t build that speech. Still, for solo and start up lawyers, the President’s words sting.
While there are plenty of solo lawyers who embraced the concept of hanging a shingle, many others (myself included) have done so, and are doing so because there are few other options. Many solos never had the helpful law school professor to make a connection for them in the work world to help them find a job or a law firm willing to take a chance on employment. But rather than cut and run from the law or default on student loans (that Romney, no prize himself, probably regards as of a “government handout”), we solos stood our ground, carving out a practice for ourselves where none previously existed. Along the way, we give as good as — maybe better than we get — by serving clients even beyond what good lawyering requires and contributing to the economy by outsourcing to contract lawyers and virtual assistants.
That’s not to say that we solos haven’t had support along the way. Many of us have had supportive spouses or partners or parents who made starting up easier by paying the mortgage or health insurance or babysitting the kids and cooking dinner so we could work late at the office or spend time networking. Yet unlike Obama, whose speech implied that others deserve the credit for the accomplishments of small business, most of those (like my husband and now daughters) who support us solos behind the scenes would never boast about their role, but would likely say that we work much harder than they do.
While many at big law firms still prosper (though far fewer than before and those who do work for it, no doubt), most of us solo lawyers will never take home $700,000+ in profits annually or own fourteen cars and a stable full of horses. All we solos have is the satisfaction of knowing that everything we accomplished, we did almost entirely on our own through doggedness and sheer force of will. The President’s comments deprive us of even that accomplishment.