A few weeks back, CNN reported on the demise of the solo physician, with the report predicting that within two years, 75 percent of new doctors will be employed by hospitals. While the cost of doing business for doctors is on the rise (technology can cut long-term costs but doesn’t come cheap), reimbursements from insurance providers are holding steady or declining. And while the article doesn’t mention the increased burden of student loans, there’s no doubt that heavy debt makes steady hospital salaries more appealing to a new grad than the ups and downs of solo medical practice.
Still, while hospital employment offers an option to physicians who want a steady salary and schedule, the demise of solo physician practice has the AMA and other health care experts worried. Most obviously, in rural areas with few hospitals, there aren’t enough independent doctors to serve the population. In addition, fewer independent doctors also
decreases physician autonomy since doctors have less independence working for a small group, and interferes with doctors’ ability to interact and build relationships physicians with patients.
The same concerns that flow from the gradual extinction-by acquisition of solo doctors in the medical profession are evident in both law-related blogging and broader legal profession. Ten years ago, when law blogs first came on the scene, they served as a source of independent commentary and debate and general musings about politicals (like InstaPundit, law practice and the legal profession. To some extent, this type of independent voice and thought has blossomed even more with Greenfield, Turkewitz, Randazza et. al, Tannebaum, Bennett, etc..(OK – all my co-defendants in Rakofsky v. Internet) but the solo genre bloggers are rapidly fading, being replaced by group publications like Westlaw Insider, Attorney at Work, Solo Small Firm Innovation. Don’t get me wrong; I like all of these blogs well enough (and I even write for SSF Innovation, the first of these enterprises) and they offer some decent practice management advice. But while useful, they lack the edge and the spark that can only come from an independent voice (unless, there’s some cohesiveness, as there is at Volokh, where there’s interaction between the Conspiracy’s different members).
At the same time, I understand the problem. Blogs need regular readers, and with a group blog, there’s always someone, somewhere who can put out content. Solo law bloggers get busy or take vacations and burn out, and when output isn’t constant, readers go elsewhere. Yet, in the law and solo world, particularly, we need people who push the envelope. We need solo and small firm lawyers willing to challenge convention, and solo and small firm lawyers equally willing to push back. We need new solo and small firm lawyers willing to question and imagine the next generation of the profession, and experienced solo and small firm lawyers patient enough to respond or to shine the light on unethical practices. Solo and small firm practice isn’t just about the nuts and bolts of starting a law firm – we are the soul of this profession and the reason that the judicial system works. Yet blogging about the soul of being a solo can’t come from a group blog; those kind of writings require an independent voice that is dying with the proliferation of group blogs.
Likewise, the law will always need solo and independent lawyers willing to take the kinds of cases and clients that others turn away or to build long-term relationships with clients and provide bespoke services beyond those served up on a cookie cutter menu by non-lawyer providers or large, branded networks that sap lawyers of any independence. Imagine a legal system where a non-lawyer body would make a decision about whether a client should fight criminal charges or not, or told a deserving parent seeking partial custody to give up their claims.
That is how our system will look unless we can continue to assure the survival of solo and small firm lawyers.