In the nearly ten years that I’ve been blogging at MyShingle, solo and small firm practice has never really been what you’d call buzz-worthy. Sure, there was that time when the economy first tanked that suddenly solo was the new soho , or when it seemed as if every blog on the beat – from established giants like Westlaw a big-law tabloid , to Above the Law – was adding a solo sub-category. But at the end of the day, the solo-resurgence was more about selling product or expanding market share to make up for depletions caused by big firm layoffs than generating real excitement about the promise of solo practice. Not surprisingly, the legal profession’s heady little affair with with solo cooled when folks realized that solos are tough customers when it comes to sales — for various reasons ranging from fierce independence to lack of resources to just plain cheapness.
These days, within the legal profession and out, the latest flavor of the month is legal start up. Some of these new upstarts – like cloud practice management providers or cost effective legal research like Fast Case offer quality products, sensibly priced that enable solos and small firms to improve the level of service that we provide to clients. Other products (legal auctions, pay per click schemes) are pure garbage that force lawyers to cut their rates or give service away for free in the name of expanding access to law while the company founders take millions in VC funding to the bank. Yet even normally staid academics and law schools are all jazzed up about technology and the law, with unconferences designed to reinvent legal practice.
Meanwhile, they overlook what don’t solos and small firms. There’s so much innovation that comes out of the solo and small firm community that goes unnoticed, because we don’t call it innovation. Instead, we solos call “innovation” doing what it takes to serve clients or resourcefulness or ingenuity or just plain commonsense. If you don’t believe me, look through the pages of MyShingle for examples of solo and small firm lawyers focusing on new trends or delivering legal services in new ways.
Maybe we need to rebrand solo practice. Let’s call ourselves lawyers who launch (lawnch?) or start-up’s, which after all is what we are. Maybe then, the solo and small firm sector of the legal profession could attract the attention and rich scholarship and support that seems forever focused on big law and Silicon Valley.