This is one of my favorite scenes from A Civil Action . Billed as a book (and movie) about a class action by an underdog lawyer against a major corporation, A Civil Action is also, somewhat unintentionally, one of the very best books about solo practice, covering the tumults and the triumphs and the dichotomous perception of solo as hero and bottom feeder.
In this excerpt, the author, Jonathan Harr captures the magical part of solo practice – when you team up with people who inspire you and find the work you feel like you were meant to do. Here, Kevin Conway — a Georgetown law grad who left a lucrative career as a sixth year associate at a big law firm and opened a fledgling law practice handling petty-ante cases that equally bored him — recalls his first meeting with Jan Schlictmann, the book’s protagonist:
Kevin used to [say] “There’s no passion in my life. He was bored with what he was doing. Then Jan burst into the office…He was overpowering…Kevin said “Jan’s exactly what you hope you’re going to be when you get out of law school…[The two] worked together everyday. In the evening they’d go downstairs to the Emperor of China restaurant on Tremont Street for dinner and come back to the office and work some more…[when one case didn’t settle], Conway and Schlictmann prepared for trial. It was an Essex County case, on the north shore of Massachusetts…They rented a room at a cheap motel near the Essex County Courthouse. They lived there for two weeks, amid piles of lawbooks, medical texts and legal pads. On a bureau was a portable typewriter on which Schlictmann typed last-minute motions. They ate their meals at a diner next to the motel, keeping company with long-haul truck drivers. They worked until two or three o’clock in the morning and then got up to go to court. Conway felt punchy from lack of sleep but he also felt exhilarated. “Working with Jan” Conway said of that time, “Was the difference between being alive and being dead.” (The jury awarded their client $492,000).
Isn’t that what we’re all seeking when we start a law practice? Purposeful challenging work that matters and engages, like-minded colleagues and financial reward. Whenever I question why I’ve chosen this path (which I’ve been doing lately), I return to that passage and remind myself.
What’s the best day that you ever had in your practice? Or do you work with someone who equally inspires you, or opened up an opportunity for you as Schlictmann did for Conway. I would love to hear your experiences.