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Seriously, The Weakest Article on The Cons of Solo Practice That I’ve Read in A Long Time

by Carolyn Elefant on February 3, 2014 · 12 comments

in MyShingle Solo, Planning a Practice

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I’ll be the first to admit that there are lots of reasons not to start a solo law practice.  If the law bores you, you loathe working with clients (or conversely, view them as “customers”) or you can’t afford a computer, phone and malpractice insurance, then solo practice probably isn’t a good idea. But the arguments against soloing set out in this article by Jennifer Ator, Thinking of Going Solo? Think Carefully, courtesy of the ABA LPM Magazine, are quite frankly, idiotic and reflect poorly on the capabilities of the ABA’s Law Practice Division which supposedly assists lawyers in making an informed decision about solo practice.

The article identifies three challenges of solo practice: isolation, lack of collaborators and having to handle everything on your own. And to be fair, while these are certainly challenges, you’d think that the author, who is a member of the ABA’s LPM Council, would be familiar with the multitude of solutions.

With regard to the isolation, Ator writes that solos are all alone, without anyone with whom they can celebrate a victory, commiserate over an unfair judge or nasty opposing counsel or share a defeat. But solo practice isn’t the equivalent of solitary confinement.  Solos frequently build relationships and form friendships with other lawyers in the community, which mitigate against isolation. And with social media, lawyers can find places on line (both public, for boasting, and private for sharing more confidential news) to interact with other lawyers all over the country. Even the ABA provides a great service in this regard – Solosez – an online list serve of more than 3000 attorneys who share their victories and frustrations about law practice daily. These options are far preferable to complaining to the same small team of coworkers over and over again because no one person is burdened and the solo receives the benefits of multiple sources of support.

Next, Ator argues that solos lack collaborators for projects, making the points that two heads are better than one. And while that’s certainly true, solos can turn to colleagues and online contacts to collaborate. In fact, many solos who handle a case that involves multiple disciplines may team up with one or two other lawyers to provide that added support. As for details like proofing for typos, Ator mentions that at one of her former firms, “there was a policy that nothing went out the door without two lawyers reviewing it for typographical errors.” I doubt that in today’s economy, firms have the luxury of billing for two lawyers to review a document.  Most solos find it far more cost effective to hire a virtual assistant, paralegal or editor on an hourly basis to handle these administrative tasks. 

Finally, Ator notes that solos effectively “pump their own gas” since they don’t have a telecommunications or IT department or secretary to handle these matters. Ator then goes on to completely dismiss use of cloud providers:

There are a lot of document/case management companies out there, such as Rocket Matter, Clio, HoudiniEsq and VLOTech. Keeping all my information in the cloud seems too risky to me. It’s bad enough that I keep my email, and my billing and time software in the cloud. I would rather just place it in Dropbox and delete it when done. While these cloud-based software companies simulate the feeling of BigLaw, it just seems too hazardous. By putting everything in the cloud, from forms to matters to documents, it just seems like you are opening your filing cabinet for the world to see. Not that these services are not perfect for some lawyers. I reviewed the terms of service for HoudiniEsq, and it limits access to “authorized data center personal [sic].” (I am going to assume the word should be personnel.) Which is exactly my point. How confidential is information to which an authorized Houdini representative has access?

Yet at the same time, Ator admits that she uses the cloud and transfers information to Dropbox (probably one of the worst options from a security perspective). Moreover, Ator fails to recognize that the ABA itself sanctioned use of the cloud as part of its Ethics 20/20 initiative, along with fifteen other states. The cloud obviates the need for the kind of support personnel that most solos lack – and indeed, that many firms are even cutting back on. Yet some lawyers will read Ator’s piece and take her at her word on the evils of the cloud, even though her opinions are inconsistent and unsupported.

Look, if this article were a blog post, I probably wouldn’t be as critical. But this stuff comes from an ABA publication that comes with a level of legitimacy that many blogs don’t have – and which many lawyers still heavily rely on as a source of information. In 2014, surely the ABA can do better than this.

  • Jeena

    I hope she decided to retract the entire article and start over – perhaps doing some research and interviewing some solos before she touches her keyboard.

  • Alison Monahan

    How is using Dropbox not using the cloud? My head just exploded.

    Great response!

  • Laura

    Dropbox and delete? Because once you delete something, it can never be recovered, right? Surprised this passed ABA editors.

  • Susan Cartier Liebel

    You’re right, Carolyn. If it was a blog post, why bother. But coming from the mother ship? It’s a real damn shame. It’s almost like it was written in 1984 instead of 2014.

  • The Kielich Law Firm

    I guess she didn’t get the second attorney to read this before it went to print?

  • Lloyd

    The ABA, as with most bar organizations, do not see it as part of their mission to represent solo attorneys. What you end up getting are people at larger firms trying to convince their peers that the world will end if they become solos.

  • Jameika Mangum

    I don’t think it’s the ABA’s job to sit around and censor legal articles about solo law practice. It’s important to have balance. Ms. Ator is entitled to her opinion about solo law practice. I love being a solo practitioner. If someone were to google “solo law practice,” this website is at the top of the google searches. I don’t believe Ms. Ator’s article can steer someone away from solo law practice.

  • Michael Eisenberg

    Carolyn, you have to question the perspective from which she writes. She is sitting high and mighty from a perch of a big law firm. She has only second hand experience from watching others go out into the field (and apparently none of them ask her for help, bounce ideas off of, etc.). Once she has done it for a couple of years (or eight, like I have) then maybe she can give her two cents.

  • papjimmie

    I quit the ABA years ago after I inquired (as a solo) about a specific issue of law and the ABA’s basic response was we don’t deal with solo’s…..

    IMHO the origin of this article occurred as follows: Law firm seeing less business dollars coming in instructs understaff to do something to discourage clients from resorting to solo’s; write an article dissing solo’s, we’ll see that the ABA publishes it.

  • Battery Bail Bonds

    Thanks for the information “Article identifies three challenges of solo practice: isolation, lack of collaborators and having to handle everything on your own.”, great post..

  • Chad Busk

    Great refutation of a shaky premise, Carolyn, thanks.

  • Law Office of Heidi Meinzer

    I just left a firm of about 40 attorneys to set up a solo practice. I share office space with some of my former public defender buddies, and although I have a different practice now, they are always here for me. When I need subject matter expertise, I have plenty of small firm and solo attorneys who I trust and can turn to. And my head exploded when the only cloud based program she supported was Dropbox — very useful, but the least secure option. Bizarre. Got me thinking twice about whether to send in my ABA dues.

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