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.