This post is part of the MyShingle Solos summer series which will run between June 17 and July 3, 2014.
This post is written by MyShingle Guest Blogger Anne Harvey
Young, would-be solo lawyers are an eccentric group—I know, because I used to be one. The year was 1991 and I couldn’t stand another minute of Big Law. So, I bought my first house, quit an excellent legal job, and started my own practice. I borrowed money, bought an expensive desk and embossed business cards, and I was free. I’ve been here ever since.
In retrospect, I was crazy to do what I did. Fortunately, crazy is a good trait for a person who decides to take on solo legal practice. I stand by crazy.
Over the years, I’ve learned that crazy doesn’t stop with success or failure. I’ve noted the eccentricities of other solo lawyers and discovered a pattern. Just as law school, undergrad, high school and kindergarten had cliques and politics, the solo bar operates with similar dynamics. The Breakfast Club has nothing on the personality types I’ve seen. So, in no particular order, here is a discussion of the four classic types of solo practitioners.
The Scholar boasts stellar academic credentials and is happy to recount, word for word, that time as a 1L when he triumphed over the Socratic method. This person spends inordinate amounts of time on obscure areas of law that are not, shall I say, within the purview of most solo lawyers. His knowledge cannot be contained so he engages in loud conversations in public where he corrects other people’s misconceptions about the law, their poor grammar and their faulty logic. He is happy to explain why he is right until he has driven the last listener from the room. This person, if a man, usually wears bow-ties and stripes; if a woman, she prefers long skirted business suits with flats. The Scholar somehow missed his calling to become a University professor and is frustrated by the advertising, aggressiveness and general boorishness of other solo lawyers. Sadly, he is seldom invited to parties or lunch a second time.
I say without malice that some solos simply cannot make it anywhere else. These are the lawyers who are not temperamentally suited to be employees or to work effectively with their fellow human beings. Their attendance is spotty, their clothes never fit and their secretary always just quit. They have no place else to go and never find a peer group or an area of law to master. Always in a lurch, they wander aimlessly amidst their own chaos but manage to escape disciplinary proceedings. These folks have a difficult journey.
This is the lawyer who jumps out of bed at 5, works out, writes an appellate brief from 7-1, meets three separate clients in the office, dictates for a couple hours, goes home, coaches soccer, stops at the organic grocer for fuel and finally catches a late plane to Vegas to gamble and drink, until his return Monday morning for an afternoon hearing. These folks enjoy extreme sports, high-powered cars, politics and spending, spending, spending! If they don’t kill themselves in their frantic activities, they can perform well indefinitely.
Law is not a profession to the Entrepreneur. It is a cut-throat business that he intends to dominate. He masters the lowest common denominator of lawyering and then gets on to that bottom line. He has a proven system for managing every office issue, from filing intake sheets to firing secretaries, and he is able to assume any of those roles in an instant. He succeeds in his cases by sheer force of personality as opposed to skill or much preparation. If it doesn’t pay, he doesn’t know about it. He is hard to meet because he eschews bar meetings, mentoring programs and other fluff. Shamelessly self-promoting, he adores on-line marketing. Don’t ask this lawyer for advice or friendship because he’s not about to aid the competition.
So Why Do I Do It?
I quit a very good job to be solo. I’ve turned down very good opportunities to stay solo. I’ve watched other lawyers come and go as solos and yet I remain solo.
I love it. I love making my own decisions and living or dying by their wisdom. I love having a niche (Family Law) and I love almost all of my clients. I love to write, I love to speak and I love to run a business. I love bringing dogs to my office and I love the color of my letterhead. Most of all, I love the freedom to be a headstrong, opinionated and hopefully compassionate lawyer as I see fit. I love being able to relax and do my work and avoid the high seriousness that permeates our profession. There is no other venue where I can find all of these benefits.
I started solo because I was crazy enough to try it. I stay solo because I love it enough to stay.
Anne Harvey is an OSBA Board Certified Specialist in Family Relations Law in southwest Ohio. She opened her first business back in fifth grade selling hand-knitted doll clothes to her fellow students, including the boys. Anne considers herself the consummate entrepreneur and tries hard to get along with people.