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Loneliness and Isolation: Hazards of Solo Practice

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Ironically, one of the greatest benefits of starting a law firm – being able to work alone – may actually be one of the greatest hazards of solo practices, as this Q&A from the Massachusetts Bar Association website points out (thanks to my fellow blogger David Giacalone for sending this article my way).  Here’s what the post says in response to a concern from a solo practitioner about a lack of motivation and “practice blahs:”

You are describing a problem very common to sole practitioners, who must be their own primary source of motivation and discipline on a daily, ongoing basis. Persisting in that way is difficult for anyone, maybe more so for lawyers like yourself who may enjoy interacting with others.  The problem that you describe may, in fact, be attributable to the relative isolation common to sole practice. Other practice venues, such as law firms and corporate offices, offer not only accountability but also at least some collegial and social contact[…]In some cases it may also be possible to establish some kind of collegial arrangement to hold each other accountable for timely completion of tasks. Though some work better alone than others, we are all fundamentally interdependent beings, and may derive a boost from such non-adversarial affiliations.

I have to admit that I’m a little bit of a recluse by nature – you know, the kid on the playground reading a book in the corner instead of socializing, the person who likes seeing movies alone and can’t stand attending the firm Christmas party.  But even I need interaction every once in a while.   My own personal boost comes from the monthly solosez lunches we have here in D.C.  (though Lex Think was a great rejuvenator too).  The solosez lunches are held at a restaurant rather than a sterile bar conference space and everyone pays their own way, so if it’s a slow month, you can still attend for the price of a cup of coffee.   Though I only get around to the lunches every few months, there are always old friends to catch up with and new people to meet.  We trade gossip, war stories and practice tips and we go around with introductions at the beginning so everyone knows who everyone else is without the awkwardness of asking.  But sometimes, even if I’m swamped with work and tired of being alone in my office, it helps to work at the library or a coffee house (I know of several with free wireless) just for a change of scenery.  These are just some of the tips that I discussed in my chapter “How Not to Be Lonely” for the upcoming edition of the ABA’s Book, Flying Solo,

  • doubleheader

    Carolyn Elefant writes about the occasional loneliness of the solo practitioner,

  • Anonymous

    I have found this to be quite an issue. I look forward to Carolyne’s upcoming chapter, but would love an exchange of ideas on how people deal with this issue. Escaping to the library or local wifi panera generally works (usually) as does talking on the telephone. What do others do?

  • Hi Carolyn,
    I suspect that the feeling of isolation is part of what leads so many solos –lawyer and non-lawyer alike — to spend time on the Internet blogging and interacting.
    I too work solo, but I feel as if I am interacting all day. It’s because I am interacting — online.
    Between email, instant messenger, Skype, regular phone calls, blog and forum comments — it’s all interaction of one sort or another. Even if I never see anyone except my hubbie and the cats and maybe the Fedex guy all day.

  • Mike Lubin

    The article on being lonely as a solo was very shallow. I have practiced law since 1972. I was a judicial law clerk for a year, an associate and partner in a small law firm for 10 years, a solo for 20 years, of counsel to a law firm for 8 years and back to the solo practice for the last three years. In my opinion, nothing beats being a solo. You don’t have to deal with the politics of a firm, nobody is looking over your shoulder to check out your work product, you can decide which cases to take and not to take and if you settle or obtain a significant jury verdict in a contingency fee case you can have a really good year. The way to avoid being a monk is to share space with a firm or a group of other solos, simple as that.

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