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Solo & Small Law Firms

A Supreme Solo No More

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As more law firm bloggers turn solo (including this one), Supreme small firm lawyer Tom Goldstein, bucks the trend with his recent announcement that he’s moving on to join a large firm.  I’ve got mixed feelings about this one.  On the one hand, Tom’s move is testament to my belief that solo practice can take you anywhere and create opportunities you’d have never had.  Prior to founding his firm in 1999, Tom worked at a large, then midsized firm where chances are, he’d have been lucky to argue one case before the Supreme Court.  On his own, as of May 2005, Tom has argued forteen, which has bought him unparalled experience that he’s used to write his own ticket at a large firm.  No reason why Tom’s model can’t work for any other lawyer toiling at biglaw – you can leave, develop a niche practice area and return on your own terms.

On the other hand, after reading Tom’s analysis
of trends in Supreme Court litigation, I couldn’t help but wonder about
the prospects for solo and small firm lawyers to ever achieve the dream
of a Supreme Court argument or whether a phenomenon like this one
is really a once-in-a-blue moon event.  There’s almost no way that a
solo or small firm lawyer can compete with either biglaw or clinic law
Supreme Court practice – the clinics, funded by law schools and powered
by super smart students, can afford to take cases for free.  And with
competition among large firms for a Supreme Court practice, they can
also afford to offer bargain basement rates (or work for free) for
clients who can’t pay just to add another Supreme Court case to their
roster.  (As anectodal evidence of this predatory trend, a solo
colleague of mine is representing a client whose case was granted cert
at the court and within hours, had received two calls offering to take
the case for free, so long as the firm would argue it).

None of this would be so bad, except that in most situations, many case
wouldn’t even be in play at the court were it not for the solo or small
firm attorney who took it and pursued it to begin with.  Seems that
there should be some options – like reasonably priced consulting or
second chair service – that a solo or small firm lawyer can use if he
wants to take his case to the next level.  I know that Goldstein’s firm
originally carved out this niche; I’m just not sure who’s going to replace it.

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