If You Play the Part of a Solo Lawyer Long Enough, You Can Be One Too!

I’m only just now getting around to commenting on this recent Notes from the Breadline post by Roxana St. Thomas at Above the Law on the drawbacks of solo practice.  Essentially, St. Thomas focuses on the tougher aspects of going solo, from the potential costs associated with office space to figuring out how to choose a practice area and having to come up with ways to market the practice.  Solo by Choice addresses all of those topics, as do a number of the commenters and I won’t repeat those points here.

Moreover, let’s face it:  it’s not lack of knowledge about dealing with these nuts-and-bolts practical issues that is standing between St. Thomas and a solo practice.  Rather, St. Thomas’ perception of herself as unsuited for solo practice holds her back.  She writes:

I could play the part of solo practitioner/office manager for a short time, I do not believe that I could actually be those things. As Joan Cusack explained in Working Girl, “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.”

Like St. Thomas, many experts also believe that there’s some kind of litmus test for a successful solo – certain personality traits or propensities that make someone naturally suited for solo practice or not.  As for me, I don’t buy the concept that certain lawyers are inherently cut out for solo practice.  Instead, the very act of starting a practice profoundly changes us, so much so that we become the kind of lawyer we never dreamed we could be.

In my own case, when I started my firm I was a recluse.  I never ate lunch with co-workers, preferring the privacy of my closed office.  I chafed at the thought of company picnics and social activities where I’d be consigned to idle chit-chat and would never have taken the initiative to call someone up and invite them to lunch.  Frequently, I’d grow bored with work and have trouble following through and I was careless with my proofing.

Yet something about starting a firm changed me.  Instead of running from company or dreading social or networking activities, I embrace them.  I take pride in my work and serving clients in a way that I never felt when I worked for others.  I am a completely different person and lawyer (not to mention generally, a far happier one) than the one who reluctantly started a law firm 15 years ago for want of anything better.  And it’s solo practice that changed me, not the other way around.

Life changes us; it’s a basic fact.  Some of us can’t imagine ever being monogamous until we get married and then the thought of cheating never occurs to us again.  Or we can’t ever see ourselves cleaning dirty diapers or joyfully waking up at night to feed the baby, but when the time comes, we do it.  We’d never write off a life experience because we think that we’re not suited for it.  So why do we indulge those thoughts when it comes to our careers?

Trust me, even if you believe that you’re not suited to start a law firm, you don’t have to change and you shouldn’t avoid solo practice because of it.  Instead, all you have to do is take the leap of faith and get started and down the road in six or eight months, you will very likely find that you’re not just playing the role of a solo, but that you’ve really, truly become one.