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Solo & Small Law Firms

Should You File Your Own Pleadings?

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I have really enjoying this blog, Solo in Minneapolis, even if it is anonymous. In some ways, it reminds me of Peter Olson’s similarly titled, Solo in Chicago in that both authors are conscientious, work-a-day solos (I mean this in the most complimentary way) who generously share solid practical advice about their journey to building a law firm. Last week, Solo in Minneapolis recommends that solo lawyers should file their own pleadings so that they can get to know court staff.

Initially, I flinched when I read this advice. Between e-filing and messenger services, up until last February when a blizzard forced me to trek DC Circuit to meet a statutory filing deadline, it had been at least five years – maybe more – since I physically made a filing myself. And even back in the day when I filed my papers myself because I had no choice, I chafed; figuring that filing papers was a waste of my time as a lawyer and a matter better outsourced to others.

But Solo in Minneapolis makes me reconsider. Because when I spent time at the court, I developed collegial relationship with the clerks at the DC Circuit (Superior Court was another matter entirely – they were way too surly!) who personally shepherded my motion to change a tight deadline that came up the day before my due date for my second daughter. In addition, if you’re a solo working out of the house or in an isolated office, trips to the clerks office can break up the day and provide needed human contact and even some levity (something I was reminded of when I was at the court last February and witnessed, first hand the infamous $65 million pants suit judge filing one of his final appeals).

Today for me, trips to the court clerks’ office (along with trips to the law library) are a luxury. My schedule is simply too busy and my office not sufficiently convenient — to enable me to justify in-personal filings. As I’ve written before, as our practices evolve, so too do the ways that we attract clients and build relationships with colleagues. Yet just because many of us pass through the salad days doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy them vicariously through the next generation of solos.

  • Joseph M. Flanders


    Thank you so much for the shout-out to my blog, Solo in Minneapolis. I just opened up Google Reader to see if there was anything interesting in the world of blogosphere. Lo! Carolyn Elefant has a post about my silly little blog. And, she says it’s good. I have been telling my wife all about you and your book is sitting next to me as I am writing this. My goodness, the irony! The really funny thing is that I have been emailing with Peter at Solo in Chicago about how much I like his blog and how I stole his blog name.

    The world is a different place now when people in such far-flung places can connect with each other so easily. Again, thank you so much.

    “Your willingness to speak on my behalf confirms my belief in the community of artists.” – Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams.

  • Christopher Miller

    Hi Carolyn,

    I would think that a new solo is probably having a tough time filling up the day with billable hours and good marketing opportunities. In that situation I do not see the harm in using hours that are not going to those purposes for trips to the courthouse.

    Here in my sleepy neck of the woods, I often file my own court papers and often see other attorneys doing the same. In addition, I am a relatively new transplant to SC (from NY), so I do not mind at all spending some time (I have driven up to an hour on occasion) to see parts of the state that I would not otherwise see, and to get my eyes on the courthouses in other counties. I even once brought my wife and three year old and made a day of it, complete with lunch and a bit of tourism. I see the benefit of doing this. Perhaps in five years when I am (hopefully) more busy working for clients, I will do this less, but for now I am okay with it.

    PS-Thank you for commenting on my blog as well. I am certain I have commented on some of your posts in the past. I’ll admit I did a double take when I saw your name on the comment.

  • I suppose once the courts I practice in have e-filing then it will become a non-issue…I heard a rumor that by late summer that will be a reality in the Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois.

    Personally I think you should never waste a trip to court ONLY to file. BUT, honestly, I still file myself in conjunction with other court dates just since it’s 5 minutes and I’m already in the building.

    Solo in Chicago had its BigLaw general counsel send a strongly worded cease/desist letter to this Solo in Minneapolis blog regarding trademark infringement…kidding.


  • Twenty years ago, my mentor told me that I should never send anyone to collect my mail at the post office (box) and I should always do my own filings. Great advice! Even though a lot of my mail comes electronically now, I know exactly what is going on with my practice, and the court clerks helped me immensely along the way. … I don’t do filings now because of the nature of my practice, but for those that think that doing your own filings is a waste of time, think again. When I practiced in the bankruptcy courts in Pennsylvania I often ran into some of the big shot lawyers doing their own filings or checking up on a case. Maybe that’s why they became big shots?

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