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Who you calling unethical, Warren Boroson? Please stop picking on solo lawyers!

In an era of  lawyer bashing,NJ Columnist Warren Boroson’s piece Why Every Middle Class Family Needs a Lawyer  could have been an important educational reminder why lawyers still matter.  And while in truth, Boroson’s article makes that case, Boroson does a far greater disservice by advising readers to “avoid solo practitioners” when hiring lawyers.

Boroson’s reasons for steering clear of solos are two fold.  Citing an unidentified lawyer expert (note to Boroson:  if a source isn’t willing to give a name, he ain’t worth quoting), Boroson notes that “solos specialize in fairly narrow fields and opt to be independent.” Specialization, however, is all the more reason to bring in a solo – earlier in the column, Boroson himself recommends seeking out a lawyer who “specializes in what you need.”  Moreover, because many solos do specialize, they’re forced to build relationships with  highly skilled lawyers in other practice areas to whom they can refer cases.  When clients go to a general practice firm, the real estate partner is going to send a case down the hall to Mr. Divorce, irrespective of whether he’s ever seen the inside of the courtroom – because the client and his dollars will stay in the firm.  By contrast, a solo real estate lawyer is more likely to refer clients to a first rate divorce lawyer based on merit since most jurisdictions don’t allow referral fees for these types of matters.

As for independence, why’s that a negative?  Do you want a criminal defense lawyer who’s afraid to argue assertively for a client because he doesn’t want to offend the judge?  Do you want a PI lawyer who’s afraid to sue the major restaurant and corporate donor in town because it may cause the PI lawyer to lose business?  Only a big law attorney would criticize independence in a lawyer.

But Boroson’s other reason for avoiding solos is far worse:  he claims that “solos have lower ethical standards” than lawyers in partnerships.  Say what? 

For starters, it’s well documented that bars disproportionately go after solos for ethical breaches (either perceived or real) while treating big fry more leniently.  I’ve blogged about that problem  here and it’s even the subject of a law review piece  But what really burns me about Boroson’s comment is that solo and small firm lawyers, yes, Greenfield,  Tannebaum , Bennett  and Turkewitz  are single-handedly patrolling the ethics of the blogosphere.  Along with these four big guns, I and solo colleagues like  Jamison Koehler, Wells Law Office and no-longer-solo-but-still-small  Eric Mayer  and others are co-defendants; sued by one of New Jersey’s finest because we called him out on ethics and he  sued us for defamation!. Yes, you’ll find big law firms in the case, but only on retainer, defending some of the larger media players.  You won’t find any big law firm defendants because none felt it worth their while to comment on the ethical practices of a lawyer who jeopardized the liberty of a criminal defendant.

So, Mr. Boronson – the next time you tell members of the public not to hire solos, please do your research first.  Because nowhere in the legal profession will you find lawyers as independent and dedicated and  heroic as the solo.