Solo is the New Black: How Helping Solo Attorneys Helps the Legal Profession

This post is part of the MyShingle Solos summer series which will run between June 17 and July 3, 2014. 

adamsherwin This post is written by MyShingle Guest Blogger Adam Sherwin

Quick: what are the two biggest challenges facing the legal profession today?  Answers will vary, but I am going to guess that many would agree with me on my two choices: 1) lack of legal work for new and unemployed attorneys and 2) a rising demand for affordable legal services.

For too long, we have treated these problems separately.  Newly graduated and unemployed attorneys usually get the standard career advice for finding legal jobs: network, send out job applications, and volunteer.  Nothing wrong with this, but if such an approach was really successful, we would expect to see more lawyers employed in meaningful jobs, which, unfortunately, is not the case.

And to deal with the second main problem in the legal profession, our approach typically consists of encouraging overworked attorneys to do more pro bono legal work and support funding for legal aid services.  Again, good steps, but if this were enough, the problem would be solved.

As a new solo attorney, I’ve become convinced that helping attorneys go solo is the best way to help the legal profession.  Not only would this help hard-working attorneys to find meaning, fulfilling work, it would also expand legal services to those who really need it.

Consider this:  attorneys in large cities who are in need of legal work often take on document review jobs, paying $30-$40/hr.  Not only is this a difficult salary to support one’s self and pay student loans, this is the type of work that, often, will not lead to greater opportunities down the road.  What’s a better alternative?  Going solo.  I’ve met many, many potential clients in need of legal help who are willing to pay much more than $30-$40/hour for legal services.  Not only would these attorneys be making a better salary, but they would also be getting the kind of legal experience that opens greater doors in the future.  Clients, in turn, would benefit from a greater availability of affordable legal services.

Many view solo practice as consisting of unfulfilling legal work, but I found just the opposite is true.  In my main practice area of foreclosure defense, I often deal with issues of property law, civil procedure, constitutional law, and torts.  I’ve done several jury trials and I’m presently working on several appeals.  In short, I’ve gotten better experience as a solo attorney than I have at any other legal job I’ve had, and I have no doubt others can do the same.

Another fear of going solo is lack of experience.  This is a legitimate concern, but take this to heart: passion is always in fashion.  A young lawyer who is willing to work hard and learn can do just as well as a seasoned, veteran attorney.  Moreover, law is a broad, broad profession, and once an attorney finds their niche, it won’t take longer for a new attorney to become experienced.  Attorneys going solo can help make this happen by volunteering, finding a mentor, and investing time in self-education.

Much more needs to be done to support solos.  Here’s a few things that established solos can do to make this happen:

  1. Support from Law Schools:  Most law school do not even mention solo practice as an option for graduating 3Ls, let alone offer a course in law practice management.  Law schools need to do a better job of discussing solo practice as opportunity after law school.  No, this career choice is not for everyone, but it is a great option for many law students who would not otherwise consider it.  Those of us who have succeeded as solos need to encourage our law schools to give solo practice the recognition it deserves.
  2. Mentors:  New solos can also benefit from the help of experience lawyers in their area of practice.  We need to encourage experienced attorneys to volunteer their time in helping new members of our profession go out on their own.
  3. Office Space:  Office space is a big impediment for those starting out of their own.  Options like share space and coworking arraignments are great options for new attorneys, but establish solo and small firm attorneys, when possible, should consider letting new solos use their offices in exchange for low rent or office support services.

Too much is being written today about the negative aspects of the legal profession and lack of growth opportunities in our field.  We solos can—and should—do our part to change this perception.

Attorney Sherwin is a solo attorney based in Somerville, MA and licensed in Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont.  He focuses his practice in foreclosure defense, landlord/tenant law, and property/land use.