Rejecting the Solo Practice Straw-Man


Launching a career as a solo practice attorney is risky. And lawyers hate risk. For that reason, then, I guess it’s not much of a surprise that the ABA’s Law Practice Management magazine published this article: “Thinking of Going Solo? Think Carefully.”

I am going to be gracious—the article is not helpful.

I agree with the author that one should think carefully before striking out as a solo practice attorney. Come to think of it, one should think carefully about everything. Unfortunately, however, the author has not taken her own advice. The choice that she is advising against is not really the choice to go solo. She has built a solo practice straw-man out of her own (uninformed) misgivings about solo practice. And then, as builders of straw men are wont to do, she tears it apart. So let’s think a little more carefully.

I’ll address her (unhelpful) advice as she gives it:

“It’s Called Flying Solo for a Reason.”

Yes, but it’s not called “Flying in Total Isolation,” either.

The truth is that a solo practice lawyer can have as much or as little interaction and collaboration with other lawyers as desired. The choice to isolate oneself from others isn’t tied to firm structure; if you want to be alone, you can be alone in an office with 20 other lawyers. And the opposite is true: the fact that you happen to office alone does not prevent a lawyer from maintaining a thriving relationship with any number of other lawyers.

I found this statement to be particularly odd:

“When you want to vent about how unfairly another lawyer or a judge has treated you, you have to tell your goldfish or—if you even have one—your secretary.”

In my experience, even people who are not licensed attorneys are able to understand things like fairness and empathy.

“Flying Solo Means No Copilot or Navigator.”

This is more of the same stuff and thus subject to more of the same summary rejection.

As a lawyer, you MUST collaborate with others. You can do that in any firm structure if you seek it out.

“When You Fly Solo, You Pump Your Own Gas.”

This objection is more important than the others, but the metaphor is clunky and overstated.

To extend the metaphor a little further, a solo practice lawyer does pump the gas, i.e. the gas station isn’t full service. You’ve got to worry about terribly onerous things like opening your car door, swiping a debit card, and making sure that you choose the right grade of fuel.

I trust that my sarcasm isn’t lost on the reader. These are not onerous. The solo lawyer doesn’t have to dig his or her own wells—this is 2014! With a little upfront planning, the solo lawyer can rely on the hard work of others and use their skills to automate most of a law practice. Again, a startling quote:

“By putting everything in the cloud, from forms to matters to documents, it just seems like you are opening your filing cabinet for the world to see.”

If you think that your files are more secure in your office than they are in a good, cloud-based servicer, it is true that you should not try to be solo practitioner. You shouldn’t try to be anything, really, because you have no idea what is going on.

So Let’s Think Carefully about Solo Practice

Solo practice is not for everyone, and it is difficult. But articles like this one distort that picture.

Here’s MyShingle’s similar take on the article.