In 33 years as an attorney, I’ve practiced law in nearly every context there is: from solo practice to 100-member- plus firms, from serving as corporate in-house counsel to a post in county government. Nothing else I’ve done beats being a solo practitioner. While I don’t presume to speak for any of my colleagues, here are two hallmarks of my solo practice that make my work enjoyable and fulfilling.
Some lawyers would still rather be drawn and quartered than use e-mail or time & billing software, or deal with (or even recognize) PDF files. Today’s business and individual clients expect lawyers to be conversant in what has become basic communications technology. To survive in such a competitive field, lawyers must keep current enough to meet ethical obligations, while constantly improving efficiency in production and turnaround time on deliverables. In this environment, encrypted cloud storage, e-faxing, smart forms, online research and high-speed scanners are a solo’s best friends. Best of all, I don’t have to jump through hoops for Luddite partners and a firm finance committee before integrating that new scanner into my practice.
This is my byword, in both client communications and scheduling of appointments. Waiting on hold and drill- down menus on automated phone systems can be maddening, so unless I’m in conference, court or otherwise exclusively occupied, people who call to speak with me get me, and not only during ‘normal’ business hours. Ditto for e-mails and texts, yet I’m seldom inundated with communications. Folks know I’ll get back to them when I’m able and thus tend not to bug me. I also bill for all client communications and make that clear in my retainer letters, so clients’ brevity and restraint are motivated as much by economics as by good manners – at least after they get my first bill. When communicating with clients, I also avoid or explain legal jargon to the greatest extent possible so the usability of legal information conveyed reduces the need for multiple contacts with me to get the answers they need.
Solos, depending on areas of practice, enjoy a fair amount of flexibility to structure their practices any way they like, subject to court, municipal or administrative agency schedules. My own practice involves a high percentage of estate planning/administration and real estate work and I’m happy to schedule office conferences or home visits whenever they work best for my clients, including frequent nights and weekends. In turn, when I work a stretch of nights and weekends, I have no qualms about taking off a weekday to recharge my personal batteries, without attendance-taking, clock-watching partners breathing down my neck. Now that’s a perk most lawyers would agree is pretty much unbeatable.
Whether you’re a lone wolf or prefer to hunt with a pack, the practice of law can be rewarding and enjoyable. Being a solo in the 21st century means that ‘going it alone’ these days actually enhances a degree of ‘nimbleness’ in your law practice that can make the difference between obsolescence and survival. It’s up to the individual practitioner to recognize and leverage that advantage.