Posted By Cliff Tuttle | November 5, 2011
This is the second in a series of reviews of Carolyn Elefant’s 2011-2012 edition of Solo by Choice. This is not a synopsis, but a commentary. If you want to know what Carolyn says on the subject — and if you are reading this post you probably should — you should read the book.
Chapter One lists seven compelling arguments for starting your own practice: Autonomy, Practical Experience; To Feel Like a Lawyer; Flexibility; To Own not Loan Your Talent; Opportunity to Innovate; Career Satisfaction. They are, to some degree, the same reasons why anyone might choose to work for self over another, but on steroids.
Law is a profession and, as such, it is practiced by individuals, even when they are associated in a group practice. It cannot be any other way. The relationship with a client is personal – one on one. When a lawyer delivers an argument in court, it is one lawyer speaking, not a law firm.
While the advantages of group practice can be easily observed, the disadvantages are more subtle. Sometimes the interests of the firm, as perceived by its management, are at cross-purposes with those of the client. And then there is the drumbeat of the constant pressure to bill. The firm has bills to pay, big ones. It has a payroll, a big one. Every cent must eventually be paid by clients of the firm. That reality can lead to more conflict.
Solo lawyers and small firms have bills, too. But they are smaller. This enables them to charge lower fees and to avoid running the meter when there is no benefit to the client, just to keep up cash flow. It also enables a solo or small firm to charge a flat fee when a larger firm cannot or will not take that risk.
Clients love flat fees, and why shouldn’t they? It gives them certainty. Anyone who has been a frequent client of law firms has had the experience of hourly charges piling up until they meet and exceed the value of the case. As an associate in a law firm, you may be powerless to keep this from happening and perhaps, losing the client. As the proprietor of a one-person law firm, you always have that choice. You have the right to make it your policy to never send a bill you wouldn’t pay if the roles were reversed. And if you do, your client will respect you.
In Solo by Choice, the experiences, comments and advice of numerous solos are included throughout the book and especially in a Companion Guide, sold separately, that explores practical spin off and how-to questions in depth. The Companion Guide is like a round table discussion by a panel lawyers and has the advantage of a rich and diverse input. They are identified by name and detailed biography, giving weight and meaning to their responses. Their responses to the question “Why Did You Decide to Solo?” cover all of the bases, including the negative ones.
Solo practice is not for everyone. For many it is a forced alternative, not the preferred one, driven by the lack of job opportunity. But at least it was available. (In many fields, working for yourself is not a practical opportunity.) The lawyers quoted in the Companion Guide who found their way into solo practice under less than ideal circumstances also found a way to make it work and even prosper. Read on and they will tell you how.
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