GPSolo Magazine - December 2003
Voices of Experience
What is your background, and what inspired you to become a lawyer?
I began practicing law in 1975 in a seven-lawyer firm that specialized in complex business litigation. I loved the business side but felt the litigation practice was best left to those who enjoyed it. I left that firm and joined a ten-lawyer firm with a significant business and tax practice; when I left we had 42 lawyers and 35 support staff, and I’d been managing partner for five years. Managing lawyers is a lot like herding geese—lots of noise with little direction—and it left little time to practice law. I left in 1988 to open a small firm with another lawyer and now have a much higher quality of life, if not as much money.
What influenced your decision to pursue a general practice/solo/small firm career?
The tyranny of the billable hours requirements and the inflexible schedules, policies, and procedures found in large firms were not what I wanted in my professional life. My firm is now small enough that if things are getting tense, we can close the office for an afternoon and take everyone to a movie or a baseball game—which we do with some regularity.
On a scale of one to five (five equals nerd, one equals novice), how proficient would you rate yourself in the use and integration of technology into your practice?
Four. I have found that the more proficient I am in technology as a solo/small firm practitioner, the more competitive I can be with larger firms in delivering legal services to clients.
What changes has the use of technology brought to law practice in general, for better or worse?
Lawyers can now track time, billings, dockets, to-dos, etc., with greater ease and less error (and less risk of malpractice) than ever before. Document assembly, word processing, and knowledge management make practicing law much easier. However, technology has also increased clients’ and others’ expectations about turn-around time, which leaves less time for reflection.
What technological advance or purchase has made the biggest positive change in your practice, and why?
The computer on my desk. I cannot imagine an attorney or our office working efficiently without it.
What early lawyer experiences have helped you in your career?
Although I never wanted to do litigation, I found that my early work in that area has served me well and given me an invaluable perspective in business transactions.
Do you have any concerns about the proliferation and expansion of technology in the practice of law?
None whatsoever! If lawyers fail to move with business and society in general as technology advances, we will become dinosaurs and become extinct.
Who or what got you started with ABA and/or GP Section involvement?
I joined the ABA when I was a law student. I felt it was important that I be a member of the ABA if I was to become a part of the profession (not just become a licensed lawyer). I was always a member of the substantive law sections that I practiced in (Business, Real Property, etc.). I joined the Law Practice Management Section in 1983 when my management responsibilities at my old firm increased; I had no one to turn to or teach me what to do as a managing partner—and I liked the discounts on publications I needed. I joined the GP Section because it fits my current firm’s practice size and setting.
What can the ABA and/or GP Section do to be a good home to young lawyers in the electronic age?
Unlike those of us who started practicing law in the dark ages—pre-Lexis and Westlaw—young lawyers have been raised with technology as a tool, not a novelty. The ABA and all its sections should communicate with members using the technology that suits the member: paper for older members, electronic communications for those who use it. This can significantly reduce costs while increasing relevant communications.
What personality trait has served you best through the years?
Attention to detail. Lawyers can ill afford to be sloppy in their representation of clients, whether in the courtroom or in a transaction.
What advice would you give young lawyers?
- Find a mentor. A lawyer who practices in the area in which you are developing your expertise can help—not just with technical or legal issues but also with practice and professional development. A mentor doesn’t need to be in the same firm, just to agree to be accessible when you need one.
- Hiring an experienced legal assistant or secretary is the best money you will ever spend.
- Become active in the ABA and in a section. You will learn more from the sections you join and meet more people who can have an influence on your career in the ABA than anywhere else. Simply paying dues to the ABA without an active commitment on your part is a waste of money.