GPSOLO January/February 2009
From the Editor
Is Big Really Better?
The title of this issue is “BIG.” We all have an idea of what it means. A “big brother” can be a good thing; unless you’re talking about Big Brother. Many people think “big government” must be avoided. Trying a new wine and finding it has a “big” taste might mean it has above-average flavor. “Big” can be bad or good—it depends on the context.
The articles in this issue address the various contexts in which “big” can come into play. For solos and small firm lawyers, bigger is not always better. That’s why we are solos and small firm lawyers. We tend to look to ourselves to resolve issues. Technology means we are able to play with the “big boys.” We can leverage our smaller sizes and overhead against the legal behemoths that seem to dominate the stage.
In the current economic climate, being big can mean a firm’s downfall. Some of the largest law firms have become “too big for their britches” and are paying the price by downsizing associates and partners. Solos and small firm lawyers may be in a position to offer better service to clients because of our “less is more” approach.
This issue also presents articles about dealing with those big egos. You know the type: lawyers and clients who believe all the stories they write about themselves. We call them “Legends in Their Own Minds.” Sometimes, you just need to laugh at them, if for no other reason than to maintain your own sanity.
Not every solo or small firm lawyer works in a small town. Many of us maintain practices in large urban areas. Laurel G. Bellows writes about the special challenges facing those of us with a “Big City Practice.” Can we cope with the rent and other costs of such a practice and remain competitive?
We hope this issue gives you some ideas about how to manage your practice by thinking big while remaining small.
I’ve been thinking about this issue for some time. One thing that has always concerned me is the fear of making a big mistake—committing a big faux pas or even malpractice. Have you ever worried about these things? I know I do. I maintain malpractice insurance, I am conscientious about meeting my client’s needs, and I really try to avoid making a fool of myself.
Yet, today I made a big mistake. In my practice, I make house calls. I arrange a convenient time for my clients and travel to see them. I made two appointments with two different clients at the same time—and didn’t realize it. In fact, I didn’t realize it until I was driving home and happened to check my cell phone.
Unlike my nephew, Nathan, I do not have my cell phone surgically implanted in my ear. I see it more as a convenience for me than anyone else. But, when I checked, there it was: “missed message”; a message from my client asking about our 1:00 appointment. I could not and cannot believe I am so stupid, idiotic, and dumb. I am embarrassed, annoyed, angry—and did I say embarrassed? I’ve never done this before. I called the client and got voice mail. I apologized profusely and offered to come over this evening. Because I’m writing this, you may assume my client has not returned the call.
I hope my client will forgive me for this major faux pas. How do I explain it? What will I say beyond, “I’m sorry,” when he does call me? Worse than missing the appointment is the fact this is the first appointment. This guy doesn’t even know what I look like. I suppose I could fake it and deny ever having made the appointment. Of course, if I had wanted to take that road, I should not have apologized earlier. I’m pretty sure that apologizing means I’ve acknowledged the error and cannot now deny it.
I could argue that I’m over 30 and no longer responsible for my memory. This usually works with anyone over 30. Just don’t try it with 20-somethings. They give you a look that says you’re bonkers. Meanwhile, I will continue to berate myself for doing something so stupid. I’m sure it makes the client that much more eager to work with me. So, has anyone else done anything remotely this awful? Make me feel better and tell me yes!
As always, let me know what you think. I enjoy the e-mails—they keep us honest. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joan M. Burda, editor-in-chief of GPSOLO, operates a solo practice in Lakewood, Ohio, and may be reached at email@example.com.