General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division The Compleat Lawyer
Winter 1997, Volume 14, No. 1 copyright American Bar Association. All rights reserved.
From the Editor
jennifer j. rose
jennifer j. rose, a sole practitioner in Shenandoah, Iowa, is editor-in-chief of The Compleat Lawyer. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long Ago, Far Away
Only once did I know everything there was to know about the law: during the bar exam. Fortunately, that day preceded the enactment of the Statute de Donis and the Rule in Shelley's Case.
Since then, nobody has ever asked me to recite either, and it's been my good luck that Bob Wright has always been around whenever the topic is raised. He even knows the exceptions to the Rule. What I haven't forgotten about has since been repealed.
A few years ago, I spent a week teaching about the American legal system in a Mexican preparatory school. A student asked me about the Monroe Doctrine, and my mind drew a complete blank. Of course, there was a time when I knew what it meant, but it was one of those notions that I hardly ever spend much time contemplating. I might as well have been asked about algorithms and mitochondria. All at once I knew exactly how psychiatrists and dermatologists must feel when confronted by a simple question about modern gallstone technology. Clueless.
General practitioners can't always hide under a cloak of specialization. They're expected to know everything about everything. Even when we're not holed up in our office sanctuaries, lawyers are fair game for queries on a bewilderingly wide range of issues. If you've ever been cornered at a cocktail party or a soccer game and asked your opinion about franchise or gaming law, you know what I mean.
John Macy, who toiled long and hard as issue editor, dared us to produce an issue that would provide readers with the armor and ammo necessary to fend off those questions each of us have faced at one time or another. The authors who appear in this issue were up to the daunting task of distilling specialized areas of law so that you could glean conversational currency and understanding in areas ranging from charitable and nonprofit organization law to public contract law. Maybe you'll even think about expanding your practice into a new area.
That's What Referrals Are For
Many of the areas of law we now practice weren't even invented when the average forty-something Section member started practicing. Hybrid areas have sprung up with greater alacrity than toadstools after a spring rain. We keep trying to keep on learning, even without the inducement of mandatory CLE, but it's just not possible to know everything, or even something, about everything.
It's easy to carve out a practice, even as a Jack of All Trades general practitioner, by refusing to take on criminal or bankruptcy work. A solo business lawyer practicing on Madison Avenue in Manhattan might consider himself insulated from any specter of agricultural law--until his best business client calls at 4:45 p.m. on Friday, asking about potential liability in operating a hog confinement unit, strictly as an investment, in Indiana. Of course, the client needs an answer before 5:00. And a divorce lawyer never really knows when a passing familiarity with construction law just might come in handy.
And now for some great advice. GPSSFS Family Law Committee Chair Mark Sullivan provided the best comeback to those pesky cocktail party requests for advice. When an irksome total stranger wants to discuss some area completely out of his area of expertise, Mark gleefully replies, "You know, it's been 19 years since I've handled a federal post-conviction relief case, and I'd like nothing better than the opportunity to see how much I can still remember." You can almost see the sparkle in his eye. Mark tells me that for some reason, he seldom gets hired.
If you find yourself craving more information about one of the areas of law covered in this issue, turn to our resource roundup of ABA publications.
Turn to Page 29
No cocktail party would be complete without hors d'oerves, and you'll find a hefty buffet at Compleat's centerfold, The General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Digest. This new product will be more in demand than Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue and we're doing one better than Time's Person of the Year--you'll see an encore of the Digest in the Summer 1997 issue. If you had the time to read everything published by the ABA, you could be the country's greatest lawyer. Even if you skipped an esoteric treatise or two comparing the tax benefits of Bolivian trade treaties to morganatic marriage, you'd still have little time to ply the profession--and even less to enjoy the fruits of your labors.
Mining other ABA sections' motherlode for you, we've extracted and faceted those jewels most useful to general practitioners. If you crave more than our 2.45 carat gems, you can order the issues in which the full-text articles appear by calling the ABA Service Center (800/285-2221).
How are we doing? Let us know what you like and what you don't. Damn us with faint praise, remit huge sums of money (preferably unmarked bills in plain brown wrappers, but we're not picky), or think kind thoughts about The Compleat Lawyer. It's your magazine.
Coming up next: The Spring '97 issue debuts a special technology centerpiece highlighting the best and hottest practical technotopics you can use in your practice. Wanting to keep you in suspense, we'll make you wait and see what surprises Compleat has in store for you when we dish out DIRT.