General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division The Compleat Lawyer
Winter 1997, Volume 14, No. 1 copyright American Bar Association. All rights reserved.
The Chair's Corner
Robert R. Wright III
In old October, when "all the wild, sweet words flame up," as Thomas Wolfe wrote, the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section held its fall meeting on Martha's Vineyard off of Cape Cod.
This marked the first time in over 15 years that our Section met in New England. This is an oversight that should not occur. We are a geographically diverse, national organization of lawyers sharing a common bond--we are engaged in the general practice of the law, more often than not in a solo or small firm setting.
Membership is a problem common to many ABA sections and perhaps especially for us. We are unique in that we serve general practitioners across the board, no matter what areas their practice may most involve. We are generalists, but by the nature of our individual practices, we are also specialists. Our Section leadership must therefore provide publications, CLE programs, and products that satisfy a diverse constituency. Many of our members belong to other sections as well, and we must fill in the gaps not provided by that particular area of law.
We are therefore, in many respects, a microcosm of the ABA itself. As such, we must provide in composite form what the ABA provides through all of its sections, divisions, and other entities, and we must do it for a modest membership fee by comparison. We have to be the mini-ABA and do it with a small staff, lots of uncompensated volunteer work, but with a great deal of dedication. Doesn't that sound like what, in fact, a solo or small firm practitioner does on a daily basis?
What we believe and must continue to believe is that there is a place in the practice of law for solo and small firm practitioners in the soon-to-come twenty-first century--that not all lawyers practice in large firms in our great cities and specialize in some mousehole-sized minutiae within a small compartment of the law. There is a place for those who would serve the average citizen in much the same manner as a family practice physician. (In fact, recent statistics from the medical profession indicate that income is up for those in family practice and down for those in many specialties.)
In a sense, we are also the small-town lawyers. We have leaders from large cities, but if you look at our leadership, we also have folks from Galva, Illinois; Keizer, Oregon; Rapid City, South Dakota; Shenandoah, Iowa; Bemidji, Minnesota; and such similar places. I know all of those people, and I don't believe any of them are the general attorneys for General Motors. But they get the job done.
Our Section is the natural home in the Bar of America for such lawyers (as well as for the general litigator who tries all kinds of cases in a firm of 50 or 60 people). We are not all small-town folks, as our big-city leaders will point out. But we are the natural home of the small-town lawyer. We even publish books on that subject, among many others, such as: From Metropolis to Mayberry: A Lawyer's Guide to Small Town Law Practice by Phillip C. Williams, published this year.
So it occurred to me, contemplating our Section as well as nature in the pastoral confines of Martha's Vineyard, that we need to remind ourselves what niche we serve, make certain that our members know that and spread the word, and be sure that all of those who consider themselves general practitioners or who are small firm or solo practitioners will join us in the pleasure of serving the American people in this unique, but historical way.
Historically, we are what the legal profession is in its best moments. We are those who serve the American family. We are those who serve.