General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo, Summer 1996
Rose's Ten Suggestionsby jennifer j. rose
1. You're not the Lone Ranger. You may practice alone, butyou're not the first and only solo practitioner in the annals ofAmerican law. And you won't be the last. Nearly every solo andsmall firm practitioner faces, or has faced, the same limitationsof time, energy, and funds that you may encounter.
2. Don't forget to share. This is a lesson from kindergartenthat lawyers forget. Just because you don't have to share yourprofits with partners doesn't mean you shouldn't share cases,resources, time, and troubles with others. Exchange forms,supplies, and library resources with other lawyers.
3. You don't have to do everything yourself. Just as youwouldn't dream of taking every case that walks in the door, don'tfall prey to the notion that you must do all the work yourself.Outsource. Consider using a legal research service. Hire contractor temporary lawyers to pinch hit in emergencies or in areas inwhich you feel uncomfortable.
4. Plan for disaster so it doesn't happen. You always wearclean underwear in case you're in a car accident, right? The samerule applies for disaster planning in solo and small firmpractice. If you've taken the time to develop a contingency ordisaster plan, the odds are that you'll never need it.
5. Develop backup staff. If you've only got one secretary,you may have significant problems if the secretary quits or isdisabled. Have an understudy or backup ready to step in...even ifthat understudy is you. Some solos and small firm practitionerscrash to a crippling halt when the secretary's not there--becausethey don't have a clue how to operate the computer, printer, oreven the typewriter.
6. Nurture professional friendships among other solo andsmall firm lawyers in your locale and far away. Use them as areferral source for the cases you don't handle, encourage them tosend you clients, and share practice ideas.
7. Avoid "big firm" envy. It's real easy to feel overwhelmedby the resources of large firms. You forget that those resourcesare shared among many lawyers and that often big firms arenothing more than solos and small firms banded together withcommon staff...and common liability.
8. Use your imagination. You entered solo or small firmpractice for autonomy; use it. Break some molds and self-imposedexpectations (except where restricted by law). Let yourimagination, elan, and spirit set your course.
Consider the business card of a California lawyer: "Mr.Brown specializes in civil litigation as an advocate of theprinciples of St. Francis de Assisi, Henry David Thoreau, AlbertSchweitzer, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. He is alsoexperienced in the techniques of Rambo and Rocky Balboa where andwhen necessary." Do you think a card like that would ever passthe muster of a management committee?
9. Acknowledge your financial situation. Your practice maybe one in which it's either feast or famine. Budget your funds totide you over the dry periods...or develop complementary practiceareas that generate steady cash flow.
10. Develop one or two, or even three, practice areas inwhich you excel. Even a jack of all trades needs to master a fewoutstanding skills. Recognize which cases are loss leaders, whichcases are cash cows, and which cases are cur dogs.
jennifer j. rose is a solo practitioner in Shenandoah, Iowa..