It is well established that solo and small firm lawyers represent 63 percent of all attorneys in the United States. Although there are many solo and small firm attorneys who are members of the American Bar Association, I doubt that this number of members represents 63 percent of all ABA members. Therein lies the quandary.
The ABA, in order to satisfy its goal of being the national platform for attorneys, must encourage and include this large group of lawyers in its membership. Without a doubt there are significant opportunities for solo and small firm lawyers within the various sections, divisions, forums, and standing committees of the ABA. However, throughout its 50-year history, the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division (GPSolo) has made significant efforts to include this group of lawyers in its membership.
These lawyers are commonly referred to as Main Street Lawyers. Although the moniker is fitting, it is also clear that these lawyers practice in the mainstream of the United States. These lawyers provide legal services in all areas of the law. In short, these lawyers provide access to justice by delivering legal services to people in the mainstream of life.
We are all well aware that legal issues and, most importantly, the delivery of legal services have changed dramatically over the last 20 years. New areas of law have emerged and new methods of delivery of legal services have been developed to keep pace. All lawyers, and especially solo and small firm lawyers, have had to adapt to changes in their practices. Within the last 20 years, primarily owing to innovations in technology, lawyers have become more effective in representing clients. At the same time, the legal needs of clients to address a rapidly changing society have become more sophisticated and complicated. However, access to technology is and continues to be a game changer for Main Street Lawyers. Access to justice no longer comes at a price that is unaffordable to people in the mainstream of life. From the fax machine to the evolving methodology of delivering legal services via the Internet, access to technology has leveled the playing field for many lawyers.
Throughout this period, the GPSolo Division has listened and responded to the needs of its constituency. It continues to reach out to Main Street Lawyers. In order to identify itself with its constituency, the Division is planning to change its name, pending approval, to the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division (for more, see “Division News,” page 8). More importantly, the Division has developed programs and changed the way it communicates with its members in order to meet the needs of these attorneys as they provide legal services to people in the mainstream.
Let me provide you with a few examples. As stated above, technology clearly is the driving force in changes to the delivery of legal services. Thanks to the efforts of some dedicated members of the Division, it has been able to keep pace with the evolving methods of communications. The Division still communicates through its award-winning magazine, GPSolo, but it also has created e-newsletters, web-based CLE, LinkedIn accounts, blogs, and the like. Significant efforts continue to ensure that GPSolo members have immediate access to information that may be helpful to them in their practice areas.
The Division also provides technology tips and practical advice concerning products that are utilized by solo and small firm lawyers in their practices. This “real-time” advice comes from our members, and it is based on “real-time” experience by our members. Technology is so critical to our practices that in all the Division’s communications you will see information by our members critiquing the latest in technology. The Division has also established relationships with a variety of technology vendors. These relationships provide our lawyers with cost-saving methods of purchasing the latest in technology.
Another initiative undertaken by the Division in an effort to support Main Street Lawyers is the sponsorship of the National Solo & Small Firm Conference. The Conference takes place each year in conjunction with the Division’s Fall Meeting. Several years ago, the Division’s leadership determined that it would be helpful to solo and small firm lawyers if the Division became actively involved in sponsoring a conference geared toward solo and small firm lawyers. The Division collaborates with local and state bar groups in an effort to reach out to the largest group of solos and small firms possible. Non–ABA members are welcome and encouraged to attend this conference. The Conference provides participants with current CLE and exhibitions of products that are helpful to Main Street Practitioners. However, the Conference also provides a forum where Main Street Lawyers meet and discuss practice-related issues and public service initiatives that are helpful to the delivery of legal services to those in need.
The ABA Midyear Meeting held in February and its Annual Meeting held in August are the two largest meetings conducted by the ABA. At each of these meetings, the Division sponsors the Solo and Small Firm Lawyers Caucus. The Division sends an open invitation to all meeting attendees to participate in the caucus. The purpose of the caucus is to provide lawyers with a forum to discuss issues, in particular resolutions pending before the House of Delegates that have significance to solo and small firm lawyers. Over the last several years this caucus has become a popular meeting. The leadership of the American Bar Association, including the President, the President-Elect, and the Chair of the House of Delegates, finds time within busy schedules to attend the caucus. As a result of discussions at the caucus, the Division is undertaking efforts to coordinate debate within the House of Delegates to ensure that the interests of Main Street Lawyers are protected in the policies contained in resolutions that are debated and voted on in the House of Delegates.
We started this discussion with an understanding that solo and small firm lawyers represent the largest group of lawyers in the United States. The ABA must reinforce its efforts to include these attorneys in its programming, initiatives, and leadership.
Main Streets certainly vary from locality to locality, but it is clear that the ABA must be relevant to Main Street Lawyers. These lawyers represent mainstream clients. The ABA recognizes the importance of this group of lawyers, and it is making efforts to reach out and solicit their involvement in all aspects of the ABA. That effort is centered on the activities of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division.