THE CHAIR'S CORNER: Moving Solos Forward

Volume 29 Number 5

By

Benes Z. Aldana is Chair of the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division and is a Captain in the U.S. Coast Guard, currently serving as the Chief of Legal Engagements for United States Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany.

At the ABA Annual Meeting in August, the House of Delegates approved our proposal to reshuffle our name from “General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division” to “Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.”

Why the name change? When examining the GPSolo Division’s current role and potential future role, we realized that the Division appears to have an identity problem. On the one hand, the Division is not a substantive law–based entity. Although we provide substantive law training and are home to members who are experts in their respective fields, it seems that attorneys turn to the ABA’s substantive law sections—as well as state and local bar association resources—to meet their substantive law needs. On the other hand, the ABA Law Practice Management Section exists solely for the support and management needs of attorneys. Accordingly, the Division felt that serving as the premier resource for practice management would be difficult to achieve and was also different than the historical role of GPSolo. Thus, it seems that GPSolo tends to be in a middle ground, stuck between a substantive law role and a practice management role.

GPSolo therefore decided to reaffirm itself as the champion of solo and small firm attorneys, and this required advancing the “solo and small firm” reference to the front of our name. The change also sends a clear message to solo and small firm lawyers—both within and outside the association—that the ABA, through our Division, is doing all it can to meet the needs of this underrepresented population.

What’s new about GPSolo? Changing the name, merely of itself, is not sufficient. The idea that “if you build it [or name it], they will come” only works in the movies. The realization that GPSolo was struck in the middle, while seemingly bleak, ultimately provided a new direction for the Division, which can be encapsulated in the Division’s new name and this year’s theme: “Think Forward: Better Lawyers, Better Profession.” Our internal task force that looked into implementing the name change noted that bar entities tend to offer little (perhaps, no) guidance on law practice as entrepreneurship. Some bar entities certainly provide resources on performing the duties of an attorney. And other entities offer guidance on the management of a practice, such as accounting principles and technology. There seems, however, to be an unmet need for a national voice for the legal entrepreneur. Accordingly, the Division wants to reaffirm its role and mission: championing the solo and small firm practitioner as the entrepreneur of the legal profession. Much as the Division’s name is new yet the same, the Division’s focus will be on the same people but in a novel way: helping attorneys to embrace entrepreneurship, utilize traditional and novel business and marketing principles, grow their practice into a business and their business into a enterprise, and lead happier, healthier, more fulfilling lives.

The Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division is a community of lawyers, dedicated to changing and improving the legal profession. We believe that solo and small firm practitioners are the entrepreneurs of the legal profession. And we believe that in-house and general counsel, military and other government lawyers, and self-identified solo practitioners are the modern-day equivalents of the iconic Main Street Lawyer, providing generalized services to people, companies, municipalities, and communities that still need them. Together, we represent approximately 60 percent of lawyers in private practice. And we believe that if we can help each other lead happier, healthier, more productive lives—indeed, if we can help each be better lawyers—we can change the profession. We host conferences, publish books, magazines, and electronic periodicals, offer firm start-up support, and deliver a wide range of other programs and services, all intended to help the legal entrepreneur succeed. If you’re the kind of lawyer who wants to leave the profession in a better state than you found it, then you’re the kind of lawyer for the new GPSolo.

Who wants to join us?

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