One of the advantages of working in a large firm or for a judge over working for a small firm is having other lawyers around to talk to about the issues of the day. When I worked at the court of appeals, I had not just the judge and my fellow clerk in chambers, but about 15 other law clerks and staff attorneys to bounce ideas off of and compare notes with. Whether it’s talking about a new opinion or discussing strategy, it is helpful to hear other lawyers’ take on new and different issues.
Solo and small firm lawyers can regain this experience by joining a list serve. In my case, I joined a real property list serve sponsored and operated by the real property section of my county bar association. Similar services are widely available through state and county bar associations and specialty bars. For example, the Utah Real Property List Service describes itself as being
maintained to provide a vehicle or avenue of legal discussion and communication between attorneys that fit within the definition of the section membership. . . . The list facilitates an exchange of ideas, discussion of topics, consultation, direction, assistance, etc.—all to enhance the level and proficiency of the practice of law.
List serves are generally open to all licensed attorneys free of charge.
A list serve is a convenient way to gain access to resources that would take years to build up on your own. It is a good way to get started on a new research project, to learn about the unwritten rules and procedures before going to another county for the first time, and to share opinions about new case law affecting a shared practice area. A list serve is also a great place for exchanging forms and getting contract language. It is a quick and easy way to show and share your expertise and experience.
Being an active member of a list serve is also a great source of referrals. In my case, I have picked up some interesting cases from other list serve members whose existing clients had a problem outside their area of expertise. Having read the comments and analysis of other members’ past questions and answers, I have also developed a list of attorneys to whom I can refer clients with issues beyond my practice area. The exchanges on the list serve helped me evaluate my fellow members’ competence so I can make these referrals with confidence.
This instant connection to attorneys in the same area of practice also has its risks. One should be careful about providing too much specific information about a pending case. Opposing counsel may also be a member of the list and may learn more about your case than you intended to share. Contributions are generally not moderated; recognize that no one edits or fact checks what other attorneys post. Although you will certainly identify other attorneys as true experts in the field from their thoughtful and informed analysis, you will also find charlatans who just like to read their words on the screen.
Most relevant to solo and small firm attorneys is the ability to exchange thoughts and ideas in a collegial environment with attorneys interested and experienced in the same area of law. As a young lawyer, I have developed relationships with other attorneys that I never would have gained otherwise. I have become known among my peers and have come to know them. My participation in a list serve has allowed me to enjoy small firm practice without losing a key connection to the larger legal community.