Volume 19, Number 1
January/February 2002

From the Editor

Minding the Store

By jennifer j. rose

Lawyers are practicing with more staff than ever—and with less. Say goodbye to the days when a solo or small firm’s staff amounted to a secretary. Della Street’s role as Gal Friday has met up with specialists in finance, marketing, human resources, information technology, word processing, library services, records management, office management, mailroom, and practice support. Legal assistants now perform many tasks that once were solely within a lawyer’s domain. Say hello, at the other extreme, to a new era of prosperous and respected lawyers who do it all by themselves without a single employee.

Although additional staff would seem to make a lawyer’s lot simpler and more lucrative, freeing lawyers to do what they do best—practicing law—the reality is that more employees mean more responsibilities: hiring, firing, supervising, and training that staff. Ethical issues abound for the specific tasks legal staff can and can’t perform, and the buck stops with the lawyer. Generating revenue that meets the payroll simply isn’t enough. The very elements that can make a law office successful—making a profit and effectively serving clients—can shatter expansion dreams. Although staff can help bring profit, clients, fame, and glory to lawyers, ineffective supervision can cost them money, lost clients, reputation, and even a license to practice. Simply practicing law isn’t enough when lawyers become employers and small business owners.

Traditionally, receptionists (who frequently doubled as secretaries) were the only office personnel who had direct contact with clients. Others toiled away deep in the recesses of the office. Now, paralegals and legal assistants often have direct contact with clients, clients’ employees, judges, opposing counsel, and witnesses, performing a wide variety of tasks to ease lawyers’ burdens and enhance their productivity. The face and alter ego of a law practice has become more than simply the person manning the front desk.

At the same time, there is a growing trend among lawyers to do entirely without the human hired help. No longer characterized as eccentric loners, these lawyers practice with the 24/7 assistance of electronic staff. Technology has made Lawyers Who Type socially acceptable, and PalmPilots, e-mail, and cell phones moved on from there, creating a cadre of lawyers who practice as efficiently as many who boast fully staffed offices. The Do-It-Yourself trend has caught on with the speed of wildfire.

Meanwhile, the law profession’s tradition of mentoring freshly minted lawyers has changed. Even big firm associates with enviable salaries need pointers on the practical aspects of client management, rainmaking, and the business of law practice. An increasing number of lawyers choose to bypass the seasoning stages of apprenticeship and head directly to solo or small firm practice. Bereft of institutionalized mentoring by avuncular senior partners, they struggle to develop their own resources and safety nets.

Joan Burda capably shaped and steered this issue, from concept to fruition, developing topics and recruiting a broad and talented range of authors, and GPSolo owes her a debt of gratitude for her untiring efforts.

All lawyers—except for those few who read for the bar—share one common history: law school. This is where real-life contact with practicing lawyers ought to begin. The General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division leads the pack again as GPSolo becomes the first section magazine in the ABA to reach out to law students in our new column, "GP Mentor." Today’s law students are tomorrow’s lawyers, and GPSolo welcomes them to the profession.

jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo , is a lawyer and writer, living in Morelia, Michaocan, Mexico, who has no office staff. She can be reached at jenniferrose@abanet.org.

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