General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionTechnology & Practice Guide

The Compleat Lawyer, Spring 1996, Vol. 13, No. 2

The Chair's Corner

John W. Clark, Jr.

What does quality of life mean to you? To some people it means a big house and a new car. To others, it means good health and serenity. Like many lawyers, I never took the time to think about what was really going on around me--until about four years ago. I am still trying to figure it out. To me, life is a journey; the decisions that we make along this journey can alter our course dramatically.

I have not turned my back on the need for financial security, but I have concluded that I need to spend more time eliminating my frustrations, accepting life as it comes, enjoying today to the fullest, and striving to do the best I can with whatever ability I have.

When I finished law school, I had absolutely no idea where my life was headed, but it was clear that I needed to make some money. I did not have a single client, but during my first month of practice as an associate to a solo practitioner, I found out that I could make more money handling my own clients than working for "The Man." My first boss was a good lawyer and role model. Many of the things I learned from Douglas E. Bergman were good (although some things I learned were not so good). He is not here now for me to tell him how much I learned, but I wanted to mention him anyway.

After a few years, I was recruited to join a quickly growing law firm, and I stayed on with that firm for many years. It was fun at first, but then the firm grew, began to utilize computers, and split into sections. The fun was gone. I became a very unhappy partner, and the firm became very unhappy with me. The firm no longer exists, even in part. I know now that I am more suited to be a solo practitioner than a "big firm" lawyer.

I am now eligible to join the American Association of Retired Persons and the ABA's Senior Lawyers Division. Soon I will probably do both. (Both groups offer valuable programs and benefits to their members.) I wish now that I had listened earlier to those who tried to tell me about "quality of life" issues and about being happy, joyous, and free.

Many solo and small firm practitioners do not think that the ABA fits their needs. They are wrong. The ABA is an inherently good organization that has come a long way from its silk stockings beginnings. Unfortunately, only recently has the ABA begun to reach out to solo and small firm practitioners as well as general practitioners. I am not sure that the paid staff of the ABA really understands what I am talking about when I speak of the needs of the practicing bar, but I think the members of the General Practice Section understand.

I have been a sole practitioner for the past several years. I have a secretary, a computer, a small library, a few good clients, and plenty of time to play golf. My clients are loyal to me, at least so far, and I try to do a good job for them. All of this seems pretty normal. During the past two or three years, I have spent an average of two or three hours each day working with you trying to improve the financial affairs, membership numbers, and the image of the General Practice Section of the ABA. Over the years I have enjoyed my work with the ABA, but this it the first time I have had a column to express my own personal point of view. This is my "penultimate" column. I like the word "penultimate" but I don't get the chance to use it often. I learned this word when I was with a big law firm.

I am very proud to be a solo practitioner. I am very proud to be a lawyer. I get upset when I hear our profession described as "the legal industry"--a term frequently used now by vendors with whom we do business. I don't like mandatory regulations, but I do like reasonable goals. The legal profession in this country should be proud of its heritage and its present role in society. It doesn't really matter to me that the public finds fault with some jury awards, but it does matter to me that it takes so long to get to trial and that discovery procedures are so complex and expensive. I think the law schools are turning out too many lawyers, but I also think there is plenty of room for a good lawyer.

I hope that many of you will be in Puerto Rico to listen to the speakers that Stu Baron has arranged. Yes, folks, we are going to talk about stress, lawyer burnout, alcoholism, drug abuse, and related issues. We are going to have a golf tournament, tennis tournament, and similar events to raise money for our pro bono efforts. We need your help, and we are going to keep the lights on this year.

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