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Solo and Small Practice: It Takes Courage and Strength

July 15, 2015

john-trimble-ibaAt a recent law practice management seminar, I heard an expert in law firm strategic planning say, “No matter the size of your firm, you need your lawyers to ‘Think like a solo.’” He compared the solo practice of law to the operation of a Dairy Queen and other small businesses. Small business owners not only have to produce a good product at a competitive price, but they also have to hire and fire, pay and send bills, market their business, undertake collections, maintain a website and, as necessary, take out the trash, sweep the front sidewalk, and shovel snow.

Business owners frequently arrive first and turn on the lights, and they often leave last and turn off the lights. The bottom line is that they have to do whatever they need to do to keep the doors open. Unfortunately, they may also lie awake at night worrying about their business. Practicing law as a solo or small firm is not for the faint at heart.

Despite the challenges, fears and demands of solo and small practice, legal market experts tell us that more and more newly minted lawyers are entering law as solo and small firm owners. Larger firms are also seeing a trend of senior lawyers leaving to start their own small firms or solo practices. Some of this trend can be attributed to the shortage of law firm jobs, but much of it is attributable to the desire of lawyers to chart their own course.

Younger lawyers, in particular, are adept at technology and are not intimidated by the demands of bookkeeping, correspondence and court filings because they can do it all themselves. Many solos no longer need much office space because they can work from anywhere or they can go to the client. The whole look and feel of small law firms is changing as lawyers work from home offices, collaborative work spaces or shared arrangements.

In my role as president of the IndyBar, I have come to a new realization of the trend I am describing. At meetings of our Indy Attorneys Network Section, I have met new law graduates who have enthusiastically described the challenge and the joy of their developing practices. Indeed, a huge proportion of our active IndyBar members are solo and small practice lawyers. They see and understand the benefits of networking and relationship building. The time to participate in bar activities is a challenge for them, but most of them have found it worth the effort. They think like the small business owners they are, and they bring a perspective to our organization that we need. They see law way differently than many of us in firms who have professionals who do all the administrative and marketing work so that we can just practice law.

So, my message to all of you: Let’s “think like a solo.” You and your organization (including our judiciary) will all benefit if we approach law the way solos do. If we all concern ourselves to some degree with the business of law and not just the practice of law, our organizations will be stronger and our practices will be better. We will have greater empathy and understanding for the businesses we represent. We will view what we do more as a “calling” than as a job.

Our friends who practice solo and small practice are courageous to do it. Let’s all concern ourselves when we can with helping them with their business. They bring a lot to our bar, so to the extent that the IndyBar can make it worth their while, we will sure try.•#WILLYOUBETHERE?

Judge Taylor Baker

I would be remiss if I did not note the recent passing of a long time member of our bar and our judiciary. Judge Taylor L. Baker passed away on Sunday, July 5. Judge Baker was on the bench when I began practicing law, and although I never practiced in front of him, he stood out to me as one of the bulwarks of our criminal bench. He had a reputation for toughness that was tempered by concern for youth and concern for our community.

His service to the community, and his continuing presence at our bar activities, impressed me for all the years that I knew him. I appreciated his humor and his kindness and his support for our profession.

The IndyBar salutes his career, and offers our condolences and best wishes to his family and close friends.

We will miss him.

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