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December 19, 2006

Going Solo in a Small Town

Solo in Chicago, Peter Olson, pointed me in the direction of a great lifestyle piece, Country Esquires which profiles lawyers who choose practice in a "small" town where they may have familiarity or want to raise their family but overall have a quality of life that is distinctly not Big Law or urban.  This is a theme I have written about often because this is a special subset of lawyers, those whose greatest desire is to create and grow a legal practice driven first and foremost by lifestyle considerations. And their law degree is the ticket to achieving their lifestyle goals.

Yet it presents an interesting question in today's era of "specialization-mania."

One can argue that it makes good business sense to "specialize" in one or two or three practice areas so you can become an "expert," if you will.  And those who think along those lines also believe you cannot be good in all areas of law, ergo, Jack of all "areas of law," Master of none.

In an urban environment one could make a credible argument that in order to compete and stand out you need to concentrate in two or three areas of law to elevate yourself to the level of respected authority. A generalist in that same environment may very well not have the same financial success, however talented, as others who position themselves as an authority.

But the lawyer who wants to go back home to build a small town practice servicing the people of her community, maybe in a depressed area or one that can't support more than a couple of full-time lawyers, must approach the business of law from a different perspective.  Their business' success will be predicated on being a generalist, one who can and must serve all manner of client.  He must be versatile, a talented lawyer who understands his education wasn't just in a specific area of law. He knows his education taught him a "generalized thinking process" which is applicable to all areas of law and he applies this knowledge for the benefit of his clients. This type of versatility requires hard work and a very special type of advocate. Specializing may be easier, but under these circumstances could actually be counterproductive to the success of his law practice.

I truly believe lawyers are taught to gather information, process that information and re-package that information in a consumer-friendly way. 

And if you happen to practice in a very unique area of law, like Jay Foonberg who specializes in fractional jet ownership, it won't matter where you call home.  Your clients will find you.

It's a very interesting topic and provides fodder for spirited debate.  I do believe there is room for everyone and there should be limited barriers to establishing the kind of practice you want.

I don't think there is one right answer.  Just the answer that is right for you.


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Hi Susan,

Two Points:

1st - I would point out that with technology and reasonably convenient access to an airport, lawyers today officing in a small town need not dismiss the idea of specializing in a unique niche of the law. As just one example from amongst many I could cite, I know of one Franchise lawyer whose unique specialty and willingness to cooperate with larger law firms to serve their clients' needs enables him to not only practice from his home town, but also to command premium fees. You'd be amazed to know how profitable it can be to buy a measly $500 airline ticket once in awhile!

2nd - The fact that most "generalists" assume that title by default should not discourage any of your readers from appreciating that it is very possible and profitable for a lawyer to instead design a General Practice from the ground up!

The problem with most of the hundreds of default-generalists I've had occasion to help was usually a mis-match of model and menu. Like going into McDonalds & ordering a juicy steak, or going into a fancy steakhouse and finding plastic tables & chairs.

It is entirely realistic and very profitable to design a Specialized General Practice.


Helping Lawyers In Small Firms Make ALOT More Money

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