Oh, I Wish I Could Have Sat On This Panel! - Why Solos Get Picked On By the State Bar Associations.
Jennifer Moline is sitting in at Legal Blogs and points us to this post by Legal Pad called " The Reason Bar Groups Pick on the Little Guy." This post is the result of a Bar Panel Discussion at the San Francisco ABA Meeting. Here are some of the key points made:
Solos and small-firm attorneys make up 70 percent or more of all lawyers in America and, therefore, by sheer numbers alone rack up more discipline cases. They also tend to represent unsophisticated clients who don’t understand the legal system and file more complaints.
Corporate clients sue for malpractice if dissatisfied by a lawyer’s performance.....whereas clients of solos and small firms turn to the State Bar for relief.
Almost all of them agreed that one big problem is that law schools aren’t doing a good enough job at teaching students how to manage a law practice.
“I have this radical idea that training is important,” Butler said, noting that when he got out of law school, he was a bit lost. “So I had to take it upon myself to learn how to practice law.”
He and others noted that solos and small-firm lawyers have no mentors, unlike attorneys who go to work for big firms.
That was backed up by Rosenfeld, who said K&L Gates — with more than 1,000 attorneys — holds a weeklong “rookie school” for its new lawyers. They’re taught ethics, practice management, legal writing and effective communication, among other skills. Rosenfeld said state bar associations should try doing the same for solos and small-firm lawyers.
Where do I begin?
First, let me say I do not know any of these lawyers. I also understand many of these quotes were probably part of a larger conversation so when taken out of context they may make a different statement then what was intended or what was understood by their audience. Nor do I know the inflections. In addition, I don't know the intentions of each participant so I will respond accordingly.
Yes, more than 70% (actually, 74%) of all private practice attorneys in this country are in firms of 1 - 4 "employees" according to the U.S. Census. Therefore, it makes sense a proportionate amount of bar complaints would be lodged against solos and small firms. However, to say the majority of practitioners in this country represent unsophisticated clients smacks of snobbery and insults clients and the majority of talented and gifted solo lawyers. To further indicate a sophisticated client would simply sue you for malpractice versus grieving you makes it sound like a desirable alternative. I'd rather dispatch with a grievance quickly then face litigation.
They all agreed law schools fail the lawyer. By not recognizing the practice of law is also a business, the law student is ill-prepared. Where we part company is stating the solution lies with the Bar Associations. The solution is for law schools to recognize the practice of law cannot be separated from the business of law; the learning process should carefully weave a tapestry of academics and training in order to benefit it's students and the profession as a whole.
And for those who did not get the law school training they needed, the professional world is full of mentors and smart solos can create a safety net of mentors to further their post-graduation education. Whether Solosez (2400 mentors), listservs, voluntary CLE, bar associations or others, mentors abound. The difference is you are seen and treated as a peer versus a subordinate while you build your future. And it is a cruel fairy tale, like Santa Claus, perpetuating the myth a firm will provide formal training and mentors so 'get a job.'
Of the 40,000 law students graduating each year, how many land positions at K & L Gates? And is a one week boot camp the answer? No. If it were every law school would offer some version of this and call it a day. No, it has to be 'absorbed' over the three year law school educational experience and then refreshed on a daily basis during the actual practice of law...not state mandated mentoring before you can practice law or mandatory CLE. It all starts with the foundations of the education.
But I do agree without complaints the Statewide Grievance Committee ceases to exist. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Maybe grievances that shouldn't be prosecuted get pushed forward anyway to justify the Committees existence? That solos and small firms get hit hardest because they don't have the time or the stamina or clout to get them dismissed? Just typing out loud.