"Passed the Bar - Hung a Shingle" - Michael Bace
Today's guest blogger, is Michael J. Bace, a brand new solo practitioner who didn't even wait 24 hours after being sworn in to open his doors for business. And coming from a family of entrepreneurs, this is not surprising. Here's his story and philosophy about practice which should be uplifting for everyone.
Guest Blogger - Michael J. Bace
Okay. Here goes. I graduated in May of 2007, took the bar exam in July, was sworn in on November 26, 2007 - and was ready to accept clients on November 27, 2007!
I took one year off between undergraduate school (Univ. of New Hampshire) and law school (New England School of Law, Boston, MA). I think my decision to go solo probably had a lot to do with my father. He has been a self-employed general contractor for as long as I can remember. I guess he and I both have difficulty taking orders from a boss, and prefer to be solely responsible for the quality of our work (whether it's banging nails or representing clients). Further, I have no mortgage and no children and somehow was able to convince my wife that now was the best time to give it a shot!
When I officially decided to open my solo practice, I was given a multitude of discouraging opinions. I heard that it would be "malpractice per se" to attempt to practice law after passing the bar exam. Colleagues frowned, or suggested I practice for a firm for a few years to gain experience. Recently, I was actually told that handling even a simple criminal defense would be the equivalent of a "medical school graduate performing brain surgery for the first time." Do not listen to the negativity.
The fact is, when you pass the bar exam in your jurisdiction, you are licensed and qualified to practice law. You may not be as experienced, but you possess the skills to become competent in almost any area of the law given the proper research and preparation.
More importantly, a solo practitioner is in a position to provide a number of services that large firms are not.
Flexibility & Customization - Large firms are often inflexible, stuck in their procedures, and tend to operate for the benefit and convenience of their members, and not for the benefit and convenience of their clients. A large law firm, like any huge corporation, is eventually slowed by its own policies. A solo practitioner is not subject to this issue and, therefore, can provide service that is more responsive. Solo practitioners can often change policies, customize forms and procedures in order to better serve the client. As independent practice attorneys, we can adapt and change on the fly.
Efficiency - At a typical larger firm, documents and the clients attached to them are often repeatedly passed along by layers of associates, senior associates, partners, before getting the attention of a senior partner. This is a slow, inefficient, and worst of all: expensive process. The large firm can not be as sympathetic to client needs, because that is one of the ways it makes money: the billable hours of its staff. Independent practitioners cannot afford to delay or push paper. Any client is a big fish to the independent attorney. In a large firm, many clients will find they are small fish in the firm's pond, and are treated accordingly. A solo practitioner has no small fish in his pond. Because repeat business is so desirable, and referrals are so vital, every client is important and is treated as such. Solo practitioners are in a great position to take advantage of new technology. We can be sitting in a coffee shop, with a laptop and access to every document in a client's file. When the client calls our office, the call can be directed to our cell phone, the documents can be reviewed, and emails/faxes can be sent with the click of the mouse. That's efficiency.
Personal Attention - Unlike large firms, my office is happy to have clients contact us, day or night. Clients may contact us via mail, fax, e-mail, Web site, and cell phone. Calls to my office are automatically re-routed to my personal cell phone. I strive to be accessible almost anywhere and anytime. If you use a larger firm, the chances that one of the attorneys is going to encourage a client to call them at home or on a cell phone is extremely slim.
Value - A small firm can give the client a lower cost for equal work, which is an incredible value. A knowledgeable, hungry, and motivated solo practitioner can often perform legal tasks in far less time than would be required by a law firm and its team of staff members. Large firms can give their staff a lot: beautiful mahogany offices, high salaries, yearly bonuses, catered food at meetings, golf outings at expensive country clubs, limo service home for anyone working past 5:00, in-house cafeterias, in-house gyms, expense accounts, etc. All of these amenities need to be paid by the clients. Solos do not have to pay for that kind of fixed overhead, and can pass the savings along to their clients. Solo practitioners feel pressure to make a sustainable living, but are not bound by billable hour goals from managing partners.
So the next time someone attempts to discourage you from entering the exciting and entrepreneurial world of the solo practitioner- tell them you think there is a real need for the kind of customization, efficiency, personal attention, and value that only you can provide.