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January 02, 2007

Solos Made to Feel Like Endangered Species

Connecticut Law Tribune - July 24, 2006

My June 26th column, "Real Estate Certification A Death Knell to Solos," really struck a nerve among members of the bar. I have received a flood of responses voicing very real concerns over the certification proposal put forth by the Connecticut Bar Association’s Real Property Section and the impact it would have on both new and established solo attorneys.

What surprised me, however, was their unwillingness to go public with their feelings. Not one of the lawyers would allow me to forward his or her comments to be printed in The Law Tribune, which is why I’m writing on the subject again.

Those who chose to write me primarily reiterated the concerns I expressed. At the worst, they were still undecided about the benefits of certification and questioned whether my column helped the debate.

When such a fundamental change is being contemplated wouldn’t a simple written survey mailed to the entire bar be appropriate? I’d have happily reimbursed them the cost of the stamp. But as a member of the Connecticut bar I received nothing.

Regardless, here are some of the opinions taken verbatim from e-mails I received.

"I am a civil litigator, and as a solo I naturally have a lot of contingency matters. I rely on my closing business for needed cash flow so I can continue to invest my time in these other matters that don’t pay unless and until I obtain a successful result. You are exactly right: "real estate lawyers" want to grab all the business for themselves to the exclusion of others who do not "specialize" in this most routine of legal processes. How much do you want to bet that if/when a specialty is recognized for real estate lawyers, closing fees of the "specialists" will go way up (in addition to the other effects you astutely predict.)"

"While I think you hit it right on the head, there is more. The CBA is also pushing for appellate certification, and other "specialties" will soon follow. Most of these are driven by the larger firms and would only provide an advertising edge against small firms (who don’t have the resources to limit their specialization.)"

"Good lawyers keep up to date with the law regardless or they can’t stay competitive or competent. I don’t need Big Brother forcing me to take continuing education and exams to do what I already do voluntarily to stay professional."

"I have been practicing law for 20 years and some day I hope to go solo in the small town where I live. Having real estate certifications would effectively eliminate any possibility that I might ever occasionally conduct a closing to make a living."

"I generally like reading your columns; however I think you’re off base with your criticisms of certification. Not that you are wrong to oppose it necessarily. There are probably good reasons to oppose the proposal....Rather it looks to me like you see real estate only as a place for new members of the Bar to get their feet wet before starting to do "real" legal work. Actually, I would prefer to see a lot of the new attorneys and for that matter a lot of the old attorneys get out of real estate all together. It would improve our practice and the quality of services our clients receive. If certification will move things in that direction then I would support it."

"As a solo practitioner I offer a panoply of legal services. I don’t see certification leveling the playing field. That’s pure propaganda, not when a requirement of being certified is to already be heavily weighted in real estate. First, real estate, then family law, then wills? Will practicing law become so fragmented through certifications that the days of hanging a shingle are history?"

These solos feel their professional integrity would be impugned by mandating continuing education. Furthermore, they feel their options of how to practice and run their business are about to be effectively destroyed. Those who were leaning towards it confirmed certification may be a good way to prevent new attorneys from getting into the area of real estate and disposing of the elders in the field misguidedly equating "new" and "old" with poor client service.

No matter how this proposal is marketed, a real estate certification remains a death knell to the majority of solos, particularly new lawyers looking to open their own practice.

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. She can be reached at [email protected]. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2006) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.


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I think you have stumbled upon a BIGGER problem than whether or not a State Bar decides to create a specialization.

Specifically, the hesitancy of so many lawyers to stand up for themselves and take responsibility for their own happiness.

It's ironic that the very same people who are best trained and most depended upon to stand up for the rights of others, fold so easily or abdicate responsibility entirely, when it comes to themselves and their own family.

We joke about the shoemaker's children without shoes, but lawyers who won't take a stand for their own well being are no laughing matter.

It seems that every month I run into a solo lawyer who has no will, no insurance, no business plan, and no contingency plans to protect their sole source of income in the event that there is a catastrophe of their own doing or otherwise.


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