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February 18, 2008

Do You Have A 'Herd' Mentality?

Recent experiments by professors at the Universities of Oxford and Wales Bangor show that it may be natural for people to herd just like animals when they are in a crowd, as reported by The Telegraph (2/14/08) The scientists told volunteers to start walking around a large hall with no particular destination. Then they gave a few of the volunteers some directions on where to walk. It turns out that it took only 5% who seemed to be informed to sway the rest of the crowd of 200 people or more. "There are strong parallels with animal grouping behaviour," says Professor Jens Krause, who led the team of scientists.

..herding behavior in human beings .... is the study of how humans behave in groups within contexts of uncertainty....(Elliot Wave Theorist 2/17/08)

A solo practitioner is about not being part of the herd.  Or part of the herd-mentality created in law school which has every single lawyer on virtually the same career path - working for another, preferably Big Law.  I've received many e-mails from law students who specifically state they wanted to work for themselves but "got caught up in the attitude at law school" and ending up doing what everyone else was doing and getting a job.  They became part of the herd and were led by the 5% who knew definitively where they wanted to go...Big Law.

Being a solo practioner is about self-empowerment, choice and taking absolute responsbility for your own actions, successes and failures. This is the reality.  If you do not understand you alone will be responsible for your actions it will be very hard to appreciate the career path you are travelling when becoming a solo practitioner.

The ability to accept personal responsibility for work outcomes and to thrive under individual scrutiny improves your chances by 65 percent of successfully making the transition from working for a traditional large company to succeeding...at a small firm or as a (solo practitioner)

Peiperl, M., and Y. Baruch, 1997. "Back to Square Zero: The Post-Corporate Career."  Organizational Dynamics 25: 7-22

You alone are responsible for your successes and failures.

Whether by conscious choice or believing you have no other choice than solo practice, the issue is the same. However, knowing you are in control (for the most part) of this venture, you are eliminating a great deal of uncertainty because you have removed the external variables which lead to insecurity such as an employer, the employer's agenda, pleasing the employer, the employer's mismanagement which leads to your layoff, the possibility you are not the right color or gender or marital status or pedigree.  While there will always remain some degree of uncertainty in solo practice, a large part is removed because you know you are not going to fire yourself or knowingly create a failed practice.  You know your color, gender, marital status and pedigree and are quite proud of it.

Solos, however, deal with a different kind of uncertainty.  This includes bringing in enough of the right clients to sustain themselves over the life of their solo practice as well as getting the actual legal work done.  These skills can be learned and the pendulum on these uncertainties can swing towards greater certainty.

To countermand the solo's sense of uncertainty is the headiness of the achievement, self-employment on your terms, building something with your name on it, bringing in the clients and income to maintain a chosen lifestyle. It remains unquestionably one of the most powerful motivators for many who choose solo practice.  You work just as hard but on your own time schedule.  You are driven by your own work ethic in order to achieve those goals which are most important to you.  And these goals play a critical role in determining the character and structure of your solo practice. It's a symbiotic relationship.

If your ambition is Big Law that's terrific and congratulations for understanding the environment you believe you will thrive in as a lawyer.  I'm not here to dissuade you. But if the Big Law environment isn't where you will flourish and you are feeling like you are being led away from the solo or small firm option by the 'herd' then decide where you do fit into the 'herd."  Once you get a handle on where you fit in, (only your opinion matters) the options will make more sense and you can be a little more peaceful about your choices, whatever they may be.  Only then can you start successfully planning the present and the future.


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Chuck Newton

I herd you loud and clear.

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