How I began my Solo Practice

 

                It was January 15, 2008 and I was driving downtown to attend a pupillage meeting of the Scanlon Inn of Court, a social group of attorneys and judges to which I belong.  (I have written a post at this site regarding the Inn.)  My days were full of thinking about the direction my practice had taken when my two major retainer clients had ended our agreements.  One of them, a very significant source of my income, had been sold to a major chain.  The other had been transferred to the children and I belatedly discovered that I did not have a good enough relationship with them to continue in my professional relationship with the Company.    My practice had been pretty much centered in the area of Labor and Employment Law over the past 16 or so years and the majority of that was on the Employers side for a few Mid to Small size Employers.  However things were looking up as I had taken a specialist exam with the Ohio State Bar Association, for labor and employment law, in October 2007.  I had in the first week of January 2008 received notice that I had met all of the criteria, including the written examination, and that I was now certified as a Specialist in this field and could advertise my credentials.  I intended to market that certification to the best of my ability and hoped that I could reinvigorate my practice and in fact I expected to.  I thought things were looking up.

                It was rainy and overcast and luckily I was only driving about 55 miles an hour when a car spun over into my lane and I struck them.  At the emergency room the doctors indicated that I had only ruptured two disks in my neck and that I was very lucky to have only suffered those injuries considering the speed of the collision.  It was an office joke that I loved those big Cadillacs when everyone else was driving the newer vehicles.  My Fleetwood probably helped me to survive this accident.

                My life changed almost immediately as I found that I could not safely drive the 20 miles which I needed to go to the office everyday.  When I was almost involved in another accident within two weeks of the first, due to my physical problems with driving, I decided that driving to work was no longer a choice for me.  Over the months that passed my physical condition did not improve and my partner was complaining of my absence from the workplace.  A solo practice was born of necessity.

                I guess you could say that my motives in becoming a solo were not “pure” since I really never had a choice.  Over the past year I have had the opportunity to work as a solo and I must say that it has been very interesting.  I did not realize that I had not been taking time to really think about the practice of law.  I had been responding to my case load but had never really thought about what the practice means or whether I was really satisfied in being an attorney.  I had time to think and I am glad to say that I do like being an attorney.  It is satisfying when your job is something which you truly enjoy doing even if injured.

                I have practiced for the past year doing all of the work myself and I have found a great deal of satisfaction from that.  At first I thought that I could not practice without a secretary but I have been able to replace that need with software and office organization.  That is not to say that it would not be nice to have someone to make my copies for me or do my typing but I do not miss the headaches of depending upon someone else to do something right when I can just do it myself.  It does not hurt that I type at a high rate of speed and that I now use dictation software to do a substantial amount of the typing.  I have not avoided litigation, for the most part, due to my debility but while I am fully capable of doing the work I would rather do it without pain.  In essence, I intend to keep my solo practice even after I heal up from my injury.   I enjoy working from my home because of the satisfaction which it gives me in working on matters without the interruption, costs, politics and travel time which you find in a normal office setting.  I have a pond at my home and three years ago I built a patio which overlooks the water.  Up until last summer I could count on one hand the times when I could just set down and enjoy the view without interruption.  This last summer I really enjoyed taking my laptop out to the patio with my coffee and reviewing my E-Mail in the early mornings before I began work.  During this past summer there was a large blue heron which would take off most mornings when I first came out.  Before the summer was over he quit paying any attention to me when I took my seat and we both did what we needed to do without interruption.

                I believe the office where I worked before my injury was probably one of the best in the Akron area filled as it was with other Attorneys which I shared space with and could relate to.   One of those attorneys still calls me on a regular basis to see how I am doing and if there is anything which he could do to help me.  I will never forget him for his kindness, real concern and the depth of his compassion.  It is however amazing how much of the cost which is associated with having an outside office which is not really necessary to do the job and do it right.  It is very surprising to me but it appears my clients are not influenced by their need to come to my house now instead of the office.  Some of these clients can sometimes be found fishing in my pond and while I have not yet set an office appointment at waters edge I have discussed important business with them while they fished and it all felt very natural.  Further, I am surprised at the number of new clients which have hired me since moving my office home and it appears my new surroundings do not concern them either.  I am very serious in the practice of law and the professionalism associated with it and I think my clients recognize that in me.  The only real comment which I have received from any clients is that it is very convenient to have an attorney who can meet with them in the evening or on a Saturday. 

                I do not refuse evening phone calls and carry my cell phone with me in my pocket sometimes until 7:00 or 8:00 o’clock in the evening.   That itself is not a burden since providing this type of service rarely interferes with my family life and before it would I can always just turn off the phone.  I believe setting up my cell phone as my main business line was a very good choice and it is a key player in the way that I run my office.  I would not have provided this type of service before since I believe it would take away too much of my time with my family.  I really do not limit my practice to 5 or 6 days a week or to certain hours of the day.  If I feel like working at Eleven at night that is fine with my family and with me since I now have the flexibility to do that.  I think one of the hardest things to do is to stop working but my wife is fantastic and she will sometimes come down to my office and just tell me it is time to end the day or come down to encourage me about something I am doing.  This is something which you do not get at the office and I think that if I ever move my office back to an office building it will be something which I will miss.  Sure you can have an office at home where you can occasionally work on a file, I did it for years, but you never really feel like it is your office and for some reason I always thought that I did my best work at the office.  Now when I am home it is my office and for me doing things this way just fits me like a glove.

               Sometimes it is inconvenient to not have a conference room for depositions but I can always use the other attorneys.  I do have a large area with which to meet with clients but it is really not set up to do depositions.  If the need arises I could always hire a Court Reporter with access to a conference room.  Once my physical condition improves a little more I intend to set up an office some distance away from my main home office but that is farther down the line and I really do not think it is necessary at this point in time.  If I do set up another outside office it will certainly be more limited in scope and expense than the one which I left and geared more to expanding my geographical practice area than to have a place to go in order to do my job.  I will make sure that I have access to a conference room at any new location.  I can say that my office environment which I enjoy now is nicer than any office building and that my office is actually larger than the one which I left.  I actually have access to more equipment which is better geared to my use than what I left and that while I enjoyed speaking with the other attorneys in the office none practiced in my specific practice area to be of much aid in consulting on a particular Employment issue.

                I still dress up when my clients come to call and when it is necessary to appear in public but I have found that it is not necessary to put on a coat and tie in order to practice law.     In the area of practice in which I work all that I really need is a place to set down and work, to store my active files and to have access to a computer, printer and phone since I carry in my mind the most important part of my business, my expertise and knowledge.  While I do maintain a legal library I have found that Computer and Internet access enable me to remain current in my knowlege and understanding.  I still keep my hand in a number of other areas of the law and intend to do so in the future as it provides some perspective and spice to my practice.  I believe that it is important that as a Solo you be very careful in getting involved in matters where you do not have experience since you do not have the support group which exists in the firms to sound out an idea before you go out and make a mistake.  That said, if you have the time, and time really is a premium when you are working for yourself, you could become proficient enough to perform most types of work.  However, it is a downside to a Solo practice where you do not have access to other attorneys when you are delving into a new area.  For my part I try to limit excursions into new practice areas unless they particularly interest me.  The Upside to being a Solo is that if something interests you there is no one to tell you that your excursion might lose money and makes no sense.  Even working with one other person will at times put a wet-blanket upon your wish to try something new.

                It seems that moving my practice to my home has made it more personal to me and I even feel that I have established better relationships with my clients.  It is still important that you maintain some professional separation from your clients but I do believe that a little more interaction with them than just an office meeting does more good than harm.  My hours are always set my appointment and I have no problem with clients just dropping by except a single time and that was easily corrected without hurting anyone’s feelings.  Most people recognize that you are providing them with superior service when they are able to reach you promptly at almost anytime during the day or during the weekends and they are very careful to not abuse this accessibility.  I really think that I am more connected with my clients than I have ever been and I  enjoy talking with them and helping them with their problems.  I suppose that if my practice was criminal defense that I could not do things the way that I do since I would have some concern about my clients.  However that is not the case and if I feel my prospective client is not one who I would wish to have in my home then it is not someone who I would wish to represent anyway.  While I cannot say that I am glad that I was involved in an automobile accident last year, that would be foolish,  I can say that if it had not happened I would probably not have tried to become a solo or have even set up my home office as a main place of business and I would have missed out on a very rewarding experience.

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