Three Myths About Solo Attorneys (Part 2 of 3)


4-Step Computer Security Upgrade

Learn to encrypt your files, secure your computer when using public Wi-Fi, enable two-factor authentication, and use good passwords.

I’ve already dispelled a number of myths about solo attorneys: from their alleged inability to get another job, to how much they work and how much they make.

After writing that post, I was confronted with more misconceptions about solo attorneys that need correction.

Solo attorneys have offices, they’re not afraid of big law attorneys, and often have better (and cooler) technology than big law.

Myth 1: solo attorneys work out of their cars

It’s possible I’m overly sensitive. It’s also possible that when you’re a solo attorney, you get asked lots of stupid questions. One of my favorite questions is “oh, you have your own practice, do you have an office?” Pay attention: I don’t get asked where my office is, I get asked if I have an office.

Yes, yes I do. I also have a furniture, a website, a full caseload and I run a business in my spare time. I even wear big boy clothes when I go to court.

Ok, I admit, some solo attorneys do not have an office. In this day and age, however, I would say those attorneys are in the minority. At a minimum, nearly every solo attorney I know at least has a virtual office. Even so, that still counts as an office and virtual offices are usually just a placeholder for new solos starting out.

All of the solo attorneys I know with full caseloads have actual offices. I need an office because I have a full caseload, but I also think I have a full caseload because I have an office and spend lots of time there. Go ahead and debate the chicken and egg theory, if you will.

The bottom line is that the next time you meet a solo, please don’t ask them if they have an office.

Myth 2: solo attorneys are scared of big law attorneys

Nope. Not at all. Some big-name partner might “handle” my case, but I usually deal with a young associate. Said associate is usually younger than me, less experienced in the venue, and less knowledgable in the substantive law. Advantage: me. In other cases, it’s obvious that the other side is churning the case (billing time in order to bill time). I’m trying to win it. That’s always going to work out to my advantage.

Even in situations where I went toe to toe with Joey Joe Joe, that went to blah blah law school and worked on important case and is partner at the firm of somebody I don’t know and someone I’ve never heard of, I’m not scared. The rules of civil procedure don’t change. I present CLE’s on my area of law—opposing counsel calls it the Fair Collection Practicing thingee. Advantage: still me.

I had a case last year where I represented a consumer against a debt collector. One of the big firms in town represented the debt collector. At the pretrial, the Magistrate came out and said “nice to see you again Mr. Ryder.” The Magistrate then turned to an allegedly high-ranking partner from the big firm and said “I’m sorry, what’s your name?” The Magistrate then proceeded to tell the partner that his client should settle the case, because “Mr. Ryder knows what he’s doing.”

On another case (different big firm), a partner sarcastically asked me why I was bringing my FDCPA case in federal court, because the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over these cases. I politely informed them that it’s a federal statute, so I’m fairly certain a federal court will hear the case. At the pretrial, I asked them to explain to the judge why the pleaded lack of subject matter jurisdiction as an affirmative defense in their answer. All I heard was crickets chirping. I believe the case was resolved shortly thereafter.

But go ahead and keep thinking I’m afraid. Let me know how that works out.

Myth 3: solo attorneys use outdated technology

Of course they do, they can’t even afford to have a real office. Oh wait.

By and large, solo attorneys use technology that is at least as cutting edge, if not more cutting edge, than big firms. I recently visited someone that worked at one of the large firms in town, and they complained about how lousy their computers and technology were. I think his laptop was running some outdated version of Windows. I’m pretty sure he drooled when he saw my MacBook Pro and Thunderbolt monitor.

Big firms have technology committees and IT departments. I’m guessing the members of those committees read Lawyerist for advice on law firm technology. Take note: Lawyerist was started by a solo attorney writing about technology. Take another note: most of the articles written on technology are still written by solo attorneys.

I can only imagine the intense debates about if/why/how the firm should move away from BlackBerrys to iPhones or other smartphones. I’m assuming the debate took quite some time, which is why it took most firms years to start using iPhones.

Here’s it works at a solo law firm: “oh that looks helpful, it will save me time, I’m going to buy it.” Then we’re off to the races. I use technology efficiently as I can, because I need to use it that way. I don’t have a secretary that files all of the documents in various cases, or a paralegal that can compare a revised document to a previous version. But I can use systems and programs to do those tasks efficiently and quickly.

And I don’t need an IT person to tell me whether or not Dropbox is a security risk. As noted above, I wear big boy pants. I read the rules, I read advisory opinions, and I decide if it’s appropriate or not (yes—Dropbox is perfectly acceptable).

Solo attorneys are pretty awesome

That’s not a myth, it’s a reality. The sooner you figure that out, the better.

At the same time, it’s pretty fun being the underdog. So maybe you should keep thinking I work from my car and use a dot-matrix printer.



Get Lawyerist in Your Inbox, Daily

Current Articles
Current Lab Discussions
  • Thanks for your continued posts. I get asked these same questions. I also would be lost without web based practice management of the sort that my big law pals seem lost about.

    • Good call. I should have included that. Maybe I’ll have to do a part 3.

      Any other common misperceptions that drive you nuts?

      • At least around here (Little Rock), there seems to be an assumption that solo attorneys are fungible. So, while Firm X might specialize in one area and Firm Y might focus on another, solo attorneys are a dime a dozen. This often leads to the assumption that I can and will handle any matter someone throws my way, even if it’s not actually in an area that I practice or have any familiarity with.

        • That’s a good point. Despite my obvious niche, I run into that issue as well. Maybe I’ll have to do part 3.

      • You covered the big three. And I like how you noted that you’re able to use your opponents’ underestimation as a competitive advantage.

  • Great post Mr. Ryder. Much like the above commenter, I get a lot of the same questions and I appreciate the way you articulated the answers. Now, time to draw some power from your words and motivate myself to get back to work after the long weekend.

  • As a newly licensed solo, the biggest myth I’ve encountered is that my lack of an office means I spend my days watching Jerry Springer. It’s an extension of the first myth from part one.

    • I’m assuming you just watch Law & Order to hone your legal skills, and only watch Springer during your three hour lunch?

      • Andrew

        Ha! I’m working on my eyebrows to get the full Jack McCoy effect.

      • More like when it gets hot I work on not sweating like Jimmy from “The Practice”

  • I know this is a self selecting bias, but I am surprised that more institutional clients aren’t using small firms and solos…

    We have no pressure to bill, and no desire to churn the file. And while we would love to write 50 research memos to the file for each issue that comes up, or take 100 depositions, our typical client can’t afford that, so we are accustomed to achieving a good result with less.

    We’re also way more versatile and creative, because we’ve had to deal with areas of law that don’t affect biglaw.

    I’m really enjoying this series and I hope you keep it up.

    • King David

      One of my law professors used to work for the FED and the DOJ handling financial crimes and now he is solo with his own firm and many of his clients are major institutions. I think these big companies just think that they will get the best legal services because these big firms have the all the money and connections.

  • I think you just hit a very important point—that solos are able to get better results with less cost to the client compared to big law. Frankly, even compared to medium to small firms, solos generally appear to provide more bang for the buck.

    Then again, I’m also fairly biased. And who wouldn’t want to pay a big firm $450 an hour to make ridiculous arguments?

  • Very valid points!! I was a solo for years and still have a fairly small practice now and I have always been able to hang with the “big law firms” of the world in litigating cases. I think technology is evening the playing field between large and small firms. Thanks for the post!