Bar functions like seminars, happy hours, and practice-area groups are probably the most valuable services bar associations provide. They are not exclusively attended by solos, of course, but solos tend to make up about half the crowd, just as they make up about half the bar.
The solos you meet at bar functions will tend to resemble these seven archetypes.
If you go solo and work hard, you are virtually guaranteed to make $40–65,000, before taxes — not quite enough to get by, in many zip codes. The Just-Barely-Surviving solo is the most common type of solo, and is usually glued to his phone, constantly hoping to find an email from a paying client. Conversations with a Just-Barely-Surviving solo mostly involve deadbeat clients and underpaid assistants.
To break off conversation with a Just-Barely-Surviving solo, say something like “Is that your phone ringing? I’d better let you get that.” and walk away as he scrambles to answer before the third ring.
Sometimes wrongly considered a subspecies of the Just-Barely-Surviving solo, the Firefighter is actually a unique species of solo that just happens to share the same part of the salary curve and an attachment to her phone. You will most frequently encounter the Firefighter stalking the hall outside bar events, talking on the phone about something she forgot to do earlier.
Conversations with a Firefighter usually revolve around a brief that is due the next day or pulling all-nighters before hearings. Conversations with a Firefighter also have a tendency to be constantly interrupted by phone calls, emails, text messages, and anything else she must do now because she has no organizational system.
Luddite lawyers may be more common than Technophiles, but there is usually at least one Technophile in every group of lawyers. Technophiles come in several varieties. Apple Technophiles will usually bring their iPad to networking events, while Google Technophiles may be sporting an Android Wear smartwatch or Google Glass. Counter-intuitively, Technophiles may also be carrying a moleskine notebook and a cheap plastic fountain pen recommended by Lifehacker, which they are just as happy to talk about.
To confirm you are talking to a Technophile, just hand over your business card. A true Technophile will “scan” it with her smartphone or glasses and hand it back or leave it on a nearby cocktail table.
Some people mistakenly believe all lawyers are Braggarts because Braggarts are always the loudest lawyers in the room. Every story the Braggart tells makes him sound like a bigshot. He will make a single profitable case sound like a seven-figure law practice. He will throw out the names of judges he’s only met at scheduling conferences as if they meet for drinks after work every week.
When talking to a Braggart, you may find yourself wondering why your own law practice is such a failure in comparison. Stop, extricate yourself from the conversation, and look for a middle-aged lawyer engaged in meaningful conversation instead of trading war stories. The lawyers you want for mentors don’t bother bragging, because they don’t need to.
The Relentless Networker
The Relentless Networker is easy to spot at a distance, because she is usually carrying a stack of business cards in one hand and has her name badge carefully stuck to her right lapel because a marketing guru said it is more visible there. Although annoying, there is no need to avoid the Relentless Networker. She will only talk to you long enough to get your name and practice area and peel a business card off her stack — which you can immediately throw in the trash because neither of you will remember anything interesting about one another ten minutes later.
Somehow a moderately experienced lawyer and a n00b at the same time, the Clueless solo has somehow managed to avoid learning anything about law practice despite having one for at least a few years. The Clueless solo is actually quite charming because he is full of questions for everyone he meets. He wants to know all about how you approach early settlement discussions or how you streamlined your intake process, and will ask questions in all the right places as if he is learning something. But he won’t.
Be very careful handing your business card over to a Clueless solo. You may become his mentor without meaning to, and mentoring someone who is incapable of taking advice is an exercise in frustration.
The Potential Mentor
If you are lucky, you will meet a Potential Mentor. To find a Potential Mentor at a bar function, look for a group of two or three lawyers who are chatting together like familiar colleagues. They may be sharing war stories, but it won’t sound like a group of Braggarts striving to one-up one another. They will be sharing, not bragging (well, maybe a little), in order to learn learning from each other.
Approach a Potential Mentor carefully. Do not talk about yourself. You have little of value to offer a Potential Mentor you have just met. Instead, listen. Ask a few polite questions. The way to impress a Potential Mentor is not with war stories but with your ability to listen carefully and show that you understand what was said.
Leave the conversation before you appear to be a hanger-on, but not before you ask the Potential Mentor if it would be all right if you called or visited her office sometime to learn more about her practice.
Did I miss any solo archetypes?
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