There used to be an advertisement for Oldsmobile automobiles that started with the phrase “not your father’s Oldsmobile”. The idea of course was to rebrand Oldsmobile into something different that how if was perceived. I thought about this ad as I was reading a recent article in the ABA Journal about the state of the profession as we go into the third year of the pandemic. The article included a discussion of solo law practice. The data discussed in the article suggests that solo law practice is not what it used to be and is evolving in some pretty important ways.
Some background. Several years ago, as most of you know, I left big law to become a blogger and legal tech consultant. I also maintained a law practice under the moniker embryLaw LLC.
I hadn’t thought much about my practice and its form until I saw the recent ABA article. The article, entitled View From the Top, which focused on the state of the profession both for big law and solos. It struck me after reading it that I, like many practicing lawyers, am a solo practitioner now. For whatever reason, I hadn’t previously recognized that fact or identified with solos.
My solo practice consists of me as the only lawyer. My office is in my home. When I need legal research, I use various online tools. For really big projects, I use one of the many temporary lawyer services like Law Clerk, about which I have written. I use case and practice management tools like Clio and Smokeball. If I need a receptionist, I can use Ruby Receptionists. Client intake can be automated and handled by providers like Smith.ai.
What I don’t have is a stand-alone office. My office, or better put, my workplace, is either out of home or wherever I happen to be. Most of my clients are out of town, and when we have to meet, it’s either via Zoom, or I go where they are. When I need to meet with in-town clients in person, it’s Starbucks, or we have lunch. I have no employees; I have no real estate or other significant overhead costs.
I can practice at a very high and functioning level despite not having the trappings of the prestigious fancy office
Yet, I can practice at a very high and functioning level despite not having the trappings of the prestigious fancy office. An office with wood paneling and degrees on the wall. I don’t have the headaches and costs of a “real” law office. And I’m free to do my work wherever and whenever I want (subject to client demands)
It makes me wonder if the future of the often beleaguered solo practitioner may be virtual. A practice where significant costs are avoided, as shown by the February 2021 Clio Report entitled, Legal Trends for Solo Law Firms. That Clio Report noted that revenue for solos dropped between 7 and 5 % between April and June 2020. As a result, solos began looking for ways to reduce costs, among other things. 9% of the solos surveyed said they had stopped operating out of a stand-alone commercial office. And another 9% said they were unsure whether they would maintain their offices if and when Covid ever ends. Almost 1/5 of solos may be oping for a different more virtual work model.
In its October 2021 Report, Clio further reported that 2/3rds of solos say office space was the least likely thing in which they would be investing. You can’t look at these statistics and conclude that anything other than a sea change is occurring with solo practices. Solos are going virtual.
And clients, for the most part, don’t really care about the fancy offices. Like most of the rest of the world, many clients are more than content with non in-person communications. As Clio concluded in its 2021 Survey:
While the exact long-term impacts of the last two years remain uncertain, we can begin to see a new foundation for the future of legal to be built on. Client expectations have shifted as a result of being exposed to better ways of accessing products and services of all types, including legal services. Traditional formats for communication are not going anywhere, but they can no longer be the only option available to consumers. Remote communication options have not only made legal services more flexible, but they have also recalibrated our sense of distance. Firms have been empowered to expand where they look for clients, and the law office can now be wherever a client wants it to be.
79% of the client surveyed by Clio for its 2021 Report say the option to work remotely with their lawyer was important.
Why lug around baggage you don’t need
Years ago, When I traveled on planes, I carried heavy suitcases, hang up bags, and stuffed briefcases. Getting to the gate and on a plane was a workout. Now I carry an iPad and a rolling bag. I just don’t need all the stuff we used to lug around.
The same is true for the proverbial law office. For many lawyers, particularly solos, we just don’t need it anymore.
The ability to function without overhead makes practicing solo that much more appealing. Particularly to lawyers who are unhappy with the demands, headaches, and politics of many law firms. The notion that you can do just as good work and have just as good clients without a stand-alone office is an intriguing concept. And one which I think of which we will see more.
Why lug around baggage you don’t need…