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I was deeply disappointed by your front-page headline article, “The Spice of Solo Life” in the Dec.21 Recorder. The article presents as an exemplar of solo practice an attorney who prepares a quasi-marriage agreement for a triad, drafts contracts for pets, and proclaims that “The solo life is this randomness.” It was an offensively inaccurate caricature, but seemed perfectly consistent with the broader view of The Recorder’s corporate parent, American Lawyer Media, that good law is practiced in the big firms and that solo practitioners are peculiar and somewhat kooky. I spent 20 years in medium-sized law firm life in San Francisco before going into solo practice five years ago. In addition to professional success, I enjoyed all the success that law firm life has to offer, including a position on my former firm’s management committee and participation in the other significant aspects of the life of the firm. I do not quarrel with those who remain in law firm life; indeed, many of my best friends practice in law firms. Unlike the image presented by American Lawyer Media and, at least in this article, by The Recorder, I do not find solo practice appealing because I could not get a job elsewhere, or because I like a kooky and “random” practice, or because I do not want to work very hard. I find it appealing because it spares me the core and generally unacknowledged problems of law firm life. First, my clients came to my former firm hoping to have me work on their cases. If the case worked out, they were generally not too disappointed that I had delegated their work to someone else. But a core aspect of firm life is the duty to train associates and to more fully deploy underutilized partners, which naturally leads to the need to explain, excuse, rationalize or apologize for less than ideal work performed by the associates and partners to whom work had been delegated. Whatever the institutional benefits to the law firm, this did not leave me more satisfied or my clients better served. The biggest difference now that I am a solo is that my clients know that they will get my efforts, not my efforts combined with or diluted by those of my underutilized partners and my eager-to-learn associates. If anything leaves my office less than perfect, it is exclusively my fault, and my clients are happy to know that I am the one who will answer the phone and do the work. Second, I luxuriate in the ability to do whatever is best, regardless of whether it is billable or collectible. I can spend a day helping a colleague or a client simply because it is the right thing to do, without dreaming of billing the time or thinking about what not billing the time might do to “my numbers.” I can write articles, and write them on topics of interest to me, regardless of the absence of plausible business development potential. (My latest article addressed whether forum shopping correlated to judicial corruption and was published in University of Tennessee’s Business Law Review; scarcely a sound business development gambit from a number of perspectives.) I do not need to go as far as Milton Regan Jr., who argues in “Eat What You Kill” that the “tournament of partners” can drive unethical and improper conduct. It is enough to say that the tendency annually to measure a partner’s worth and importance in terms of that year’s “productivity” almost inevitably leads partners to ignore or undervalue some of the most important and beneficial aspects of being a lawyer and practicing law; aspects that don’t happen to directly correlate to short-term productivity. Finally, the implied or stated view of American Lawyer Media and, at least as presented in the article, The Recorder, is that significant clients, significant cases and the “serious practice” of law occurs only in law firms. Rubbish. For 25 years my practice has been limited to business bankruptcy in the Bay Area, and as a result, I now have perhaps 30 peers or less. My hourly rate and clientele are comparable to those of my law firm peers. My client base and practice have not differed since I became a solo. I currently represent an NYSE REIT in tenant bankruptcies throughout the country, recently arguing on its behalf before the Ninth Circuit. Other solos have similarly marquee clients with significant representations. While the idea that solos are relegated to “random” clients and kooky cases may fit the world view that American Lawyer Media likes to project, it is simply not accurate. The Recorder should reject the “Spice of Solo Life” article as demeaning and beneath its standards. There are serious issues to be discussed on both sides of the law firm/solo practice split, but presenting a caricature of the solo practitioner is not helpful to the community and falls far below the standards to which this paper should aspire. Michael St. James San Francisco You can send Letters to the Editor to The Recorder, 10 United Nations Plaza, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94102; by fax at (415) 749-5549; or at [email protected].

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