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Trusts and estates attorney Joseph M. Pankowski wasn’t just his own boss. For six years, he was also his own secretary, bookkeeper and paralegal, a bona fide “solo solo,” as he put it. Some lawyers would dread practicing alone. Not Pankowski. He relished the freedom of picking and choosing clients and setting his own office hours. “I really thought I would stay a solo forever,” he confessed from the conference room of his new digs — that of Stamford, Conn.’s 22-lawyer Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky. Indeed, the switch to big-firm life is a major adjustment, one full of compromise, say former sole practitioners who’ve taken that career path. But it also can have its fair share of benefits. Like others who have preceded him in such a move, Pankowski seems to be adjusting well to his new home. It’s not just the free coffee that saves him a trip to Dunkin Donuts each morning. Since joining Wofsey Rosen on July 31, his referrals have noticeably increased, clients view him in a more professional light, and his productivity is higher than ever, Pankowski claimed. He also plans to take a six-day vacation to Florida this winter — the longest stretch Pankowski will be away from his practice in years. TURNING AWAY WORK The security of working with other lawyers — being part of a team — can’t be overlooked, say former solos now practicing at big firms. Still, judging by the relatively low number of attorneys who’ve gone that route, such a drastic career change, no doubt, comes at a price. “Most people who are solos … stay solo,” maintained Peter C. Herbst, co-chairman of the Connecticut Bar Association’s solo and small-firm practice section. The ability to make decisions about their practice unilaterally is a job perk that many sole practitioners would never part with, said Herbst, a Torrington, Conn., solo himself. If they do give in to the comforts of sharing the load with other lawyers, their most common trajectory, according to Herbst, is to a two- or three-attorney shop — not a firm whose sheer size suggests the very administrative red tape that led many of them to become solos in the first place. Pankowski acknowledged that a “relatively unique” set of circumstances prompted him to take a salary cut to become a counsel at Wofsey Rosen with the hope of one day being invited into the firm’s partnership ranks. Being completely on his own, Pankowski said, he was preparing wills and doing other tasks routinely done by paralegals. It got to the point where he was so busy, he began turning away new clients who came to him to draft their wills. As a probate specialist, Pankowski said he also was increasingly frustrated with the burden of having to refer out clients’ non-T&E matters. Checking up on the progress of cases he’s referred out is much easier, he insists, when the lawyers representing his clients are just down the hall. With his new firm’s ability to handle everything from real estate closings to business disputes, Pankowski’s own referral sources are sending him more work, he said. “I’m much busier now than when I was a solo,” he admitted. But having the assistance of a paralegal and a secretary has allowed him to concentrate on high-level legal work that, when he was a solo, competed for his time with the mundane tasks of running an office. In making the switch, the most difficult change to get used to isn’t that “you’re not your own boss,” contended intellectual property specialist Peter L. Costas, who joined Hartford, Conn.’s Pepe & Hazard in 1992 after 33 years of practicing in a small firm and another two-and-a-half years on his own. It’s that “decisions are collective and not individual.” Added Pankowski, “You really do have to check your ego at the door.” “Many clients simply aren’t happy with having all of their eggs in one basket,” said former solo Thomas C. Clark, now with Tyler Cooper & Alcorn in Hartford. “For better or for worse, they want you to have back-up.” Prior to going solo, Clark had left what is now Hartford’s Rome McGuigan Sabanosh to open a Hartford outpost for New York-based Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner.

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