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I recently read an article in The Recorder that dealt with the apparent quandary for sole practitioners of whether to stay solo or look for partners. Surprisingly absent from the piece was any mention of the increasingly popular practice of using contract attorneys. Contract lawyers are heavily utilized throughout the Bay Area by solos who want to stay solo, while at the same time responding to increasing, sometimes diverse, work demands. The article identified several positive aspects to joining forces with other attorneys, highlighting two, in particular: (1) the ability to attract a larger market of potential clients and (2) the ability to offer a broader range of legal services, thereby increasing revenue streams. The article’s author acknowledged that partnering does not work for everyone and that the process should be undertaken carefully, without haste and only after extensive due diligence. The article designated two primary signs that should cause a busy solo practitioner to consider partnering. They were: (1) that existing work had become more than the solo could handle alone and (2) that the practitioners lacked specialized expertise, resulting in the loss of business. The author concluded that when such signs appear, the only solution was to either partner with other attorneys or expand by hiring additional attorneys. The author did acknowledge that the latter option presented its own set of problems. With more than 18 years of experience responding to the legal assistance needs of thousands of Bay Area solo practitioners, I have learned that very few, if any, sole practitioners working in the Bay Area want or are willing to consider partnering or hiring other attorneys as their only options in response to increased work. Sole practitioners that call a service to provide contract attorney help tend, understandably, to be seasoned attorneys that have been in practice for a number of years. Generally speaking, the benefits of partnering — pooling resources, spreading overhead risk and the ability to recruit other partners and associates — find a secondary position to the free, independent feeling of having to only be concerned for one’s self. Sooner or later, the vast majority of successful sole practitioners find it necessary to consider the idea of partnering or otherwise expanding their office. Over the years, I have conversed with many sole practitioners who considered expanding and/or partnering. Many, if not most, also said that their preference was to not go down that road. There are still many sole practitioners who have not tried using contract attorneys. Many solos who call me are initially tentative about the idea of using contract attorneys — sometimes calling before they have given any thought to what work they would feel comfortable turning over to another attorney. Lawyers wanting to try out the alternative option of using a contract attorney should consider selecting a single, no-pressure project that they feel comfortable turning over to an appropriately skilled contract attorney. Once accustomed to using contract attorneys, lawyers often lose interest in the idea of partnering or expanding. Werner S. Lewin Jr. is the founder and president of Attorney Assistance, an attorney placement service in San Francisco. He can be reached at (415) 883-8333 or [email protected]ttorneyassistance.com.

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