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During my years of drudgery at several big law firms, I was often so unhappy that I considered quitting the practice of law altogether. I just couldn’t figure out what I would do instead, so with a mortgage and two cats to support, I decided to stick with law. It took me a long time to realize that I loved my work, but I just hated my job. Now, I love my work and my job. Being a solo may not be for everyone, but for me it’s the only way to go. In fact, whenever I get calls from headhunters, I proudly speak my favorite thanks-but-no-thanks line: “I’d pour coffee at Starbucks before I’d go back to a big firm.” But what does the rest of the world think of solos? FELLOW MEMBERS OF THE BAR Lawyers at big firms tend to condescend to us. They think we opened our own shops because we 1) couldn’t cut it in the big leagues; 2) are stay-at-home moms with kids and handle a couple of cases on the side; or 3) are naive, starry-eyed, crusading do-gooders. When I first went solo, the big-shot partner at my former firm rehired me on a contract basis to finish off some open cases that I left him to struggle with. On one case, I did all the research and wrote the entire summary judgment motion (as I usually did for him), but he wanted to do the oral argument himself. So he made me copy all the relevant cases and highlight all the important parts (as I usually did for him) so he could prepare for the argument. He didn’t have time to prepare (he usually didn’t), so he was going to wing it. He asked me to come to court with him “just in case” — i.e., so I could dig him out if the roof fell in. The case concerned whether an agreement was enforceable. Our side contended that the agreement should be enforced because the other party had received legal advice before signing it. The big-shot partner stood up and told the judge: “And the defendant got good advice, too. A big firm represented him — not some solo practitioner with an office south of Market Street.” I was sitting right next to him at counsel table. I’d done every scrap of work on this motion. I’d made him look good for seven years at the firm. And he dissed me in front of the entire courtroom. I desperately wanted to stand up and say: “Excuse me, Your Honor, but I’m a solo practitioner with an office only half a block north of Market Street, so I think I’ll be leaving now.” But somehow, I managed to contain myself, and kept my mouth shut. Sadly enough, though, I wasn’t really surprised by his remarks, which seemed to reflect the prevailing attitude among those at big firms. But we solos should use this to our advantage. As the proverb goes, “Let your friends overestimate your virtues and your enemies overestimate your faults.” Let them assume we don’t really know what we’re doing and can’t handle the work or the pressure. If we do our jobs to the best of our abilities, sooner or later their overconfidence will come back to bite them. Of course, there are many, many lawyers who don’t work at big firms, and among them, solos are well-respected. Shortly before setting up shop, I went to my 10-year law school reunion. My classmates were all encouraging and complimentary about my decision to strike out on my own. And in the ensuing nine years, I’ve rarely detected any snobbishness or attitude from lawyers who work outside of big firms. And even at big firms it’s possible to find lawyers who don’t harbor the typical disdain for solos: the embattled and enslaved midlevel associates, who desperately envy our freedom. REAL PEOPLE Among real people in the real world — that is, those all-important clients and prospective clients — solos get plenty of respect. Savvy clients know that a solo usually can do the same fine legal work for a lot less money and with a lot more flexibility than a big firm can. Small-business people know that because solos are also business owners, they understand client concerns. Ordinary human beings who are facing (hopefully) the only significant legal problem of their lives want a lawyer they can relate to, have confidence in, and trust. Look the part, walk the walk, do the job, and none of these clients will care that you don’t have six names on an oak-paneled door and polished marble in the bathrooms. And in my social circles, I’ve found that my being a solo diminishes the negative view that too many people have of lawyers. I was recently jogging with one of the 25-year-olds in my running club, and she asked me what I did for a living. When I told her I was a lawyer, she recoiled (an all too common reaction), recovered, and then asked me where I worked. When I told her I was a solo, she smiled and said, “Oh, you’re a COOL lawyer!” That was one of the best compliments I ever got. It more than made up for that day in court when I was disdained as a solo practitioner with an office on the wrong side of the tracks. So the next time some officious big shot snubs you, remember: You’re a cool lawyer. You’re a solo! Kimberly Fanady is a solo practitioner in San Francisco. She can be reached at [email protected] Read Ms. Fanady’s bio.

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