The below article was written by Sara Baris, Legal Advisor & Business Consultant at RCM Wealth Advisors, a Chicago-based independent investment advisory firm dedicated to select high-net worth individuals, families, institutions and business owners.
As a solo practitioner myself, Sara’s article reflects my own sentiments about being a solo practitioner. I’m a business person & attorney who’s built his own practice & business. I don’t operate with the same red tape, conflicts & politics that attorneys from larger firms have to deal with in order to serve their clients or coworkers.
Since Sara discusses law practices in the context of the entertainment industry, I’ll add my own opinion in that same context. In mafia & crime shows characters are always saying how “it’s not personal, it’s just business.” Usually they say this as a rationalization for killing someone (please, no lawyer jokes!). A great example of this is from The Godfather (a clip is below). Well, because I’m a solo practitioner, there’s no such distinction. Every time I represent a client, it’s a reflection of who I am as a person & a professional. It’s always both, personal & business. Anyway, where did this idea come from that killing someone isn’t personal? Isn’t that as personal as it gets?
Why Solo Law Practices are the Right Choice for Entrepreneurs
I once took a law school seminar in which Iggy Pop (yes- Iggy Pop and the Stooges, that Iggy Pop) was a guest speaker. It’s not worth explaining why or how the professor got Iggy Pop to speak to a class full of entirely un-punk law students. But what is worth explaining, is how Iggy felt about lawyers and what he appreciated, respected, and was willing to pay greatly for when it came to his own business and legal needs. Mr. Pop (because that is his real name of course), like the sage rocker that he is, wisely told us that his personal attorney is a cool, down to earth and understanding friend that provides him with a source of sovereignty, making him feel like his art and his business are protected and within his control at all times. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The phrase “source of sovereignty” struck a chord with me and has stayed with me. Because… that is really what a lawyer should be for a business owner. A lawyer should be a respected friend that makes a client feel like their business assets are protected and controlled so that they can grow gradually and profitably. And this is precisely why solo or small law practices are the right choice for entrepreneurs, early-stage businesses and start-ups. In the beginning, businesses and their owners are often in vulnerable positions and more likely to be taken advantage of by investors, partners, or, in Iggy’s case- evil record company executives. For this reason, it is important for new businesses to have an attorney that is accessible, flexible and adept at problem solving. With large firms, the billable hour requirements, the heightened prevalence of practice specialization, and the existence of higher priority clients, ensures that the needs of an early stage business, even a larger one, will not be aligned with the goals of its big-firm attorney. An attorney working at a large firm will get paid 6 figures, whether their client’s business succeeds or not. A solo practitioner however, knows that they will get paid a lot faster (and more frequently) if his or her clients’ businesses are doing well. The devotion of time and energy is key.
Plus, solo and small practitioners are essentially entrepreneurs themselves and they have a unique understanding of the trials and tribulations of running your own show. Building lasting and trusting relationships at the ground level is an essential component to successfully building a business. That’s not to say that it is not possible to build that kind of relationship with an attorney at a big firm, but it will sure cost you a hell of a lot more!