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Clifford Tuttle Jr., Solo Practitioner (Attorney)

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Working as a solo practitioner has both pros and cons, just like any other attorney. Some of the pros include complete freedom over what cases they work on and making their own destiny. Some of the cons include a lower average salary compared to private practice attorneys and less support staff to help you in than you would have in private practice.

Solo practitioners enjoy various benefits that larger firm practitioners may lack, such as complete freedom over the cases they choose and the nature of their practice. That being said, there are some downsides to becoming a solo practitioner, including reduced staffing and a lower average salary as compared to larger firm practitioners. All in all, you should weigh your options and consider becoming a solo practitioner if it is the right fit for you.

I didn't plan to be a sole practitioner. I had practiced in law firms and as in-house counsel in several different industries. In 1995, I was a member of a medium-sized firm that was in the process of imploding. The founders were trying to retire and brought in a lawyer with experience in law firm management who ultimately destroyed a healthy and successful firm.

At the time, I was doing mostly residential real estate closings for small thrifts and I simply continued to do the same thing for the same clients as a sole practitioner. This worked out well for me based in a home office, since closings were usually held at banks or real estate offices. However, times were changing and residential real estate was rapidly being taken over by non-lawyer settlement services, many quite large. Meanwhile, my thrifts were being merged. With my core practice disintegrating, I decided to focus on small litigation, something I had always enjoyed. Since I had broad experience in real estate, I concentrated my practice there.

Every law practice, large and small, requires marketing. In 2008, I started a blog, Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk. I am working on the 1,000th post at the moment, an interview with one of my law school profs who has been teaching for 48 years and pioneered a Chinese Law program that he started 22 years ago. The blog is my best marketing tool and new clients often tell me that they had been reading it for some time before contacting me. I also give Continuing Education seminars to lawyers and real estate agents.

Some of the advantages and disadvantages of sole practice are obvious. You can take or reject cases and clients without answering to anyone. You can donate your time to a worthy cause without explaining (except perhaps to your spouse). On the negative side, you must rely on your own initiative for everything and cannot afford to be sick. But some are not so readily apparent. Working alone can be both very productive and very lonely. You don't go to many meetings and you don't have interruptions by co-workers. But you may come to miss the close friendship and support of colleagues. I do.

Sole practice requires mindfulness and self-discipline of a kind that many have not needed to develop in a group practice. If you don't make a calendar entry or take note of something important or schedule a task, there is no one to remind you. Alas, you may discover it too late, or not at all. It is easy to be overwhelmed and clients and others seem to be less tolerant of delay or negligence in today's fast-paced electronic world.

For me, technology is a necessity. It enables me to keep in touch with clients seamlessly and put out more work quickly and efficiently. But it also puts us all on a very short leash. Some task that could be attended to in a week, when paper arrived in the mail, is in front of your nose in a minute, demanding immediate attention

A smart phone, a tablet and an up-to-date computer have now replaced your secretary. They enable you to perform her job (or most of it) yourself. But it is easy to forget that you are the secretary now and despite the assist from electronics, you must still spend a significant amount of time doing your own secretarial work. Managing time is harder, I think. I try to do my most important desk work early in the morning. The telephone, email and scheduled appointments can take over the rest of the day and leave you without enough time or energy to address deadlines.

Solo practice is not for everyone. I worry for new lawyers I see doing it. The foundation provided by law school does not give you enough. There is knowledge, experience and judgment that is acquired over time and through the guidance and assistance of senior lawyers. It is also not for those seeking to practice in fields that require extensive man-hours in a concentrated period of time or coordinated teamwork. But there is a place for it and a large number of lawyers have found their niche as solos.

And, by the way, it was not an accident that David slew Goliath. There are areas of the law where solos can and do perform better and more cheaply than larger law firms.

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