November 1, 2010, will be the second anniversary of my solo law practice; before that, 23 years in firms. The change has at the same time been revolutionizing, energizing, anxiety-producing, affirming, challenging, faith-building, faith-challenging and humbling. It has opened up to me a the new world of solo and small-firm attorneys, who exude an enthusiasm for their work noticeably exceeding that which I typically witnessed in firm life. Perhaps it was my projecting my own fears and motivations upon my colleagues, but in firms I sensed the dominant drivers to be production of billable hours and the resulting fees, and recognition both inside and outside the firm. Those outside this mold, those who did what they did as an expression of themselves and their true motivations, were, to my mind, few and far between. True enough, those attorneys who work on their own or in small firms must strive to make enough money, and financial issues are certainly a concern; but the discussions seem to center just as much, if not more, around the substance of the work and better ways to get it done. I’m thinking here specifically of the monthly meetings of the Solo and Small Firm Section of the Cobb County Bar, which I recently joined. It is a very collegial group where common issues are openly discussed among those with the same type practice without regard to competitive advantage. Makes me wonder sometime what my practice would have looked like had I started in a small town, or at least a small firm, instead of what was then a major firm in Atlanta. Looks like by the time I’m done I will have had a good taste of both worlds.
Solo practice abhors silos. I found that firms resisted, or simply did not understand, my attempts to expand my practice from real estate transactions into into different disciplines, such as litigation. At issue were financial matters (e.g., a firm typically sees as not cost effective, in terms of hourly rates, an experienced attorney’s basically playing the role of an associate to learn new disciplines) and bureaucratic (e.g., difficult for a firm to think outside its silos). For many of us, solo practice not only allows but demands the dismantling of silos, within the bounds of competence. Here, though, is one area in which I have the solo world superior to the firm world: mentoring, and true camaraderie. For example, I am now doing some litigation, but I would not be able to do it on my own with any level of comfort. Mike Dunn, now of Sedki & Dunn, graciously agreed to play partner to my associate on one matter. He directs and reviews and I do the heavy lifting on drafting and taking care of the requisite filings. He is a patient teacher, and I thank him. I have had the pleasure of working with my cousin Ralph Taylor, who practices with Buckley King in Gainesville. He has been exceedingly gracious and patient with my innumerable questions on a variety of matters. Lisa Harper at CTF Law Offices and her husband John Swann guided me through my early efforts to work through some garnishment issues. Diane Baker and Laura Fawcett at Baker & Stalzer in Roswell have guided me in various will and estate matters. Stephen Camp, my notes editor at Georgia Law Review, a colleague at Hansell & Post and now a fellow “soloer”, walks me through corporate matters and has co-counseled with me on the more substantive matters. There are others, and to all of them I am grateful. Large firms, in my experience, largely give lip-service to mentoring. These people do it, and their examples encourage me to give willingly of my time.