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Independent-Minded Lawyers and the Yo-Yo Effect

Posted by Jim on February 22, 2017

The independent-minded lawyer is a special breed.

We are viewed as renegades – rebels who eschew the familiar path of the traditional lawyer.   Most of my fellow independent lawyer colleagues would probably not object to such a label.

However, our independent spirit is often mistakenly interpreted to mean that we don’t enjoy the company of our fellow attorneys. In most cases, that is an entirely false conclusion. In fact, most independent attorneys in my network are some of the most social and affable folks I know. And we have to be — networking with other attorneys is a vital source of new clients and projects for independent lawyers who can’t rely on “firm clients” to feed them billable work.

When a firm lawyer decides to leave the firm behind and launch a solo practice, they anticipate a number of obstacles and challenges they will face once they make the leap. Most new solos admit that their chief concerns related to (1) having enough work to sustain themselves and earn a reasonable living, and (2) dealing with a myriad of business management issues, such as office space, tech, supplies, insurance, web sites, email, etc.

One challenge that most newly independent lawyers, including myself, fail to anticipate is how lonely life as a solo can be. I’m not talking about lonely in the traditional sense. Instead, the loneliness of the independent lawyer has more to do with not having colleagues around to collaborate with, to bounce ideas off, or perhaps even join forces on a project.   I must admit, however, that having colleagues to go to lunch with or grab a beer on a Friday afternoon was one of the aspects of law firm life that I enjoyed.

I know of several independent attorneys who, although they could handle the management and practice development demands of being solo, ended up returning to a traditional firm in large part to reconnect with fellow attorneys.

Unfortunately for them, however, reconnecting with attorneys in law firms also means reconnecting with all the negative aspects of the traditional law firm model that they sought to escape when they left in the first place.
Thus begins the “yo-yo “ effect that many of my independent-minded colleagues and I have experienced. We leave firms and launch a solo practice because we want more independence and economic control. Over months or years, however, the loneliness causes us to fatigue, making us vulnerable for the siren song of a law firm. Of course, our “new” firm is so different from other firms – we are sure to be happy there, right?   After the honeymoon, however, we soon remember why we left in the first place (economic inequity, politics, bureaucracy, power-plays, pettiness, mismanagement, pressure, etc.), and we long for our independence once again.

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Are we destined to always be somewhere in the Yo-Yo? Or should we just accept the yoke of the firm? Or the isolation of the solo practice?


2 thoughts on “Independent-Minded Lawyers and the Yo-Yo Effect

  • on July 8, 2017

    I believe independent attorneys who are also idealistic will be seeking the “better change” no matter what the circumstances. I certainly long for a group to have camaraderie with in my legal practice, and it would be great if it was with people who shared my some or more of my ideals. The trade offs between independence and group will also depend on the other needs and seasons of life.

    Hopefully, with each change we are learning something new of what to do and not do that will make each change a growth opportunity, but it is certainly possible to make a change for the wrong reasons or at the wrong time. Thanks for the thoughts. Still seeking.

  • on July 9, 2017

    Hi Jim. Interesting comments. Rachel and I always say that we avoid the isolation by sharing space. I know that was your idea too! Hope all is well with you.

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