7 Myths About Solo Law Practitioners Busted

myths about legal solo practitioners busted independent lawyers sole proprietor attorneys

There are 1,352,027 attorneys in the United States. There is a misconception that attorneys in large firms are happy and make the most money. A comparable misconception is that attorneys who are solo practitioners couldn't make it in the big firm world.

Solo practitioners and small law firms make up the largest demographic of attorneys in the United States. Only 1% of all the law firms in the United States are Mega Firms with 101 lawyers or more. Eighty-three percent of all lawyers are in firms of 50 lawyers or less.

There are many benefits to being or hiring a solo practitioner. Let's take a look at the myths vs. reality of a solo practitioner law firm.

Myths vs. Reality of Solo Practitioners

For a solo lawyer, the firm’s success is their lifeline. Their dedication to each and every client is critical. Don’t let these myths cause you to overlook exclusive attorney leads just because they are the only attorney in their firm.

1. Solo Attorneys Can't Cut It In The Big Firm World

The reality is solo attorneys like having their own business. They are able to model their practice to fit the type of law they enjoy and are good at. When you hire a solo attorney you are dealing with a professional who knows how to manage a business, knows the law, and enjoys the career they have chosen.

Many schools send their graduates to large firms because those are the highly sought positions. Law students and associates think joining a big firm is the way to climb the corporate ladder. What many senior firm partners know is that it is more difficult to run a solo practice than it is to be amongst the numbers in a large firm.

2. Solo Attorneys Don't Work Hard

The truth is solo lawyers are devoted to being successful in every case they take. Their firm’s success is dependent on client satisfaction. Word of mouth is the best advertising and they want every client happy.

The average solo attorney works about 50-55 hours per week. The solo attorney likely spends late nights at the office or time at home reviewing case files, marketing, networking, and meeting continuing education requirements.

3. Solo Attorneys Don't Make Money

Large law firms take a large percentage of an attorney’s fees, with as much as 60% going to the firm. A solo practice probably generates six figures per year. The expenses of running the business have to come out of the profit, but the attorney’s salary balances out to a higher hourly wage than in a large firm.

An attorney may be working in a large firm earning a salary of $100,000.00 per year but is required to work 80 hours per week. This doesn’t leave much time for family and personal relaxation. If an attorney has a solo practice and is only bringing home $80,000 per year, but working about 55 hours a week they have a lot more personal time.

4. Solo Practitioners Work out of Their House or Car

The reality is most solo practitioners have an office, or at least a virtual office. The will have a legal secretary or paralegal manning the office. Lawyers perform their work in courthouses, at the jail, visit accident sites, attend business luncheons, and do after-hours work at home. 

Solo practitioners that work out of their home often have arrangements with other firms that allows them to use a conference room or spare office to meet with clients in an office environment.

5. Solo Practitioners Have Inadequate Office Staff

Some solo practitioners do operate without any office staff. In this case, the attorney is doing 100% of the work needed. Other solo practitioners hire remote staff to assist them. They may have a virtual office answering service and will likely have contract professionals working for them, including paralegals and bookkeepers. 

The majority of solo lawyers have at least one staff person in the office during business hours. This may be a legal secretary, but will more likely be a paralegal who performs all clerical and paralegal duties for the attorney.

6. Solo Attorneys Are Afraid of Big Law Firms

Solo attorneys have no fear of big firms. A big-name firm often assigns a young associate to handle the case. The associate often has less experience and general knowledge of law than the solo lawyer.

Big firms have a habit of “papering the file.” This means they are creating and filing a lot of discovery and pleadings to push their billable hours up. A solo attorney is working hard to win the case.

Solo lawyers often have an advantage over big firms. The solo attorney is more familiar with the local judges and local court procedures than a big name law firm from an outside area.

7. Solo Attorneys Charge Higher Fees to Pay Their Bills

There are three ways of billing based on the type of case and the attorney’s preference. With accident/injury and worker's compensation, billing is done on a contingency. This means the attorney does not get paid unless they win the case.

Many attorneys require payment of a retainer to start and fees are billed at the attorney's hourly rate as work is done. This is the way most large firms bill. It may appear less expensive at first, but as the case progresses fees can increase drastically. 

Solo practitioners have the highest percentage of fixed or flat-rate fees. A flat or fixed fee is the amount the attorney receives for their service, regardless of how many hours it takes to complete the case.

The advantage of flat-rate fees is you know upfront what your case is going to cost. You will not be hit with a high bill based on hourly billing. Solo practitioners favor flat-fee billing because it lowers record keeping time and allows them to focus on your case.

Solo Practitioners are Good Attorneys

The one thing you want to remember is that solo attorneys are good attorneys. They run a solid business, work hard to win cases, and are not afraid to go against large firms.

If you are looking for an attorney, don’t hesitate to consult with solo practitioners. If you are an attorney looking to step out into the solo world, take a deep breath and plunge in. It may be the best decision you make for advancing your career and happiness.

Looking for more useful articles on solo practitioners in the legal field and other industries? Check out the rest of our business blog. Visit the Law section right now for additional insight on legal issues and careers as a lawyer or attorney.

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