Thank You, ABA Journal!

Thank you, ABA Journal for generously including At Counsel Table in the 2013 Blawg 100!

I was pleased to see the familiar names of some great blogs on the list this year, including Max Kennerly’s Litigation and Trial, Popehat, FMLA Insights, Careerist, Philly Law Blog and Jonathan Turley.

But I was disappointed to see a slew of really great law blogs were left off the list. These include Associate’s Mind, What About Clients, My Shingle and the reliably irascible Simple Justice. I can only think these blogs have become simply too rich and famous for inclusion in the Blawg 100. But I highly recommend each of these sites; visit them often.

I also encourage you to register and vote HERE for your favorite blogs, which could include At Counsel Table.

Thanks, again, ABA Journal.

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Why I Blog

This is my second blog.  I first blogged when my wife and I took a sabbatical to travel throughout Asia from the Fall of 2006 to the Spring of 2007.  I really enjoyed my blog, even when we were in China and I had to figure out workarounds to enable me to publish posts despite government internet censorship, or while in more remote parts of India where just getting on the net was a challenge. I tried to post everyday and it allowed me to keep in fairly immediate touch with friends and family.  I even remember rather vividly pounding out a post from an internet cafe in Nepal and glancing out the door to watch a painted elephant stroll by.

More satisfying than the ability to immediately communicate our amazing experiences, though, I found the blog to be a really great creative outlet during those months.  Like many lawyers, I always dreamed of being a novelist.  When I hadn’t found my voice by the end of college, I figured I better find a more . . . er, reliable way of making a living.  (This was obviously a different era, when becoming a lawyer still seemed like a reliable way to earn a living.)  But I’ve never let go of that longing to write, though I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon.  Thankfully, blogging–even if only to a small audience–provides a great creative outlet.

Maybe I was destined from a young age to enjoy blogging.  When I was around 8 or 9, I used to hunt-and-peck on the typewriter to create a small newspaper, covering such gripping topics as our cat’s health.  Using carbon paper, I’d make several copies, which I then delivered on foot or by bicycle to many of our neighbors within roughly a 2 mile radius of our house.  (I also went door-to-door offering to shine shoes, so it’s not clear that I was really any more destined to write a blog than to shine shoes or sell vacuum cleaners.)

After the Spring of 2007 and the purpose for my first blog evaporated, I flirted for a couple of years with starting a new blog, but didn’t do it.  I couldn’t think of anything that interested me sufficiently to write about it several times a week (and it’s just lame to start a blog, publish a couple of posts, then let the thing wither and die).   Then, one night I had dinner with one of my wildly successful college buddies and he suggested I start a blog as a business development tool.  At that point, I knew about a few interesting law blawgs, but I didn’t follow any religiously. I also had my doubts about whether blogging is a good business development tool.  Still, I enjoy writing, and I respected my college buddy and decided to give it a try.

I struggled for months with what kind of blog to write.  Since I really focus on employment issues in my law practice, should my blog simply track employment law developments or best practices? There are tons of these already out there, and not every new or changed law is interesting enough to write (or read) about. I also wanted some flexibility.  There are some really excellent blogs with a really narrow focus, but my interests, even within the profession, tend to drift.  After trying on a few different hats, I settled on the blog you’re reading now.  It marries my appreciation for litigation that is practiced ethically and practiced well, with my interest in the business side of the profession.

Now, re-reading the last two paragraphs, I see that I need to clarify something.  While it was a suggestion from a friend (who writes an enormously popular blog) that got me to revive my then-dormant desire to start a blog, I don’t write this blog for business development purposes, or even consider blogging a particularly good client development tool (perhaps a subject for a different post).  In truth, I use business development as an excuse to maintain a blog, which is itself just an excuse to write.

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A Scarcity of Solo Practitioners and Independent Bloggers? I Don’t Think So.

In a recent post on My Shingle, legal blogging rock star Carolyn Elefant laments the demise of the solo physician.  Among her chief concerns are an anticipated lack of physicians available to care for patients in rural settings and an erosion of physician autonomy.  However, she suggests that both the legal profession and legal blogging face similar concerns.  She writes:

The same concerns that flow from the gradual extinction-by acquisition of solo doctors in the medical profession are evident in both law-related blogging and broader legal profession.

I’m not sure I agree that this is a valid concern on either front.  Is there really a risk of large-scale migration from would-be solo practitioners to law firms? Doubtful.  While many students enter law school with an expectation of at least starting their profession at a law firm, the news I read suggests that firms are actually hiring fewer new lawyers, meaning more are, by choice or necessity, opening a solo practice.  Those same news reports warn that, even if the economy shows signs of long-term improvement, law firm economics have changed permanently, particularly with respect to the practice of staffing cases with newer, untrained lawyers at high rates.  We are unlikely to witness a mass exodus of solos in favor of law firm life any time soon, simply because there is a shrinking demand for them.

Additionally, from my admittedly unschooled understanding of the overhead of running a medical practice, I hold the opinion that it is increasingly easier for lawyers to start and maintain a solo law practice, while it is increasingly difficult to start and maintain a medical practice.  While I presently practice in a Big Law environment, replete with layers of infrastructure, there is no question in my mind that technology has made it easier than ever before for a lawyer to open and effectively operate a solo law practice.  A computer, printer/scanner, some key software and a place to work is about all that’s really required for a bare bones practice.  (Though this presumes the practitioner has both clients and skills.)

I presume that the infrastructure required for even the most spartan medical office (not to mention the cost of purchasing an ongoing practice) has, if anything, become more expensive with advances in technology.  I know my own health care providers always have several pieces of squeaky-clean, cutting-edge machinery, each of which probably costs more than my car.  As Ms. Elefant correctly points out, while the costs of medical school and other expenses continue to rise, the amount health insurers pay for procedures  has remained constant, if not declined, making it more and more expensive to be a solo physician.  It’s no mystery solo doctors are fleeing to hospitals and group practices.

I share her view that our profession benefits from solo and independent lawyers, and would definitely lament any sign of their demise.  But, unless I misunderstand Ms. Elefant’s argument, I don’t see sufficient similarities between maintaining a solo medical practice and a solo law practice to make me concerned that solo lawyers will become scarce anytime soon.

Are quality independent law bloggers becoming extinct? I’m not sure I  share this concern, either.  Purely by virtue of her tenure in the blawg community, I trust Ms. Elefant both when she describes the “independent voice” that characterized legal blogs a decade ago and when she suggests that group blogs lack the spark or edge of the early legal blogs.  My feeling, however, is that the business of practicing law has changed so substantially due to the explosion of technological tools and the recent turbulent years of the economy (What’s that overused catch phrase? Oh yeah, “the New Normal.”) that what was considered edgy a decade ago really is “normal” now.  Perhaps the “New Normal” should morph into “What are we supposed to do now?” or “Where Do We Go From Here?”

I suspect also that, beyond the proliferation of group and corporate-sponsored blogs which might not have the same spark and edge of early solo-written blogs, there is still a strong community of independent voices out there who write what they personally think, without the group dynamic or corporate “dilution” effect.  They might just be harder to hear amidst the louder noise around them.

Ms. Elefant’s underlying message is valid.  Our profession and clients need solo and independent lawyers, and the legal blogosphere benefits from ample  solo and independent voices.  The question is, do we really need to worry?

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