THE SOLO AND SMALL FIRM DILEMMA: Jobs, Pains, and Dreaming of Gains

Solo Practitioners (“Solos”) and Small Firm Practitioners (“SFPs”) have functional, emotional, social, and business jobs that they perform daily as part of their business growth plan. However, they normally focus their time and effort on functional jobs, such as file management and administrative matters (accounting, billing, vendor management, employee management, etc.), and on doing the work required on their clients’ cases. Therefore, they often ignore emotional, social, and business jobs because they do not have the time, focus, knowledge, or skills necessary to handle these jobs. They routinely struggle with managing relationships with key partners, such as clients, court personnel, opposing counsel, and employees. They have to manage financial stress, management responsibilities, marketing, technology, and file management. They have to keep themselves and their teams engaged so productivity remains consistent, and boredom or complacency is avoided. Then, they go home to “home jobs,” and subordinate these “home jobs” to the functional “work jobs.”

The Pains Solos and SFPs Experience Every Day. Solos’ and SFPs’ pains materialize in the financial and non-financial costs of running their practice, barriers to maximizing their potential, bad feelings and thoughts, and the risks.  

Financial Pain. Financial costs can be minimal for Solos who operate out of their home, or high for Solos and SFPs who operate out of a staffed office, physical and electronic resources, and vendor relationships. Financial costs can consume up to 70% of a Solos or SFP’s monthly gross revenue and normally fall between 40% and 60%. Some Solos’ and SFPs manage to keep their monthly costs to less than 40%; however, they do not account for opportunity costs (ability to attract more quality and lucrative clients), internal referral revenue, and other collateral forms of revenue sources that larger firms integrate as a part of their operations. They may also be missing collaboration opportunities. Although their take-home percentage on average per month may be higher than 60%, it is likely a percentage of a pie that is relatively small.

Pain from Roadblocks. Many Solos and SFPs run into roadblocks/barriers daily. The barriers include financial and non-financial barriers. Financial barriers include rent, personnel, file management systems, supplies, and vendor services, all of which are critical to a productive practice. The non-financial barriers include lack of knowledge, skill, and inadequate training in leadership principles, management principles, business principles, psychology, communication, negotiation, and non-litigation conflict resolution. These roadblocks are limiting and result in missed opportunities.

Pain from Bad Feelings. Many Solos and SFPs feel like a failure, incompetent, and not good enough to compete with larger firms. They believe that their lack of resources causes the roadblocks they have, that they are limited in their ability to grow and develop, and cannot be as competent as their colleagues in larger firms.  Eventually, they start to settle for what they believe is within their reach. These feelings and thoughts are mental roadblocks for Solos and SPFs, which hold them back from reaching their potential.

Pain from Difficulties they Experience. Many Solos and SFPs face challenges that their colleagues in larger firms never encounter. They have to be the owner, operator, CEO, marketing director, IT director, personnel director, firm administrator, and accountant for their practice. This consumes 30% or more of their time. Because of limited resources, they avoid complex matters. They often do not have the resources to help them adequately prepare for court hearings and trials. As a result, they have a difficult time doing their functional job to the best of their abilities. They have a difficult time taking advantage of opportunities to work on interesting cases, advance their practice, market themselves, and focus on their growth and development because they are busy with the administrative challenges of their practice.

Pain from Unnecessary Risks. Solos and SFPs often take the cases they get…whatever walks through the door. Some choose to “wing it” or risk not being able to feed themselves and their families. The resulting pressures of their practice may cause them to risk their reputation, compromise their ethical obligations, and increase their risk of committing malpractice–all of which may lead to depression, anxiety, alcohol and other drug abuse, alienation, and, at the extreme end, disbarment. 

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The Gains That Solos and SFPs Want. Solos and SFPs want their lives to be easier and more fulfilling. Some of the gains they consistently search for are:

  • Increased revenue
  • Time for client development
  • Marketing resources and client development help
  • Nicer clients who appreciate them and pay their bills, and promote them
  • Reduced administrative, financial, and emotional burdens  
  • Systems, processes, and procedures that increase efficiency
  • To be respected and trusted by their peers, clients, and judges
  • Flexibility to work from remote locations in an effective manner
  • Resources to help them do their jobs 
  • Opportunities to contribute and feel a sense of community
  • To recapture and maximize their time 
  • To improve their competence level in their practice area and beyond
  • Reduction in stress level 
  • Improved personal and professional relationships 
  • Vacation time
  • Certainty, recognition, and significance

Solos and SFPs can acquire some of these gains by collaborating up with other Solos and trying to create a small firm environment where pooling resources is easier.  

Whether you are a Solo or SFP, identify the jobs you have, the pains you experience, and the gains you want. Do this on your own, with your team, or with a coach. Then, analyze your practice to see where you need help doing your jobs, reducing your pains, and getting the gains you want. Look for a coach or mentor who can help you through the process and give you other tools that will elevate your practice. 

Improve your business growth plan with the assistance of the Private Corporate Counsel Program. Schedule a free 30-minute consultation now on our website. If you are unsure whether a service or activity you are engaged in or plan to engage in, may constitute the practice of law, please contact one of our experienced business attorneys.

The Private Corporate Counsel Program is available at 888-647-7887 or by email at

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