LEVENTHAL pllc had its firm retreat this past weekend and the one word that best captures the retreat is “orgiastic.” And, no, we are not hiring. And, actually, the description is somewhat disconcerting (if not revolting), since LEVENTHAL pllc is a solo law firm. Seriously, it has been a good year for my practice. But for many other lawyers and law firms, not so much.
What are we to make, if anything, from this data, this tiny sapling of a solo law firm enjoying a good year of growth as many large trees in the vicinity having experienced yet another year of punishing drought conditions?
We tend to focus on the Newly Minted U.S. Lawyer Massacre of 2010-2012 — that is, on the challenge of getting a job out of law school. This is not because other lawyers and law firms have not been suffering terribly as well. It is because law schools are compelled to publish their appalling data, law students and young lawyers cannot search for jobs and at the same time conceal the challenge the face in that process, but lawyers and law firms are very interested in keeping their hardship out of the public eye as much as possible. No one wants to ride a wounded horse. A lawyer or a law firm’s signs of weakness can quickly cascade to collapse (cf. runs on banks or positive feedback loops).
Nevertheless, people gossip, of course. And also sometimes private internal disputes triggered by economic challenges bubble out into the public. And it has happened again this past week in the case of Igbanubo v. Homeward Residental. Igbanubo Partners came into existence with the break-up of Blackwell Igbanugo P.A. in late 2006. Herbert Igbanugo has been a Twin Cities immigration lawyer for the past twenty-five years. Now, unfortunately, he finds his firm fending off foreclosure after some business set-backs.
The question is whether this anecdotal data is part of a significant business model shift — that is, the atomization of legal labor where economies of scale of law firms do not net positive with their added infrastructure expenses, where technological advances enable a significant reduction in service costs for micro-businesses without a corresponding sacrifice in the quality of the services provided — or, on the other hand, is this data of one good year of one solo lawyer random, anecdotal, and uninformative?
Needless to say, I have a vested interest in the answer. On the other hand, paradoxically, one of the unmitigatable deficits of a solo practice in comparison to large law firms is the inability of one lawyer or a small law firm to analyze and collect large amounts of data. Solos like me are left simply crossing their fingers and hoping for more good years to come rather than being able to rely on a large body of robust and reliable data.
To conclude, the budget for LEVENTHAL pllc’s 2013 retreat, again, as this year, will be zero dollars. The firm sincerely hopes that it will be able to afford it in 2013 and beyond but time will tell.