Announcing the State of the Solo Survey Results


By Gene Commander
Gene Commander Inc.

Law Week Colorado, teaming with Gene Commander Inc., recently conducted the first-ever State of the Solo survey. This survey targeted solo practitioners in Colorado to illuminate the issues facing this key segment of the legal profession.

According to the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, solo practitioners make up about one-fifth of Colorado’s active attorneys. Solo lawyers play a critical role in representing countless individuals and small businesses across the state, providing vital legal services in the areas of estate planning, family, criminal, business, real estate and employment law, among others.

Some of the most notable findings of the State of the Solo survey relate to long-range planning for solo practitioners. Roughly two-thirds of survey respondents reported that they do not have a written succession plan in case of death or disability per the strong guidance in the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct.

Rule 1.3 directs lawyers to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, and Comment 5 provides: “To prevent neglect of client matters in the event of a sole practitioner’s death or disability, the duty of diligence may require that each sole practitioner prepare a plan, in conformity with applicable rules, that designates another competent lawyer to review client files, notify each client of the lawyer’s death or disability, and determine whether there is a need for immediate protective action.”

A succession plan designates an individual — often another lawyer — to wind down or take over a law practice in the event of the death or incapacity of the firm’s owner. A succession plan is invaluable because it gives the successor lawyer the ability to represent clients or help them transition to new counsel (an authority not conferred under the inventory counsel rules that can come into play absent a succession plan).

A succession plan protects the interests not only of clients but also of the lawyer’s family members. As noted in Colorado Bar Association Formal Ethics Opinion 147, released this January, “Outside the various legal risks and issues created by not having a plan in place, the absence of a succession plan can significantly burden the planning attorney’s spouse, family members, or other loved ones at a difficult time.” Among the risks that a succession plan can mitigate is malpractice claims filed against the lawyer’s estate.

The lack of succession planning among solo practitioners is particularly concerning because related results from the State of the Solo survey show a pressing need among this demographic. Nearly 40% of solo respondents are aged 60 or older. This jibes with OARC data showing that solos account for 49% of active lawyers aged 70-79 (totaling 956), and 35% of active lawyers aged 60-69 (totaling 1,397).

On the positive side of the ledger, about two-thirds of State of the Solo survey respondents indicated they might consider combining their practice as part of a growth or succession strategy. This suggests openness among solos to strategies that can safeguard their clients’ interests going forward. In addition to serving as a succession planning tool, combining practices offers solo practitioners potential relief in navigating some of the uncertainties and workload issues that solos experience.

An additional issue highlighted in the State of the Solo survey is the degree to which many solo lawyers are inundated with nonlegal work, such as administrative and marketing tasks. Only about 20% of the survey respondents said they spend three-quarters or more of their time practicing law. And nearly 60% of respondents identified spending too much time on administrative tasks as their biggest business challenge. This is consistent with national survey data, which found that 77% of survey respondents viewed spending too much time on administrative tasks as a moderate or significant challenge. The State of the Solo survey finds that many Colorado solos employ nonlawyer support staff or outsource some duties, particularly in the areas of bookkeeping and information technology, but the vexing time management challenges remain.

Law Week Colorado and Gene Commander Inc. will convene a Solo/Small-Firm Panel on April 11 (CLE credit is pending). Panelists include Tyrone Glover, Nicoal Sperrazza, Yuri Bazan and Ben Norton. The panel will discuss highlights of the State of the Solo Survey, alongside effective practice management strategies for Colorado solo and small-firm lawyers. Please visit this link to register.

– Gene Commander is an executive business counselor for the legal industry, with a special focus on Smart Growth in Action: 2030™ through proactive business growth strategies for Colorado law firms. He has more than 40 years of experience in the legal profession while practicing construction law with small, midsize, regional and national firms. Gene’s past roles include serving on the management committee of a midsize firm and as managing shareholder in the Denver office of an Am Law 100 firm. Through Gene Commander Inc., he now helps law firms stay ahead of the curve by adapting to shifting economic, demographic and professional trends. He can be reached at [email protected].

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