When attorney Charlie J. Gillette Jr. goes to court, no one
knows he doesn't have a massive law library or a posh office
with a breathtaking view.
"After you get in the courtroom, it's just one or two attorneys
against one or two attorneys," said Gillette, a Jacksonville
lawyer who last year fulfilled his dream of opening his own
Though TV shows like L.A. Law popularized the image of lawyers
in large firms conferring in lush corporate suites, a third of
the attorneys in Florida and the United States practice law on
Another 40 percent of U.S. lawyers work in law firms of two or
more attorneys, the American Bar Association estimates. The rest
are employed in private industry, public service or government
work or are retired.
The son of convenience store owners, Gillette, 33, grew up in
the family business. That experience, plus an undergraduate
business education and three years in the Public Defender's
Office, gave him the tools he needed to set up his own shop.
"The practice of law is much more than that," Gillette said in
his North Myrtle Avenue office. "You not only encourage
individuals to use your services, you also run a business. If
you don't find a way to do all those things . . . you're not
going to be in business for yourself."
Nearly 55,000 Florida lawyers practice law without partners or
associates, and that number is on the rise. After a dip in the
past decade, the percentage of Florida attorneys going solo has
crept upward to 30 percent, where it's likely to hover, said
J.R. Phelps, director of The Florida Bar's law office management
Phelps links the rise in solo practitioners to corporate
downsizing. Many banks and large businesses that once kept law
firms on retainer have cut costs by putting legal services
contracts up for bid. As a result, law firms have been forced to
Meanwhile, affordable technology has made it easier than ever
for solo attorneys to run their businesses. Costly legal books
that used to crowd law library shelves are now available on a
handful of less expensive CD-ROMs. Legal research that once took
hours can be done quickly on the Internet.
In August, attorney Debora E. Fridie plugged in her computer
and fax machine in a leased downtown office. She was in
After five years as a Legal Aid lawyer, Fridie, 33, was itching
to launch her own practice. Though she's going solo, she said
she relies on the advice and encouragement of her landlord,
lawyer Willie J. Walker. He allows her to use his law library
and shares advice and clerical help.
"I'm fortunate to be …