Lawyers Opting to Go Solo A Third Practice Law on Their Own

Article excerpt

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

practice.

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

their own.

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

assistance service.

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

scale back.

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

business.

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 associated with a good, respected

attorney," Fridie said. …