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Are Solo Lawyers Entrepreneurs?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 08, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There is a debate raging among lawyers about whether solo practitioners are entrepreneurs. But come on now, in the immortal words of Rodney King, "Can we all just get along?"

As Black History Month reminds us of the more divisive issues of our times, are we really debating the entrepreneurial nuances of law practice? With apologies to Allen Iverson, we're talking about practice! We're talking about practice! We're talking about practice!

Somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous -- which is the internet -- legal minds are dissing each other about the difference between a lawyer who hangs out his shingle and a person who bakes cupcakes. Here, mercifully, is a summary:


Susan Cartier Liebel, writing for Above the Law, says that solo practitioners are not entrepreneurs. To be an entrepreneur, Liebel basically says you must create something new. She says it's like a woman who starts a cupcake business and turns it into a brand:

"She's creating a new world, one from her own imagination," Liebel says. "She's an entrepreneur."

"Solo and small firm practitioners for the most part are not entrepreneurs," she says in italics for emphasis. "They are self-employed."

Oooh. To some, them are fighting words.

Or Entrepreneur?

Keith Lee, for example, had this to say:

"To the chorus of people saying that lawyers suddenly need to become entrepreneurs -- stop it," he wrote. "Most lawyers have always been entrepreneurs. The fact that you're just now noticing means you've been willfully ignorant for the past couple of decades."

Lee launches his criticism from a review of a serious study about the subject. J. Mark Phillips authored a 78-page law review article on the need for entrepreneurship training in law school. The article says that law schools are ill-equipped to teach entrepreneurial skills and that lawyers are going to need them in the evolving economy.

At least the debaters seem to agree on one point. Lawyers need to adapt, innovate, and create to survive, no matter what you call them.

Now can we get back to more pressing concerns? Like, since the Super Bowl is over, when does March Madness start?

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