Is solo practice a viable, realistic option for a new law grad? We will examine this question below.
With regard to those in solo practice, I personally know more than 20 and occasionally refer work to or retain some of them. Just because someone is a solo practitioner does not mean that they aren't an excellent lawyer. That being said, in my experience the most successful solos are those who worked in a law firm for at least 8 years and learned the business and practice of law and established a client base before branching out on their own. These lawyers have a pretty good chance of making a self-sustaining practice, especially if they take enough clients with them.
On the other hand, those who left firm practice after only around 3 years to start their only firm typically have a pretty low success rate. They usually have some knowledge of the law and practice, but it is often not enough. Also, the client base may be lacking and they may run into problems making themselves heard over other lawyer's marketing noise.
With regard to those who started a solo practice right out of law school, I don't know a single practice that survived for three years - except those where Dad or some other relative basically keeps them afloat (and there are a few). I am sure that there are a few solos that made it on their own right out of law school without parental support, but they are pretty few. Also, note that I am talking about the present day - not the 1950s where the cost structure of law practice was very different and possibly more generous to a newly minted lawyer.
So in terms of an intentional career path, going solo right out of law school today is a real long-shot.
In part what I think irritates some people is that going solo right out of law school is being presented by law schools to prospective law students as if it were a very viable option - when it really is not. Those commentators wanting to expose what they perceive as the law school "scam" really want to make sure that prospective law students understand this point.
Now, it would appear that no one could disagree in principle with the proposition that law schools typically don't provide much practical training, so any service that provides additional practical training to lawyers should be considered a plus.
However, here are a couple things to consider with regard to SPU:
1) First, I applaud SPU for attempting to help new lawyers work on their skills. I have seen the listing of courses and there appear to be a number of courses that a new grad could get some benefit from taking. That being said, taking SPU's courses is not going to be a substitute for 3 years of firm experience, networking, and clients, much less 8 years. Consequently, although I applaud SPU's motivation and actions, realistically the increase on the success probability of a new solo is not going to be huge. It seems like there will be some, but the odds are still very much stacked against the new solo - it would just be a little less of a long shot. Of course, if you are a recent grad and are looking for any advantage, then take some courses at SPU - and thank them for the opportunity. In terms of cost, SPU prefers to bill students yearly, quarterly, or monthly. Their fees on a per class basis are pretty reasonable if you take a substantial number of the classes, but I would feel more comfortable with a pay-per-class business model.
2) However, what if you are not a recent grad? What if you are a prospective law student considering going to law school? We mentioned that law schools often use the concept that graduates can go into solo practice to entice students - but that going into solo practice right after graduation typically does not work. However, in this regard the existence of SPU may give a confusing message to prospective law students as it may appear to bolster the law school's argument that solo practice is a good option right after graduation. For example, in their sales activity, law schools may use the existence of SPU to attempt to support a number of propositions that might not be in accord with reality, including A) that solo practice is viable right after grad - if you feel you are lacking any training, then you can just take a course at SPU and you will be all set, B) that the law school's lack of practical courses can be offset by classes at SPU if the prospective student feels a lack, C) the existence of SPU might be used to attempt to distract a prospective student from terrible employment statistics by telling them that "it is now easier than ever to be a solo!"
In this regard, SPU itself is not a "scam" - it can have some positive impact. The impact is most likely limited, but they are doing what they can for law grads in a tough situation. Conversly, the way in which the existence and training offered by SPU may be used by third party law schools in order to sell to prospective law students may be purposefully or negligently creating an inaccurate impression in the mind of a prospective law student to entice them to buy a $200K legal education.
I thought that the quote below from Susan Liebel, the founder of SPU expressed this pretty cogently (you can see it in its original location here.)
I’m not a fan of the law school machine, the way they behave, the financial aid hucksters. If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written you would know this. I’m also not a solo cheerleader. I’m a realist who understands thousands of lawyers are being churned and burned. . . . Those are the ones we try to encourage and help because they seek out the information provided.Prospective law students should be aware that the overwhelming majority of new graduates that start a solo practice are not successful. Most of their experiences are very similar to that expressed here. Don't be sold on solo practice as a career choice right out of law school - and if any law school attempts to sell it to you, be very, very wary.