Years ago for Christmas, I got a pair of ice skates. There was a park, with a pond used as a public ice rink, about five miles from our house. I asked for permission to take my new skates to go to that park. My mom admonished me not to go down to the St. Mary’s river and try to skate on it. She knew it meandered and passed right by that pond. In fact, it fed into it. She knew my propensity to spend time along the shores of that river and, even though it had been bitterly cold, she warned that the ice could not be trusted.
Of course, I knew better. I called my friend, Mike, and we met under the bridge near my house ON THE RIVER. Under the bridge, the snow had been scoured clear. We jumped up and down near shore and did not hear any fracturing. We looked through the ice and it was deep and clear. We could see that mom was dead wrong; that ice was safe!
So, we walked on the ice toward the park. Our confidence grew and we moved progressively toward the center of the river. We continued down the river and enjoyed the view toward the shoreline and eventually came abeam a General Electric Factory on the north shore of the river. As we approached it, we suddenly heard the ice crack! And crack again, and again, until I fell through the ice into the current and cold water below. I threw my skates toward the south shore and spread my arms out stopping my downward progress so that my head and shoulders remained above the ice.
Mike went to the south shore and stayed atop the ice. He immediately pulled a branch from the shoreline and laid flat as he approached me. I continued to break weaker ice until the ice would support me. I grabbed the branch that Mike held in my direction. Eventually, I was able to climb back onto the surface and move to the south shore.
The reason the ice failed was that there was an outlet pipe coming out of the factory and discharging water that was warmer than the existing river current. We figured that out too late! But, also, there was an employee who was standing outside a door facing the river watching as events unfolded. My greatest fear was not going under the ice and meeting my maker – rather, it was the thought that my mom might find out that I was on that river when she told me not to do so! I had visions of the police appearing with a rescue squad and alerting my mom – oh, the thought of being scolded by my mom was too much to bear.
It was about 10 degrees that morning. Mike and I made a very quick exit from the purview of that employee and ran down the shore towards my home. We came up beside the Brooklyn Bridge in Fort Wayne where there happened to be a laundromat. It was at that point we came up with the brilliant idea of putting money in a dryer that was vented directly to a parking lot on the other side of the wall. I took off as many clothes as I could and put them in the dryer. Then, I proceeded to the parking lot and sat on a guard rail beneath the dryer vent to allow it to warm me and dry the clothes which I continued to wear.
After some time, my clothes were dry, and so was I. Mike and I then proceeded OVER LAND to Sweeney Park where we skated till late that evening. My mom was never the wiser.
Many years later, not long before my mother passed away, I had a pang of conscience and decided to confess to the error of my ways. From her reaction and scolding, you would have thought that I had died. Never, I repeat, never tell your moms about your misdeeds – EVER!!!!!
Many students look for a Mike to rescue them as they start a practice. They have a “study buddy” in law school who they worked with to develop outlines and discuss cases. They tell me that they want to be partners as they start their firm. The truth is that you are better served by sharing office space and expenses and wait to see if you are compatible in terms of work ethics, money management and practice principles. Law practice divorces can be very messy.
When you are drafting materials for a hearing late Friday afternoon as your partner has left to join a foursome at the golf course, you may have second thoughts about your decision to partner. And, what is lost if you join together after a year of practice? You still have each other to support one another and act as sounding boards for your decisions. Every day will present you with a “crisis of confidence” and it is good to have someone to consult with, but you don’t need a formal partnership to do that. Your law school buddy can be “of counsel” for purposes of that consultation. Stay solo, and you won’t need to be rescued from the “ice” that melts below your feet as your business structure disintegrates before your eyes.
Professor Gary Bauer has been a member of the full-time faculty at WMU-Cooley Law School since 1998. He now teaches Estate Planning to third-year law students and a directed study class he created called Solo By Design. His blog,sololawyerbydesign.com, provides law students, recent solo practioners, and seasoned professionals who wish to go solo, with information and resources to be successful in the legal business. This blog post was first published on October 15, 2015.