On the last Friday of every month, Terry Berger holds court over a random group of Washington, D.C., solo practitioners who regularly meet for lunch.
The group has grown exponentially from when it first started, but its purpose has not. It’s simply a chance to gab, socialize and network with other solos about anything and everything.
But this lunch on the last Friday of April would be a bit different. Not only was it the group’s ninth anniversary, Berger announced with pride, but they also were having their first-ever speaker—Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler.
“Did you get us anything?” calls out a lone voice.
“The table full of freebies,” says Berger, pointing to some Lexis-branded pens and cups before pointing to a photographer snapping pictures. “Oh, and Kevin Kennedy, the photographer.”
The lawyers introduce themselves and are urged by Berger to be brief so that their guest speaker can talk. Around the room, there are lawyers who do civil litigation, employee benefits, Freedom of Information Act, antitrust law, family law, trusts and estates, and security clearance law.
One lawyer, who has just gotten out of the hospital, stands up and says he wants to know whether anyone knows “what happens to your practice when you’re dragged into the ICU for 12 days and you’re put in a room with no phone and no cell reception, and you have hearings coming up?”
Another lawyer says she’s helping to run a conference on just that topic in the fall. The two exchange contact information; Berger asks them to speed it up so he can introduce Gansler, their guest speaker, as a man who needs no introduction.
“Which is good,” quips Berger, “since I didn’t prepare one.”
When it is finally Gansler’s turn he tells the lawyers how much he admires their group. “The practice of law is a wonderful thing, especially if you have the ability to control your calendar,” he says.
Gansler then speaks about his office’s goals and accomplishments—its gang unit, voting rights enforcement, efforts to curb predatory-lending practices and, most strikingly, its attempts to find a power plant that can convert chicken manure into power.
“Chicken manure is the biggest source of pollution in the Chesapeake,” says Gansler. More than a billion pounds of manure a year goes into the bay, he says, and his office is determined to reduce that amount. “I used to talk about murder, rape. Now I talk about chicken manure.”
And with that the attorney general sits down and lunch is served—fried green tomatoes, pumpkin ravioli, shrimp salad, steak—with the lawyers talking at their tables and the photographer snapping photos. More business cards and more stories are exchanged.
DIVERSE ARRAY OF PRACTICES
“This is such a congenial group,” says Desiree Woodard of Fort Washington, Md., who recently started coming to the lunches. Woodard is building a solo practice on the side while working as an examiner at the U.S. Copyright Office. “Nothing federal,” she says. “Family law, state law.”
Lawrence Thrower, a litigator who lives in Kensington, Md., started coming to the meetings in 2002. He left for a while when he joined Johnnie Cochran’s firm but rejoined the group a few years later, when he returned to solo practice after Cochran’s death in 2005. He comes about every other month now.
“A little marketing, a little networking, and the people are just generally nice here,” he says.
An hour or so later lunch is done, leaving Berger looking exhausted and happy.
“I had a splitting headache yesterday,” he says. “I was really close to not showing up today and Deb would have stepped in.”
Deb is Deborah Matthews, an Alexandria, Va.-based trusts and estates solo who inadvertently started the group nine years ago by sending an e-mail to the ABA’s Solosez e-mail discussion list asking if anyone in the D.C. area wanted to get together for lunch. Six people showed up for that first lunch, and they had such a good time that they began meeting monthly.
Since that time the group’s mailing list has swelled to close to 160 lawyers, with about 35 lawyers attending the monthly lunches. The huge range of practices means there’s always a fellow attendee who can take on a client referral and there’s always someone interesting to talk to.
“Our group is different from other groups. We have a huge variety of different people and a variety of perspectives,” says Berger. “It’s a very informal group. We never even picked a name. This is the first time I’ve worn a suit in eight years.”