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Member Spotlight: Carolyn Elefant Celebrates Her Going-It-Alone Style

By Debra Bruno

August 27, 2018

Carolyn Elefant

In many ways, Carolyn Elefant has written the book on what it means to be a solo attorney.

Not just with her 2008 book, Solo by Choice: How to Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be, but also because, with the 2002 launch of her blog, myshingle.com, she was part of the first generation of lawyers to jump into the blogosphere.

Before that, though, Elefant, 54, got herself into the world of solos in a roundabout way. While she was always interested in writing and policy, she realized as an undergraduate at Brandeis University that she could use the law as a “practical tool to solve problems, instead of just writing about them,” she says.

During law school at Cornell University, Elefant had a summer internship at a small law firm in New Hampshire, and then a second-year internship at a large firm in New Jersey, where she got a real sense of big law.

“I was well-liked,” she says, “but I discovered that being well-liked just got me more work.” And that level of work burned her out, even as a summer associate, so she started looking around for alternatives.

In the late 1980s, law schools didn’t offer much in the way of career guidance for students who didn’t have — or want — a clerkship or a job at a large firm.

Elefant landed a job at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission where she got some exposure to energy law, and then went to Duncan & Allen, a firm specializing in energy and natural resources. There she learned what it means to be a “rainmaker” by watching senior partners in action.

She remembers one attorney, on a trip to Seattle, who seemed genuinely interested in a client’s life. “He said, ‘How’s your wife; have you lost weight?’ and he was genuine. He wasn’t faking it,” Elefant says.

But the economy in 1992 was still going through a tough period, so the firm told Elefant she would not be put on the partnership track. Instead of looking around for a new firm or a different government agency, Elefant decided that it was time for her to strike out on her own.

In 1993 she started her solo practice, and around 1994 or 1995, she set up her website (with some help from her tech-literate husband) and launched a new stage of her career.

By December of 2002, she had one of the first law-related blogs. “It was funny because if blogging hadn’t come on the scene, I wouldn’t have had that impact,” she says. But because she found herself writing about things that appealed to solos and female lawyers, her readership grew. From 2005 to 2009, her blog was part of a blog watch run by law.com.

Over the years, she has written about the Founding Fathers, legal ethics, mom-owned law firms, fashion tips, legal malpractice insurance, and many other topics.

Four years ago, her life changed when her husband, Bruce Israel, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Three years ago, he lost that battle. In a 2015 blog post, she reflects on him, their relationship, and soldiering on alone. She tells her readers it was the hardest blog post she’d ever written. Calling him the “silent partner” in her practice, Elefant describes her husband’s technology support, his parenting, and their “23-year, two-career, two-child and two-pup marriage.” That post generated a wealth of kind reactions from colleagues, friends, and associates.

But tending to him, to two daughters in private school, and keeping her business afloat meant that she mainly “hunkered down” on her energy practice, which these days she describes as “power, pipelines, and property.” In other words, she represents landowners impacted by pipeline infrastructure projects, does some energy regulatory work, and assists renewable energy developers. In the past, she helped to set up an ocean energy trade association and helped write some of the regulations for offshore wind and renewable energy.

More recently, she’s ventured into looking at how blockchain can be used in energy projects, as well as running webinars on creating a solo practice. She’s also thinking of issuing a new edition of her 2008 book, Solo by Choice, which she had last updated in 2011.

“Now technology has really changed everything,” she says. Many lawyers are creating firms with the idea of offering services like automated document preparation, or helping clients manage a pro se divorce.

She also feels it’s important to get a certain message out to women starting out in law. The legal profession is “not the most encouraging” to women at the beginning of their careers, she notes. She wants women to stop beating themselves up in trying to manage it all. For instance, she allows attorneys who work with her to be flexible with their time.

“If someone is working for me,” she says, “and if the work gets done, I don’t care if they’re doing it at 2 in the morning. There’s so much added stress, having to go into an office and look decent.”


Know someone whose life and career would make for an interesting Member Spotlight? Contact Andrea Williams at awilliams@dcbar.org.