Barry Seidel, a solo practitioner, recently posted about how starting a solo practice has changed in the last thirty years on Solo Practice University.
Some of the Seidel's observations were:
Then (30 years ago): It was feasible to be in general practice.
Now: Almost nobody would recommend setting out to be a general practitioner. These days, clients expect and demand a certain level of expertise for their particular type of case.
Then: You built your practice by "word of mouth" and networking, and maybe some small level of advertising.
Now: Any lawyer can have a "presence" and be found by new clients, just by having a decent website, moderately participating in social media, and by blogging.
Then: There no cell phones (we carried change to call from Court), no emails, and no faxes, very few lawyers even had word processing.
Now: Lawyers, especially the older more “established” ones, are often behind the times on technology, and marketing, and use of the internet and social media. Being ahead of them is a huge advantage.
Then: There were certain things you had to have. A nice office, furniture, phones, faxes, books, nice stationery, file cabinets, phone answering, and a host of other things that no longer exist.
Now: I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a nice office, or that appearances don’t count. I’m just saying it is possible, and sometimes better, to start a practice without all these things (see this post on using a virtual office).
Things have changed a lot in the last thirty years, and it's good that older attorneys recognize these changes for what they are. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and new attorneys who want to start solos need to understand the changes when accepting advice from older solo practitioners.