What would you think if I asked you to review
A document or two or three?
Lend me your ears and I’ll talk all night long,
But I won’t breach confidentiality.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, I’ll go far with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.
My apologies to the Beatles. But what’s true for the rest of our lives is true for our law practices: we all get by with a little help from our friends.
None of us is an island, after all, and it was a good thing to know what was swimming in those waters before I jumped off the S.S. Big Law and into The Solo Practice Sea. I don’t regret having plenty of time to build a reputation and to grow a network of other attorneys for support, encouragement, advice and understanding long before I hung a shingle.
That network of other attorneys, it turns out, is crucial: Another solo whom you can bounce ideas off of. A young attorney who asks you to review their first attempt at drafting a demand letter, which makes you pay attention to the one you were just drafting. A mentor or ten who has all kinds of experience to impart. A colleague from the local Bar Association who lets you ask him employment law questions when they come up. The guy in your law school class who just remembers thinking you were pretty smart and sends clients to you.
They are all so important to your career! Your reputation as a lawyer in your local legal community can make or break your chances of referrals from other lawyers. Having people to ask questions of about both the substantive law and law practice helps you stay on track and sidestep ethical problems.
I very intentionally began building a network when I was in law school. I joined the Orange County Bar Association (the “OCBA”) and the Central Florida Association for Women Lawyers (“CFAWL”), and I made a point to go to the luncheons. My moot court team scheduled practice in front of as many practicing attorneys as we could find to moot us. I made friends with as many lawyers as a could.
One person in particular, Musette Stewart, who was the President of CFAWL the year I graduated, mentioned to the incoming president that I would be a good co-chair for CFAWL’s New Membership Reception. And so, in my first year out of law school, I found myself on a committee organizing an event for a local voluntary bar association. The next year I was named Membership Director, and the next I was Secretary of the organization. Every year, I host an intimate dinner for eight lawyers whom I do not know very well through CFAWL’s “Table for Eight” program. Through CFAWL’s mentoring program, I was matched with a mentor who shared my entrepreneurial spirit and convinced me to go solo. Through CFAWL, I made many, many connections with local lawyers and judges.
One of those judges, The Honorable Jose Rodriguez, found out about my prior career as a techie and invited me to work with him on developing a CLE/CJE program to educate lawyers on their ethical responsibilities in handling electronic information. I have since presented the same CLE to the Orange County Bar Association’s Small Firm/Solo Committee and to the local paralegal association. More connections.
One of those lawyers, Sarah P.L. Reiner, was CFAWL president the year I was Membership Director. We rewrote the organization’s Bylaws, and Sarah taught me a tremendous amount about drafting and editing, and about what it means to be meticulous as an attorney. So I was very flattered when Sarah later asked me if I would be interested in serving as an associate editor for the OCBA’s monthly magazine, The Briefs. This year, having advanced to co-editor, I was privileged to sit among Orlando’s legal elite at the OCBA Executive Committee Retreat. More connections – and really awesome ones at that!
But if not for my connection to Musette, none of it would have happened.
I know – that’s all very, “If a butterfly flaps its wings in Zimbabwe, it rains in Seattle.” But it is the truth.
I recently had lunch with a friend from law school. We had not seen each other or even spoken since graduation, but I have learned not to say no to lunch with a colleague. My friend had dropped off the grid after graduation. He spent a year getting his LLM in tax, then sequestered himself in the law library of a local tax firm. Then, four years later, he lost his job, and he didn’t know what to do. He looked around at the tight job market and decided that his best bet was to go solo, but he had no network of peers to support him: the only colleagues with whom he had stayed in touch still worked for his former employer. He had no one to help him plan and start a business, no one to refer clients to him (after all, even his classmates hadn’t heard from him in a long time) and no one to bounce ideas off of. I think he’s a great guy and a good attorney, but I worry that he will suffer from a failure to launch.
in June, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her first reaction was to plan a visit to Florida before starting chemotherapy. My first reaction (after praying that Mom will not be in much pain) was to wonder what I’m going to do about running a law firm while I make frequent trips to Alabama to see Mom and help take care of her. But the answer was right there in my iPhone address book: I have a network of other attorneys to refer clients to if I have more than I can handle; another solo who is both my inventory attorney and my back-up in case of emergencies; and a bunch of lawyer friends who are there to lean on for moral support. I have no doubt that they will help me get by.
So do what you have to do to build and maintain that network. Start today. Join a local bar association or two and get involved. Meet people. Take them to lunch and let them take you to lunch. Use the tools that Solo Practice University gives you to meet other solos, the faculty and staff. You’ll be surprised.
Because you never know which one of those connections is going to start a chain reaction for you.
How have you been networking, finding mentors? Let’s share.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.