On my SPU Small Business Law blog a while back, I discussed the Seven-to-Nine-Rule, which goes like this: during normal, day-to-day living, we can successfully juggle seven to nine things. Those “things” include the following:
- health & hygiene,
- social life,
- volunteer work, etc.
But, according to the Rule, when one of those “things” you are juggling is a “biggie” – birth of a child, illness, illness or death of a loved one, getting married or divorced, career change, moving – the number of things you can successfully juggle drops to three.
The Rule should be modified to state that “biggies” include running a small business – including running a solo practice. It should also be modified to state that when two of the “things” you are juggling are “biggies,” you pretty much grind to a halt.
That has been me over the last few weeks. My mom’s condition – metastatic lung cancer – progressed from bad to worse to Oh-My-God! in a matter of two weeks. I dropped everything, including running my law practice, and went up to Alabama for a week to help her put things in order, knowing she had maybe a couple of months to live. Little did I know she only had another week. I found myself driving up from Florida again, this time for Mom’s funeral.
That was two weeks ago. Funeral arrangements pretty much consumed me and my siblings for a week. I stayed up there an extra week to help my brother and sisters sort through Mom’s papers and all the stuff she had accumulated over the 36 years she lived in her house. From a business perspective, I spent three of the last four weeks away from the office – time off that I didn’t really have.
I had done something similar several years ago when my husband’s mother passed away. We flew to Michigan to be by her side when she died, and we stayed to help his family get their lives back in order. At the time I worked at Big Law, so while I had to do some work while I was gone, any new projects were handed to another associate, and the Big Law machine kept chugging without me.
It doesn’t work like that when you are a solo practitioner. There is no one to pick up the slack and keep the machine moving. Yes, we all have an attorney who can be on call in case of client emergencies, but that’s different from having a partner or associates who can keep the ball rolling when you aren’t there to roll it yourself.
I came back to work today to find a stack of mail (mostly bills and sympathy cards), a filled e-mail inbox, and a pile of work that no one had touched. My assistant kept things moving as far as responding to client calls and rearranging my schedule, but there was no one to pick up the slack. My inventory/back-up attorney was on call, but none of my clients felt that there was a big enough emergency that they couldn’t wait till I got back. I did enough work while I was gone to avert most crises, but not enough to earn a paycheck. It’s only been a few weeks, but it feels like a lifetime. It’s as if my life as a lawyer got encased in amber and preserved, waiting for me to get back to it.
But everything I do makes me think of my Mom. She was my role model, my cheerleader, and my best friend. She had gone back to college to earn her bachelors and her masters when her four kids were school aged, and she helped convince me to follow my dream of going to law school in my mid-thirties. “I did it and so can you,” was her motto. She also goaded, prodded, encouraged and cheered me on to making good grades and passing the bar exam. Then she became the biggest advocate for me to start my own law firm, even giving me and my husband money during a couple of lean months early on. If I had ever doubted she loved me, her support during those years would have convinced me. As it was, I never doubted her.
So here I sit, my brain fogged with grief, wondering where to begin to pick my business off the floor, dust it off and start it up again. I started with client communications, emailing and calling back the clients who tried to reach me when I was out of commission. Their patience has been amazing, but it does have its limits. Next up is getting some billable work done so that I can pay those bills that have piled up. Then I have to crank up the marketing machine and get some new business in the door. It’s all easier said than done, but I don’t really have a choice. I have to put one foot in front of the other because standing still just isn’t an option.
There’s a verse in Bob Dylan’s song, “Buckets of Rain“:
Life is sad
Life is a bust
All you can do is do what you must
You do what you must do and you do it well
I’ll do it for you honey baby
Can’t you tell?
So it is. I will do what I must do – keep my business alive even when I am juggling a “biggie” in my grief for my mother – and I will do it well. That’s what Mom would have wanted.
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®.