You may be a “Solo by Choice” as Carolyn Elefant describes it in her excellent “why and how to” book on going solo, or you may be a solo by default in this rocky modern legal landscape. Either way, aim to practice “Burger King Law.” I’m referring to Burger King’s 40 year old tag line, “Have it your way.”
It might seem obvious that you can have it your way when you’re the boss, and perhaps the only employee. In reality, however, having it your way requires intention and discipline. Many solos are afraid of passing up any kind of business and their marketing strategy could best be described as hodge-podge. Moreover, instead of consciously designed systems for ease and efficiency, their practice methods have developed on the fly. Eventually they wind up with a law practice characterized by stress or drudgery or both.
To create your law firm based on Burger King Law, you have to ask yourself a lot of questions. Then design around the responses.
“Hold the Pickles, Hold the Lettuce”
Many lawyers find it easier to identify what they don’t want than what they do. So let’s start there. Start making a running list of the tasks and projects that you wish you wouldn’t have to do. Pay attention to these questions as you go through your work week:
- What tasks do you dread?
- What do you procrastinate on?
- What bores you?
- What seems beneath you or too mundane?
- What always seems hard for you?
- What do you make a lot of mistakes in?
- What seems to take you a lot longer to do than other lawyers?
Now look at your list and ask yourself:
How can I delegate this responsibility? If you are afraid to delegate, read how one solo got over the hump. If you tried delegating in the past and got poor results, read about how to delegate more effectively.
How can I systematize my work so it gets completed more quickly and easily? Read more about how and why to systematize your law practice.
How can I automate it? Look for document generation features in your law practice management software. Employ autotext, macros and templates in Word or other word processing software. Use “if this, then that” recipes to create automated functions between your web apps and mobile apps. Just google “ifttt lawyers” for ideas.
Can I say “No” to this work? Say no when you have too much work, so that you can properly serve your existing client commitments, the people you love, and yourself. You can say no to work you dislike, to work that doesn’t pay well enough, and to mooching relatives. Create predetermined guidelines for what you will and won’t do (especially for friends and family), so that you won’t be talked into doing something you don’t want to do just because you’re caught off guard. Saying “No” to work you don’t want leaves you more time to market for the work you actually enjoy. Find tips and techniques for how to say no here and here.
Which clients should I turn away? Identify the kinds of clients that suck the fulfillment out of law practice, and avoid them. What do those undesirable clients have in common? What were the warning signs that you previously ignored? Learn from your mistakes.
“Special Orders Don’t Upset Us”
Now think about the times when you really enjoy your work. Let’s order up some more of that! What are you doing and with whom or for whom when work just seems to flow more easily? Is there work that seems like drudgery for one client, yet it’s a service you do gladly for another? Keep tabs on your positive attitudes and activities during the week, too. Notice the answers to questions like the ones below.
- Do you ever get so engrossed in what you are doing that time just slips away?
- When are you “in the zone” or in “flow”?
- When do you feel proud of what you do?
- What gives you a sense of accomplishment?
- When do you feel like you are making a difference to your clients or to someone else in your workplace?
- Do you have more fun collaborating with others or do you prefer to work alone?
- What kind of environment do you like to work in…complete quiet or with music softly wafting or even music blasting?
- Is working from home a good choice for you or a nightmare?
- Does it make a difference if you are outside or if you can view at least a little of nature?
- Is your mood better in the morning or the afternoon?
- At work, what makes you smile?
- When do you have a mini fist pump moment or even a full on victory fist pump?
As you write down notes about the good times, watch for evidence of patterns.
- Are there certain events or organizations that several of your good clients get involved in?
- Did the clients you dislike have something in common or come from similar sources?
- Do your biorhythms take a dip in the afternoons, making it hard to read long documents?
- Do you get more personally engaged in the matters for small businesses than for big corporations?
- Do certain kinds of cases seem to attract jerks as opposing counsel?
- Do you need challenge and variety, or prefer the security of doing what you know you do well?
Look for what is working and find ways to repeat, expand or build on that. By watching for patterns, you can discover the keys to creating your practice by design instead of by default. Focus your lawyerly issue-spotting skills on your own preferences, behaviors, attitudes and choices. Experiment with new methods, tracking and reviewing your results like a scientist.
You have more control than you realize, but first you have to get very clear about what it means to “have it your way.” Then you have to be willing to invest the energy and discipline to make your “special order” happen. Practicing “Burger King Law” is not as easy as stepping up to the counter to place your order. You actually have to step into the kitchen and build your own burger.
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®.