It’s been five years since I started my solo practice. In that time, I’ve had many ups and downs. I’ve struggled at times – with depression, with stress and burnout, with financial troubles, and with staff turnover that got me labeled “The Hatchet” by a friend in the staffing industry. I’ve thought about packing it in a time or two, going back to work at a Big Law firm, but I never did.
You know what? I wouldn’t change any of it.
I saw my former assistant, Wendy, the other day. We are still good friends, and she was genuinely happy for me when I told her how well things are going lately. And they really are. Wendy’s replacement, Candy, is an amazing paralegal, and her productivity has soared since we hired Justin, our new assistant. It feels like The Team has finally come together. (Wendy is doing great too, for the record: she is working as a freelancer for about four different lawyers and focusing on the things she loves doing, specifically document automation for family law and litigation).
Justin told me this morning that he was proud of how productive we have been this week, bringing in new work and new clients and also cranking out work for existing clients. Candy brought in Starbucks for everyone to celebrate. When was the last time your staff quoted the numbers back to you to tell you how well you were doing? Yeah – that just happened.
I’ve got a full plate of client work to do. I could be busy until the end of the year if I don’t bring in another client. But we continue to bring in new business and grow and thrive. Yay us!
What’s really exciting is that I LOVE MY LAW FIRM! I mean, I cannot imagine doing anything else. I know change is inevitable, and that I’m not done with ups and downs. But right here, right now, five years after I started the firm and almost a decade after passing the bar exam, I am in love with my law firm.
So how do you get past the burnout and anxiety and fall back in love with your firm?
First, hang on! As with most things in life, it gets better. You develop your client base, you start to get repeat business and referrals from existing clients, and finding new work gets easier. You start to build cash reserves to get you through the lean times. You get better and more efficient at the job of being a lawyer as well as the job of running a business. When things get rough, remember that you are in it for the long term, and don’t give up too easily.
Second, get help. If you are overwhelmed with work, hire a law clerk or an assistant or a paralegal (even just a temp) and get your productivity back. If you are overwhelmed with life, take a vacation, go out to dinner with a friend and talk it out, or see a therapist, and get your mojo back. And remember we all go through it. “Solo” means “alone,” but it doesn’t mean you have to be lonely.
Third, take care of you. Whether it’s running, yoga, retail therapy, cooking, music, painting, scrapbooking, knitting, or whatever, just take some time for yourself every day. Put the laptop away and spend some time with your spouse and/or kids every evening. Take the dog for a walk. Remember that you became a solo so you’d have the time for those things, so actually do them.
Fourth, take care of what matters. Watch your cash flow. Pay your payroll taxes. Hire good staff, train them, and pay them decently. Pay yourself, too. Be careful with your Trust accounting. Never miss a court deadline. Everything else can slide if you take care of those things.
Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, coffee. No really. I’m pretty sure my coffee consumption keeps a small Columbian village fed every year. That’s my vice. I’m allowed to enjoy it and I do. As long as your vice is legal and doesn’t harm anyone else, indulge a little.
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®.