Creating a Soulful Solo Practice

Shabbat RestI had lunch on the Embarcadero of San Francisco with an old friend and colleague, a successful New York solo whom I hadn’t seen in a while. He looked every bit the part, in an awesome way: Barney’s suit, Oliver Peoples, gold wedding band. In shape, with just enough cushion to know he’s doing well. Smart. Funny. And a great storyteller.

My friend and I started talking about Shabbat, the Sabbath, which, for us, falls on Saturday. Shabbat is supposedly a day of rest but, as anyone with a bar card knows, that’s not usually the case for lawyers. And it’s especially not the case for solos.

But my old friend told me he had bucked the trend. He isn’t a religious person. What he is, is a soulful person. And so he decided to honor his soul – what he also called his “inner Shabbat.” One day about fifteen years ago he unplugged on a Saturday, and he’s never plugged back in on Shabbat.  No email, no phone, no computer, no nothing.  Bupkis, as we say. A super-successful Manhattan attorney who hasn’t worked a single Shabbat in over fifteen years.

Because, he said, about that time he heard a story about some Americans who took a photographic safari.  Their African guides were pushing hard through the Savanna, tracking animals, setting up tents, cooking food, breaking camp, driving hard the next day, and the next.  Then one day they made camp and announced the trip was stopping, for three days.  What?, the Americans asked.  The Africans fell silent.  At last, the trip leader, the most wizened – and clearly the wisest, said, We’ve been moving too fast.  We need to stop, to give our souls a chance to catch up.

When my friend told me this story, I looked out at the San Francisco Bay. I thought maybe I could spot my own soul somewhere out there. Because at that moment, I wasn’t exactly sure where it was.

Maybe you’ve had this feeling, too. A lot of the time, practicing solo can feel like you’ve lost your soul. There you are, reading emails at 6 am, grabbing coffee in the car, meeting with clients, running to court, researching, writing, picking up kids or meeting friends, texting opposing counsel on the fly, squeezing in a run, and re-checking emails at 11:30 pm while you take out the dog. You’re in perpetual motion – or maybe perpetual chaos. You’ve left your soul far behind. Or at least I was, and had.  (My ex used to say I was always accomplishing things.  It took me years to realize this was not a compliment.)

If you know what I’m saying, that probably means you were once also in touch with your soul. It also means you know that the more soulful your life is, and the more soulful your law practice is, the better they will be. Soullessness is the scourge of our profession. But a soulful law practice is powerful. It is filled with amazement, joy and gratitude. And so is a soulful life.

The even better news is, it’s not hard to recover your soul. You just need to imagine your law practice is like a safari. All day you track animals, drive hard, forage for food, go, go, go. But occasionally – for three days, or for Shabbat, or just for five minutes each day, you slow things down. You can use mindfulness to do that. Here’s how:

  • Set your phone for a five-minute alarm.
  • Put your feet flat on the floor, sit in the most dignified way that’s also comfortable, and lower your eyes. There is a moment of reverence here, an invitation to the soul to return.
  • Breathe. Follow the sensations as the breath flows in and out of your nose, or as the chest rises with each inhale and falls with each exhale.
  • Notice the mind switching between breath and perpetual motion. It goes something like: breath – thinking, planning, remembering; breath – hoping, fearing, noticing ‘monkey mind’; breath again; and so on. It’s interesting. Be amused. And then gently return to the breath.

Sometime during those five minutes, if you listen very, very quietly, I’ll bet you your soul will come knocking.

About twenty years ago I was at the Sausalito Arts Festival.  I walked into Brian Andreas’ booth and stopped in front of one of his StoryPeople sculptures, a battered wooden paddle with a ghostly visage emerging through the grain. That paddle, which has hung in my home ever since, says:

The plumber was digging around in the pipes & he saw something in the muck & it turned out to be the soul of the last tenant.  

He gave it to me & I said I wonder how we can return it & he shrugged & said he found stuff like that all the time.  

You’d be amazed what people lose, he said.

It’s a great reminder. Lawyers aren’t the only ones who lose our souls, although there seem to be an awful lot of lost souls in our profession. And solos are not underrepresented. But now when you lose your soul you know how to find it: you just stop for five minutes, take a few mindful breaths, and invite your soul to catch up.  Or, you take the day off and celebrate your version of Shabbat.

After a while, you can get in the habit of inviting your soul to court, to meetings, to your email replies and to your documents and filings. You can even invite it home. (Try this early on. I’m pretty sure it will go well.) Practicing law with soulfulness will change your practice, making it more joyful and powerful and fun. And maybe, just maybe, it might even change your life.

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®.

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3 comments on “Creating a Soulful Solo Practice

  • Excellent post and so important for attorneys (solo or not!) to read! Readers may want to check out CEB’s CLE program Sustainable Success: Mindfulness for Lawyers with help on reducing stress through mindfulness and meditation.

  • Really good article. As a former attorney one thing I learned, that really improved life balance, was that there was a difference between things that have to be done and things that can be done. I think we in the legal profession don’t understand that, in our line of work, there’s always going to be something else to do. That does not mean, however, that we have to get it done today. I find that understanding this helps an attorney find their personal sense of self, as the person in the article did through other means.

  • A corollary is to learn one of the many forms of deep, slow breath work. An attorney can do this in court while waiting to be reached for a case, while driving and stuck in traffic, or anywhere else for an immediate internal “Shabbat”.

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