For solos, doing it all can put composure to the test

Solo practitioners are constantly faced with tackling multiple jobs while trying to achieve the most important goal: building a successful law practice. If you're a solo, in addition to being a lawyer, you have to be a small business owner, an accountant, a marketer, a networker, an IT specialist, and often times a manager of staff.

With so many competing demands and such limited time, the pressure can build quickly, leaving the solo overwhelmed and prone to avoidance. The more that each task can be spelled out concretely, the less anxiety-provoking it becomes.

To a lawyer, hard work is not an obstacle; you know you have to put in the hours. But attorneys can easily be overwhelmed if they don't know how to address a particular problem. Having a simple game plan can be a great anxiety-reducer.

No new lawyer ever left law school feeling fully prepared for the job. Gaining real-life experience is essential to practicing law at the highest level.

1) Give a little, gain a lot. Volunteer.

- By volunteering, not only can you gain experience in your preferred areas of practice, you also can receive supervision, give back to the community, and learn new aspects of law by offering your services through a bar association's volunteer lawyers project or your city's/state's free legal aid entity. You will be exposed to new legal challenges while getting the guidance you need.

- It also can be advantageous to find a mentor in your area of law. Look to bar associations, local lawyer groups or retired lawyers for mentors who can advise you on best practices, help to avoid pitfalls, and share the valuable lessons they have learned about client selection, billing practices and how to respond to opposing parties.

2) Get connected through bar associations.

- Attend bar association events. They present great opportunities to meet local lawyers in both similar and disparate practice areas.

- Volunteer to help plan an event.

- Attend CLE seminars to learn about the latest aspects of the law.

3) Use the available resources on office management.

- Explore bar association practice-management sections, such as those offered by the Massachusetts or American bar associations.

- Learn how to set up your office with record-keeping systems and technologies that will aid your practice, by utilizing your local Law Office Management Assistance Program. In Massachusetts, LOMAP offers free services both in-person and online (masslomap.org).

- Get the basics on marketing your practice through legal marketing conferences, blogs and webinars, such as Lunch Hour Legal Marketing (www.lunchhourlegalmarketing.com).

- The most common issue that gets lawyers in trouble with the disciplinary board likely has to do with financial mismanagement. Maintaining an IOLTA account is not a source of enjoyment for most lawyers; after all, you went to school to be a lawyer, not an accountant. But don't let the lack of enjoyment transform into avoidance. Confront your discomfort by learning more about IOLTA accounting, three-way reconciliation and best practices at the free Board of Bar Overseers/Boston Bar course: www.mass.gov/obcbbo/trustaccount.htm.

- Finally, whenever a small business grows beyond the size of one employee, effectively managing staff becomes an essential task. In the same way you did not go to law school to become an accountant, you probably didn't intend to end up spending your time managing subordinates. Some of the most common issues are managing conflicts, setting expectations and boundaries, and providing feedback.

4) Know thyself. What's your style?

- The best way to develop as an effective manager is to recognize your own tendencies. When faced with a conflict, do you avoid or attack? When setting expectations, do you over-explain or leave things vague? When providing feedback, do you focus on deficits or do you only comment on strengths?

- Identify the short-term and long-term costs and benefits to each managerial action. (Hint: Your success relies on good long-term strategies.)

Above all else, remember these five points:

1) You are not alone;

2) Feeling overwhelmed will impair your ability to make good decisions;

3) Confrontation is a great way to reduce feeling overwhelmed;

4) Others have come before you and worked hard to create fulfilling careers; and

5) So can you.

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Dr. Shawn Healy is a licensed clinical psychologist on staff with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Massachusetts. He also writes and presents on a variety of topics germane to the practice of law. He can be contacted at shawn@lclma.org.

Published: Mon, Dec 14, 2015

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