Nothing But the Ruth!

Solo Anxiety: It All Works Out in the End

By | Nov.12.14 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management, Nothing But The Ruth!

Nothing But the Ruth

One of the biggest challenges a solo practitioner has is managing the anxiety of not having a guaranteed steady income or client work. I’ve had open client files all year, but there are definitely lulls in work — when I’m waiting to get feedback on the latest draft of a client’s contract, or for the USPTO to review a client’s trademark application. Those days, I literally have zero client work to do.

That’s when the fearful thoughts start rolling through my brain:

“I don’t have enough client work.”
“I’m not making enough money.”
“My business is going to fail.”
“I’m going to end up homeless and alone.”

Those days are hard. At networking events, I don’t want to tell people that I’m worried about my practice. If they think no one’s hiring me, why would they want to hire me? Instead, I optimistically say I’m keeping busy and always taking on new projects.

It Gets Better

What usually happens is I’ll have a lull for a day or two — just long enough for panic to start setting in — and then I’ll get three emails in one day from prospective clients. It always seems to ebb and flow, feast or famine.

As a solo lawyer, I try to embrace the emotional roller coaster that comes with running my practice. When I have a break between projects (doesn’t that sound better than a “lull in business?”) I try to see it as an opportunity to work on blog posts, be more active on social media, schedule networking activities and brainstorm about future endeavors.

One of the upsides of having low overhead for my practice (and my life) is I can make a profit with minimal business coming in the door. Even when I freak out about my business, it always turns out fine by the end of the month (knock on wood). When I’m having a bad day, I remind myself that I’ve built up enough savings that I will be fine if I have a bad month.

I try to tell myself:

“Stop worrying about the money.”
“Take care of your clients.”
“Write quality content.”
“Focus on networking.”
“Do what’s been working and the rest will take care of itself.”

It’s easier said than done, but that’s what I try to do. And I find it reassuring when I hear from other solos that they have the same experiences and thoughts. It’s comforting to know that we all go through it.

The holiday season is approaching. If last December is any indicator, all of my clients and prospective clients will mentally check out around December 15 and won’t be interested in legal matters until after the first of the year. That gives me two weeks with almost no client matters to attend to. I plan to use that downtime to do an extensive review of the past year, meet with my accountant, revise my website, work on my master plan for 2015 — and maybe get some much-needed rest.

What will you be doing?

Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her law practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth is the author of the ABA book “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Follow her on Twitter @rbcarter.

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2 Responses to “Solo Anxiety: It All Works Out in the End”

  1. Paul Spitz
    12 November 2014 at 10:34 am #

    You’ve pretty much nailed my first year of running a solo practice. Low overhead is the key. Even when it is slow, I don’t worry. And it gives me time to write more blog posts, or do a CLE online, or study up on an area of law I need to learn more about.

    I don’t leave networking only to the slow times, however. I do it whenever there is a networking event, and try to have lunch or coffee with someone every week or two, even if I’m busy.

    I’m expecting the December doldrums to start earlier than the 15th, so I guess I may be catching up on some movies in December. And doing lots of yoga.

  2. Ruth Carter
    12 November 2014 at 11:24 am #

    I agree with you Paul – networking is an ongoing activity. The down times give me a chance to plan ahead more, schedule more lunches, and do more interacting with others on social media.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Having a low overhead definitely keeps the anxiety in check.