“It’s the silence that gets me most,” he said. We were sitting in his small office in a 1950’s building just off the main drag. His name was stenciled on the frosted glass door. He looked at the silent phone and absent-mindedly checked his e-mail, again. There were no calls and no e-mail, no mail (except a few bills) and no work.
My friend suffers, like most solos, from a boom and bust workload. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which mode is tougher—but at least during the booms he has a little cash to spend. While my experience is somewhat similar, I’ve been lucky to be cushioned by the resources of a larger firm, and to enjoy the companionship (both good and bad!) of my partners. What could I possibly say to help him cope?
I have a couple of clients who run a very successful small business. They often talk about the “five rules” they crafted a while ago, when things got really tough. Apparently they hold each other to them still. When slightly adapted, their rules might help a solo lawyer, too.
1. Get out and about.
Quit waiting for the phone to ring. That way leads to darkness. Take a walk. Go to the library. Spend more time at the gym if that’s your thing. Get a coffee and visit with people. Do something with others, like golf or tennis or bridge (but I suggest you stay away from poker—if you lose, you lose; if you win, you may lose friends).
2. Be visible in your community.
Participate in whatever groups interest you. Be seen. Attend local bar meetings. Do pro bono for non-profits. Be sure to attend meetings or outings where you can interact with all kinds of people, though, not just lawyers.
Talk with people you know about what’s going on out there. Arrange for coffee or informal meetings with old clients, friends in the profession, or even attorneys with big cases who may be amenable to getting your help or referring work they can’t take on. (And, sure, do some networking on the computer, too. But I think it’s better to be in front of people, face to face, and get your nose out of your laptop.)
4. Stay busy.
It’s called “busy work” for a reason, but that doesn’t mean you should shun the opportunity to clean out all those old files, catch up on professional journals, and study up on trends or changes in the law that you’ve hoped would just go away. Research those things you’ve been meaning to look into, but just haven’t had the time. Maybe turn some of this effort into an article or paper.
5. Restore your spark.
Sure, it sounds trite, but whether you are dealing with the daily stress of work or no work, it helps to remember why you wanted to practice law in the first place. If it’s still there, then refresh your enthusiasm for what you had hoped to accomplish and use it to bolster your attitude and efforts. If the enthusiasm isn’t there anymore, maybe you need to reevaluate. Maybe solo’s just not your game—so move on and find a different place to be. If it’s the law itself that no longer works for you, then find that spark somewhere else, in some other endeavor.
What I really want to say to my friend, though, is this: If you made it through college and law school, and had the stones to try to make it as a solo, then you’ve got something to offer. Now, get off your keister and go figure it out!
Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs at HeyYouKidsGetOffMyLaw.