What I Did Today
Well, readers, here's what I did today to fill my stomach: spent a great fall day at a farm with my girls. And since I'm posting pictures, I couldn't resist including the second photo of my other girl, our deaf and shorn Old English Sheepdog puppy Francesca aka Frisky.
Disbarred Lawyer Fights Back
We always read those scary stories about lawyers getting suspended or disbarred. Did you ever wonder what happens to them? This article, Lawyer Fights Back from Disbarment, NYT (10/30/2005) reports on former solo David Dean who 15 years ago was earning seven figure income as a successful plaintiffs' attorney. But when Dean got tied up in a protracted case, he started borrowing money from client escrow funds to make ends meet (of course, his drinking problem didn't help his judgment either) which lead to his disbarment. During the years that he lost his license, Dean relied on his acting skills to make a living and in 1997, he regained his license and resumed his winning ways.
So the next time your practice gets you down - either a bad month financially or a pain in the neck client who won't pay his bill - think of what Dean went through. If he could make it, so can you.
Practicing Law on a Full Stomach
This month's issue of GP Solo has a great article, If Esq. Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy by Robin Page West (who I wrote about in The Accidental Practice). The article makes the point that our clients need us lawyers as much for emotional support as for legal expertise - and if that unless we tend to our own well being, to make sure that our stomachs are full, we can't be there for our clients:
Each day I try to be mindful of how much more effective I can be when my stomach is full. Not just at reconciling, but at doing almost everything, including running my law practice, interacting with clients, and raising children (which is why I’m always on the lookout for new recipes) [...] When I neglect to feed my whole self, it’s so much harder to be an effective advocate. Feeding my whole self does not mean attending CLE, trying cases, participating in bar activities, and reading cases and treatises. It means doing whatever I need to do in order to be happy and satisfied—including banishing feelings of scarcity, or at least keeping them safely at bay.
The article concludes:
It is by no means a small thing. If we adopt the attitude that we deserve to be happy; if we can focus on the pleasurable moments in our daily routines (even the very small ones); if we can eliminate (rather than tolerate) some of the things that drive us crazy; and if we can create a life that purposely devotes time on a regular, ongoing basis, regardless of how busy things become at work, to what gives us pleasure, we will be well on our way to finding our “most admirable self.” Being a more effective advocate will follow effortlessly.
Why not see how this approach works for you?
Have We Reached The Solo Practice Tipping Point?
Macolm Gladwell's tipping point phenomenon is probably way over-referenced, and yet I can't help but wonder whether the idea of solo practice is reaching a tipping point in the legal profession. Indicators abound everywhere. Consider:
- the proliferation of solo and small firm blogs (by solos or bar law practice management folks) on small firm practice in the past year, including Jim Calloway's Law Practice Tips, Reid My Blog, Steve Terrell's Hoosier Lawyer, The Practice, Home Office Lawyer, Greatest American Lawyer, Brandy Karl's bk! and Innovative Legal Solutions (have I missed anyone?)
- The recent inclusion of MyShingle as a resource (along with biglaw venerables like The Vault) at Westlaw's Five Hot Tips for Your Job Search, aimed at Westlaw's law school audience. Back in my days at Cornell Law School (1985-88), solo practice wasn't an option that anyone talked about.
- The seemingly unrelated reaction of underwhelment to former biglaw attorney and bar honcho, Harriet Miers; her large firm credentials really didn't impress anyone. In short, biglaw's not the prestige ticket it was back in the late 1980's when I graduated from law school.
The rise of biglaw mergers hasn't quelled the growing interest in solo practice; if anything, it's heightened it. And that's because even as firms grow and grow and salaries grow along with them, even young lawyers are relegated to less inspiring work, the yearning for self-determination and autonomy can't be extinguished. You don't see many biglaw bloggers dispensing advice on how associates can succeed at big firm practice, partly because biglaw attorneys may not be so benevolent, but partly because frankly, there's no audience for that topic: no one is particularly interested in learning how to speak partner-ese. By contrast, look at how many independent solos are dishing out advice on starting a firm, not because it will help us gain clients or referrals in our "real" jobs but in the hopes of helping others discover what what will soon no longer be the legal profession's best kept career secret. And it looks as if we are succeeding.
Solutions to Technology Distractions
Both David Giacalone and Greatest American Lawyer offers some suggestions here and here for minimizing the technology distractions that impede our productivity, which I posted on earlier here. GAL suggests techniques like blocking off time for working on briefs, taking a break from the computer screen and customizing cell phone messages so that we don't feel compelled to always interrupt ourselves with returning phone calls. David meanwhile emphasizes that we may need to apply some good old fashioned discipline to deal with information overload so that it doesn't get the best of us.
Even before reading the Life Hackers article, I had already taken measures to eliminate one time sink from my day: blogging. Used to be that I would start a post during downtime, only to find that my post was leaking over into time that I should have been working. Now, I limit my blogging and my feed reading (which is also addictive) to evenings, weekends and that sort of in between time when my daughters are home from school, where I don't have enough non interrupted time to work, but where blogging fits in nicely.
A Reprise on Solo and Small Firm Bloggin
In honor of Matt Homann's and Dennis Kennedy's upcoming Blawg Think, I'm reposting a link to the What Blogs Can Do For Solos and Small Firms that I designed and presented along with Jerry Lawson at the Maryland State Bar Association Solo Day Conference back in November 2003. Though the presentation is coming up on two years, which is at least two generations in Internet-time, much of it is still fairly timely. I've written a couple of other pieces on blogging for solos, It's A Blog World After All (law.com, October 2003) and Get Your Blog Rolling (GP Solo June 2005), but the online presentation is one of my favorites. And I've never seen anything quite like it anywhere else.
To navigate the presentation, use the numbered menu items that appear above each post. (Don't use the sidebar which isn't properly ordered).
Did You Ever Work All Day And Feel Like You've Done Nothing?
Have you ever left the office feeling exhausted after a hectic day where it seemed as if all you did was talk on the phone and respond to emails? Whenever that happens to me, I'm inclined to blame myself for lacking the focus or discipline to stick to task. But truth is, apparently, the difficulty with staying on task in this sound-bite, fast moving, multi-tasking age isn't a personal deficiency. Rather, it's a logical outgrowth of technology that enables us to do so much that it constantly sends us into overdrive. That's part of the message of this NYT Magazine piece by Clive Thomas, Meet the Life Hackers (thanks to GAL for the tip and his post on the piece).
We solos face these issues even more directly because we don't always have the luxury of delegating a return phone call or email to a subordinate. So it's all too easy to get pulled away from what we're working on. And as Thomas' piece points out, the problem with the interruption isn't so much the time consumed by the new task, rather, it's the time that's required to resume the previous one.
I don't know that the article offered many solutions to the problem of interruptions; it's still a topic being studied by scientists. But at least it made me realize that there's not something wrong with me - and that realization will at least improve my mood after one of those harried days when I get nothing done.
Toot Your Own Horn
You can work round the clock, but it's not going to help you advance unless your colleagues know what you do. That's the message of this article, Bragging is the Key to Getting Ahead (10/2005). The same is true for law practice. If you tell prospective referrals what you can do and what you've done in the past, they'll be more likely to send cases your way.
Making Real Money At A Virtual Firm
This article, Virtual Law Inc. reports on Hawaii shingler Greg Kim, a former biglaw partner who's now practicing law with his way while still earing the same salary. So how does Kim's practice differ from the traditional law firm? Here's how:
Instead of ranks of associates to do his bidding -- and to rack up billable hours for his firm -- Kim has no associates at all. His name appears nowhere in the name of the firm, which is called Vantage Counsel. And instead of billing clients by the hour, Vantage usually bills by the job. In fact, some of Vantage's clients are young start-up companies that lack the money to pay much in legal fees at all. Finally, instead of a corner office, Kim now has no office to call his own; instead, he shares communal space with his firm's four other lawyers -- who often work from home or from free WiFi hotspots at Kahala Mall or the Plaza Club downtown.
The article also describes that Kim has become one of the go-to people in Hawaii for advising technology start ups. And here, Kim has an edge over large firms because of what he shares with start-ups: his firm is one as well.
Are You Stuck in A Rut?
In this article, Clearing the Cobwebs, (Meg Tebo, ABA Journal, October 2005), solos share some ideas on what they do to get unstuck. Solutions include working the New York Times crossword puzzle, surfing the web, seeing a matinee and restarting the day by eating breakfast. The last one sound odd, but Barbara Kessler, who recommends it, swears it works.
As for me, I'd add blogging to the list!