GPSolo Magazine - January/February 2006
In the Solution
My Practice, Then and Now
Going back ten years, I thought that I had achieved success when I became the largest volume filer of consumer bankruptcy in central Ohio. In those days I had lots: Lots of office, lots of staff, lots of advertising, and lots of headaches. Then, about five years ago, I wandered into a seminar sponsored by the Ohio State Bar Association on “How to Get in Control of Your Practice and Change Your Life.”I thought that I was just grabbing some mandatory CLE hours on the cheap, but the session inspired me. The stories told by the lawyers who had actually changed their circumstances encouraged me to change.
Today I am a low-volume bankruptcy attorney who often deals with more sophisticated problems. I look for matters too complicated or interesting for the high volume mills, yet not so complex or cumbersome as to be big-firm cases. Sometimes I find myself situated between the accountant who wants to calculate but not mediate, and the litigator who likes to adjudicate but not negotiate. Other times, I find clients who just think that their life decisions are too important to be left to the fast pace of the paralegals relied upon by the big advertisers.
As the saying goes, true change does not come easy. The first lesson is that you need some close family or friends supporting the decision, and you need to be willing to take a risk for change. I am very thankful to my wife for being willing to endure the disruption in our lives and guide me through it. The second lesson is that if you think that your job is eating up too much of your life and you need to change, the only way to effect a change, is, in the short term, get even busier, so you can get ahead of it. The third lesson is that it’s easy to get lost in the work. You need to keep focused on the big picture and constantly evaluate if a particular action is getting you there. The fourth lesson is that it’s easy to backslide into old habits. Keep revisiting the third lesson.
To lawyers who are entering a consumer-oriented practice in this competitive age, I caution that knowledge of the law may be the easiest part of the job. A big part of overhead will be providing telephone answering. Business clients may prefer an e-mail tomorrow but consumers want an answer now. Individuals are emergency-driven, and this makes careful case management a necessity. Still, the biggest challenge may be maintaining professionalism and client control in a world that increasingly sees the lawyer as being part of the problem instead of being part of the solution.
Change continues to be a work in progress, but my work is getting to be more fun. I have really enjoyed getting away from being a paralegal supervisor and getting back to being a people’s lawyer. It is also very gratifying to have reduced overhead down to a point where I can keep a meaningful portion of my gross earnings. Although my colleagues brag about having increased the scale of their operations, I express satisfaction at having made my practice more selective. Getting back in control of my time, attention, and interests is my new definition of success.