Who Can You Talk To?
When I ask my solo friends how their practices are going, they usually shrug and say, "Okay." But nobody seems particularly excited. This is especially true for solos in their 40s and 50s. It is the same whether they are men or women. When I discuss this point with practice management advisors and consultants, they tell me that solos are vulnerable to a host of problems because they are so isolated. That isolation often results in their having no one to complain to about their practice problems.
They can’t really talk to other lawyers because no one wants to appear dissatisfied or seem like a complainer to peers. Moreover, no one wants to admit that a lifelong pursuit of the practice of law has not measured up to his or her hopes and expectations. Absolutely nobody wants to confess that they are struggling to pay the bills. They especially don’t want to share their true feelings with lawyers who seem more satisfied, successful and stimulated by their practices (especially if the other lawyer is also a triathlete with a ton of money and a kid at Stanford).
If you’re out there on your own and don’t want to risk having a conversation with another lawyer, you owe it to yourself to find someone you can talk with about your practice. Here is my advice for solos of all ages who need someone to talk to.
Meet with a practice management advisor. Call your state or local bar and ask if it offers free consultations with practice management advisors, or PMAs. If your bar association offers such services, you can get someone to come to your office and talk on a confidential basis about anything related to your practice. The person who comes to visit will be versed in everything from time and billing to hiring and firing staff. You may be surprised to learn you aren’t the first practitioner to confront your particular set of problems.
The Law Practice Management Section has been a big supporter of PMA programs throughout the nation. In the mid-’90s, the Section Chair at the time, Donna Killoughey, formed a group of practice management advisors within the Section and funded PMAs from around the country to meet quarterly to discuss the challenges that they faced in their respective practices. The group is still going strong thanks to Donna’s vision.
Meet with a lawyer assistance counselor. If you’re facing alcohol or drug dependency or mental health problems, you can obtain help from state and local bar associations’ lawyer assistance programs. At no charge, they will send someone to meet with you and help you get the treatment or counseling you need. Most programs will even hire a lawyer to handle your cases if you need some time away to deal with your problems.
Take advantage of Section resources. The Law Practice Management Section recently started an online discussion group for solos, especially those who have recently become solos because of firm breakups or downsizing. You can sign up for the SuddenlySolo I-Group at www.lawpractice.org.
The truth is that we all need someone to talk to.
K. William Gibson, Chair, ABA Law Practice Management Section - firstname.lastname@example.org