Living Small

By Robert A. Zupkus

Many people reading this column probably have a new, different appreciation for the word “small.” Because of the contracting economy, many things appear smaller than ever. Our world seems smaller because we travel less and we think less about what is happening in other countries. We have less concern about whether the World Wildlife Federation is winning the race to save endangered species or whether human rights are improving in China. We know that our retirement nest egg is much smaller. We fear that our law practice will become smaller.

As a result of fears mixed in with reality, we ourselves seem to shrink, become smaller. We want to provide a smaller target for the circling vultures of the recession. The impulse is to climb into our economic bunkers, slam down the blast door with a mighty clang, and wait it out. However, as all the breathable air gets used up in the bunker, this approach will prove to be a bad thing. The best air remains outside the bunker. Breathe it in. Inflate thy lungs slow and steadily. Now move forward.

The worst thing a lawyer can do at this moment is nothing. Do not assume that your government, your bar association, or the existing clients of your practice will get it all together so that work will resume or continue coming in the door. Instead, help them to get their respective acts together.

Help build your clients’ professional confidence. Contact them. Just see how they are doing and what they are thinking. Be a support to them even if there is no immediate legal work. Meet them for coffee. Find a seminar on a topic that may be helpful to them and suggest that you attend together.

If you cannot find such a seminar, strongly advocate that a local bank, chamber of commerce, or rotary club conduct such a program. Better yet, offer to assist the bank, chamber, or local rotary chapter in organizing such a helpful event. Then you can invite all your clients to the program. And you can invite those you hope will become clients.

As noted, do not sit back and assume your bar association will automatically provide you recession relief. Any business or association runs on a great deal of momentum. Its initial reaction to financial downturn may not coincide with your professional needs or those of your clients. Search the association’s program offerings on recession planning, inquire about temporary dues relief, and ask about what financial reorganization the association is contemplating for itself.

Once you have gathered the information, analyze it. Are programs being offered that help you or your clients understand TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), economic stimulus packages, insurance, or tax modifications? Are programs being offered to help you or your clients proceed with professional financial reorganization? Does the association offer dues relief? Does the association have a recession hotline or web page?

Once you have collected available answers, and if there are still more questions than answers, contact your bar leadership to inquire about the situation. This means contacting both the professional and volunteer leadership. Besides asking them for information or help, offer to help them yourself. You—the ABA and Division member—pay the dues and are the lifeblood of any bar association. Please be a constructive consumer. Please understand that the association leadership may not have all the answers or may not prioritize action in the most efficient way. No organization wants to lose its members simply because of the perception that it does not provide current value. You, gentle reader, need to help make the reality better than any perceptions.

And a final thought: If at this moment you have more time on your hands than you wish, do not squander it sitting in the office anxiously waiting for the telephone to ring. Plan a personal or family event, no matter how small. Take the opportunity to enjoy the spring flowers at the park, zoo, or botanic gardens. Surprise your children by being at home when they return from school and include them in that spring walk. When the clients and business return, hold no regrets about what you should have done while you actually had the time, the free time we so often hope for ourselves in busier days.

You have plenty of time to consider these words and take positive personal action. This economic crisis is not going away on its own anytime soon. So, while we all might need to live smaller for the immediate future, we can still think and act large for our personal and professional community.

Robert A. Zupkus is Chair of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division and a partner at Zupkus & Angell, P.C., in Denver, Colorado. He may be reached at

Copyright 2009

Back to Top