SOLO Masthead logo
American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice


Vol. 16, No. 1

When Times Are Tough



Chairperson of the Board

Scarcely a day goes by when we don’t read or hear something about networking. When the economy went bad, we were told that networking was the answer. And then there is the constant discussion about mentoring. But how do we combine the two? Many older, more experienced lawyers simply do not have the time to intentionally engage in mentoring relationships. Yet we run into these more seasoned practitioners on a daily basis. Whether it is at the courthouse or a bar association function, we interact with other lawyers all the time. It has been this relatively new lawyer’s experience that everywhere I go there are experienced lawyers who are more than willing to offer a helping hand. We simply need to combine the two: Networking + Mentoring = Personal Board of Directors.

When I began my solo practice less than a year ago I was smart enough to know that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off on my own. I would need the wisdom and experience of others who went before me in order to find my way. If a big business has a board of directors, why couldn’t my business, too? So I decided to form my own “Personal Board of Directors.”

First I determined what areas of law I would practice. Second, I went back through all those connections I made networking throughout law school, summer clerkships, and legal jobs. From those I carefully selected one practitioner from each of my major practice areas. For me that meant one attorney from family law, bankruptcy, guardian ad litem, criminal law, and estate practice. Third, I contacted each of those attorneys and asked if he or she would be willing to serve on my Personal Board of Directors. Each gladly accepted and was in fact honored to be chosen. I explained to them how I valued their opinions and expertise. I knew I would need assistance and these men and women are people who share my view of law practice, people whom I highly respect.

The whole point is to avoid over-burdening one particular lawyer. Certainly each member of my board is equipped to handle queries from a variety of practice areas; however the idea is to not burn out a resource. By limiting my questions of each board member to a particular substantive area, I spread the phone calls and emails amongst a number of people, never becoming a burden to any one attorney.

Lastly, I acknowledge my board members when they do help me. It doesn’t take much, but a simple acknowledgment of the time they have invested in me makes them even more willing to assist in the future. After all, everybody likes to be appreciated. I recommend the simple act of writing thank you notes to those attorneys who offer their assistance and advice. It really only takes a moment of your time, but the gesture is quite meaningful. For example, I met a judge at a bar association function while in law school. I spent about 20 minutes asking questions and seeking advice. Once I returned home I immediately wrote a simple thank you note acknowledging the time he and his wife spent speaking to me. I didn’t see them again for about a year, but when I did we exchanged greetings and he mentioned having met me at the same function a year earlier. He then told me that he regularly looks for my name in the local newspaper’s legal section. I honestly had no idea what he was talking about, but he told me that in all his years in practice and on the bench he had never had anyone write him a thank you for his time. He said he looks for my name in the newspaper because he expects great things from me as evidenced by the simple fact that I wrote him a thank you note.

There is a wealth of information, knowledge, and experience all around you. You simply need to tap in to that resource. By carefully selecting attorneys whom you have met (networking), and asking for assistance in a particular practice area (mentoring), you, too, can form your own Personal Board of Directors to help you become a successful solo practitioner.

Kerriél Bailey is a solo practitioner in Virginia Beach, VA . Contact her at or visit her blog at

© Copyright 2009, American Bar Association.