When was the last time you asked for advice? Whom did you seek the advice from? As lawyers, we are called on to listen to people and help them resolve issues, both professional and personal, every day. For most lawyers it is second nature and the way we make a living. But what about the time when a lawyer needs help? Do we instinctively call a colleague?
The answer is the greatest lawyer answer ever: “It depends.” Having your colleagues as part of your support network is a good start. But to truly have a great support network, you should look outside your professional network of lawyers. Having family and friends as part of your support network can be very important. Whoever makes up your support system should be people you trust and you feel comfortable around. They should understand your goals and be positive and encouraging.
Unfortunately, too many lawyers have no support system or a very limited support system in their lives. These lawyers who are routinely called on to give advice are the proverbial cobbler’s children who have no shoes. Your support system—in whatever form it takes in your life—is important. Your support system can help you make decisions on a wide range of life’s issues, from major decisions such as family and career changes to less significant issues such as where to vacation and what type of car to own.
Having others with whom you can share life’s challenges can certainly lead to better decision-making, less stress, and an overall better quality of life. If that is true, why wouldn’t everyone have a thriving support system?
There are two basic challenges to having a support system that works for you. First, you must identify the right people for your support system; second, the relationship with the support system must be maintained.
There is no one-size-fits-all or ideal candidate to be part of your support system. Remember, your support system is as unique as you. What works for a lawyer in Miami, Florida, may not work for the architect in Spokane, Washington. When identifying the people you would consider to be part of your support system, ask yourself how you feel when speaking with them? You need to feel comfortable in speaking with the people in your support system. Do you believe they listen to you? Do they have your best interest at heart when giving advice, and at the same time are not afraid to have a hard, candid discussion with you? The people in your support network should be people that you not only turn to for help but celebrate your successes with you.
Once the people in your support network have been identified, the onus is on you to cultivate and enhance these relationships. Having a great support network requires you to be available for those who support you. Don’t just share the issues in your own life; be a good listener and learn about the issues they are facing. This takes time, and time is a precious resource. However, it is the single most important key to having a great support network. In forging these relationships, ask those in your network for their opinion, and receive that advice with an open mind. Conversely, be prepared to give candid, thoughtful, and sensitive responses to those in your network who seek your counsel.
One of the often-overlooked benefits of bar association membership is the relationships that are developed through participation. Your colleagues at the ABA and at your local and state bars are prime candidates for your support network. This has been particularly true for me. While my support network has family and nonlawyer friends, many in my support network are lawyers I have met through the bar and developed trusted relationships with over time. My decision to seek the position of Chair of the GPSolo Division came only after careful consideration with my support network. To everyone in my network who encouraged me to seek this position, thank you. This job has barely begun, and I find it fulfilling and rewarding.
GPSolo offers a unique opportunity for lawyers looking to enhance their support network. The members of GPSolo have two unique attributes to recommend them for your support network. First, our members are similarly situated lawyers who have dealt with the same or similar issues that you may be facing. Additionally, these lawyers are situated around the county. Sometimes it can be more comfortable and easier to share a situation with a trusted colleague who is not “in your backyard” but still has the life experience to share with you.
If you are looking to better yourself professionally, meet new lawyers from around the country, and enhance your support network, consider upping your participation in GPSolo. You can start modestly by joining a committee or two. The Division offers numerous committees, both substantive and nonsubstantive. You may consider participating on a podcast or CLE. The opportunities to engage are limitless. If I can help you engage in some way in the Division, please e-mail me at email@example.com. I will consider it a “tryout” to be the next member of your support network.
Published in GPSolo magazine, Volume 36, Number 6, November/December 2019. © 2019 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.