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GPSolo Magazine

GPSolo May/June 2023: Public Service: How Lawyers Can Help the Community

Tips for Solo Practitioners Who Want to Serve Their Communities

Ivette Kuyateh


  • These pragmatic tools can help you continue cultivating a servant spirit while still running a successful solo practice.
  • Why did you go to law school? Thinking about your “why” will help narrow down your giving opportunities to those organizations and groups that share your values.
  • Be realistic with yourself and others. Consider your available time before agreeing to serve on that board, take on that pro bono case, or volunteer for that cause.
  • Use the areas of law you practice in and find pockets of opportunities. This may be speaking and training organizations and groups or collaborating with other firms that need your expertise.
Tips for Solo Practitioners Who Want to Serve Their Communities
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Welcome to “Sailing Solo,” our new column addressing the concerns of solos and small firm lawyers. Please let us know what you think of our column, and tell us if there are any topics you’d like us to address here. You can email us c/o Julie T. Houth, Editor-in-Chief.

Most solo practitioners agree on three things: (1) law school does not teach you how to run your own law firm, (2) entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, and (3) too often, we feel overstretched with work. And that’s before we add in our other commitments. When we add those, the idea of engaging in community service or pro bono work can seem daunting.

Remember law school? Many of us would have finished the sentence, “When I become a lawyer . . .” picturing ourselves in a lawyer cape righting society’s wrongs that we saw around us. Those memories explain why, for some of us, closing the door to service opportunities comes with a slice of guilt for not “doing enough” to advance access to justice. For others, opening the door when we know we probably should have said no can lead us further toward burnout and frustration.

I’ve experienced both, and the pragmatic tools below have helped me continue cultivating a servant spirit as a solo practitioner while still running a successful practice.

  • Remember your whys. The law touches every fabric of society. With so many organizations and groups bartering for our input and collaboration as lawyers, it is so easy to lose track of our whys. Why did you go to law school? What social wrongs did you intend to advocate against? What groups of people did you want to represent? Maybe those whys have changed since law school. If so, consider what is important to you now. Focusing on your whys will help narrow down opportunities to assist organizations and groups that share your values, which in turn will lead to forming relationships with like-minded colleagues and people as you build your network and reputation.
  • Be realistic with yourself and others. Check in with yourself before agreeing to serve on that board, take on that pro bono case, or volunteer for that cause. What season of life and career are you in? We all have the same 24 hours in a day, but how we use them will look different depending on what season of life we’re in. As lawyers, we can and often do juggle multiple roles and projects. It comes with the job. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Both paid and pro bono clients deserve our best efforts. Failed deliverables and unmet expectations can negatively impact your relationships and your reputation. Before agreeing to serve: (1) understand and get clarity on the time commitment being asked of you and communicate your limitations up front, (2) establish good boundaries and let people know what yours are, and (3) set time limits so you can reevaluate at a set point in time. People know lawyers are busy and will respect transparent communication from you when it comes to what you can and cannot take on.
  • Make time for your time. As solo practitioners, most of us have the unique advantage of being able to plan out our calendars however we want. Take full advantage of this! Calendaring is essential for the entrepreneur. A good system will go beyond helping you remember deadlines and client meetings. It will also help you visualize how the rest of your quarter or year will go. This way, you’ll be able to scale your time and availability according to your actual bandwidth without overcommitting and losing focus on the people and things that are a priority to you. Be honest with yourself: Do you actually prioritize your priorities? It is so easy to say something is a priority but quite another to actually make the time for it. In our household, we prioritize everything by our “Five Fs”: Faith, Family, Finance (work), Fitness, and Friendships. When we’re faced with competing demands on our time, we filter them by our system. Get intentional about building your calendar system in a way that makes time for all the areas of your life—including you. So, block out that time for your workouts, your kids, your friends, and those weekly date nights with your significant other.
  • Create a culture of service. Your firm culture is a blank canvas. You decide what it will look like. Will everyone wear jeans on Fridays? Will you have standing team meetings on a weekly basis? Here’s another equally important topic to consider: How can your firm serve the community? Ask your team (internal and external) about their whys and the kinds of issues they are passionate about. Then find ways your firm can support them by creating a culture of service and giving back. This might look like putting together or attending quarterly service projects as a team, partnering with other firms or organizations for a pro bono clinic day, or establishing a goal to handle a set number of pro bono cases a year in a particular area of law. Great teams are built when people feel heard, seen, and included. So, take advantage of these opportunities to strengthen the relationships with the people in your office and the service providers you work with on a daily basis.
  • Use your expertise. Giving back and serving your community don’t have to be complicated. If you’re in a season where you can’t add anything else to your plate, then get creative. Build it into the things you’re already doing with the things you’re already good at. Use the areas of law you practice and find pockets of opportunities. This may take the form of speaking and training organizations and groups or collaborating with other firms that need your expertise. It may also look like taking on a mentee or intern and letting them shadow you as they see for themselves what the practice of law actually looks like. Lastly, get yourself out there! Short blogs, videos, and newsletters sharing legal tips and strategies are all great ways to share your knowledge, educate others, and build your brand by using the marketing tools available in today’s social media era.
  • Don’t run on empty. No matter how much we want to serve or give back, we simply cannot give what we don’t have in any area of our lives. Therefore, it is crucial we avoid burnout by practicing self-care. For each of us, self-care looks different. No one can do it for you, so make checking in with yourself a priority. Balancing motherhood and lawyering has taught me that it’s okay to say no, it’s okay to say not right now, it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to take a step back and take a step down.

Maintaining a servant spirit and mindset is doable for solopreneurs if they simply put a few things in place so they can be involved and give back without it overshadowing their practices and their personal lives. Although the practice of law can feel isolating for solopreneurs, we don’t have to get so caught up in juggling our day-to-day professional responsibilities that we forget the very reasons we pursued this career in the first place. Helping others can do more than just give back. These experiences can be rewarding and life-giving as they help keep you connected to your colleagues, your community, your whys, and your greater sense of purpose.