GPSOLO July - August 2008
Is Your Practice Getting Old?
Don’t have that old pep anymore when you come into the office? Dragging your feet when you walk in the door? With September just around the corner, you’ll want to start back from your vacation with zip and enthusiasm, not the doldrums.
The Cure for Terminal Boredom
People tend to fall into patterns without thinking about it, and life can get pretty stale as you dig deeper and deeper into your own little groove. So, in the interest of solo attorneys everywhere, I’ve developed some pattern busters that can shake you out of your terminal boredom and give you a fresher outlook on your practice and your life. Give one or more of these a try and let me know if they work for you.
Shake up your office. How long has that chair sat in that corner covered with that same pile of dusty papers? There’s a Pac-Man T-shirt somewhere in that pile? Shame on you. Clear up the pile and move the chair to another corner. In fact, move your desk and all the rest of your furniture around. Doesn’t seem like that will do much? Try it, and you’ll see how walking into a rearranged office every day affects your patterned thinking. Of course, you’ll have to rearrange things again six months from now, but at least you’ll be cleaning out all those dust bunnies.
Shake up your marketing activities. Have you ever done public speaking? No? Good. You’re going to do some now. Really, it’s not that hard. You’re a lawyer, so you definitely have valuable knowledge that you can share with people. Pick a topic in your field of practice that you can target at a select group of people. If you’re a real estate lawyer, give a talk at a local community center about the legal pitfalls of buying a house. With the real estate market as bad as it is these days, people are more nervous than ever about buying, so they will be more motivated to attend such a talk. Practice your talk in front of family or friends. Then go out and do it.
Shake up your office, part II. If you thought that moving your furniture was a big deal, how about painting and laying down new carpet in your office? Actually, moving furniture is more impactful because you have to change your physical movements as you enter and leave your office, so consider painting, carpeting, and moving around your furniture. With carpeting you’ll have to move your furniture out anyway, so just put it back in a way that’s different than when you took it out.
Get involved with committee work. If all you do is come into work, do your job, and go home, you should try changing your routine by getting involved with your local bar association’s committee work or the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division committees, which include practice area committees in business law, estate and financial planning, family law, litigation, and real estate, as well as practice setting committees focused on young lawyers, senior lawyers, military lawyers, and others. For a complete listing see www.abanet.org/genpractice/committee/index.html. Getting involved in committee work will put you in a collegial relationship with other lawyers in your town, or from across the country in the case of ABA committees, which is a nice break from the adversarial relationship that lawyers typically have with other lawyers in their practice.
Pro bono: the guaranteed wake-up tool. Pro bono work will open your eyes and make you remember why you became a lawyer. You’ll be working for those who otherwise would not be able to afford your services, and you will feel appreciated. Plus you’ll be doing something other than your normal day-to-day work in a new environment with new people. This is bound to knock you out of your groove big-time.
New practice area, new perspective. Will working in a new practice area lead to career catharsis? It depends on what got you stuck in the first place. But it is something to consider and will be the right choice for some. Anything that changes your patterns has the potential to do the job, and learning a new area of the law and doing new things in your practice will be a change. The only question is whether or not it is the change you need, which is for you to figure out. The transition can be made slowly to accommodate your learning a new field and developing a new client base.
New office location. So you’ve moved your furniture around, painted and carpeted the place, and all you get is strange looks from other people in your office suite? If your issues go beyond office decor and extend to the routine of your entire office suite and the characters that inhabit it, it may be time to move on—to an entirely different office space. If you are a solo who has set up a home office that has served you well for a time, you may want to consider moving to an office outside of your home if you’ve grown unhappy with this arrangement for one reason or another. It will cost you more to work out of an office than at home, but if it rejuvenates you and your law practice, the additional fees that you generate will more than compensate for the extra expense.
New you. You always wanted to take up woodworking but never found the time? Learning how to cook gourmet meals is a secret dream of yours? Go for it! Learn yoga, join a hiking club, take a drawing class, sing with a chorus, learn or revisit playing a musical instrument, do whatever it takes to get your juices flowing again. And who knows, at some point you might decide to make your hobby your new occupation. I know a lawyer in New York City who did this. He gave up his law practice and now has an artist studio for his painting in Manhattan’s newly hip Union Square neighborhood. He was nearly 70 years old when he did this, so you’d better hurry up and take up that hobby of yours soon—time has a way of slipping by without notice.
If you think you are too busy to try my suggestions, keep in mind that if they work, you will be more energetic and efficient in your law practice, which will more than make up for the time spent on one or more of these new activities.
So make some changes. But keep reading this column.
David Leffler is a member of the New York City law firm Leffler Marcus & McCaffrey LLC, which represents clients in business matters and litigation. Prior to that he was a solo attorney for more than a dozen years. In his spare time he blogs at staringatstrangers.com. You may write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.