Flying Solo
By Youshea A. Berry
Youshea A. Berry is the principal of the Law Office of Youshea A. Berry in Washington, D.C. She can be contacted at .
Solo practice is not for the fainthearted and takes one-third legal expertise, one-third good business sense, and one-third gumption. Here are some tips and advice for those of you who want to blaze a trail:
Lesson #1: Get great mentors. Before I started my practice, I sought the counsel of women who I know to be exceptional lawyers. They candidly talked about their experiences in solo practice and the challenges of family-work-life balance. They taught me to enjoy the benefits of working for myself and to develop and maintain a strong support system to bolster me during the tough days of solo practice. With great mentors, you will be well on your way to success.
Lesson #2: Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Don’t waste time trying to do everything yourself. Being a solo is a misnomer—solos feel a deep sense of camaraderie and most won’t think twice about sharing form contracts, pleading forms, and advice.
Lesson #3: Partner with people who rock. I partner with law firms on cases and refer cases to other attorneys who refer cases back to me. I have developed of counsel relationships with attorneys who have experience in legal areas that I am still learning. Solo does not mean alone. You can blaze a trail for your practice while maintaining positive and healthy relationships with those around you. Those relationships sustain you on the days when you question your sanity for having started a practice in the first place.
Lesson #4: Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. At an ABA Midyear Meeting in Chicago, I found myself on a panel of commercial real-estate attorneys who have probably closed more high-dollar complex deals than I could ever imagine. I was the only young lawyer on the panel and was quite nervous. Needless to say, I made it through, and that experience helped me develop the courage to perhaps do it again.
Lesson #5: Work hard, play hard. I work long hours and often think about my work during free time. Admittedly, I am still working on the “play hard” part. When I do have time to play, I indulge myself with spa days, massages, travel, belly-dancing class, a basketball league, and yoga. Not only do these activities rejuvenate my tired mind, they also give me the incentive to do needed administrative and financial-management tasks.
Lesson #6: Generate good karma. Karma is like a boomerang—it always comes back to you . Extend professional courtesies when you do not have to, and realize that good deeds generate good karma. After all, you never know when you will need that extension or have to cut in front of someone to make a postmark deadline. Good deeds also build relationships. And in the legal business, relationships go a long way.
Lesson #7: Keep yourself going. When I need to get focused, centered, or motivated, I play what I call “theme music.” It puts me in the zone. Laughing is also key.
Lesson #8: Have a Plan B. I had a huge setback at the beginning of the year when a merger fell through. My mom always says have a Plan B. Thomas Edison said that he would rather fail at something he loved than succeed at something that he hated. While I do not anticipate failure, I do have a Plan B—early retirement.
Lesson #9: Say thanks. Be generous with praise and gratitude.
Lesson #10: Dream bigger. “Even a small star shines in the darkness.”—Danish Proverb
This article is an adaptation of “Women Starting a Law Practice” by Youshea A. Berry, published in 101 Practice Series, 2006. © 2006 by the American Bar Association. Reprinted with permission.
Ready Resources
• Every Relationship Matters: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform Your Business, Your Firm, and Yourself. 2007. PC # 1620213.
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