Before I decided to open my own solo practice I spoke with several attorneys who practice by themselves or in small firms. The two overriding themes they all agreed on were also preached to me by my parents when I was sixteen and holding a newly-minted drivers license: with freedom comes responsibility. The first theme is that practicing by yourself provides the freedom to create your ideal law practice. Secondly, solos are responsible for performing administrative tasks, and those tasks consume an incredible amount of time.
Attorneys who work in a firm with full-time support staff are often not aware of what happens behind the scenes of a law office. In a perfect world, support personnel perform the administrative tasks so attorneys are free to develop new clients, retain existing clients, and maximize revenue for the firm. In a solo practitioner’s office, the lawyer is a one person support staff.
My firm, Austin Legal, LLC has been open for just over 2 months. The newness of running my own firm has worn off. The likelihood that I may fail at solo life is thankfully becoming remote. Over the past two months I have concentrated on networking, establishing referral connections, and strategically placing myself and my firm in various positions that maximize my visibility and afford me an outlet to help showcase my labor and employment law expertise. But what does any of this have to do with freedom or responsibility?
As any good networker does, I search for events to attend where I can meet new people, I follow up with new connections via social media, I schedule and attend in-person meetings, and I write thank you notes to people who have spent either money or time on me. Networking takes time – and lots of it. I also write a lot of articles for the American, Ohio, and Columbus Bar Associations, as well as different trade associations and newspapers throughout Ohio. Writing articles takes time – and lots of it. Lastly, since I am running a business, I deposit checks and pay bills, buy supplies, keep track of receipts and mileage, and continuously develop my website and marketing materials. Running a business takes time – and lots of it.
Notice I didn’t mention anything about practicing law in the above paragraph. Of course I still practice law and that too takes time. When I first started my firm I tried to focus on the administrative tasks until lunchtime, practice law until dinner time, and return to administrative tasks after dinner. But I was horrible at keeping that schedule. Sometimes administrative tasks took until the afternoon (or evening) to complete, sometimes I would have a rush filing deadline so I started the day with legal work and intended to migrate to administrative tasks by early afternoon. But we all know what happens to the best intentions…
And then a magic lightbulb went off – I have the freedom to set aside Mondays as an administrative day. On Mondays I do not do any legal work (unless I am absolutely forced to by conditions beyond my control). I am writing this article on a Monday. So far today I have paid my credit card bill and next year’s dues for the American Bar Association. I hand wrote two thank you notes, scheduled three in-person follow-up networking meetings, entered fifteen new business cards into my contacts, and reached out to three clients just to keep in touch. After I’m done writing this article, I will go to the store to buy more stamps and ink for my printer, deposit last week’s checks into my bank account, update my mileage and expenses spreadsheet from last week, and I will begin writing articles for two different publications.
I find that setting aside an entire Monday for administrative, miscellaneous activity is beneficial because it frees up the rest of my week to focus on providing quality, attentive legal services. Before, my days were inevitably chopped up between practicing law and running a business. When I was practicing law, I thought about the administrative tasks I still needed to do that day. When I was performing administrative tasks, I was not returning client calls as promptly as I like, I was not researching as diligently as I like, and I was rushing through many of the administrative tasks just to get them done.
With freedom does come responsibility. And by preparing my mind and my schedule to take care of the responsibilities that come with being a small business owner each Monday, my clients, my family, my sanity, and my law firm are all better served.