The practice of law can be a bit of a roller-coaster—especially for a solo attorney or small firm. And, with everyone working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, these survival tips will become especially relevant for all of us. In many respects, the same issues apply. One week you’re totally crushing it and landing every new client you meet. The next week your phones are so quiet you can hear crickets chirping. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with this cycle of feast or famine that so many attorneys experience. Here are a few ways for you to not only survive but thrive during this unprecedented time of downturns as well as the peaks.
Take Advantage of Slow Times
It’s completely normal and natural for your business to experience the occasional slow spell. Especially now. If you can accept that and anticipate it, you will mentally be able to navigate the slow times much better than stressing out about them.
When your caseload slows down, that’s the best time to do some work on your business. Every attorney has a long list of to-do’s they will tackle “someday” if things ever slow down. Sound familiar? So the next time you settle a huge case and suddenly your calendar frees up for weeks, knock out some of those time-consuming administrative tasks like updating your website, scheduling some networking lunches, or setting up a new practice management system. Or, of course, you could always go on vacation!
Outsource to Control Overhead
When your practice is super-busy you may find yourself wishing you had more help around the office. If you’ve taken on a few extra cases or find yourself in a busy season, keep in mind that lots of outsourcing resources can help you get through without burning out.
Freelance lawyers can help with time-consuming tasks like brief writing, motions, research, preparing contracts, analyzing discovery and so much more. You can connect with incredibly talented freelance lawyers on an as-needed basis—even if “as-needed” is a daily occurrence. Freelance lawyers also can make appearances for you at routine court hearings to free up your time. Virtual receptionists can save you hours on the phone by helping screen potential clients and returning calls on your behalf.
Watch Out for Problem Clients
The emotional ebb and flow of the practice of law is another thing to consider. A “problem client” can suck the life out of you and make you hate the practice of law. Do yourself a favor and try to steer clear of them.
Problem clients typically have unreasonable expectations from the very first meeting. They are emotionally out of control and have already been through a number of other attorneys. Of course, they are also highly fee-sensitive, and thanks to Google, they already know everything they need to know about their case. They “simply” need you to file the motions that they already wrote. If you encounter one, two, or all of these red flags—save yourself the headache and take a pass on the problem client to free up your time to focus on the solid clients you already have.
Did you know that 55% of midlevel attorneys do not expect to be working in a law firm in five years? If you want to make it in this industry, you have to find ways to take care of yourself and battle burnout, even when you’re going full throttle with a heavy caseload.
I’m not a fan of the word “balance,” because I believe it’s unrealistic for all aspects of work and life to ever be perfectly in harmony in a challenging field like law. However, what I encourage you to strive for is work-life well-being. This means putting that yoga class on your calendar each week and not canceling. This means carving out just a few minutes to meditate each day. This means making mental health a priority, and scheduling regular time with a therapist before the challenges of your practice feel completely overwhelming. Setting some boundaries to pace yourself at work will help you stay in this profession for the long haul and avoid burnout.
Slow spells present a great opportunity for you to evaluate and implement tech tools that can make your life easier when you are slammed. Most technology services, whether it is practice management software, legal research tools, or document automation services, will offer free demos or trial periods so you can “try it before you buy it.”
The top tech tools any solo or small firm needs to better run their business and manage their efficiency are tools that streamline timekeeping, calendaring, billing and payment. Many practice management programs include many of the above features in one program. If they don’t have all these features, most of them also integrate with partner companies that do offer the features. The bottom line: take the time to find tech tools that enable you to produce high-quality work while keeping costs reasonable. These tools are key to a small law firm’s success.
Whether you are facing an ebb or a flow, if you suddenly find yourself overwhelmed by the prospect of working at home and are looking for help, don’t give up. From technology to toolkits, help is at hand.
About the Author
Kristin Tyler is co-founder of LAWCLERK, where attorneys go to hire freelance lawyers. She is also a partner at the law firm of Garman Turner Gordon, where she practices in trusts and estates.