Balancing Work and Life in Solo Practice
If you want to be your own boss, choose an area of law that appeals to you, fits your life style, and solves important problems for your clients. For example, I personally manage a solo firm limited to Collaborative Family Law, Probate, Wills, Trusts, and settling estate related litigation. There are many areas of law that offer opportunities for professional achievement, personal satisfaction, and flexible control of your time. The trick is to find an area of law that’s personally satisfying, offers some flexibility so you can control your time, and serves community and client needs. Select your area of practice because it’s interesting to you, not just because it pays well. Of course, if you love litigation and helping people who have been injured, then personal injury litigation might be just the thing. But, be warned, it’s a high stress legal job.
In addition to finding an area of the law you like, you need to develop legal services that meet your client’s needs, and set your fees high enough to earn a comfortable living. No one wants to hire a “discount” attorney. In fact, my own personal experience is that when I raise my fees, I tend to attract more and better clients. The other key to developing a profitable law practice is control of your overhead. With the advent of computers and legal software, it’s not necessary for a small law firm to hire legal secretaries or assistants. Moreover, there are plenty of good answering services that serve as a virtual receptionist for your office so you don’t need to pay a person to handle the phone. Besides, clients love to talk to their attorney directly. By answering your own phone, you will develop more business than by hiring an assistant to handle initial contacts with potential clients.
Another important part of marketing your firm is to establish a credible presence on the internet. A good website will do wonders for your visibility. In addition, you need a simple marketing plan that takes advantage of blogging, social media targeted toward likely clients, and a good basic sales strategy. The sales strategy that works for me is to actively listen to the client’s concerns, educate him or her about legal options, tell the client which option is most likely to succeed, and ask for the business.
Set up systems and procedures to handle the many repetitive tasks that occur every day in a law practice. You need to be efficient, handle a document no more than once, answer all client calls within 24 hours, and use technology to automate your office work as much as possible.
Achieving Work-Life Balance
Exercise and stress management are essential components of work-life balance. Daily exercise is an effective way to modulate mood, dissipate stress, and relieve depression. Also, dedicate time to taking care of your inner psyche through yoga or meditation. Start with simple steps such as relaxing and breathing deeply several times a day. Try to replace alcohol or drugs with a safer way to relax. Pay attention to your surroundings. Psychologists call this state mindfulness - being aware of yourself in your world.
Break the habit of spending time at work with people who just want to gossip. Also, avoid doing tasks that don’t accomplish anything, such as surfing the web or daydreaming. Set up rigid rules for your time at the office to keep yourself on task and productive. Trim time-wasting activities and you will be surprised how much more you can accomplish in a day. Also, don’t spend hours every night having drinks with the gang. That’s time away from your family. Pay attention to your personal needs and you will be a better lawyer, better spouse, better parent, and better human being.
Habits are difficult to change. Take inventory of your life and ask yourself what bad habits make life difficult for you. The key is to focus on things that are important and you do well; ignore those activities that are less important or can be done by others.
Every high achieving professional has perfectionistic tendencies. It begins in school when we are encouraged to earn top grades and continues throughout our lives. As your responsibilities expand you become more demanding of yourself . As you become busier, doing everything perfectly will become too heavy a burden. Rather than working for perfection, strive for excellence and allow yourself to make a few minor mistakes along the way. Your productivity will increase enormously and your manager will forgive the minor errors because you are able to achieve so much more.
Another important tip for achieving work-life balance is to schedule time off during the day. Plan your week so you spend time with family and friends. These relaxing times will give you something to anticipate. The trick is to schedule time with your family every week and keep to that schedule. Don’t allow work to intrude. If you don’t schedule your day, you can waste it and have little to show at the end. Try rearranging your sleep schedule so you have time for exercise and family before you leave for work. If that means getting up at 4 a.m., do it. Don’t wake up, shower, eat, and leave for the office. You miss important morning time when you are fresh and energetic–spend it exercising and seeing your family. Get up earlier and leave for work later. You will enjoy dividends for the rest of your life. Having time for yourself and your family in the morning will make your work day more productive and peaceful.
Avoid any activity that wastes time and drains your spirit or energy. Don’t spent time with negative people. Instead, choose people and activities that enhance your career or allow you to spend time with your family. Avoid surfing the web – unless you are searching for something job related, it’s a waste of time. Avoid those time wasting habits and you will have more time for productive work and healthy family life.
Attorneys are notorious for having poor work-life balance. Female attorneys have been aware of the problem for years but men are just beginning to recognize the stress of practicing law. Lawyers have the highest incidence of depression and they use more alcohol and drugs than any other professional group. Suicide rate among attorneys are second only to health care professionals.
You don’t have to leave law to achieve work-life balance. There are steps you can take to gain a better balance between the demands of law and the joys of family. The most important factors in achieving work-life balance are flexible control of your time, exercise, and stress management. The key to work-life balance is working effectively at the office and organizing your leisure time.
Rome wasn’t built in a day so don’t expect perfect work-life balance instantly. Don’t try to do everything at once. Changing all your habits immediately will produce failure. Instead, start small. Try being home for dinner one or two nights a week rather than committing to dinner at home every evening – that will be impossible and you will feel like a failure. Do a few things, experience success, and build from there.