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6 Tips For Balancing on the Solo Tightrope

Don't overlook old-fashioned networking.

Practicing solo can feel like you’re juggling while walking a high wire blindfolded.

That balancing act is even more difficult in a pandemic. On top of the daily responsibilities of running your business, taking care of your clients and maintaining some semblance of work-life balance, you now have to worry about COVID pressures.

But by following some basics – like using technology wisely and joining peer networks – you can ease the pressure.

“The administrative functions that come with a solo practice—and particularly, if you have no support staff—can seem overwhelming,” says Roberta Tepper, director of Lawyer Assistance Programs at the State Bar of Arizona, where she advises lawyers on starting and running their practices. “But it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Help is out there, and you can learn from those who have mastered this balancing act.”

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At the Arizona State Bar, Tepper is director of Practice 2.0 – a practice management program that assists solo and small firm lawyers – and she also runs the bar’s mentorship program. Here are some of her suggestions for easing the burdens of practicing solo:

  1. Take advantage of practice management software. “This is the way to organize your digital files, keep time records, do billing, accept payments, and more,” she writes for Law Practice Today. “Practice management software is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You will need to take a little time to play with your top contenders to see which one looks and feels best to you.” Key tools include forms templates, messaging apps and automated assistants.
  2. Get help from your state bar association’s practice management program. Most state bars have one, and many also offer the services of a practice management advisor (PMA).
  3. Watch what you spend. “Be very analytical and honest about your skillset—and about what you just can’t do,” writes Tepper. “For example, hiring someone to help you may seem expensive at first blush, but it may actually be a frugal choice. How long does it take, for example, for you to do your monthly billing? If it takes you 10 hours a month, multiply that by your hourly rate. Let’s say it is $200 an hour. The time you spend billing is time you could be doing legal work. So rather than forfeiting $2,000 of time a month, does it make sense for you to spend $500 a month to get your bills out on time?”
  4. Practice self-care. “You can’t do your best work if you are over-stressed, over-worked, and just plain tired,” she writes.
  5. Monitor your efficiency. “Be aware of your habits—some of which you may not have consciously noticed,” she writes. “For example, MyAnalytics, a feature included with Office 365, will help you identify your working habits; last week it told me that I check emails within 17 minutes of receiving them and suggested that I could be more productive if I checked emails only once an hour. Voice mail, automatic replies, and virtual receptionists are some of the tools you may use to be sure you aren’t constantly interrupted, and that your clients get a response telling them when you will return their calls or messages.”
  6. Look for networking opportunities. “Solo practice—particularly for those lawyers who work virtually, at home, and/or without administrative staff—can be very isolating. Even the most introverted lawyer needs to be connected to other lawyers. This is not only a social imperative; networking requires personal contact. People refer clients to people they know, like, and trust. The fastest way to establish those vital connections is in person. Get involved with your state or local bar association; find continuing legal education classes to attend; and join committees, working groups, or sections that interest you. Get involved with affinity bar associations or volunteer for an access-to-justice program.”

What tips would you suggest for staying sane while practicing solo?

If you practice in Wisconsin, Texas, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana or Michigan, you can stay on top of ethics and risk management news by being a member of Alta Pro Lawyers RPG. You’ll get access to free webinars, the Pro Practice Playbook, Reminger ProLink, Ask the Risk Pro and more. Here’s how to join.

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