Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : December 2006

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 SOLO/SMALL FIRM PRACTITIONER

BY PAT YEVICS  

SOLO/SMALL FIRM PRACTITIONER: Achieving Balance in 2007

As I write my annual resolution column for the December issue of the Bar Bulletin it is not yet Thanksgiving, so I am not really in the "let's be better next year" mood. In fact, having just finished the 8th Annual Solo and Small Firm Conference, I am in the "I ain't so bad" mood at best or, at worst, the "others are much worse" mood.

Writing a monthly column as I have done for over 13 years has been a mixed blessing. Not only is it often difficult to come up with new topics each month, it can also be quite difficult to get the article in on time while juggling many other tasks. However, the quest for new ideas has given me the opportunity to research new topics, and the constant deadline has taught me to manage my time.

Resolutions, as most of us know, are fraught with anxiety. We break resolutions and this implies failure. Hence, I have decided that rather than offer resolutions for the coming year, I suggest having a theme. No more failures. No more angst.

Theme for 2007: Balance
The theme for 2007 is balance. Bringing balance to one's life is certainly not original, but it is critical if we are to succeed. Too often when we read articles or hear stories about having more balance in our lives, you get the feeling that we should work less, buy less, eat less, etc. We read about CEOs who hike the Appalachian Trail (www.inc.com/magazine/20021201/24921.html) or do yoga in the conference room (www.inc.com/articles/2004/01/yogaandsleep.html) and wonder what this has to do with our lives of being solo practitioners. And although I think both hiking and yoga are great ideas, they miss the point of actually understanding and achieving balance in our everyday chaotic lives.

What is Balance?
According to dictionary.com, there are more than 20 definitions for balance, but the best one is "mental steadiness or emotional stability; a habit of calm behavior or judgment."

We need to understand that balance is not constant. It is a moving target and requires flexibility. It is like one of those old clocks with a pendulum. In order for the clock to work accurately, it is necessary for the pendulum to swing back and forth, and as long as the movement is steady, the clock works.

We need to accept that there are going to be times when work is all consuming because of a particular client or matter. During those times, you may need to devote more time to the office than to home. The key to keeping balance is not to have constant client demands. Not every case or matter should be all-consuming. Following a big trial, it may be necessary to take a long weekend to unwind. The key is not to work so much for extended periods of time that you become overwhelmed. If you need to work long hours for a particular event, accept that, but also know that you can resume "normal" hours when the event has been completed.

Achieving Balance in 2007
How can we create this theme for 2007 and achieve the balance that is so critical if we are to continue to be successful or to even improve on our successes? This is not about working less, but about working better. We want to use the tools available to us to create this balance. Here are my suggestions, which I will use this year to help you (and me) achieve balance.

» Goals determine what you are going to be (Julius Erving). In order for us to be successful, we need to know what we believe. We need to be on the right course to achieve this balance. Otherwise, we are just running in many directions without knowing what we need to be doing. For example, have you ever asked yourself what you believe in as it relates to both your law practice and your personal life? It is an exercise worth doing.

National Public Radio has been airing a series of essays entitled "This I Believe" (http://thisibelieve.org/index.php). It is based on a 1950 radio series started by Edward R. Murrow in which people comment on the beliefs and values that drive their everyday lives. It forced me to think about what I believe and to commit it to paper. It was not as easy as you might think, but a very worthwhile exercise. I now use this to make decisions about how I use my time and how I view what I do both at work and at play.

» How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was? (Satchel Paige). We need to know that we are never too young to plan for the future or too old that we should not try something new. Age is irrelevant.

» I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn't itch. (Gilda Radner). Too often we make life much more complicated than it needs to be; keep it simple. Use technology to manage your office efficiently without becoming a slave to all the gadgets that allow us to work 24-7.

» If you had a friend who talked to you, like you sometimes talk to yourself, would you continue to hang around with that person? (Rob Bremer). Stop being so hard on yourself. There are times when it is necessary to be "perfect," like following the Rules of Professional Conduct, calendaring all of your deadlines, making certain letters are sent without mistakes or stopping at red lights. However, there are times when perfection is not necessary. It is possible to maintain high standards and still not demand perfection in every endeavor.

It is also necessary to berate yourself when you do make a mistake. Mistakes happen. Fix them, apologize if necessary, learn from them and move on.

» Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies (St. Augustine). Do not hold on to anger, be it from a client who did not pay on time or complained about you or an employee who did not work out or a partner that left. In any case, let it go.

I want to wish all of you a wonderful holiday season. I am certain that 2007 is going to be a really good year. I hope to see you at Solo Day @the Annual Meeting, June 15, 2007 and at the 9th Annual Solo and Small Firm Conference on Saturday, November 3, 2007.

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