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"
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
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.