OSB Professional Liability Fund

Getting It All Done As a Solo

August 27, 2018
by Sheila Blackford

One of the biggest challenges a solo without support staff faces is trying to get it all done. How is it humanly possible? It may take some extraordinary juggling and a persistent adherence to planning, but I believe you can get close.
First, do you know all the things you need to get done? Brainstorm a list of everything you need to do immediately, soon, in a while, and down the road.
Consider your personal needs first. That’s right, personal needs. Otherwise, you will cause yourself bigger problems down the road. Remember the words of the flight attendant on the plane: put your own mask on first. You have physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs to address. Find someone you can trust if you are stuck on any one of them. Reach out to your doctor, your counselor, your spiritual advisor. If you need some help gathering resources, call the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP) at 503-226-1057.  Help is confidential and free of charge.
Consider the needs of your family and close relationships. Are conversations with your spouse or partner limited to checking on any mail received? Do you know who is your son’s favorite friend or teacher? Does your daughter have a test looming in a difficult subject? When is the last time you called your mom? You don’t need to feel guilty, just motivated to show you care.
Consider your clients’ needs. They wouldn’t come to you for help if they didn’t have a problem. The biggest category of complaints to the Oregon State Bar is due to a lack of communication. Schedule time to contact clients, especially clients who are under stress. Personal injury clients are thinking about their injury 24/7. Reach out to them at least monthly if not bi-monthly to send them a status update – even to say you are in a waiting period for receiving medical records. Remember to set and reaffirm realistic expectations. This may be a typical case to you, but it is likely their first one. Even if there is no news, letting a client know that you are thinking of them is power reassurance that they have chosen the right attorney to handle their problem.
Consider your law firm’s needs. Are there deadlines looming? Are there bills to be paid? Are there invoices to create and send out? Are there completed client matters to close and store securely? Are there calls and emails to return? Are there files piling up? Do you just feel stuck and not know where to begin? You can call one of the PLF Practice Management Advisors (PMA) at 503-639-6911 for help that is confidential and free of charge. We can help you to assess a plan of attack for managing your practice so that you can avoid malpractice claims and ethics complaints.
Consider your professional needs. Do you know where you’d like to be in ten years, five years, or next year? When you are busy taking care of clients and keeping a roof over your head, it is easy to overlook how quickly time is flying by. Where are you right now? Are you being sufficiently challenged and growing? Stagnation can eat at your morale and lead to burnout just as much as encountering unrelenting stress. Block out some time in your weekly calendar to explore something new or something to improve. Ask other attorneys to name the top three or five attorneys in a practice area or practice detail. Look to see when an admired litigator has a court hearing so that you can observe a master at the craft of cross-examination. Go up afterward to introduce yourself and ask to go for coffee to discuss techniques and tips from the trenches. Oregon attorneys are collegial and approachable. Schedule periodic times to meet different colleagues for an early breakfast to build supportive relationships and sources of referrals. Lawyers may be too busy to schedule a lunch but will usually have time to schedule a breakfast meetup. 
Setting aside time to take stock, a weekend, or even an hour devoted to focusing your attention on where you are now and where you need to go will keep you headed in the right direction with more confidence and less stress.