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Not-So-Splendid Isolation: Solo Attorneys Can Cobble Together Collegial Environments

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While there is much to be said respecting the benefits of the work-life of the solo practitioner, including the freedom that derives from being one’s own boss, and the peculiar enjoyment that an attorney may derive from managing the entirety of his or her own success, there is also an often unspoken, and significant, drawback — that being that solo attorneys often feel isolated, especially those who work from home, or in a true solo office.  Within the law firm environment, it’s far easier to access a collegial environment and to create groups of professional contacts, due in part, though not entirely, to social and work-related pressures, and the desire to advance one’s career beyond others’.  Those pressures — the push(ing) to get out, and to get going — can be significantly reduced in the solo practice.  You don’t, necessarily, have colleagues coercing you to attend mixers.  Your boss is not going to be riding you to market the firm.  You may have a career to advance; but, more likely, your primary focus is on running your business, and getting clients (and their money) through the door.   Of course, the desire to acquire clients and to get paid does not always and explicitly result in pressure felt toward more actively marketing the firm, whatever the disconnect.  Many solo attorneys find ways and means to motivate themselves; but, even for those who do, there are a number of benefits of associating (I’m not talking about formal associations, like partnerships, in this instance) with colleagues and ancillary professional contacts.
Being alone too often can be unhealthy, and counterproductive to your business.  Humans strive for companionship, ultimately, in almost all of their endeavors, and working is not all that much different from many of those other endeavors.  When you surround yourself with colleagues and professional contacts who can further your business interests, you’ll likely find some personal fulfillment, as well, along the way.
As a solo, then, the big question, in staving off isolation, becomes: How do you approximate the collegial environment and psychological imperative derived, by small firm/large firm lawyers, from their employment?  I think it starts with a categorizing of needs.  For most solo attorneys, the chief business requirement is money; and, the primary substantive legal requirement is to access resources relative to continuing professional development.  Let’s address each in turn, only in reverse.  Solo attorneys can generally not, especially if they have home offices, cross the hallway to talk with a colleague about a particularly thorny issue, or about new caselaw that has come down.  However, there are ways to approximate the collegial environment inherent in law firms, both for new solos (acquiring mentors) and veteran solos (acquiring/leveraging/expanding a collection of close colleagues).  Active bar association membership can be an important component to establishing these sorts of relationships.  If you have a home office, you can add as an adjunct a virtual office, where other attorneys also utilize space, to more easily get out and about, among your (literally, now) close peers.  Establishing an office share is another way to create for yourself a more traditional office environment, and one complete with collegiality (assuming, as in all cases, kindred personalities).  (Be careful of partnership by estoppal, however.)  And, given the omnipresence of modern communication technologies, you can start, build and maintain relationships with colleagues via any number of means, from the telephone to the webconference to social media.  The redefinition of ‘presence’means that access is no longer defined by physical proximity.  Of course, the mentoring/collegial relationships you establish (in-person or online) can certainly mature into referral relationships; and, this answers for part of the money question.  The other part of that side of the equation is that you have to bring in your own clients to maintain your practice, too — especially when you’re just starting out; yet, it’s very easy for a solo attorney, practicing in a single office, or at home, to just stay home, and not get out, to market.  But, you must force yourself to do so, especially if you’re shy, by nature.  Sharing office space, acquiring a virtual office, staying in touch with colleagues . . . these are all things that will help to put some pressure on you respecting ignition of your desire to market your practice (of course, checking your bank account may spur you in a similar fashion).  But, it’s also effective to add certain triggers of your own, that do not depend on others, for getting you actualized; for example: join or start a lawyers’ marketing group, with regularly scheduled meetings; read marketing blogs, and try to implement one new idea each quarter; schedule regularly recurring updates of your marketing materials (including your website, including your bio page), to keep them fresh; and/or, create a marketing calendar, where you capture all of your marketing functions and self-imposed deadlines (if you don’t want ‘just another thing to monitor’ color-code for marketing matter on your general calendar, and filter).  While it’s not easy without a pre-existing infrastructure, like the kind that would exist at even a small law firm, solos who approach the difficulty and conceive of intelligent ways to approach the problem, can manage effective ways to combat the isolation inherent in solo practice.
As alluded to above, in a number of places, one of the best ways for solo attorneys to combat isolation is to (and this is probably intuitive) engage their colleagues.  Better still if that engagement can take place in a constructive environment, in which the participants can learn something.  To that end, one place for solo attorneys to come together is through Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and LOMAP’s ‘Solo Practitioners Group’.  The 6-session, 12-week free program series will focus on ‘Getting Things Done’.  For more information, visit this page.
And, for those attorneys who are considering starting a solo practice, LOMAP’s monthly start-up meetings offer a great venue for meeting similarly situated colleagues.  For more information on LOMAP’s start-up programs, see here.
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Liner Notes
Warren Zevon, one of the most underappreciated musicians in recent history, wrote and sang of the splendid isolation, which is meant only for the lonely, living all by themselves, in teepees.  But you know and I know, that things are far better together.  Right?
To celebratecompanionship, and to inspire you on your journey, let us run down some songs speaking to the virtues of ‘team’.
Together Forever’ by Rick Astley (not even a hidden sort of Rick Roll; and, yet you still clicked on it — interesting)

Together, Wherever We Go‘ by Jule Styne (from ‘Gypsy‘)

CATEGORIES: Career Planning & Transition | Law Firm Management | Law Practice Startup | Lawyer's Quality of Life | Marketing | Productivity | Risk Management

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