|Oregon State Bar Bulletin DECEMBER 2008|
On Going Solo
The October issue presented very conventional ways of setting up a solo practice. I encourage lawyers considering doing so not to be limited by anything except enthusiasm and the ability to work very hard.
In my case, not knowing any better, I just announced to all colleagues in my small community that I was entering private practice in specific areas of law. Lo and behold, they began referring clients to me even before my doors were open!
I was also fortunate enough to be "found" by an older, highly experienced colleague in need of someone to share rent on his suite and willing to be a mentor. He referred numerous new clients to me as well. I also shared other overhead expenses at a reduced rate until I had a better cash flow. Within several months, I was able to begin paying him full share on everything. I owe a great deal to his generosity.
I simply bought everything I needed for my new practice with a credit card at 9.9 percent. I think I spent around $5,000 total for the initial output of books, CLEs, software, hardware and the like. I already had a lot of things that I did not have to buy brand new. If I’d had to come up with a business plan or get a loan, I never would have been able to open my doors.
After a few years, I moved into larger quarters and went to a four-day work week. Thanks to the fantastic support of my legal community and The Best Assistant In The World (thank you, Marti!), I spend most of my three-day weekends on my horse ranch with nine horses and my husband — built-in balance. You really can’t obsess over work when you’re hugging your horse.
Don’t Forget Your Local Law Library
May I add a postscript to Sheila M. Blackford’s article "Law Office on a Shoestring" (October 2008)?
In addition to the resources the article described, add the county law library. The new attorney should become acquainted with their county law library and the services it offers. The county law library enhances the new attorney’s law library with reporters, statutes, legal treatises and law journals, both in printed form and with computer services. Most county law libraries have copiers and fax available. Also the county law library may have a conference room to meet clients in or hold depositions. These are services the county law library generally offers without charge, or at a very minimal cost.
I write to applaud your October issue highlighting the problem of professional burnout ("Burnout," October 2008). Many lawyers, including myself, have experienced different levels of this occupational hazard.
The causes and solutions for professional burnout are as varied as the individuals who experience it, and their own circumstances that lead them to the problem.
Trial lawyers, in particular, take on new work with very little control or predictability over the amount of time and resources that are eventually needed to complete the work. Cases we think might settle early don’t. Cases we think are small, morph into something bigger. Client expectations (and sometimes our own) get out of whack. Opposing counsel don’t always behave as we’d like. Judges surprise us.
Pretty soon we’re overcommitted at the office, and undercommitted everywhere else. Performance suffers. Practice standards are compromised. Even the joy at doing well strangely becomes less joyful. It’s all a familiar recipe for burnout.
Your article mentioned two individuals who have been very helpful to the Oregon bar on this problem.
Bill McAllister, a longtime stalwart at Stoel Rives, was one of the first Oregon lawyers to talk publicly about his experience. We owe thanks to Bill for allowing his story to shed light on a problem that lawyers don’t like to talk about.
Your article also quotes Mike Long, a counselor with the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program, who has helped many Oregon lawyers deal with burnout issues. Mike is a real resource. Don’t be afraid to call him.
There are no perfect solutions. But recognizing the problem before serious consequences occur is critical. Your article is a helpful reminder.