Solo practitioners (“Solos”) and small firm practitioners (“SFPs”) have similar job expectations, experience similar pains, and want similar gains. Therefore, they need similar resources and opportunities. Without these resources and opportunities, they experience difficulties in their professional and personal lives which may lead to taking unnecessary risks.
- Solos & SFPs Have Jobs They Have To Do Everyday
Solos and SFPs have functional, emotional, social and business jobs that they do daily. But they tend to focus the majority of their time and effort on the functional jobs, such as file management and administrative matters (accounting, billing, vendor management, employee management, etc….), and on doing the work required on their clients’ cases. However, the emotional, social, and business jobs are also important and often get pushed aside because there is no time left to tend to these jobs, or for the acquisition of the knowledge or development of the skills necessary to handle these important jobs. Solos and SFPs routinely struggle with effectively managing the relationships with key partners, such as their clients, court personnel, opposing counsel, and employees. They also have to manage stress associated with not having enough money, management responsibilities, marketing, technology, and file management. On top of it all, they also have to keep themselves and their teams engaged so that productivity remains consistent and boredom or complacency does not set in. Finally, when the workday is done, they go home and have additional functional, emotional, social, and business jobs at home. Often times these “home jobs” are subordinated to the functional “work jobs.”
2. The Pains that Solos and SFPs Experience Everyday
Solos’ and SFPs’ pains show up on the financial and non-financial costs of running their practice, the barriers to maximizing their potential, bad feelings and thoughts about their situation, and the risks they are forced to take.
Financial Pain. Most financial costs are usually obvious and range from minor costs for Solos who operate out of their home to full blown operational expenses for Solos and SFPs who operate out of a proper office with adequate staff, physical and electronic resources, and vendor relationships. The financial costs can consume up to 70% of a Solos’ or SFPs’ monthly gross revenue (averaged over a year) but normally fall between 40% and 60%, assuming a properly staffed office. While some Solos and SFPs expenses may be less than 40% of their average monthly gross revenue, they normally do not account for the non-obvious financial costs, such as opportunity costs. For example, they may be limiting their ability to attract clients who may be able to bring cases that are more lucrative, they may be missing internal referral revenue, and other collateral forms of revenue sources that larger firms integrate as a part of their operations. In addition, they may be missing collaboration opportunities with other lawyers that they know, trust and have a good working relationship with. When the obvious and non-obvious financial costs are factored into the formula, although the percentage they are taking home on average per month may be higher than 60%, it is likely a percentage of a pie that is relatively small. So, the effective monthly costs of their potential net revenue are usually much larger than they realize. If a Solo grosses $100,000.00 per year, and has minimal overhead of 20%, her take-home net before taxes is $80,000.00. However, when if you add in $50,000.00 of potential revenue lost for the same year, even if overhead was 40% of gross revenue, her take-home net before taxes is $90,000.00. Therefore, the value of the opportunity loss is $10,000.00.
The non-financial costs are also very painful to Solos and SFPs, and include stress caused by financial issues, lack of time, conflicts, clients, opposing counsel, courts, employees, and vendors. These stresses often times are the reasons why Solos and SFPs compromise the quality of their work and their future.
Pain from Roadblocks. Many Solos and SFPs run into roadblocks or barriers on a daily basis. The barriers to entry into their practice include financial and non-financial barriers. Financial barriers include, among other things, the high costs of rent, personnel, file management systems, supplies, and vendor services, all of which are critical to a productive practice. The non-financial barriers include lack of knowledge, skill, and adequate training in the following areas: leadership principles, management principles, business principles, psychology, communication, negotiation, and non-litigation conflict resolution. These road blocks are limiting to many Solos and SFPs, causing them to miss out on opportunities that may have a strong positive impact on their practice and lives.
Pain from Bad Feelings. Many Solos and SFPs feel like a failure, incompetent, and not good enough to compete with larger firms. They believe that their lack of resources causes the roadblocks they have, and that they are limited in their ability to grow and develop, and cannot be as competent as their colleagues in larger firms. After a while, they start to settle for what they believe is within their reach. These feelings and thoughts are limiting to many Solos and SPFs, causing them to miss out on opportunities that may have a strong positive impact on their practice and lives.
Pain from Difficulties they Experience. Many Solos and SFPs face challenges that their colleagues in larger firms never encounter. First, they have to be owner, operator, CEO, marketing director, IT director, personnel director, firm administrator, and accountant for their practice. This can consume 30% or more of their time. Second, because of their limited resources, they are unable to handle complex matters in their areas or practice. They may also not have the resources to adequately prepare for court hearing and trials; they may be perceived as being disorganized and unprepared. The result is that they have a difficult time doing their functional job to the best of their abilities. Third, because they are bogged down dealing with the functional jobs of the practice, they have a difficult time taking advantage of opportunities to work on interesting cases, advancing their practice, marketing themselves, and to grow and develop into the lawyer they envisioned in law school.
Pain from Unnecessary Risks. Solos and SFPs sometimes have to take what cases they can in order to eat; whatever walks through the door. The alternative may mean that they get no clients and that they stagnate and consider changing professions. So they choose to “wing it” or risk not being able to feed themselves and their families. The resulting pressures of daily practice may cause them to risk their reputation, compromise their ethical obligations, and increase their risk of committing malpractice, all of which may lead to depression, anxiety, alcohol and other drug abuse, alienation, and, at the extreme end, disbarment.
- The Gains That Solos and SFPs Want
Solos and SFPs are constantly searching for opportunities to obtain value or gain things they need to make their lives easier and more fulfilling; they also want to have their expectations met and are delighted when their expectations are exceeded. Some of the gains they consistently search for are:
- To increase revenue and lower costs
- To have more time for client development
- To have more sources of client development and marketing
- To have clients who nice to work for and pays bills on time
- To have clients who appreciate and promote them
- To have the administrative burden of practicing reduced
- To reduce financial and non-financial costs of practicing
- To have systems, and processes that help them be efficient
- To have procedures in place that will help reduce errors
- To be respected by their peers, clients and judges
- To be trusted by their peers, clients and judges
- To have flexibility to work from home or elsewhere
- To have human resources to help with functional jobs
- To have opportunities to contribute to a bigger cause
- To be a part of an group that offers a sense of community
- To be a part of a family away from home
- To recapture and maximize their time
- To improve their competence level
- To have more skills, tools, and resources
- To reduce their stress level
- To improve their personal and professional relationships
- To go on vacation free from the constraints of their practice
- To have their expectations met and exceeded
- To have certainty about their future
- To feel significant to themselves
- To have others recognize them as significant people
While there may be opportunities for Solos and SFPs to acquire some of these gains by partnering up with other Solos and trying to create a small firm environment where it is easier to pool resources, the smaller the operation, the less likely is it for these gains to be realized because the economies of scale are usually not available.
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO YOUR PRACTICE?
Know your jobs & how to get them done the way they deserve to be done. I encourage you to take the time to think about the functional, emotional, social, and business jobs that you do every day, or that you have to do every day and do not get to. I recommend that you take a full day to think about this by yourself, and ask everyone who works for or with you to do the same. Then, get together to create a master list, then prioritize it and study. Ask your self and your team:
Are we doing all the jobs we need to do, to the best of our ability, with the resources we have available?
Is there a better way we can do our jobs by ourselves?
Then, finally, ask:
Is there anyone we can partner with who can help us do our jobs more timely, cheaply, effectively, and competently than we can do it?
This is a time intensive exercise. The more comprehensive the list of jobs, and the more detailed the job tasks and responsibilities are, the more thought provoking it will be, and the more you will get out of this exercise. Although this exercise is not particularly challenging, it deserves the time and effort of large blocks of time so that you can explore your practice deeply. This is not an hour or two hour exercise. It is a day long process that deserves your attention. This deep dive will give you the greatest insight in your functional practice and how it affects you emotionally and socially, and, how it affects how the business of your practice operates.
Know the pains you are experiencing and how to relief them without resorting to self medication. I encourage you to think about the financial pains you and your firm are experiencing. Then, think about the non-financial pains. Be specific about the pains, when you experience them, and how frequent they appear. Think about the costs of running your practice, the barriers you face, the feelings you have, the thoughts you have, the difficulties you experience, and the risks you take. I recommend that you take a full day to think about this by yourself, and ask everyone who works for or with you to do the same. Then, get together to create a master list, then prioritize it and study. Ask your self and your team:
Do we have the resources to minimize or eliminate these pains without resorting to drastic measures that may cause us greater pain?
Is there a better way to minimize or eliminate these pains than what we have been doing or what we plan on doing?
Then, finally, ask:
Is there anyone we can partner with who can help us minimize or eliminate these pains more timely, cheaply, effectively, and competently than we can with our limited resources?
This is a very difficult exercise for several reasons. First, it forces you to confront yourself and your team in a bold and strong way. It forces you to look at your belief structure and how you experience life as a practitioner. It challenges your implicit bias and it helps bring awareness to your cognitive dissonance. Second, it forces you to see how these pains affect you and your team. Some of them are visibly cancerous and affect your practice in specific, but manageable ways, while others are hidden and chronic cancers that have the potential to kill your practice. Finally, it forces you to face reality and seek the help you need before it is too late.
Know the gains you want and need. I encourage you to think about the gains that you want and need. Examine your expectations, your team’s expectations, your client’s expectations, the courts’ expectations, opposing counsels’ expectations, your family’s expectations, and the profession’s expectations. Think about savings that you would like to have. List the ways you measure success and what success looks like for you. Identify what will make your life easier and what would delight you. Note which ones are absolute needs and which ones are wants and note the difference. Be specific about what you want and need and why you want them or need them. I recommend that you take a full day to think about this by yourself and ask everyone who works for or with you to do the same. Then, get together to create a master list, then prioritize it and study. Ask your self and your team:
Can we get what we want and need with the resources (time, financial, relationships, physical, personnel, strategic partners, etc…) that we have now?
Is there a better or faster way to get what we want and need than using our resources or using them the way they are being used now?
Then, finally, ask:
Is there anyone we can partner with who can help us get want we want and need more timely, cheaply, effectively, and competently than we can with our limited resources?
This is an exercise that improves your vision of your future self and helps you see “your ghost of Christmas future.” What would life be like if you had everything you wanted and needed? Can you actually identify what you want and need? Can you actually get what you want and need? When you start consciously thinking about what you want and need, the natural tendency is for you to focus on your life’s purpose and how your professional life fits within that purpose. You begin to think about leading yourself and others with a purpose. This could well be one of the first step towards living a productive and fulfilled life and having a practice that serves you and helps you serve others in a way that not only benefits you and your clients, but also others that are affected by your work. This may be the beginning of you realizing the dream of being the lawyer that you had when you were a law student.
I HAVE DONE THE EXERCISE, NOW WHAT?
Whether you are a Solo or SFP, once you have completed the above exercises, use what you have learned to improve your practice. You can do this on your own, with your team, or with a coach. If you put the time and effort into these exercises, then you should see remarkable results on how you see yourself, your practice, and your role. You can also expect to notice shifts in your thinking and belief structure which will help you get more focused on what really matters. If you are satisfied with your progress, use these exercises repeatedly (at least once a year) to help you stay focused and on track.
WHAT IF I NEED MORE HELP?
Coaching Services. If, after these exercises you believe you need help, then seek out the help you need. If you choose, I will be happy to be your mentor and coach and help you through the process and give you other tools that will elevate your practice.
WHAT ABOUT JOINING A LARGER FIRM?
Joining CPLS, P.A. One alternative to trying to do it all yourself is to make a dramatic change by joining a larger firm that understands the issues raised in this article, and is wiling to commit to helping you maximize your potential. Our Firm, CPLS, P.A. is such a firm. Here is our Firm’s vision statement:
We help lawyers increase their focus, competence and reputation by providing products and services that help stabilize their costs, increase their resources, minimize their risks, and remove barriers. We also provide them with a family of colleagues and staff, forming a community that supports them without reservation. The resulting benefits are that they increase their net take-home revenue (and start to gain financial freedom), recapture time (increasing their flexibility to learn new things and explore new things), and live a more balanced and productive personal and professional life.
To learn more about how joining CPLS, P.A. can help benefit you, please e-mail me your resume and I will be happy to send you some confidential information about our Firm so that we can start the conversation. Here is my contact information:
Tee Persad, Esq.
Founder and Managing Partner
Wishing you the best in your professional and personal life.