Normally, I write a year in review but 2020 has been too long and while I have a lot to celebrate and honour, I am using this space to look forward. I am excited about 2021 and I thought to share some tips for fellow solo-lawyers who practicing during the middle of a global pandemic. My tips are based on my own experience in and out of law, and by all means they are neither legal advice nor the only way to do things. This is not geared toward individuals in firms.
1. Business Planning
One thing I did when I started 2020 was write a business plan. In fact, I worked on the business plan for about 4 months. It was a process in and of itself. I wrote the business plan with the aim to access a starter grant for a small business and received small business advising in that process. I ended up writing a detailed business plan that I was able to adapt to other opportunities including employment opportunities and other grant opportunities. If you have written grants in a non-profit setting, a business plan is a similar tool. If you never written one, there are loads of samples online and it may become overwhelming but if you think of the business plan writing as a project it becomes a little less tiresome. One key thing I enjoy about business planning is goal setting. Goal setting helps me manage what next instead of worrying or growing anxious about what next.
Thinking about going out on your own? Even if you are working in a firm (large or small), you should start treating your own work as your own business--where will you be in 1, 2, 3, 5 or 10 years? You are in charge of your own professional destiny. It's also okay if this is not for you. Totally get it (you don't have to pretend to like it).
2. Goal Setting
The importance of goal setting can be underscored by helping layout a plan or map for your journey for the next 12-months. A few tips include: a high-level, flexible goal with definable targets to help you determine whether you met or exceeded that goal. Your goals should be realistic and any assumptions should be clearly outlined. You can divide your goals for the year into smaller chunks or quarters.
For example, a small business or solo lawyer goal can be to increase client outreach by 10% for the first quarter. To help you achieve this goal, you should provide an action plan that will help you reach that goal and help you to understand how you will reach that goal. Goal setting is easier when your goals are connected to larger theme. It's okay if your theme is to increase revenue for the year; however, I found it easier and less soul-sucking (capitalism y'all!) when my goals are connected to non-revenue goals. Though when all is said and done, the goal are ultimately connected to revenues. Goal setting in this way may look like this (note: the numbers are fictional and so is the example):
Aim: Increasing brand awareness and expanding professional networks
The Law Office of Naomi Sayers aims to increase client outreach by 10% for the first quarter with the aim to increase awareness and expanding professional networks in the following ways:
Investing 15% of revenues into researched and identified advertising streams*
Connecting with networks to discuss opportunities for referrals or collaboration
Hosting or leading a professional development program to increase brand awareness
Pitching and writing 2-3 articles
*Assuming a guaranteed minimum revenue of $2500 per month for the first quarter with a $350 investment per month
I won't go into details but the bullet points outlined above should also have a plan for you to reach those targets. One example for pitching and writing articles is to generate topic ideas that relate to your law practice and email relevant publications who would take those pitches. Your assumptions should be realistic even if you are relatively new solo or small practice. Perhaps, as a new or small / solo practice, you may not have a guaranteed minimum revenue but you can aim to sign on 1-2 clients at a certain rate (hourly or retainer)--it's realistic and attainable pending any other assumptions about your practice. Alternatively, you can even go more realistic by having a target that says you aim to increase your consults by 2-5% (if you have 0 consults, your target would be 2-5 consults a month). Your assumptions will look different from other solos who are not in your region because all markets and clients in those markets respond differently. You can adjust your goals and their assumptions as you gain more insight from operating your law practice as time goes on.
When you go to visit with the bank or other sources of funding, like grants, goals will show that you have a dedicated road map in mind and that you are thinking about next steps.
Also, goal setting helps ensure you are keeping your own practice sustainable and realistic. This may help with managing any stress or anxiety about the future: you can't plan for how the global pandemic may change but you can adapt your response as time goes one.
3. Collaborative Practices
A collaborative practice looks different for solo lawyers. I have a wide network of senior lawyers and other solo lawyers who are generous enough with their time that I can reach out to them if I am stuck on an issue. If this is you, you shouldn't be relying on a small few because your network can be busy at different parts in their life/practice and one day, you may be stuck left with no resources to tap into. I have also tapped into my regulator's resources which I see as part of my professional responsibility and healthy relationship with my regulator which at times is complex given my history with my regulator. I recommend that solo lawyers also look into collaborating with solo lawyers in co-counsel relationships. I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing lawyers, where we have great working relationships and handle matters together. It helps with the loneliness of solo practice too.
In the end, if you want to look at my past year in review, you can check out my posts here.