How solo firms can prioritize work-life balance and still remain profitable

Solo attorney in a modern office looking at a large computer monitor

Attracting a steady stream of ideal clients is the dream of many solo attorneys lacking the resources to do so. If you could develop such a pipeline, your practice would thrive and you could spend more time practicing law or being present for your friends and family, not marketing yourself and your services.

Such a situation is possible, but — we won’t sugarcoat it — can take a lot of work to develop, maintain, and tailor. If you’re a solo attorney, you’re undoubtedly hard-working and motivated, but you’re human, too. You deserve to have a life outside of work. If it’s been hard for you to balance professional effort with personal fulfillment, you’re not alone.

Happily, the notoriously workaholic legal industry might be opening up to the idea that life outside of work might matter just as much as what you do when you’re on the clock. In the most recent State of Small Law Firms report from the Thomson Reuters Institute, 81% of respondents said they viewed work-life balance as a measure of success as it relates to their law firms. It would be a very healthy thing, both literally and figuratively, if lawyers at firms of all sizes better recognized the importance of life beyond their jobs and defined “success” in ways beyond the bottom line.

If you’re a solo attorney who thinks achieving better work-life balance would be useful, here are four tips that might help:

Prioritize prioritizing.

Fighting a battle on multiple fronts is a good way to wind up burnt out and with less to show than if you had applied focus and a strategic perspective. Let’s take marketing, for example. It wouldn’t be a good idea to launch a blog, new website, and revamped social media presence the same month you attend two conferences and a bar association get-together. That’s too much for any one person to handle, and you won’t have anything left over after the workday ends.

Instead, a better approach would be to decide what’s most important — is it that big conference? Getting that dated-looking website freshened up? — and spend what time and effort you have for marketing tasks on that. Once that’s done, you can move down the list (and along the way calibrate your sense of “available time and effort,” which might well be more or less than you had first thought.) You can’t do it all at once, and you’ll achieve more if you’re thoughtful and intentional about what’s Priority Number One.

Work smarter, not harder.

This is one of those pieces of advice that’s easy to give and hard to follow. Take some time to think about the elements of your practice where you are most successful, and that can mean the matters that are most profitable or the cases you find the most fulfilling.

You define what “successful” means, and it may change case by case. Now, how can you reallocate your time and energy so you spend more time on things that successfully work? It’s not an easy question and it may take a long time to answer, but if, over time, you can realign how you apply yourself, you’ll end up happier in your career and more satisfied overall.

Delegate where appropriate.

It’s the nature of solo attorneys to think they have to do every single thing themselves. After all, there isn’t anyone else to rely on — or so it seems. There are parts of running your small law firm that you can delegate, though, and doing so might free you up to concentrate on more important aspects of your business or areas of your personal life that could use a little more of your attention.

Integrated marketing may not be your forte, so you could work with an experienced digital legal marketing vendor to handle a lot of it for you. Then, you could take the time you would have spent on marketing and use it for more important work or time with your loved ones. The investment of resources is a big hurdle for some solo attorneys to get over, but many find that it’s a strategic outlay of capital that is ultimately well worth it.

Remember: Your clients need all of you.

You can’t be a good attorney and provide your clients with the service and advocacy they need if you’re stressed out, low on energy, and otherwise frazzled. Of course, many of your clients only know you in your capacity as a lawyer, and of course they hired you for your skills and abilities. But don’t forget that you can’t deliver what they want if you haven’t taken proper care of yourself. In order to be the best lawyer you can be, you need to make sure you’re attending to your needs as a human, too. Only then can you offer your highest performance, best effort, and top-quality work product. It’s easy to lose sight of that sometimes, but it’s never untrue.

At the risk of offering cold comfort, remember that you can’t do everything, do it well, and do it alone. While investing in marketing can help with client acquisition, it is also crucial for attorneys to invest in themselves and their wellbeing. Hopefully, what we’ve provided here gives you some food for thought and helps you balance business development with your life outside of work.

If what we’ve written here is of interest, learn more about how your solo or small law firm can meet the needs of today’s legal consumer. The 2022 State of U.S. Small Law Firms Report is also available for complimentary download.

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