Interview Series: The Entrepreneurial Law Firm
At Kahuna Accounting we spend a lot of our time working with attorneys in solo practices or in small law firms. While we serve them by taking care of accounting, our real focus is on helping entrepreneurs be more equipped to run their business.
As a lawyer, there is a lot to learn about how to run a practice.
So today we have our latest installment in a blog series covering everything in law practice management.
We are interviewing experts who will share from experience some of the changes in the industry, and the most powerful things lawyers can do to ensure their success.
Today’s interview is with Jared Correia, the Assistant Director and Senior Law Practice Advisor at The Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program.
Before joining LOMAP, Jared managed CLE publications and the Casemaker research engine for the Massachusetts Bar Association. He has also been a practicing lawyer, in small firms, where he mostly focused on personal injury, real estate and disability law. Jared is a frequent speaker for local, regional and national lawyers’ groups.
He is a regular contributor to local and national legal publications, including Attorney at Work, where his monthly column, ‘Managing’, appears. Jared is the author of the American Bar Association publication ‘Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers’. He is the co-host of the ‘Legal Toolkit‘ podcast on Legal Talk Network, and is featured on a quarterly podcast at Solo Practice University. Jared presented at ABA TECHSHOW 2013, on remote access and social media marketing.
This post has been broken into two parts, with part 2 coming tomorrow.
Fully Engaged: How to Commit to What You are Doing and Keep Your Sanity
This post you wrote on work-life balance really caught my attention. So, I am curious. Something led you to write that. Were you hearing certain things? Were you observing specific things? What lead you to go deeper into the topic of work life-balance, and what made you think about it?
We’re talking broad strokes right now. This is not necessarily solely tied to lawyers. I have a brother in law who lives in New Zealand and he’s got a couple kids.
When you see him or people in Australia or the South Pacific – even Europeans – they view work in a different way than Americans do.
I think people in America just work themselves to death, including lawyers. They just log hours. They make money, but their lives can just sort of pass them by.
I appreciate a European model where vacation is valued at a higher level than in the United States.
I think when people go on vacation here, they never leave the work behind. They have their smartphones, their laptops and tablets and they are always connected.
People are so reluctant to disconnect in the United States, and they’re unable to compartmentalize. So for most people, work dominates every part of their lives.
My whole thing is I try to compartmentalize things. So when I’m at work, I’m working. And if I’m home and I set aside some hours to work to write an article or whatever, I’m doing that.
But when I’m not doing those things, I’m not thinking about work. If I’m spending time with my son and my wife, I’m thinking about that. If I’m spending time with other family members, I think about that. If I’m spending time reading a book, I’m doing that.
I think the trick is to be fully immersed in whatever it is you’re doing. And most people are always thinking about work even if they’re not doing it.
Yeah, I love that. And feel free to go broad, because I think this is a human issue, and attorneys can learn from it. So, I’ll go along with that.
I think a major challenge is that most of us don’t really want to be over-connected and always multi-tasking.
But we fall into a trap of this myth that if I work really hard, I’ll arrive at some destination eventually and then I’ll back off and simplify.
Yeah, and I think that’s a particular problem for ambitious people, right? Because they get to the destination and they never settle in and think “Oh ok, I’m good now. I’ve made to where I want to be.”
They’re always thinking “Ok, what’s the next challenge?” And that can be a dangerous attitude too.
This culture of thinking of yourself as a viable human being because you’re doing things is not necessarily a good culture. People don’t give themselves a chance to unwind – and you’re right – when they reach goals, they’re always sub goals.
So they never give themselves an opportunity to celebrate what they’ve done. They automatically think about what the next task is. And if your entire life is running down a task list, that’s pretty depressing.
What is Your Identity as an Individual?
Yeah, you never arrive. There are always 10 more tasks once you get to the one you’ve been trying to catch.
So, tying it back, as an attorney starting your own practice… that is your life now. Nothing is guaranteed, and it’s going to undoubtedly become this overwhelm of having everything revolve around work.
So what would you say to someone right when they’re starting to kind of set boundaries, or what is the key to that?
I think a lot of people get into the practice of law, and then they start doing it and then their entire identity is tied up into being a lawyer.
Because for a lot of people it’s what their families wanted them to do. That’s why a lot of people become lawyers, so they’re proud of that fact.
They feel like they have to continue to keep being a lawyer, and to at least pretend they are happy about being a lawyer to protect other people’s expectations.
And that’s an issue psychologically. It is very hard for people to break out of that. And then the other piece is they spend so much time doing it. Lawyers have traditionally billed by the hour, and still do in large part even though alternative fee arrangements are available.
So you’re spending 60, 70, 80 hours every week immersed in the law. It’s all you can talk about. It’s all you’re interested in.
And then you can become this sort of robotic lawyer, and it is very difficult to engage in other areas, because you’re always on as the lawyer.
It’s really a time management thing for the most part.
I think if people block out time effectively and stop multitasking, then they can do other things and sort of get involved in those other things at a deeper level.
So what do I tell people for practical solutions when they’re starting out? Well, when you’re starting out, the temptation is to call every client back immediately, take every email and sign up every client you can.
But I don’t think you want to do that. I think you want to be more discriminating than that.
So one thing I tell people is to set office hours and tell your client that these are the times when I will be communicating with you.
So that’s one thing. Set office hours and stick to them. You want to make sure you’re protecting some space for yourself.
The next problem is distractions.
You have emails coming in, notifications, texts and phone calls. Most attorneys don’t get work done consistently or efficiently because they don’t set aside time to focus.
So if you’re drafting a motion, and during the course of that motion drafting, you’ve answered 18 emails it is probably a poorly drafted motion.
Instead of doing that – tell your secretary and the people you work with, “I work best from 8 to 11 in the morning and I’m taking those 3 hours to focus on my most important tasks for the day, and I’m not doing anything else.”
And then when I emerge from my cocoon, I’ll answer phone calls, texts and get in touch with people. It’s sort of the same thing with social media. I think a lot of lawyers tend to market themselves using social media now, because content marketing is really important for lawyers, as you know I’m sure.
And what they do is they become immersed in it and they’ll leave those feeds up all day, so you go down the Facebook rabbit hole, you go down the Twitter rabbit hole. You have to do the same thing. You block out times to do that work.
So, I always have posts scheduled two or three days ahead, so I don’t have to necessarily be on there all the time. But when I’m on, I’m 100 percent involved.
And that’s my strategy for everything. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to give it my full attention. I think most lawyers don’t do that, because they sort of let the business control them, rather than controlling the business.