This week in Young, Hungry and Committed, virtual office New York attorney, Vivian Sobers describes how she (with some trepidation) took a few days to unplug from her solo law practice.
I have a confession to make. Even though I am Young, Hungry and Committed, I recently felt burned out.
Running your own law practice is a marathon and I have been taking each day as a sprint. In fact, I was so tired I actually took some time off.
I guess the idea of taking time off is a misnomer. As a solo attorney who just started a practice, I do not feel I am in a professional headspace to fully unplug and book a flight to a place with bright blue water and the sound of palm trees swaying in the wind. (Although, as I write this, I am fantasizing about it.)
Instead, I took a mental vacation, which is something I believe all solo attorneys can do, regardless of duration.
As solo attorneys, we rarely have a chance to take time and evaluate our own needs.
I didn’t even realize how burned out I was until my husband, Owie, got some time off over the holidays. One day a few weeks ago, I woke up to him sleeping soundly and looking peaceful and serene.
On the other hand, I had one of those ridiculous days that only a solo attorney understands: new appointments, cancelled appointments, spilled coffees, subway delays… The only serenity I found was repeating the famous Seinfeld mantra – “Serenity Now,” around a million times in order to prevent an innocent bystander from turning into an innocent victim.
When I arrived home (much later than usual) that evening, Owie was basically in the same place where I left him around 14 hours earlier; in bed.
I sarcastically asked him what he had done all day, even though I already knew the answer. The bed not being made was my first clue. His reply was exactly as expected: “Nothing.”
I rapidly progressed through something akin to the 5 Stages of Loss.
At first I was angry. I had worked like a dog all day and he had done nothing. Then, I was jealous. I kept thinking that I wanted to do nothing as well. Then, I was hopeful. I could do this too. Couldn’t I just take a few days and recharge my batteries by doing nothing. Then, I was in denial. Could I really do nothing? No. That could never work. What about my clients? What about my obligations? What about finding new clients? Finally, I was settled on an uneasy acceptance. I needed to take a few days and do nothing.
In the struggle to continue my practice’s success, I lost track of myself.
In the process of building my firm and scheduling appointments with potential clients, I realized there was one important appointment I was always cancelling: the appointment with myself. I decided that it was finally time to schedule that appointment.
This was partly feasible because of the holiday season. My staycation was between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, which is generally a slow time for law firms. Many clients have familial obligations and rarely make appointments during this time. Also, a few of these days are national holidays, so I wouldn’t have to make court appearances during that time.
Also, I made arrangements with my NYC shared law office to scan any mail I received directly to my email account. This allowed me to stay up to date in case I received any important notifications or correspondence.
Finally, and the hardest part, was learning to say “No.” This is a larger lesson and the topic of an upcoming blog article, but learning to say no is extremely important in balancing your professional and personal life, especially for solo and small firm attorneys. As I learned during my staycation, clients can be made to understand that you are not available 24/7.
We all need to take a break.
I ate bad Chinese food. I watched an entire season of Scandal and created a now well-worn path between my bedroom, living room and kitchen. There is a liberating freedom in scheduling “nothing” across your various calendars. I highly recommend it.
This is not to say I did not do any legal work during that time.
In my stage of practice development, I have resigned myself to the fact that working during scheduled personal time is inevitable. I took some phone calls, prepared a few real estate documents, and stressed about where new business was going to come from.
The most important thing is that I slowed down, even if for a few days. I didn’t realize how hard I had been working until I took a pause.
Like a true solo attorney, I got bored of the monotony of scheduling nothingness before New Year’s Eve. I found myself naturally wanting to go back to work.
My advice: take a break. Even if just for a few days. Even if it is against your better judgment. Even if you binge watch a full season of Scandal in a marathon session.
You deserve it.
My name is Vivian Sobers. I am Young, Hungry and newly re-energized. I have weathered one year of challenges in private practice. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, I am committed to replicating my success for many years to come.
Vivian Sobers is a commercial litigator pursuing a solo law practice right out of law school. She is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Virtual Office Program. Vivian’s weekly blog series “Young, Hungry and Committed” documents the trials and tribulations of a young attorney navigating her way through the challenging world of self-employed legal practice.