Dear Solo Attorney: STOP PANICKING! It is just sleet. Sincerely, Neena Dutta

By Stephen Perih - February 5, 2014
Dear Solo Attorney: STOP PANICKING! It is just sleet. Sincerely, Neena Dutta

Bigger than Biglaw asks a powerful question this week: Why does a solo attorney act so feebly in the face of something as predictable as weather? Oh, and Neena gives a great rant as well!

As many of you know, I am on the board of the AILA New York Chapter. We recently had to cancel a meeting due to inclement weather. (The weather was not that bad.)  It was cancelled partly due to an irrational, universal panic among the potential attendees at the idea of getting stuck in the snow. Again, it was not that bad.

In my experience, many solo and small firm attorneys have a rare personality disorder. It combines aspects of fatalism, severe anxiety and helplessness. Nothing brings this trifecta of traits together more than the threat of “unexpected” weather.

solo attorneyI see attorneys freak out all the time about the myth of unpredictable weather. Seriously, it is like they are made of sugar. They go into a panic – like in a horror movie – the second they hear about the possibility of snow or another weather anomaly.

The irony of “unpredictable weather” is that weather is almost always predictable. We live in New York City, not under a volcano on Pompeii. (Being a lawyer there would be unpredictable!) We live in a climate that has the benefit of four distinct seasons, one being winter. Using LSAT logic, winter leads to … snowAre we all on the same page?

I would be freaking out if it were 80 degrees and sunny rather than at the first snowflake of the season. Snow is expected. It’s arrival is a foregone conclusion. Your response should be as well.

Why do weather patterns affect the way solo and small firm attorneys practice law?

Unfortunately, weather seems to affect the practice of law. I am here to tell you it should not, especially in our increasingly technological society. Other than in making a court appearance or needing to travel to your office to retrieve a physical file, your practice should operate as normal during the inevitability of snow in the winter.

I hear all you consumer-based lawyers screaming: “WHAT ABOUT ME. I HAVE CLIENTS THAT I HAVE TO MEET.”

solo attorneyEven if you are a consumer-based attorney, like myself, the weather should never affect you. Yes, you will be annoyed at the inevitable last minute client cancellations, but just like the weather, you can grow to count on the “client weather panic routine.” They probably cancelled your meeting to stock up on bread, milk and eggs, just in case the end times were coming. Regardless of their reasoning. I know you have other work you can be doing during their cancelled free consultation..

You have no excuse if you are a transactional attorney. First of all, you can work from home. Even if you have to schlep into the office, how much harm can a few extra layers do? Act like an adult and think ahead. If it is snowing, bring your suit with you instead of wearing it. Oh, and your 20 step walk from the taxi door to the office door really does not count as exposure to everything Mother Nature can throw at you. You don’t have an office in Nepal, so stop complaining.

Come on people! It’s simple. We are going to work, not choosing to pull the plug on a loved one. It’s just not that hard.

You cannot practice effectively if you are not informed.

By the same token, keep yourself informed!  People go into panic mode and act like “I don’t know if that court is open!!???  I will die if I don’t find out??”  So, why don’t you have processes in place to figure it out?

Immigration has the website, a number you can call AND my board sending out up to the minute messages about which parts of the government are closed.  I find people’s behavior ridiculous when they write to AILA demanding:

“That obscure court in the 3rd circuit, is it closed?  You need to tell me now!”

My internal response to every email is as follows:

  • I don’t HAVE to tell you anything.
  • You do realize that whatever information we have, we give to you.
  • Feel free to call the court YOURSELF.

No matter how independent attorneys like to seem, they are by nature, helpless.

solo attorneyThis phenomenon is much bigger than than a weather pattern; it an attorney pattern.

People, specifically attorneys, do not seem to have the ability to help themselves. Maybe it is because we have worked in environments with support staff for so long that we’ve become motivationally impotent. Maybe it is our need to cement our false sense of superiority above others. Maybe it is an irrational entitlement complex. My diagnosis: all of the above. Oh, and lawyers are inherently laze and notoriously good procrastinators. Give us an 1/8 of an inch of snow and we will waste 7/8 of a billable hour talking about how it personally affected our lives.

Granted, since I work for myself I am probably more of a self-starter than most, but even if someone handed something to you on a plate, don’t you want to double check for yourself? Or at least check to see if the plate is dirty before you eat off it?  The same can be true for questioning unknown people. I don’t go to wikipedia for legal research the same way you should not trust a random strangers “truthful statement.”

Sorry, that is more of a rant than a helpful guide, so allow me to provide a three step approach to pragmatically dealing with weather.  First of all, you should have a running list of things pulled from your calendar so that you know what you have to do at all times which includes:

  1. Knowing the items your work load.
  2. Identifying the external meetings: court appearances, clients, business associates for the weather afflicted day in question
  3. Having the numbers ready when you first make the appointment, to ensure if all goes wrong, you can at least call ahead.

In summation:

No weather pattern in the last 10 years has been a shock.  Neither Sandy, nor Snowapocalypse, nor torrential rain.  Sometimes it is worse than imagined but generally, unless it is some sort of black out or terrorist attack, we are fully informed.

Sage wisdom:

My colleagues in Atlanta were thrown a sort of curveball when there were 10 hour traffic delays due to a “snow storm.” However, that weather, like most weather, was predicted and disseminated to all who would listen.  What was not predicted was the city’s inability to handle the weather.

Don’t be the Atlanta of attorneys.

shared law office space
Neena Dutta is a corporate immigration attorney with the Dutta Law Firm, a firm she founded after leaving a Biglaw associate position with a prestigious New York firm. Neena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ executive suite for law firms in Downtown, New York and her weekly blog series, The Dutta Diaries, explores the thought process that goes into leaving a Biglaw job for the world of solo practice, and her experiences since making this career altering shift.

About Stephen Perih

Stephen Perih graduated Vassar College (no, it is not an all girl’s school) in 2005 before earning his JD from New York Law School. Stephen joined Law Firm Suites in 2012 as the Sales & Operations Manager. Since then, he has organized and emboldened Law Firm Suites’ community and accelerated the unique referral exchange among a rapidly growing roster of attorneys.

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