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The Newly Solo Attorney: Staying Productive

One thing I’ve learned since I’ve started my solo practice is the increased importance of staying productive. Sure, being productive has always been an important aspect of any legal career. After all, before I was the principal at my own law firm I was an associate attorney, and, as we all know, associates live and die by their billable hours. Keep your hours up and the partners will be happy. Let your hours drop and you better start looking for a new job.

Of course it was a conscious effort, but I’ve never really had trouble staying productive as an associate. I tried to be diligent. When things would get slow, I’d start by reexamining my files to make sure I had everything pinned down. If everything appeared to be in order on my cases then I’d ask for more work. And, if that failed, I’d ask other associates if they could use a hand on any of their cases. I billed nearly 2,100 hours a year while working as an associate on top of blogging five days a week. Truthfully, I’m probably happiest when I’m busy.

The battle to stay productive has changed in some ways now as a solo practitioner. The emphasis is no longer on tackling one project after another to amass billable hours. Indeed, in my experience, the picture becomes infinitely more complicated as a solo practitioner, especially when that isn’t your only source of income. Getting my work done still isn’t a problem. After all, my motivation is clearer than ever. I want to do good work on my cases in order to develop my reputation and grow my practice. Not only that, but if I mess something up, it’s my reputation (and more) on the line.

The issue is that just getting my work done isn’t enough anymore. As a solo practitioner I recognize that I also have to motivate myself to promote the practice; market myself; and grow my business and reputation. This hasn’t been easy for me so far.

Arguably my two other ventures are both an asset and liability in that regard. Since I’ve started blogging for The Sociable Lawyer I’ve met many other attorneys through social media, over the phone, and in person. Many of these attorneys are like me in that they are solo practitioners who are looking to build or grow their practice. As any successful solo will tell you, referrals from other attorneys are a huge source of new business. So these connections are important. Indeed, I continue to recommend blogging for any solo attorneys who wants to develop their reputation. If you don’t want to start your own blog, you can contribute to another blog. For example, we’re always happy to accept outside contributions that meet our guidelines (please, if you choose to submit, also remember that The Sociable Lawyer’s audience is other attorneys).

My other business, however, isn’t law-related. Luckily for me there is an overlap though. My specialty is entertainment law, and my other business is involved in the music industry. So although promoting, running and building my other business doesn’t directly promote my practice, the relationships I’ve developed in that arena have already led to work for my law practice. Still, the time I spend developing that business is time that I’m not dedicating to growing my law practice.

Morever, I know there is so much more I should be doing. I should be engaging with groups more often on LinkedIn. I should promote my practice more on Twitter and Facebook. I should attend more networking events. I do all of these things now, but I believe I can never network enough as a newly solo attorney.

I’m interested in hearing how other attorneys keep productive. What problems do you confront in your practice with regard to trying to stay productive? How do you manage your time? What advice can you provide to other attorneys who struggle to stay productive? Let us know in the comments.


  1. Ummm, I’ll begin with an emphatic “Me too!” I come from a background of entrepreneurial endeavors prior to enrolling in law school. So, going on my own right from the outset was my only inclination. I strongly dislike working “for” others unless they are my clients; which in that case, I will do anything and everything.

    I echo your sentiment that it is important to keep busy, after all, most of us are happiest at work while we are whistling away. The idea of maintaining business (busy-ness is really business) hits home with me in terms of staying risky. I am constantly challenging myself to do things I fear or which cause me serious discomfort. Not only do I mean in the conventional, or unconventional sense, depending on who you are (sky-diving, entering eating contests, or holding my breath underwater for reallllly long times) but more in the smaller, everyday sense.

    For instance approaching random tables at coffee shops, restaurants, or bars and introducing yourself. In a casual way, let your new friends know what you do for a living, and then let the remainder of the convo (if one remains) revolve around them. Be a resource to your environment. It is challenging and fun.

    I love this type of stuff – it is such a high and truly sets the tone for the remainder of your day or week. RISK. People in general, but attorneys in particular, could undoubtedly benefit from being scared more often, feeling less prepared … risking more.

    Live more of an improvisational life, I promise you, it will keep you on your toes~!

    • Matthew Hickey says:

      Thanks for the insights Todd. I really like you approach to keeping this fresh in a way that allows you to meet new people and expand your network while simultaneously keeping you on your toes!