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The Advisory: Volume 10, Issue 1, January 2012


Click here to view the PDF version of The Advisory

Sole Practice – A New Year Resolution

By Marian V. De Souza, LL.B., Executive Director, Alberta Lawyers’ Assistance Society (Assist)

I hope 2012 brings you and your family health, prosperity, fun and fulfillment. Beginning a new year is perhaps a good time to reflect on the past and prepare for the future.

In “Solo Practice: Advantages and Disadvantages,”(1) Priya Thangarajah compares practicing solo with working for a firm. Why have you chosen the path of a sole practitioner?

  • Job security?
  • More control of your time?
  • Greater control of the type of work you do and clients you take on?
  • A different, some may say closer, relationship with clients and their issues?
  • More control to align your values and ideology with your work?

Hopefully, practicing solo works for you and you are enjoying the rewards of running your own practice. Despite possible benefits, Ms. Thangarajah describes how more autonomy could turn into challenges for the sole practitioner. Indeed, research shows that sole practitioners suffer more from stress than their counterparts working in firms.(2) How can this stress be managed and in a best case scenario prevented?

In an article, “So you’re a Lawyer. Can you be Happy?” Rebecca Nerison suggests that taking time to assess your career could help avoid burnout, frustration and performance problems. It is important for sole practitioners on a self-directed career path, as much as lawyers who work for others. Ms. Nerison provides the following questions for reflection:-

  • What’s your vision for yourself? For your clients? For the legal profession?
  • What meaning does your work have for you? What would you like it to mean?
  • What’s your relationship to money? Are you under-earning? Are you confined by golden handcuffs?
  • How are you making yourself more valuable in the workplace? To your clients?
  • How long do you want to continue doing what you’re doing? What’s next?
  • What plans have you made for retirement?
  • What do you really want?
  • How do you plan to turn things around if you feel off course?(3)

To ensure answers to these questions are palatable for the sole practitioner, planning ahead is critical. The Slave Lake natural disaster in 2011 taught us a great deal. The community, surrounding areas, and indeed the legal community came together to offer professional and personal support in the wake of devastating wildfires. Still, one could not ignore the importance of contingency planning for the rural or sole practitioner.

There is ample advice out there in the cyber world or otherwise about practice and firm management. In short, it is shown “planning makes perfect.” Develop a Business Plan, a Personal Plan, a Contingency Plan and a Transition/Succession Plan. Review and update these plans periodically. For help with this, management consultants or coaches who specialize in these areas may be an option. If not, a Google search provides a wealth of information. In-person or on-line courses are offered through Legal Education Society of Alberta and could form part of your CPD plans (due March 15th). Resources or referrals are also available through the Law Society of Alberta, the Canadian Bar Association and Assist on virtually any professional or personal issue you could be facing.

I am sure that this issue of Advisory, designed especially with the sole practitioner in mind, will be helpful. In addition, Assist has developed a special section on our website for sole practitioners to develop a personal plan of resiliency. Please check out our website at albertalawyersassist.ca or if you do feel overwhelmed or off-balance, professional counselling and peer support is available.

Whether you work alone, with an assistant, or in a firm setting, you can create health, prosperity and security for yourself and for those who depend on you. Ms. Nerison’s article provides an astute description of professional hazards that could hurt a lawyer’s performance, relationships, and work satisfaction. She calls them: “under-functioning, overfunctioning and exploding.” Importantly, she concludes, “I believe that you really can be a happy, decent, and successful lawyer despite the systemic and personal obstacles you may encounter. By attending to your own health, business acumen, purpose, and people skills …” The complete article is available at: www. albertalawyersassist.ca

(1) Thangarajah, Priya; “Solo Practice: Advantages and Disadvantages.” Legal Sutra, Law-Students’ Knowledge Base.

(2) Beck. C.J.A., Sale. B.D. and Benjamin. G.A.H.; “Lawyer Distress: Alcohol-Related Problems and Other Psychological Problems among a Sample of Practicing Lawyers,” Journal of Law and Health, Summer of 1995 at 23.

(3) Nerison, Rebecca; “So You’re a Lawyer. Can you be Happy?,” GPSOLO, October/November 2004.

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