Solo Small Firm • December 2023
Balancing Life Events and Law Firm Leadership.
Written by Ruby L. Powers
Despite our sense of invincibility, personal illness and family emergencies can swiftly disrupt the flow of legal operations, creating chaos in the process. In this article, we delve into how legal professionals navigate these unforeseen disruptions and maintain the course.
I have been running a firm from Houston for the past 14 years, where we have experienced flooding, hurricanes, pandemics, labor shortages, and recessions. In that same time, I have given birth to two children, one with a complication resulting in a six-week NICU stay, lost one parent, and helped another parent fight two cancers in 12 months. When my 10-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with a rare cancer-like condition that also required a back brace, I was completely caught off guard. Searching for guidance in an abrupt time of need, I was inspired to write about this experience and reflect because many of us are experiencing similar unexpected life events and trying to be a lawyer at the same time. How do we do this? How do we keep it all together? Where do we start?
Here are six essential concepts I have found necessary in navigating the storms against the unexpected.
Self-care, Self-awareness, and
We are often so dedicated to our profession, we put ourselves last. In times like these, we must take care of ourselves to muster the bandwidth to troubleshoot and advocate for our families, ourselves, our businesses, and our clients. Therapy, doctor visits, workouts, etc., are all required. Don’t feel guilty. Explore resources provided by the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, or TLAP, at tlaphelps.org. The emotional intelligence and well-being needed to navigate hard times is essential in making the right decisions.
Create a comprehensive contingency plan that outlines how your firm will operate in your absence. Go to texasbar.com/succession for guidance and make sure to designate a custodian attorney. Identify key staff who can step in, establish communication protocols, and meticulously document essential processes. Honestly, I can’t remember much about the one-and-a-half weeks I was deep in my daughter’s diagnosis journey, but the staff at my firm didn’t skip a beat and had the operations covered. Of course, this was after years of building a great team with essential standard operating procedures, but that planning paid off.
Ask for help from your team and your community. Cultivating a culture of teamwork within your firm empowers your staff to shoulder more responsibilities during your absence. To affairs effectively, ensuring continuity even when life takes you on an unexpected detour. In fact, it is good to step away regularly to test your operations and see what can be done in your absence. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help from your friends and community for rides, meals, etc. You’ll be surprised how much they are happy to help. Let them help.
Ensure you have efficient and up- to-date technology. Cloud-based practice management systems, secure document storage solutions, and efficient communication tools enable remote access and collaboration. Make sure your team can work seamlessly from different locations. By doing so, you mitigate the impact of life events on your firm’s operations and keep the wheels turning smoothly, despite physical location. We currently use Google Workspace, Filevine, and Lawmatics to make sure no matter who or where we are, we can always access the same information in real time.
It is best to have six months of operating expenses saved up, a line of credit, and access to funds, if in a pinch. Having this financial cushion helps cover overhead costs and safeguards your firm’s financial stability. With this secure, you can focus on personal matters without compromising your legal practice. Furthermore, having key person and disability insurance would help support the practice in your absence.
Client Communication and Trust
Open and transparent communication with your clients takes center stage no matter the circumstances. Clients today often expect that you’ll be both swift and tech-savvy in delivering your services. Develop a comprehensive client communication plan that should work all the time but also be prepared for events where availability will be limited.
As we counsel our clients to plan for the worst-case scenarios, we too should heed our own advice. And as the wise Maya Angelou once said, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
RUBY L. POWERS is the founder and managing attorney of Houston-based Powers Law Group, which focuses solely on immigration law. Powers is certified in immigration and nationality law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She is an alumna of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, Leadership Houston, and the American Leadership Forum. Powers authored the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s book Build andManage Your Successful Immigration Law Practice (Withou tLosing Your Mind). She is a law practice management consultant and coach with Powers Strategy Group.