Thinking about hanging out your own shingle? Hold on. As impressive as it is to brag at family dinner about how you do it all by yourself, you should take the time to really think about how much you’d actually be doing. It is one thing to think fondly about how much easier everything would be if you didn’t have to rely on anyone else at work, but hindsight shows that it isn’t always that simple. From ABA Journal:
A majority of solo lawyers want flexibility to set their hours, but working irregular and extended hours could come at the expense of their mental health, according to Clio’s 2023 Legal Trends for Solo Law Firms report.
[A] majority of solo lawyers, or 62%, prefer working from home, 50% prefer to meet clients virtually, and 89% want to work outside typical workday hours…the report suggests that irregular working hours are impacting lawyers’ mental health. While it found that 81% reported “positive mental and emotional wellness” when they worked regular hours, “nearly half of those working irregular schedules couldn’t say the same,” according to the report.
“As solos embrace more flexible work schedules, it’s often at the expense of time management, earnings for their firms and, most concerningly, their mental health,” according to the report, which surveyed 1,134 U.S. legal professionals, 458 U.S. nonlegal professionals and 1,168 U.S. consumers.
We all know that practicing law can be a stressful gig. This study found that out of a 13,000-lawyer survey, 28% suffered from depression and 19% had severe anxiety — this was pre-COVID mind you. And as seductive the impulse to praise the decentralization of our work day is, you’d have to be wearing tinted glasses to not see that the changes can have some downsides. Sure, working at home means no annoying conversations at the water cooler, but no opportunities for face-to-face camaraderie (outside of pets, of course) can also be a hard pill to swallow. Yeah, you can work your tasks around your schedule, but a lack of clear lines between work and leisure makes the risk of work taking over your life that much greater.
[Joshua] Lenon says the administrative demands of running a solo firm and the additional roles that lawyers take on to develop and market their businesses also add “unique stressors.”
“When you pile them together, you’re finding that a lot of solos are just taking on too much at once,”.
The data does a pretty good job of showing that it isn’t always greener on the solo practice side.
Clio’s report suggests that solos are as likely as lawyers working at larger firms to report working more than 40 hours per week. It found that more than half, or 54%, report working on Saturdays and 40% on Sundays.
“While the freedom to choose their own hours is likely a major perk of being a solo lawyer, many also want to live and enjoy their lives outside of work. Despite these preferences, however, solos are much more likely than lawyers working at larger firms to work beyond 6 p.m.,” according to the report.
Thankfully, there are tools that can help with time organization and the associated burdens of being your own team.
Lenon argues that technology, including practice management software, has a role in addressing mental health and wellness by helping overburdened solos with scheduling, messaging, document management and a host of other tasks.
“It just reduces a bit of the administrative burden that solo lawyers take upon themselves,” Lenon says. “When we limit that burden, we get to have some boundaries that reduce that mental and emotional stress.”
While it may feel insurmountable, it isn’t impossible. If you’re looking for something that can get you on the right path, this article is as good as any.
Irregular Hours Could Be Detrimental To Solo Lawyers’ Mental Health, New Clio Report Says [ABA Journal]
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.
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