Most lawyers are acculturated to present an image of themselves as knowing, capable, even invulnerable or self-sufficient. Yet lawyers are human beings, and thus subject to vulnerabilities and setbacks. It is on that basis that, when speaking to groups of attorneys I advocate for contacting LCL and other sources of assistance sooner rather than later, ideally before one’s practice is in danger of being compromised.
But my specific intent in this post is to remind you of how helpful and important it can be to have “practice buddies” – colleagues with whom you have regular, mutually supportive interactions. These may be more readily available if you work at a law firm, and less so if you practice alone, and yet more crucial. For years, I ran a Solo Practitioners group here at LCL (soon to re-emerge as a joint LCL-LOMAP enterprise), and learned how isolated and unsupported the solo practice life can be.
Beyond the problems of professional solitude in regular practice situations, what happens when you are out of commission for a while, whether because of physical illness, family crisis, depression, need for alcohol/drug treatment, etc.? There is no organized system, no committee or agency set up to take over for you in circumstances when you are ill, impaired, or worse. (This is unfortunate, since under the auspices of such an organization the lawyers providing coverage would be immune from liability.) You cannot ethically leave your clients unattended, but arranging for their coverage is entirely up to you. Imagine how much easier things are, then, if you have regular contact with one or more of your peers (e.g., who meet as a group once a month to discuss tough cases or developments in the law, or with whom you have lunch individually on a regular basis), with the understanding that each of you is ready to step in for the other(s) as needed. And when the time comes that you are summoned to Highest Court, there is no mystery as to what happens to your open cases.
As you might imagine, at LCL we repeatedly see lawyers who really are in no shape to practice for the time being, but who keep attempting to do so because they have no back-up – for their computers, maybe, but not for themselves. So, much as I myself resist articles providing unsolicited advice, may I suggest that you take a few minutes right now to think about who your professional buddies might be – and maybe make a lunch date.
[Two afterthoughts: (1) If you are interested our planned time-limited group for solo practitioners, email me at DrJeff@LCLMA.org – we hope to get it started in a couple of months; (2) My perspectives are psychological – to get more lawyerly advice on topics such as covering for an impaired colleague or taking over the practice of a deceased professional peer, review the illuminating articles by bar counsel on the BBO web site (http://www.mass.gov/obcbbo/articles.htm) ].