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Now’s a good time to take stock of the changes that can and must be made in your professional life in order to make this year — and every year hereafter — a more productive, manageable and rewarding one for yourself and your clients. Nowhere are those goals more difficult to achieve than in the law offices of the solo and small firm practitioner. The prevalence and importance of this diverse group of lawyers is easily overlooked. So are the problems confronting them. Practitioners who work in small firms (those with two to 20 attorneys) comprise over 76 percent of all lawyers in private practice. [FOOTNOTE 1] Yet it was not until the recent formation of New York Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye’s Commission to Examine Solo and Small Firm Practice that recognition of the problems facing these practitioners within the court system (and possible solutions to them) was publically addressed. [FOOTNOTE 2] Notwithstanding this recent recognition, the most important assessment of these problems begins with the individual. A personal assessment is critical to making meaningful changes in our professional lives, which will ultimately lead to greater satisfaction in our work, and greater satisfaction of our clients in us. Begin by identifying the areas that are the most troublesome in your practice. Examples may include: � I am totally disorganized; my office is a shambles. � Everything is left for the last minute, or adjourned. � I move from case to case, putting out brush fires, but not closing anything. � Matters slip between the cracks; there is no system for follow through. � Even when working 10 to 12 hours a day, I seem to be running in place. � Billing receivables are mounting; cash flow is suffering. � I have no real idea of what it costs, or should cost, to run a practice. � I wish I knew more cost-effective marketing techniques. � Law practice technology is constantly changing and is overwhelming me. While these problems may initially appear like distinct troubles, they are not. They all culminate in placing attorneys — particularly solo and small firm lawyers — at the top of the list of 28 occupations for which stress-related depression is a daily reality. [FOOTNOTE 3] Indeed, attorneys were found to be more than three times more likely to suffer from depression than other occupations. Such depression often leads to alcohol and/or substance abuse — and eventually to the Grievance Committee. [FOOTNOTE 4] Nearly every state, and numerous local bar associations, offer confidential assistance to attorneys with depression and related problems through lawyer assistance programs. [FOOTNOTE 5] But there are steps attorneys can take immediately to alleviate the inevitable stress that results from practicing law as a solo or small-firm lawyer. ACCEPT YOUR LIMITS Learn to say no — especially to friends and relatives. Acknowledge to them — and to yourself — that time constraints at the office do not permit you to take on anything further. Instead, refer work to a trusted colleague who can handle their needs. TRY PHYSICAL ACTIVITY Substitute physical activity for the evening cocktail or two. But be careful: Competitive activities, such as tennis, in a group environment may create more stress than it relieves. ADJUST YOUR DIET There’s no doubt proper nutrition can help stabilize both your weight and your energy levels. Avoid “fad” diets and seek the advice of a nutritionist who can assist in avoiding “peak and valley” energy levels during the day. AVOID SELF-MEDICATION Over-the-counter medications are readily available to help with everything from sleepless nights to migraines. Prescription anti-depressants are also prevalent. Such medications should not be taken for prolonged periods since they may remove the symptoms of stress, but not the conditions causing it. SEEK COUNSELING Practitioners are often in a “Catch 22″ when dealing with stress. They cannot share it with family members (particularly those who depend on them for financial support) for fear of admitting “failure” or appearing “weak” or “incompetent.” And they cannot share it with professional colleagues for the same reasons. The confidential confines of the therapist’s office offers practitioners a forum to air fears and practice solutions. Florence M. Fass is a senior partner at Fass & Greenberg in Garden City, N.Y. FOOTNOTES FN1 American Bar Foundation, 1999 Lawyer Statistical Report. FN2 The commission held public hearings statewide to receive views on how the judiciary could assist solo and small firm practitioners in a variety of areas, including case management and scheduling, technology, law office economics and enhancing professionalism. FN3 1992 study by John Hopkins University Medical School FN4 The American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs has found that attorneys were two to three times more likely to develop alcohol and drug problems than the national average. That survey also found that between one third and one half of all disciplinary actions filed against attorneys nationwide were a direct result of an alcohol, substance abuse and/or depression-related problem. The First Department Disciplinary Committee has reported that 50 percent of their cases are directly related to alcohol or drug abuse and/or depression. FN5 Confidentiality of communications with such programs is protected under �499 of the Judiciary Law of the State of New York.

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