The Traditional End-of-Year Self Audit: What’s Behind Your Cool Image?

This article originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of The Journal of the Delaware State Bar Association, a publication of the Delaware State Bar Association.  Copyright © Delaware State Bar Association 2020.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. This article was written by Carol P. Waldhauser. Carol is the Executive Director of the Delaware Lawyers Assistance Program (DE-LAP) and can be reached at cwaldhauser@de-lap.org.

As a practicing attorney or judge, what better time than now to reflect on the past year…and what a year it has been! It has been a DE-LAP tradition for 14 years to encourage you to reflect on where you have been, where you are presently, and where you plan to be in the next year. It is time to look in the mirror, pull off the mask, and take note of what is behind your cool image — both professionally and personally. Considering the past year, this reflection is more important than ever. 

Some may ask, “Why take the time for a self-audit? I already have a cool image — after all I survived COVID-19 and more.” However, others may use this article to reflect, change, plan, and implement for the new year.

We know that lawyers are referred to as great problem-solvers. It is imperative for lawyers to realize that even when he or she may be highly successful in treating a client’s dilemma, all too often it is difficult for many to address their own concerns, goals, plans, wellness, and stamina.

Lawyers and judges often exhibit a cool image to their clients, families, and peers, but often suffer from the “shoemaker syndrome” — recalling the tale of the shoemaker who had time to fix everyone else’s shoes but his or her own. The day-to-day pressures of dealing with all the change resulting from COVID-19, the new technology, the deadlines of practicing law, as well as the ongoing responsibilities of life itself, can cause a lack of time for those in the legal profession to take time for themselves, to practice self-love and self-accountability.

This lack of time is unfortunate because it is important for all of us to pencil ourselves into our calendars. We need to realize that behind the cool image, lawyering in the 21st century takes foresight, patience, courage, excellent legal skills, personal wellness, and stamina. Take this self-audit in order to design, plan, and implement a professional and personal blueprint for strategic action steps towards success, both professionally and personally, to be the best attorney and best person in 2021.

Ask Yourself these Questions

  • Do I have realistic short-term, as well as long-term plans for my law office, my career goals, and my personal life?
  • Do I have a written budget and accounting practices in place for 2021, both professionally and personally?
  • Did I monitor the types of cases that were most and least profitable in 2020 to plan for 2021? Is my billing up-to-date?
  • Do I have an updated checklist for Lawyers Planning to Protect Clients’ Interest in the event of my death, disability, impairment, or incapacity? Is my “substitute” attorney updated?
  • Have I prepared for my absence or departure if I cannot get to the office? Do I have a succession plan?
  • Do I feel that I work too many hours? If so, can I design a plan to add more balance to my life and learn to implement it? Do I know how to say “no” to personal commitments?
  • Do I have a blueprint for my personal wellness plan in order to maintain my stamina and fitness, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Short-Term and Long-Term Planning

A lawyer, like other business people, should write a strategic business plan that includes short-term and long-terms goals. This written plan allows you to focus on what you need to do today, next week, and next month in order to position yourself so that you and your business are traveling in the right direction and do not end up somewhere else or derailed.

All firms — solo, small, or large and new or old — need a written budget, especially in today’s competitive marketplace. This budget should be implemented and reviewed regularly. Ideally, you should work with an accountant familiar with law firms of your size. Your budget should include all fixed expenses for the coming year on a month-to-month basis.

Monitor the types of cases that are most and least profitable. Stop doing work that is not profitable. (This does not include your pro bono work.) That includes those cases that take a lot of your time and the clients either do not pay, will not pay, or the case is just a bow-wow. Many hard-working, honest lawyers find that their expectations about getting paid are not shared by their clients. The result is stress, frustration, and problematic cash flow. Therefore, weed them out.

Life events happen. Most individuals will deal with loss, trauma, and change at some point in their lives. It is part of being human. Although for many lawyers it is a frequent trait to ignore unpleasant thoughts such as disaster, unexpected illness, misfortune, or death, by ignoring these events, we fail to prepare for the day the unexpected illness, disaster, or even death may prevent us from executing our responsibilities as lawyers: Therefore, fill out an updated checklist for Lawyers Planning to Protect Clients’ Interest in the event of your death, disability, impairment and incapacity. And, have an updated checklist for closing your office (forms available on http://www.de-lap.org).

Once you have the written plan, it is vital that you implement it. Implementation is action, and action converts your visions into a strategic plan for 2021 and beyond. Monitoring and management are essential to the success of your plan. Through both business and personal management, you build the foundation and framework that unifies purpose and meaning, while maintaining the stamina you need behind that cool image.

Fortunately, most lawyers are passionate about practicing law, although, some lawyers may not devote enough time to their personal wellbeing. It is not too late to review some simple procedures that can contribute to time, money, and the establishment of habits that can enhance you and your professional life.

Many of us love being a legal professional and take great pleasure and pride in 21st century lawyering.  Realistically, however, it takes planning, implementation, management and DE-LAP’s annual self-audit that may be the difference between success and failure.

For more information on the topics discussed above and for free checklists, call The Delaware Lawyers Assistance Program (DE-LAP) at (302) 777-0124 or email Carol Waldhauser at cwaldhauser@de-lap.org. Remember too, if you, or someone you know, is having problems that are affecting your/their ability to practice law or quality of life, call DE-LAP.  Plus, keep an eye open for the DE-LAP Blog on wellness, our 12-Step Support Group, Wellness Wednesday Resilience Group, and our free, educational programs. We do together, what need not be done alone!  

Notes:

  1. Tips to help stressed-out lawyers during COVID-19 pandemic. (2020, May). YourABA. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/publications/youraba/2020/youraba-may-2020/tips-to-help-stressed-lawyers/

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