Managing my practice: What I learned and accomplished in 2017

With the onset of the 2018 New Year, it is time to reflect on the good and bad of last year and consider what can be improved going forward.

As a family lawyer, my practice is typically guided by State law, and while there are always some changes in Rules and in interpretation of existing statutes, in 2017 the law remained fairly well settled. What caused a lot of discussion in 2017, especially at the end of the year, was the proposed change in our federal tax law which would potentially impact alimony. Initially, there was talk of disallowing the tax deduction for the payor of alimony and thus, it would not be includable as income to the recipient of alimony, for all orders entered after December 31, 2017. This caused a virtual panic amongst family lawyers across the nation. How would we advise our clients? Did we need to take action before the end of year? Thankfully, this change will not come to pass for another year. At least we will have time to adequately plan. It will be interesting to see how the individual States will react and whether alimony calculations will be adjusted to take into account that it is no longer deductible nor includable as income.

From a practice management standpoint, I continued to grow my practice in 2017. I hired additional staff, both a paralegal and an associate. I have learned that it is not a wise business decision to attempt to do all of your work yourself. As lawyers we tend to think that the work will not be done properly unless we do it. In fact, it is not efficient or beneficial for the client for us to be doing everything. First of all, there are only so many hours in a day and if we are too caught up in the minutiae of each and every case, we have no time to effectively manage the case and cannot develop new business. Secondly, clients should not have to pay our rate for work that can be done just as efficiently by someone at a lesser rate. In 2018, I plan to continue to selectively expand my practice. I have learned that it is much easier to hire someone than to fire an employee who is not working out as expected. As such, I will continue to take my time in hiring by searching for the right person, not only qualified to do the work but also with the right personality to succeed in my practice.

In 2017, I continued to seek balance between all of my responsibilities. This is something that is never perfect but rather a continuing challenge. I anticipate it will be the same in 2018. I have learned through experience that there can never be perfect balance in each and every day. Some days the focus will primarily be on work, some days it will be business development and some days it will be family. And of course, inevitably there are those days that nothing seems to be in balance and I end up feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. The goal in 2018 like all previous years is to minimize those days where I end up feeling frazzled, and to cut myself some slack when and if I do have an unbalanced or unproductive day.

There has been an increased focus for lawyers on health and well-being. There is a realization that the stressful nature of our profession can have long-term negative consequences on our health. Too many lawyers turn to substances such as drugs and alcohol to help them cope. In 2017, I helped plan a one day retreat for my fellow family lawyers on mindfulness and health. In 2018, I hope to continue to work in this area, both personally and to continue speaking and writing about this topic for my fellow lawyers.

Looking back on 2017, I am satisfied with all that I accomplished, but there is always more to do. That is why I look forward to 2018 and all that lies ahead.

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