You may feel there’s nothing you can do about stress.
The bills won’t stop coming, there will never be more
hours in the day, and your work and family responsibilities
will always be demanding. However, you have more
control over stress than you might think. No matter how
stressful your life seems, you can take steps to relieve
the pressure and regain balance.
Sage words from the March 2017 issue of InSight. Since the holidays can be an especially stressful time, consider taking a time out to evaluate how the four stress management strategies discussed in this article might work for you.
Download the “Stress Relief Toolbox” provided by the authors. As they suggest, it’s not a bad idea to use one of these tools every day. Don’t wait for stress to build up.
If you’re a list-maker, using the “Stress Management Self-Help Checklist” may appeal to you. It’s a good way to stay on track and remind yourself of the importance of managing stress as part of your overall health.
Last, but not least: if you’re trying to get a handle on the stressors in your life, consider keeping a “Stress Journal.”
Funds held in your IOLTA account are deemed abandoned (unclaimed) if the owner has not accepted payment of the funds, corresponded in writing about the funds, or otherwise indicated interest in the funds within two years after the funds are payable or distributable to the owner.
What if you are retiring before October and want to report and remit unclaimed funds now so you can close your IOLTA account? Or perhaps you need to close your law office for health reasons and it isn’t feasible to hold off reporting and remitting funds. The DSL provides an “early reporting request form” here, but this isn’t necessarily the procedure you should follow.
Before the redesign of its website, the DSL instructed lawyers to send a request for early remittance to the Oregon State Bar, along with an explanation and a description of the attempts made to locate owners of the funds. This language has disappeared with the 2017 site redesign, but since abandoned IOLTA funds are paid over to the OSB, your best bet is to ask the OSB General Counsel’s Office.
What If I Am Not in Compliance?
The same caveat applies if you need an extension of time (are not in compliance). The DSL offers an extension request form, but before you fill it out, call the OSB. Previously, lawyers requesting an extension to report and remit abandoned IOLTA funds were told to contact the bar at its mailing address:
Oregon State Bar
P.O. Box 231935
Tigard, OR 97281-1935
This may (or may not) be the current procedure. It is unfortunate the new DSL website does not offer clarification. To be safe, speak with OSB General Counsel.
Will I Get in Trouble If I Don’t Report and Remit Unclaimed Funds?
A civil penalty is possible, but unlikely. ORS 98.992 provides:
A person who willfully fails to render any report, to pay or deliver property or to perform other duties required may be required to pay a civil penalty.
This penalty shall be assessed only after at least one reporting cycle
Only after the department has provided the person with written instructions, including copies of applicable laws and policies.
The department may waive any penalty due under this section with appropriate justification.
Bar discipline? That’s a horse of a different color.
OSB Formal Opinion 2005-48 makes clear that lawyers “must comply” with the provisions of the Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act. Given the ethical duty to safeguard client funds, this makes sense: obeying the statute is the highest level of protection you can offer once a client has walked away from his money.
Additionally, Oregon RPC 1.15-2(e) provides “The lawyer or law firm shall review the IOLTA account at reasonable intervals to determine whether circumstances have changed that require further action with respect to the funds of a particular client.”
If you are fulfilling this responsibility, you should notice whether you are holding funds that are abandoned and take appropriate action. (In this case, report and remit on a timely basis.)
What Should I Do Now?
I am a believer that it is never too late to do the right thing.
If you previously failed to report and remit funds, contact the bar. This will take some courage – no doubt. However, continuing to put the task off will only make the situation worse.
If you are concerned about the consequences of your noncompliance, get help. The names of top-notch lawyers who specialize in ethics defense are readily available. These specialists regularly write and speak on ethics topics.
How do you know if solo practice is right for you? Do you have what it takes to organize, manage, and assume all the risks of running a law practice?
As Bill Nye would say, please consider the following:
Solos get to call all the shots: client selection, case selection, setting fees, choosing a practice location – every decision that goes into running a practice. The responsibility rests on your shoulders. Do you find that appealing, daunting but doable, or overwhelming? If you answer is appealing or daunting but doable, please proceed.
Are You a Decider?
Some people are decisive, others are not. If you agonize over choices and normally poll multiple friends and family members before making a decision, solo practice will be difficult.
Solos need to make business and practice decisions every day. Some of these decisions must be made under pressure with little time to reflect. The reward, of course, is that you get to decide. You have the freedom and independence to use your creativity, knowledge, and skills to solve problems.
Are You a Self-Starter?
Solo practitioners must be self-regulating. Can you get the work out without someone supervising? Give regular attention to administrative tasks like billing and bookkeeping? It will be up to you to meet deadlines, organize your time, and follow through on details. If you are a good planner and organizer, your solo practice will be successful.
Are You a Marketer?
All lawyers in private practice are expected to develop business, but in a solo practice the pressure is greater. You’re it. Can you create your own networking opportunities and business contacts? Devote time to blogging or updating your website? Post to social media? Speak at CLEs? Write articles for bar publications? Build business referral relationships?
What resources are available to you? What financial demands and commitments do you have? Is it possible (or desirable) to apply for a micro loan, regular loan, or line of credit? Are you up for crowdfunding? Start by reviewing your expenses, then prepare a start-up and monthly budget. Read about other business/financial essentials here.
Drive, Stamina, and Work-Life Balance
Can you practice law, run a business, and keep it all in balance with your personal life? Are you strongly motivated? Healthy? Is your family supportive of your efforts? These are all good markers. Nonetheless, make a plan to care for yourself and manage stress. If you are looking for ideas or resources, contact the attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program. Services are confidential and free to Oregon attorneys.
Solo practice requires a lot of time and work, but it also has benefits: no one looking over your shoulder, no pressure to take a particular client, freedom to work in the areas of law that you prefer, and complete flexibility in deciding when, where, and how to work. Is it a match for you?
Desks are the pedestals of our productivity. How we organize the stuff on them has a big effect on how well or if we get things done in a timely fashion. But just as important as these practical concerns is the impact it has on our mental health.
Stackers organize by topic in stacks. They are visual and tactile and like to give the appearance of order. The busier these people are, the more stacks they have.
Spreaders are visual like stackers, but must be able to see everything they’re working on.
Free Spirits keep very few personal belongings around the work area. They like new ideas and keep reports, books, articles and magazines near.
Pack Rats have emotional ties to things. They like the feeling of fullness around them and like to tell stories about what’s in the office.
These categories are insightful, and describe a fair number of people I’ve worked with. But they fail to recognize what happens when a lawyer is depressed, depleted of energy, and has no motivation to get organized. Dan calls this “the depressed desk:”
When a lawyer has depression, motivation and organization are BIG problems. A lack of energy blunts motivation. We already know that it’s a good idea to keep our desk together, but there simply isn’t much neurochemical juice to get it done….
We must outfox depression. It would have us do nothing. So we must do something.
Dan’s Six Simple Solutions [Abbreviated]
Get rid of all those pens. Only keep three or four.
Take home any books that you don’t use on a regular basis. [I would add: do the same with magazines and legal periodicals. Create a “free spirit” space at home if this is your organizational style.]
Hide cords – use twist-ties or coil your cords up.
Only keep on your desk what you need for that day. Then section off your desk and workspace so that everything has a specific space.
Have a dump day. Pull everything out, put it in a big pile, sort, and toss.
We communicate with clients along a continuum – using emails, texts, letters, phone calls, video conferences, and in-person meetings. When selecting a communication medium, what drives your choice?
When Your Convenience Determines How You Communicate
Choosing a communication medium that is most convenient for you is understandable. Odds are you’re busy, maybe overwhelmed. You have information to convey and want to pass it along to the client quickly and easily. More likely than not, you’ll fire off an email, maybe a text, or post a document and notify the client to login to your secure client portal.
This is perfectly fine if the information you have to convey is cut and dried: not controversial, unexpected, upsetting, or likely to provoke a series of questions.
For best results, prime clients at the first client meeting. Let them know to expect emails, texts, etc. when you have routine information to convey.
When Client Convenience Rules Communication
Some might argue this should be the gold standard 100% of the time: choose the communication method the client prefers or finds most convenient.
While I understand the spirit behind this point of view, it ignores some important realities. Consider this typical scenario: Client sends you a question by email or text, but is unclear in what she is asking or leaves out key details. In the name of letting the client control the means of communication, you can:
Begin an inefficient exchange of messages in an attempt to clarify the question.
Spend an inordinate amount of time “issue spotting,” then answer every conceivable variation of the client’s real question.
Have I made this mistake? Yes, indeed. But the goal here is to do better. Neither of these choices is a good way to go.
Client convenience/preference can rule when you have straightforward information to convey. [Spot a theme here?]
If the client is being murky, don’t text or email. Pick up the phone. You’ll get to bottom of the real question far more quickly. Send back a quick message: “Let me call you to discuss this. Is 2:00 p.m. a good time?”
Purposely Choosing a Communication Method that is Inconvenient for the Client
If we’re being truthful, most lawyers have done this at one time or the other. You leave a voicemail at home because you know the client is at work. You send an email late at night when the client is likely to be sleeping. You mail a letter instead of picking up the phone to talk.
If you occasionally choose a means of communication that avoids contact with your clients, don’t worry about it. You might legitimately go this route to simply get something done. [Your convenience is driving how you communicate.]
But if you find yourself avoiding clients (plural) repeatedly (chronically), stop and reflect. Most lawyers who choose an “avoidance” means of communication are doing it because:
They anticipate the client will be unhappy about whatever information it is they have to convey – or –
The client is already unhappy [which could be reasonable or unreasonable]
Chronic avoidance can become chronic procrastination, which is a no-win for everyone. Lawyers who repeatedly procrastinate are anxious, stressed, and sometimes depressed. They find it impossible to break the self-perpetuating cycle of avoidance: as clients become more and more unhappy because the lawyer isn’t communicating, the lawyer retreats even more – not checking email, not opening postal mail, allowing voicemail to fill up, not reading texts.
Talk about communication at your initial client meeting. Let the client know what to expect and set the tone.
My goal is to keep you informed at all times during your case. I will email (upload) routine updates and documents.
If you have a question, feel free to call (text, or email) me. I set aside (mornings) (afternoons) to return calls and messages.
If the answer to your question is complicated, or if I need more information to give you an answer, I may ask to set up a telephone or video conference.
I like to meet with clients in person to (talk about settlement offers, prepare for deposition, prepare for trial, etc.) If you want to meet in person, feel free to (call my assistant or me) any time to set up an appointment.
You are welcome to drop off documents (any time, after 1:00 p.m.). If you want to talk (leave me a note or speak to my assistant so we can schedule a time to meet).
Consider the information you need to convey and remember your goal in communicating: you’re trying to build and support a better client relationship.
Convey bad news in person, by video conference, or over the phone.
Discussing something complicated? Use the same approach.
Is your client prone to anxiety? Do you anticipate the client will have a host of questions? Ditto on the approach.
Potential Legal Malpractice
If you’re an Oregon lawyer, call the Professional Liability Fund at 1-800-452-1639 and ask to speak to an on-call claims attorney in any of the following circumstances:
You believe you committed malpractice
The client is threatening to sue or is asserting you malpracticed