Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 8

PRACTICE MANAGEMENT

WHY EMPATHY IS KEY
TO SMALL FIRM SUCCESS
By Dan Mills

Every month in this space, D.C. Bar practice management
experts Dan Mills and Rochelle Washington will share their
views and tips for a successful practice.

W

ho can be a small firm lawyer? Can anyone
with a JD and a bar license be successful at
a small firm? What does it take in this big urban
market to thrive?
I'm in a good position to answer these questions. I was a small firm lawyer
for 29 years in Bloomington, Indiana. In my youth, I was heavily influenced
by a family member who still practices law at age 86. I covered lawyers as
a reporter and worked for small firm lawyers in Indianapolis when I was
attending law school in the evenings. Small firm is in my blood.
I'm also in my 11th year at the D.C. Bar helping lawyers with business issues.
So, I've lived small firm law for more than three decades, and I've studied
it the last 10 years when it suffered through the last recession. Here's what
I know.
Not everybody can be a small firm lawyer. Many who desire it just can't
make it work, and a lot of lawyers who never dreamed of being a small firm
lawyer are terrific at it. I know lawyers who thought they were on a partnership track at a big firm, only to be unexpectedly laid off on a Friday, and then
had the essence of their small firm up and going the next week using only
their last paycheck. And they are thriving 10 years later. I know other lawyers
who were certain they would be successful, spent a small fortune on their
launch, and dried up within months.
Let's drill down on this to understand who is right for the small firm.
There are more than 1.3 million licensed lawyers in the United States, and
more than 8 percent are members of this Bar. We share a chemistry, and it's
probably why we are lawyers. We are twice as skeptical and twice as independent as the rest of the population. We are twice as likely as everyone else
to engage in abstract thinking. And we have a heightened sense of urgency
about all that we do.
So, in the areas of skepticism, autonomy, abstract thinking, and urgency,
lawyers are way above the rest of the population. Those are great personality characteristics for a professional problem solver, which is what lawyers
are. That is why people hire us to solve their problems: We question everything, look under every rock, maintain our independence, live in our brains,
and do it all very urgently, even when we aren't on a deadline.

iStock

But there is a dark side to our shared personality characteristics. We are way
less resilient than the rest of the population, and we seriously lack sociability.
Some would say we are a bunch of thin-skinned introverts. (See the chart
on personality traits.) Now we know why we take rejection in any form so
personally, despise networking, and resent marketing.
8

WASHINGTON LAWYER

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APRIL 2019

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Washington Lawyer - April 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - April 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
DC Bar Practice Management Advisory Service feature
Niching Down to Build Up feature
Going Small feature
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask the Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 12
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - DC Bar Practice Management Advisory Service feature
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Niching Down to Build Up feature
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 22
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Going Small feature
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 25
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 26
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 28
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 30
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 32
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 33
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 34
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 36
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Ask the Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 48
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 49
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 51
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Cover4
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