The Virtual Solution
E-Mail Discussion Group Has Helped Solos Get Out of Ruts and Solve Their Problems
Posted Dec 29, 2005 7:31 AM CDT
By Margaret Graham Tebo
Mary L.C. Daniel was having a rough time. She felt like her small Winchester, Va., practice was not running as smoothly as it once did, and she was afraid she was in a rut.
So Daniel reached out to her colleagues--the members of the Solosez e-mail discussion group, a “virtual law firm” of 1,600 solo and small-firm practitioners. The responses she got helped her get back on track.
“One friend, a very analytical guy, very task-oriented, called and acted like a personal coach. He helped me identify the issues and create a plan to deal with each one.” Other colleagues just listened to Daniel’s frustrations, providing sympathy and war stories of their own. Daniel says simply knowing other lawyers experienced the same growing pains with their firms helped her see that her problems actually meant she was doing things right.
“It was so helpful to talk to all these lawyers, especially since they were so geographically diverse,” she says. “I could be completely frank about specific issues and people and not worry that anything I said would get back to the people I was talking about.”
One issue was an employee whose work commitment had declined substantially, dragging down the morale of other employees who had to pick up the slack. Taking the advice of her virtual colleagues, Daniel had a talk with the wayward employee and found that she was ready to move on. Daniel has since replaced her with a new employee whom she refers to as “a No. 1 draft pick--one of the best I’ve ever worked with.”
Daniel also talked with the rest of the staff; together they created a set of duties for each worker. Then, taking a big leap of faith, she followed one more bit of advice her mentors insisted on: She took a weeklong vacation.
She was delighted when she returned and found the office working smoothly and morale greatly improved.
Deborah G. Matthews is one of the Solosezzers who helped Daniel out. Matthews, who practices in Bethesda, Md., has also turned to her Solosez colleagues for important advice at critical times in her career.
“One of the best things I have gotten out of Solosez is the ability to have a presence in another city,” she says. “I can put out a request for local counsel and get a reply the same day from someone I already know and trust.”
She has also gotten immediate answers to vexing technical questions about her computer systems and software; found recommendations for hotels, restaurants and sights to see in other cities; and received solid substantive advice when one of her cases required knowledge of probate law in another jurisdiction.
Dinner, Dessert and Referrals
One of Matthews’ favorite aspects of Solosez is the personal interaction. Whenever she travels to another town, she announces her arrival date to local members and quickly has invitations to lunch and dinner from members in that city.
Matthews also attends a monthly lunch with a group of about 20 Solosez members who work in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. “I’ve gotten and made a lot of referrals as a result of those lunches. Plus, it’s just a really great group of people,” Matthews says.
Albert Unger of Stamford, Conn., agrees that Solosez is valuable. “This list is a great friend, colleague and equalizer that allows attorneys of all levels of experience to handle unique situations, as well as enabling them to go into battle against bigger and better-equipped firms,” he says.
“The wheel was invented a long time ago, and we don’t need to reinvent it, thanks to resources like Solosez.”