Recently, I caught an interview with Warren Buffet on CNBC, and I was reminded of one of the things I've heard him say in the past, which struck home with me, especially in an economic downturn. He said, "invest in yourself."
An investment in yourself always brings a return, and that return can be leveraged in many different ways. No matter what else happens, those that invest in themselves always get ahead. When you continue to improve yourself, your knowledge and your skills, you'll be more marketable to clients, employers, and others (think referral sources, strategic alliances, speaking opportunities, etc.)
You can invest in yourself in many ways:
Continue learning. In New York, we have a mandatory CLE requirement, which means that we have to take a certain number of continuing legal education courses in order to continue practicing. Even if you don't have mandatory CLE, it makes sense to take courses and update yourself on what's happening in your area of the law. CLE has been made even easier with on-line CLE materials such as those provided by Lawline - the content is very high quality, and you can listen or watch at your convenience. They've even bundled packages for individual states to make sure you meet your requirements.
You don't have to limit yourself just to your practice areas - are there other areas that your clients might be interested in? Can you learn something new about managing or marketing your practice?
Improve yourself. In addition to substantive learning, consider improving some of your other skills. Always had a fear of public speaking? Join Toastmasters or get a public speaking coach. Want to be a better manager? Seek out information or classes to improve your leadership skills.
Attend a conference. Some of the best professional experiences I've had have been the resuslt of attending conferences - whether they're conferences for lawyers (such as this week's ABA Techshow), industry conferences or conferences on other topics (business related or not), I always come away with new ideas. Although you can get new ideas from books, websites, online courses, etc., there's something about being completely immersed for an extended period of time with like-minded people. In fact, the biggest advantage of attending these kinds of conferences is the relationships that are often formed by attending these events.
Get some guidance. Lawyers have a tendency to be very independent and strong-willed. They want to be see as the experts and as 'go-to' advisors. Sometimes that prevents them from investing in getting the help they need - even while they advise clients that it isn't wise to proceed without legal advice. An investment in a good advisor not only helps you to improve, but helps you avoid pitalls along the way. Is there something you need help with?
Get organized and improve your systems. Many lawyers, especially solos, are frustrated by disorganization, inconsistency, and lack of systems, but they don't devote the money or time necessary to make those improvements, thinking that their money can be better spent elsewhere. But disorganization and failure to establish good habits and systems hamper your productivity and effectiveness not just in your practice, but in other aspects of your life as well. Investing in good systems and organizational practices - and learning how to maintained them - is an investment that will pay huge dividends in the long run. (Need help creating systems, check out my website at LawyerMeltdown.com to see if I might be able to help you.)
Take time to relax and do the things you enjoy. Practicing law isn't easy, especially in an economic downturn. You might not have the finances to take a big vacation, but be sure to invest in yourself by taking a break from work and engaging in activities you enjoy. Constant working (and worrying) builds stress. To keep your practice running smoothly, you need to re-charge your batteries.
If you're concerned about where your time and money are best spent in difficult financial times, remember that an investment in yourself is never a wasted investment.