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Lawyers, Lawyering, and Law Coaching - Part 3

Charlotte Lawyer and Master Coach Chris Connelly joins Law Talk with Bill Powers to discuss reviewing your law practice, life, and profession during the Coronavirus Outbreak.

Bill Powers: Chris, let me ask you, and you may have said this and you said there was a lead up time. How long did you give yourself? I know you said you were going to take the next three months off and if you said it and I didn't hear, I apologize, but did you give yourself a three month lead up to say, this month I'm not here? Or was it longer than that?

Chris Connelly: I'd say the decision was made in late 2015 and I spent the first half of 2016 ramping up to that. Working with clients, working with ... And again, I use the term adversaries, but there really are lawyers on the other side of the aisle. The DA's office of the courts is saying, "Hey, can we do this? How can we make this work? What do you need from me? How can I make this process go easier?" So I was saying it was something that could be ramped up because we're basically inventing the wheel here. I would say that it took about five or six months to put everything in place to make sure everybody was happy about it. I do think that going forward, at least in Mecklenburg County since there's already this precedent for it, it probably could be done a little bit faster. But my process was about five or six months.

Bill Powers: Well, and so there is a rather long transitional period and I think that's smart. What some may not realize listening is that it's not like you can just pick up the phone and say, "Hey, I need a date continued." And it's not just a matter of "Hey, I'm taking a vacation." You have professional responsibilities, you have things that you have to look at in the best interest of the client. And so I'm sure there was a lot of that going on. And I think you're probably, for the sake of being kind, simplifying a little bit, but I'm guessing it was a whole lot of work doing this while also trying to manage day in, day out practice.

Chris Connelly: Right. I had to get permission from the clients. And of course if somebody said, "Hey, I need my case resolved quickly," then I'd have to say, "Okay, I'm not the lawyer for you. Can I refer you to somebody else?" But overall, people were saying, "Okay, great. I get it. I'll see you in September or see you in October." It was not a big problem. So it worked out. And it does come down to setting your mind to it. I've been told by people like, "Wow, I could never do that." And to that I'd always reply, "Well, let me ask you this. Let's say you had a family member, your closest and dearest family member, who needed your help, undivided attention for three months. So say a family member got ill or just needed you there for three months, how would you make that happen?" And a light bulb goes on in their head and they realize, hey, I can make that happen. If it's important enough to me, I can make it happen.

Bill Powers: Right, right, exactly. And it's a conscious decision is what I'm hearing you say.

Chris Connelly: Right.

Bill Powers: Well, let me then ask you the next aspect of things because I think in order to do this, to set your mind to doing this, you're not at a stage of burnout. You're actually being healthy. You're realizing this is a time that I want to take for me personally and professionally, and maybe it's a bit of a timeout, if you will, to plan, to assess, to consider what you're doing personally and professionally. It's a tuneup, if you will, as you said already. Is this what was the impetus for Connelly Coaching? Was it related to that? Tell about that.

Chris Connelly: Yes, because at the tail end of the end of the sabbatical, I realized, okay, I've done a lot of travel, I've got all my bucket lists checked, and now what do I want to do going forward? So I got schooled in coaching and I said, I think I've got a real calling for coaching other lawyers to do what I've just been through and doing that kind of work. How can we set up work life balance? How can we set up sabbatical? How can we just set up time off? And how can we also set up business development so you develop your business so actually you're thriving and the business is thriving? How can we set it up so you are getting what you want out of it? You're getting the kind of clients you want, the kind of clients who appreciate your work and that also will pay you for what your worth.

Chris Connelly: I would also say that coming back from sabbatical, it was a whole new me. It was a whole new perspective because of the coaching education that I made sure I got during the time period, and also the mindset that I came back with. When I walked into that courthouse, I realized they don't really need me. The courthouse will go on without me and my life goes on without it. And that was a big weight off my shoulders when I realized that, okay, life goes on, I can take time off and, and things will not collapse. That whole sense of self importance really took a bit of a turn during the course of that three month sabbatical.

Bill Powers: Well, boy that's powerful. There's no small amount of ego on my side. I admit it. And it's something I work on.

Chris Connelly: It's what we do. We can't stand up in a courtroom full of people and advocate for an unpopular position unless you've got a massive ego. And that's part of what drives us.

Bill Powers: It's also a downfall. I think that's part of what drives us to some of our-

Chris Connelly: Yeah. It's a double edged sword. It's a blessing and a curse.

Bill Powers: And Chris, frankly, I think it's an absolute fabulous idea that you're doing. I think it's an absolute natural transition for you. I personally have done something similar, going more into adding different practice areas and forcing myself to educate myself on different areas of law. And even doing this, doing the podcast is something that I really enjoy because I like ... I've been so blessed with knowing some of the best lawyers in North Carolina as friends and being able to impose upon our friendship to say, tell me more. And I think, this is something as the bar grows ... I'm not going to ask you your bar number, but our bar numbers are relatively low compared to some.

Chris Connelly: They're pretty low, yeah.

Bill Powers: And we recently taught a CLE, and CLE is continuing legal education, in Wilmington. And I did a questionnaire and we had people that were attending who were very, very low bar numbers. Not even in the tens of thousands. And then we had some, if I remember correctly, I think we had someone in the 50,000 range. You were there Chris, do you remember that?

Chris Connelly: I do. My bar number is about 19,000. So I've got a five digit bar number. I remember, I think there was somebody there with a four digit number wasn't there?

Bill Powers: Right. I think it was a four digit and then there was a 50,000. I think our bar numbers are about the same. Mine's in the 19 range as well. And the point is that the more members of the bar that are admitted, the higher the numbers go up. And when we first started in the Charlotte Metro area, like I was the first new attorney in the courtroom since you. I think you may have been there a year or two ahead of me and you had actually had some experience before I did. But I remember being a new thing to almost play with in court with clerks and deputies. You're like, "Oh, that's the new guy."

Chris Connelly: You're the puppy. Yeah.

Bill Powers: Tony Purcell and I started the same time. We graduated law school together. Another absolutely fabulous lawyer. And it was unheard of and we had to learn who everyone else was in the system. That level of community in Charlotte has changed tremendously. And with the use of technology now I think, and even now because of the coronavirus, we're even more separated from one another socially, personally, and professionally. Well, with your coaching Chris, and I know you work with more than just lawyers, but because this is a law talk podcast, lawyers I think are a different animal if you will.

Chris Connelly: Right. Yes we are.

Bill Powers: And in some ways good, in some ways bad. I mean, tell me a little bit about ... Because I think there has to be a mentor, mentee type of relationship, even if it's a more seasoned attorney. But there are a couple of things I want to hit on. First, the coaching is a great idea in normal times. Just to make you a better person, a better lawyer. But given what we're dealing with right now with an unprecedented, historic shutdown of our court system largely, I think this is a great time for even young lawyers to say, "Is this what I want to be doing and how am I going to survive and transition this Coronavirus?" And tell me Chris, I think your services as a coach are more important now than they were 45 days ago. Not that they weren't important before, but this is a historic time. I think this is the time to call Chris Connelly up and say, "Chris, I need to take a look at my practice and my life and what I'm doing." If you could jump in there too. Do you agree with me?

Chris Connelly: Absolutely. I have never seen anything like this before and I've practicing since 1988. I've never seen the court systems shut down statewide for, I guess what's like two and a half months, from mid March until the 1st of June. That is absolutely unprecedented on a civil criminal level. I was in federal court yesterday on a sentencing case and I've never seen people Zooming, having court personnel coming in on Zoom, not being physically present there or trying to advocate for a client through a mask. This is uncharted territory. And I think there's a lot of lawyers that are probably eating themselves up saying, "Hey, how am I going to make it through this? Why didn't I see this coming? Why didn't I plan better?" You can't plan for something like this. This is the proverbial black Swan in the stock market, you can't perceive this kind of event.

Chris Connelly: But you can make the best use out of it. This can be an excellent time to first of all, reassess what you do. Maybe this is not the career for you. Maybe being a solo practitioner is not the career for you. Maybe it is and this is a great time to say, "Hey, I've got two and a half months where I'm not going to be called into court unless if something crazy happens, I'm going to use this time to work on my website, work on my marketing, work on my relationships with people, work on my relationships with people who are referring me cases. I'll check in with them once and week and say, 'Hey, how's it going? What can be done?'" This is a great time I think to work on relationships, not revenue because nobody's going to ... If you can get paid by somebody in this time period that's pretty much found money.

<< Part 2 | Part 4 >>

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