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How to build the law firm you’ve always wanted

One of the benefits of striking out on your own is that you can finally have the law firm you’ve always wanted. All of those experiences from prior jobs can be distilled into your firm’s philosophy, used to create your ideal work-life balance and inform the technological purchases you make.

Actually, it might be more accurate to say that you can eventually build the law firm you’ve always wanted. So many of those first decisions are based on necessity.

One of the common complaints from BigLaw lawyers is that the only option is a work-life imbalance weighted heavily in favor of work. The culprits are common enough: long commutes, heavy billing requirements and a need to impress the higher-ups in hopes of access to the partnership track. In that type of culture, it can be difficult to ask for time off or to suggest some type of alternative working arrangement (like once-weekly telecommuting).

I think smaller firms tend to have a better track record for some things — telecommuting seems a little more common, for example. All of my past firms have been understanding on the time off issue. My biggest concern has long been the ability to get two days off with almost zero notice when we get foster care calls. Fortunately, it has never been a problem.

My second concern, as most parents know, is being able to call out on days when the kids can’t make it to daycare. Somehow it always worked out, but I can’t help but feel a bit guilty about taking unplanned time off.

But, when you have your own firm, you have more influence over your work-life balance. Staying home from work with sick kids is not a problem. (And you’re going take the lead, because your job is automatically more flexible than your working spouse.) Telecommuting is up to you as well, although hopefully it’s not as much of an issue and your office is close to your house.

For some new solos, the office is the house, either by design or necessity. I’m glad I didn’t have to go down that road; the distractions are too great when the kids get home at 4 p.m. (Who can ignore the world’s cutest kids in favor of work?) But some lawyers don’t have any other option, with the business location being decided by available start-up finances.

Carolyn Elefant does a terrific job of outlining the many options available to new, business-owning lawyers in the 2011-2012 update to her book “Solo by Choice: How to Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be.”  If you don’t have an office, will you meet clients in your house? (Is that safe?)  Do you use a P.O. Box for your office address? (Is that professional?) The book should be read with two points in mind:

  1. What do I need to do to get my firm up and running on the budget that I have?
  2. What do I need to do, as time goes on and finances improve, to build the firm and work-life lifestyle that I’ve always wanted?

With a little luck and planning, hopefully the firm you want will emerge, step-by-step. Even this early in the game, I can happily say that it’s great to be your own boss.