GPSolo Magazine - July/August 2005
Shifting Gears, Changing Paths
Is your law practice killing you? Do you hate it? Are there days and even months when you almost wish you’d opted for anything else—an exciting career in actuarial science, cleaning up after elephants at the zoo, or even selling encyclopedias door-to-door? In the life of every solo and small firm lawyer comes a time when the practice just doesn’t seem as satisfying as it once was. The spark, the thrill, and the ideals just aren’t there. If it hasn’t happened to you yet—just wait. It will. About every seven years, boredom and frustration set in.
You can just muddle through, putting out the work, floating in the miasma of what will become the lost decade of your life, or you can make some changes. Remember, if you were completely averse to change, you’d still be driving that 1972 powder blue Mustang convertible you had back in law school, listening to Cat Stevens and the Mothers of Invention on vinyl records, wearing Doc Martens, carrying a Filofax, and pecking out your work in WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS. You transformed yourself to get to the point where you’re reading this very magazine, and it’s time to keep on moving. You’re not the same person you were seven years ago. Those who don’t change are doomed to looking like Elvis.
So, what is it that you don’t like about your life as a solo or small firm lawyer? Is it the money? The lack of professional and personal satisfaction? Do you feel like you’re treading water just to pay the overhead? What’s holding you back? You have the power to reinvent your practice and yourself.
What can you change about the way you practice law to make it more satisfying to you? Can you change the nature of your work? General practice isn’t for everyone. About my seventh year in the law, deploring certain aspects of my work, I decided to create a boutique practice in family law. Not only did more money flow into the coffers, but so, too, did a sense of control. You can refine and redefine your practice, add another practice area, eliminate one, or even do something completely different. You can change your style of practice and how you work, moving from public to private practice or the reverse, becoming a mediator, teaching, or even practicing law with others. Or you can get out of the practice entirely. Your transition can be as big as moving from a small town in Kansas to working for a multinational corporation halfway around the globe, or it can be a small step. Only your imagination can limit the possibilities. It’s all within your power.
Even if you’re happy as a clam in your law practice, there are still transformations that can make your practice and life even better. Simple steps such as changing the color of file folders, stopping smoking, or even picking up some pro bono work can make a difference.
We have a saying in Mexico: When you stop building, you die. A lawyer who doesn’t continue to build, reinvent, transform, and change will be trapped in a dead-end mindset, condemned to a life in the Groundhog Day movie. There’s no guarantee that the change will make you richer, more attractive, or even more popular, but nothing positive ever happens without risk. Every day of our lives involves the risk that the sun won’t rise again in the morning. “It’ll take a year to make that change,” some might complain, but those same folks will still be a year older if they remain in the same place, doing the same thing the same way. If it’s permission you need to change, I just gave it to you.
New York City transactional lawyer and “Being Solo” columnist David Leffler gets all the credit for putting this issue together, calling up the best and brightest contributors to the legal profession to deliver one of our best issues ever. This issue offers up some fascinating perspectives on reinventing and transforming your practice—and your life.
Get started on making one small change right now. After you’ve finished reading this magazine, instead of following your usual habit of filing it away, pass this issue along to the next lawyer you see. You’ll be helping someone else transform a life.
jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo , is a lawyer and writer living in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.