GPSolo Magazine - July/August 2006
Maintaining a Full-Time Law Practice and a Business on the Side
In 1972 I graduated law school, took the bar exam, and joined my father in his law practice. For 20 years we practiced together in the same location in Baltimore, Maryland. During those years, I learned a lot of law from my father, but most importantly, he taught me about people and time management. Because the areas of law my father and I practiced turned out to be quite different, it is this latter knowledge that has served me best in running two small businesses.
During the last few years of my father’s life, it was my responsibility not only to practice law every day, but to manage the office. Even with my father as my mentor, building an expertise in community association law and running the day-to-day operations of the office was no small task. This difficult task became much harder in 1992 when my father passed away.
Upon his passing, I had feelings of insecurity in my ability to carry on the law practice and manage the law office. Fortunately, after 13 years, I’m still able to draw on what I learned from my father in those early years, and Kaplan & Kaplan, P.A., continues going strong.
What I’ve learned about managing a business is that the easy part is deciding what phone system to purchase, monitoring the ordering of supplies, entering into contracts for software development, and the like. The hard part is dealing with the personalities in the office. On a day-to-day basis, I am an attorney, office manager, and social worker. This latter skill was less necessary in my father’s day but is now essential if you want to keep a cohesive staff together. Thank God my daughter’s a social worker and doesn’t mind giving me tips.
As if the above is not enough, I am also an antique dealer.
My wife and I are partners in the antique jewelry business, with one of the finest collections of authentic Victorian and Georgian jewelry in the United States. We participate in at least six of the better antique shows throughout the country. I have written a number of articles on antique jewelry and am the author of the Official Identification and Price Guide to Antique Jewelry, a book now in its seventh edition, published by Random House.
The antique business started out as a source of summer income during law school and has developed into a second full-time business. It requires not only the selling of antiques at antique shows, but as with any business, it involves paperwork and filing state tax returns. Most difficult of all is acquiring fresh stock. Trips to Europe, along with purchases in the United States, are time-consuming processes.
We do not sell items from our home. We do not have a shop. We exclusively exhibit and sell antique jewelry at a select number of antique shows throughout the United States. I attend only one show from beginning to end. The other shows are all either attended by my wife (with help from friends), or I attend on the weekends and occasionally will lose a day or two from my law practice for a particular show.
In addition, once or twice a year, my wife and I fly to London for a long weekend to purchase fresh stock for the antique business. Most of the time that I devote to the antique business is spent at home.
My law practice requires the majority of my time. I am at the office about 7:45 a.m. every day. Until the last few months, my day at the law office usually continued until five or six o’clock, with work to be done at home in the evenings. During the last few months, I have been leaving the office about three o’clock p.m.; of course, I’ve been taking along one or two boxes of files that I work on at home.
When I am not in the law office, it is essential that my employees make the necessary decisions to carry on the work of the practice. Most of the staff at my office, including the attorneys, have worked with me for at least eight years—some have been with me for more than 20 years—and this cohesiveness allows me to delegate authority to the attorneys, paralegals, and secretaries so that they can perform their job to the best of their abilities and act independently.
Without Robin, my wife, who is my partner in life as well as in the antique business, I would not have the time to adequately devote to my law practice. Without the other two attorneys in my office and our support staff, it would not be possible to carry on my antique business. Both professions can be successfully accomplished only with support.
If you want to run two successful businesses at once, you need to know how to manage your own time, and you need to work with people who know what to do and when to do it—even when you are not there.
Arthur G. Kaplan is a partner with Kaplan & Kaplan, P.A., in Baltimore, Maryland. He can be reached at email@example.com.