GPSolo Magazine - July/August 2006
Since graduating from law school 22 years ago, others have defined my career. For 15 years, I worked for a strong, benevolent personality, yet I felt constrained. Then the opportunity arrived to move to a “premier” firm where I could work for a brilliant but far “stronger” personality. I quickly learned, however, that some personalities are simply too strong.
So, I reevaluated. Two things became clear. First, if I wanted control, I would have to seize it. Second, if I wanted to do what I wanted, I would have to create that opportunity myself. As a result, I took a giant leap—surrendering the comfort of a weekly paycheck for the ability to control my life and my destiny. I opened my own law office and my own legal technology consulting firm, each with no clients, only the expectation (really, the prayer) they would come. Talk about scary. After all, I was married, had two sons, a mortgage, numerous bills, and my oldest was four years from college.
The result: I’m scared, I’m practicing law how I want to, I’m cash poor, and I’m happy. Friends and relatives say they have never seen me happier and that I look 20 years younger. But I am still frightened.
Business has come. Slowly at first, then more steadily, but it is coming. Lawyers are referring clients, clients are referring clients, lawyer referral services are referring clients, and the Internet is helping to attract clients. Sure, the phone doesn’t ring enough, and cash flow is not yet positive, but the future appears far brighter than the possibility of spending more time working for others, whose primary interest was always their bottom line, not mine.
My tech business is another basis for optimism. In essence, I’m a legal “efficiency expert,” showing lawyers how to use technology more effectively and how to be better advocates. Without advertising, I have clients—lawyers who say they don’t know what I do but want me to do it for them. One sent a check before I had mailed his first bill. Like my law practice, the tech business needs more clients, but I feel as if I’m headed in the right direction.
At any age, making a dramatic career change is daunting. Thankfully, my wife, my family, my friends, and my former co-workers have been supportive. In the end, my wife provided the greatest inspiration, reminding me about my father, who operated a solo dental office from the day he graduated until the day he retired. She also reminds me about my immigrant grandparents, who ran their own businesses and never had bosses. Mostly, however, she reminds me how happy I am and how much pleasure I feel when my sons stop by to say hello while walking home from school. Those smiles were alien to me while I was working for others, and they are worth more than all of my paychecks. Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I look forward to the day when my cash flow is as positive as my outlook.
Daniel J. Siegel practices in Havertown, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.