The Old Man’s Words of Wisdom
By William G. Schwab
I have been practicing law for over a quarter century. I thought I had the game of law down pretty well and had developed the largest practice in my county. I thought in many respects I had it made and was looking to growing my practice to the next level.
Two years ago I decided that the physical facility of my practice was lacking. Things started to look dingy after 15 years in the same office. We had grown to the point that one associate’s office was in a hallway. I hired an architect. I hired a builder. I planned and planned so we would have the finest office in the county. I kept a close watch on the two-year building project. While I had a general contractor, I took an active role as inspector. At night I was out with my tape measure to make sure everything would work and make us more productive and functional. Then I goofed up.
My practice is in rural America. Consultants are generally not available. My architect had never designed a law office, and my contractor had never built one, but because of the active role I took, corrections were quickly made, and the architect and contractor suggested items that worked better than I imagined they would. The local independent telephone company came in and worked out a system for telephones and computer networking that was great. Though they were not formally consulting on the project, they listened and made suggestions that made us more efficient.
Then I hired a consultant for the interior furnishings. It was a national company that we had done business with for years, which had a local retail store. They took measurements. They took notes on what we wanted. We were exacting. They used a computer to generate what it would look like. I abdicated my role as lawyer entrepreneur.
In December, I ordered furniture based on their drawings and assurances that they were providing what we requested. I took their word for it that the part numbers were right and they would fit the rooms. When the furniture was delivered, it seemed everything went wrong, from the file cabinets that were exactly what we asked not to get to other items. I had made a mistake. I gave up control of my own destiny.
Part of the order came in late winter. The conference tables were oversized so that we had to put them on angles that were in opposition to the lighting. Another part of the order came a month later. Eighty-seven pieces out of 90 were wrong. Desks were oversized so office doors couldn’t open. Colors didn’t match. Whole units were missing or not ordered. One desk had a whole supporting panel missing. It was my fault. I abdicated my role as owner-manager-customer. I assumed my consultant knew what to do.
Things then got whose. The reorder or fix took another two months. In all this time the office and my income were drastically disrupted. Secretaries had to move several times or couldn’t move at all. I found myself working four to five hours a week with the vendor to straighten it out, rather than practicing law. The home office of the company was appalled, and worked to straighten it out. The amount of productivity and my time and lost income can’t be calculated precisely, but it is in the tens of thousands. If this had happened early in my career, I don’t think I would have recovered financially. Now our hope to move to the next level is years away as we recover from the financial blow. All my yelling and screaming won’t give me back the time lost.
Why do I relate all this? While the consultant messed up royally and continuously, as a manger of my own destiny, I heard the word “consultant” and “computer layout” and assumed they would take care of everything properly. It was only when problems developed that I checked and double checked everything and found I gave my practice’s future to someone who didn’t deliver on promises. I forgot the main rule of all solos and small practitioners—you are responsible for your own destiny.