Volume 10, no. 1
Finding the "Sweet Spot" in Your Career
By Robin Page West
In my early days of practicing, two sizeable defense firms taught me all about billable hours and office politics. I learned to smile sweetly while at all times keeping my back to the cherry-paneled walls. Some of my colleagues flourished in this environment, but, for me, those were not the best of times. I was making good money, but I wasn’t quite 30 and already asking, “Is this all there is?”
I decided to hang out my shingle. Finally I had freedom, but alas, no more paycheck. Not to mention, I was alone. I needed human contact and I needed business. I threw myself into bar association activities. I looked for opportunities for referral business. I answered an ad in the paper placed by a kindred soul looking for another lawyer who “could afford” to work with her on her contingent fee cases.
About five years into building my new practice, a funny thing happened. I overheard a conversation at a bar association cocktail party about a little-known Civil War-era statute that rewards people who know about fraud on the government with a large bounty if they file a secret lawsuit. I was skeptical, but intrigued. Not too long after that, the lawyer whom I was helping on the contingent cases sent me a client who appeared to have one of these very cases. Was it serendipity?
My initial reaction was to turn it over to someone with experience in the field. After a few weeks of unreturned phone calls, though, the client and I decided to proceed without the “big guns.” We did bring in the cocktail party lawyer, though, and a few years later we celebrated a seven-figure settlement that made headlines, and earned me an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, and an invitation to the White House.
It’s been over a decade since I met that client. Since then, I’ve lectured all over the country and published a book on this area of the law. I’ve represented many more whistleblowers, and I’ve learned some things about myself. I like helping my clients make sense of what’s going on in their lives. I like the variety and the challenge of uncovering fraud on the government. I like getting to know people who have the fortitude to stand up for what they believe in. These are people I admire.
Litigation can be messy and unpleasant, and it can just as easily become boring and predictable. But it doesn’t have to be. In my case, I opened myself up to new ideas and new adventures, and I was rewarded. Now I know that if I infuse my practice with what makes me come alive, and surround myself with people who inspire me, I’ll have a satisfying career for life.
Robin Page West, editor-in-chief of SOLO, is a shareholder in Cohan & West, P.C., in Baltimore, Maryland. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.