Volume 10, no. 1
The Family That Works Together...
By David J. Abeshouse
I am a business litigator with a very active solo practice that typically consists of deadlines and emergencies (not of my own creation). I work six or seven days a week and take very few "vacations"— usually only a few long weekends. Last year, when my twins were 11, I realized that I could spend more quality time with them while abbreviating some of the administrative time I spend in the office—the proverbial "win-win" situation.
When their school and activities schedules allow, my children (either separately or together) spend a few hours on weekends at my office helping me out. The learning process began with a mock employment contract negotiating session in which we delineated the terms of our arrangement (hourly wages, probationary period, raises, hours, breaks, snacks, dispute resolution, discretionary merit bonuses, etc.!) I explained that, for certain purposes, they had to conduct themselves as would any adult employee—including in matters of client confidentiality. I told them that I would insulate them from some aspects of confidential information, but would expose them to other aspects. Any doubts had to be resolved in favor of confidentiality, even to the extent of not discussing any conceivably private client matters with other family members (with the natural exception of the family dog, who is quite good at keeping secrets.)
They rapidly mastered my QuickBooks Pro financial software program (which I use to create detailed invoices to send to clients), and they also help out with photocopying, filing, organizing the business cards I collect, and other tasks that I prefer to avoid if possible. I keep an eye on them while they work, but it allows me to accomplish other tasks. During the process, they come up with great questions about law, business, and society as a result of inputting information into the billing invoices. (Because I bill hourly, the invoices identify everything I’ve done for a client on a given case and reflect how much time I spent on each aspect.) We have lively discussions and still get the work done.
This has worked wonderfully for the past 18 months, and, with luck, I hope it will continue well into their teens. We all value the time together. As a bonus, I avoid spending time on ministerial tasks I dislike, and my children enjoy earning an hourly wage. In addition, they’ve absorbed much in the discussions that arise from our working situation. Indeed, when I recently told them that I was considering merging my practice with another firm, my son asked, with the concern of any employee facing the prospect of a company merger, "Does this mean we'll lose our jobs?" His sister piped up, "Or will it mean we get to do more work, handling the billing for the other lawyers at the firm as well?" There’s lots of value here, and most of it is not monetary.