General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division
Fall 2002 vol. 9 Number 1
I'll Do It My Way
By Larry Ramirez
Ever hear the expression "I've got to get a life"? Being a lawyer often presents conflicting lifestyle choices. It's ingrained in us that success means long hours at the office, but that runs counter to the idea that being happy means spending time with family and friends.
Any married lawyer has felt the pressures of work versus family. After 25 years of practice-18 years with a firm and seven as a solo practitioner-I know the guilt and anxiety of missing family outings, soccer games, and vacations because of conflicts with my work schedule. I truly regret those missed opportunities and the fact that I lost out on a significant part of my two sons' early years. Frankly, in hindsight, my professional success does not outweigh my sense of loss. I can't go back and change the past, and for that I have only myself to blame.
Fortunately, I finally realized what I was missing, but not until my oldest was 13 and my youngest was 10. I came to understand that I did, indeed, have choices, and that my professional life did not have to control my personal life.
In 1995 I faced the dissolution of the firm where I had practiced for 15 years. I had to choose: Continue to work in a firm or go solo. There's a certain security with a firm, and the prospect of being solely responsible for such things as overhead was not all that attractive. But the flexibility and independence of a solo practice was appealing. I could choose the cases, the clients, and how hard I'd work. No partners would decide what's best for me and not every choice would be based on business considerations. After much soul searching, I went solo.
I couldn't have been happier. Now I could leave the office and attend my sons' activities without worrying about returning later to make up my billable hours. If I wanted to work until 10 p.m., that was my choice. I could plan vacations around my schedule and not have to coordinate with others. It was great!
And finances? Any lawyer can make a good living if you pay attention to the bottom line, and you don't have to sacrifice yourself or your family. Besides, money alone should never be the definition of success. I know I'm more "successful" now that I'm a part of my sons' lives. I'm healthier and happier as well, and I enjoy the practice of law more because I don't resent the time I spend in the office.
If you want to do it "your way" remember:
o Economic success does not mean personal success
o Personal success is not inconsistent with being a successful lawyer
o Find the balance between work and personal life.
And don't wait too long. The life you save may be your own.
Larry Ramirez recently left solo practice to become a children's court judge with the Third Judicial Circuit Court in Las Cruces, New Mexico. After 25 years as a lawyer, he says he looks forward to the opportunity to work with juveniles and the challenge of judicial work. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.