RISK TAKERS: JUMPING PARTNERSHIP
Making Plans: An Unpredictable Path
By Daniel B. Evans
To this day, I can’t give just one reason why I left a partnership position at a large law firm 11 years ago. I was dissatisfied with compensation, firm management, firm culture and my role within the firm. But what finally pushed me over the edge was the intersection of a business hope and a personal crisis. I had helped develop a software program for lawyers that I thought could be a commercial success if I spent more time marketing it. At the same time, unhappiness with my 16-year marriage led me into counseling, where I learned that I had been severely depressed for a number of years. So, I made two major life changes almost simultaneously, leaving both my wife and the firm.
Life Leads Its Own Course
My plan (if it could be called a plan) was to devote my time to my software, working on marketing and developing new applications. Although I didn’t believe I wanted to continue practicing law, I decided not to burn any bridges. I mailed announcements of a solo practice and held myself out as a lawyer, in case anyone was interested. Financially, I had enough cash reserves to take me through six months—and no idea what would happen after that. But I was too unhappy to stay where I was. Going into the firm’s offices every day was painful in an almost physical sense. Taking a leap at making a living by selling software seemed like the only way out.
Of course, nothing worked out the way I planned. Despite good reviews in legal publications and well-attended demonstrations at legal technology conferences, the software never made a reasonable profit. Meanwhile—and somewhat to my surprise—clients were finding me. Some clients from my old law firm sought me out, and I also began to get referrals from accountants, life insurance agents and lawyers I knew.
It was during this time that I began to heal emotionally from my divorce. I was also learning to come to grips with the defects in my ways of thinking about myself and the world that had been preventing me from enjoying life. I developed a new relationship with a wonderful woman (now my wife) who was willing to nurture me as I tried to go forward and to kick me if I tried to slip backward. She introduced me to a gifted spiritual teacher, who first guided me to better life paths and then showed me that I had the strength and wisdom to find my own way. Lastly, my readings and studies helped me develop a new philosophical and spiritual framework that reinforced my personal relationships as well as my legal practice.
And so, I was finally able to give up on my software business and return to the law full-time as a solo practitioner. Then came another unexpected turn of events. I received a new business offer that I couldn’t refuse.
Silver Linings: Having Two Careers to Enjoy
Even while I had been struggling financially, I continued to devote time to bar association activities, which I truly enjoyed. After writing articles and lecturing on practice automation, I pulled together what I knew into a book, Wills, Trusts and Technology, that was published jointly by the ABA Law Practice Management and Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Sections. The book came into the hands of a software publisher who contacted me to talk about our mutual interests, and we found we could benefit each other. I have become a consultant to his firm, where I get to do all the things I like to do, developing new types of tax planning software presentations, doing technical writing and talking to people about complicated calculations. All this without having to worry about management or marketing.
Today, I have a regular income from software consulting. I also continue to practice law, working with the clients I like and doing work I enjoy. And I get to work out of a home office that lets me watch birds from my window, play music when I want and work the hours I want without fretting about the need to supervise staff or associates.
It is difficult for me to imagine how things could have worked out better, despite bad planning and decisions based only on desperation and hope. They say life is what happens when you’re making other plans. And miraculous things really can happen.
Lessons Worth Sharing: Don’t Be Afraid
I would never recommend that anyone follow the path I did. However, I learned some vital lessons that are worth sharing. I’ll close with them.
Don’t be afraid to do what you enjoy. It may pay off in ways you don’t expect. For example, it may seem that hours spent on bar association activities could have been better spent on billable matters. But I would not have the consulting position I now enjoy if I hadn’t written my book—and I would not have written the book if I hadn’t written the articles.
Don’t be afraid to know yourself. No one should overlook the need for spiritual studies. Learn how to change the ways of thinking that can make you unhappy. Otherwise, changing your job—or even career—could just be trading one unhappy environment for another.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. This applies to both your personal and career decisions. As my teacher would repeatedly remind me, there are no wrong decisions, only different lessons. Being afraid to make decisions will keep you in the misery you know. Making decisions will give you opportunities to learn and grow.
Daniel B. Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org) practices estates and trust law in Philadelphia and is a consultant to Leimberg & LeClair, Inc. He is the author of the ABA books How to Build and Manage an Estates Practice and Wills, Trusts and Technology. Contact him at (215) 233-0988.