Change Your Practice
In a recent online discussion among solo and small firm attorneys, change was the topic of the day, including how and when to change one’s law practice. Some wanted to quit being their own boss altogether and go work for someone else. Others suggested that changing practice areas to those that they liked or that were more befitting of their lifestyle would do the trick. Still others suggested that changing the practice environment from office to home or vice versa would help. The discussion’s takeaway was that attorneys should be in charge of their own career and initiate the changes they want rather than reacting to changes they don’t want.
I left a small firm in 2007 to start my own practice. I started by sharing an office with two other attorneys. We hired a receptionist whose salary we split three ways. As my practice took off, I hired a secretary and then added a paralegal. My biggest New Year’s business resolution for 2008 was to hire an associate by year’s end. I ended up hiring two that year. Since then, my firm has grown to include as many as three associates and a dozen staff member and shrank to include only me as a true sole practitioner. Some changes I have purposely planned, and others were sudden and drastic. I have been most adaptable to change when I have been its driving force.
“I Never Saw That Coming”
Too many attorneys exclaim that they never see certain career changes coming. Sometimes the changes we face are because a major client goes out of business or simply ends its business with us, and other times changes are minor opportunities that become major practice areas (for better or for worse). While we need to be adaptable, we should not be so reactive in our practices. Michael Jackson sang in “Man in the Mirror” that “I’m starting with the Man in the Mirror; I’m asking him to change his ways.” In other words, be the ship making the wakes, not the paddleboat being thrown around by them.
If you pay attention to problem areas and points of distress in your practice, then you won’t be blindsided in the future. As my collection litigation practice grew from 2007 through 2010, I knew that it could turn around very quickly because a large majority of my business came from one big client that kept firing its other litigation counsel around the state and giving my firm more and more business. I knew my firm wasn’t well diversified, but I also did little to change the course of the practice. In autumn 2010 the bottom dropped out of my client’s business and caused my client to retreat to using in-house attorneys where it once used outside counsel. My firm went from 13 employees to two in just two weeks. Was it hard? Of course, but I couldn’t say that it was out of left field. I’ve learned from that experience and have not put myself in that position again. I’ve made the change and am constantly evolving.
If You Are Unhappy, Then Change
We all have given up way too much time, energy, and money to become and stay unhappy lawyers. Practicing law does not have to be boring or lead to depression. A law license allows us to do so many things in our society and the world at large. I encourage you not to linger in an unhappy career but to seek out what excites you—in terms of what type of law you practice as well as what environment you practice in—and then make the changes that will lead to your personal fulfillment.