Thursday, July 5, 2007

Lawyers as (non) entrepreneurs

I guess I needed this post from New York Lawyer (free sub. required for now, who knows what with the ALM merger announced today) to remind me that most lawyers are not great entrepreneurs. The gist of the story is this: the anonymous author (a BigLaw associate) has a friend who went solo and now appears can't wait to return to the womb.

Here's why, according to the author, solo practice sucks, and my rebuttals from real life experience:

1. Yes, you can work whenever and wherever you want, but get used to using Mr. Coffee and making your own java.

Response: I have a good coffee machine in both my offices and brew to my taste. If I am lazy, oh boy, I'll spend $2 for Starbucks. Of course, one upside to going on my own for me is that I kicked my caffeine addiction. I don't drink coffee anymore; I don't need the coffee to keep me awake. By the way, I do also have to work when my clients need me, and yes, sometimes that means nights, weekends and vacations. But this is why I have a laptop and a BlackBerry.

2. IT problems -- good luck.

My partner would agree with you, as he has had some laptop problems. But, knock on wood, I've had no real problems to speak of. My Chicago office high-speed connection is part of the rent, so if there's a problem the landlord takes care of it. At the home office, my WiFi and Cable modem have gone down once or twice, but I have a nephew at hand to help when I cannot fix it (which is rare) and the BlackBerry for backup. My business phone service is amazing.

3. Finding work is tough, and there's always someone around to help answer an obscure question.

Well, rainmaking is tough. I'll grant you that. But at least you control it. If the partners don't bring in the business, you get laid off. I'd rather fend for myself in that regard, but then, I am at a different stage of my career. As for obscure questions, I belong to a superb listserv that can help with almost anything. I've also made enough friends in the business to make a call or two if I am completely stumped.

4. The inability to specialize, the lack of prestige and not knowing your paycheck will be auto-deposited.

That is a one sentence summary of three paragraphs. But I think that is was the author was implying. I am still a specialist, pure and simple. And with my overhead I'll cry about my lack of BigLaw prestige all the way to the bank. Collections have not been a big problem for me, also knock on wood. Granted, with law school loans the way they are these days, I will concede that that a fat paycheck every two weeks is good, and paying self-employment taxes sucks. Fortunately, I am in a different circumstance than many, but being able to pay yourself is important. It is why we lawyers do this.

Now, I know this article is satirical, but it rings true to the extent that so many lawyers are risk-adverse -- until they don't make partner, get laid off, burn out or are deequitized. Heck, I am too risk-adverse for my own good. But I'm also working at home today in ultra-casual clothes and preparing to knock off for the day at a civil hour.

The moral of this message is not to criticize the author, as it was a great story for what it was. But DON'T let posts like that scare you out of fulfilling your goals, be it BigLaw partnership or doing your own thing. Life's too short not to at least try.

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