Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Uncertain Self-Reliance v. Comfortable Misery

I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, then that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding.- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, Series I (Self-Reliance).

In law school, everyone fights for the ever-elusive "A," not for the sake of excelling, but for the promise of a clerkship in BigLaw, a "tower firm," with its high pay, expense accounts, and glory. I was not immune to the allure of getting my own BlackBerry, going to happy hour every other day, and making well over $10K in a summer. Beyond this, I think the true allure for law students and young lawyers is the appearance that these firms take care of you. Steady work and great pay.

My grades weren't quite BigLaw material, so I went to work for MediumLaw. The pay isn't as high, but neither are the hourly requirements. This has largely been a great arrangement: TONS of experience, lots of exposure across the eastern part of Kentucky and parts of West Virginia, and congenial co-workers, all of which are important for a young attorney.

Much like the fabled BigLaw, however, MediumLaw also has a nasty habit to taking advantage of the insecurities of young attorneys. You are asked to do more and more, but for the same pay. You do it in order to protect your fledgling reputation and to show the older attorneys that you're capable of handling a larger and more complicated workload, but there comes a time when you feel like a chump for working 60 hours when you're being paid for 40.

I've been frustrated at work for almost a year now. While I am grateful for the experience I've gained where I am and for the pretty decent pay, I feel like I should have a larger sense of accomplishment when I put in a hard day's/week's/month's work.

God, fate, karma, whatever you call it, apparently has sensed my frustration and has placed a path before me. It started with a chance conversation with a retired attorney who conducted a mediation in which I participated. He asked me where I was from, what I was doing now, and what I wanted to do long term. His office is in the county next to my home county, so he was familiar with the legal landscape there. He encouraged me to strike out on my own, as my hometown is an under-served area, the attorneys are all men of a certain age, and he was convinced that a young, smart attorney like myself would do well there.

I'm as cynical as anyone, so anytime I get a gushing compliment, I tend to look for an ulterior motive. But there was none here. This attorney is a former prosecutor and county attorney, and is as no-nonsense as I've ever met. The man smokes a corn cob pipe (really!) and has a deer head hanging in his office. As my husband would say, "He's the kind of guy who barbecues with a scowl on his face." He's not the bull-shitting type.

The idea of opening my own office had crossed my mind before, but would always be pushed out of the way with dreams of landing a job in BigLaw with big pay or a cushy government job with less pay but less stress and better benefits. Now, however, going on my own became a more serious option. I pitched the idea to my husband, who is also an attorney, and to my surprise, he was 100% on board. We're both risk-adverse, so the idea of trying to make it on our own is terrifying, but thrilling all at once.

Almost immediately, I began to scour the Internet to figure out what all I would need to get started: shredders, phones, bankruptcy filing software, desks, forms for filing my PSC or PLLC with the Secretary of State, so on and so forth. I ordered a book from the ABA, How to Start and Build a Law Practice (which has been GREAT, by the way). I was in it to win it.

The final push I needed came this past Friday. I decided to go to my hometown to look at available office space. I met with a realtor about a ridiculously cheap building that turned out to be nothing but rotting wood and mold. As we stepped out of that lawsuit waiting to happen, I asked him if he knew of any other space available for sale or rent, as I was thinking about opening a law office. He mentioned that the lease on his real estate office was ending in a little over a month. I told him I'd follow him there and take a look.

This office is perfect. It's on Main Street (literally), across the road from the courthouse, has lovely display windows (it was a department store in a former life), and the rent is ridiculously cheap. The kicker? The kindly realtor advised he wasn't opening another office to replace this one and didn't want to move and store the office furniture, so he offered it to me, no charge. Chairs, desks, conference table, bookshelves, a veritable start-your-own-law-office kit. For free. I was nearly speechless. My step-mother was not, as usual, and profusely thanked him, took almost half of his business cards and promised to spread his name far and wide (which she will).

I'm now anxiously awaiting the call from the company that manages the property. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that no one has beat me to it already. I would assume a realtor would be aware, more so than we non-realtor folks, if his office was already promised to someone else, but you never know.

I've been walking on air since Friday. I'm already drafting a business plan, thinking of all the people I will need to contact for business once I get started (all within the Rules of Professional Responsibility, of course), what font I want to use on my letterhead and office door, and in what areas I should and should not practice.

So I stand on the edge, ready to take a leap of faith. I'm not looking to become a billboard/phonebook staple. I just want to feel a sense of accomplishment when I lay down at night and a sense of purpose when I wake in the morning.


  1. I am so happy for you!!! I know the building you're talking about and it will be PERFECT! If we can do anything to help you (moving stuff in, painting, ect...) just let me know :)

  2. That font for the letterhead? Please don't use Comic Sans.

    And congratulations on your new path!

  3. Congratulations! This is so awesome. Ditto on Stephanie's offer: if there's anything I can do to help, let me know.