Time to go solo?

 

I was inspired recently by this post on “Grace vs. Grind“. Being temporarily underemployed (by my own doing, no less!) has given me a lot of time to think about what it is that I want to do. What am I passionate about? What do I enjoy doing for people? What problems do I want to solve? How do I not end up hating my next job?

I’ve been resistant to the idea but I’m starting to think it may be time for me to step out on faith and start my own practice. My law school homie Jaleesa thinks I would be a great solo practitioner and that I don’t give myself enough credit for knowing what I am doing–my fear has always been that I don’t know enough to do it on my own. She’s right that in reality, everybody learns on the job.

Several little things are making me more amenable to the idea. I am part of a local Levo League group, which hosts free networking and professional development events for women every month. Several months ago, I met a woman who was interested in hiring me to teach a mini-session on business law at one of her events. I also had a tax client ask me for my card to do a will for him. No follow up on either of these so far, but it shows that theoretically there is some demand for my services. In addition, I’ve been volunteering with the local bar association. I’m on a committee that provides attorneys for free speaking engagements, which of course is another networking opportunity.

If I’m honest with myself, pretty much everything I hated about my old job related to the fact that I had no control. I didn’t get to decide what cases we took, how much we charged, or how we handled the matter and it was frustrating as hell. While I could go to another law firm and be better paid, I’d still be working crazy hours and have the same lack of control. Work life balance is very important to me and that’s hard to achieve as a lawyer unless you’re willing to go solo. Of course, solo practice is no walk in the park. But whether I’m working 20 hours a week or 60, at least I’m in the driver’s seat and that makes a huge difference to my stress level. It’s one thing to take on a workload that requires 12 hours days and get 100% of the profit from those clients. It’s quite another to be underpaid and chained to your desk until 9:00 p.m. while the partner twiddles his thumbs and goes home at 5:00 p.m. on the dot.

Of course, being a solo practitioner is a lot of work too. It means constantly marketing, and doing everything yourself for however long it takes to make enough profit to hire help. It’s easy to put up a website and download some apps that will help you set up a virtual office. It’s much, much harder to get paying clients in the door. There’s a good reason that most people aren’t business owners–handing over 40+ hours of your time every week for a steady paycheck makes life easier in many ways.

Tax season ends next week and with it, my regular paycheck so for the next however long it takes to get a job offer, I’m on my own. I’ve been applying for a while now, and August will make a full year since I quit. I know I’m not underqualified for the positions I’ve been applying for, so maybe this lack of response is God’s way of giving me an answer…

Advertisements

Work | Life

So I had an interview at a law firm today. It went well, in that I got there early, came prepared, and delivered my answers without sounding rehearsed (and with a minimum of filler words). Go me! However…I could tell it wasn’t going to be the right fit. The first indication was that the job was advertised on Craigslist and the company was confidential. I applied anyway on the off chance it could be legit. But, I got my last job through CL so I braced myself for the worst. If a firm can’t afford to spend a couple hundred dollars to list on a dedicated jobs site for 30 days, they more than likely don’t want to pay a competitive salary.

In this case, the odds were not in my favor. It started with the job itself. I was told that they expected me to work cases with little to no oversight or guidance from them. I’m an independent worker but most law firms specialize in just two or three areas of law. They do everything- tax, estate planning, immigration, criminal defense, personal injury, products liability, contract, worker’s compensation, YOU NAME IT! That’s fine, I’m willing to learn…but the expectation is that I would be on my own and I was not to bother them with questions. Seriously? It took me a year to get down all the subtleties of the FLSA*, and that’s just one part of one branch of law. Hubs said, “Well then clearly they’re comfortable with you making mistakes and learning by trial and error. ” HA! If only that were true.

The second red flag was the schedule The principal attorney is one of those Gen-Xers with a Baby Boomer “back in my day” mentality. In his associate days, he worked until 1am and then got called back to the office at 6am and didn’t complain! (Mind you, his firm bio says that he worked in BigLaw and finished law school in 2001, so he was definitely getting six figures for his troubles). I was told that in addition to working past closing time during the week (fine), I’d be expected to work every weekend because that’s when they got most of their work done. Not fine. How am I in the office 60 hrs during the week and still need to work Saturday and Sunday, every single weekend? Either a) they’re pulling in a huge volume of cases and need at least two associates to even the load or b) that scattershot approach to getting clients means they’re burning too much time on research.

 

I’m just going to put it out there that a 60 hour workweek is about my limit. That’s already a huge time commitment. Let’s say I get up at 6:30. Take an hour to eat breakfast and get dressed, 30 minute commute (even though the average daily commute is almost an hour, I’ll be generous) to get to the office at 8am. I take a 30 minute lunch and leave at 8:30pm to get home at 9pm, eat dinner, and go to bed at midnight.  When do I have time to exercise, cook a healthy meal, or do anything fun, other than the weekend? It’s just not sustainable. Especially if you’re not going to pay me enough money to put aside how exhausted and stressed out I am.

On top of all this, we discussed salary. I included my bare minimum number ($60k) and they asked if I could go lower.  I had already figured out the job wasn’t for me but that cleared any doubt in my mind. I surely didn’t go to into debt to obtain an advanced degree and get paid less than a teacher. No disrespect at all to educators, but I know my worth. In Houston ISD, teachers start at $54k. You only need a Bachelor’s degree and you get weekends, all federal holidays, and 2 months off in the summer. $60k is a damn bargain if I’m working 10-12 hour days year round with no holidays except Thanksgiving  &  Christmas.

Anyway, I’m not discouraged. If I can get one interview I can get another. There is definitely something better out there for me–even it means that I have to hang my own shingle. If I have to take a pay cut, I’d rather do it comfortably from home where I can set my own hours. Because being cash poor and miserable is a double-L that I’m not signing up for.

 

*Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes the minimum wage and the requirement that non-exempt workers be paid overtime.

How to Lose an Employee

Every other week there’s an article about how Millennial employees are all lazy, entitled brats. Well, the truth is that sometimes the problem is a little higher up the food chain. Below are the best practices for running off anyone in your organization who wants to see it succeed…

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAjZAAAAJDM0ODQ0NjJiLTYyOGUtNDA4Yy05MmZlLTExY2RhYTA5ODgyZA

  1. Be unclear about your expectations.  Whenever possible, give out work assignments with competing priorities and no additional guidance. Sink or swim!
  2. Emphasize form over function. Reward low performing employees who milk the clock by coming early, staying late, and getting little to nothing done. Chastise anyone who leaves less than an hour after closing time, even if they’re high performers.
  3. Delegate, but don’t train. Why should managers do any work as long as there is a lower ranked employee around? Pile on the to-dos, but don’t show them how to actually do their job. They’ll figure it out and if they don’t– fire them!
  4. Never admit that management could be improved. If anything goes wrong, it’s always the underling’s fault. Deny any knowledge of a crisis. Always throw your employees under the bus, that’s what they’re there for after all.
  5. Minimize feedback. Don’t take the time to meet with your employees unless something is wrong. Never give them a chance to correct the problem early. Much better to ambush them with a 10 page dossier of shortcomings so that it can really sink in.
  6. Overwork and underpay. Pay the minimum acceptable wage for every position and don’t pay benefits. Who needs full medical and dental with Obamacare? Employee bonuses should never be expected. A new car for the CEO gives peons something to strive toward–it’s practically motivational.

What Not To Wear

My social media feeds have been lit up this week over an issue that combines my hometown, fashion, and talking about professionalism–three of my favorite things! So let’s get to it.

An Atlanta teacher went viral after pictures of her posing in the classroom set off a huge debate about whether her outfits were professional. After pictures from her Instagram profile started to circulate on Twitter, the story was soon picked up by media outlets such as The Root and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (which wins the award for best headline, lol). The outfits in question are shown below.

To me, it’s not even a question. While she’s dressed appropriately (i.e., all pertinent body parts are covered) 2 out of 3 of these are definitely not okay. Tight, clingy spandex dresses are not professional attire, across the board. Each of these outfits is tight all over. Yes, she has a beautiful, curvy figure and there’s no hiding that. However, she can work around it. The first pictures is a good example–the tights and cardigan mean no skin is showing and there is something to cover her hips and bust. In the second picture, which I’ll assume is a casual Friday/jeans day, she should have worn a longer, looser shirt or boot cut pants which would balance out her hips and legs. However, there’s no saving that pink dress in the third picture. If you can wear it at the club, DON’T WEAR IT TO WORK. Forever 21 body con dresses are not professional attire!

I’m curvy and also plus size, so I know the struggle. If you have curves, they will always show but you can work around it. Buy shirts a size up so they don’t cling, wear a-line or pleated skirts and boot cut or wide leg pants. If everything is fitted, wear a longline blazer or cardigan.he key is balance. Tight all over is for weekends and after work. You don’t have to wear a potato sack, but in a work setting you can either be fitted on top or fitted on the bottom–not both. You can have bare legs or bare arms or cleavage–just one, not all three. Those are just the rules.

I saw a lot of arguments about how this was body shaming and objectification of women and reeks of rape culture. I hear that, and agree that women’s bodies are always sexualized whereas men’s bodies are not. That’s an unfortunate double standard. But in this case, I don’t think it’s that deep. Rightly or wrongly, certain jobs require us to dress certain ways in order to be taken seriously. If I show up for a hearing in khakis, a polo shirt, and Converse sneakers, the judge is very likely to send me home to change. Is it appropriate (i.e., all body parts covered)? Absolutely. Is it professional and reflective of the role I am playing? Absolutely not. Courtroom and law firm dress code are formal. Nobody wants to pay hundreds of dollars an hour to someone who can’t be bothered to put on a suit.

Like lawyer, and also doctors, teachers have to more than just apply for their job. They must have at least a Bachelor’s degree; pass a state licensing exam; and take continuing education courses to keep their license current. Why so much work? For one, we have specialized knowledge outside of what can be taught on the job. Secondly and most importantly, I think, we take care of the things that people value most: their health; their freedom and property; and their children. Because of that the standard for professionalism is higher and we are expected to conduct ourselves accordingly. In a perfect world, it would be all about competence and people could wear whatever they wanted to work. But that is not the world we live in. Her outfits were cute. She wasn’t wildly inapporpriate. But that doesn’t mean she was professional.

On a final note-for goodness sake, teachers, STOP TAKING SELFIES AT WORK. At least do it in the bathroom or the parking lot or some place that’s not obviously a classroom. These pictures were more than likely taken after dismissal when the kids were out. But when people see a picture of a teacher in a club dress with an alphabet rug on the floor, they’re usually going to assume that she was neglecting her job because the outfit is already sending cues that she doesn’t take it seriously (even if  Additionally I think a large part of the uproar is that she was doing outfit of the day pictures in the classroom– making it seem as if she potentially was neglecting her job. It’s just not a good look.

Loose lips and pink slips

This image originally appeared at http://peoplelab.co.uk/trust-me-im-your-employee/

This image originally appeared at http://peoplelab.co.uk/trust-me-im-your-employee/

Since 2002 when Heather Armstrong got fired for making objectionable comments about her workplace on her blog, social media has exploded. It’s now an inescapable fact of life that we’re living in what amounts to a self-imposed surveillance state. Headed out  to the store in your IDGAF comfy clothes? Don’t be surprised if you end up on People of Walmart. If you get into a barroom brawl you might see it later on Worldstar Hip-Hop. Between Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat and the memes that accompany every news item of note, privacy is all but dead.

But for all of us who are not celebrities, the internet presence that’s attributed to you is usually of your own choosing. Unless you’re applying for a job that requires some type of government clearance, most employers are not going to go any further than a Google search and a standard background check. So if you don’t put your government name on all your social media accounts (and don’t follow/friend all your coworkers), you can maintain some level of privacy on the internet.

The National Labor Relations Board recently passed down a ruling which states that employees cannot be fired for criticizing their employer online. It’s considered protected activity. This squares with the NLRB’s general policy on social media. This doesn’t give you the all clear, though- you can still be fired for posts that are not considered protected activity (such as  untrue statements about the employer, disclosure of confidential information, or racist/sexist/harassing comments that contribute to a hostile work environment). And this doesn’t take into account the ways in which your outspokenness about job conditions (or even religion or politics) may make a bad impression on your employer, leading the company to place you under scrutiny without your knowledge.

The lesson? Social media and your job don’t mix. If you’re in a creative field, then having a bold personality is part of your brand. Nobody wants a musician who is wholly without opinions, and a little controversy can differentiate a stylist or photographer from the crowd. As for the rest of us, no news is generally good news. The absence of an internet presence can scare employers off because nobody wants to hire a complete unknown. It just depends on how much you want to reveal. As a newbie lawyer, I err on the side of caution. My job is to be objective and so until I have an established track record, I’d rather not have all my opinions on display. When it comes to my job, I try not to blog, Facebook or tweet anything negative. Had a tough day at work? CALL A FRIEND. It’s highly unlikely that your BFF is going to record the conversation and send it to your boss. It’s much more likely that one of your coworkers will screenshot your complaints about your boss and save them for a rainy day.

Stay woke and remember- LOOSE LIPS EQUAL PINK SLIPS.

On the come up.

3ddde82d8c610b9295cf3fb3b00584cb

 

Good news! I found a job as a lawyer! I really enjoy the work, my boss is supportive and treats me with respect, and I have a 10-15 minute commute. Plus, now that we have a second income I can finally replace my car, buy tickets to fly out for Jaleesa’s fall wedding, and upgrade my wardrobe. The car thing is pretty urgent- I have just one working window, the A/C is out, the engine idles high, it starts up sluggishly…it could probably be repaired, but the repairs would certainly cost more than its current value. So things are pretty good. My one regret is that I didn’t negotiate better for my salary- I was so dumbstruck when I received the offer that I couldn’t think straight! But this is my first real job, I’m making enough for us to have some significant breathing room in our budget, and if I bring in a case I receive a healthy chunk of the fees. My boss has also said several times in the three weeks I’ve been working that he’s impressed with me, so come this time next year I should have ample ammunition to broach the subject of a raise. 

I know part of my unease comes from the fact that I’ve been worried about money virtually since I knew what it was. A part of me is terrified that I’ll never have an opportunity to make more money, so even the loss of a couple hundred dollars a month extra is going to tragically limit me down the line. Never mind that I’m in a profession with unlimited earning potential, or that my husband is a computer engineer working at a universally recognized company who will almost certainly be making  six figures within a decade. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I suffer from “poverty brain“- I’ve never gone hungry or been out on the street, but I knew growing up that we didn’t have a lot of money for extras. I suppose I suffered from a bit of cognitive dissonance. My parents are educated and cultured. They took us to the zoo, the ballet, gave us music lessons and SAT prep classes. I went to college on scholarship, so I had to scrimp and save money for my spring break trips that left me broke for the rest of the month. And after experiencing long term unemployment and having to uproot my life to live my in-laws, I know that the cost of living is not as cheap as you want it to be.

On the flip side, we don’t currently live an extravagant lifestyle, and I plan to keep it that way. I don’t want to end up like all the Baby Boomers who fell for the lie that the economy could expand ad infinitum and trapped themselves into bloated mortgages, too-big houses, a new car note every decade, and the other trappings of conspicuous consumption, and therefore can’t retire. I’m working on trying to pare down my wardrobe and buy only affordable, but quality pieces (no more Payless or Forever 21!) that I love and will wear regularly. I’m drawing up a new budget this weekend to make sure we don’t fritter away our second income stream on things that won’t appreciate.  But I know I also need to work on being thankful, present and faithful. This isn’t the first or the last opportunity that God has for me and I need to act like it.

1c472563477ba6a81ff8a266221ad3fd