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…

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Common Cents

America, the cheapskate. With this new administration, there’s a lot of talk about balancing the budget, reducing taxes, and that old chestnut–“job creation”.  Part of the problem is that we don’t have people developing skills that are more relevant to the economy than coal mining, but that’s another post for another day. But conservatives love to talk about how policies are helping or hurting small business owners.*

There’s all this talk about job creation and how things like the Affordable Care Act discourage business growth. **The truth is that it takes money to make money. If you can’t afford the expenses for your business–including reasonable employee wages–then you need to reevaluate before you start talking about growth. If you can’t pay your employees, you can’t afford to grow– period! So either you need to reevaluate your business processes to see how you can better handle your workload with what you have, or up your marketing game to get more business in the door.

It’s really unfortunate to me that so many business owners are so cheap. Everyone knows the saying “it takes money to make money”, but few seem to truly understand that. It’s not hard. When you are starting a business, most of your profits should be reinvested as working capital. That’s not to say you shouldn’t pay yourself something to live on. But the first three years are not for you to run out and buy an expensive new car or wardrobe, or lease an expensive office downtown in the hip neighborhood. They are for you to master your branding, network, market yourself, and find out what processes will allow you to scale up from the current skeleton crew operation.

As you all know, I’m a lawyer. As a service professional, an attorney’s or law firm’s reputation is everything because a lot of business comes through word of mouth. Doing a half-assed job on cases you shouldn’t have taken, and missing deadlines because you can’t manage your docket, is bad business and will potentially get you in trouble with the state bar.  Discounting every client who complains about your fee will bite you in the foot. If they are a repeat customer, they’ll expect the same discounted rate. The clients they refer to you will expect a discounted rate. They also won’t take your seriously. In my experience, the clients who get a discounted fee or are on contingency are the most high maintenance, demanding clients. They want to go to trial long after it’s clear they should take a settlement and go home. You waste precious billable hours wrangling them when you could be working on more lucrative cases. All of this for a client who is not substantially contributing to your bottom line.  Many of these things are true for other professionals as well.

So that’s why my interview the other day irked me so much. The firm had a standalone building with a dedicated reception lobby, two conference rooms, four offices and a break room. There was a recent model year BMW parked close by. My interviewer’s shoes looked designer and their shirts and suits looked custom tailored. Yet, they want someone to work for them 7 days a week for a pittance.  See, we millenials peep game. The same Baby Booomers who claim we’re lazy and entitled, told us to know our worth, negotiate everything, and demand respect. Now that the rubber has hit the road, they’ve changed their tune. They want us to do better, just not better than them. And that’s messed up.

 

*Everyone thinks about the Mom & Pop diner when you say small business, but they don’t give a crap. Under tax law you can create an S-Corp, literally “small corporation”, which can’t have more than 100 shareholders. But there are S-Corps which are multi-million dollar  international operations. #TheMoreYouKnow

**The ACA requires that businesses with 50 or more employees provide sponsored health insurance coverage. The cost of this coverage is deductible by the company as a business expense.

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.

A Lawyer’s Lament

My graduate certificate program will be finished in 3 months so at the top of the year I started job hunting full time. I forgot how demoralizing it is. No interviews yet, although I’ve applied for dozens of jobs, and I’m qualified for most of them. There have been a few stretches of course, but if someone with no political experience whatsoever can be Commander in Chief, then anything is possible! #MURICA

Anyway, I’ve been applying for lawyer jobs as well as corporate ones. Corporate jobs are much easier to apply to–just send in your resume and a cover letter! No need for transcripts, writing samples, or references. Attorney openings on the other hand…SMH. First of all, half of them I don’t even bother with because they ask for top 10% or 25%. It’s no use trying to get around the grade requirement unless you’ve got five years experience or know someone at the firm who will keep your resume from being trashed (that’s a no for me on both counts). One listing that really got my ire up said “Top 25% only (or a REALLY good excuse as to why you blew it).”

Well excuse the heck outta me. Last time I checked, law school was graded on a curve which means IT’S PURPOSELY SET UP SO THAT SOMEONE GETS SCREWED. Despite the fact that the entire class may have an 85% or greater understanding of the material, the curve dictates that somebody’s going to get a grade of 70% because of the curve. I busted my behind in law school after being on the Dean’s List my whole life, but I barely squeaked by in the upper 50%. Mind you, I never received any actual negative feedback on my papers and exams the whole time. But because of the curve, most of my grades were mediocre even though I had an above average understanding of the material.

Law might be the only profession where you need an advanced degree and a state license but your grades still matter. Nobody asks doctors or CPAs for their class rank, so why does it matter for lawyers? If you have to be in the top 25% to get a job at a law firm, why didn’t they just flunk me out after the first semester of 1L year when I was only $10k in the student loan debt hole? I could have gotten 2.5 years of my life back.

Anyway. I hope my loyal readers (shoutout to all five of you, much love!) weren’t too bored by my rant. I’ll write about something more entertaining next time but I needed to whine a little bit before I go back to being adult. I know I just have to keep the faith. I only need one yes, after all.

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…

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  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.