This article was originally posted in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin on January 17, 2013
PUBLISHER: MICHAEL B. KRAMER | EDITOR: OLIVIA CLARKE
When I first started my law practice, I knew right from the get-go that I alone was responsible for my success, and I alone would suffer the consequences should I fail.
I had a family – three kids to support, a mortgage, car payments… In addition to these money obligations, there was also the “pride factor.” Failing in my new practice was not an option for me. I dreamed of the day when I wouldn’t feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, a time when I wouldn’t feel so burdened by personal responsibility.
In those early days of my practice, I was eager to learn all I could about running a business. Though I had several years of legal experience, in retrospect, I didn’t know much about the business side of law.
And so my business journey began. I attended as many networking events as I could fit into my schedule, interspersed with meeting even more people over lunch or a cup of coffee. These more intimate networking sessions, which I learned to call “dances” were opportunities to get to know people both personally and professionally, something I truly enjoy. I made sure to fill my dance card.
I was ready to meet with anyone who was willing to meet with me. While other lawyers were my first choice, I wasn’t too choosy back in the early days of my practice. Heck, I even met with a Mary Kay salesperson. Though I wasn’t in the market for cosmetics, I was willing to meet with anyone who had a piece of advice to offer. Besides, this Mary Kay rep. had a pink Cadillac and I thought that was pretty cool. In addition to taking away some tips on sales, she eventually introduced me to someone who referred me business including a million-dollar-plus case.
I learned all connections, no matter how trivial they may seem, can be beneficial. It’s a small world we’re living in, and key to keep all windows of opportunities open. Besides, even if a connection doesn’t turn into business, it may turn into a friendship.
When I wasn’t networking in those early days, I sought out books in the “How to Succeed in Business” section. As cheesy as some of those books are, they gave me motivation, reinforcing personal responsibility as a key to success. Through hard work, piecing all these bits of advice together, and some luck, business started to roll in.
It wasn’t long before I outgrew my home office and moved into a small office downtown. I was succeeding and proud to be personally responsible for it. The burden I felt was slowly dissipating. Soon I had enough business that I was at the point where I needed to hire some help.
My first hire was a part-time legal assistant. Even before her first day, I started to feel the weight lowering back onto my shoulders. It was the same familiar feeling and yet completely different. This was no longer about personal responsibility, but being responsible for others in the work environment. Instead of mulling over whether I would be able to provide for my family, I was plagued by the question of whether I could keep another person gainfully employed so she could help support hers. She was a single mother and I did not take this lightly.
Despite my anxiety, business continued to do well. Eventually I hired an office manager and most recently, a full time associate. With each addition to my team, my responsibility for others increased. I had to be confident each hire was necessary and I could sustain enough business to maintain and properly challenge a staff.
As my staff grew, so too did my feeling of responsibility. Rather than shaking off that feeling, I developed my ability to be accountable, becoming stronger with each new hire.
To lawyers starting their own practices, don’t take new hires lightly; consider the personal responsibility you feel for yourself and your family and project that onto the new employees. The attitude that, “So if it doesn’t work, I’ll cut him or her loose,” is quite thoughtless. Take all factors into consideration before posting that “help wanted” sign. It is an opportunity to build your professional strength as you take responsibility for others in your practice of law. I’ve found that helping others to succeed is quite gratifying.