Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lawyers & business owners are different things.

I ran into a former client of mine last night while I was out at a bar w/ some friends (drinking my usual Coke bc Mormon). This client had 2 felony files for theft by swindle, when really, it was a contract dispute and not a criminal offense. I tried to persuade the prosecutor of this but he didn't agree, so I moved to dismiss both files for lack of probable cause. I argued it was a contract dispute, there was no swindle or trick by my client, and that it should be handled in civil court. Ultimately the court agreed with me & dismissed both files.

So client comes over to say hi & thank me again for my help on the files. He tells me he thinks I am very smart & "feisty" & I am very good at what I do. And then he asks the question that every client who thinks I am a good attorney asks me: "When are you going to open up your own firm?" I told him I wasn't planning on doing that & he said I should really consider it bc I was very good @ my job.

I have always found that particular question somewhat perplexing, for a couple of reasons. First, there is this rampant stereotype that public defenders are terrible attorneys. From what I know, my clients think highly of me & the work I do. This helps chip away at that stereotype, which is good. And if all "good" lawyers left public defense, what then? The stereotype would be true! There has to be some good public defenders so that people who can't afford an attorney can still get quality representation.

Second, I went to school to be a lawyer. I didn't go to business school, I went to law school. I want to practice law. I want to be in court, duking it out. I want to be writing motions & doing legal research. I don't want to bill clients. I don't want to handle client funds & specialty trust accounts for those funds. I don't want to have staff, like a paralegal or receptionist, that I have to do payroll for and whatnot. I don't want to deal w/ malpractice insurance or advertising or paying taxes quarterly or any of that. I want to be a lawyer & I want to spend my time doing legal stuff, not business stuff.

There is so much more to opening a firm than people realize. It's not just a matter of being a good lawyer; it's also about running a business & having employees & billing clients & blah, blah, blah. And a good chunk of time has to be dedicated to making the business run smoothly & keeping that stuff in order. Which is not at all what I wanted to do when I grew up.

I want to lawyer. I want to do the stuff lawyers do, not the stuff business owners do. Plus, there is the other things I get to not worry about since I am an employee: I get paid vacation & sick time; I have health insurance (for free, since I am a single adult) which I don't have the luxury of going without thanks to my myriad of health problems; I can pass off problems to my boss instead of dealing w/ them myself; I have a consistent paycheck & never need to worry about whether I will make money or not; I don't have any overhead expenses like file folders, computers, office rent, pens, paper, business cards, etc.; I don't have to bill clients or take them to court if they don't pay; I don't have to buy malpractice insurance; and so on.

It's nice to be able to do exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to practice law. I wanted to be a lawyer. Specifically, while in law school, I determined I wanted to be a public defender. I have the exact job I wanted right out of school, so why would I give that up? Especially when I never wanted to be a business owner?

Being a good lawyer doesn't mean I'd be a good business owner. And maybe part of the reason I'm able to get things done for my clients is because I don't have to worry about the business side of things & I can just devote my time to being a lawyer.


  1. Anonymous8:06 AM

    Hear Hear! I have ZERO entrepreneurial skills, and zero desire to market my skills for hire, but extroverts think everyone is desperate to have their own business. Blech.

    1. Yeah, the marketing myself thing is terribly unappealing to me. I will pass on that!

  2. Excellent point, and it applies to almost kind of job. There is a world of difference between "I am good at X" and "I am good at running a business that does X."