I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon among many lawyers who’ve recently gone out on their own. I suspect it’s a result of the lawyers viewing solo practice as a way to avoid working long hours. These lawyers, never the most financially successful ones, love to complain whenever they’re stuck working more than a few hours a day. They never make the obvious connection between their lack of motivation and their lack of disposable income.
I imagine the root of the problem is the way most solos bill. If you don’t keep track of your time, flat fees feel a lot like found money. Someone comes in and pays you, but you haven’t done anything yet. All of a sudden you’re richer, and all you had to do was listen for an hour or so and print up a representation agreement. Earning money doesn’t immediately feel connected to the work you perform. Work comes later and is not accompanied by payment. Getting money is easy. Legal work is hard and thankless.
The other thing I see with these lawyers is the desire to start a side business. If they don’t have one already, they all want to start some other company. It’s always a side business that’s supposed to run itself. The owner just sits back, kicks his feet up, and takes a swim in his money bin every once in a while.
It’s been said a million times before, probably by me in previous posts, but this bears repeating again: lawyers sell their time and efforts, so financial success means lots of time and effort.
When times are good financially, I’m usually too busy to notice. When things are slow financially, I’ve usually got plenty of time on my hands to think about it. My goal in those situations isn’t just to change my financial outlook. I also want to be busy again. After all, that’s the point. I have a job. Although I joke about wanting to join the idle rich, I’d go crazy if I didn’t have something interesting and challenging to do. Law pays, but it also occupies. They’re both important.
Sometimes the law sucks. Being broke sucks more. However, the thing that sucks most of all is doing nothing worthwhile with your life. If you’re a lawyer and you aren’t willing to put in much time, you will probably have to scam your clients to make a lot of money. I guess you could bank on your side business being as profitable as you’d hoped, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. Every lawyer I know who used to talk about one day making big money in a side business is still talking about one day making big money in a side business.
Any new solo who isn’t hoping to overcharge or open up a hot dog stand on the side should probably take a deep breath and realize that time equals money and money equals time. The practice of law will probably become far more palatable when you come to terms with that simple fact.