I heard from an attorney who has been practicing for 15 years and is thinking of leaving his job with a law firm where he feels like he’ll always be the low man on the totem pole.
“I want to start out on my own. My wife [an attorney] is against this; we have 4 kids and a mortgage and she makes considerably less than I do.” He’d read my blog post about the costs of opening your own office but wanted to know more about actual costs. “I need a business license, insurance, an office, and a decent computer system. What’s your estimate for starting up?”
Here’s what I said:
“Okay, setting up the office is the easy part and it’s not expensive. You can get a furnished executive suite or take a spare office from another attorney in return for appearances or overflow. If you have a laptop computer that does what you need, you’re in business. If you don’t, you can finance one for next to nothing from Dell.
Insurance can wait. (That’s not legal advice). So can a lot of other things. One nice thing about low overhead is that it doesn’t take much to stay afloat.
The hard part is the family. You have to work that out. Your wife is scared and perhaps she has a right to be, but most people don’t understand “the itch” and aren’t willing to scratch it. So you have to have a long talk. Or a series of talks. And if you can’t get her on board and you still want to do this, you may have to do it without her permission. And then work your butt off to bring in lots of business.
Sometimes, when I’ve taken big scary leaps in my career, I first asked myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Will I die? End up in prison? Lose my house? Lose my wife? End up homeless, penniless, on drugs and wanting to die?
When you think about the worst case scenario in all it’s overly dramatic splendor, you realize that most of this is highly unlikely, and whatever does happen is probably something you can survive. Bad things may happen, but you probably won’t die, and as they say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
Whatever you decide, don’t second guess yourself. Stay or go, but don’t look back.”
He wrote back and said he’s going to talk to his wife and will keep me posted.
But here’s the thing. He’s a smart guy and surely knew I couldn’t give him an estimate of how much he would need to open his own office. But that’s not the real reason he contacted me. He was reaching out because he’s nervous about the whole idea and wanted to hear a friendly voice who had been there and done that.
Here’s the other thing. I’m sure he also knew the part about making the leap with or without his wife on board. He knew it but needed me to say it.
We all know more than we realize we know, don’t we? But we don’t always trust what we know.
Sometimes we use logic to guide us to the right decision. Sometimes we throw logic out the window and let our gut get us past the fear so we can do what we want to do.
When you face big a decision like this, it’s good to talk to someone who’s been down that path. They can provide information and encouragement and ask you questions that allow you to sort things out. You could also pray on it, write in a journal, talk to experts, and do a lot of research.
But while these might be the mature way of handling things, sometimes you just have to jump and see what happens. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”
I’ve made many leaps in my legal career and with businesses I’ve started. Things didn’t always work out but I never wound up homeless and I always learned something about myself and about the world I was able to use down the road.
So am I saying you should do what you want to do even when there are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t?
No. I’m not saying that. You are.