Start Small, Stay Small? Solopreneur Moms and the Benefits of a Home Law Office

9 comments

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So I’m about two months into the solo law practice, work-at-home mom gig.  I have some billable work as well as a couple upcoming seminars (one of which is tomorrow – eek!), and things are actually happening for me, which is really great.  And at the same time, a bit challenging.

Everything is sort of feast or famine when you’re a solo lawpreneur (I know I am seriously annoying someone out there with all these trendy terms, but I love it).  You can’t exactly refuse or decline work, at least not if it’s a chance to bring in some much-needed cash and it wouldn’t be impractical or unethical to take the client.  Marketing is equally important right now – I need to keep blogging (on my law firm website) and networking, looking for more places to give seminars, etc.  It all takes up a lot of time, but it needs to be done.

But wait just a minute.  Who says it needs to be done?  Me?  Or the blogs, podcasts, and legal professional peanut gallery whose sole focus is on growing your practice beyond your wildest dreams as a mere solo?

What if this is the end goal:  to start small and stay small?

I’m a special ed attorney, representing parents facing challenges in getting an appropriate education for their children in the public schools.  I do that because I love it, but also because I have built up a lot of knowledge in this niche practice area over the years (from representing the other side), and therefore, it makes sense that in hanging my shingle, this is the area I would focus on.

I had thought, at first, that I would take the occasional case, review a file, maybe attend a PPT meeting, advise someone on how to handle a mediation.  And then I remembered that—oh yeah—you can’t really dabble in this area of the law, because the stakes are so high, clients (parents) are often in desperate situations, and it truly does require an around-the-clock commitment to your work.  Because although much of the work follows the school year (although it seems like summer gets busier and busier each year of practice), there is always something to be done even when school’s over for the day or for the week.  An evaluation report to read, an article to review and make note of, or just plain business stuff that needs attending to.  Next on my list is finding a great CPA, for example, because this whole self-employment thing is, uh, a bit new to me.

I stumbled on this article in Lawyerist, a blog for lawyers that has a lot of material on the business of solo and small practices, and it reminded me that there is a certain strength to starting small and staying small.  After all, I did this to make my kids a priority, not to grow into a multi-lawyer practice complete with associates, staff and a succession plan.  It’s not that I lack staying power, or have no plans to become well-branded.  But what I wanted the most was control over my schedule, the power to choose the work I want to do, and to be accessible to my kids as well as my clients.

This month, we tried something new by keeping the kids home with me on Mondays and Fridays, and making my official “office hours” Tuesday through Thursday.  But in reality, I work all the time, especially when the kids are sleeping or dad is around to help out.  So I’m never really off the clock, even when I’m with my kids.  But so far, I’m a lot more present when I am with them, compared to when I was an associate at a law firm.

Now that I’m getting busier—referrals are coming in, clients have questions, other attorneys want to get together—I’m realizing something about myself:  I truly love being a lawyer (WOW … when was the last time I said that?!), and I also love having a career.  I wasn’t meant to be a stay-at-home mom, at least not in the traditional sense of 24-7 childcare duty without paid employment.  I enjoy the give and take and, yes, the balance, whatever that means, between work and home.  I just wanted to do it on my own terms all along, because I was miserable when someone else was drawing the line for me when it came to finding that balance.  But does that mean that I would be just as happy if things really took off, I mean really, in the sense that I would now be working 40+ work weeks, putting the kids back in daycare fulltime, and spending more on convenience foods and other costs of doing business, just like back at the firm?  I’m not entirely sure, so I’m treading cautiously here.

Starting a business out of your home with the resources you already own also does wonders for keeping your overhead low.  However, I’m already envisioning myself leasing some fabulous office space, and I will admit to occasionally trolling around on Craigslist for local commercial real estate listings.  I call it “office porn.”  Whatever the fantasy of the moment may be, I’m trying to stay grounded in the reality that I need to figure a lot out before I grow too big for my britches.  If I choose to grow, anyway.

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9 comments on “Start Small, Stay Small? Solopreneur Moms and the Benefits of a Home Law Office”

  1. Melanie: I enjoyed your post. I am a mom to two very young kids, an estate planning attorney with a small practice and a husband who owns a funeral home and is ALWAYS on call. Managing it all is so hard! It always seems that either your kids or your practice suffer.

    1. Thanks Katherine. From what I have heard about the funeral home business, it is tough with needing to be on call constantly. Do you ever try working at home with the kids, or is it a lost cause? I eventually did take out office space, and you can read about it in some of my current posts. As for the kids versus the practice, I completely agree. I am hoping to see a huge upswing in profitability once the kids are no longer so little and needy.

  2. Hi Melanie – I just started my own solo practice from home for exactly the same reasons, and I’m also purposely trying to keep it small. I do miss the give-and-take of working with other attorneys, but I need the flexibility to make my own schedule and prefer to keep my rates lower than the larger law firms to stay competitive. I would love to learn more about how you got up and running, how you use a site and blog for marketing purposes, and your future visions for your practice as your kids get older (perhaps as a side conversation via email?). Great to “meet” another woman who’s starting a practice with young kids!

    1. Allison, I would love to talk to you more about “the shingle life.” Feel free to email me at melanie[at]medunnlaw.com. Solo practice is something I never considered until recently, but with all the new technology and the predicted demise of BigLaw, I think this is a great time for solos and small firms!

  3. You can have your goals evolve as your kids get older and more independent. No need to decide now what your practice will look like in 10 years, right? The important thing is to do work you love, not to get too drained by it, and show your kids the good example of a mom who is mentally stimulated by work and also able to be with them in a non-tired, non-stressed way. In your field, especially, you will find that clients really relate to your dual roles, and I think it will bring something extra to your professional relationship to be able to share that with your clients. And as you say, the whole point was to make your own schedule and control your priorities. You have the best of all worlds! I hope your practice prospers and thrives just enough for you to find that perfect balance.

    1. Thanks Randi. I hope the dual role thing does resonate with parents. I’m still learning the ropes as a parent of young kids though, while I’m realizing that a lot of potential clients are parents of middle and high school aged kids. I guess it’s a life long learning experience though.

  4. Melanie, I love this post and your self-awareness! I think it’s AWESOME that you’re thinking of staying small. Hubby and I have had this same conversation many times about his biz. It’s always been just him for the past 8 years and it’s exactly what we need for our family and our needs. I’m enjoying witnessing your journey, Dear Sister.

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