Just over a year ago I made the decision to make a dramatic shift in my career and become a ‘free’ lawyer.
Now don’t get too ahead of yourselves, this doesn’t mean I started working for free!
Instead I joined a law firm that is part of the ‘NewLaw’ wave. It is a dispersed law firm, with a completely different approach to the traditional. I am a bit of an enigma now, as I am my own boss, but still part of a team, giving direction to some and taking direction from others.
Since making the shift I have been asked – many times – by other lawyers whether I made the right choice. So I thought I would provide a little insight into a typical week for me and you can judge for yourselves …
When I was a lawyer for a big, traditional law firm, Monday mornings usually meant hours lost to team meetings, frantic time entries, and reviewing and replying to a disturbingly large number of weekend emails from my supervising partner, colleagues in our team, and clients.
Since I made the decision to work for myself, away from traditional firms, this kind of frustrating lost time is no longer an issue. Instead, I spend my Monday at an office space I share in the centre of the Sydney CBD with a range of professionals, from a variety of different businesses, working my way through a list of work matters I made for myself on the weekend. Without any other distractions, I can focus on just those items, and finish them faster, and to a much higher quality, than I would have been able to do if I was still working at a traditional firm.
As I walk home, I can’t help but think that the traditional law firm model is overly focussed on billable hours, and as a consequence rewards inefficient delivery of legal services, and excessive negotiations and discussions between lawyers on non-material matters. No one wins from this arrangement.
That’s exactly why I needed to break away from this style of legal work, before I lost my love for the law altogether.
I have sports training this morning.
Rather than spending the entire time thinking about work, I can instead think about how all this exercise is good for me, and try to make it to the end of the session without falling over.
Finding the time to do things for myself, while working in a traditional firm, was incredibly difficult. Even if I did try and train before work, it meant getting up ridiculously early to ensure I wasn’t seen as a ‘late arrival’ for coming in 15 minutes later than everyone else. While lunchtime training or after-work catch-ups with friends always seemed good in theory, they inevitably never happened with any consistency as there was always some piece of work that came in right at the time I had to leave.
Today’s training session ends and I’m ready to start the working part of the day. The way in which I structure my day is now all up to me, and there is no one to judge me on how I structure my day but myself. As long as I meet (and exceed) client expectations, that it the only standard I set for myself. It is a good feeling.
On Wednesday morning, I am working from my home office when a client contacts me to ask if I can assist in registering some intellectual property rights for them. This isn’t my area at all, but I know someone who can do it and am glad for the opportunity to be able to refer work to a colleague.
If I were still working at my old firm, I would have felt an obligation to take on this work myself, and charge for it – even though it is out of my area of expertise.
Now, I work with a group of lawyers and administrative support staff that share a similar view on how to practice the law. The first people to come together and formalise this structure decided to create a nexus of lawyers and call it … well, Nexus Law Group.
As soon as I joined Nexus, I no longer had to spend hours on the administration and insurance aspects of a sole practice. Nexus covers that for me, and does it in a much more professional and structured way than I would be able to do alone. Being allied with Nexus means I can finally get on with being the lawyer I wanted to be, and focus on those parts of the law in which I am skilled.
So now, when this intellectual property matter comes in on a Wednesday morning, I can tell the client that I will refer it to someone I know and can trust to do it for them. I even get a financial benefit for the referral from Nexus. The distributed system pioneered by Nexus works, and works incredibly well, for everyone involved.
Now that I’m reaching the end of another working week, I try to remember what it was like when I was shackled to the routine and inefficiencies of a traditional firm.
Not once this week did I feel obliged to get to the office at 8am and work until the last person leaves – whether that is at 5pm or midnight. Instead, I can respond to my clients when they need me. I can work on ways to build my business and ensure I can continue to do what I love. Most importantly, I now easily find the time to see my wife, my family and my friends.
That’s it. Nothing else exists to cloud my thinking or to get in the way of my personal happiness or professional success.
Traditional law firms require you to give up a part of yourself to be successful, and some do this better than others. I don’t judge those who succeed at big law firms. I just know that for me, this new way of doing law makes me happy and gives me purpose and drive. I have met great people who think the same as I do, and I see these relationships having great benefits in the short and long term.
Yes, Friday! I still have a lot of things on my list, but I still feel in control.
A client calls me to suggest a drink after work. He is a really nice person, and when we see each other we might chat about work, but it never feels like a ‘business development opportunity’ that I need to debrief a business development team about on Monday morning.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’ve worked a hard week this week. There were new matters and new clients to meet and build relationships with. Old matters flared up again at inconvenient times. I still had to take care of administrative matters like filing emails, preparing invoices, chasing outstanding bills, and writing articles.
But a hard week with Nexus, as a consulting principal and master of my own destiny, is not destructive in the same way I found it to be working for a big law firm. I can do everything I mentioned above, and more, next week and the week after that.
I no longer feel like I have survived this week. I feel like I succeeded.
That is the biggest difference for me, working with a dispersed law firm.