By Arianna Halper
Upon entering law school most of us dreamed of a salary, 401(k), and the bragging rights that accompany your name on your very own office door. When we left law school, those dreams were smashed in the wake of the financial crisis reality that made the contract attorney the new associate.
Salaries were replaced with an hourly wage, employment benefits were replaced with, well, nothing, the private office with your name on the door was replaced with a cubicle, and those bragging rights you thought you’d have were turned into a sheepish half-smile in response to the inevitable question of, “what do you do for a living?” This new reality has created a sea of new lawyers that are dissatisfied with their temporary jobs and tired of the endless interviews. The question is, if not this, then what? Well my fellow baby lawyers, I cannot provide you with a solution or even a concrete answer, but I can tell you what I have done.
Instead of remaining the ever-patient contract attorney who waits for something to happen, I picked myself up by my conservative yet fashionable stiletto work pumps and decided I could be patient no longer. I decided to take the plunge and open my own practice. Although this path was not my first choice, I felt like it was my only choice in the end. While I still do not have a 401(k) – or a regular salary for that matter – I have the ability and freedom to control my days and my future. Slowly but surely I am building a new life for myself. My doors are open, I have a website and business cards, and as of two weeks ago, I even have office furniture.
I am aware that this option may not be the right choice for everyone, as it takes money and know-how (both of which most new lawyers find themselves short on). And I won’t go into how to go about opening your own practice as there are already countless blogs/books/articles on the same topic. The point of this post is to say that despite the difficulties and the incredibly heavy weight of fear, new lawyers can free themselves of the hourly wage and be entrepreneurs. I promise you that it can be done. My advice is to do the research, find the financial and emotional support, and really dedicate yourself to your new life. If you are going to be impatient like me, you have to work hard to shape your future. This path is not an easy one and may take years to pay off, but at least the only clock I punch now is the one with the alarm on my bedside stand. So I say if you are tired of feeling embarrassed when people ask what you do for a living, change the answer.