Are you passionate about being a lawyer?

being a lawyerI’m not really kidding with this question. Do you really love being a lawyer?

Several weeks ago I wrote a guest post for John Skiba’s JD Blogger website called “How I started my law practice over again at 40”. It was a heartfelt post about why I recently switched from a family law practice to a corporate practice helping entrepreneurs protect their online brands.

I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs over the past several years. There has been a lot of change in my life. 8 years ago I got married. 6 years ago we moved from Florida to North Carolina (which required me to take a second bar exam while my Wife was pregnant with our first son). Our first son was born 5 years ago, then a daughter 2 years later and our most recent son 18 months ago.

My mother was diagnosed with cancer 5 years ago, a disease she is still battling to this day.

Truth be told – that’s a lot for anyone to go through. If you’re not married don’t have kids, or you don’t know anyone with cancer, then you might not understand all this. But there is one thing you probably do understand…

The stress that comes with the practice of law.

It’s a stress that is all-consuming. You never stop worrying about your cases. You eat, sleep and breathe your work. I read a post several years ago from Lawyerist in which Sam Glover talks about why lawyers are so expensive. Glover writes:

After a client signs a retainer with me, I look them in the eye and tell them “Okay, you don’t have to worry about this any more. Your problems are now my problems.” It is just a thing I say, but it is a true thing I say. My clients go home and sleep soundly for the first time in weeks or months. I go home and think about the legal issues all evening. At night I dream about my client’s case. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat and pull up the scheduling order on my phone, convinced I blew a deadline. When I am at the playground with my kids, I check my email in case I get something from opposing counsel or the court. When I go out to dinner with my wife, I talk about hearings and depositions.

Sam is dead on with this portrayal of what it is like being a lawyer. Now, compound that general stress of being a lawyer and running a law practice with that of running a family law practice. As a divorce lawyer, we deal with clients that are at the lowest of lows in their lives. I don’t want to belittle the stress that criminal clients, bankruptcy clients, or personal injury clients go through, but people who are facing an expensive court battle and the prospect of losing custody of their children are in a bad place.

Really bad.

Let’s throw in a dash of “my husband/wife cheated”, and maybe a sprinkle of facing an uphill battle to get financial support or to keep your spouse from bankrupting you…

Yeah, it’s bad.

And as divorce lawyers, we take the brunt of all that anger, hate, spite, etc.

Not to mention the frustration our clients feel because we charge too damn much. (Go back and read Glover’s article if you need reminding about why we charge so much…)

So can you really blame me for trying to eliminate a little stress in my life? For switching to a practice area that is a tad more “optimistic”? I’m not getting rid of my kids or wife. I can’t do anything but support my Mom. But I own my law practice. That means I can do what I want with it.

If I’m not happy about the cases I’m taking, I can take on different ones.

If I don’t like my clients, I can fire them and find new ones.

I’m 40 and I like being a lawyer

Turning 40 this year was a big turning point for me. It was a wake up call. It got me thinking, and not just when I turned 40 a couple of weeks ago. I started thinking when I turned 39 twelve months ago. I knew that 40 was coming and I knew that I wanted something different.

I’ve been an entrepreneur, maybe you could even call me a “lawpreneur” for 10 years now. During these past 10 years, I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. Wonderful lawyers, wonderful clients, wonderful professionals.

I feel truly privileged to be a lawyer and honored to serve my clients in this capacity.

During the past several years, I’ve started to develop relationships and, dare I say, friendships with other entrepreneurs who are not lawyers and who are building awesome businesses for themselves. As a lawyer, they have come to me for advice and guidance. They’ve asked me questions and I’ve gladly helped them, without remuneration, whenever and however I can.

If that means referring them to another lawyer or jumping on Skype with them for 30 minutes to answer their questions, then that is what I do.

Up until now, all this advice has been free. Free is good in the right instances. But I’m trying to move my practice forward, and to do that, I need to start charging for my advice.

Here is a message I received from one of my entrepreneur friends lately:

“Hi Jim, I wanted to say thanks for spending some time with me on the phone. I really appreciate your help a lot and glad to know you. An Aussie friend of mine, [name removed], is interested in protecting some of his IP and perhaps trademarking and so forth. He asked me for your contact info since I was talking about my current situation, so I gave him your website URL and he will probably be in touch.” 

I owe it to myself, my family, and my sanity as a lawyer to follow this passion and help my fellow entrepreneurs. I don’t want to wake up turning 50, or even 60 and feeling miserable because I hate my law practice. I love being a lawyer, but that means that I have to love the law I practice everyday.

Do you love being a lawyer? Comment below and share with my your thoughts on your practice and why you love being a lawyer.