This week in Bigger than Biglaw, Neena Dutta explains how her family reacted to her self-employment and how they changed their viewpoint over time.
I started my own law firm last year and moved into an executive suite for law firms last February. My decision to pursue self-employment was not made in a vacuum. If only decisions were that easy. My decision affected my family as many decisions inevitably do.
I am extremely close with my parents. Their opinion matters. My decision to go solo was not necessarily greeted with the fanfare from them I thought it deserved. Recently, one seemingly innocuous event changed their whole perception of my independent streak.
Before we start discussing the end of the story, let me give you some background on the beginning.
My Parents Had My Career Planned Out For Me
My parents just celebrated their Ruby Wedding anniversary last year – 40 whole years together. In fact, I traveled home to throw them a huge party. I would say they are moderately conservative, and when it comes to my life, they swing from super conservative to utter confusion a lot of the time.
My father was a doctor and my mother was a teacher. Both technically worked for the government, since my mother worked for a public school and my father was a General Practitioner and worked for the NHS in Britain (the National Health System).
Although my Dad worked for the NHS, he was considered to be self-employed. His self-employment was a very different kind of self-employment than mine. In his case, there was never a shortage of patients on the national health system, however, my client pool is a tad more finite. Corporate immigration clients are slightly more competitive to procure.
They did not necessarily understand the concept of a solo attorney. They had a career trajectory planned out for me: Go to law school. Get a six figure job. Find a husband. Give them grandchildren.
I guess two out of four isn’t that bad.
How My Parents Reacted When I Chose Self-Employment
When I decided to leave my steady paycheck at a multi-service firm and forge my own path they were freaked out to say the least. At first, they were really concerned, since I have a number of financial commitments and they were scared I could not keep up.
They would periodically suggest I apply for jobs with companies, or hint that I update my resume. Trust me, the hints weren’t exactly subtle, but such is the way of an Indian mother.
After I made my decision to go solo, I hit the ground running. I was in my solo honeymoon period. As with any honeymoon, it inevitably ends. I suffered from the summertime blues – where clients and invoices go on vacation. This made my parents really nervous. I hid any signs of financial stress I might have had. I didn’t need to give them a reason to doubt me, even if I was doubting myself.
However, after plugging along and perpetually networking, I hit a sort of rhythm that has allowed me to resume my “normal” paycheck life. The only difference is that I am paying myself the paycheck.
When My Parents Stopped Suggesting I Update My Resume
It is funny- it was not until I met up with them abroad and I happened to have a client meeting at their vacation home that their view changed. The client handed me the retainer fee and my Mother finally said: “Well if you have a couple of those, we don’t need to worry at all.”
It was interesting how witnessing one minor meeting changed their opinion dramatically. That one retainer legitimized my decision in their eyes. They could see for themselves that I was doing the exact same work as I was at a firm, I just was getting paid directly for it.
My immigration business spans the globe. (I just got back I just got back from business development and client meetings in Dubai and India). As a result, I have to travel often. The synergy with self-employment and traveling has meant I can meet up with my parents more often than when I was working for someone else, which has bolstered their appreciation my occupational independence.
Whenever I speak to my Dad on the phone now, he always asks “Any new clients?” as opposed to “Are you ok for money?” This means the world to me.
It signifies he understands that it is a process and respects my decision, for now anyway.
Neena Dutta is a corporate immigration attorney with the Dutta Law Firm, a firm she founded after leaving a Biglaw associate position with a prestigious New York firm. Neena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ executive suite for law firms in Downtown, New York and her weekly blog series, The Dutta Diaries, explores the thought process that goes into leaving a Biglaw job for the world of solo practice, and her experiences since making this career altering shift.