This week in Bigger than Biglaw, Neena Dutta explores her new found social freedom that emerged as a direct result of leaving a law firm and locating her solo practice in shared law office space.
I was at a networking event last week and an attorney asked me: “What are your hobbies?”
I detest that question.
It makes me feel like I am being asked to write a college essay justifying my value to another person. The question seems false, almost like a conversation place-filler.
Choosing self-employment afforded me the time figure out what my “hobbies” are.
The next day, I angrily thought about the question. Truthfully, self-employment has afforded me more time to figure out what I enjoy than while I was employed at a large, multiservice law firm. The lack of a domineering, disgruntled senior partner (that’s me now, except not so disgruntled) has allowed me to be accountable for my own time and behavior.
With this new found lack of accountability, I have found myself travelling a lot, mostly business trips which I pair with fun activities. I can now do things which I used to postpone or say I could not possibly have time when I worked for someone else, like going to informational talks, watching rugby games, meeting friends, overpaying for movies, feigning culture at museums, and attempting to play golf.
I realize these “hobbies” may sound mundane to you. To me, they are anything but mundane. Choosing to practice law a solo has afforded me the time to have hobbies. This is different when I worked at firm, where I could say I had interests but did not have the time to develop those interests into hobbies.
When I worked for a firm, I could not do things spontaneously. Now, within reason, I can take weekdays to participate in an activity that could not justify previously within the regimented billable hour system. My quota hung over me at every event and effectively prohibited enjoying my time.
Finding enjoyment in my professional and personal life is extremely important. I look forward to going to work most days, because I practice what I love. There is no reason to be self-employed if you detest your field. It does a disservice to our community.
Now, just because I know how to enjoy myself does not mean my life is all champagne and smiles. The hardest thing about solo practice is knowing how to manage your time and knowing that mismanagement has real financial consequences.
Establishing your own checks and balances system is the only way to sustained success.
Self-discipline is extremely important in solo practice. In order to do business, you do have to keep somewhat normal business hours. Otherwise you will not catch the business which is looking for you. You are still beholden to existing clients and the possibility of new clients to fund your new hobby-filled lifestyle, so you cannot fully go rogue and keep office hours between 8pm and 3am.
In fact, self-discipline is extremely important in my situation, as I chose to locate my firm in shared law office space. It has the feel of working at a large firm, except everyone is their own boss. Being surrounded by other self-employed attorneys with disparate practice areas is a huge value-add and worth its weight in gold, or referrals. The problem is my personality. I am extremely sociable. I have to fight myself every day to stop networking with my office mates. In fact, that might even be my new hobby.
What are my hobbies? See, I brought it back full-circle to the question I was asked at a networking event last week.
Thinking back – I wish I was quick enough to respond: Now that I work for myself- I do whatever the hell I like. That’s my hobby.