This week in Bigger than Biglaw, Neena Dutta, discovers the literal value of her time and why was wasting it is not an option in shared law office space.
After writing about my hobbies last week and how much I detest the expectation of a free consultation a few weeks back, I started to think time. Not necessarily how I spend it (as you know, my hobby is doing whatever the hell I want), but more of what my time is worth.
Self-employment has provided a literal value to my time. When I worked for someone else, my time most certainly had a value. The only problem was that someone else determined its schedule and allocation.
As a solo attorney, I charge for my time. I declare the value. I know how much an inane 15 minute conversation at a networking event costs me now. Our time is one of our only commodities and as such, I am always aware of it. I am not proud of this, but I have been known to Irish Exit a conversation or activity if I have discerned the value it offers is less than I expected (I realize this is incredibly rude, but in my defense it is not always done completely consciously- we can’t all be perfect!).
Time as a commodity: Make sure you have fun.
Being aware of the value of my time has changed my social and networking habits. When I was an employee, I would go to events because it was expected. It was the partner’s friend, or it was “for the good of the firm.” It was not always worth it. I did not get to bill the time and it was not personally useful – a double whammy.
Now, I do tend to select activities which benefit both my networking and my personal interests, to maximize my time. For example, I enjoy a cocktail and a friend of mine started a networking group which meets over cocktails called “Lady Drinks” specifically directed at female entrepreneurs. I took advantage of the venue to talk about my business and get contacts, but I did it while enjoying a cocktail and meeting some interesting and fantastic women.
Pro Bono work IS an investment in our profession, not a waste of our time.
A huge benefit of operating your own firm as opposed to working for someone else is the availability to take on passion projects, especially during the hours you were previously expected to be chained at your desk. When someone else signed my paychecks, it was quite difficult to participate in daytime pro bono work – such as the AILA Special Immigrant Juvenile Docket or CUNY Citizenship Day, which take either an entire morning or all day.
In order to participate, I would have had to take a personal day, work extremely late, or work during the weekend to make up the time to the law firm. I find these activities to be great networking, not necessarily great business development. The plus is that I learn a lot about an area I do not really practice so that I can feel confident presenting the correct information to a client, or at very least, giving them a road map to find the correct information. I firmly believe contributing time to pro bono cases is also the right thing to do for our profession and with our collective time.
I have been able to accept teaching invitations as a guest lecturer at numerous places, which I find valuable for my own development. And I think an entrepreneur always needs public speaking practice. If you cannot communicate what you are trying to sell, in this case, my value, why should anyone waste their time with you?
While I did participate in some (not all) of these activities while employed at a large law firm, I was always killing myself trying to do it all. My stress level has gone down quite a bit as a result of choosing to work for myself in shared law office space.
For solo attorneys, procrastination is pricey.
One of the many upsides to solo practice is the inherent lack of structure that comes with being your own boss. Truthfully, lack of structure is a slippery slope. Lack of structure is often a symptom of lost time which equates to lost money. If you are not a driven, disciplined, goal-oriented lawyer, self-employment will eat you and your savings alive.
With the lack of structure (which is my own issue to battle), I do find that there are some things which fall by the wayside. If there is something I don’t like doing – I might just procrastinate and let it slide for longer than I should.
I have found this is one of the most challenging aspects of solo practice. The physical act of admitting that you are purposely wasting your own time is almost too honest for me. Even more, auditing this portion of solo practice is really hard and quite frankly scary. If you spend one hour trolling the Internet per day instead of doing the work you are supposed to, you have lost 5 hours of billable time.
What is 5 hours of your time worth? $1500? $2000?
But at least as a self-employed attorney, those 5 hours are truly yours to waste.