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Hedging Bettors: New-Fangled Attorneys as Stop-Gap Entrepreneurs Split Hobson’s Choice

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With the market saturation of attorneys in Massachusetts, coupled with the general down economy (still) and relatively high unemployment figures, there’s bound to be a job shortage for lawyers who want to practice law and to work for someone else. The math doesn’t manage otherwise. And, our experience bears this out: we see a number of attorneys here at LOMAP who are unemployed, or employed outside the legal practice (underemployed, I guess, some might say; only, that’s not narrow enough, in this case), the latter agreeing to the arrangement mostly solely in order to make ends meet. Those so affected do not admit of easy classification: young or new attorneys, old or experienced attorneys, lawyers with vast arrays of different experiences . . . all of these unsortable folks are struggling to find employment fits. Some will eventually find work as practicing lawyers, and some will finally determine to move from the practice of law into a law-related field, or into another profession altogether, by using their legal degree as a wedge for entrance. But, before any of that happens, there’s this limbo period covering the time beginning at the release from the last found legal job, or from law school, through to the start of the next-found suitable job, legal or otherwise. In a better economy, where effective employment was quicker to come by, job seekers had the luxury of complete concentration. When it only takes a month or two to find a new job, the perspective imparted by that knowledge is a far more calming one than, say, if it takes one to two to three years to find another suitable job. Pre-recession/depression, it was much easier to comfortably focus on “the job search” as a primary (or even sole) objective; these days, well . . . perhaps not.

For those attorneys who are unemployed, volunteering, as a chief endeavor, just does not cut it (although it provides some useful experience), at least as a measure for procuring subsistence provision. For those employed outside of the legal practice profession, there is often a need for supplementation of income, as well; or, if not, there’s a nagging suspicion, brought on by childhood dreams or law school brainwashing, that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing: you should be out billing real hours somewhere, for someone. For job searchers in 2011, especially for those who are not working at some soft transitional position, the sheer length of the job search period just bears down, more forcefully each day, and fears of failure draft ahead of reasoned hopes for success, until perspective is so skewed as to become a significant handicap against effectively seeking and finding the next opportunity.

As a method for the resolution of the supra-applied strawmen argumentation, many attorneys are blurring the line between actual employ and the potential for employment. Given the above recitation of factors, many attorneys are finding appeal in a hybrid sort of arrangement, whereby they search for jobs while also managing their own solo practices. In the modern world, multi-tasking is the watchword; and, this is, perhaps, an outgrowth of a jumbled community, in which none of us, any longer, have the luxury of time and space, in which to think unfettered. (At least we’re all becoming used to it, right?) I’ll freely admit that I was nowhere near attentive or thoughtful enough to dream up this arrangement on my own; as is so often the case in my advising role, I recognize trends only after some significant period of time has elapsed, and as they are delivered to me upon silver platters by our striving, and genuinely innovative, clientele. And, although I had never made the initial recommendation to split and run simultaneous endeavors in this way, I think that, given the prevailing climate, it’s not so bad an idea; and, it’s, maybe, the best shot some folks have.

Attorneys are in a unique position, as are those others with traditional professions: there is always the background consideration for the establishment of a business–in this case, in conjunction with the continuance, or opening, of a job search. And, the establishment of a solo practice by the job seeking attorney answers for a number of the difficulties arrayed only for the knocking down: How does one get experience in an environment where paying jobs in one’s line are few and far between, and in which volunteering opportunities are neither plentiful, nor at all paying? Well, one creates one’s own experience, through the expedient of entrepreneurship. In addition to providing some unique resume fodder, the creation of a solo practice may birth a subsistence-level, at least, income, as well (. . . maybe more). And, that’s getting better, even as a forced choice, than forking over the full-on proceeds to somebody else. Further, the opening of a solo practice, and all that that entails, serves to provide the now-part-time job seeker with something significant to do; and, just having something important to do, having something rather large to accomplish, will take one’s mind off of the interminable job search–and that can be one of the first personal wellness benefits that your new business bestows. (You didn’t know you offered benefits, did you?) A byproduct of this split focus may become that the attorney so situated ends up finding that the time for each of his unique endeavors is even more precious; in this way, the ultimate result may end up being gains, rather than what might be suspected losses, in concentration, for each focus area, as each is engaged.

So, yeah, it’s always been the ancient advice that you should choose to do one thing, and to do it well, and that multi-tasking, especially on so large and important a scale as this, represents the detonation of concentration versus its sharpening; however, that strain of thinking ignores the effect of the electronic age, and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the ways in which modern generations think and work. Major multi-tasking is the new norm; but, this does not mean that hyperfocus is gone–it’s merely fragmented, perhaps forever. If the present economic climate continues to prevail, the stop-gap entrepreneur, the professional who becomes a new job seeker/small business person in between periods of employment (during periods of “unemployment”, defined as being “not self-employed”, in this case), may become the norm, and that may just fit in perfectly with those modern modes of thinking and working. Whether that is, in the abstract, a good or a bad thing, depends, I suppose, on your perspective. (As for me, my vote for an agrarian society was dismissed, following Thomas Jefferson’s, quite a ways back.) Given the alternatives, though, and assuming that you can scrape, at least, a subsistence wage out of a solo practice, while still finding time to put in a reasonably effective amount of time searching for jobs (and when you’re your own boss, you can probably get time off for interviews), it seems like a pretty good interim solution.

(Of course, if you’re looking for a new legal job, and should you consider and choose to become a stop-gap entrepreneur, keep in mind that, when you get your new job, you can’t just check out on your solo practice, leaving files behind on the desk, as you would as a temp. You owe remaining duties to your continuing clients. Be certain, then, to prepare your practice, in advance, for its conclusion, establishing, at the outset, protocols for when you’ll have to shut it down. (Of course, a part-time solo practice will likely only service limited numbers of clients, making the winding up period likely shorter and less complex; when we’re talking about significant numbers of clients, that may be a solo practice that has grown up to be a full-time job on its own, obv
iating the necessity for a continuing job search, or for closing the practice.) Given the significant length of time some job searches run to these days, you’ll potentially have the time to prepare effectively, and to execute, both your business plan and your exit plan, throughout the history of your solo practice, and at its termination. Just don’t wind up not having been prepared to wind down.)

. . .

Liner Notes

This post, I’ve written about bringing seemingly mutually exclusive concepts together, to create a settled whole. This is sort of like what musicians do in creating suites, combining various pieces of music into single songs. (I know, what an intro, right? It’s beyond me, too, that I’m not writing for television, or something.) Armed with a fairly-ingenious analogy, I took to the interwebs, to see what “best suite” picks I could steal from other people . . . only, I was out of luck, because, it appears, no one has made out such a list. Wow. I could be breaking new ground here. (Most of the stuff on suites is about classical music; and, even Wikipedia falls into that defining trap. This is the first time Wikipedia has ever let me down, and I’m rather distraught, I’m not ashamed to tell you. My whole world has just figuratively imploded. This is worse than when my own Pandora station Rick Rolled me the other day. Why are you even still reading this!) Left to my own devices, I figured that I could come up with some great suites, and I was right! Thankfully, my love of seventies music and songs surrounding ten minutes greatly improved my chances of finding the below success:

(Some of these are called “suites” in the title, making them easier to find; however, in case you’re interested, my definition of the modern suite is: a combination of one or more distinct pieces of music melded into one cohesive song.)

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills & Nash

Suite for 20G” by James Taylor

(Almost purely a money grab by JT.)

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” by Billy Joel

Bluebird” by Buffalo Springfield

Foreigner Suite” by Cat Stevens

I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)” by Grand Funk Railroad

(Funny story about me. When I was a senior in college, I had some people over to my townhouse one evening for “checkers”, and I must have put this song on repeat, like, five times through. After about an hour of this, at least one kid wanted to kill me. Sadly for him, he just didn’t realize how dope this song is. And, that was why I was that kid that you didn’t want to invite to your parties, because I’d inevitably end up taking over your CD player and/or stealing a cheese wheel from your refrigerator. Who needs a six-pound cheese wheel? Clearly, I do.)

Trilogy: Lovin’ Me/To Make a Woman Feel Wanted/Peace of Mind” by Loggins & Messina

Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” by Elton John

CATEGORIES: Career Planning & Transition | Client Relations | Law Firm Management | Law Practice Startup | Lawyer's Quality of Life | Planning | Productivity | Risk Management

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