Going Solo; Confessions and Inspirations - Sarina Gianna
Guest Blogger, Sarina Gianna talks about her decision to leave a law firm she considered 'family' to start her own practice. This describes her 'aha' moment and how she transitioned from employee to self-employed.
THAT'S IT. I AM OUT OF HERE!
In 1972, When my parents emigrated to this country from Sicily, they had two young children (my older brother and sister), a few bucks in their pocket and faith that they would somehow find work and offer their children a better life than they had in their small farming village in Sicily. I was born the following year as the first generation American born citizen in my family. As the second person in my family to ever graduate from college (second to my older sister), I felt an obligation to make something of myself. Immediately after graduating from college, I began working as an employment coach with developmentally disabled adults. I found this work to be very rewarding and I thoroughly enjoyed working with this population. However, after three years I realized there was no way to be self-sufficient in the State of New Jersey working as a social worker. As a result, in 1999, I decided to take the LSAT and was admitted to Seton Hall University School of Law.
I attended law school and worked part to full time as a law clerk at a small general practice law firm for three years. In 2003, I graduated from law school, passed the bar exam and accepted an offer to stay on as an associate at that small general practice law firm. I was sworn into the State Bar on a Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, I was in a courtroom. For the next four years, I worked my tail off as an associate. I learned everything I could about running a law office and about every area of practice I came across. I worked late, came in early, drove all over the state taking depositions, covering motion hearings, going to real estate closings, workers' compensation court, conducted a jury trial, won a jury trial, got married, bought a house, had back surgery, got tired. Despite all of that, for most of those years, I envisioned this firm as a place I would stay for a very long time. After all, we were a family, a dysfunctional office family.
On an undisclosed day in 2006, after a series of events that mean nothing to me now, I distinctly remember telling myself, 'that's it, I am out of here!' and I actually meant it.
Why am I recounting this history of my life? Believe me, it's not to illustrate how special I am. To the contrary, It's to demonstrate how incredibly average my experience was and is. It's to demonstrate that it doesn't necessarily take any special skills to start your own practice. In fact, I would not have felt prepared to go solo had I not worked for all those years at that small general practice law firm as a member of that small dysfunctional office family. Despite what I did learn, it still took me almost a full year to plan my graceful exit.
It was not until August 1, 2007 that I officially opened the doors to my new law office. For almost one year, I searched for space, spoke to colleagues about office sharing arrangements, read books about running a law practice, designed stationary, picked out office furniture, put together a marketing plan, prepared a business plan and struggled with when and how to give notice to my bosses. It was an extremely exciting but stressful few months. Despite how much planning I did, I still felt utterly overwhelmed with the idea of going solo. The bottom line is, just like most major life events, there never is an ideal time to jump. You will always feel apprehensive. You will always feel a little unprepared. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. I cried my last day on the job. I'm okay with that.
So if you are an associate working at a firm somewhere, it's because you are meant to be working there. Learn from it. See it for what it is, a potential stepping stone to something better. No matter how overworked you feel, go to work smiling and make all the business connections you can. Rest assured, if you are meant to go solo, there will come a day when you say to yourself, 'that's it, I am out of here!' Don't walk out of the office mad on that day. Don't tell the managing partner off. Don't kick in the computer on your desk and NEVER COMPROMISE YOUR WORK ETHIC. Instead, mark that day on your calendar as the beginning of the end of your career as someone else's associate. It will take time to adequately plan your exit. It will take skill to exit gracefully without burning any bridges. And it will take perseverance and guts to actually walk out the door on your last day at a firm and know that from here on out, you are responsible for generating your own paycheck. I guarantee you will not sleep very much for a few weeks following that day. But, believe me, it's worth it.