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February 04, 2009

Living Proof Home Office Lawyering Works - Guest Blogger - Chuck Newton

Living Proof Home Office Lawyering Works

Guest Blogger - Chuck Newton

"I'll tell ya' the truth", as they say in East Texas, this economic downturn has got lawyers as jumpy as spit on a hot skillet.

I am starting to get calls and emails and inquiries from attorneys with Big Law, or with other smaller firms, asking if establishing a home law office or practice would be right for them.  After all, my home is where I have practiced for a long time.  I do not just blog about it.  I live it, and these lawyers are hoping that I can provide a crystal ball outcome for them before deciding to undertake the journey.  They have a feeling they need to make the change, but they are uncertain.  They are concerned.  Needless to say, there is no crystal ball.

These lawyers have a lot of perceived problems, or this is to say they still have a lot of mental resistance to moving their law practices home.  "I just do not have the space at home."  "I have children in the house".  "I need to be around people".  "My dog barks all of the time".  "I have no place to meet with clients".  The one I heard quite some time ago (but still like) is, "My wife took me for better or worse, but just not for lunch".

Obviously, I could talk a gate off its hinges about moving your practice home.  I have practiced exclusively from home since 1998.  Each of the points above are good ones. But, if you are thinking of moving your law office home, none of these arguments represent an actual hindrance.  They represent nothing more than a friction between what you have and what you want.  None represent an actual impediment, as a struggle in your own mind.  Too often all of us are more happy with the devil we know than the devil we do not know.  This is what keeps us from making the move home.

There is a fun story they love to tell in Texas.  A man named Zackariah falls of a cliff in West Texas.  In his fall he manages to grab a branch sticking out of the side of the cliff.  As he dangles above the rocky death below he begins calling from help.  Finally a booming voice says, "I will save you"!  Zackariah asks, "Who are you".  The voice says, "I am God".  Zackariah yells, "Save me Lord!"  God says, "I will Zackariah, but you must have faith".  With that God says, "Zackariah, let go of the branch and I will save you".  Zackariah looks at his strained fingers holding on to the branch and then down to the rocky terrain way below.  He finally tilts his head back up and asks, "Is there anybody else up there that can help me?"

I doubt that moving your practice home requires this much faith, but it requires faith.  Maybe you can call it acceptance, belief, conviction, or hope that everything will work itself out.  Regardless, I too often get this same response when I tell other lawyers to let everyone go, shut down their outside offices, burn their law books, and move their law practices home.

I do not think that you have to completely buy into the orthodoxy of the Third Wave in order to believe that a move home is best for you and your family.  There is a community of believers out there of which I am one.  But, you do not have to participate in the communion, or believe the gospel, or accept the dogma that the traditional practice of law is dying and you do not want to die with it.  In other words, you do not have to drink the cool-aid.  You can be as agnostic as you want and yet know that this choice is what is best for you and your well-being.  You can have these questions, you can be skeptical, you can be doubtful and yet still in the long run understand that how you presently practice simply does not work for you.

My point is that you cannot solve all of the problems you have conjured up before you make the move and, even if you could, dilemmas and issues would surface which you did not and could not contemplate. You cannot do anything in this world that is new and untried for you that does not have a degree of ambiguity, unpredictability, vagueness, bewilderment, wonder, or mystification.  You can question it and it is fine to have a degree of anxiety about the change.  But, you need not meet it with ambivalence, conjecture, distrust, oscillation or indecision.

In Texas they say you do not want to be "the first Cousin to Moses Rose", a reference to the man who has long been said to be the only coward who fled the Alamo before the siege.

Big Law, or trying to emulate Big Law, has always had the quality of sticker burr to bare feet for me.  You can always get lost in the moment, but it has never been that much fun.  It is not that I planned to move my law practice home, and get rid of staff, and rely on cheap tech, and do it on my own.  No.  In fact, for more than a decade I went the other direction of building volume, building offices, employing staff, and putting out one fire after another not of my own doing.  For over a decade I thought there had to be a better way.  I would cogitate on it often, and noodle it around in my head, but I could never ever get the full picture enough to make the decision.  But, sooner or later, like me, you decide you have just got to quit burning daylight on things that you know in your heart are not working.  When it gets right down to the lick-log you have just got to take a chance.  You have got to let go of that branch.

If moving your law practice home is an option you are considering, maybe the most I can offer you is that this is an achievable goal.  I am a living and working example of running my law practice from home effectively and profitably.  Now, I do not think that the sun comes up just to hear me crow, but I have made it work for me.  And, I do not pretend that I am riding a gravy train with biscuit wheels.  Life in any respect is more difficult than that.  But, what I am saying is that I have been able to move my law office home, cut my overhead to the bone, and live a happier and more fulfilling life.  You can as well.  And, although you might not be able to chart the course from where you are right now, I can tell you that the journey has been well worth it for me.

They say you can only go as far as you can see, but once you get there you can always see further. The truth of the matter, however, is that if you do not undertake the first journey you will never see the path waiting for you ahead.  So, have a little faith.  Do not be a Moses Rose, and you will find the way.  The main objective is just to make the decision and start.  The first step is the hardest.  It is not nearly a precarious as it was for Zackariah for you to let go of the Big Law branch.   But know this.  At the end, I, as all other home office lawyers, will be waiting there for you with a standing round of applause.


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David H. Fuller

As a comment on your lead in, the economy is really hammering lawyers. We're not getting as much press as some other professions, probably because the layoffs are in ones and twos, but the overall numbers are high. I was talking to someone at the state bar last week and he told me that the feedback from the job search groups is that there are no jobs out there, an increasing number of lawyers are losing their jobs, and for many are contemplating bankruptcy.

I'm in Seattle, which got hit later, so I can only imagine what it's like in other states. The bottom line is that going solo has helped me tremendously. I am thankful just be be practicing the law and growing a practice.

Stephen G. Cobb

I am glad to see that I am not the only lawyer working from home. I have worked from home, from coffee shops, bookstores and hotel rooms. If there is a need for a face to face client meeting, I use conference space. I use *FREE* software for everything from virus prevention to word processing. Glad I started this before the Second Great Depression (The 2GD).

Guest House Edinburgh

Chuck brings up an interesting thought in his comment. If it is true, we home office lawyers work faster and more efficient out of our home office. Why aren’t the ivory tower lawyers being slapped down for charging more to their clients for making the clients pay for the ivory tower in the first place? Why isn’t big law being slapped down for being so inefficient they have to charge more fees? If it is true that it should not take a home office lawyer “4 to 5 hours of billable time on a case” because we are more efficient, why aren’t we being praised? I just don’t get the argument that since we work out of our homes we are more efficient and we should not be able to charge as much. If I may be so frank, what a bunch of bullshit. Shouldn’t the courts and the legal consumer demand more efficient legal work? Someone enlighten me please!!!

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