That’s Not How We Do Things, and Other Nonsense Lawyer Parents Should Ignore

hand drawing street and small figures running race to the finish lineLaw firm owners have the joy of running a business and practicing law. Combine that with parenting and there are all sorts of challenges…and opportunities. From defining what you want in your practice to conveying your law firm design to potential clients, there are many ways to practice law and be the parents we want to be for our children. Even if you do not have your own law firm (yet?!), flexibility and thinking outside the box will help you define your balance.

The very best thing about having your own law firm is that you can run your business so that it fits with the needs of your family. However, we often get stuck with a negative feedback loop when we start proclaiming those choices. Or worse, we don’t design the firm we need because of the fear of losing business or worrying about what other professionals will think of our choices. “That’s not how we do things…” is a phrase no one wants to hear about their business.

But, don’t let the nay-sayers keep you from designing the firm that works for you! For example, did you know that you do not have to be open on Mondays? Or that your office hours can end at 3 p.m.? Or that you don’t have to get to the office before noon? Not only is it all in how you design your firm, but also in how you relay to clients how your office functions.

Balancing the Parenting Lifestyle with Your Law Practice

Balance is probably the most overused word out there these days and you may already be rolling your eyes. Stick around for a second. Life will always be busy and crazy with kids. We go through all kinds of different stages; so, one of the keys to making your practice fit your life is to sit down and define what you need for your lifestyle to work. This step is so often overlooked in a rush to jump right into some vague definition of “balance.”

Defining What You Need for Your Ideal Lifestyle

Several areas come to mind when narrowing down lifestyle needs. First, there is usually the money aspect. Nonsense that you probably hear includes having to work ridiculous hours to make enough money to support your family. But do you even know how much you need for your family budget? Do you have a family budget? From there, you can work backwards to figure out an hourly rate, or the number of clients you need per month, or the price you want to charge for your services to hit that budget number. Do not feel obligated to fall into the traditional legal model of billing by the hour with some high number of billable hours to achieve success.

Practice Area
Some practice areas are more conducive to the flexible needs of parenting. If you are handling most of the work yourself, you may not want a practice area that has a lot of rigid scheduling, like required court appearances. One solution to this issue is to hire an attorney who likes the court-appearance side of things. Hiring does not mean you have to account for a full-time W-2 employee, either. There are all kinds of employment including of-counsel and association relationships that allow you to focus on the parts of your practice that you want to be involved in. Again, the important part of all of this is in the plan and design.

Ahhh, clients. Can’t live with them, can’t run a successful practice without them. Have you ever thought about your favorite kind of client to work with and what made them your favorite? When thinking about the balance in your life, having clients that you like working with and appreciate you takes away a ton of stress that can often bleed over into parenting and family time. If you are constantly stressed out with the clients, that anxiety is probably not a good lifestyle choice. This also means saying NO to clients who do not fit your ideal profile. We’ve all had those clients that your gut told you to say no to, but the other voice on your shoulder told you not to turn away a paying client. Designing your ideal practice to fit with your lifestyle means being very specific with how much you need, who you want to help, and what boundaries you draw with your practice.

Conveying Your Law Firm Design or Model

Oh my goodness. What will people think if you are not working 24/7? Do you find yourself worrying that clients only want to work with you and that you cannot escape from doing all the work because clients expect that? Once you have your ideal practice designed because you did the work and clarified your ideal lifestyle choices, you need to confidently shout it from the rooftops that this is how your practice is run.

Some tips include:

  1. Update your website with plain language about how your firm works. You don’t have to say, “I don’t work on Mondays because I don’t like Mondays.” You can say, “Our office is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. We answer emails/return phone calls during regular business hours in the order received.”
  2.  If you have team members who will be working with clients (or that you want to work with clients because you don’t want to), include those team members on your website, on social media, and in any advertising you do. Create a welcome video that goes to new clients that introduces them to your team.
  3. Set client expectations from the beginning. If you do not want them expecting return calls at 10 p.m., follow your office rules for responding to non-emergency calls and emails. If your business model is that you will respond within a certain amount of time because your practice area is fast-moving (maybe criminal defense or domestic violence), tell your potential clients and clients what they can expect from you. Then, live up to your design.
  4. Train your referral sources on how your business model works. If you charge for consultations, your best referral sources should be sending people to you having already told the client that you charge and that the cost is well worth the advice. Referral partners that expect you to work for free either need to be trained better or are not good referral partners.
  5. Thoroughly document your client experience or client workflow. Using templates, automations, and delivering a consistent experience will turn your clients into raving fans because you told them what to expect and you delivered according to your model.

Be confident in what you want and need, to balance parenting with owning a law firm. Time spent in defining your lifestyle goals and then designing your practice will pay off with quality family time, less stress, and a successful practice. Too often, we spend the least amount of time on the design and just jump in so that later we do not understand why our balance is missing. Do not listen to the nonsense of having to practice in a traditional practice area with traditional hours – unless that fits your preferred lifestyle. The more creative you get with creating a new practice area, different billing model, or other innovative idea, the more fun you will have in the business of practicing law and the joys of parenting through the years.