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How Much Should You Work? (New Solo Week – Day Four)

All week I’ve been talking to lawyers new to starting a family law practice. I’ve been getting quite a few comments here on the site and even more feedback via phone calls and emails. Hopefully, you’re getting some value from these posts. I’ve been told, repeatedly, that these New Solo articles are applicable to practitioners with experience and aren’t strictly applicable to newbies. Lets get going with Day 4…

How much should you work? That depends on your goals. Truth be told, I’m not really talking to family law hobbyists or those looking for a lifestyle business. I’m talking to attorneys that need to generate an income to support themselves and their family. If you’re a “Gentleman Family Law Practitioner” I’m sorry, but we probably won’t relate. I practice family law in order to trade a valuable service for a reasonable fee and that’s the kind of business I understand.

It really is important for you to decide what your goals are before you can know how much time you’re going to have to spend working. If your goals are to build a thriving business then I have an answer for you. If , however, you have other goals then you’re on your own, sorry.

To build a solid practice that will generate a good income your going to have to work hard. Your likely going to work more than you did in law school. Your going to spend many, many hours at your desk and many more hours out in the community engaged in business development activities. Your going to work early in the morning, late in the evenings and on many weekends. You’re going to have a hard time finding time for yourself or your family and it’s going very tough.

My hazy memory of the first few years of my practice involved getting to work at 6 in the morning and staying until 8 in the evening most days. If I was getting ready for a trial, I often left the office after midnight. I remember driving a client home one night at 2 in morning after working on preparing her property division trial.

My practice grew quickly. I took $700 home that first year and invested most of my funds in marketing. I gained lots of sweat equity by building systems, meeting referral sources, speaking in public forums and delivering excellent service. I suppose I could have backed off some and grown more slowly, but I knew I needed to make more than $700 in the second year. I had just married my wife, she was in graduate school and $54 a month wasn’t going to meet our needs even in 1987.

How much will you have to work? Probably more than I did if you’ve got the kind of goals I had. It’s more competitive now than it was then and clients are having a touch time paying fees. It’s very tough out there, you already know what I mean.

What if you don’t want to invest all those hours? Well, maybe family law isn’t for you. Most of you will, however, invest the time. I’ve developed a feel for the people visiting this site and you’re a driven group. You’re committed to your own success. The folks that aren’t willing to work also aren’t willing to read these articles. They aren’t here. They aren’t like you. They’re sleeping now, or playing Farmville or watching TV. You are different.

Now, get back to work.

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  • Alan Roughton

    Amen-it seems as though some lawyers go on their own in order to dictate their schedules. That’s not a recipe for success-it takes work and guts to get where you want to be.

  • Kimberly Graham

    Ah, I was *just* thinking about this very topic last night. It’s an interesting topic and one about which I have some concern. Even if you love your work, working “too much” isn’t good for you, in my humble opinion. Or, it isn’t good for me, I should say. What’s “too much?” I don’t know. All I know is my 10 year old son won’t appreciate how much his mother’s law practice has grown as much as he appreciates me being there to listen to him read and then listen to him talk for about 15 minutes before he goes to sleep. There in the dark, that’s when he starts really opening up about his day, his school friends, and how he feels about life. That’s just one tiny example of what I believe is truly important. I also believe my clients’ matters are important, as is my ability to make a living.

    So as often is the case, balance is critical. Everyone has to draw their lines somewhere. Mine get drawn at giving up the 3 waking hours or so a day I get to spend with my son on the 4 days a week he’s in my care. (Trials are a different story and of course all bets are off then.) Those hours are far too precious and he will be gone in 7 or so short years. I realize you’re not suggesting no one ever see their children — but I do see many lawyers operate that way. That’s not my choice at this time, is all.

    Lots to think about with the “life balance” question. Thanks for the thought-provoking article!

    • Lee Rosen

      I agree with you Kimberly. You’ve got to know what your goals are and go from there. Unfortunately, we can’t always “have it all” so we’ve got to figure out what matters.

      Great comment, thanks.


  • Steve McDonough

    WHEW! I though something was wrong with me that I worked so much! I actually have never worked so hard since starting my current firm last July, BUT I love it. I try to get home at a reasonable time to spend time with the family at night, but then work on marketing stuff from home many nights.
    Some weekends I work, but usually just one day and sometimes from home instead of at the office.
    Now that I have a second lawyer/mediator and full-time staff, it is getting easier to manage the work flow and be less frantic and more proactive and complete more internal projects (working on the business instead of just in the business).

    Thanks for this great series.

  • Vanessa Mathews

    Hi Lee
    I opened my family law firm in December 2007. I have worked very hard. But then again I worked hard as an employee family lawyer. Somehow though, the hours that I spend on work don’t count for so much now. I love my law firm. Actually, I’m passionate about it. Sure I get tired sometimes. And don’t see as much of the family as I’d like. But you know what, my firm is a part of who I am, and everything that I put into it is putting into me. Just as my firm is growing, so am I. And I couldn’t be more satisfied, professionally and personally.
    And I love your articles. Right now, its 9.30pm in Melbourne. The kids are asleep. The husband is playing tennis. I have the house to myself. But what am I doing? Hanging out on the net, hunting down more and more information that I can apply to my firm.

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Lee Rosen

Lee Rosen has practiced family law for more than twenty years. With four offices, Rosen Law Firm serves Raleigh, Charlotte, Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Rosen served as the Law Practice Management Editor of the ABA Family Advocate for more than a decade and received the ABA James Keane Award for excellence in eLawyering. He served as Chair of the Law Practice Management Section of the North Carolina Bar Association, is a frequent speaker and is often sought out by the media as a source of family law insight and commentary.