Sunday, February 04, 2007

Lawyer Website for sale? Frustrations of running a law firm.

I'm mostly joking with the first part of the title. I would sell if the right offer came along, but I doubt it's coming.

Our law firm has been operating for nearly four years now. We've gone from Warren in a fairly small room with little revenue to what is now a very different situation. I'm now managing 2300 square feet of space in a gorgeous building. I have employees, independent contractors, and tenants. I lost money in the first year, made a pittance in 2004, and in 2005 firm profit was getting closer to the salary I had when I left the clerkship. We don't have the numbers yet, but there's a good chance I made more in 2006 than I would have at the state (assuming I still would have had a job) - but maybe not. Revenue is now strong and steady.

I still enjoy being a lawyer. Like most trial lawyers, I love litigation -- getting a case ready for trial, conducting depositions, cross-examining witnesses, arguing to judges, etc. I'm particularly fond of criminal defense, though some of my other cases present interesting challenges.

Unfortunately, and also like most trial lawyers, I don't get to do those things enough. I spend far too much time managing a business. There are parts of running the business that I like. As should be obvious to any reader of this blog, I not only like working on the firm's web presence but I'm also really good at it. The firm website gets over 1500 visits a week and generates most of the firm revenue. In general I like doing marketing and sales for the firm. It's the managing I don't like. Managing the office space and equipment. How was I supposed to know that copiers and phone systems could be such a pain? I particularly dislike managing people. The dream is to find employees you don't have to manage, but that has so far escaped me. We've got an ad out now for a paralegal so we'll see how that goes. So far the vast majority of the resumes have been inappropriate - only one or two look even close to what we want.

I'm so excited about the traffic court directory my brother and I are building (closing in on 1000 courts, NY almost finished, NJ well under way and MA starting any day now) that I'd almost rather stop being a lawyer and devote my time to that. If someone handed me a check for a million dollars, I'd hand over and spend the next couple of years building and other law-related websites. Or maybe I could merge with another firm and serve as the "marketing partner". I'd even be happy to work 40 hours a week in that role, making court appearances and doing lawyer work along the way. Running a law firm is not a 40-hour a week job. It doesn't really stop. We'll be vacationing soon and I'm sure I'll spend at least 4 hours a day on the phone.

Good friends who know me and the legal business tell me I'd be crazy to sell the site or merge with another firm. Our firm is doing well. Things will work out - I'll find the right employees. Business will continue to grow and I'll make plenty of money running my own firm. But it's not about the money, and my ego is so big already that having a successful law firm with my name on it means little to me.

There's something about my life to date that suggests what's going on in my head. I've got the 4-year itch. I've never done anything in my life for more than four years. Four years in Guilderland Elementary School (first grade was in Wisconsin); 3 in middle school and another 4 in high school. Four years of college. Three years of grad school and another three in law school. A year in Japan. Three years with Allstate and another three with the judge. And now I'm approaching four years in my own firm. It just feels like time for a change.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if part of the problem is you're being a little bit of a control freak? Micro managing every detail can get pretty exhausting. The idea that "...having a successful law firm with my name on it means little to me"...I'm not buying it. You're an achiever. You're a bit anal and competitive. Succeeding matters to you. I hope you don't think I'm being mean. I'm not.

The right employees will come. Hang in there. It is to soon for a mid-career crisis.

Unknown said...

Responding to anonymous, I don't think you're being mean and I appreciate the optimism for the future. I do think your analysis of my personality is off.
I am somewhat competitive but few who know me would describe me as "anal." At the moment I have to micromanage many details because I haven't found the right employee to handle them. We do have one of-counsel who I feel I can hand anything to and he does well with it. Meanwhile, my wife handles a substantial number of cases and has to bug me to deal with the details in those cases.
A more accurate description of me is that I'm kinda nuts. I like to joke that I don't medicate my insanity - I celebrate it. By that I mean that I have a creative side that can get me in trouble from time to time, but unlike others who suppress their creativity, I enjoy that side of myself and try things others might not try.

Anonymous said...

Okay...I'll take back "anal" if you tell us a good nutty joke.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your website, particularly the Town Court Directory. It is so much better than the OCA site of Courts. As a Town Justice I have used it repeatedly to contact other courts.

Thanks for the Good work.