A little honesty. When you get out of law school, you know nothing. Nothing about being a lawyer. Nothing about living in the real world. Nothing about running a business. OK- not nothing. You know how to think. And you know how to find answers. And that would be ok, but one of the problems with lawyers is that you think you know more than you do, and you don’t realize all the ways that habit and conformity constrain your possibilities. As an example, I’m going to tell you about my law firm, some of its various locations and iterations. At the end, you may be judging me- Why did it take her so long to learn what seems so obvious now? I have no excuses. My hope is that my experience can help you, dear Reader.
I was given an opportunity to work for a small law firm after law school. My colleagues and I used to joke that it was a small law firm with a big firm feel and none of the perks. That wasn’t very generous of us. Our boss was quite avant garde. She was young, had a young child, and wanted to do law differently. She didn’t want her employees to be at work 80 hours a week. We worked 8:30- 5. But we were expected to network and innovate, skills I had not honed in law school. I appreciate this experience for a number of reasons, but foremost for the lessons in running a business. I also learned that I’m not the best employee.
I left the firm in a flurry of hurt feelings and an unrealistic concept of how easy it would be to open my own business. Some friends and I started our own law firm by gathering all the things we knew to be important: a brick and mortar office space with sign out front, a phone number, furniture, art generously donated by my parents (including our mysterious Man In Black painting), printers, paper, computers, website, a new logo, various necessary software (quickbooks etc.), our framed degrees to hang on the wall, and a variety of personal items. And then something awful happened. One of my business partners (hint: not the one I’m still in business with) turned out to be less than ethical. Not good for a law firm. We had barely opened our doors when this happened. And instead of starting over, we worked furiously to save our little firm. My remaining partner and I moved to a new office. A little bit smaller, more expensive, and closer to the city. Closer to the Courts. A year or two later we moved again, just down the road to a nicer office that was handicap accessible. This time we entered into a three-year lease and felt genuinely hopeful about our future prospects. I bought a new desktop computer. And we got a new partner- back to three! After those three years, during which I got married, we decided to change our lawfirm name (to reflect my new name and our new partner’s name), and we decided to move again. To Mt. Adams! I envisioned happy hours and strolling along quaint streets. I found out I was pregnant, and my Friday martini dream vanished.
I realized a few months into my pregnancy that no one was going to give me maternity leave. I had visions of being able to work at home with a blissfully sleeping baby who woke only to eat and making cooing sounds. While this vision turned out to be very far from reality, I did make the shift to being more mobile. Being able to work from home or the office was difficult at first. I began to prefer working from home, or maybe I just resented going to the office. Not sure which. The point is that my priorities were different. Due to the childcare issue, I started searching for office space near Montgomery. My parents live there, and they were not only willing to watch my child- they wanted to. But I hated driving from Norwood to Montgomery and then back down to Mt. Adams to meet with a client. My google searches included: “tiny office,” and “one room office.” I was finally shedding my preconceived notions of what a law office was supposed to look like. I remember lamenting that there was no nice ground floor business that would just let me use their conference room (I need privacy and handicap accessibility for my estate planning practice). I found a one room office… in a basement. Not handicap accessible, but serviceable for most of my clients. And this is what I found. While the rent was slightly cheaper, the tiny office took just as much effort to run. I still needed to set up (and pay for) internet service. I needed a printer, paper, coffee supplies, furniture, etc. But I was familiar with this and, for me, this was easy. I know how to set up an office. I’d done it many, many times. I didn’t put up the framed law degrees this time. Finally, I trusted that my experience spoke for itself and clients would not need the reassurance of degrees on a wall. IDEA: I will post pictures of my degrees on Instagram.
Here is the other thing I found. An office located in the suburbs is exactly what my clients wanted. Most of them live there. And, despite the fact that I am my law firm’s chief information officer (I’m also CEO, COO, CMO, etc.), I had hitherto not understood that my law firm location had anything to do with how people would find me on the internet. SEO. I was a few years late to the game. But I still wished there was something simpler. Couldn’t I just rent a nice conference room somewhere?
Then the whispers of what the people on the coasts were doing. Coworking in Cincinnati. What? I searched. Google of course. An article popped up. A new space. A shiny new thing. I was smitten. Me, a small business owner, could show up to work at an office cared for by others, fill my coffee cup with coffee someone else had made, and have a chat with another adult person. The only problem? The space was not in the suburbs. And for me, all those office iterations and locations had revealed that my location had a very specific effect on my success. Blurg. I searched again. No luck. Coworking had not moved to the suburbs yet. So I made it happen. It was a scary leap, but my business partner and I opened Village Coworking in downtown Madeira. My clients are happy. The Man in Black came with us again and is happily installed on a wall. I was able to design the space to be exactly what we needed (and hopefully what others need as well). Private conference rooms, open airy space to work in, lightning fast WiFi, a gorgeous coffee bar, green velvet couches. You know- the NECESSITIES.