When I tell people that I run my own law firm, they often comment on how great it must be not to have a boss. Self-employed lawyers don’t have bosses like associates who work in law firms, of course, and it’s nice not to be bothered with year-long reviews, office politics, and all the unpleasant things people who work for others have to endure. However, self-employed attorneys definitely still have “bosses” in the sense that there are usually still individuals to whom the attorney is accountable, and this can in many ways be similar to the situations associates face when working for partners in larger ones Lawyers work firms.
It goes without saying that all types of lawyers are responsible to clients. Indeed, clients are the people who pay the bills, set the goals of a representation, and whom lawyers generally serve. However, when employees work in a law firm, they may not have too much contact with clients. In fact, with larger customers, a select number of senior partners may have direct contact with the customers, and employees almost never interact with the customers they serve. Of course, as mentioned in a previous article, this can lead to inefficiencies in representation, but it also means that the partners are the ones who have to provide a “white glove” service to customers and ensure that they are taken care of in a timely manner, when a problem arises.
Independent lawyers usually have no intermediaries between themselves and their clients and usually have to handle customer interactions themselves. This can be a really enriching experience. It’s great to be able to connect with customers on a personal level and grow with customers as they achieve their own goals. There are few things that I enjoy more than bringing good news to a customer after a hard-won victory, and this is made all the more satisfying by the close relationships I have with many of my customers.
However, clients often expect lawyers to attend to their needs at any time of the day or night and in any way possible. I had customers write to me about legal issues at 11 a.m. on a Saturday evening, although there has been evidence that the matter could have waited for a more reasonable hour. In order to offer you a concierge service, I personally traveled long distances (sometimes hundreds of kilometers) to discuss matters with customers that could have been dealt with over the phone without any problems. Of course, I am not complaining about any of this, it is my pleasure to provide first class service to our customers, and I am pleased that customers are always comfortable reaching me. However, one should not think that self-employed lawyers lose some responsibility when they become self-employed as they still have to be accountable to clients and other advocates of their representation.
Independent lawyers also deal with partners who can influence the work and operations of the lawyer. It’s true that solo practitioners don’t have to deal with partners, and I had that freedom in the first six months of my self-employment. However, many people band together for financial and administrative gain, and I myself teamed up with my brother, who is a lawyer, shortly after starting my own practice.
In many decisions made by an independent lawyer, whether large or small, the partners often have an influence anyway. In fact, the partners decide on fixed expenses, cases to be accepted, hiring decisions, and anything else that affects the legal practice. In some ways, this can be more restrictive than working as an associate in a traditional law firm and having typical bosses. Employees can count on a constant salary and a stable employment relationship. However, lawyers with partners may have different financial and administrative responsibilities depending on the contribution of the partners. To be clear, I am very happy with my decision to work with my brother to run a law firm and I feel like I feel much better that way. However, one should not think that self-employed lawyers do not have individuals to whom they are accountable when working with partners.
Another “boss” that self-employed lawyers often face is that they can’t be too flexible about their days off and how they work. Some people may think that self-employed lawyers are in charge, can go on vacation when they want, and have more freedom in what they do. This is often not the case. Vacationing can be difficult for self-employed attorneys because someone has to run the business of an office and vacation can hurt a company’s cash flow. However, many employees have a set number of vacation days to which they are entitled and can use those days with few restrictions. In this way, employees who work for a law firm can be freer than independent lawyers because they have fewer administrative tasks.
All in all, self-employment is great, and I highly recommend considering this lifestyle. However, individuals should not think that self-employed lawyers have no boss as they may have more responsibilities than other types of lawyers.
Jordan Rothman is a partner at The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service law firm based in New York and New Jersey. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website that discusses how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan by email at [email protected]