The crazy mindset that you must work for someone else is certainly not limited to the blue collar world. My last few posts have been very specific to the practice of law, but they tell a much broader story. In every industry there are preconceived notions about the way things are done. Law students think they must must work at a big firm, engineers think they need to work at big company like Boeing, accountants think they must work at one of the big eight, wait, big six, wait, big four.
To work for yourself, you need to think creatively. Hell, you can now be an astronaut in the private sector if you so choose, so don’t assume your chosen career makes working for yourself impossible.
I sometimes haunt the law student boards where all the attorneys in training post messages about which firm is paying what and which firms are the best places to work. A casual observer would think that working at a big firm is the end all be all of the legal profession. When I do my “fun with numbers” routine (see my last post) it amounts to challenging their religious beliefs. One or two students will inevitably flame me with the brilliant insight: “That can’t be true. If you could make six figures working as a contract attorney, everyone would do it.”
First, I never say that “everyone” can do it. Like any service provider, you need to have something to offer if you want repeat business. I’ve encountered a number of contract attorneys that can’t draft a decent motion. But to check my numbers, I sent the Fun With Numbers post to Sue (appropriately enough), one of the contract attorneys I use. Or more precisely, a contract attorney that I used to use. She now has an in-house arrangement whereby she is paid over $100 per hour for all the time she spends on cases, and is too busy to work on my cases. Here is her response to my post:
As to contract attorneys, you are right on. It not
only provides flexibility, less stress, and complete
control of your schedule, but the pay is great.
I agree with you, the work is out there. If I wanted
to work 40 hours a week, I could easily do it.
I guess the only negative about your typical contract
attorney is that sometimes you don’t feel like you
have complete control of the case.
My situation is a bit different because my arrangement
with [name of attorney] is that I have complete control of the
case and meet with clients. However, a typical
contract attorney only works on a complaint, motion,
discovery, etc. – sometimes you don’t know the outcome
of your motion, or if they objected to your discovery,
and so it takes away from the excitement of being an
But I guess it is better than stressing over billable
hours – and you probably don’t have much client
contact as an associate in a big firm anyway, right?”
Are you paying attention? She could “easily” work 40 hours a week if she wanted, so she could “easily” make over $200,000 a year. And she can earn that $200,000 per year working 50 hour weeks, as compared to the 70 the first years will work at the big firms. While earning that $200,000, she can develop her own practice and open the way to earning far more. She already has trial experience, while the the big firm associates will be excited to argue a motion for summary judgment during their first five years. I bet you big firm devotees are feeling a little silly right about now. And let me twist the knife a little. Sue is just two years out of law school, and that law school was a non-ABA approved correspondence school. I bet you ivy league school devotees with your significant student loans are feeling a little silly right about now.
The point is that all these future attorneys are crippling their own careers and dooming themselves to pretty miserable lives (recognizing that some people love being drones), all because of preconceived notions of what the practice of law should be. Don’t make the same mistake with your chosen profession. Is it really the case that your situation is so unique that you must work for someone else, or are you just falling prey to your own preconceived notions?