ABA Journal Podcast

Hanging a Shingle: How to Start Your Own Law Practice


Many lawyers dream of opening their own law firm, but sometimes the golden handcuffs are cinched too tight to make it a reality. Some lawyers who actually did it discuss the challenges, and rewards, with ABA Journal podcast moderator Stephanie Francis Ward.

Download this podcast

In This Podcast:

Janice P. Brown

Janice P. Brown, a former partner with Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek, opened her own law firm in 1999. The Brown Law Firm, a litigation shop, is based in San Diego.

Victor Henderson

Victor Henderson, a Chicago litigator, recently opened his own firm, Henderson Adam. Previously, he was the executive partner of Holland & Knight's Chicago office.

John P. Ratnaswamy

John P. Ratnaswamy, a Chicago attorney, has a practice that focuses on energy and natural resources. In 2010 he formed his own firm, Rooney Rippie & Ratnaswamy, following a partnership with Foley & Lardner.

Podcast Transcript:

This ABA Journal Podcast is brought to you by WestlawNext, building on the strengths of Westlaw to bring you the next evolution of legal research. Their most significant innovation in 30 years, it’s a complete research system that gives you confidence you’ve found the most relevant information. And, it elevates productivity with intuitive work flow tools. Learn more at WestlawNext.com.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Even if you’re in a corner office at a big law firm, it’s not unusual to look out the window and dream about working for yourself. I’m Stephanie Francis Ward and that’s what we’re talking about today at the ABA Journal Podcast. Joining me are Janice P. Brown, a former partner with Seltzer Caplan McMahon and Vitek, who formed her own firm; Victor Henderson, the former executive partner at Holland and Knight’s Chicago office, who recently left to form the law firm Henderson Adam; and John Ratnaswamy, a former Folley and Lardner partner, who left in 2010 to form Rooney, Ripey, & Ratnaswamy.

I have a question for all of you, and I’ll ask John first. John, when is the right time to leave and go on your own, either with a new partnership or as a solo?

John Ratnaswamy: Well, I think, you know, there can be different reasons, of course. And so, I think you’re looking at it, you know, from your own perspective, and there could be family reasons for doing it, or there could be client-driven reasons for doing it. So, you have to think about all three of those, assuming you have the choice, and they might not all be lined up exactly. You know, I know people who, basically, their clients have urged them to leave. And other times, it was driven by something in the person’s own career development or family circumstances.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Alternatively, when is it not the right time?

John Ratnaswamy: Well, for those of us who–which I think is almost everyone–have to support themselves, and maybe support a family, you have to think really hard about whether, you know, if you leave right now, are you putting them in a difficult circumstance? And certainly, in my case, and I imagine in most people’s case, it was something I had to discuss a lot with my spouse first.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Janice, what do you think? When is the right time or the wrong time to go out on your own or do a partnership with other lawyers?

Janice P. Brown: Well, I think the right time can be economically-based, as was mentioned, but I think the bigger challenge is whether or not you feel ready or, psychologically, are you ready? Because you can have the money and you can have the skill set, but still be afraid to leave. And I can tell you the wrong time to leave is if you think that that fear is gonna subside before you leave. So, you have to feel the fear and do it anyway, as the book is titled. And so, I think that’s the biggest challenge–is to know that you’re never gonna feel 100 percent ready when you leave, and so, if that’s what you’re waiting for, you’ll never go.

And in addition to that, the other thing that I think is really the right time to leave, is to leave when you’re thinking about running a business and not just practicing law. Because when you leave a big firm, all you do is you contribute to the business, but you really–your No. 1 priority is, perhaps, business development, and then, with practice. But when you leave to start your own firm, you also have a responsibility of managing a business, and so, you have to be prepared for that.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, and Victor, what do you think? You recently formed your own firm.

Victor Henderson: Yeah, you know, I don’t know that. I think when the right the time to leave is very, very specific-based decision because I can tell you that I was not necessarily looking to leave. Actually, I wasn’t looking to leave at all. There were just some things that happened in my personal and professional life which made me start thinking about leaving. I was extraordinarily happy in the Chicago office of Holland and Knight, but by the same token, there were some–and I think John talked about it–there were some professional opportunities that I wanted to take advantage of that I recognized did not necessarily sit within the context of any large firm. And so, those were things that made me start thinking about, “Okay, well, maybe it’s time to, you know, start another chapter in my life.” I had, you know, been at the firm X number of years and still wanted to grow.

In terms of the wrong time–and I think I also will echo what Janice said–I do think that, at least for me, I didn’t feel 100 percent comfortable making the move because, you know, like any other material change in your life, I mean, it’s significant. So, you think about it. You weigh the pros, the cons, but there are always gonna be some cons, you know, that you’re looking at. So, I think the wrong time is if it just doesn’t feel right in your gut, but–and I’ve been extraordinarily happy now.

For me, it’s only been, you know, 45 days and some change, and we just did our third payroll. And so, you know, that’s been a big thing to hit payroll for other folks, you know, as well as myself. But I mean, on the whole, it has been much better than I expected, but I do think that you have to do it at the right time.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Tell me. Where you recently did this, what were you looking for in terms of a lawyer you would want to practice with?

Victor Henderson: Well, you know, I’m extraordinarily happily married and this is something that John talked about. I think that it’s critical. My partner and I talked for probably the better part of a year, and we must have had–you know, my wife called it dates. She said I’m in the middle of a bromance now, so that made me laugh some. But I think you have to know what you do well, what you don’t do well, where you need to grow, and be able to. It’s essential to have a partner who is also secure enough in himself or herself to acknowledge what he does well, what he doesn’t do well, so you know whether or not it’s gonna be a relationship where you complement each other.

I’ll tell you that with my partner, if he and I met maybe 50 times and talked 100 times, each and every time he and I got together, I felt even more excited than the time before because the vibe was just always good. So if you’re happily married, and I think that starting a small firm, especially if you’re taking in partners, is very similar to that. You have to be able to talk about everything. You have to be honest. You have to look behind the rocks and make sure that that’s the right partner because if not, it’ll be, probably, an unhappy experience if you’re married to somebody or take on a partner that doesn’t see life or the profession the same way you do.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Janice, can you tell us about your decision to go on your own and hire associates as opposed to partnering with someone?

Janice P. Brown: Well, this is really funny to me because I should have taken Victor’s advice before because I’m getting a divorce. So, it’s really good advice that he gave, not only in the business context, but in the personal one. And I’ve had situations where I both have had a partner–when I left Seltzer Caplan, I had a partner and that relationship ended. And then, I went on my own without partners. And then, now, I’ve made one my associates partner. And if I have to–I want to echo the comment. The thing that I think is the most important in business, as well as, perhaps, personal, is to pick people that have compatibility as far as the same values because, you know, you have a question about whether it’s about practice areas and those kinds of things. I think those pale in comparison to whether or not the people have the same values.

The junior partner that I have now, we see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. We have different strengths and different weaknesses, but as far as our core values of what’s important as far as integrity, and excellence, and commitment to hard work, and those things, we see those issues similarly.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, and John, what do you think about deciding who you’re going to partner with when you start up your own practice?

John Ratnaswamy: Well, in a way, I think it’s a specific instance of something more general that I even have told, like, law students when I was interviewing them and that kind of thing, which is you’re gonna spend most of your waking hours at work–at least most of us are–so you want to be around people that you want to be around. And, you know, in our case, other than our newest hire, I knew everyone here for years. I mean, I knew–to the extent you can before you actually do it, I knew–that I would want to be in the same office with them.

And as Janice was saying about the values, at least as far as our professional values or our approach to practicing, everyone is very much on the same page; politics, not so much.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Did you have any concerns when you started? Where you’ve known them for so long, I’m assuming you were friends. So, did you have any concerns that, “Well, this may not work out and the friendship will blow up”?

John Ratnaswamy: No, not really.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, and I’m curious what you all think. Are you better off to start your own firm or maybe join a smaller firm that already exists when you leave a big firm and go out on your own?

Victor Henderson: You know, I’ll take a stab at that. I think it really just depends on where you are and what you’re trying to do. And for me–and again, this is Victor–it helps for me to be in on the ground floor. Echoing something that Janice said, I am on Cloud 9 and did not recognize how happy I would be that I get to start–you know, I’m on the ground floor in terms of setting the firm values.

I always found it amazing–and I have been in more than one large law firm–that, for example, there were staff members that could be able to get away with not working hard for associates because they only reported to partners. And I just thought that was an extraordinarily bad business model that some secretaries were like, “Well, you know what? Only the partner can get me fired. The associate can’t. And so, therefore I’m gonna respond to the partner and not to the associate.” Of course, I was at large law firms for virtually my entire career. I’ve been out for about 20 years now, so I saw it at a number of places. And at my current firm, attitude from staff members is just not acceptable, nor is it from partners to staff people. And picking up on what Janice said in terms of values, at my firm, it’s just critical that everybody is nice, respectful, kind, considerate, compassionate, and if that’s not how you want to practice law and that’s not the environment that you want to be in, then you don’t want to be here.

And I just think it’s critical because, you know, as John said, you spend so much time at work. I don’t want to be around rude people. I don’t want to be around nasty people. I mean, will each of us have a bad day from time to time? Of course, absolutely, but by and large, if you’re not willing to be kind, and considerate, and compassionate, and have integrity, and work hard, then this is not where you want to be.

And so, I think, again, picking up on what Janice said, I think it is critical to partner with people who have similar values because, you know, through good times or through bad, if you see the world either the same way or very similarly, then you’ll be able to ride out the bad times. And then, I think it’ll make the good times that much better.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Victor, where you are new to this life–this having your own firm–can you tell me, how are your workdays different now than when you were with a big firm? What are some things that stand out in your mind about the differences?

Victor Henderson: I think the biggest thing is I’m much more interested in our cash flow, obviously. At a large firm, you’re pretty much isolated from that. If it’s a good month in terms of your collections or a bad month, you know, your drawer is gonna stay the same. And so at least at the firms I’ve been at, you only had your drawer adjusted generally at the end of a fiscal year or the end of the calendar year; whereas at a small firm, at my own firm, I’m watching how much money comes in the door each and every day. I’m acutely aware of when payroll is, how much money we have in the bank. We’ve been fortunate so far and have not had to go against the line of credit.

So, I think that you are much more in-tune with firm finances. I want to make sure that we do everything that we need, but I also want to make sure that we don’t spend money unnecessarily. So, I think first and foremost, it’s cash flow. And then, obviously, you don’t have the same resources. You don’t have as many people in the copy service and things like that. But those are smaller things and you get used to it. Small joke–our bathroom is not on the same floor as our office. We have to go to another floor to use the facilities. But, you know, those are things that you get used to, and we know we’re not gonna be here forever. But I think the enjoyment level is through the roof, at least for me. And if God is willing, then we’ll be here for a long time and have a great time.

Stephanie Francis Ward: What about the actual work? I would imagine you might be physically in court more than you were before.

Victor Henderson: Yep, I’m going to court calls that I would not have gone to–that I would have sent an associate to. But I also think that there’s a benefit to that; it’s making me a little bit more humble. You know, I’m more hungry. I’m going the courthouse on things that I wouldn’t have gone to before, but, you know what I mean? I think those are the good things.

And I think you have to embrace maybe getting back to some basics and the benefits. So, if I’m in the courthouse, I’m handing out cards. I’m seeing people. I’m smiling. And so I think if you’re gonna go to a small firm, then you need to be prepared to embrace some of the more routine and, possibly, mundane tasks that you might have gotten away from as you got more senior at a large firm. But, you know, I’m finding them all enjoyable. That’s this month. You might check with me in two months and I might not be having this good of a time, but, you know? Right now, it’s okay.

Stephanie Francis Ward: I have another question for all of you. How did you go about telling clients and what advice would you have for people on that? John, do you want to take that question first?

John Ratnaswamy: Yeah, you’re gonna have to be awfully careful about that because it is easy to make a misstep that could have legal consequences. Not that I’m here to plug to the ABA–the ABA has a pretty good book on that called Partner Departures and Lateral Moves. To some extent, it focuses on New York law, but it has some Illinois law and it has some general principles. You have to be really careful and it might vary somewhat by jurisdiction, but you have to be really careful about competing before you announce. That’s gonna be a problem, I think, pretty much anywhere.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, Janice, what’s your advice on telling clients about your move?

Janice P. Brown: Well, I think what happens when you decide that you’re gonna go on your own or join a smaller firm, you become acutely aware of relationships. And people used to say that at ABA seminars or other seminars that I’d go to about, “The nature of client development is relationships.” And when I was a younger lawyer, I’d look at them and say, “What are you–why are you always saying that?” But as you get to be more senior, and more experienced, and develop your own book of business, you realize that that’s the name of the game–is having relationships.

And so, part of what it is that, yes, I agree with John’s comment. You have to be careful because you can’t compete. You have a fiduciary duty–especially if you’re partner–to your other partners. And so, you can’t do that. But if you have a relationship with someone that’s a client–and you should because, you know, if you’re leaving, you should have clients, perhaps, come with you that you have a relationship with–then it’s having–it’s just an extension of the relationship you already have. You explain to them that you’re leaving and you also have to put their interests ahead of yours. Even though you might want them to come with you, you have to be open-minded enough that it may be in their best interest to stay at the firm. So you have to really remember your fiduciary responsibility and to make certain that the client has the benefit of that. But I think it’s just an extension of the relationship you should already have your clients; that it’s just–they will understand because you have such a relationship that they understand why you’re leaving.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, and Victor, what are your thoughts on telling clients that you’re leaving?

Victor Henderson: You know, I’m gonna take what Janice said and take it a step further. I actually found a lot of great joy. I left a number of significant clients behind when I left, and left them to either a junior partner or people who were senior to me, but that was because I knew that it was better for those clients to stay at Holland and Knight than it was for them to come with me. I also think that I have a lot of faith, and so, therefore, I just believed that if I left things behind, not only would I–you know, I wanted to leave the best impression that I could by leaving, but I also believed that God was gonna bless me with some, you know, additional clients and I’ve gotten double–huge cases–and I’ve just been open for six weeks–that I did not see coming.

So, I think if you have to err, err on the side of–well, it’s not even a close call. Do what’s best for the client and the ones that should be with you will be with you, and the ones that should stay at the firm will stay there. And don’t let the fear of not being able to make ends meet put you in a position where you are tampering with clients when you shouldn’t. You have to have faith when you leave and you have to have faith that the clients will come to the door.

Janice P. Brown: Let me just interject here, too. I think another thing–and everybody has exhibited it in this call–is it’s really bad form to bad-mouth the firm. So, when you’re talking to your client, you need to tell them the reasons that you’re leaving and your growth, and your experience, and even if you are leaving, in part, because you want a different experience and it has to do with some of the treatment that you had at the firm, it is not smart business or smart for relationships to air that dirty laundry in your transition.

Victor Henderson: And I will add to that, too. I think the clients will respect it even more when you say to them, “You know what? I think you’re best served by staying here.” They will have, obviously, I think an enhanced level of respect for you and work under the assumption that when something else comes in that’s suitable for you, they’ll remember that you treated them right when it wasn’t to your advantage, and I think you buy yourself a lot of goodwill with that. I think the relationship–you have to view in a long-term basis and whatever particular cases, or matters, or files are there, those are more transactional in nature. If you take the long-term view, I think it’s better.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Let’s switch gears a bit, and I’m curious about the aspect of finding office space and setting it up. Janice, I’m going to ask you first since you’ve had your own firm the longest. What would you do differently, do you think, or what advice would you give to lawyers about that?

Janice P. Brown: The advice I’d give to lawyers is get yourself a great leasing broker because I did not understand that there’s a lot of space and office space and if you have somebody who understands that business effectively, they can help you get a better deal. The second thing, I think, is also know sorta what Victor said–is you can get a temporary space initially, and then, move into another space. And then, the third part I will say is that you don’t have to have the same type of environment that you left. You know, when you have big firms and, you know, they have the beautiful furniture and all that money that’s spent on tenant improvements, you don’t have to have that.

And, in fact, I’ve had clients say to me, “Well, now –” you know, I have a very nice office; don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of the office. It’s clean. It’s really nice. It’s beautiful. You know, I really like it, but it’s not as rich in looking as the firm that I left. And people have said to me, “Well, you know, we like that because we feel comfortable that the rates are lower because the overhead is not as high.” And so, those are the kind of things that you take comfort in, but I would not do a lease negotiation now without the use of a really good broker.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, John, what do you think?

John Ratnaswamy: Yeah, we had terrific brokers. The two guys I started out with, honestly, they visited most of the places–I visited more of the finalists–but boy, did they do a good job. I will mention one other thing though, which is the ABA’s General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division on LinkedIn has a discussion group, and there was a question last month about looking back at starting out: what would you do over? And I think two of the first three people said, actually, when they started out, they wished they had not gotten an office. They think they should have–I think both people starting as solos, so they wished they had worked out of their home first, and then, as they started to get more cash flow, then that they had opened an office.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Do you think, in this day and age, what clients think about that–of course, it would depend on the client–if you had a general solo practice for consumers? What do you think they would think of someone not having an office?

John Ratnaswamy: Well, not having had that practice, it’s hard for me to say because most of my clients are actually large companies. But at least these two people, and I think others who chimed in later on that blog–and not everybody agreed–said that that would have worked for them and that they wished they had done it.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Hmm.

Janice P. Brown: I think it depends on the industry and the type of law you practice. I think if you’re a family law attorney, perhaps you can go to your client’s offices or go to your client’s homes. I think having access to an office or access to a conference room, even if you don’t have an office, is probably a smart thing to do because depositions–people–you know, if you’re doing litigation. If you do transactional work, maybe perhaps not, or if you do work in IT or biotech because people there are much more accustomed to people who operate with computer system, and laptops, and more mobile. But for traditional litigation, I think it’s easier to practice with an office in a location that people are comfortable with traditionally.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, now–and we’ve talked about office space. Do any of you have any tips on acquiring equipment and furniture?

Victor Henderson: Well, I would say, I think, whether it’s office space equipment or furniture, what my partner and I did, we went around and spoke to people who had left large law firms. So, we probably spent–ah, I don’t know–six or nine months going around Chicago and talking about people about these very issues: office space, equipment, IT system, you know, all the kind of things that, at a large law firm, are just in place when you get there. So, we talked to–we sought out people who had left large firms to talk about these very issues to get as much of a sense as we could about how to do things because people will tell you, based on their experiences, including the bumps they have taken in the road.

You know, things like John was saying–well, what to do, what not to do. As Janice said, it was critical for us to be in the Loop. In my mind, in Chicago, you can’t be taken seriously–at least as a trial law firm–unless you have office space downtown. And so, you know, we might be in the very last corner of downtown Chicago, but we are here nonetheless, and ironically enough, the first week or two that we–after we opened our doors, we had a press conference and so needed a conference room. So, you know, being in a home office just would not have worked for us. So, I think what you wind up with in terms of equipment and office space and all those things are gonna be unique to your practice, but I think it’s critical to talk to other people who have left large firms so you can hear what they have to say, to be able to help you develop your own recipe.

John Ratnaswamy: And to illustrate that, for us, we needed IT as good as a big law firm, given our clients and our matters, so we got an IT consultant. On the other hand, furniture, not important to us, not important to our clients, so we were pretty economical about it.

Stephanie Francis Ward: So, where did you go?

John Ratnaswamy: Some of it we simply got from the landlord, so–

Stephanie Francis Ward: Oh, I thought you were gonna tell me IKEA or something like that. I’m kidding–not that there’s anything wrong with that. Another question for all of you: do you think, in terms of having your own business, which is a law firm, are long-range plans important or is it more important to be flexible?

Janice P. Brown: I’m a planner, so I’m a big fan–I don’t know how long-range you mean, but I’m a planner and I think that getting out of the office to plan at the end of the year is really, really helpful for the next year. And I like it because even if you don’t hit all of your goals, I think it’s really important to have them.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, John or Victor, do you have anything to add to that?

John Ratnaswamy: Well, I was very fortunate. One of the people I joined up with is–not that I’m that bad, but he is–fantastic at Excel spreadsheets. So, he modeled different scenarios and it really did help us plan.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Um-hum, okay.

Victor Henderson: And one of the things that we did was I went and talked to–when I was doing the rounds and talking to former lawyers, you know, lawyers who had left large law firms and started their own practices, I actually took everybody who was in my current firm over to the office of a lawyer in town, whom I admired–I don’t think he’d mind saying his name–Michael Rothstein at Tabet, Rothstein, and DiVito. And Mike has been out for about ten years now and has developed a gorgeous practice.

You know, Mike was at a large firm and his partner, Cesar Tabet, was at Jenner and Block. And so, we went and looked at their space, in part, to help us establish the vision for where we’re trying to go. So, from a long-term standpoint, it’s like, “Hey, this is where we are, in this modest building with this modest furniture and this modest space. And this is where we want to be in ten years.” And so, each and every person who is at my current firm, that particular staff, we went and took the tour, because I wanted everybody to have a vision of where we’re trying to go. And, you know, I think that vision has served to inspire us, and so far so good.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Janice, how did you know when it was time to hire an associate or perhaps a contract attorney?

Janice P. Brown: Early on. I knew that the practice that I started when I left Seltzer Caplan, I had enough business to have the need for an associate right away. Now, what’s happened over time is I’ve become much more clear about the qualities and the strengths that I would like from an associate. When I initially left, I was happy to have an associate, and now, I’m much more selective in the people that we have working for us. But just because I left with business, I needed to have an associate right away.

And I also understood the economics of a small firm and it is–even though bigger firms are the same way, but it’s still somewhat of a pyramid in the sense that, you know, the goal is to have business come and to push it down for the benefit of the client, as well as for the benefit of you managing the business, to the lawyer who has the experience at the cheapest rate. And so, that’s part of what I thought about from the beginning and it’s served me well up through now.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, and John, how about you? When did you and your partners know it was time to hire associates?

John Ratnaswamy: Well, you know, essentially, almost immediately when we announced and it became ethical and consistent with our partnership agreement to talk to clients. We knew that, by and large, they were gonna want to continue to work with us, and so, we knew we needed an associate on Day One.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Um-hum, and Victor, what about you? Do you have an associate yet?

Victor Henderson: [Yes], and I don’t remember when we hired Vivian, but one of the practice areas that we wanted to get into as we looked at the market was personal injury and medical malpractice. You know, my firm is a trial law shop and we were fortunate enough to get somebody who–you know, I’m kind of picking up on what Janice said; we were very discerning in terms of what we wanted. And so, we went out and hired the best African-American female personal injury lawyer in the city of Chicago, told her what we were doing, told her what we were trying to build, and gave her the vision. And so, we stole her away from a firm that she had been at for about five years doing medical malpractice work and she had also trained at a premier firm in town doing personal injury work. So, we knew that we were looking for people, both with talent and a certain temperament–temperament being that people who are willing to be a part of something that was bigger than themselves. And so, we knew early on, and so, she’s been the best decision that we have made so far.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, I have another question for all of you. If you’re coming from a big firm job that pays well, are there lifestyle choices one can make to, perhaps, make potential financial restraints, starting a new business, easier? And if so, what are some of those choices one can make, or changes perhaps?

Victor Henderson: Well, I’ll start off. I will make mine brief. I kind of feathered my nest egg. So, one, I knew that I would not be saving as much money as I was for when I was at the firm and I have pretty much, you know, unless we just hit the jackpot in this first 12 months or so, which remains to be seen, I prepared myself to not save money like I had been for the first 12 to 24 months. Our projections are that after 24 months, we should be doing extraordinarily well. And it could happen before then, but I had no debt going in and prepared not to save any money, and have less expensive lunches because I’ve been there and done that. So, we’ll see how it goes.

Stephanie Francis Ward: And Janice, what do you think?

Janice P. Brown: Well, here’s the thing. Here’s the big, I think, myth about small-firm business and I think, in part, this myth is spread by big-firm lawyers. And the myth is that you make less money. Some people do and some people don’t because there’s definite business–there’s definite advantages to running your own business that you don’t get as an employee. So being a manager of a business and owning a business, the tax code is very encouraging for people who are entrepreneurs. So, that’s one thing.

The second thing is–and I think all of us are saying it in some context when we’re answering all these questions, but I think it’s really important: At some point in your life, what happens is your happiness becomes more important than your pocketbook and the good news is, is that you don’t have to sacrifice your pocketbook for your happiness, but you might have to do it for a little bit of time. And for me, my happiness became much more important than working a firm with a reputation of this or that, or having a national platform, or statewide platform. My personal commitment to being a good person and being a happy person was more important than all of that.

And so it plays through in every aspect of the business. I mean, the associates I hire are people who I think are good people and they have the skill set. I don’t hire someone who has a skill set but is a jerk. The clients I bring to the firm–if a client is not nice to me, or mean to my staff, or mean to people, or they don’t pay us in accordance with the agreement but they’re very demanding on giving the work, I don’t work with those people any more. I mean, having the opportunity to be the decision maker, to make decisions that make your life happier, is really a very powerful and wonderful thing.

Stephanie Francis Ward: John, do you have anything you want to add?

John Ratnaswamy: Well, yeah, so I experienced a transition and it was partly–it was for two reasons, I think, basically. So, one was just the obvious interruption of cash flow, which didn’t last that long. And then also, again–and this would be unusual, I think; wouldn’t be true for maybe most people–because we needed big-firm quality IT, we had a pretty substantial on that on the frontend. So, that required a fair amount of money on the frontend, but it didn’t last very long and I was just sorta back to what I would just call normal.

Stephanie Francis Ward: All right, on that note, that is everything I have for you. Does anyone want to add anything else?

Janice P. Brown: I would just like to say for people who are listening in on this podcast that it is really not for the faint-of-heart, but worth it. And I just think with so many lawyer jobs–you know, with so many young lawyers out of law school not knowing what to do because firms aren’t hiring at the levels that used to, and firm life isn’t as permanent as it used to be–you know, both of the gentlemen had careers in big firms for a very long time, and that’s not necessarily the case for everyone. And so, these skill sets that we’re talking about, and these experiences, we really–I really–encourage people to not be afraid of them. I mean, they may end up staying where they are, but at least they should be open-minded that they have more options.

Stephanie Francis Ward: All right, well, I want to thank you all so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

This ABA Journal Podcast was brought to you by WestlawNext, building on the strengths of Westlaw to bring you the next evolution of legal research. Their most significant innovation in 30 years, it’s a complete research system that gives you confidence you’ve found the most relevant information. And, it elevates productivity with intuitive workflow tools. Learn more at WestlawNext.com.

Previous:
Law Prof Urges Not Guilty Vote in Pot Cases, Supports Man Arrested for Nullification Advocacy

Next:
ACLU Backs Young Defense Lawyer Jailed by Judge for Asserting Client's 5th Amendment Rights


We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy. Flag comment for moderator.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.