2019 was a doozy—and that is an understatement. While I’ve never been a good sleeper, any chance of sound slumber went out the door when we opened our firm, the Beavers O’Connell Group. I went from being an employee and relying on someone else to write my paycheck to running my own shop. After months spent married to my calculator crunching the numbers, obsessing over theoretical overhead and researching billable rates and small firm IT needs, I jumped.
Luckily, I did not jump alone. I jumped with my now-partner who was also an associate at my last firm. We were...as ready as we could be. The first problem was that lawyers are not instantly good business people. We may find zealous advocacy easy, and some could call us analytical masterminds, but understanding a balance sheet and accounts receivable didn’t exactly come naturally. Math has never been my strong suit. But here’s the thing: no matter how we cut it, even on our worst day, we knew we could do this. One thing in particular comes with owning your own firm: the opportunity to create your own culture. That was more important to us than our fear of math. The kind of culture we wanted was one of real accountability, not just the illusion. This means that the world does not crumble on days that I wake up and decide to work from home. As you can imagine, this realization comes with all kinds of self-sabotage and internal resistance. But in the end, sometimes accountability stems from prioritizing wellbeing over office space. For me, that means getting more done from the quiet of my home.
In this first year of owning a law firm, I learned that I never know where the next client will come from, so I have to remain constantly confident and ready for them. Do I worry all the time? Absolutely. I’ll even wake up in the middle of the night worrying about a client that does not exist, but as I see it this is my own brand of stress and worry. I have taken ownership of it.
I have also learned that you don’t fall by helping others up. The collegial atmosphere of the small and solo firm community has been a sweet surprise. I have met more attorneys over the last year who are ready and willing to field a question, provide a template or co-counsel on a case. This pay-it-forward mentality underpins our work and makes each of us better.
Finally, I learned some hard lessons and experienced some ego-crushing defeats. But I have learned more from those than any successes. Because of those failures, I know I will do even better in 2020. I will continue to be intellectually curious. I know the tough times will come and go, but I also know we are building something that is worth the work.
Some of the best advice we received when we were toying with the idea of opening our own firm was that if you don’t have to be in the office, don’t. If you don’t have anything to work on, don’t sit around waiting for the work. The business of practicing law and owning your own law firm ebbs and flows. There are days when we are up to our ears in work. There are days that we are not. Don’t freak out, the work will come. We have learned that it can be nauseatingly cyclical sometimes, so instead of sitting at our desks twiddling our thumbs, we use those days to go out there and live. We spend time with our families and friends. This is precious time that we will not always have when the busy comes back. We go skiing or hike. We meet people. We plant seeds. It is all about casting our net and growing our networks, but not just in our professional lives; our personal lives also remain important. This career is not easy and work-life balance actually is important. It is more than just an adage: it is a key element of having a successful practice.
I’m not saying I have it all figured out or that there aren’t significant improvements to be made in 2020 for my practice. I’m also not saying I haven’t gotten fed up with work and had to leave the office at 2 p.m. to go on a hike. I am saying if given the chance all over again that I would make the exact same choice. I control my own future and can make it whatever I want—because I made the jump.
Caroline H. Beavers is a partner at the Beavers O’Connell Group. Caroline has been practicing since 2015 and is also licensed in Arkansas. She started her own practice last year with her law partner Lyndsey M. O’Connell. She focuses on real estate, construction and business law. Prior to opening her own firm she worked at small litigation firms across the Denver metro area.