My Shingle

Continuing the Conversation on the YAWNing Solo

by Carolyn Elefant on June 23, 2008 · 0 comments

in Ideas & Tips, MyShingle Solo

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You know how it is with yawns, don’t you?  When one person yawns at you, it’s difficult to resist yawning back.  So now that my fellow solo-blogging colleague Susan Cartier Liebel has yawned, or more accurately, alerted us to the trend of “young and wealthy normals,” I’m compelled to yawn back (by the way, for those of you who aren’t really interested in my own personal musings, feel free to skip this post).

With my 20th law school graduation just passed, I’ve been reflected back on my own career path and choices that I’ve made.  Reading through Susans description of a YAWNing solo made me realize that’s exactly the path that I took when I embarked on my firm.

* Extremely low overhead(personal and professional) including serious consideration for the home office option – I started my practice in a virtual office, then moved to shared space a year later for $425/month, an amount that I could easily cover.

* Smart low-cost operational office purchases which keep them untethered to a phsycial location or traditional office hours Starting out, I worked on our home computer in my dank basement, until I complained so much that my husband went out and spent $1400 to buy me a laptop (probably 1/20th of the power that today’s machines have at twice the cost).  The laptop was an enormous stretch, but it allowed me to leave the confines of my basement and work at law libraries around D.C. and also on my porch.

* Paperless office – addresses efficiency, low overhead, being untethered AND environmental concerns

* Taking on those clients or legal issues which fire up their passion reminding them why they went to law school and also gives them the freedom to serve the indigent or new business owner without putting themself out of business When I started my firm, I took this approach to heart — so much so, that when asked what types of law I practiced, I’d often respond “I handle cases that interest me.”  Back when I started, I handled court appointed criminal matters, business owners done wrong, Section 1983 matters, all while subsidizing the work with energy matters, particularly appeals, which I also enjoyed

* NOT feeling compelled to network in conventional ways or ways which go against their ‘lifestyle’ choices My networking choices 15 years ago today seem really old fashioned.  But understand – back then, few law firms marketed at all.  So I was regularly the only lawyer at renewable energy events or trade assocation meetings and consequently, found business there.  Today, that’s a conventional, “duh” way to market, but trust me, at the time, at least in my field, it was forward looking.

* Using social media for both business and pleasure; I started my firm at the cusp of the Internet and learned to program HTML because I enjoyed it but also to set up a law firm website

* Understanding there is no ‘work’ life and ‘personal’ life…but just ‘life.’ When my daughters were born in 1996 and 1999, my life became an endless cycle of work with girls, girls with work, cell phones calls in the park, nursing babies on conference calls and looking with amazement at briefs that I wrote while literally being interrupted every five minutes.   Having done that, I have mixed feelings about whether this approach makes sense or not.  I’m glad that I can say that I spent all the time I needed with my daughters, but I also regret the times that I feigned cheeriness while worrying about a deposition or a deadline that I needed to meet.


But after having YAWN’d for 15 years, I wonder whether how long this kind of lifestyle can self-sustain.  Maybe it’s because I don’t really have the  “W” component of the acronym worked out as well as I would like.  Or maybe it’s because while YAwN (with a small W) is OK when you’re cutting expenses yourself, what about your kids?  Not that kids need fancy toys or clothes (my daughters have heard me repeat time and again, that I won’t spend $25 on a designer shirt for them when I wouldn’t pay that much for my own clothers.  And they’ve heard me tell them how much they’ll appreciate sharing a room when they have to live with roomates in college).  But what about having the money to spend on things that you value whether it’s music lessons or drama class or private school or college?   To buy gifts for and spend time with eventual grandchildren?  I know that money and an unconventional lifestyle are not mutually exclusive – many solos who choose an unconventional route prosper, big time, without compromise.  But for those who aren’t able to make it work – and have better paying, more conventional options (or even duller, less conventional options) available, should you sacrifice your children’s future because you prefer to YAWN?

That is the question that I grapple with now – and that is the one downside — the realization that life isn’t all about you all the time —  that everyone should keep in mind when they embark on the YAWN’ing path.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about YAWN’ng and most of all, how you’ve made it work.  Please continue the conversation.

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