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Solo & Small Law Firms

Don’t Slash and Burn, Just Slash

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Slashbook_1Used to be that career advice tended towards the absolute.  Women at biglaw were basically advised that if they weren’t willing to work 80 hour weeks after having kids that they’d have no future at the firm.  So many left entirely, not recognizing the possibility for a happy medium.  And on the listserves that I frequent, lawyers who have another career and want to keep their day job for a few days a week while they build a solo practice are told that if you don’t commit 100 percent to starting a firm, then you won’t succeed.

But these days, this “slash and burn” approach to careers is fast growing outdated.  Instead, it’s being replaced by what Marci Alboher’s book, One Person, Multiple Careers aptly describes as the “slash phenomenon” of engaging in simultaneous, multiple careers.
As a slash herself (former lawyer/author/speaker/coach), Alboher concludes that:

I believe we are all slashes by necessity.  After all, who can answer the question “What do you do?” with a singular response?  And why would we want to?

Alboher’s book profiles dozens of slashes, most highly successful in both professions, like a neurosurgeon/TV Commentator, realtor/musician and lawyer/actor.  Alboher also offers lots of practical tips on how to transition from single to slash status, including use of websites and multiple business cards, leveraging synergies between different areas and overcoming overload, naysayers and other stumbling blocks.  Alboher also recognizes that being a parent is a unique type of slash.  You can tell that Alboher is a genuine “/writer” as One Person, Multiple Careers is extremely well written and tightly organized, particularly for a book of the “career how to genre.”

So how does Alboher’s book help solos and lawyers contemplating solo practice?  First, as I described earlier, many lawyers who dream of solo practice want to start by dipping their toes in the water rather than taking the full plunge.  Alboher’s book helps you realize that you can embark on a new career venture while keeping a day job.  Second, solos, more than any other class of lawyers I know, are slashers at heart.  I know solos who are legal research and writing expert/business owner; bankruptcy lawyer/software developers; lawyer/mediator/journalist/author, not to mention the dozens of solos (some still practicing, some not) who are consultants on starting a law practice.  Alboher’s book will speak to those solos who multi-task.

I found Alboher’s book flawed in one respect.  She profiles such successful slashers that the book is at times intimidating, even for someone like me who is already slashing to some degree (I slash both within the legal profession, where I split my time between energy regulatory work and general litigation, as well as outside, where I blog professionally and write on solo practice).  And in that same vein, the book glossed over the issue that I find most difficult in slashing, which is that for most of us, slashing means accepting less than perfection not just in one field, but two.  For example, I’ll never be one of the top energy regulatory lawyers in the country, not because I lack the ability, but because unlike my competitors, I’m not working on energy cases 24-7.  Ultimately, though, being good at many things rather than great at one may be the price that I pay for a slash existence.  And as Alboher’s book makes clear,  even with some trade-offs, for many the slash career still comes out on top in the end.

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