Does It Make Your Heart Sing? A Litmus Test for Law Firm Decisions

My first permanent office, a sublet space in a marble-column-ed Class B building down the street from the White House,  was hardly the fanciest in Washington D.C., particularly back in the mid-’90s when big law firm partners still tried to impress clients with mahogany conference room tables and ginormous corner offices.  Furnished with cast-offs from a previous tenants and windows overlooking an alley and another office building, the best thing that the place had going for it was that it was in a great location, well-maintained, cheap and odor-free.  Still, once I decorated the office with my knick-knacks and bar certificates and diploma, the office felt like a palace because it was mine.  I frequently spent late nights, working to the tinny sound of oldies from my red plastic radio (a freebie with my business cards) and even came in to work there on the weekend. That office made my heart sing.

Ever since I gave up the space when my daughters were young, I’ve bounced nomadically between home offices, virtual spaces and most recently, a space near my home in Bethesda. After years of looking, though, I’ve finally moved into another space – brightly lit, modern in a bustling part of D.C.  It’s also located just 10 blocks off the bike path that runs from D.C. to a spot near my home (also an intentional choice), and I’ve been biking the ten mile route to and from my a few times a week.  But what’s most important is that it’s a place I want to go to – and when I’m there, I’m productive and content.

In the ongoing discussions over the nuts and bolts of starting a law practice — office in the home versus out of the home, ipad or no ipad or do you need a business card, there’s lots of analysis of which choice makes the most sense for business or is necessary to serve clients or conveys the best impression.  Lost in the process though is any thought to how these choices affect us: whether they make us proud of what we do or make us want to keep working long after the 9-5 day has ended. 

Don’t misunderstand me — I’m not saying that new lawyers ought to spend thousands of dollars on gadgets or fancy office space or designer shoes that they don’t need and can’t afford just to buy a little happiness or look cool.   But at the same time, why grudgingly spend money on a dumpy office because someone says you should when the place is so depressing that you don’t want to spend any time there?  On the other hand, why work out of a messy table in the corner of a tiny apartment because working from home has been rebranded as cutting edge?  We’d all like to say that our desire to be the best in the world or to expand access to justice is what gets us up every day, but the truth is that sometimes it’s just little things like a great coffee or a neat gadget that put a little spring in our step, and a little extra energy into our practice.

What practice choice have you made that makes your heart sing? Or, on the flip side, what choice did you make because someone else said to or your felt you had no options that made your heart sink?