Jan 19, 2012
A Solo (A)Broad – Annie Tunheim
Right around the time my third son was born, I started my own law practice. You see, I had long known I didn’t want to go the traditional attorney route; the one year I spent at a small downtown firm was miserable enough to instill a lifelong aversion to law firm employment. It may be my undergraduate degree in Psychology that rooted itself firmly in my being, but I just craved connections with others, and the ability to practice law the way I wanted to—without being ‘spoken to’ for being too friendly with the support staff (if God forbid I didn’t maintain an appearance of being above them!—yes, it was that type of firm).
While contemplating career options, I felt the ever-present work-life balance conflict; I tend to err heavily on wanting to be available for my family. You know the old saying about how on your deathbed you’ll never wish that you had spent more time at the office…I didn’t want to miss out on simple things like reading with my son during the first 15 minutes of each kindergarten school day, and I really do enjoy making homemade muffins for the class on my kids’ assigned snack days.
That being said, I am absolutely not cut out to be a fully stay-at-home mom, and we couldn’t afford it on my husband’s teacher salary, regardless. Surely there would be a way that I could have the best of both worlds and not completely waste this piece of paper I studied three long years to earn, allowing me to rightfully practice law?
After I narrowly escaped the grasp of the torturous law firm, I began working part-time handling legal matters for a brewery, managing their compliance with federal and state regulations, drafting and amending contracts with distributors, and getting them up to speed on intellectual property issues, among other things. Long gone were my days of business suits and pantyhose; I gleefully wore jeans and flip-flops to work, and just as you’d guess, the kind of people that work at a brewery are vibrant and engaging. At this company, there no issues with hierarchy; the guys that work on the bottling line are just as important as the head of marketing.
It has been five years since I left the law firm, and I’m still employed by the brewery. I don’t bring in a 6-figure salary like my friend at the big-name law firm downtown does, but in terms of quality of life, I have it made.
You may be wondering where my law practice comes in. I started Tunheim Law LLC three and a half years ago, as a side dish to my part-time job at the brewery. I enjoyed the intellectual property work I had done, and I wanted to work with other small business owners who may be daunted by the thought (or price) of hiring a big name firm to handle their intellectual property needs.
I began making a presence on some small business forums and slowly built a client base, conducting the vast majority of my business after my children were tucked into bed each night. My office is my laptop on our living room couch; while I do keep client files, my firm is almost entirely paperless. No need for a conference room–my clients are spread out all over the country; in fact, to date I have only met one in person! Having only email contact with clients forces you to create a trusting relationship with words that may be much easier to achieve in person; not everyone is suited to relating to others in this way. It’s funny; despite the distance between myself and my clients, I feel close to them–I have seen pictures of their children and am truly excited to help bolster the brands they are working to create.
Especially in the beginning, there were periods where I wasn’t doing much business, but it was okay because this was my side dish; any money I brought in was a bonus to our family, and it felt safe to have this on the side while I had my regular paycheck coming in.
There are certainly moments—on days where I have brought in freshly baked goods for one son’s class, led a reading group for another son’s class, put in 5 hours of work at the brewery, picked up the three boys from school and played until my husband came home, helped with homework, made dinner, and then kissed my boys goodnight only to have another whole job looming over me—where I feel like a crazy person. Like any mother, I’m busy and balancing twelve plates in the air can be exhausting.
I am now teetering on the edge of a new journey; two, in fact. As of Christmas Day, 2011, my solo practice law firm as aside dish became a main course. You may be wondering why I would ever give up my terrific position at the brewery; what, am I moving across the world or something? Why, yes, as a matter of fact—my husband, three sons, and I are spending a year in Australia while my art teacher husband participates in a teacher exchange program.
The opportunity to move to an entirely different part of our planet would be nearly impossible if I worked at a traditional firm; instead, I will practice law as I have been doing for the past three and a half years, but instead of sitting on my living room couch I will be on my balcony a block and a half from the beach in Wollongong, New South Wales. Despite the time difference, I should actually be more available to my clients because I will finally be able to focus solely on my practice.
I’m nervous about giving up my steady income, but of course the potential to earn a better living through my practice is there and I feel more confident knowing that I have already built a solid client base than if I was just now launching a solo practice. My clients are used to me advocating for them from afar; I’ll now be just a bit farther. On the rare occasion where a phone call is necessary, Skype is a great option.
I highly doubt I’ll ever bring in a six-figure salary, but there’s more to life than making six figures. My days spent with my children during these years where they actually express excitement that I can chaperone on a school field trip are invaluable and undoubtedly short-lived, and I know that this upcoming year in Australia will be a fabulous family adventure, the struggles along with the highlights.
Follow me on our family blog at The Adventures of Annie & Her Boys as we make this leap, and I’ll update again on this blog as I adjust to my main course solo practice.
Have tips on practicing from afar, or want to wish me good luck? Have you traveled to Australia and know of a must-see/do location? I’m all ears. Please talk with me in the comments below!
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.