What Role Does Your Spouse or Partner Play in the Success of Your Solo Practice?

This post was triggered by a very passionate argument about women’s contributions to the collective wisdom of the blogosphere between Crime and Federalism and MyShingle and morphed into Military Underdog’s smackdown challenging the idea that any specific genitalia has greater responsibilities to their children all while running their legal practices.  While it was kind of devolving into a fist fight, no one threw a knockout punch nor could they.  But the takeaway: for the most part, when it comes to parenting responsibilities,  gender distinctions are so last century.

However, one message got lost in translation and needs to be broadcast:

The roles you and your partner (and increasingly, your children) negotiate within the family dynamic will increasingly play a major role in the success or failure of  your solo practice.

Back in my consulting days one of the first things I asked a client was, ‘is your spouse or partner on board with your decision to go solo?”  If they weren’t, this was a huge though not insurmountable issue.  If your spouse or partner does not fully appreciate what is involved in you running a practice and the two of you have not redefined your family obligations accordingly, this can be a tremendous stress on the marriage and impact the children and prevent your business from healthy growth.

I cannot nor will I pretend to know the strains of a court schedule on a solo practitioner’s marriage or parenting roles because the majority of time I practiced I was unmarried. By the time I married and had my son my court calendar had been wound down very methodically and deliberately.  That’s not to say my husband and I didn’t negotiate and renegotiate our responsibilities these past years since the inception, birth and growth of Solo Practice University.  His support for the venture and his very hands-on parenting has played and continues to play a huge role.  If anything,  I irrationally and stubbornly keep trying to hold on to traditional ‘wife’ roles while he is more than willing to take them over.  We’ve even had the conversation (more than once) of not falling into the trap of traditional household duties and defining them as male or female, husband or wife, father or mother.  It’s hard as it is culturally ingrained.  Plus, I enjoy some of them! All of this was and remains an ongoing negotiation but thankfully with very few bumps.

However, once you’ve negotiated with your spouse or partner, there is also the negotiation with your children, helping them to understand the constraints on your time when building your own business (or working for another, for that matter), enlisting them if they are old enough to participate and hopefully appreciate what you are doing.  I know I am always seesawing between gratitude and guilt when it comes to my son.  He thankfully seems to get it and that’s in no large part to my husband’s attitude about my work.

So rather than my going on and on, it would be great if you shared how you’ve negotiated with your partner on household and parental responsibilities in an effort to make creating and building your solo practice a little easier.

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7 comments on “What Role Does Your Spouse or Partner Play in the Success of Your Solo Practice?

  • I agree that there is a negotiation and re-negotiation that goes on between spouses when navigating the entrepreneurial life. My husband is totally on board with me building a practice but there was a point when he became annoyed about me constantly working (you feel like its necessary to work that much in the beginning but it probably isn’t). We worked out time frames of when we’d spend time together and we’re so much happier for it. Frequent, honest and open communication seem to resolve any issues that come up.

    • Chris, I’ve always said the only people who should be intimately involved your decision to go solo are your immediate family as they can make or break your experience. So glad it’s working out so well!

  • My wife is an attorney, and is invaluable in supporting me and my firm. Although she is not practicing in my firm, it truly is a “family business” in that every decision I make impacts my life and my family’s life. So I consult with her frequently.

    • Matt,

      I know quite a few solos who’s spouses are in other firms. It’s nice they understand the work and both of you realizing a solo’s practice is really a ‘family business’!!

  • My wife (a/k/a “Girlfriend”) practices the law I practice. She keeps me in line. She is also very aggravating. She is so detail oriented that back in the old days I accused her of proof reading the Xerox copies. I, on the other hand, am a little more abstract. Well okay, a lot more abstract. We support each other, and it works out well — even though she is aggravating. :-)

  • There’s another side to this story, of course: the consequences of going solo without buy-in from your spouse/partner.

    The more-than-inconvenient truth for those contemplating or pursuing solo practice is that the absence of spousal support makes the process far more difficult than it has to be. Working on developing a business isn’t made easier when the athmosphere at home includes:

    repeated questioning of long and short-term priorities;

    direct or indirect reliance on a banker/cosigner who demands a return on any investment faster and greater than any commercial lender

    “requests” for time away from your “real” job regardless of consequences (and as a home office Dad I stand in awe of the good grace with which Military Underdog carries on with his family in circumstances far more trying than my own).

    Reality is that many of us enter solo practice under less than optimal business and family circumstances. Full spousal buy-in would be ideal–but it’s also necessary to acknowledge that there are times when it is neither prudent or possible to avoid the potentially most negative person near you.

    Don’t get me wrong. My wife and I are both solo professionals who prefer the life they have to that of the power couples that we know who live like the subjects of this Valentine’s Day article (http://bit.ly/fx0VVP). Your partner likely knows you better than anyone else. It would be foolhardy to ignore their observations and suggestions. There are certainly times that one’s family responsibilities (either financial or in terms of work/life balance) properly dictate changes in career management. The truth remains that one is better off (in lawyer’s terms) working from a presumption of success within the family unit. The burden that its absence imposes on the new solo can be crushing.

    Some time back Bruce Allen’s Marketing Catalyst blog published a letter he drafted for a BigLaw attorney’s spouse describing the new commitments he/she would have to undertake in support of a rainmaking campaign and asking for support for the effort (http://bit.ly/eLXjJa). It provides a good start on a checklist for the sort of discussion which should take within the family before the start of any solo venture. It’s something I wish I had worked tthrough at my house before going out on my own.

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