One of the great things about the work-from-home revolution is that remote work affords people flexibility that individuals need to carry out the essential tasks everyone needs to complete in their daily lives. When people were working from home during lockdowns, it was much easier to handle childcare, medical appointments, and other personal matters. Unfortunately, many people within the legal industry are unable to work from home as much as they did a few years ago, but self-employed lawyers still have significant flexibility with their time. I have been self-employed ever since I started my own firm over three and a half years ago, and the flexibility this afforded me helped me be there for my grandma recently in ways not possible to associates and partners of larger law firms.
My grandmother recently had medical issues and eventually passed away at 90. Although everyone has a special place in their hearts for their grandmothers, our grandmother was really special to my four brothers and me. Our parents passed away years ago, and so too had our other grandparents. When my mother was sick, my grandmother went to great lengths to take care of her and helped raise my four brothers and me after my mother passed away. More recently, my grandmother took an active role in caring for several of her 10 great-grandchildren, and I fondly remember her looking after my nephews until her final few months.
When my grandmother first fell ill, my brothers and I resolved that at least one of would visit her each day in healthcare facilities and that she would have company as much as possible. Understandably, this was much more difficult for my brothers who have traditional jobs than it was for me as a self-employed individual. Some of my brothers have jobs that cannot be performed remotely, and they need to be physically present in their workplaces to get work done. This severely restricted the amount of time they could spend with grandma during the workweek. A few of my brothers could do jobs remotely, but they still needed to log into work for a set amount of time each day, which impacted their ability to see grandma.
I generally do not have such limitations as a self-employed attorney. Sure, I routinely have court conferences and depositions I need to attend, and I need to block out time to appear at these proceedings. However, most days I make my own schedule. As a result, I was able to see grandma pretty much every day during her final few months. This meant a lot to me. I knew grandma’s time might be short, and I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could. I also wanted to make sure she was taken care of. Since my grandma was partially and then totally incapacitated, she relied on the help of others to make herself more comfortable in her final weeks. I felt much better knowing that I could be there in person to assist her rather than relying on others to look after my loved one.
Self-employed people often have much more control over their workflow than people who work for firms. If I want to give myself more free time, I am generally free to just refuse work from referral sources, unlike associates at law firms who need to complete projects assigned by superiors. Of course, the less work I perform, the less revenue I generate, but it was relatively easy to balance lessening my workload and generating enough revenue for my firm.
Moreover, I did not need to deal with any of the office politics that often keep associates from dealing with important personal matters. Associates might be wary about taking extended time away from office since they may want to seem dedicated to their jobs and committed to the firm. Associates need to compete for projects, promotions, and other advantages, and this might keep them from looking after family when a health issue arises. However, I did not need to deal with any of these issues, and it probably helped that my partner and the only other person who works at my firm is an older brother. We were able to seamlessly handle a number of projects so we could maximize the amount of time we spent with grandma.
All told, there are a lot of reasons why people consider self-employment, and the freedom that it gives to individuals to take care of personal responsibilities cannot be overstated. All of us will face the illness of a family member at some point, and law firms are notoriously bad at supporting employees who are caring for relatives. Self-employment empowers attorneys to be there for family members in a moment of need, and this is an important reason why people should consider the independence and freedom of self-employment.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.