Baking a Law Firm from Scratch: How to Be Both a Chef and a Lawyer

As David Seders once hilariously recounted in Me Talk Pretty One Day, the word “chef,” in french, means “boss.” Because my law firm took on an associate very soon after I had started implementing it, I had to actually come up with title beyond “Attorney.” “Boss” doesn’t fit me (although I’m bossy, I think that title belongs to someone much older than me and in a much larger firm). I am very, very aware that the buck stops with me; that my associate is entitled to depend on my decision making when the ethical areas are gray; and that, ultimately, whether my law firm creation succeeds or flops is my responsibility. But “boss” just wasn’t it.

I decided to go with “Managing Attorney.” It has all the hallmarks of “person in charge” without sounding so stuffy. And it also has an verb before the noun that really says it all: “managing.”

Oh, how fast am figuring out how important that part of the title is. It is now my main job. I am attorney after I am managing, in both form and function. Whether or not I am doing that well is another story. I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect at it. I am learning it as I go. I am fortunate that my associate is not the type to hide her feelings, but provides real feedback about when I do something wrong and is my first cheerleader when I do something right (love you, LC). If I didn’t have someone who gave their honest opinions, I’m pretty sure we would be minus one associate by now.

You see, I’ve never been a manager before. I’ve helped managers. I’ve deposed managers. I’m rather familiar with the roles of Michael Scott and his British counterpart. But, I’m a lawyer, not a manager…at least until a couple of months ago. What do I manage? Here’s the partial list:

If I should hire someone.

Who to hire.

Compensation packages.

Advertising. Where do I even start?

Healthcare Plans and Dental Plans. Which plan? What is this marketplace tax thing?

Technology-which software? which hardware? where to buy? when to buy?

Bank accounts-two, one trust account designed to terrorize my few hours of sleep every night..how do I know which is the best bank?

Credit card processor-is the cheapest the best? Am I complying with the credit card companies directions? Am I going to get sued if I get hacked? How do I make this work with my trust account?

phone lines-landline, cell lines, VOIP, fax-which provider, which plan, prepay? Which hardware with this? How do I make this damn thing forward my calls?!

Filing system-How do I want to arrange my files physically?

Document management system? How do I want to arrange my files electronically?

Accountant-who should I hire? When should I hire?

Payroll-when do I need a payroll processor?

Parking-Where to park? How much is too much? Remember to send the check every month. Pray something better comes open soon.

and that’s just the job for the sous chef….

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