Time flies. Last week was my son's first birthday. He was not even a consideration when I started my firm more than four years ago. And earlier this month, my daughter turned 3 years old. She also was not a consideration. It is funny to me how I sometimes keep track of the number of years it's been since I hung my shingle by looking at my boy and girl and seeing how they are growing up.
Most mornings, when my daughter wakes up, she asks me if I am going to "workie." "You going to workie, daddy?" That is one question I always look forward to hearing. Lately, since the second child, I get to say no sometimes on the weekends. She gets excited when no is my answer. She wishes that no was my answer more times than it is.
When I do go to "workie," questions abound. Much like any lawyer, clients ask me questions all of the time. Should I go back to work? Should I quit? Should I complain about what happened to me? Can I take time off for a medical emergency or death in the family? Can they not pay me? Is this unsafe? Every day, clients look to me for answers to guide them in decisions that will impact their lives. I usually have an answer.
Judges also ask away at me, during a wide array of court proceedings. Any question from a judge is one that I had better know how to answer quickly and appropriately. There is also the barrage of questions you get from opposing counsel, and from your employees, and from colleagues who refer you cases, too. Employees, rightfully so, ask questions looking for instruction. Referral sources, also rightfully so, typically want to know the status of the case they referred to you. In all those cases, I usually have an answer.
Then, there are the questions you ask yourself internally — the ones that most of us are too proud to admit we ask ourselves. Am I a good lawyer? Did I empathize with my client? Did I handle that case properly? Should I have introduced that piece of evidence? Was I too argumentative with the judge? How will I get my next client? When will I get my next client? Or, appropriate for this column, should I go out on my own? Should I go out on my own now, or should I do it later?
With any time that is left in between, much of the rest of my day as a lawyer revolves around questions — crafting them for trials, hearings, depositions, initial interviews with clients and interviews of employees, to name a few. It is not an exaggeration to state that questions are at the core of this profession. Answering questions is something I have to do well.
Professionally, I usually have an answer. For my daughter, I usually have an answer. For my son, who can't speak yet, I do not need answers right now, but I anticipate that once I do, I will have them for him, too.
Then there is my wife. There is one question she has asked me recently, over and over again, that I simply do not know how to answer: Should we have a third child?
It is with great pride that I say that I usually have answers to my wife's questions. I usually do, but not always, and certainly not recently. Not with this one. Usually a clever and quick responder, I have no idea what to say on this one, so I end up saying nothing.
It is never good to not answer a question from your wife. Yet, without saying a word at all, I somehow manage to say a lot. What I am saying by saying nothing is that I am very confused.
My blank stare and confusion are something that an opposing counsel probably sets as a goal to achieve in a courtroom against any adversary. Plus, the dead space left from no verbal response at all allows my wife to quickly point out that she should not be able to ask me, a lawyer who goes to court pretty routinely, a question that keeps me quiet for such a long time. What makes it worse is that time does not give me any help. The question gets asked a day later or a week later, and I still have no answer.
My reaction to the question probably does not assure my wife that when I answer it, or if I am ever able to answer it, I am confident with that answer, whatever it may be. She has, and there is no other way to put it, stumped me. But I want to be clear that not having an answer does not mean that I have not thought about it long and hard. I have actually had serious internal contemplations in hopes of finding a meaningful and sincere way to respond.
Here is the truth: I want another child. If I were writing a brief or arguing my case before a court, I would start out, emphatically, with that precise statement. Unfortunately, there is so much more to consider here, and those considerations make me go back and forth.
For one thing, work as a young lawyer trying to build and grow a firm is really, really time-consuming. You finish one task and close out one matter, and something else hits your desk, a new case comes through the door or something administrative has to get done immediately. This is what keeps the business healthy and thriving and, of course, is that for which we are eternally grateful.
With growth comes more clients and more work. Clients require and deserve care and personal attention. That takes away from your time to do other things, like exercise, eat dinner before 10 p.m. or go home and spend weekday nights and weekends with your family and children who are growing up before (and unfortunately, at times, not before) your own eyes.
The fact that work is very high pressure with a lot on the line makes the job very stressful at times. What that does to me at least is a consideration when thinking about this question. I have a tendency to internalize business matters. I know I have been told that a great lawyer can leave work in the office for the night or weekend, but I truly have started to feel that sometimes the opposite — not being able to just leave it at the office — makes for a great lawyer, too. Like it or not, something about work and my business is usually on my mind, which I am learning might just be a natural consequence of running your own law firm.
Finances also are a major consideration. Stating the obvious — children are expensive — and knowing that, we want to make sure we are making a wise decision financially, whichever way we choose. What sometimes makes it harder in terms of planning is the absence of a steady paycheck when you shingle hang. I cannot budget in a way that I know exactly how much money I am bringing home every pay period.
What a cycle. The more children we have, the more money we need. The more money we need, the harder I must work. The harder I must work, the more time I spend at work. The more time I spend at work, the less time I have to spend not at work.
That was exhausting to write, probably exhausting to read, but nowhere near as exhausting as it is to execute. I have not even discussed any of the considerations that go beyond the business and life of a shingle hanger that are probably more important than those mentioned above.
My wife has asked me for a manifesto. She wants me to provide to her, in writing, all of the reasons in support and against having a third child, with the ultimate question being whether we should have one. Needless to say, I have not put ink to paper yet. I know I never will.
It is, no doubt, the hardest question for me to answer. It is so much harder than any questions ever thrown at me at oral argument about what is the proper standard of review, or at a settlement conference when a judge asks me in front of my client, "Dave, tell me how you are going to win this case." That is cake compared to this one.
This question and my inability to answer it reminds me of when I first decided to start my own firm. I answered the question of whether I should have done so and whether I should have started it when I did right around the time that I sat in front of my computer, began to upload my outdated resume and started to search for open positions at area law firms. The timing of it all made answering that question so much easier, and here I am four-and-a-half years later, happy with my decision, never having looked back.
I have heard, mostly from other lawyers, that sometimes the best questions are the ones you never ask. I also think that sometimes the best questions are those that you ask at just the right time.
The best that is going to happen, I think, is not going to be a manifesto with a complete analysis of all points both for and against the decision to have a third child. Knowing me, the way that this is likely to go down is that I am going to pick the most opportune time to answer this burning question when it will maximize the chance of me getting the answer I want.
I gave myself two options — when my daughter runs to me for a hug and sometimes a kiss after a long day at work, or when my 1-year-old boy blows out his birthday candles this weekend. I like my chances. The difficult task that remains, of course, is to make sure my wife answers the question at the right time, too. I am still thinking about the right time to pop this question.
David Koller is the founder of Koller Law, where his primary practice areas consist of employment litigation and counseling and commercial litigation. He can be reached at 215-545-8917, email@example.com or through his website, www.kollerlawfirm.com.