Resources Newsletter Archive Issue 25, March 2003

Issue 25, March 2003

  • Think Like An Owner, Not an Employee

Making The Hours of Your Life Worth More™

Issue # 25


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1. Ellen's Keynote Speech to the Florida Association for Women Lawyers

2. "Patchwork Parachute: Weaving a Law Degree into a Non-legal Job" by Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. published in the Winter 2003 issue of Perspectives, the publication of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.

3. Article: Think Like an Owner, Not an Employee


All previous issues of "Beyond the Billable Hour" are archived at


Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., Editor
Ellen is the founder of™ Personal and Career Coaching for Lawyers Determined to Achieve Professional Success AND a Fulfilling Life 



Most attorneys -- especially women -- live impossibly busy lives.  Finding a balance between work and life without sacrificing professional success, deciding on the best practice area or work setting, and making career transitions can be a daunting task, even for the most gifted and accomplished lawyer.

Just as every person deserves the best possible legal counsel, every attorney deserves professional, dedicated support in accomplishing her most important goals.  You know how hard you've worked to get where you are -- you serve others, both personally and professionally.  You've earned the right to both career success and a fulfilling life.

This newsletter is intended to help you create a satisfying life -- within, or outside of -- legal practice.


1. Ellen's Keynote Speech, "Finding Balance," presented at the midyear meeting of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers in Miami FL, January 17, 2003 is available at:


2.  "Patchwork Parachute: Weaving a Law Degree Into a Nonlegal Job" by Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. is published in the Winter 2003 issue of Perspectives.  If you're wondering what you can do with your law degree, you'll want to read these interviews with many women lawyers who made successful career transitions.

Perspectives is published four times a year by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.  Subscriptions are available at:


3.  Think Like an Owner, Not an Employee

First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do.

It's easy to understand the resistance of most professionals to taking a more business-oriented approach to their work.  As a traditionally-trained psychologist, I expected to practice psychology.  My goal was to become excellent in my profession.  Then managed care rode into town and reminded all of us that doing our best work wasn't enough - it was possible to be professional, proficient and unemployed.

Lawyers today face a similar conflict.  Most likely your working identity is that of a professional, not an entrepreneur.  But the law as a profession has changed and unless you adapt to these changes and make them work for you, you may find yourself struggling to find an opportunity to do the work for which you were trained.

As an attorney in the new millennium, you can't afford to become the best lawyer you can be.  This is still necessary - but it's not sufficient.  If you make the mistake of leaving it to your firm or organization's management team to think about business issues, you're likely to run into some harsh surprises. 

It's not astonishing when young associates do this - they're struggling to learn how to practice law.  But I've seen younger partners run into the same problem - although technically they were owners, they relied on their firm's rainmakers to supply them with work, or didn't anticipate the shrinking market for their practice area.  Then, even as owners, they found themselves marginalized.  As the disparity between their compensation and that of their more proactive peers widened, they felt increasingly demoralized and stymied.

Wherever you are in your legal career, it's important for your success to be thinking like an owner, not an employee.  Here's how you can do this:

1. Consider a Personal Parallel

Imagine for a moment that your child had a medical problem for which she was receiving inadequate care.  You probably wouldn't wait passively for your physician to do something. You'd develop as much expertise as you needed to be able to make good decisions about her care.  You'd be your child's advocate if insurance companies denied care or doctors were unresponsive.  You'd do whatever it took - because you'd feel responsible for your child's welfare.

Now use this as a model for approaching your own career.  If you can do it for your child, you can do it for yourself.

2. Develop a Career Vision

Just as organizations have vision statements to guide their planning, each lawyer needs a career and life vision to provide direction, a sense of purpose, continuity and strategic planning.

Decide what you want your life to look like five years from now.  Develop a clear vision and imagine it as if you'd already achieved it.  Now reconstruct the steps that went into creating it.  From the perspective of having accomplished your goals, what did you do?  What skills did you develop?  What alliances did you forge?  What opportunities did you seek out?  Where did you set limits?

If you'd like a format for writing your own personal vision statement, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with "Vision Statement" in the subject line.

3. Seek Learning Opportunities

An owner wouldn't wait for the organization to provide training.  Just as you'd learn all you could to take care of your child, you can create learning opportunities for yourself.  Ask for the kind of work that interests you; volunteer to participate on projects that expand your expertise; strategically participate on committees that provide opportunities for the development of leadership skills; attend CLE programs to broaden your knowledge base; hire a coach to guide you in acquiring proficiency in business development.

Actively seek out advice and people who can help you develop your skills and become politically savvy.  Develop relationships with mentors, coaches and advisors.

Many partners feel too pressured themselves to feel they have time to develop a protégé.  If you're a woman or an attorney of color, there may not be people in your organization with whom you identify.

If you can't find support within your firm, look outside. There are resources everywhere - you just have to take the initiative to find them.

If you'd like tips on finding mentors, send email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with "Mentors" in the subject line.

For a lawyer's skill development plan, send email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with "Lawyers Skills" in the subject line.

4. Study the Culture

Understanding the culture of your firm or organization is critical for your success.  First of all, you're bound to be unhappy working in a firm where the institutional goals and values are very different from your own.

Secondly, you need to know the unwritten policies and procedures, how decisions get made and who wields power and influence.  Without this knowledge, you're bound to feel like a child lost in the woods with no tools or know-how. Understanding how your organization functions allows you to develop relationships with people who can help you achieve your goals.  This same understanding is essential if you hope to have influence on matters of importance to you - like work/life balance policies.

5. Understand and Take Responsibility for the Business

Understanding your firm's business goals can help you feel like more than just a billing unit.  When you know the purpose of the work you're doing it becomes more meaningful and satisfying.

Thinking like an owner allows you to take responsibility for the financial soundness of your firm.  This is important for a number of reasons:

* If you want to continue to work there, you want the firm to be economically viable.

* If you feel responsible for your firm's economic health, you'll naturally ally yourself with senior people, and will stop thinking of yourself as nothing more than a fungible unit being leveraged for someone else's gain.  This is empowering.

* You'll have more credibility and influence with decision-makers if they perceive you as understanding their concerns.  You can demonstrate that you're worthy of your partners' confidence by building trust through your actions.

* You'll be attuned to the relationship between your own individual practice specialty and the overall goals of the organization.  You can take the initiative to ensure that the two mesh.

* You can make yourself "unfungible" by choosing a specialty in which you're genuinely interested and which adds value to the firm.  If you're the only expert in that particular area of the law and there's a market for your expertise, you've created your future. 

6. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

This may sound trite, but you can't afford to only work in those areas in which you feel entirely knowledgeable and confident.  Whatever your current practice area, you have to be prepared to anticipate and respond to changing markets by modifying the nature of your practice.

Don't wait until you know everything before you take a risk.  Making incremental changes can allow you to master your discomfort and develop new competencies one step at a time.

Professional coaches can be particularly helpful with this.

7. Add Value

Decide how you want to benefit your organization.  In what ways do you want to be unique?  What distinguishes you from others?  You can add value with your area of legal expertise, your leadership or training abilities, your willingness to pitch in where help is needed or your capacity to develop exceptionally strong client relationships.  Identify your particular strengths - especially the ones you enjoy using - and develop these.

8. Be Open to Unexpected Possibilities

Don't allow your plan to blind you to unanticipated opportunities.  Develop a mindset that allows you to notice people from whom you can learn, and to recognize projects that will stretch you and afford you chances to showcase your expertise.

9. Take Initiative

Whatever you're trying to accomplish, you need to take control of your own destiny and act on your own convictions.  If you think like an owner, you won't passively wait for opportunities to come to you - you'll seek them out.  You won't let obstacles stop you - you'll seek out the resources you need to overcome them or find some way around them.  Make things happen so you achieve your own vision of success.

Remember, you're the CEO/Managing Partner of "You."


BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is published monthly by Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., founder of She brings 20 years of experience assisting women attorneys to her work in Lawyers Life Coach™. is a professional and personal coaching firm specializing in working virtually (by phone with email and fax backup) with women attorneys interested in developing strategies to find greater satisfaction in their careers within the law or in exploring career alternatives for lawyers.

Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. established to coach busy lawyers who might benefit from the insights gained from 20 years as a psychologist combined with her experience and familiarity with the legal profession.

Ellen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rochester and is a managing member of Metropolitan Behavioral Health Care, LLC., a multispecialty, multidisciplinary psychotherapy practice in Washington, D.C. and suburban Maryland.

She is a member of the International Coach Federation and a graduate of the MentorCoach Program™.


NOTE:  BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is intended for informational and educational purposes only.  It is not a substitute for a personal consultation with a mental health professional and should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, or other psychological service.



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Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D.
Phone: (301) 578-8686
email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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