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Question: How Can I Switch to Part Time Status at a Law Firm to Start a Business?

Question: I'm a sixth year associate at a large law firm in New York City. I started working here right out of law school and have built up alot of goodwill. The partners like my work, which I generally find challenging (let's not talk about the hours though : - ). However, I'm also a bit of an entrepreneur and have recently come across a business opportunity that I'd like to pursue. I have money saved up, but probably couldn't afford to leave my job until the business starts to bring in money (married, 3 kids, mortgage). My question is whether and how I should approach the partners about possibly working part time so that I can launch the business and still earn a part-time salary. Has anyone done this before? I'd appreciate any insights since I'm feeling pretty torn.

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Your question is deja vu for me since I found myself in a similar situation many years ago. A couple of thoughts. First, before you jump ship, consider whether the entrepreneurial lifestyle is for you. To do so, you may want to take this online assessment:

http://www.careerdiscovery.com/hbspsba/bcii_start.html

(make sure to copy and paste the entire URL into your browser).

About approaching the partners, it's hard to say. You probably know them well enough to predict how they'll probably react. I'd say speak first with the partner whom you think might be most receptive - perhaps because they've been sensitive to some of your personal needs in the past.

Fact is, some law firms like when an associate joins a business since the potential for a new client may arise in the future if the business succeeds - although in your case, since you won't be receiving an income, it sounds like you are in a startup situation - am I correct? If so, the prospect of the business becoming a client of the firm may not materialize for many years.

Anyway, getting back to this "sensitive" partner, you probably shouldn't phrase your plans in a way that sounds like you're definitely leaving. But perhaps state that you are considering a "business opportunity" (you can be vague) and that you wanted to know if the firm might be receptive to a part-time arrangement so you can assist with the startup of the business. Then wait to her what he or she says.

One other point - consider what is driving your desire to start the business. It sounds like you have long hours, but don't kid yourself - a new business can be very demanding and require plenty of hours - maybe even more than you are currently putting in at the firm. The grass isn't always greener on the other side.

Also, I don't know how much money you have saved up. Don't forget - financial hardship can also cause stress, especially since you are married, have kids, and financial obligations. Should you still wish to go forward, your savings should be adequate enough to cover personal expenses for quite some time - maybe even a year - if you ultimately leave to devote full time to the business.

One other option - if you feel pulled to the business world, perhaps you should consider taking a job in the sector or industry where you have the "opportunity" - this way you can learn the ropes of that industry before plunging into a startup situation. In other words, get paid to get some experience in this industry.

Good luck!

Before speaking to the partners about part time work, I suggest that you do your homework which would be predominantly in two areas. The first is introspection. You want to know that you are not attracted to this business just because it sounds good or because it seems like an escape from your present high stress job, but rather because it suits your personality, values, talents, skills and desired lifestyle. Would you be happy to keep doing what you are doing if your hours were more reasonable? Perhaps that is an area to explore before you take on something different.
Second, it is essential that you write a business plan before you take another step. The plan should include costs, projected income and even more important, a realistic timeline.
Only when you have an honest realistic idea of what this business will require from you and your family, should you approach the partners about the part time. BTW, don't forget to ellicit your spouse's support in all cases.
Good luck!

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