A Change in Direction

“A change in direction was required.  The story you finished was perhaps never the one you began.”  –Salmon Rushdie

So many of us begin our careers knowing little of our direction — our goal — and find that as our careers evolve, we know less and less about our direction and path, even though we are becoming, at least outwardly, more successful.

Upon first entering the law profession, I worked at a small general practice firm in New York.  My responsibilities ranged from drafting motions, attending court in all five boroughs to picking up White Castle for the office.  I enjoyed the camaraderie of the small office, but I also yearned for “the bright lights” of a larger, more prestigious firm with all of the trappings of success.

Soon, I moved to Chicago and joined a larger and very well-established firm.  My responsibilities grew with more challenging assignments, including a promotion to Burger King delivery.  As my career grew, so did my aspirations.  I wanted all the “big firm trappings” – big money, corner office, election to the most prestigious, impressive committees.  Ego drove my progress and while I obtained much of what I thought was important, I grew increasingly disenchanted with the prestigious law firm experience… and my career.  Much of what I thought was important was ultimately unimportant.  In fact, it was personally and professionally unsatisfying.

Finally, I decided to create a different environment for myself and others with whom I would work.  In the fall of 2009, I opened Bernstein Law Firm – although much consternation ensued in selecting the firm’s name.

I was determined to create a boutique litigation firm, representing well-established corporations and entrepreneurs.  We would provide one-on-one contact with our clients and better lawyering in a dynamic and youthful firm and an environment where everyone who worked together also enjoyed one another’s company; where they were friends, not just co-workers; where everyone works together and supports one another.

To that end, everyone who works at Bernstein Law Firm was recommended by someone who works at the firm.  We started with our office manager, Sharon Meyers, and me.  We found great offices just across the Chicago River from the Daley Center.  We have grown organically to five attorneys, a paralegal and law clerks

The firm invests in its atmosphere and culture – we spend a good amount of time outside of work in social situations – further underscoring the cohesiveness of the group when we are in the workplace.  We consider each other friends first, and when we work into the night or over a weekend, I at least, am working with people for whom I care a great deal.

Obviously, our small firm does not have the expensive trappings of the bigger, more prestigious firms.  We pass those savings on to our clients.  Better yet, we each know all of our clients personally, and we are all motivated daily to do the best work possible for each of them.  We have largely avoided big firm politics because we all work together to pull the oar of the boat.  How do I know that?  I am once again relegated to delivering from White Castle.

All in all, for me, the trade-offs I have made have been worthwhile.  It shows that the story I “finished was perhaps never the one [I] began.”

– Lou Bernstein


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