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Nicole Auerbach and lessons from a middle office with a view

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My partner Nicole Auerbach, proud owner of a middle office, recounts the lessons learned when she voluntarily gave up her corner office, and also those from some other risks she’s taken along the way.  This is her story, as first posted in The Legal Balance.

A Middle Office with a View

BY NICOLE NEHAMA AUERBACH

I am honored to have been asked to write this monthly column, “Insights from the Corner Office” for the relaunch of The Legal Balance, but full disclosure is in order: I don’t have a corner office. Idid have a corner office, but a middle office opened up that had two great windows, including one with a view of Buckingham Fountain.

So I moved.

There was a risk that people might perceive me as less powerful without my corner office, but truthfully, I couldn’t be happier.

My office move dovetails well with The Legal Balance’s theme for this month—risk taking. As I’ve gotten older (I just celebrated another birthday; they seem to speed up as we age) I’ve realized that so many things we learned growing up—“Don’t talk about yourself or your accomplishments; that’s unbecoming,” or “Good things will happen to those who wait”—were probably good advice … during the era of Jane Austen. But in today’s world, while good things sometimes do happen to those who wait, they happen a lot quicker for those who aren’t standing around hoping the stars and the moon will align. And truthfully, while it would be nice if our accomplishments were automatically emblazoned on big lapel buttons so we wouldn’t have to brag, it’s clear that’s not happening, either. Instead, getting ahead requires some action and, also, a willingness to take risks.

The biggest risk I have taken in my career is, without question, the one that has delivered the most reward. In 2008, I decided (after a lot of hand wringing and soul searching) to leave my comfortable partnership position at the large firm where I had practiced for nearly 15 years to start a new firm with new partners and a new model, handling litigation using alternative-fee arrangements. There is no question that the anxiety associated with this move was huge, but so was the amount of excitement and the energy we had in launching Valorem.  While I know that hindsight is 20/20, if you had asked me just a few weeks into the endeavor—at a time when I didn’t know if we’d be around in five months, let alone five years—I would have said that the risk was well worth taking because it gave me affirmative control over my destiny. That’s a hard lesson to learn, because a lot of risks don’t pan out in the end. But I think that lawyers, and often women because of the way we were raised, tend to miss great opportunities because they are risk-averse and simply afraid to fail.

Having control over your own destiny is often the key to being happier and more satisfied with your career. But if you’re doing something because you chose to do it, that is exponentially more rewarding than doing something simply because it’s part of some master plan that you think society has made for you.

And don’t forget: Risk comes in a lot of different sizes, so if you are ultra-conservative, start with a small one—a risk that will make absolutely no difference if it doesn’t go well. Then try to build up to larger ones that may ultimately shape your destiny. Who knows—someday, you may end up in the middle office with the good view.

Or, if you prefer, the corner office.

Nicole Nehama Auerbach’s office isn’t in the corner, but it’s still nice. Nicole is a founding member ofValorem Law Group, a litigation firm solving its clients’ issues using alternative-fee arrangements. She also co-founded the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law.