There is one guiding principle which those who protect the law may fail to acknowledge, look to circumvent or completely ignore. For in the practice and defense of the common good, they become consumed and lose the one thing over which they have complete control: themselves. It’s simple, yet difficult – the law of happiness: don’t make your life fit your business, make your business fit your life.
Jason Plotkin is a lawyer and serves as chief executive officer of the Pinder Plotkin Legal Team in Parkville, Maryland. Jason knows the guiding principle of his firm and of his life, is family as priority, whether it’s his wife and children or the employees who help his practice to flourish.
It’s easy for the law to make an argument to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. After all, so many others need help and guidance in an area where they know they can’t represent themselves, but must have a professional to take the reins and hold those insurance companies accountable that may look to take advantage of them.
Yet Jason knows full well that while upholding the law is a priority, so is the rest of his life.
“As a small business owner and a lawyer, the career is the jealous spouse,” says Jason. “I think the same concept can go across any profession. But it’s also remembering your why. Why did I get into law in the first place? It’s to help people in need, the same reason why I focus on with all I do in life, including my family, it all ties together.”
And tying it all together is always Jason’s focus, intertwining the legal life with the life outside the office.
“For me, it is making sure my family feels they are part of the Pinder Plotkin Legal Team,” says Jason. “They help me with the firm and help to promote the community events I sponsor or participate in. They are part of my practice in the fact that we are a family, so they experience the good parts and the stresses that come with it.”
“I do a lot of networking – and I have free reign to go to any event I want to. I usually leave however before my family wakes up, because I want to get the reward on the other side, I want to be home at night. You won’t see me much at nighttime networking events, only at the daytime gatherings, because I want to be home with my family. I want to be home for dinner. Everybody eats together. They spend time together. That time with the family is important to me and to them. That dinner time together is special.”
The Demands of Running a Firm
As the CEO of his firm, Jason runs the show. “It’s a lot to be the person to make all the decisions and control the direction of the firm,” says Jason. “I don’t have a partner, my partner, Ed Pinder passed away a few years ago. So, it’s all on me. There can be loneliness or isolation in that role, but I try to fill it by associating with a close-knit group of advisors. I hire other attorneys and paralegals to make sure things run smoothly and to make sure my clients get the best outcomes they can get.”
And while Jason might not have a partner in his firm, at home he has an important one, his wife, Xian. “At home she is my partner and the decisions for the family rest on both of our shoulders. I have someone to bounce ideas off of. In the strategic vision of the firm, she is very much my partner, as she is in all aspects of our family life.”
Life as a lawyer and a litigator can be complicated and demanding. “Something always has to give,” says Jason. “There are only 24 hours in a day, and you can’t be something to everybody. But if you put systems and processes in place then you have a road map and the goal is to make sure nobody feels left out, in the office, with my clients or at home. I sacrifice certain financial rewards to have more time with my family. I have a large staff, so it doesn’t all fall on my shoulders. I hired an HR company so my employees can have someone they can go to for questions or issues, so they don’t have to wait for me, and the issue can be handled quickly and efficiently. I hired a practice manager, so there is someone who is more than an office manager to help with client relations, more than just a paralegal. This all allows me to have more free time to make sure I can do what I need to do, what I’m good at and to be home at night with the family.”
Yet, nothing is perfect. Jason says there have been plenty of 12-hour days and 80-hour work weeks – especially after he took over management of the firm. “My family has lost several weekends as I prepped for large jury trials that settled on the eve of the trial. My family understands that it is the nature of my work as a trial lawyer. But even vacations are hard to plan when you have a busy trial calendar. I’ll occasionally pull up my calendar and block out potential vacation dates with my wife – but it never fails – the week we prefer always has a jury trial – that will settle shortly after we make plans for another week.”
Such is the life and free time of a litigator, as client demands can supersede special events. But to keep everyone on the same page, Jason says communication is key. “When my wife first became pregnant, we created a joint family calendar synced on both our phones,” says Jason. “We did it as overcautious prospective parents, but it had unintended benefits. My wife and I now have the ability to see when our plans may overlap and plan accordingly.”
It’s not easy and it’s not perfect. The demands of being a lawyer and running your own show are always there. “The workday doesn’t end when you leave the office,” says Jason. “I, like most reading this are small business owners and we are on the clock 24/7. I’ll take a client call while cooking dinner or watching my children. There have been times when clients can hear screaming kids in the background – ironically the clients love it. It shows my dedication to them and my family.
However, I am far from super dad. When a case settles and my calendar opens up, I not only add productivity at work, but I’ll make sure to incorporate something family- related. It could be as simple as leaving the office early to meet my daughter at the bus stop. I’ll occasionally need to meet a potential client at their home or my office on the weekend. I live about an hour away from my primary office and it’s not an easy sell to my family on a Saturday afternoon for a trip to the office. But rather than lose the family time to the commute, we will plan something near my office. My wife will drop me off and go eat with the kids or visit friends and family while I am working. They’ll pick me up afterwards or I’ll Uber to them.”
“I see many other lawyers working in their business, but not on their business,” says Jason. “They have the mindset of, ‘I must do everything’. “Or they are being cost- conscious, maybe not even on purpose, but they just don’t want to spend the money – a lot of lawyers are risk-adverse. I can honestly say the hardest hire I ever made was my first attorney because that’s the biggest outlay coming out of my pocket. But once I made that move, I fell in love with having even more employees because it gave me freedom to spend more time with my family. I’ve learned it’s not what does it cost me, but what is it worth to me?”
Investing in Community
“I owe a lot of my engagement and commitment to the community to what I learned from Ed. I saw his enjoyment in it. For him, it really started with softball. His daughter played, he coached it, then he became the President of the Rec Council and was always giving back. When he passed, we dedicated the Ed Pinder field in his honor.”
“Community service is the bedrock Pinder Plotkin was built on. We are extremely active in our local community, and I am a strong believer in incorporating my family into my community service whenever possible.” As a Maryland Mason, Jason volunteers to serve coffee to his Masonic Brethren on the annual Harvest Home Day. “It’s an amazing opportunity to reconnect with hundreds of brothers in a few hours.” Jason has also organized and emcee’d over 20 spring concerts in the communities he serves. He spent four years as the President of the Parkville-Carney Business Association and organized town fairs, business expos and networking events all on a volunteer basis for his community. He is also on the board of several non-profits that he supports through not only money, but also his time.
“During the holidays this past year we had a client appreciation event. We sponsored my daughter’s Girl Scout troop and provided cookies to clients during the week of Thanksgiving (THANKS-cookie 2019). Clients loved that we were supporting the Girl Scouts. His oldest daughter loved it too as her troops cookie sales skyrocketed!
What you focus on expands, but when you are essentially trying to give time to three core components of your life, that focus gets shared and it’s not an easy challenge to keep all three happy: the family, the practice and the community.
While Jason might be transforming people’s opinions on lawyers, there’s another group he’s focused on to help change perceptions – the motorcycle community. Knowing that motorcyclists generally don’t have the best reputation – despite tremendous charitable work, Jason decided to immerse himself into their world by helping to create a website and a movement called MotorcycleTalks®. The website focuses on bikers and all the good they do by telling stories about motorcyclists and the motorcycle community. It’s just one more way to think outside-the-box to make a difference in other people’s lives.
Jason understands that work-life balance is nearly a myth. It’s spoken about and discussed, but in practice it’s nearly impossible to accomplish, because work is such a big part of life when you love the work you do.
“At the end of the day we can’t make any excuses,” says Jason. “We can focus on flexibility and spending time with our family, but we are all accountable to our clients and must be held accountable for our results. It is a results-driven business. I can’t spend all this time with my family and not be there for our clients. The business is very important and always challenging, but you can handle it in a way that creates flexibility. So yes, I am a lawyer, but I practice for three reasons: to love, to serve and to care.”