I have been watching the Bear on Hulu for a few weeks now. It is about the struggle, both personal and professional, of a chef in Chicago who is a reluctant business owner. It’s a really nicely done series with about 16 episodes. I like it because it shows the struggle inherent in small business.
Most law firm owners are small business owners like I am, running a successful operation over decades. But, the challenges depicted in the Bear resonate with me for a bunch of reasons. First, the lead characters always feel like the unexpected is upon them. That is a not infrequent occurrence in my practice. Pandemic shutdowns? I did not see that coming. Work from home? Did not see that coming. Global warming reducing slip and fall cases in winter? Did not see that coming. On the positive side for the business at least, people are driving like morons and the whole notion of texting and driving seems very very hard to get rid of.
I have my own bulwarks against future uncertainties, but the beauty of small business is that you can tweak it while the plane is in mid-air. You can make mistakes and recover or make changes to what you do or how you do it. Sometimes you have no choice. Other times you do.
The Bear also struggles with characters and personality clashes that are just part of a good TV show. They are not a reflection of personal injury practice or running a law firm as I know it. Bad characters or bad personal interactions result in people being fired. Full stop. End of story.
The one big difference between me and the Bear is that customers are simply not a focus of the show. For me, clients or customers make the business what it is. I generally have good years financially year after year. But good financially does not necessarily mean it feels good. Demanding clients are something that I try to weed out of my case load. But, sometimes you are stuck working on a great case that is going to make you and the client a lot of money, but the client is awful. It happens. I try to learn from it and carve those clients out or set ground rules for them, but it just happens and it can make the year or two years of the case feel crappy even though it is financially a winning year.