Are you tired of working nonstop to maintain a fancy office, a full wardrobe of suits and all the other status symbols associated with being a lawyer? Do you ever wonder what it would be like to practice law beachside?
Well, then meet Sarah de Diego, who in December moved her home and law practice from Santa Monica to San Juan, Puerto Rico. She and her husband realized that maintaining their Los Angeles lifestyle was becoming too much of a burden, especially after the arrival of their son, Dexter, nearly three years ago.
“The main idea behind it was to step back a little from all the time-consuming activities and spend some more time with him,” said de Diego, a member of CLA’s Business Law Section.
De Diego, 38, figured that the move would cut her workload by more than half. So far it’s working out. It helps that she has a niche practice advising tech companies around the world who do online advertising and email marketing, which means she can work from virtually anywhere with an Internet connection.
She kept one employee, a Houston-based lawyer she has known since they studied at Pepperdine Law School together. Otherwise, she was able to ditch most of her overhead, including her office, which was suitably nice but offered a view of a parking lot.
“Now I have a lovely view outside my window – a view of the beach,” she said.
She not only works less, but she’s able to fit her work around her son’s schedule – heading to her home office while he naps or attends a nearby private school.
It’s an enviable situation, especially considering the mental health challenges facing the legal profession as a whole. A 2016 study found that 28 percent of lawyers are struggling with some level of depression. Nineteen percent suffered from anxiety and 23 percent felt stressed.
De Diego said she takes advantage of technology to streamline her work. Most of her client meetings are done over Skype (an online video and voice service). Some of the other tools she uses include Dropbox and Slack for collaborating with clients on projects and EchoSign for gathering electronic signatures.
She had to wind down the litigation piece of her practice, which only made up a small fraction. She has kept the bulk of her clients, many of whom pay her a flat fee, which simplifies billing. She can often answer a question via text faster than it takes to open a billing program and track the time.
De Diego views her move as part of a larger trend in the profession, which she has noticed through her volunteer work with the Women Lawyers of Los Angeles Foundation. The scholarship candidates she meets say they aren’t interested in working 80 to 90 hours a week. Many students also say they want to open their own firms – and control their own schedules – from the get-go.
De Diego was on the leading edge of the trend in 2009. She founded De Diego Law just four years out of law school, after brief stints thein BigLaw and in-house at a technology company.
Since moving to Puerto Rico, she has cut back on her volunteer work. She is less active in the Business Law Section, where she once chaired the Internet Law and Privacy Committee and served five years on the BLS Executive Committee, including two turns at vice chair.
She remains on the board of the Hope United LA community church, where she is spearheading the launch of a computer learning center for poor residents of Cambodia. The center is set to open at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, she doesn’t miss wearing suits to the office every day.
“I have one suit and donated the rest to downtown women’s shelter,” she said.