Women Entrepreneurs in the Law
Since I became an entrepreneur, July has been a time of reflection for me. Not only is it halfway through the year, but it is also the anniversary month of my firm, which celebrates its 4th anniversary this year! And so, July is a time to reflect on the past year and plan for the next one.
So far in 2019, we have accomplished a great deal – the firm has grown, including adding our new Of Counsel Nancy Saltzman and a contract attorney to its ranks. We have also diversified our practice and now provide clients with full-service representation in transactional, IP and litigation matters.
Looking ahead, in addition to initiatives I have planned for my firm, I am also excited about an upcoming initiative through Women Owned Law (“WOL”), the national networking organization for women entrepreneurs in the law that I founded and run. This month, WOL announced that its inaugural Symposium on Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Law will take place at Drexel University School of Law’s Kline Institute of Trial Advocacy in Philadelphia on March 11, 2020 (the same month that WOL celebrates its 3rd anniversary!). This Symposium is believed to be the first of its kind for women entrepreneurs in the law.
Which brings me to the question: Why is women’s entrepreneurship in the law so important? After running my own firm for four years, I am more convinced than ever that entrepreneurship is key for women to ultimately achieve parity and equity in law. I recently spoke about my journey to and through entrepreneurship with several “Big Law” lawyers, all of whom told me that they could never do what I am doing (“How do you manage all the administrative hassles?”, “Don’t you do everything by yourself?”), which could lead one to conclude that they are more risk adverse than I am. However, that could not be further from the truth.
As I explained, running a business is not rocket science. Figuring out the necessary systems and infrastructure to set up a law firm is actually pretty straightforward, especially when you set up your business in a way that supports your practice and workstyle (for me, it was hiring a fantastic assistant, Pat Choplin, off the bat). Moreover, I was and am still risk adverse, but I realized that it was just as risky to continue working in large firms as it was to strike out on my own.
In short, starting my own firm has been extremely empowering. Of course, like in any businesses, there are ups and downs, but being able to build something myself and chart the course of the business in the way that makes the most sense to me, has been the most satisfying experience in my legal career. I am able to seek out and work with a wide array of clients – from the large company clients with whom I have always worked, to individuals and startups who are also building businesses. Perhaps most importantly, I believe running my own business has made me a better lawyer. I now truly understand the choices business people, and especially business owners, make every day in a way I never could as a big firm lawyer. (The irony in this is that my grandfather, who owned his own business with my grandmother for most of his life, was mystified that I would work for someone else when I graduated law school. He told me that being your own boss was the best way to be. I thought he was crazy – literally no one from my Penn Law class was doing that – how could that ever be a good idea? Of course, he was right. It only took me 20+ years to realize that!)
So what does this have to do with women – and especially equity and parity? For many women lawyers, being in a traditional law firm involves overcoming numerous obstacles to success on a daily basis (I’ve referred to this as “death by a thousand paper cuts”): from getting good assignments and opportunities, to securing origination credit and compensation that you deserve, while also trying to maintain a personal and family life. Then, added on top of that are the basics: being an excellent lawyer, generating business, and keeping your clients’ needs met. Some law firms are trying to eliminate these obstacles, and there are certainly new initiatives in place, but the needle has not moved very far in my 25+ years of practice and I am skeptical that it will in the next 25+ years.
That’s where entrepreneurship comes in. When women step out of traditional law firms and start building their own firms, magic happens (trust me, I’ve seen it!). Many of the obstacles they have faced previously literally cease to exist, and women can have what they have been trying to achieve all along – equal opportunities, leadership roles, control over their practices, and recognition and fair compensation for their work, with the added bonus of not having to deal with the burden of sexual harassment and other #MeToo issues. Once women are not weighed down by the proverbial albatross that many deal with daily, the sky is the limit on what they can accomplish. After all, every large law firm – including those that are go-tos for big business – started out as a couple guys in an office. So why can’t the next generation of leading firms be started by women? They can be and they should be.
Is having your own business perfect? Of course not. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone – but I believe it is a good fit for many more people than try it. So, for this #WomenCrushWednesday, I want to honor the women entrepreneurs in the law who inspire me every day. Let’s build the kind of businesses that we want to work in, both for ourselves and for the generations of women behind us.