Building a Startup Law Practice: One Lawyer's Perspective on Making the Jump From Established Law To Entrepreneurship

By
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January 30, 2017

It didn't take Jessica Yanez, CommonBond member since 2015, long to discover her passion for immigration law. As a paralegal at the Chapman Law Firm in Greensboro, North Carolina, she found that immigration work brought together her passions for history, culture, and language. Her work assisting attorneys with family and employment-based cases inspired her to attend law school at Elon University and become an associate attorney at the same firm.

While Jessica honed her skills as an associate, she couldn't help but feel that there was a more effective, client-centric method to practicing her specialty. She was eager to open her own law practice so she could pursue immigration cases with the three core principles she believed would improve outcomes for her clients: innovation, advocacy and appreciation.

The most successful lawyers I have seen in the immigration space focus on these core principles:

They are truly innovative...

thinking outside the box and analyzing the law with a new lens when they come up against stumbling blocks.

They are advocates for their clients...

always taking the time to understand each individual clients' personal circumstances so they can develop tailored strategies to pursue on behalf of clients.

They are appreciative...

of their clients, staff, fellow attorneys and even opposing counsel. They realize that working as a lawyer and shaping policy in this area is a privilege.

With support from her husband and community, Jessica decided to make the jump from an established law firm and start her own firm in 2012. Nearly five years after getting her firm off the ground, Jessica has three key insights that may help other lawyers who are interested in leaving an established practice for entrepreneurship:

Understand what it means to be committed

"Only start your own legal practice—or any business of your own, for that matter—if you are 100% committed to it and cannot think of anything else that would be more fulfilling to you," Jessica says. She knows firsthand that entrepreneurship takes drive and focus, sometimes at the expense of many other things in your life.  

"Unless you are 100% sure that growing your business and making an impact through the work you do every day is really how you want to spend your time, it's unlikely that you'll be successful.  Given all the things competing for your attention, you won't be able to focus on it enough and you'd be doing a disservice to your clients."

Shake off your imposter syndrome

 "As a young, female lawyer and entrepreneur early in my career, I had some misgivings about my own ability to make the jump from an established firm to start my own," Jessica recalls. After starting her own firm, she found that her doubts were unfounded.

"As a young attorney, I look at every case with fresh eyes—I see myself as my client's biggest advocate, and I put in the time and energy to develop innovative solutions to the issues they are facing.  Because of this, I have been successful with many cases for people that other lawyers thought they had no chance at."

How do you shed your own self-doubt? Do what Jessica did: own your successes by focusing less on how others will perceive you and more on providing value to others.

Understand and improve your financial situation where possible

While opening her firm was an exciting endeavor, Jessica soon came to realize that her student loans were becoming a huge burden and a near constant worry.

"I kept a sticky note in my desk with the amount that I owed. I would get bills each month from my  different loan providers with a laundry list of all of the loans I had taken out and, all with different interest rates. Some interest rates were more than 8%. I sat down with my husband to do the math and we realized that at this rate, on an entrepreneur's salary, it would be nearly impossible to ever pay off my student loans," she recalls.

Jessica researched her options and found CommonBond, where she was able to consolidate her loans into one monthly payment, and save money with a lower rate.

"Now, my husband and I can see the finish line on the horizon, and I finally threw away that pesky sticky note that was a constant reminder of being burdened by student loans. Now I feel like a weight has been lifted off of our shoulders and I can focus on my law practice and my family without the constant stress of student loans."

(Want to learn more?  Download CommonBond's Refinancing 101 Guide for the basics on saving time and money through student loan refinancing.)

As Jessica's firm approaches its fifth anniversary, she's grown her business from a team of two to a team of six. It's a great reminder to anyone with entrepreneurial aspirations that success often comes by pushing past initial hurdles in favor of pursuing long term goals.

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