Female Founders on How to Build a Better Law Practice

Faye Gelb, Editor

What do female founders of law firms think are the key steps to building a better practice?

Women who start their women led firms are uniquely placed to provide us with answers about building a practice. Their choice to start a law firm allows them to create everything including the structure, service delivery, methods of building a book of business, their law firm culture and their work life habits.

On some days, having our own firm and being in charge of our destiny probably sounds pretty attractive. But if you are contemplating it, or in the throes of navigating through your own firm creation, it is always important to hear from others who are traveling the same path.

We reached out to women lawyers who have founded their own firms to learn how to build a better practice. How do we get there and what should we concentrate in our goal to succeed?

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Q: Where should a female lawyer put most of her efforts in building a better law practice?

Female attorney, US lawyer, International Trade lawyer

1 – Know who you are

Aida Dismondy is a U.S. Detroit practicing attorney who supports businesses to timely address legal and compliance issues related to international trade, anti-corruption, and government contracts. Business inquiries, including referrals, can be directed to lexalbex.com

I believe that a good start saves a lot of time. I learned the hard way. To build a better practice it is important to take the time to answer the following:

  • What would I offer?
  • Who do I serve?
  • What's my story?
  • What's my vision?
  • What are my values?
  • How will I reach my target market?
  • How will I deliver my services?
  • What's my SWOT?
  • What is that I need to develop to get better?
  • What is that I don't know that I don't know?
  • Who has done this successfully?
  • Who do I know?
  • Who can be my mentors?

The more specific one is in answering them the better off one will be.

2 – Identify Your Values and Your Goals 

Samantha Seabrook is the founder of Seabrook Workplace Law, a boutique labour and employment firm in Toronto, Canada. She helps her clients find practical, values-driven, solutions to workplace matters. For business inquiries, including referrals, contact her at seabrookworkplacelaw.ca

What are you working for? Identify your values and goals for your practice, and then align your business accordingly. This can range from “I want to make lots of money” to “I want to make a difference in the world”. Once you have the alignment, you can organize and focus your practice in that direction. 

Canadian Female lawyer, Samantha Seabrook, Seabrook Workplace Law

At SWL we live by the mantra, “good people, good work”. This is a reflection of who we are as a firm, and also the type of clients we work with. We focus our business development on identifying organizations that are doing good things in their workplace management. We also help businesses move their workplace management into alignment with their values.

Female lawyer, Jennifer Donovan, Canadian female lawyer

3 – Build your team

Jennifer L. Donovan was born and raised in New Brunswick, my 15 years of family law practice began with me becoming a named partner in my second year at the bar and leaving that behind to start my own boutique law firm 2 years ago. I practice in Fredericton, NB, Canada with a focus on family law litigation, mediation, criminal defence, wills and estates, real estate, personal injury and employment law. Business inquiries, including referrals, can be directed to lexalbex.com

In building a better law practice, a female lawyer should put most of her efforts in her team. Her team ought to be an extension of herself. A well trained, rewarded and happy team is a strong foundation that will propel her practice forward.

In 2018, I had 2 full time and one part time staff members. In 2019, I grew my team to 8 people. By expanding my team, I have grown my practice by being able to offer more service areas. Our clients are better served because we have the resources to do so.

The Value in a Strong Legal Team to Support Your Law Firm

Having a strong team that is united in values, goals and vision will ensure evolution and more business development. One person can only do so much.

  • Many people focused on the same objective can do more and more.
  • Investing in your team with training, experience and rewards will help each to reach their full potential and motivate them to be better and do more.
  • A better law practice is one with happy and satisfied clients who continue to refer and a team that shows up everyday eager to succeed.
  • Happy and satisfied clients make for a more rewarding job.
  • A happy and satisfied team will protect your practice and represent you well. A collective “we did it” is priceless for a positive work environment.
  • A positive work environment will serve your team’s home lives.
  • Expressing gratitude to your team and showing appreciation will strengthen the bond within and a strong bond will keep the team together.

US Female Attorney, Melissa Rosenblum, Criminal Defense

4 – EXPLORATION of types of law and methods of delivery

Melissa Rosenblum is a solo practitioner who specializes in criminal defense, DUI/DWI and traffic offense, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency and appeals. She is Certified as Criminal Trial Attorney by the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Business inquires, including referrals, can be directed to mrp-law.com

A better law practice looks different for everyone depending on one's age, experience, family, years of practice and personal priorities. When I started my legal career, obtaining a job at the defender Association of Philadelphia was my ideal of the best way to practice law. As a young attorney, it was the best learning experience one could ask for, but after having my for kids in 4 years, working at Rowan University adjunct professor was a better law practice for me than handling a caseload of a public defender. When I went back to work as a lawyer I was content for a long time to work for someone else... until I wasn't.

Started Her Own Criminal Law Defense Practice

It took me a long time to take the leap to start my own practice. In hindsight I joke that I was literally pushed from a ledge, kicking and screaming. While scared I was going to crash and burn, it wasn't until I started my own practice that I learned my true value, strength, potential, and respect in the legal community. I learned that the relationships, networking, and goodwill that I had built over the years, created the foundation for my new law practice with referrals.

When I started my Law Firm I knew I wanted to highlight that my firm was a woman-owned criminal defense law firm. From my logo to my website, to the way I interact with my clients and their families, my clients learn quickly that I will truly fight for them to ensure a just and fair result.

My kids are almost grown. In less than a year I will have three in college. Now, a better law practice is one that bears my name on the letterhead and all the freedom and stress that come with owning my own business.

My simple advice to young women lawyers: figure out what is best for you professionally. It may change and grow or be different at different times. Success comes from knowing what you want, and then working hard to achieve your goals  

Her Legal Global, Elder Law and Estate Planning, US Female Attorney, Esther Zelmanovitz

5 – The Network Advantage for Female Attorneys

Perseverance, Skill and Commitment Needed

Esther Zelmanovitz is a US female attorney practicing Elder Law and Estate Planning in Nassau County. Her goal is to help clients find peace of mind through exceptional service, proven strategies and high-quality representation. For business inquiries, including referrals, contact her at nytrustlaw.com

Building a great law practice requires a lot of perseverance, skill and commitment. There are obviously many areas that need dedicated attention and efforts in order to be successful. I don’t believe that there is one specific area that should get “most” of the lawyer’s efforts, but I will formulate my answer as to what area I think a female lawyer should put most effort as compared to other areas.

I feel that building a trusted network is paramount to building a better law practice. It is so important to build relationships with other like minded professionals when growing a law practice. There are multiple benefits of doing so, and it really trickles down to so many other aspects of building a successful law practice.

The benefits of building a strong network for a female attorney

  • Having a strong network gives a female lawyer the ability to share in challenges that lawyers may face when building and running a firm, and specifically, the challenges that are unique to women.
  • It allows me to have meaningful exchanges, finding mentors, mentoring others, and creating opportunities for partnership. 
  • I get insightful tips from other professionals that help me deliver a better service to my clients, help me handle internal administrative tasks, and help me balance my work and family life.
  • Having a strong network helps me service my clients better because I have the right people in related professions to refer my clients to for needs beyond the scope of my practice.
  • And in turn, having a strong network will provide excellent referral sources for me, the professionals in my network know with confidence that I can help their clients in an efficient, competent, and most importantly, honest and compassionate manner.

Therefore, I I believe that a female lawyer should dedicate a substantial part of her efforts to building and maintaining a solid network of likeminded professionals.

IP Canadian Lawyer, Michelle Wassenaar, Method Law Professional Corp.

6 – Learning, networking and mentoring 

Michelle Wassenaar is intellectual property lawyer, patent & trademark agent practicing at her firm, Method Law Professional Corporation. Michelle has a BSc, MSc and JD all from the University of Toronto, and is also a director on the board of DUCA credit union, and is currently completing the Rotman ICD directors education program. For business inquiries, including referrals, contact her at Methodlaw.ca

I recommend continuous learning, networking, and mentoring. Through continuous learning you become a better lawyer for your clients and a better resource for other lawyers who may refer work to you. Writing and having articles published affirms for potential and current clients that you are highly knowledgeable in your field of practice and attracts the attention of lawyers who may have conflict work for you.

Although networking during a pandemic is obviously not the same as making connections in person, it has some advantages, such as, not requiring any travel. Online networking events may be advantageous for those who are not comfortable with striking up a conversation with a stranger about the weather but do shine in a structured format or in typing through a chat function. Mentoring is personally fulfilling and the whole law community benefits from a mentorship culture. A side benefit is that getting to know young lawyers is a resource of future employees for your own firm or even future business referrals.

US Employment Lawyer, Randi Cohen, founder of Randi M. Cohen law firm

7 – Your network is your most important resource!

Randi M. Cohen is a New York employment lawyer representing individuals and small businesses. She is a skilled problem solver and enjoys the art of being a solution focused advocate. She welcomes folks with workplace problems to get in touch. Business inquires, including referrals, can be directed to RandiCohenlaw.com

In building my law practice, the single most important resource has been my network.  Cultivating and nurturing a comprehensive and well rounded network of thought partners, supporters, mentors and mentees has ensured that I have the tools I need to succeed. 

Whether I am looking for a template, advice, a gut check, or a referral pipeline, my network is always the first place that I turn to.  And likewise, I really enjoy when people come to me for those types of things.  In most cases, the conversation is half work and half joy.  

I think the key to being a powerful part of a network is to be authentic, curious, and generous.  If you don't find those attributes coming naturally in a given relationship, move on.  Invest elsewhere.  You'll know the synergy when you find it.  And then give it a lot of energy.  It will come back tenfold.     

Female attorney, Emily Caplan, owner of Caplan Law Firm, New Jersey

8 – Put aside your doubts and focus on the clients!

Emily Caplan, Esq., owner of Caplan Law Firm, LLC. I practice residential real estate law. I am located in Bergen County but work with buyers and sellers all over New Jersey. I love the daily interactions with my clients and the fact that I get to help individuals in getting to the exciting next step in their lives.  I would love to help you buy or sell a home! Please contact me for a free consultation at Emily@caplanlawnj.com or (908) 616-4667.

I think as a woman, there is a big fear that you are not being taken seriously. This was a concern for me when starting my own business.

  • Will people take me seriously when they see that I am a young woman working on my own?
  • Will they choose to use my services over that of a man?

All of these doubts crept through my mind but I decided to put that all to the side and pull the trigger. That is when Caplan Law Firm, LLC officially launched! It was the best decision I have ever made and I have never looked back.

I think women need to put those doubts to the side and really focus on the client, as that is what matters most when practicing law. The client is your number one priority.

I practice real estate law. I work with many first time home buyers who are extremely anxious until closing. I spend a lot of my time walking them through the steps and attempting to ease their nerves during the process. While I know we are all busy and have many clients to tend to, one can never go wrong by taking the time to make clients feel comfortable and understood. Once you build that reputation, the business will keep coming!

Need a roadmap to a better law practice? No problem.

You've just heard from experienced US and Canadian law firm women founders who have taken the leap and started their own female owned law firms. Having experienced what it is like to take the plunge and be their own boss, you can be sure that the hard earned wisdom just shared with you is something to consider. Whether you are already have or are contemplating creating your own law firm, you can never go wrong tapping into the wisdom of women who are creating their own version of the ideal law practice.

1. Know who you are

Aida Dismondy - Connect on LinkedIn

2. Identify your values and your goals

Samantha Seabrook - Connect on LinkedIn

3. Build your team

Jennifer L. Donovan - Connect on LinkedIn

4. Explore types of law & models of delivery

Melissa Rosenblum - Connect on LinkedIn

5. Learn, mentor and be mentored

6. Networking is key

Michelle Wassenaar - Connect on LinkedIn

Esther Zelmanovitz - Connect on LinkedIn

Randi Cohen - Connect on LinkedIn

7. Put aside your doubts

Emily Caplan - Connect on LinkedIn

Join a private online community for empowered women in law

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Lawyer, Faye Gelb, Founder, Her Legal Global

About The Editor

Faye Gelb, founder of Her Legal Global is passionate about empowering lawyers to have a career that makes them smile when they wake up in the morning. Lawyer, Entrepreneur, startup cofounder, front end web developer, photographer and business consultant. Her goal is to help you use your law degree and have a career you love, on your own terms, throughout your career.