Last week, I thought my life had ended. No, it was not the announcement that All My Children is ending this week. That tragedy I learned to live with once I found out that online episodes will start airing this winter. It was because my iPhone broke, or at least I thought it had.
I panicked. I, like those fax machine loving small-firm attorneys, am not tech savvy. So, I went straight to the Apple website and set up an appointment at the Genius Bar. As I was waiting for my appointment, I emailed a friend to ask her if she had any idea on how to fix my phone. She responded, “Did you Google it?” No, I had not. And, within thirty seconds of web-searching, I had found the solution to my problem.
I realized from our email exchange that there are two types of people in this world: people who are helpless, and those who help themselves. Since learning that I had yet another issue to work on, I set out to find a small-firm lawyer who practices self-help.
Meet Jessica Fairchild of Fairchild Law Offices, LLC. Fairchild, a University of Chicago graduate and former Sidley Austin attorney, started her own firm in May 2010. Fairchild’s path to solo success was the result of this lady making things happen. While I would unlikely be able to follow suit unless there is a way to use the Genius Bar to find small firm success (niche alert!), you can try for yourself by following these steps….
Step 1: Chart a New Path in Biglaw
The old adage is “do good work,” and then you will be promoted. Fairchild certainly did “good work,” but she took it to the next level and created her own opportunities. In 2007, Fairchild joined a small group of other Biglaw attorneys working for Chicago 2016, the not-for-profit organization that led Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Fairchild became General Counsel of Chicago 2016 in January 2007. In her role as General Counsel, Fairchild oversaw the day-to-day legal issues of the organization (e.g., employment issues, contracts, etc.) and was responsible for legal issues relating to the bid.
Step 2: Take a Leap
In October 2009, Chicago lost the Olympic bid and so Fairchild was left with a decision. She was torn between returning to Sidley to continue her corporate securities practice, or striking out on her own. Fairchild ultimately decided to take the lessons she had learned as a Sidley lawyer and as a general counsel for Chicago 2016 (and her love of sports), and open a solo practice that offered transactional services in areas including sports law, intellectual property, and corporate law.
Step 3: Leverage Your Network and Exploit Your Background
When Fairchild went out on her own in 2010, she did not have any clients. However, she had built strong relationships with lawyers at Sidley, former clients, and all of the many people she worked with at Chicago 2016. And she had a track record of success as a general counsel. This meant that Fairchild had the business appreciation that comes from working in-house, and which appealed to her clients, who often did not have an in-house legal team.
In fact, many of Fairchild’s early engagements (and current engagements) involve Fairchild acting as an “outside” general counsel for her clients. She also represents some large companies on matters involving corporate transactions and contracts. Her practice has grown through referrals of her former colleagues and happy clients.
Following these (not so) simple steps, Fairchild has been able to create a thriving and diverse transactional practice. When asked if she considered specializing on sports law only, Fairchild said: “While I love sports and represent various clients on sports law issues, I think it is important for solo practitioners to maintain a broader focus. My clients have many different legal needs and I need to be able to serve them.”
For those of us who might lack Fairchild’s chutzpah, she offered one final tip. “It is important to be deliberate when making decisions that affect your career trajectory. Have a plan but do not be afraid to deviate if an unexpected opportunity arises. As early as possible in your career, focus on building relationships with your colleagues, clients, and opposing counsel. And, along the way, learn how to juggle. If you do these things, you will be making things happen for yourself.”
Or, just copy what she did.
Oh, and if your iPhone dies, press all the buttons until the little guy rises again.
When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.