How many women owned law firms are there in the U.S.? Nobody appears to know, according to Nicole Galli, a Big Law refuge who launched her own firm in 2015.
This week, Galli and others formally launched Women Owned Law , an organization dedicated to helping other women legal entrepreneurs network, increase their visibility, and grow their influence.
One of the organization’s first priorities will be collecting data on the number of women-owned law firms that exist.
“It was mystifying to me ... that there doesn’t seem to be any data,” she said. “There are pockets of information, but no wholesale clearinghouse of information.”
[caption id="attachment_48980" align="aligncenter” width="306"][Image “Galli_high res” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Galli_high-res-1-e1493743272315.jpg)]Nicole Galli. (Courtesy)[/caption]
The group, which already has chapters in Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C., and plans to launch more chapters around the country later this year, will also provide resources and tools to women considering starting their own legal ventures.
Annual dues are $250 per person, or a reduced student fee of $25. So-called Founders Circle members, who pay $500, will have their names recognized on WOL’s website. The group is open to any person “who supports the mission of the association,” according to its website.
When Galli last spoke to Big Law Business in January, she predicted women-owned law firms will become the next significant generation of law firms and explained how she conceived of the group. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Big Law Business:Why was it important to create a group for women legal entrepreneurs?
Nicole Galli: I think that there is a real difference between being a woman lawyer and a woman entrepreneur. There are differences between practicing law and having your own practice … and there are huge differences between running a law firm and running another business. There really wasn’t a good fit for both of those things being brought together.
[Women Owned Law] focuses on the business of law as opposed to specifically attracting clients or practice issues, or substantive issues. [Unlike founders of other startups] attorneys are always going to have personal liability because we’re attorneys. Whether we need to be an LLC depends on other things, like are you going to have employees. I have to worry about issues in advertising, and bank accounts that have to be named certain things. Conventional wisdom when you’re starting a business would be staying in one location. But in order to maintain my multistate law license, I had to have offices in multiple states.
In some ways, it’s a lot more complicated. But in others it’s easier. I don’t need inventory. A lot of us have a portable practice, we’re not facing non-competes. But starting a law firm is different than just, I have a product and I want to sell it. The stakes are lot higher if you get it wrong. You can lose your law license.
BLB:What kind of feedback have you been getting?
Galli: We have a number of goals for the group, everything from being a network of referrals, to being an information source to the longer term projects of research and raising the profile of women owned firms.
For any of the people coming to us, each woman has a different reason they’re finding the group attractive. One woman said she didn’t need an additional network but she loved that we were doing additional research on firms. She really appreciated the focus on the business of law. Other people have absolutely been happy to have a referral network. A lot of us seem to have business-oriented practices, so being able to refer to other women who also serve that client base has been a real bonus. All of the different goals we have overall seem to be meeting an interest and a need.
BLB: Anything in particular members have responded to most positively?
Galli: What I hear the most is being able to come to a place where there are like-minded women who are dealing with the same issues that they’re dealing with day to day. Having that community, particularly of entrepreneurs in the law, that has felt really different. Focusing on that business aspect of things.
We struggled as a board on refining our goal. What we’re really focusing on is the women entrepreneur in the law and we’re less tied to other standards. You can still be [Women-owned Business Enterprise] certified*. You don’t need to come for us for that. We decided to go with 50 percent ownership [as the definition of women-owned] because a lot of our businesses are partnerships, and so making one partner have a little bit more percentage than another is not representative of how the businesses are being run. It’s not uncommon that men may be willing to give up that percentage, but the certification looks at who’s running the business, so it’s not just a formula. For our purposes, we didn’t feel the need to be quite so rigid about that.
*[Editor’s note: Various state, local and third-party agencies provide official WBE certification. One of the criteria for being certified as a WBE is having at least 51 percent women ownership.]
BLB:Why is that?
Galli:One of the things we wanted to do is help women-owned law firms grow. One of our concerns was, say you have a woman and a man start a firm, they start out 50/50. They want to bring in a third partner. But what if that partner is male. They’re suddenly not a women-owned firm, even though that’s the kind of woman our organization wants to support. The woman still runs the firm, and maybe it’s a predominantly female organization in terms of employees. Our whole goal here is to be more inclusive, and that’s one of the ways we thought it was important to do so.
The other thing that we did was not restrict our membership, so anyone, you don’t have to be a lawyer, anyone who supports our mission can be a member and participate in the group and dialogue. Most of the group is women who own their own firms, but we wanted to be a place where the woman who is thinking about [starting a firm] could also come and feel comfortable.
BLB:There doesn’t seem to be any national count of the number of women owned law firms in the U.S. Can you talk about what data you’re going collect and what you hope to find?
Galli: It was mystifying to me as well that there doesn’t seem to be any data. There are pockets of information, but no wholesale clearinghouse of information. We’ve been talking to people doing national studies, and I’ve gotten advice from them. We’re going to focus on a pilot study first, by picking a geographic area, probably Philadelphia because we’re based here, and figure out how we’re going to get that information. The idea would be for us to pick a geographic area, then tap the available resources.
As we’ve been moving around the country, we’ve been finding that there are some informal groups, so we’ll tap into whatever local resources we can find. We’re looking for number of firms and will pick apart how long they’ve been in existence, the number of lawyers in the firms, and practice areas. That’s something we’re particularly interested in, as we seem to be attracting a lot of big firm refugees or folks with a business-oriented practice.
We’d like to be able to get a baseline and then pick a few things, maybe it’s revenue, size of firm, number of firms starting, and then follow those indicators over a period of time. At some point we’re going to have to find a partner. We’ve been talking about reaching out to different educational institutions. For a bigger study, it’s going to be a significant undertaking and funding of course is going to be a big issue. But the goal is to make it an ongoing thing.
BLB: What have you learned about the legal services landscape in the process of launching this group?
Galli:I’d say the biggest thing that personally I’ve been getting out of it is a greater knowledge of the whole legal tech industry and the way the delivery of legal services is transforming. My impression is that there’s a lot of women in that space. If you look at the thought leaders in that space, a lot of them are women. We’ve been making some efforts to reach out to these folks.
It’s also influenced the thinking that we’re looking at the woman legal entrepreneur instead of limiting it to practicing lawyers. There are a lot of opportunities for women in the law and it may not be the traditional practice of law. Women are really good at being real creative and real efficient and the hourly model is not necessarily in sync with that whereas finding alternative ways to deliver legal services is in sync with that.