by Sanya Sarich Kerksiek
MSJDN members and entrepreneurs Laura King and Brittany Dowd co-founded a virtual and remote company, Ad Hoc Legal Group, shortly after graduating from law school. Ad Hoc Legal offers research and writing services to other attorneys on a project basis. The end-products are high-quality, court-ready documents. Ad Hoc Legal is part of the growing movement in the legal profession toward more flexibility, efficiency, and economy for both practicing attorneys and their clients. While Laura and Brittany still occasionally encounter old-fashioned attitudes about “contract attorneys,” they are challenging that unfair stigma and breaking the mold with their sleek website and their modern “gig economy” business model.
Laura and Brittany met while studying for the bar in Washington state. They became friends and went on to clerk together (for different judges) at the Washington State Court of Appeals. Shortly thereafter, Laura and her husband (who is in the Air Force) PCS-ed from Fairchild AFB in Spokane to Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama, and Brittany and her husband (who is also in the Air Force) PCS-ed from Fairchild to Vance AFB in Enid, Oklahoma. They each have one-and-a-half year old daughters.
Although Laura and Brittany had gone their separate ways geographically, they stayed in touch and eventually co-founded their 100% remote and virtual company in 2017. Their decision to do so arose directly from the challenge faced by many MSJDN-ers: how to maintain and develop a challenging, meaningful career when faced with multiple, frequent moves across state lines. Laura and Brittany both recognized that a market existed for high quality, project-based legal work for small and solo law firms that do not have the manpower to do the in-depth legal research and writing that is necessary for their practice. In other words, they saw an opportunity, and ran with it.
To start their business, they first did their homework. Laura sought out and found a mentor through MSJDN. Laura was connected with Celeste Boyd, who had previously established a career as a freelance attorney. Celeste helped Laura and Brittany get their business off the ground by offering advice and counsel behind the scenes. Laura and Brittany credit a large part of their success to the help Celeste provided, and agree that finding a mentor should be a priority for attorneys interested in going into freelancing. Questions and issues arise on an ongoing basis, and having an experienced attorney who could offer advice helped immensely in establishing their business.
For her part, Celeste is proud that Laura and Brittany have taken the initiative to take control of their careers. As an attorney with over ten years of experience–three of which she spent as a freelancer and all of which has been spent working remotely, Celeste agrees that one of the downsides to virtual and remote work is the risk of isolation. Networking is key to counteracting that risk. Celeste acknowledged that reaching out to potential professional contacts doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone. But she noted that there is great potential in the “informational interview.” Calling up an attorney or professional and simply asking for help and advice is a great way to approach networking. People are more likely to be responsive when all you are seeking is information. Professional opportunities such as job offers and mentorship may not come with that first meeting, but they could very well present themselves in the future. And the point is that they won’t present themselves at all if no initiative is taken to reach out in the first place. The worst a potential contact can say is no, in which case you move on to the next potential contact.
Aside from connecting with Celeste, Laura and Brittany also looked into the best ways to accomplish the nuts-and-bolts of starting a business, including developing a website, managing documents, and record-keeping. They decided to develop their website with SquareSpace, although they also hired professional photographers and a web designer and found that investment worthwhile. They use Google G Suite for document management and use an accountant to help with record-keeping and taxes. At first they used Casemaker and law libraries with full Westlaw access for legal research, and eventually they were able to negotiate a package for their own needs through LexisAdvanced.
While their practice is 100% virtual and remote, they decided to “ground” their business in a single geographic area – Washington state – in order to more easily manage marketing and business development. Washington is where their legal careers started, and they both see themselves returning there one day, so that location just made sense. In addition, it was a place in which the legal market seemed progressive and more amenable to their type of work than perhaps markets in other geographic areas. They maintain a Washington business address and travel back to the state to attend local bar association events and small law firm conferences for networking and business development.
In short, Laura and Brittany are two sharp, hardworking women who decided to take control of their careers, rather than let the challenges presented by military life take control of them. They are building a steady stream of clients and developing their careers while maintaining a satisfying quality of life. MSJDN wishes them all the best in the future!
MSJDN is an advocacy group supporting military spouses in the legal profession. They advocate for licensing accommodations; educate the public about the challenges faced by career-minded military spouses and their families; encourage the hiring of military spouses; and provide a network connecting military spouse attorneys with each other and their supporters. Visit the MSJDN website here.