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Law Practice Magazine

The Management Issue

Women-Owned Law Firm Roundtable: Firm Leaders Share Experience and Advice

Kate Ahern, Nequosha Anderson, Amanda Cialkowski, Andrea Sue Kramer, and Billie Tarascio


  • Four legal professionals share their experiences of starting and managing their own law firms, highlighting diverse motivations and challenges.
  • Emphasizing diversity and inclusion contributes to organizational cohesion and client attraction, fostering long-term sustainability and growth
Women-Owned Law Firm Roundtable: Firm Leaders Share Experience and Advice

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The following leaders of women-owned law firms navigate unique challenges, show creativity in solving firm management issues and are leaders in our industry. Their stories include a variety of practice areas, locations, firm sizes, experiences and paths to firm leadership. These leaders share their wisdom and advice on starting and growing firms, management, marketing, technology and systems, leadership and diversity to inspire current and future law firm leaders. We interviewed the following leaders:

  • Nequosha Anderson
    Founder, Managing Attorney
    Anderson Law Firm PLLC
    Firm Practice Area(s): Business and intellectual property
  • Amanda Cialkowski
    President, Attorney
    Nilan Johnson Lewis
    Firm Practice Area(s): Labor and employment, corporate and transactional services, health care, business litigation, product liability/complex tort litigation
  • Andrea S. Kramer
    Founding Member
    ASKramer Law LLC
    Firm Practice Area(s): Financial products and derivatives; regulation and taxation of energy transactions; and IRS audits, appeals, tax controversy and defense matters.
  • Billie Tarascio
    Modern Law
    Firm Practice Area(s): Family law

What led you to start your firm, and what was the experience like for you?

Tarascio: I started my own firm immediately out of law school. I was married and had my oldest child in my third year in law school. A traditional path never seemed like the best option either for my family or my career. For the first few years I had ongoing contractor relationships with various firms to learn the practice of law and see how others ran their firms. I officially started the firm now known as Modern Law in 2010 when moving from Oregon to Arizona. I think if the traditional path isn't for you, there are many ways to grow your legal career. Don't be afraid to make your own path. 

Kramer: My legal practice is highly specialized, so I tend to do a lot of the projects I work on myself. I came to realize I did not need the huge infrastructure, support, and resources available in BigLaw. I thought about going out on my own off and on for years, and it finally got to the point where it was “now or never.”

Taking the leap was a kind of jump-off-the-edge-and-give-it-a-try kind of decision. It has felt both liberating and exhilarating. Liberating because I am free from the bureaucracy and constraints of BigLaw. Things moved much slower in BigLaw than I do now. No more time-consuming conflict checks, more flexibility in fee arrangements, no practice area and partner meetings and no need to reach consensus with large groups of colleagues.

It is exhilarating because I work when and where I want; I continue to enjoy the diversity of working with a large group of clients; and I am collaborating with other law firms in ways that were not available to me before.

Clients turn to me because there are very few people who do the sorts of legal work I do so I have not had any issues with attracting new clients. And it is exhilarating to bring far more of the revenues to my bottom line. My clients enjoy the same timeliness, same quality work product and a somewhat lower billing rate.

My transition has been much smoother than I expected. My clients came with me to my new firm and went out of their way to expedite the new vendor onboarding process for a seamless transition. Because my clients are major multinational organizations and family offices, their rigorous cybersecurity compliance requirements were something of a bump in the road. I was surprised (although I should not have been) that I needed to replicate the same technology infrastructure that I had in BigLaw. As a result, I have developed a deep appreciation for the computer specialists who have helped me build a secure communication system and network.

The challenges I’ve faced have been minimal. I have a terrific administrator who does my billing and record keeping, a marketing professional who keeps up with my extensive publications and two terrific typists.

I understand Nilan Johnson Lewis is one of the biggest certified women-owned firms in the country––what is the history of your firm and how did it grow to this stage?

Cialkowski: That’s correct. Nilan Johnson Lewis (NJL) achieved a significant milestone in early 2022 when it received certification from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and became one of the country's largest officially women-owned law firms.

This certification marked a major achievement for our 115-person team. It also represented the culmination of a quarter-century of dedicated work since our formation in 1996. At that time, our founding attorneys made headlines by launching NJL as the largest start-up law firm in Minnesota and for intentionally departing from the hierarchical cultures often prevalent in the legal services industry.

NJL was founded on a set of six core values, with diversity being one of these fundamental pillars. It asserted that talent is diverse and comes in various forms and emphasized that opportunities for women, minorities and individuals with unique backgrounds and lifestyles will always be available within our firm. Over the years, NJL’s leadership consistently embodied these values through intentional hiring, retention, promotion and training practices, as well as through the implementation of inclusive benefits and policies.

As a result of our ongoing commitment to diversity, NJL evolved into a preferred workplace for women lawyers, achieving gender ratios and career advancements rarely witnessed in our industry. The positive impact of talented female attorneys, combined with the endorsement of our male attorneys, strengthened our dedication to the core value of diversity and its relevance to today’s evolving workforce and client service dynamics. We like to say we were future-minded from the beginning!

What are some of the challenges of running your own firm?

Anderson: Some of the challenges of being a solo practitioner include being able to manage the various operational components of the firm. For example, when my father passed away suddenly my law firm ground to a complete halt. I had just reactivated my law firm and did not have any real standard operating procedures if I was out of the firm. I had to get communications out immediately and assess whom I knew who would cover for me. I recommend having a list of people who know where things are in your firm, such as keys, where you bank, how to access client files, etc. Some of the events of life that can also cause issues in your law firm could be natural disasters such as tornados, fires, flooding or even hurricanes! I had a hurricane plan but did not have a death plan or a family death plan. 

Additional challenges include knowing what growth or scaling looks like for you. Often, we are surrounded by mantras or marketing that tell us we have to grow, or we have to make a certain amount of money in order to feel successful. Well, the challenge is—what is success for you? Take time to know what that means for this season of your life. Everyone’s experience in this profession will be different and no one’s path must be the same. Be patient with yourself and understand nothing is forever. You can always change if you desire. The challenge will come with facing others’ opinions on what that may mean for you. For me, I’ve learned that I need to practice in a way where flexibility is paramount. Without it, I know my firm would not survive.

Managing your own firm allows flexibility and creativity in several areas, including marketing. What is your approach to marketing and why? 

Tarascio: Every owner will have an area that they excel at and enjoy most. For me, that is marketing. Our philosophy is to create real fans by providing value, community and authenticity in every piece of marketing. We don’t buy leads. We have robust social media accounts with more than 600,000 followers across platforms. We run a Facebook support group with over 16,000 members. We try to meet our clients where they are and answer questions they have. We provide many resources for free, including checklists, books, webinars and live Q&A. We also have a sister company, Win Without Law School to help people representing themselves in family court. 

How have you used technology or systems to help you in running your own firm?

Anderson: Tech is life at my firm—from intake to client experience. We have developed automations and email funnels for automated responses and the like. One of my favorite tech tools right now is to record myself when I’m doing tasks so that the creation of standard operating procedures is not as daunting. I know some practitioners are fearful of technology, however it can be the newest employee for the firm if mapped out and implemented based on the firm’s needs. Before hiring a tech specialist, know what you want. Even if you do not know if it is possible, be honest and share what you would like to see happen. Also, establish criterion for your support or expert hire as there are many charlatans who will sell you on an outcome that may not be what you desire. 

How has the focus on diversity made your firm better?

Cialkowski: Our emphasis on diversity has both enhanced internal cohesion and external appeal. It sharpened our identity from within and carved out a differentiated position in the market.

Internally, our leaders, attorneys and support staff have united around our cultural distinctiveness, embracing it as a competitive advantage. I believe our unique gender composition has brought a heightened sense of togetherness and collaboration to our client and trial work. For example, the decision to become women-owned required a unanimous vote among all NJL shareholders, both male and female. Partners placed their trust in our initiative and supported the decision.

Externally, our diverse identity has both attracted new talent and opened doors to new client work. We’ve successfully brought in valuable lateral hires and secured business opportunities due to our women-owned designation and distinctive approach. Our diverse identity has piqued curiosity and fostered a sense of kinship with those predisposed to seeing us succeed.

Another significant impact of our diversity focus is that it has solidified our independent status. Despite the prevalent mergers and acquisitions activity in legal services, we have consistently resisted absorption by other firms. Our WBENC certification sent a clear message to external parties: we are not for sale, and we are vehemently committed to remaining an independent law firm.

How do you maintain what you’ve built?

Cialkowski: Receiving women-owned certification as a more established law firm has certainly been instrumental. Many other firms that have obtained this certification did so at an earlier stage in their history. In our case, WBENC allowed us to both reinvigorate and maintain our focus on a broad spectrum of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) considerations in our larger operations. It instilled an even stronger sense of accountability and passion regarding our staffing, benefits, policies and more.

Another intriguing dynamic is that, in addition to becoming a women-owned business, we are evolving into a second-generation law firm. When we hire or promote talent and pass the torch to new leaders, we actively seek genuine resonance with diversity and invite input on how to maximize our potential as a women-owned law firm and role model in the profession.

As president, I’ve found that the key is not only to foster a sense of belonging but also to encourage contribution to DEIB. It’s important to establish diversity as a long-standing imperative within our workforce that permeates how we routinely think, relate and operate.

A recent step in this direction was the appointment of a chief attorney talent officer—a newly created position in the firm—to oversee our entire attorney development strategy. This role is focused on deliberately achieving holistic success and well-being for our attorneys, enabling them to build lasting, fulfilling careers and make substantial contributions to NJL’s legacy and culture. Certainly, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging are integral components of this role.

In addition to practicing law, you’re a nationally recognized thought leader on gender equity, you are a frequent speake, and the author of three books on overcoming gender bias. Can you give a sense of the benefit and struggles for women running their own firms?

Kramer: I really don’t see any differences for women running their own firms as opposed to men with two exceptions. First, women don’t need to worry about the sorts of biases we face while practicing law in BigLaw. This bias can affect the types of work assignments available, the sorts of evaluations they receive for their work product, their compensation and their promotion opportunities. Such gender biases permeate the culture of BigLaw. When women run their own firms, we no longer need to navigate around senior men with unacknowledged biases in the way we must in large law firms. Second, women running their own firms is actually a big loss to BigLaw. As more women start their own firms, our profession’s largest firms are losing out on the much-needed diversity of ideas and thoughts that results from diverse teams.

You’re a leader among other women lawyers, both as a women’s bar association leader and as the creator of a pod of women practice owners. Why is this support important, what impact does it have on women lawyers?

Anderson: Leadership comes naturally to me, and I love the community aspect of this profession. Seeing other women lawyers share and be able to have a safe space that is just for us allows us to remain in the profession. Many women are not able to do so because they feel as if they are alone. If you are reading this, I want you to know that you are not alone. There are many women practitioners who have either been there or know something about what you are facing. Community and support, and I mean real support, as in this is how you do this or that is my opinion, will continue to assist women to remain this profession.