Follow Your Instinct
While I was in law school, I told two of my classmates, Michael Maroko and Nathan Goldberg, that we should start a law firm and become partners. They were two of the top students in my class, so it took a certain amount of chutzpah to even ask them. They had plenty of offers from the big firms. Why would they even think of going into practice with me with all the risks and unknowns?
They asked me that same question: “Why should we go into practice with you?” They asked, “Where would the clients come from? Who do you know?” To which I replied: “I don’t know anyone, and no one knows me.”After we had a laugh, I asked, “Would you ever want to be in your own practice?” I told them that now was the time to take the risk because they had nothing, so they had nothing to lose. I told them that if they accepted offers from the big firms, they were going to get married and then have kids, and they wouldn’t want to leave the big firms because of their family responsibilities.
So one of the most important pieces of advice I could give to any law student would be to follow your instincts and live your values.
The Partnership We Built
I told them I wanted to go into practice and work with them because we had common values, and they had integrity and a good sense of humor. They were also extremely bright and hard-working, and I thought they would be great lawyers. Most of all, I trusted them and believed they wanted to assist victims of injustice, as I did. I told them I really believed if we put good out into the world, good would come back to us. That might not happen immediately, and it might not be from a particular case, but if we did the right thing and put good into the world, we would do well.
Forty years later, my classmates are still my law partners. My partners have strengths I don’t have, and I have strengths they don’t have, so we complement each other. We also respect the fact that we each make our own important contributions to the firm.
We have honest communication, which is very important. We don’t let issues or resentment build up. We kibitz—we talk and we are open with one another. They’re like my brothers, and it’s a very special and exciting partnership that we have.
Don't Let Fear Stop You
If I hadn’t followed my instincts about asking my partners to start a law firm with me, I would likely never have had the opportunity to work on the types of cases my firm has accepted. I was able to take on LGBTQ rights cases in the 1970s when almost no one wanted to take them.
My partners and I were able to take the cases we wanted to take and build our practice to become the leading private women’s rights law firm in the nation and a firm that’s a prominent defender of victims’ rights and the rights of minorities. I look back now and think, “What if I had let fear stop me from going into my own law practice?”
Instead of saying, “I wish I had known,” today I can say I’m glad I didn’t let fear and doubt stop me from taking that risk of becoming a partner in a new plaintiff’s civil rights law firm. So one of the most important pieces of advice I could give to any law student would be to follow your instincts and live your values. If you do that, you’ll maximize your opportunity to be successful and make your dreams a reality.