Interviewed by Kenny Matuszewski
Where do you work?
Michael: I work for a great boutique transactional law firm downtown, the Law Office of Michael Reed.
What do you practice?
Michael: I provide transactional business law services to freelancers, artists, and other business owners of various sizes and industries.
Why did you decide to start your law firm?
Michael: I’ve wanted to work with artists and entrepreneurs since my first year of law school. At some point after graduation, I realized that no one else was going to give me the flexibility that I could give myself, so I decided to strike out on my own.
Do you recommend specializing in a particular practice area right away, or should solos start off as generalists?
Michael: You have to specialize in something when you are starting out and then wade into other areas as you gain confidence and experience. The law is a vast ocean. If you try to drink it all in at once, you’ll drown.
How do you balance your legal work with running a business?
Michael: The only way I manage both is to divide my time so that I can focus on legal work for part of my day and then work as a business operator for the rest of my day. Focusing on the task at hand instead of trying to do both jobs at the same time keeps things running smoothly.
What do you do to generate business?
Michael: Everyone has a different strategy, but I receive the most business from community engagement and volunteering with community groups and legal organizations. You might be surprised how much paying business can be drummed up while working for free.
You are very involved with organizations such as the Video Game Art Gallery and Lawyers for the Creative Arts. What drew you to these organizations, and have they helped you with your work as an attorney?
Michael: I like the community focus of these organizations and the way they seek to improve the lives of people in the city of Chicago. Community has always been important to me and involving myself with organizations whose missions matter to me has been key to building my business.
Why should solo practitioners become involved in organizations such as Lawyers for the Creative Arts?
Michael: Volunteering with service organizations is often highly rewarding and can allow you to work on novel legal issues that you might not encounter during your day-to-day firm work. Whatever you care about, whether it’s the arts, immigration, keeping families together, elevating people’s voices, or promoting opportunities in underserved communities, find an organization that shares your passion and volunteer with them a few afternoons a month. Giving in this way can change your outlook on life.
You were able to start your own firm through the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (“JEP”). Why should future solo practitioners use that program?
Michael: Starting your own firm isn’t easy. The biggest problem facing solo practitioners is the feeling of isolation when all the responsibilities of running and managing a business fall on you and you alone. Being part of an incubator helps build a sense of camaraderie and fosters a knowledge network that is both inspiring and invaluable. I highly recommend an organization like JEP when you’re starting out on your own, but if you’re unable to, my advice is that you at the very least try to network with other solos to share your ideas and experiences and try to lift each other up. You’ll be much better prepared to weather the storms of solo firm life together than you ever could be tilting into the wind alone.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you started your own law firm?
Michael: There is no benefit in waiting until you’re “ready.” If you want to hang your shingle someday, waiting until the right time won’t make it any easier to take that leap.
Why should young attorneys start their own law firms?
Michael: If you have your degree then you’ve already cleared the highest hurdle to enter the market. The next step is to get insurance. After that, you’ll have everything you need. The market for legal services is vast but largely goes unmet. The world needs lots of attorneys with different backgrounds and experiences, and ideas about how to deliver legal services in ways that big firms can’t (or don’t want to). It can be tough out there, but whatever you build by yourself you get to keep. Even if you decide to work for someone else for a couple of years, you’ll always have the experience of starting your own business to fall back on. Starting your own practice provides you with an essential skillset that you can use whenever you should need it.
Do you have any last pieces of advice?
Michael: If you decide to go solo, prepare to work for both the best and the worst boss you’ve ever had. Know how you work best and keep to that schedule. The rest will fall into place eventually.
Michael Reed is the owner and operator of the Law Office of Michael Reed, a boutique transactional law firm providing business law services to artists and entrepreneurs in the Chicago area. He received his Juris Doctor from The John Marshall Law School and a Master of Law in International Intellectual Property from Chicago-Kent College of Law. He is a member of the Executive Committee of Lawyers for the Creative Art’s Associate Board and the Managing Editor of the Video Game Art Gallery’s Video Game Art Reader. Michael has been published in multiple outlets writing on topics as varied as copyright, social media, and data standardization. He often gives presentations on copyrights, entity formations and contract negotiations for entrepreneurs, artists, and government regulators.