Solo and Small Firm Practitioners’ Perspectives: Joanna Long

Kenny: Where do you work?

Joanna: I am a partner at Campbell Long, LLC. We are a small law firm with offices in Chicago and Naperville. I am usually in the Chicago office, while my partner spends most of her time in the Naperville office.

Kenny: What do you practice?

Joanna: We focus on estate planning, estate administration, and guardianship. I also recently expanded my practice to real estate, to help my clients with any issues in that area. In many cases, our clients come to us at the worst times of their lives, so I want them to feel comfortable. There’s always tissues on hand and plenty of snacks.

The majority of our clients are women and couples in their 30s to 50s. Despite working in many areas associated with elderly people, our clients are seeking help during their own life transitions and will also often seek advice about their parents’ and grandparents’ needs. No matter who I work with, I always try to be warm and compassionate, even if it’s my thousandth case of the day. Seeing the person behind each case is important in our practice areas.

My practice can be contentious at times which could easily lead to burnout. While it can be difficult, I try not to take things personally and avoid getting overly emotionally invested in my cases.

Kenny: Why did you decide to start your law firm?

Joanna: My partner Cindy Campbell and I had a vision to create a different kind of law firm. We aim to offer a modern, fresh, and inviting experience to clients in need of legal services. There definitely isn’t any mahogany in our office! Working together on our goals has allowed us both to grow.

Our vision to create our law firm is also reflected by our experiences. We are both women and young lawyers, which people don’t typically expect when they think of law firm owners.

Kenny: Did you use any particular resources when starting your own law firm?

Joanna: Yes, Cindy and I were both part of the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (“JEP”) when we began our solo firms 6 years ago. The JEP is an incubator for solo and small law firms starting socially conscious practices founded by the Chicago Bar Foundation. The JEP connected us with a number of resources and gave us a sense of community while learning the business side of the law.

Kenny: Should solos start as generalists, or should they specialize in a particular practice area right away?

Joanna: No, I think solos should focus on an area or two of practice. It’s tempting to want to take anything that walks through the door because you need the business, but I firmly believe that turning down cases allows you to be open to the types of cases and clients you want. The more you specialize, the better you become in your practice area and the more you can become known in your circle for that area of law.

Kenny: How do you balance your legal work with running a business?

Joanna: Honestly, this is a struggle. I am a business owner, but I also work inside my business. A lot of my day is taken up by operations such as managing the IT or HR end of things. Having knowledgeable staff certainly helps. I also believe in contracting out as much as possible once you get to that place.

Practicing self-care is also important. Whenever I am with my daughter, I am in the moment with only her. I also try to exercise, and, even though I’m still learning, meditate.

Kenny: What do you do to generate business?

Joanna: We network with other lawyers and professionals. We also advertise with publications and online groups that consist of our target client base in both Chicago and the western suburbs.

Further, I try to have lunch or coffee with a colleague at least once a week. It makes the practice of law more collegial, and we’ve helped each other work out legal issues on more than one occasion. We have commiserated with each other and been each other’s cheerleaders! By connecting with others, we have grown our business beyond our expectations.

Kenny: You and your partner Cindy own your firm. What should attorneys consider when partnering with other attorneys? 

Joanna: I think it’s imperative that you trust each other through and through. I trust Cindy to do right by me, our staff, and her clients. Before partnering, Cindy and I co-counseled on about a dozen cases over the course of 5 years. We also have complementary areas of practice–she focuses on estate planning and I focus on estate administration, so it’s easy to see how we could work together and provide internal referrals to each other.

Kenny: You are currently on the Young Professionals Board for the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (“LCBH”). Why did you decide to get involved with that organization?

Joanna: I volunteered with LCBH and learned more about the organization and its mission to improve housing stability in Chicago. Their mission to help vulnerable families in Chicago inspired me. I joined the Board in 2015 and have been active on it since then. Working with other professionals to further their mission is also something I enjoy.

Kenny: Why should solo practitioners invest their time in an organization such as the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing?  

Joanna: I think it’s important to give back to the community through an organization you believe in. I firmly believe that putting good out into the world is good for the soul.

Kenny: What are some things you wish you knew before you started your own law firm?

Joanna: I wish I had been less hesitant to invest in myself in the early days. What I mean by that is investing more money into the business by way of marketing, rent, etc. I am seeing that the money I put into the business comes back and allows us to continue to grow.

I was also worried that my pregnancy would ruin my business, that clients wouldn’t hire me, and my ability to manage my cases would decrease. However, my business wasn’t ruined at all, and I was able to manage everything.

Kenny: Why should younger attorneys go solo?

Joanna: If you have a stomach for it, it’s honestly an incredible way to live. I love having complete control over the cases I work on, the amount of money I can make, and my work/life balance. I have a 2-year-old, so being home with her in the evenings is very important to me. I work hard and think about the business and my cases constantly but allowing myself to disconnect from time to time and be with my family is imperative for living a balanced life.

The last piece of advice I will give is that if you are thinking of launching your own practice, have faith and invest in yourself! Believe you can do it; you will be surprised by what you can accomplish.

About Joanna:

Joanna B. Long is a founding partner of Campbell Long, LLC, a boutique law firm with locations in Chicago and Naperville. Joanna earned her Juris Doctor from The John Marshall Law School in 2013 and her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Joanna focuses in the areas of estate administration, guardianship, and real estate. Joanna sits on the young professionals board for the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing. In her free time, you can find Joanna horseback riding, cycling, and chasing her toddler around.

 

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