Solo and Small firm Practitioners’ Perspectives: Matt McElwee and Jared Reynolds

Interviewed by: Kenny Matuszewski

In law school, networking is often thought of as nothing more than a means to an end for a job and a one-sided transaction. However, Jared Reynolds and Matt McElwee were different from their peers. Early on, they realized that their law school classmates and extracurricular activities could be great resources. Little did they know just how important one extracurricular activity would be for both of them.

Jared and Matt met as members of Chicago-Kent’s Moot Court Honor Society. Both were among the organization’s most talented members, with Jared winning the 2014 National Veterans Law Moot Court Competition, and Matt winning not only the 2015 National Moot Court Competition but also placing within the Top 5 Oral Advocates in both the 2015 and 2016 American Bar Association Competitions. Due to their skill, they were invited to study abroad together in Scotland and learn even more about appellate advocacy. They soon became close friends and shared their dreams for their legal careers while running together on the beach of St. Andrews. They hoped they could find a way to work together someday.

At first, Jared and Matt’s careers went down two separate paths. Jared began his career in plaintiff’s personal injury law and focused on representing individuals harmed by nursing homes. He then pivoted to insurance defense where he developed invaluable trial experience and dispositive motion practice skills. Similar to many plaintiff’s lawyers, Jared soon realized that in order for his career to take off, he needed to go out on his own.

The start of Matt’s career, on the other hand, was starkly different. Matt worked at some of the world’s most prestigious law firms in corporate law and worked with startups. As Matt progressed each year, his hourly rate was significantly raised. Because his clients were cost-conscious entrepreneurs, Matt recognized that if he stayed in the large firm environment, he ran the risk of pricing himself out of reach of the clients he enjoyed working with most. However, if he started his own firm, he could not only keep his book of business by lowering his rates, but also offer competitive rates for new clients.

After realizing each had plans to go out on their own, Matt and Jared soon realized their practice areas were far more complementary than they originally thought. As a result, they decided to open a law firm together. They made sure to do their due diligence beforehand, meeting on a regular basis to develop goals and milestones for the firm, along with creating a framework for what service and practice areas they would offer. Since Matt’s legal practice focused on both emerging businesses and starting businesses from the ground-up, he leaned on his experience to start the firm, rather than use an incubator. Between meetings, Jared also received advice from trusted solo practitioners and owners of small firms.

Despite this careful planning, Matt and Jared still experienced some administrative challenges. The week before their firm formally launched, their original malpractice insurer fell through, leading to a last-minute scramble. However, within the day, Jared and Matt were able to connect with a new carrier and resolve the issue in short order. Working together in perfect synchronicity to handle these types of administrative issues allowed Matt and Jared to successfully launch RM Law Group LLC (“RM Law Group”) on October 26, 2020.

Since RM Law Group opened, Matt and Jared have continued to synergize. Matt brought many of his established corporate clients from his previous firms with his newly cost-effective billing rate as a selling point. This gave the firm an established source of revenue from the very beginning. Jared went back to focusing on all types of personal injury and wrongful death cases, including nursing home abuse incidents. While personal injury law is not as inherently predictable as corporate law, the contingent fees from Jared’s settlements, coupled with the reliability of Matt’s billable work, have given the firm resiliency even during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, despite two very different practice areas, there are few to no conflicts between Jared’s and Matt’s work. The timing for each practice area’s revenue and payment stream complements each other and has allowed RM Law Group to avoid market fluctuations and revenue instability.

Since the announcement of RM Law Group’s launch, Matt and Jared’s friends and colleagues have also provided a large number of referrals. With the referrals and established business combined, RM Law Group has significantly grown in an unprecedented amount of time. Even with this initial success, Jared and Matt have found that there is always something new to develop in their firm, such as revenue goals and when to expand the firm by hiring a law clerk. In fact, following the interview for this piece, RM Law Group was able to hire its first law clerk, officially expanding within just three months of launching.

This success would not be possible without a complete transparency policy. If Matt or Jared have any issues about the firm, they will immediately tackle the problem. Despite their running joke that they have always been on the same page by default, they also realize that they went into business together for a reason. Their advice to others who plan to open firms together is to remember that reason as much as possible.

One of those reasons is that they enjoy different aspects of running the business. For example, Matt loves handling the firm’s day-to-day activities and his legal work. After owning and running two businesses in college, he also enjoys leveraging technology, such as cloud computing and secure storage. Matt also uses Amata Law Offices Suites, a legal co-working space that offers paralegal support and office space replicating the large law firm environment. By identifying the necessary services to meet the firm’s needs, Matt has replicated the large law firm experience and quality at much lower costs.

Jared, on the other hand, likes developing business. While Jared knew that networking was inherently valuable when he worked for other firms, his caseload, billables and deposition schedule would often cause him to put his networking efforts on the back burner. Now, making connections is just as much a part of Jared’s job as his legal work. A self-admitted matchmaker, Jared focuses on establishing relationships, and tracking how those relationships evolve over time. A go-to person for many in Chicago now, Jared moved to the city without knowing a single soul for law school. But by establishing relationships with law students, attorneys, and clients, and adapting his networking style to account for both his and Matt’s practice, Jared has become a crucial pillar of both RM Law Group and the Chicago legal community.

Within the legal community, Jared has established himself as a prominent board member of Chicago’s LGBTQ+ Bar Association, LAGBAC. Jared joined the organization soon after he became a licensed attorney and came out as bisexual. Valuable for the opportunities to feel represented in the practice of law and to network with other LGBTQ+ attorneys, the organization has also given Jared confidence and the opportunity to serve as the Mentorship Chair. Now in his fifth year as Mentorship Chair, Jared has more than doubled the number of attorneys and law students in the program, who span all practice areas, geographic regions, law schools, and sexual orientations/gender identities. By serving as a go-to person for LGBTQ+ law students, he has also been given opportunities to engage in advocacy work, particularly for LGBTQ+ senior citizens. These opportunities have only informed and grown his practice.

Together, Matt and Jared are able to collaborate when needed, and complement each other when different tasks (administrative or legal) come up that the other is more suited for. While balancing the business needs with the legal work is challenging at times, they both collaborate through Slack and let each other know when they are slammed with substantive work. The other will then handle administrative matters, for example.

A common piece of advice is not to go into business with best friends or family. However, Matt and Jared believe there are exceptions to the rule. When friends are close enough to have already built up an established level of trust, they can accomplish far more together than they could alone. For example, Matt often goes to Jared and asks Jared how he would sue Matt’s clients. Based on these hypotheticals, Matt drafts his contracts with care and avoids pitfalls that could result in litigation. Jared, in turn, will ask Matt about corporate structures and parent/subsidiary relationships. Doing so ensures Jared’s cases will not get tossed out of court due to procedural errors and increases the chances of settlement or favorable trial verdicts.

Finally, when asked whether younger attorneys should go solo, Matt and Jared both said yes, but for different reasons. According to Jared, if an attorney is motivated, then they do not need to immediately know everything to form a law firm. All lawyers have the skillset to not only find resources, but also solve their clients’ problems, which is easier than ever, due to the Internet. By their nature, new lawyers are also more adaptable, due to increased comfort and familiarity with technology, which is crucial for succeeding in practice. They also have the opportunity to gain a specialized skill set and foundation in law school, which, for Jared, was done by taking litigation classes and working at the Public Defender’s Office.

Matt, on the other hand, recognized that many younger attorneys think starting their own law firms is daunting. Common doubts include whether they are competent enough in their practice area, and whether they can provide excellent client service. As a result, if an attorney practices in a complicated and highly technical area of the law, Matt advises that it is better to start in an existing firm to build competence and confidence before founding a law firm.

But Matt also realized that the lockstep structure of larger firms will never be a good fit for some, such as himself. Those people are the best kinds of people to form their own law firms. Once that soul-searching is complete, it is incredibly cost-effective to open a law firm with the right tools and a good attitude. As long as attorneys do good work for their clients, are careful when practicing an unfamiliar area of law and are good people, good results will follow. From the halls of Chicago-Kent College of Law to those of RM Law Group, Jared and Matt have lived by those principles and not only developed a successful law firm together, but also a lifelong friendship.

Matthew McElwee is one of the Founding Members of RM Law Group LLC. He provides legal counsel, representation and consulting on corporate transactions of all kinds, including representing companies and investors in venture capital transactions, M&A (buy- and sell-side), and acting as outside counsel to startups, founder teams and growth-stage companies.

Matthew regularly advises his clients on a wide variety of corporate matters, including entity formation, contracts, employee matters and raising capital. As a founder, investor and operator of several venture stage companies, Matthew is uniquely familiar with entrepreneurship, company formation and the acquisition and management of funding for startups.

Matthew has worked at some the largest firms in Chicago, IL (Kirkland & Ellis; Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg; and McDonald Hopkins), but entered private practice in 2020 to tailor his approach and his rates to the early-stage startups that he loves to work with.

Matthew earned his J.D., summa cum laude, from Chicago-Kent College of Law in 2016 and his B.S. in Business Administration from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2012.

Jared Reynolds is one of the Founding Members of RM Law Group LLC. Jared has helped recover over twelve million dollars on behalf of clients suffering from a wide variety of catastrophic injuries. He routinely helps nursing home victims and their families receive justice for injuries suffered in a facility, including bed sores, falls and subsequent fractures, malnutrition and dehydration, as well as sexual assaults and wrongful deaths. He further helps individuals and their families who have suffered from terrible injuries as a result of motor vehicle/motorcycle/trucking incidents, premises slips, trips and falls, faulty products, construction mishaps, and medical malpractice. 

Jared graduated from Chicago-Kent College of Law in 2015 earning a certificate in the school’s rigorous criminal litigation program. Jared competed with Chicago-Kent’s Moot Court Honor Society where he advocated at the highest levels and gained experience in appellate advocacy. He was a member of the two person National Championship Team for the Veterans Law Moot Court Competition, held in Washington D.C., where he successfully argued in front of three Federal Appellate Court Judges. Jared’s undergraduate college, the State University of New York, College at Oneonta, recognized him as the Male Scholar Athlete his graduating year, as well as a 30 Under 30 Award Recipient in 2019.

In the Chicago legal community Jared is a Board Member of LAGBAC, Chicago’s LGBTQ+ Bar Association. He further Chairs its Mentorship Program, helping provide support and invaluable networking/professional development opportunities to students and attorneys throughout the Chicagoland area. 

Outside of his legal endeavors, Jared is an avid runner, hiker, and camper. He has run the Chicago Marathon two times, and the Boston Marathon once. Further, Jared has won the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services’ Race Judicata 5k twice. He also has camped and hiked in the backcountry of many National Parks including Denali, Zion, the Rocky Mountains, Death Valley and Olympic. 

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