What’s your passion?
I have many: writing, reading, pencil-making, procrastibaking, hoarding stationary. But even as a multi-passionate creative, something that singularly moves me, that gets-me-out-of-the-bed-in-the-morning fervor, is the desire to share women’s stories.
As I’ve come to know and rub shoulders with so many incredible women, I’ve learned so much and felt the grateful joy that comes from a community of sisterhood. Everyone deserves to reap those benefits.
During the Mama Spring Break retreat, (run by the fabulous Crystalee Beck, co-founder of The Mama Ladder and a fellow Talking Shop alumna) we had the opportunity to hear from Keren de Zwart, a kick-ass lawyer and founder of Not Your Fathers Lawyer, who graciously shared her legal expertise on how to get our businesses legally LEGIT.
Simply put, Keren is my hero. At Not Your Fathers Lawyer, she turns the tables on the model of traditional firms. You know the ones: overpriced office furniture, sky-high legal fees. Keren offers high-quality, professional, (and affordable!) legal services for businesses — while remaining a trusted partner, confidant, and friend. She generously shares her valuable knowledge (have you seen the NYFL blog?!) and runs a successful business. Basically, I’m her fangirl.
On todays Talking Shop, Keren shares her journey into law, why she chose to switch up the traditional legal model in her business, and what aspiring entrepreneurs need before they GO FOR IT!
Everyone, meet Keren!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve grown up almost my entire life in Orange County, California. I’m a child of tech entrepreneurs, and although I’ve been around the entrepreneurial world for most of my life, I never actually thought I’d run my own business. I was your typical Type A high achiever—always working hard in school and wanting to please authority (teachers, coaches, bosses). I felt like I belonged on a corporate ladder.
What drew you to the field of law? What makes you passionate about it?
No one really knows why for sure, but I started saying I was going to be a lawyer when I was about 9 years old. My parents think my dad must have made a comment about my argumentative side and how I’d make a good lawyer, and ever the people pleaser, that became my path.
I actually thought I was going to quit 6 months into law school. It wasn’t at all what I had imagined, but I was afraid of being a law school dropout (see: overachiever motivated by external accolades) so I kept going.
I really only found my passion for law when I planned to quit 5 years into practicing. When I left the law firm and moved to an asset management position in commercial real estate, I kept my legal skills sharp by continuing to practice law on the side for friends and family. When I finally started working with ideal clients instead of whoever the firm brought in, it clicked for me.
What is your mission behind Not Your Father’s Lawyer? How is it different from other firms?
First and foremost, my mission is to be a conduit of information for small businesses, particularly female-owned businesses, who are otherwise afraid of engaging a lawyer because they can’t afford it. Everything I do is flat fee, so no one is surprised by a bill after reaching out for support.
If you call almost any business firm today, including the one I worked for, if you want to even consult with them, they’ll charge a $2,500-$10,000 retainer and they bill you in 6-minute increments. They’ll bill you for your reply when they ask how your kids are doing. They’ll bill you 6 minutes for the 30 second, 8-word email they shoot off to you in response to a simple question. That’s what turned me off to the traditional law firm model. It rewards inefficiency and punishes the client for reaching out, which is particularly detrimental to small businesses that need the professional advice and support as they grow.
Then you combine the flat-fee services with the pared down operational costs—I cut out all the expensive costs of a law firm (fancy office and expensive furniture) so I don’t have to pass those costs on to my client—and you get a business that allows me to have a sustainable model while reducing costs to the client. They get high-quality, affordable legal services so they can get the support they need without breaking the bank.
You specialize in offering legal services in new and innovative ways, removing the outdated, traditional legal business model. Why is this so important (and valuable) for businesses today?
Entrepreneurs and small businesses are cost conscious, efficient, nimble, and just as deserving of high-quality professional services. A lot of the laws affecting small businesses are rapidly evolving—things like e-commerce, sales tax on digital products, selling on social media—and business owners need access to reputable information that won’t cost them a huge chunk of their revenue.
How can businesses take advantage of your legal services and expertise?
I try to provide as much general information as possible for free. My blogs, newsletters, and social media posts are meant to help business owners understand what they need to think about and when it might be time to reach out to a professional. I also have a template shop where people can use attorney-prepared templates from someone who has actually worked with dozens to hundreds of clients in their industry. And of course, clients can work directly with me for all their business needs from entity formation, contracts, trademark protection, growing or scaling their business, buying or selling a business, etc.
What has been the most rewarding part of building your business?
It might sound cheeky, but every time someone tells me they didn’t think a lawyer like me existed or I’m not like any other lawyer they’ve known or worked with, it solidifies that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing. There’s a reason there are so many lawyer jokes, and I want to change the narrative about what a lawyer can be—a partner and confidant, a customer-service focused representative, a friend [gasp!].
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a female business owner?
My biggest lesson has definitely been to know my worth. I would have never taken myself for someone who would undervalue my own services. I was the woman advocating for my promotions and raises in the corporate world and making sure other women knew their worth.
But when it came to selling my own services, there was some disconnect. That is especially true when you are just starting and are often selling to friends and family. But if you start out undervaluing your products or services, you are setting yourself up for an uphill battle to change both your actual pricing and your mental view of your worth.
What have been the biggest challenges?
My biggest challenge has been finding a way to separate work and home. I was always a ‘round-the-clock workhorse, but in an office, at least there was some physical separation. Now I work at home and I have been pretty terrible at creating boundaries for myself and turning off work. I’m working on that this year.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
My advice might be a little different than other motivational advice for entrepreneurs, but it is very much in line with my profession and my personality: The right answer isn’t always just to “go for it.” Entrepreneurship is tough. And statistically, many more businesses fail than succeed.
If you have a passion for something and you want to give it a try, by all means, go for it. But go for it with a plan. Even when I was working on my business more than 20 hours a week, I still held my high-stress, professional job with a very comfortable salary because I felt I needed to create a foundational safety net to give myself a real shot at succeeding in business. If you quit the day job and have no savings, you’ll be job searching within a few months even though it takes longer than that to get a business off the ground.
Before you make the leap, create a Plan A, B, and C. And then, when you’re ready, you can truly put your all in it, because that’s the only way to know if you can succeed.
How have you been able to find balance (or harmony) between your parenting role and your business?
Someone once described being a working parent as a pendulum rather than a scale that can be balanced. Sometimes it’s swinging more toward work and sometimes it’s swinging more toward parenting. You can’t look at any one particular moment in time as a measure of whether it’s working. And what works today might not work tomorrow or next month or next year, so be open to changing course as your needs change.
The Fun Qs:
What is your desert-island meal?
Pizza and an ice-cold beer!
What is the last grew movie you saw?
I have been really bad about watching movies in recent years. Honestly the last one I saw in the theater (besides Frozen II) was Star Wars. I just recently watched Marriage Story at home and it was great, but I definitely prefer a good rom com or something humorous.
What is your favorite out-of-office activity?
Although I don’t do it as often these days, I love snowboarding and wakeboarding. But an average out-of-office activity includes reading, eating out with friends, and enjoying the SoCal sunshine!
What makes you laugh?
Humor is literally one of the most important aspects of my life. I live to make others laugh, and in recent months my kids (ages 4 and 6) have decided to hide and scare me daily. They are so good at it and it scares me so bad but is hilarious and makes me cry-laugh almost daily.