In 2008, I launched what is now a civil rights and personal injury litigation firm. Over the last fifteen years, we’ve experienced some major successes that have changed our clients’ lives. Along the way, I’ve also learned valuable lessons about starting a law firm, setting business goals and growing a diverse team.
Launching a firm — or any business — is incredibly challenging, but over the years, I’ve collected some key lessons that I think can help others. Here are a few of the most important tips that stand out.
1. Be passionate about your work, and hire people with that same passion.
I care deeply about restructuring the criminal justice system. I always try to keep this mission in mind when taking on new cases or considering new hires. It’s this passion that led my firm to develop a focus on wrongful convictions: Winning these cases can both save people from spending decades falsely imprisoned and can help set precedents that prevent future wrongful convictions.
In one case, we were fighting a racist criminal justice system and our efforts resulted in a person being released from prison after spending 47 years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. On days when work is difficult, I remember cases like this and why I got into this business in the first place. As I build our team, I continue to look for people who will show up with passion for clients and cases like these.
2. Don’t be afraid to delegate.
As a leader and a business owner, you’re never going to be able to handle every task on your own. Sometimes you need to rely on your team. While it can be challenging, delegating will allow you more time to focus on your own priorities. Involving your team can also empower your employees and can help you better understand your team’s strengths and weaknesses — as well as how to mentor them.
3. Don’t be afraid to disrupt the status quo, and lead by example.
As the leader of your business, you are responsible for setting an example and questioning business as usual if you or your team can envision a better way of doing things. It’s important to be proactive and creative in your efforts to foster an inclusive workplace. Remember to always remain open to feedback and continually seek to evolve.
At our firm, we’re proud to be disrupting a historically male-dominated industry through our new group of women-only trial attorneys who will work primarily with female clients. This effort, known as our “Women for Women” trial attorney group, provides a unique form of representation based on solidarity and shared experiences. This group can help us reach new clients, but it’s also a way for us to support women colleagues and reimagine our office culture.
4. Remain accessible.
As time goes on and you gain more responsibility, you’ll likely become busier. You still need to remain available to your employees and always be open to receiving feedback. Your team should feel comfortable reaching out to you with questions, concerns or requests for advice.
Making yourself accessible to your team can help raise company morale and improve overall trust between employees and management. Keeping lines of communication open has always been a big priority for me and my team. Our work can be emotionally taxing; the stakes are often high and we can’t always predict outcomes in advance.
It’s important to be available to employees who may be exhibiting symptoms of burnout. Because we often work remotely, I try to make sure our telecommunication is robust and easily accessible. Make sure your team knows how and when they can reach you — and that no one ever feels they have to struggle alone.
5. Use different channels to amplify the impact of your work.
Talk about what your business is doing. Amplify your impact by sharing your work beyond your client base and your team. One of the ways I’ve been able to do this is through producing documentaries and podcasts on topics related to wrongful convictions, gun violence and sexual assault.
I’ve found that documentaries can help shine a light on injustice and provide audiences with an in-depth view into subjects that may otherwise be difficult to understand or relate to.
As an executive producer on the film “Bullets Have No Names,” I found a platform to spread awareness about the impact of gun violence in Chicago. Other documentary projects, such as the film “98 Seconds,” have allowed us to amplify the voices of survivors of abuse — testimonies that often go unheard by the general public. Some of the films I’ve worked on, including “A Murder in the Park” and “White Boy,” have gone on to reach wide audiences via Netflix, Showtime and Amazon Prime.
While films are a great way to bring criminal justice issues to life, podcasts can also play an important role in amplifying our impact. Podcasts are relatively simple and cost-effective to launch, and they’ve grown in popularity in recent years. There are ultimately many ways you can market your work and larger mission, and it’s important to consider what mediums you prefer and what audiences you hope to reach. We’ve had success with our podcast, “The Starved Rock Murders with Andy Hale,” which takes listeners on an in-depth investigation into the case.
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It’s impossible to summarize everything I’ve learned over the past several years, but these key lessons are a blueprint I recommend to every leader getting started. These tips have helped us nurture a healthier work environment, amplify a greater community impact and foster a stronger business model overall.
As you move forward into the next era of your business, continue to grow and move forward with confidence. Even as established business leaders, we are always learning.