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Meet Keren de Zwart of Not Your Father’s Lawyer in Orange County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Keren de Zwart.

Keren, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve been saying I was going to be a lawyer since I was a kid. No one knows why for sure, but it’s been my path since as early as nine years old. Early into my time in law school, it hit me that maybe the law wasn’t for me. Ever the achiever, though, I stuck it out. I came out of law school in 2009. Experts call us the “lost generation” of lawyers because it was during the heart of the recession when getting a real legal job was basically impossible for the bulk of law school grads. I created a presentation for the firm for which I had been interning during law school explaining how they could hire me and I’d bring enough business in to offset the cost of my (very modest) salary. I only wanted to practice corporate law, which was already a tough gig to acquire, so this was my only hope. They agreed, and for five years, I trudged through the long hours, fraternity-style hazing, and overall negative work environment.

All the while, I battled my firm to come into the 21st century and be creative with the way we practiced law. In addition to meeting my billable hour requirements, I built their web presence, including a website, LinkedIn company page, a twitter account, and a weekly newsletter series to current and former clients. I started a blog, Not Your Father’s Lawyer, to share some information for small businesses in a more cheeky, approachable way–it was the way I talked to our clients and the way I believed clients deserved to receive information from lawyers. It was never intended to become a business.

In 2014, I moved to a commercial real estate company and kept doing legal work for friends and family on the side. Over time, more and more clients came my way, and Not Your Father’s Lawyer eventually became my full-time job. The basis of my model is that everything I do is flat fee, so there are no hourly rates and crazy bills for every email, call, text, and analysis.

Today, Not Your Father’s Lawyer has evolved in many ways. In addition to being a full-service flat-fee law firm for entrepreneurs and small businesses, I have a template shop to help bridge the gap for small businesses that aren’t quite ready to work with an attorney but know they need something more than whatever they can Google.

My biggest passion in the business is continuing to share information and create content for clients and strangers alike. Lawyers have a bad reputation for being inaccessible, expensive, and condescending. I strongly believe that the more information I share, for free, the more successful entrepreneurs and small businesses can be. And when it’s time to work with me as your lawyer, I run a customer-service-first model. As far as I’m concerned, no one knows more about your business than you do, and I’m just here to help you get your legal ducks in a row so you can continue to grow your business.

Has it been a smooth road?
As businesses go, I have been fortunate not to be faced with too many obstacles (for now). I’ve had two big hurdles that I’ve been facing. First, it has been a struggle balancing my ambition and desire to grow the business with my commitment to being as present a parent I can be to my two children. It’s a struggle I face daily when I want to work evenings and weekends to work on the business, but I care deeply about being able to be present for my six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son. I think most working parents deal with this struggle at one time or another. A mentor shared with me that she never saw it as “balance,” which, she felt, made us feel like we’re just always failing. Rather, she suggested thinking of working parenthood as a pendulum, and some days it swings in favor of work while others it swings toward parenting. Each day is different and as long as it’s still swinging, things are good.

The other major struggle that completely surprised me is dealing with imposter syndrome. As a cog in the corporate machine, I knew I was great at what I did. I managed and delegated well. I took risks. I wasn’t afraid to speak up. Maybe there was a feeling of a safety net in someone else’s business. But when it comes to running my own business, I second guess myself a lot. I feel the weight of each decision in a way that I never felt working in a law firm or large company. Learning to take risks with my own business is a hurdle that I’ll continue to jump over, but I’m committed to continuing to try.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Not Your Father’s Lawyer story. Tell us more about the business.
My business is a law firm for entrepreneurs and small businesses. It’s a place where people can feel comfortable asking questions, getting information, growing their business and getting legally legit without fear of through-the-roof legal bills. I help businesses at any and every stage of the corporate lifecycle, from formation and startup, intellectual property protection, contract drafting, working with contractors, employees, vendors, clients and customers, setting up properly online, and understanding the ever-changing legalities that come with running a business in the digital age.

There is no higher compliment than when a client says, “I didn’t think a lawyer like you existed.” There is no fancy mahogany desk or skyscraper office. I’ll meet you in jeans, a white tee, and Chuck Taylors. We can text, use Facebook Messenger, DM on Instagram, chat on Google Hangouts, use Voxer–I meet my clients where they are most comfortable. You still get over a decade of experience from someone who has worked with thousands of clients from side hustlers to multi-million dollar businesses, raised millions of dollars and taken companies public, but you get it all in an unapologetically casual way. I am, quite simply, not your father’s lawyer.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The legal industry has fought against change for all of time. When I first left law school, LegalZoom was only starting to gain traction, and many firms scoffed at the idea of people choosing automated algorithms and pre-fab templates in place of lawyers. But as the last 10-15 years has shown, these offerings filled a huge gap in the legal market, and entrepreneurs continue to value agile, cost-effective legal solutions. There is always going to be a place for BigLaw to support the mega corporations. But with more and more people trying their hand at business ownership, the market for economical, accessible legal services will continue to grow. Clients will look for legal solutions that are cheap or free like do-it-yourself templates, courses and guides to get answers on different legal issues and masterminds or coaching programs that offer legal support.

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