Davis Senseman, Founder of Davis Law Office
Can you be fully yourself in the business world and still be successful? For those who doubt, we submit Exhibit A: Davis Senseman, an attorney who fled the partner track at a large firm to start her own practice, Davis Law Office, which focuses exclusively on small businesses.
Since she launched in 2011, she has added two staff attorneys and countless fans in CoCo and beyond, who are eager to tell their non-lawyered friends, “Do you know Davis? She’s the coolest attorney you’ll ever meet.”
Show notes: selected links from the episode:
LinkedIn: Davis Senseman
Blog: Davis Law Office Blog
Facebook: Davis Law Office
Business Website: Davis Law Office
Links and people mentioned:
NY Times Article: The Moral Bucket List
Bradley Laborman’s DreamCast
Don Ball [DB]: Welcome to another CoCo Dreamcast: Celebrity Edition.
DB: This time we have a true CoCo celebrity – I may have said that in the past, but those were lies; this time for real. We have the one and only Davis of Davis Law Office. Are you still called that?
D: Yeah, we are.
D: We’re still called that.
DB: You’re not gonna change that anytime soon?
D: No, I think we’re gonna stay with that.
DB: Okay. Does Davis still ‘mean business’?
D: Yes, yes.
DB: You’re goin’ softer.
D: Nope, we still mean business.
DB: We only have notes of things I want to ask about on this podcasting, typically, we’ll ask people about their journey, which–
DB: We may get into that.
DB: I was thinkin’ about, Okay, we’re gonna go talk to Davis – what really is Davis about? And the thing that came to my mind was that you seem extraordinarily self-possessed; you’re comfortable in your own skin; you’re comfortable in different situations; you seem to have – I don’t know whether you were minted in this fashion, or if you have actually, you know, had a series of experiences in life–
D: Um-hm –
DB: . . . that got you to the point where you go, ‘Alright, I’m makin’ it.’ So, that’s what I want to know.
Why do you generally seem to excel in the art of ass-kickery? Or, as I think I e-mailed: you seem to give, on average, fewer shits that the average person.
DB: So tell me about what is this mode that you’re in? Is it even something that you acknowledge or recognize?
D: I guess it kind of ties into my journey because, you know, I went to grade school and high school and did well; and then went to college; and then was planning on going directly to law school out in California; and got out there and was kinda like, Oh, I don’t really want to be out here. I don’t know that I want to be back in school already. So I moved. It was the first time ever that I wasn’t doing things in the order you’re supposed to do them.
DB: And you had been fairly orderly up until that time?
D: Yeah. I went to school, I got good grades, I went to college. And I was the first person in my family to go to college, but pretty much just because of circumstance; not because of – like, my father would have been an excellent student–
D: …but just kind of had to do other things. So I was pretty much – This is what I’m supposed to be doing. And then just decided, This is not what I need to be doing right now. I moved back to Pittsburgh, much to the surprise, I would say, of a lot of a lot of people – ‘cause I hadn’t really lived there since I’d been in college – and then just spent a year kind of working for a big law firm; a small law firm, just kinda doing assistant-type stuff; making sure that that’s actually what I wanted to do.
And then I moved to New York and lived with a bunch of musicians, and audio-type, engineer-type folks. They were all in bands, but they all had some other type of job. I think there was where I knew – when I moved to New York, I was in the day program – there was kind of a day and an evening program at our law school – and then got offered a job by one of our professors, who was also the president of the ACLU. At first, I just worked as a research assistant for her. And then one of her full-time staffers was graduating, and so probably about mid my first year in law school she said, ‘Do you want to work for me full time? You’d have to switch to the evening program. Now it would be – instead of graduating in three years, you’ll graduate in four years.’
I think that was the first time I kind of did my own thing and didn’t do what I was supposed to; leaving law school on the West Coast. The second time was thinking, Do I do want to work for you full time? So, I left the daytime program, got into the evening program, found it much more – I mean, the people in that program had kinda lived lives; they weren’t the people who had gone from high school to college to law school with no semblance of What’s a job like?or How do you live not on student loans? So I just met really interesting people in that program.
We had some radical professors who were kind of activists in the cop accountability. We also had students in our class who were NYPD cops, who would say, ‘Let me actually tell you…’ So it was really interesting, and it was far more – just way more engaging. And more, I think, more telling of: This is what lawyers do… So I did that for a while.
Then [I] had decided I didn’t want to live in New York forever; ‘cause it’s super exhausting, even when you’re like 23. And I was, like, I can’t be tired like this all the time. So, I knew people out here in Minneapolis and decided I was gonna move here after I was done with school. Then September 11th happened, and so I moved. Our school was like four or five blocks from the World Trade Center, so it was closed for a couple of weeks. And the State Bar in New York said, ‘We’ll just waive the hourly requirements,’ because they didn’t make that time up. I thought, maybe they’ll make us go over winter break. But they said, ‘No, we’ll just waive those requirements.’ So I said, ‘Is Minnesota gonna do that, as well?’ And the answer was: ‘We don’t know.’
So, I came out here to visit again and I decided, This is as good a time as any to move. So, I came out here and enrolled at Mitchell, which also had an evening program. I had a sort of non-traditional background . . . I mean, when I was in New York, I figured; I’ll graduate; I’ll work for the ACLU; I’ll work for maybe an immigration firm, or some sort of firm, doing – well, I moved out of here and it was like, I just need to work during the day; I don’t have a job anymore during the day.
I ended up in an IP firm and met a bunch of patent attorneys who were actually more interesting than it sounds. They kind of taught me a bunch about what they do. Then I was just pre-open, once I got to Mitchell, about like – I have no idea what I’ll do next year, and then kind of fell into my old firm, and they said – I liked the people, they were super progressive, and they said, ‘We have a job in our Corporate Department. Would you do that?’ And I thought, I don’t really want to litigate, so I guess that’s what I have to do. So that’s kind of how that happened.
Then I feel like, for a period of time, once I got that job, I was back in, like – this is what you’re supposed to do; you’re supposed to be an associate at a firm, and then be a (Inaudible) associate and then become a partner . . .
DB: So there’definitely a – there’s a trap there.
D: Yeah, there was definitely a trap there, and I was kinda on it. But, the nice thing about the size of my old firm is they were just small enough that you – we could still have startups; especially when you were a younger attorney and you were bringing in your own stuff, because your rate was low. So they were just small enough that we wouldn’t turn away single-person businesses, or brand-new startups.
Then I really clicked with those businesses and realized – all the advice I was giving them, like, Make sure that you really want to be in business with the people you’re in business with; Make sure that this is happening – started to resonate with me. And I realized, Although I’m on this really clearly set-out path, I feel like there’s kind of a better way to do a lot of this.
So I kinda worked internally for a while and tried to – you know, I was on the marketing committee at our firm, and on the hiring committee, and it’s really hard to move something as big as a law firm, though; lawyers are just – they just hate change and they hate technology, and they’re fearful of everything. And, really, I was getting to a point where . . . ugh. And they kind of saw that I wasn’t exactly fitting into their track, either.
D: So it was a lot of, ‘Well, if you’d just be here, sitting in your seat for us to see.’ And it was like, ‘When I’m not here, I’m actually doing things that will bring more work to us. I’m not, like, swimming in a lake.’
D: [Laughs] It was just so traditional. And I just realized, this is – I often tell people: they bent as far as they could to the left to kind of deal with me, and I bent as far as I could to the right, and then there was just this unbridgeable gap–
D: …that I just realized. I left right before – the year before I would have been voted on to be a partner. And pretty much everyone at that firm makes partner when you get that far. It was a terrible – it was 2010, and law firms weren’t hiring people. People were just like, ‘This is probably the dumbest thing you’ll ever do.’
D: When you hear that enough, and when you think, Gosh, maybe this is the dumbest thing I’ll ever do–
DB: So it looked like a bad idea from–
DB: . . . from the outside, I guess.
But inside – was there any choice in [leaving the firm], really?
D: No. Inside I was just like, I don’t want to work here anymore.
D: I had had one of the partners tell me, ‘You’re just not like a lot of the pa (?).’ I was like, ‘No, I’m not at all.’ – first of all, a woman; second of all, not a very feminine woman. And, ‘No, I’m not like you guys at all, and that’s what you should be looking for.’ So, yeah, I just got to a point where I thought, This is what I’m gonna do, then kind of just had to do it. So I made the choice and then left very quickly.
D: And started out with a small handful of clients who had needs every now and again. From that point, I just realized: everything that I didn’t like about what it was about being in a law firm the way you would spend months redoing a website only to get pretty much the exact same website–
D: . . . that still looks like every other firm. I just wanted to do everything differently. So I told my web designer at the time, ‘Don’t even look at other law firm websites, ‘cause I don’t want it to look anything like that. We look at something creative and let’s get ideas from there.’
D: That was kind of the start. Then I just found myself, instead of just saying – there’s a little bit of when you start out – ‘Oh, I guess I should have a numbering system for my files’ or ‘I guess I should…’ But then, at each point, I would think, Why? Why does it have to work this way? I think I spent enough time in a firm that I was confident that I – subject-matter-wise – I knew what I was doing; I wasn’t gonna do anything outside of business and corporate stuff.
D: I spent enough time there to know, substantively, I knew my stuff, and spent enough time there that I didn’t – when going out on my own – I didn’t necessarily think you have to just do what every law firm does.
You still had the ability [on your own] to reimagine how you could approach the different things that you had to do.
D: Yes. And I think I was lucky, because I also worked with a lot of those messes. So…I didn’t turn to the bar association; and I didn’t go to a continuing education about, like, ‘setting up your law firm’, which I’m thankful now. I mean, at the time, it was like, Is that what I should be doing? But now I’m really glad, because I feel like if I had, I would have–
D: . . . it could have turned out a lot different.
What is it that draws people to – and I don’t mean this pejoratively – but draws people to convention, and draws people to following steps that somebody else has set up? And maybe not feeling like you can forge your own path? What is that?
D: That’s a really good question, ‘cause it’s so prevalent in the law.
D: Maybe it’s somewhat prevalent in other trades. I’m trying to think – accountants, I assume, are somewhat like that. But not even – I think lawyers are so much that way. And maybe it’s because – I mean there are a lot of rules for lawyers that you have to follow… but they’re not so antiquated that they don’t – they’re looking at those rules all the time to say, ‘Well, hey, sure. Maybe you can work in a coworking space,” or maybe you can – I mean, it’s not existing in a vacuum, but…I think it’s law school.
I was speaking in a class once, and I said, ‘I feel like law school just teaches you to be afraid of everything’ – because it kind of points out everything you’re dealing with; every single case you ever read it’s, like, ‘And then something went wrong.’
D: And it’s like, [Laughs] ‘And then this person took a risk, and look what happened.’
D: I mean, it just makes you so risk averse. When I talk to law students, normally the first thing they think when they hear we work out of a coworking space, and we share our very small space with an accountant – there’s all these ‘What ifs’ that are bad. I think law school really kinda teaches that – ‘Look at all these bad things that happened; your job is to prevent the bad things from happening, so take no risks and make no change.’
DB: Yeah. And your job’s to anticipate all the bad things that can happen.
DB: So, the better you are at spotting potential liabilities–
DB: . . . the smarter you are, and–
DB: . . . you get more cookies.
D: As I dealt with higher-ups in bigger companies… you got to a point where nobody wanted to make a decision, because they were afraid, like, ‘If I say we should do this, yes or no; if something bad happens, then they’re gonna come back to me.’
D: Everything would just sit there, because no one would want to make a decision.
Does that affect the kind of advice that you find – or the way in which you find – yourself giving advice to the small businesses and start-ups you work with?
D: Yeah, because when I was working with bigger companies we could just say, ‘We’re not gonna accept any risk. And whoever we’re dealing with, as long as you’re smaller than us – or you need us, or you need this deal – we’re just gonna keep saying “No.” And this negotiation may take literally over a year, but we’ll just keep saying “No” until you give up.’
D: And small businesses – a) they normally are the smaller one in the relationship, or, b) they need the piece of business, and, c) Sometimes I can’t even get them to wait like a week – they want to get it done, and get this deal closed, and get that business in the door and then move on.
So, yeah, it’s – with us – kind of breaking the mold and saying, ‘We’re gonna step outside of…’ – I think we still do a good job of spotting the issues for them and saying, ‘Look, this is worst case scenario; here’s what could happen.’ But then, also, I’ve practiced in this area long enough that I can often say to them, ‘This is what could happen, but here’s what often happens.’ ‘Here’s where the real risk is.’ If someone’s entirely risk averse, generally, they don’t start a business. But they certainly shouldn’t start a business.
D: And I see that sometimes with clients. I just want to say, ‘You are not cut out for this–
D: . . . You are far too nervous.’ But, you just gotta be ready to just say, ‘Oh, we’ll deal with that later.’
DB: Yeah, If your attorney is less–
D: Yeah, risk averse.
DB: . . . less risk tolerant than you, then boy, there’s – that’s somethin’.
What kind of businesses do you find yourself working with, overall?
D: A lot of creative. People often say, ‘Oh, God, those tech people would really laugh if you called them creative.’ But, I think of creative as businesses that kind of create something that has some type of intellectual property. So, really, service providers of any sort.
D: We work with a lot of those.
DB: Do they tend to be people who started the business out of some personal competency? Or, like crafts people of sorts?
D: A lot of times, yes.
DB: Writer, designer, coder.
D: Exactly. A lot of times they often will have [a] similar back story to the way our firm started. So I think they’re drawn to it a lot, like, ‘Oh, yeah, you got fed up with the way the system worked in your area, and I did the same thing in my area.’
D: We work with a lot of clients who are really good at what they do, which gives me confidence. Because I always think, These people are really smart, and they’re really good at what they do. If they have confidence in us, then… And that’s what I tell Emily and Joe, who have been with the firm – oh, geez, like over a year now, like a year and a half – I always tell them, ‘I know it is so easy to second guess yourself when you’re a younger attorney, and we haven’t seen everything as often as I have. But these people are all really good at what they do, and are smart enough to seek out other people who are good at what they do.’ The quality of the work that our clients do, I feel, gives us some confidence in like, Hey, these people who do really neat things choose to work with us.
DB: It sounds like there’s almost, maybe, a psychological profile; or a pattern to that kind of founder of a practice.
Do you tend to see the pattern in where [your clients] need legal help?
DB: You can almost predict like the three things that they’re gonna be talkin’ to you about?
D: Yep. There is… I think there’s psychology behind that. Sometimes people think, I don’t know enough to do this on my own. I don’t know enough. But most of the time you do. And a lot of the businesses we work; it’s just one founder. But if there’s more than one founder, a fair amount of the time we’ll run into – especially if there’s more than two – we will often run into the point at which it becomes clear, They’re real founders and they’re in this for the long haul. And this one – or two, or however many other people – they have along with them; they’re dead weight.
D: So, a lot of times – and we often joke that when people come in and there’s more than two of them – we’re like, ‘One of you probably won’t be here in the next few’– I mean,
DB: Yeah, a sure thing.
D: . . . not a lot of businesses that have more than two real founders from the early beginning.
D: So there’s that dynamic. And we often – we try and make sure that clients have everything in place so that there’s as little conflict as possible when, and if, it’s time to get rid of that person; or they want to leave. But, you can write whatever you want in a contract; but how the other person’s gonna react . . . So that’s one of ‘em: dealing with finally having to bring somebody on; either as an employee, or independent contractors. That’s another one, because most of these clients that we work with – they’re craftsman, they’re good at what they do, and they reach capacity quickly.
D: So that’s another one.
DB: That first employee’s always–
DB: . . . really big–
D: It’s a huge deal.
DB: I’ve noticed that the people who are those crafts people are usually good at a number of things; not just one thing.
DB: And so they’ve been able to hold down; they’ve almost acted like multiple employees, as the founder.
DB: And then they go to make the first hire – Well, which one of your many personalities do you want to replace?
DB: ‘Cause you can’t find too many people who can do the multiple things you do. So it’s really hard just from a which-bet-do-you-want-to-place? kinda standpoint.
DB: But then…how do you do that and not think you’re gonna get sued?
D: Right, or run into trouble with; Did you pay your payroll taxes? or Do you need worker’s comp? I mean, there’s a lot of stuff, and there’s no one place – like, the state doesn’t provide one place where you can click and say, ‘I’m hiring an employee, here’s all the things I need to do.’
D: So that’s a thing we often see with them. And then, the longer you’re in business, the more likely that, at some point, someone’s not gonna pay you; or they’re gonna get upset about something that’s been done. I mean, we actually don’t run into too many – we’re careful to make sure that all our clients’ documents kinda say, ‘If you don’t pay us, we do come after you and we can charge you interest; and you’ll pay our attorney’s fees.’
But that one actually doesn’t come into play as much. I think it might be because we’re lucky to kind of sit in this . . . community where almost all of the people know each other. So it’s almost a matter of, ‘If you don’t pay this person for what they did, then nobody else is gonna.’ It’s really short-sighted . . .
D: . . . it’s like nobody else is gonna want to work with you.
DB: Does that get into contract stuff?
Do you have clients that come to you because they’ve finally been presented with the need for a major contract, or a master services agreement – that kind of thing?
D: Yeah. Sometimes they’re working with someone big. We have a ton of huge companies in Minnesota and if you’re around long enough, one of ‘em’s gonna hire you for something.
D: So often they’ll get a really big contract and a lot of our job is just making sure that what it says in there about them is true, you know?
D: …They have the insurance it says, etc., etc.
D: But, yeah, sometimes they realize– some of them have the opposite situation where their clients always have a contract and then they realize, Oh, sometimes I’ll be working with someone who doesn’t… Again, I think it goes to the fact that a lot of our clients work with each other; we always try to draft ‘em pretty fairly, so that it’s like, ‘Listen, everybody’ll understand what it says.’ Nobody’s gonna say, ‘This was so one-sided, it was’–
DB: Yeah. So the spirit of it is not trying to help somebody have some unfair leg-up on the other party?
D: Exactly. And I feel like it used to – you know, when I was in a bigger firm – that was really what we did. I mean, that was what the clients wanted. They were just, like, ‘Make it as one-sided as possible.’
D: I mean, sometimes we have to push our clients and be, like, ‘No, you don’t need to be that fair; they can negotiate for themselves.’
DB: Yeah, right.
D: …‘They can go hire a lawyer.’
D: [Laughs] …‘You don’t need to give it all away.’
I remember one time it seemed you’d read that there were tons of people going to law school, and that they’re minting lawyers all the time. Is that still the case, or has that died down somewhat?
D: It’s definitely down a lot.
DB: Is it?
D: Yeah. In the past, like, three – I mean, really, right after I left my firm, and kind of the years after that – attendance has been way down. It’s down so much that Hamline is looking to merge with William Mitchell.
D: It was kind of a situation of either: This is gonna happen or One of these is gonna close; and Hamline is smaller. So, yeah, it’s really changing. And, you know, I think that’s a good thing; you don’t need that many attorneys – just so many attorneys billing so many hours.
D: I think it has kind of shifted itself. For me, it was when I decided to hire someone like a year-and-a-half ago; I meant to only hire one person, but then ended up with Joe and Emily.
DB: Was it a BOGO? [Laughs]
D: It was. [Laughs] So I put a call out for resumes and, literally, there were probably hundreds of them.
D: And, you know, they all looked the same; they all had a similar cover. I was, like, ‘God, these people.’ Just another example of law students doing, like, We are gonna be good cookie-cutter lawyers. So I didn’t know what to do. Then, Emily just happened to e-mail me out of the blue; she was practicing in a different area at the time, but wanted to leave, and was doing research about . . . let me find some lawyers who seem like they like what they’re doing. So she just came down here to CoCo and we had coffee, and I said, ‘Bring a resume, ‘cause I’m hiring.’ We talked like one more time and she quit her firm and came to work for me.
Then Joe had been – I teach a clinic at Mitchell – and Joe had been in my first class of students I taught. So he had applied in that giant resume avalanche, but was smart enough to e-mail me and say, ‘Hey, I applied. I’m sure you got a lot of them. If you don’t remember, I was in your first class.’ And I did remember him, because I always thought he actually acted like he needed to earn that client, even though they got them assigned and the work was free. So I said, ‘I think I’m hiring this other person to come in, [but] let’s talk.’
Then Emily said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m gonna have a baby in a couple of months.’ So, I said, ‘Joe, you can work part time, and then when Emily goes on maternity leave you can work full time. Then when Emily gets back, we’ll see how busy we are.’ So that’s what we did. And then we were busy enough.
DB: That’s great.
What do you do to market yourself?
D: I’ll give presentations and stuff; Joe does that, too. And we go to things; we’re kinda just around. But most of our marketing is either referrals from other professionals, like, ‘My accountant said I should call you.’
D: Or from existing clients. Because, I think, for business owners, they don’t have…for lawyers, there’s the Lawyers Board…but business owners don’t have a governing body to tell them, ‘Here’s help for whatever.’
D: I think they seek each other out.
DB: Yeah, word of mouth is – I can imagine where they (Inaudible) – it’s a big shortcut to somebody you want to talk to. It strikes me that you have a different approach, and that you . . . I mean, maybe even more so – I think about people who are like marketing consultants – they’re supposed to all be creative and different.
DB: Right? Because–
DB: . . . that’s the purpose of marketing: to stand out. I’ll have to say that for you to be self-directed, unconventional, and seemingly confident in that direction, it’s a bigger deal – it’s kind of a bigger departure from what is, you know?
D: Yeah. I think a lot of it went back to leaving my firm and realizing,The world is your oyster in how you want to be a lawyer.
D: And people like dealing with people who are totally themselves, you know?
D: There’s some people who start a business ‘cause they think they’re gonna get rich and make millions of dollars. But most people who start a business do it because they just can’t do anything else anymore, you know?
D: They’re just like, I have to do this even though it seems crazy. And they are finally being themselves…when they’re not working for somebody else. I think they really appreciate that fact about me – and about Joe, and about Emily; all of us are really just who we are. And with Emily and Joe, I had to train it back into them, like, ‘You don’t even have to wear a suit every day. Wear what you’d wear if you were working on your couch.’
D: …‘‘Cause everybody here is,’ you know?
DB: Yeah, that’s true.
D: When I left my firm – for a while there’s the whole, I could go back and work – there’s a period of time where you could go back and work for a firm again. Then, after a period of time, you just become completely unemployable.
D: No one’s ever gonna hire you because you–
D: . . . you’re never gonna be an employee again. And when I was still in the – well, I could just go work for another firm or when I talked to people, three, six, nine months after I left, and they’d say like, ‘So-and-so is hiring,’ I really didn’t want to do that. Because I had watched a lot of business owners be kind of one foot in and one foot out of owning their own business, and those never succeed.
DB: Nope, they don’t. They don’t.
DB: Who wants to hire somebody who’s not fully in–
D: Right. Who might just go get a job, and–
D: I realized, I need to really connect to them. That’s actually when I got tattoos below my elbow, because I thought – Tommy, my son, was two at the time, and had said I should get a choo-choo train tattoo–
D: . . . on my arm. And I was, like, ‘If I do this, I really will be un-hirable.’ Because, at some point, I need to roll up my sleeves and a senior partner – if previously, they told me, ‘God, there’s somethin’ about you that’s weird,’ they would literally have a heart attack.
D: So I thought, I’m gonna do this, and this is gonna be, like, ‘This is it.’
DB: The point of no return.
D: ‘I can’t go back.’ So I told Joe and Emily,‘Once you guys have visible tattoos, I’ll know you’re really in this. But [Laughs] until you do’–
DB: [Laughs] That’s the best.
D: But Joe’s Jewish, so I guess he gets a religious exemption.
DB: Alright, this time. [Laughs]
D: [Laughs] But yeah, that was kind of my realization that, like, You have to be in this.
DB: There’s just somethin’ about how you show up to other people and how they perceive you when you’re just – there is no other incarnation. You’re like this–
D: Right, yeah.
D: Part of that was due to the fact that I worked at a firm where I could wear ties to work and that was okay. And a lot of queer attorneys go to big firms, because they love recruiting them. ‘Cause they love to have that diversity page on–
DB: Yeah. [Laughs]
D: . . . their website where they can be like, ‘Look at all these people . . . here’s our dark one and here’s our medium-skinned one, and here’s our gay one,’ [Laughs] and they’re all ambiguous; no one’s clearly any specific ethnicity; they’re just, like, ‘That person could be whatever I want them to be.’
D: I got recruited by some firms. When I was at my old firm, they would call and basically say, ‘Will you come in for an interview?’ And I’d go in and meet them and it was always like – they pay you a lot of money, having you around, and you give them kind of like an ‘in’ to these different… – But none of you seem like you’re really all that happy, you know? And it was like looking at, obviously, butch attorneys; attorneys wearing ladies suits. And I was just, like, I don’t ever want to be–
D: . . . in this position. I think that being at a firm where I felt – queer attorneys in smaller firms, or medium-sized firms, are often looking to go to a big firm because they think, I’ll be able to be myself there. But I was like, I already am – this is not a selling point for me, because my firm already gives me about 90 percent of what I need to be myself. Having had that background I realized, Now nothing’s stopping me.
D: And people appreciate it. And, frankly, when we used to work with smaller business owners who had built really big companies, they often would say, ‘Now, don’t come in here’ – especially when they were gonna sell their business – ‘don’t come in here wearing those lawyer clothes, because I don’t want my employees to worry.’
D: Whenever the lawyers show up, there’s something to worry about. So for a lot of business owners, it’s like they feel more comfortable when you’re professional, but not intimidating–
D: . . . unapproachable.
I’m pretty sure that the couple times I’ve made referrals to somebody it’s been like, ‘Yeah, Davis, she’s a lawyer; she works with small businesses and she has tats.’
DB: And that’s a selling point, you know?
D: Right, yeah.
DB: That just says it all right there – ‘Oh, she’s one of us. She’s normal,’ you know?
DB: So that’s cool.
D: It’s been nice and really – I didn’t think when I went out on my own, I thought, This is what I’m gonna do; and I’m gonna be super happy doing what I’m doing; I’m gonna like being a lawyer again and that’s it. But, once I hired Emily and Joe, it was like, ‘Now…we can basically find other attorneys who we think, Yeah, you’ve got a personality…you’re smart enough. We could teach you what we do. And basically bring ‘em in and say, ‘You’re never even gonna believe how much fun you can have.’
DB: That’s awesome. It’s the Island of Misfit Toys . . . strategy, yes.
D: Exactly – that’s exactly what it is.
DB: That’s great. Okay, one question for ya. I don’t know if you saw the piece that David Brookes wrote that’s been makin’ the rounds? He’s a New York Times columnist – he’s talkin’ about people who almost have a life from inside. He realized…with his life of external ambitions – in meeting some people who were living lives that were entirely in service of other people – he said there is just somethin’, a selflessness and a peace and something coming from them – [he realized] I have all the career heights that I could want; I don’t have that.
It sent him on a path to look at what lives do people live who get to become that. He said even if he couldn’t follow the path, he wanted to find out what the path was.
I thought [David Brookes’s piece] was interesting to read just because it brings this question, in a way, whether it’s a conflict, or a dance between ambition and happiness. I’m just curious, what’s your take on that?
D: I feel like in the beginnings of setting up your business, and going it alone, it’s hard to play those two. And it’s really easy to either fall completely into ‘happiness’ – I’ll work when I want to work; or, I’m gonna work 24 hours a day. For me, I have kids; they are pretty good at telling me, ‘I am gonna need you to focus on me right now.’
But, also, I think it’s easier for me – I mean, when I left my firm, I knew I was gonna make less money. Now, I probably make around what I was making with them, but, probably less. But you don’t need as much; I don’t have to buy fancy work costumes; and I don’t have to park in the middle of downtown; and there’s a lot of tradeoffs that you don’t need to pay for. As soon as Joe and Emily came in, I realized – it’s almost like when you have kids; you realize everything you do, you’re modeling.
I hate wearing a helmet on my bike, but I’m gonna do it. ‘Cause even if Tommy’s not with me, what if I see him somewhere and he sees me not wearing a helmet, and everything I’ve said ever is a lie? I feel like…when you bring people into your business, you model for them what the work ethic’s gonna be.
D: ‘Are we gonna answer e-mails 24/7?’ For me, it was – Emily had said, ‘Listen, I’d love to be able to stay home one day a week,’ ‘cause she has really small kids. And I was like, ‘That’s fine; you’re an efficient person, and I know if we need you on one of those days, you’ll figure it out.’
It was just probably last year, around the holidays, I realized I wanted to turn off notifications on my phone when I’m with my family for a long time. So then I just told Joe and Emily, ‘This is what we’re gonna do…I want to model it for you; that we should have a balance, but I also want us to model it for our clients. Like, rarely does something happen that it can’t be dealt with the next day . . .
D: . . . at 9:00 in the morning. And never are we going to have a better reaction the night of than we will the next morning when everybody’s had a chance to calm down.’ So, I feel like we model that for our clients, too, like, ‘We’re gonna show you we’re really trying so hard to achieve this balance, even though work is with us all the time, and we want you to do the same thing.’
I feel like that’s always in my mind: Remember how stressed out you were when you were, you know, quote/unquote, ‘on the right attorney track? And I’m not gonna miss things anymore. I’m not gonna be like – sometimes it will be a super busy time – but on the whole, I feel like I need to be modeling for my employees. And I want them to be modeling for our clients: there can be a balance.
D: And they hire us because we’re fun, and we’re happy, and we like what we’re doing; and if we just become like other stressed-out attorneys, who maybe…dress better–
D: . . . that’s not gonna be enough to set us apart. I mean, they’re gonna–
DB: Yeah, yeah.
D: . . . they’re gonna lose the reason that they want to work with us.
DB: That’s cool. Your answer also suggests that you discovered a purpose you hadn’t anticipated when you hired–
DB: . . . because now you go – it’s not just about you anymore.
It’s interesting to think about; what if you do grow over time and are able to attract more people? You’ve now created an alternate universe. An alternate legal universe than what’s being offered out there. Who else is doin’ that, you know?
D: I feel like we can do it because our clients model it for us, too. So many of our clients are doing things that it’s like, That’s not even a thing, yet.
D: …You’re creating that as a thing.
DB: Yeah. Well, you think of so many fields where that happens, you know?
DB: In Minnesota, Summit was the first one to do craft beer; at that time, a few people were clamoring for it.
DB: So they had to kind of model it, and go, ‘Here, we’re gonna make it, you taste it. Do you like it more? Then ask for it.’ But now you think – people nowadays probably couldn’t imagine a time when craft beer didn’t exist, but it sure as hell didn’t exist in the early 80s . . . until they introduced it. It’s interesting – creating things that don’t exist, just because you have the foresight and the conviction, I’d say, to think that this deserves to be a way that people do business.
That’s very cool.
D: Oh, yeah, it’s fun, so.
DB: Alright, so we need to cover the dates, and – of course, because we also do things out of order at CoCo – we’ll actually talk about your business officially at the end of the podcast instead of at the beginning.
D: Okay, makes sense.
So whoever’s made it all the way through can now know – What the hell does she do? Alright, so your firm is Davis Law Office, right?
DB: And, where can we find you online?
DB: Okay, good, I’m glad to see that–
D: We still ‘mean business.’ [Laughs]
DB: . . . you’re still here, yeah. Do you also have social accounts that you use?
D: Yeah, we’re on Facebook. It’s just facebook.com/davislawoffice. And we have a Twitter; davislawoffice. We blog on the website, and folks can kinda sign up to get our newsletters, which I’m behind in sending.
DB: This one’s installed, I’m sure.
D: Exactly. But we’re in the process of a re-brand. So if you go to the website, it’s gonna be different soon, and that’s been really fun; getting that together with a team, rather than when it was just me saying, ‘Make it not look like a law firm.’
D: And in person, people can find us at Downtown or Uptown CoCo.
DB: Where do you tend to hang out more, so people can stalk you?
D: I’m Downtown more, but I feel like every time I say that, then I have a week where I’m [in] Uptown three days.
D: And, right now, we’re in the process of trying to sell our home, so I can take the dogs to Uptown, so . . .
DB: Bonus extra.
D: I might just move them in there, just 24 hours.
DB: Oh, you–
D: That’s fine, right?
DB: We’ve been looking into a kennel business as a sideline.
D: They barely bark
DB: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for sitting down with us.
D: Yeah, absolutely.
DB: I know a lot of folks are gonna enjoy listening to this because you do have a lot of fans, and I think it’s just ‘cause you live life a way that people admire.
D: Well, thanks.
DB: That, alone, has a big impact, I think.
D: Awesome, thank you.
DB: Well, thanks for listening to another CoCo Dreamcast. This was a fun one with Davis, and there’s more fun ones –you just have to go to cocomsp.com/dreamcast to find them.
Two weeks ago, we spoke with Brad Laborman – Brad TV – who is now, since our interview, is now some sort of huge celebrity on Periscope, and has like thousands of people watch him while he live casts his entire life. He had 6,000 people actually tune into his sleeping about three nights ago. Nobody understands it; I don’t get it at all, but he’s really a fascinating guy, so that’s a good one worth listening to.
We’ll keep adding ‘em as we go. We’re really open to suggestions for new people to interview; we’re even considering stepping outside the hallowed halls of CoCo, and finding people in the community who would be interesting to talk to. So your suggestions are welcome.
While you’re on the site, you can sign up for our e-mail newsletter, which goes out mostly once a month; definitely once a month if I can get my butt in gear for this next issue. You know, we publish it when there’s enough news to fit, right? Why make stuff up?
We really appreciate your listening and we’d love to hear from you, too, if you have been enjoying some of these. Occasionally, somebody will stop me and say, ‘Yeah, I listen to all of ‘em.’ I go, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me,’ ‘cause I never get any feedback, so I have no idea; we just kind of put these out there. So, if you have any comments – good, bad or ugly – please send ‘em our way. Thanks so much – see you next time.
About the CoCo DreamCast
Our goal for the CoCo DreamCast is pretty straightforward: we want to talk to CoCo members, find out what makes them tick and learn how they’re living out their dreams. Look for another episode soon!