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Finding Courage and Clarity in the Midst of the Pandemic

The following article was originally published in Minnesota Women Lawyers’ Spring 2021 edition of With Equal Right.

By: Virginia McCalmont and Caitlinrose Fisher

It almost goes without saying that the coronavirus pandemic has been a profoundly bad thing. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives and millions of people have lost their jobs. Too often these burdens have been borne by women and people of color. The losses we have experienced as a nation are many, and the path to recovery will be long. And yet, in the midst of the sadness and devastation, there have been bright spots. Some people have renewed their commitment to health in hastily-constructed home gyms. Others have reconnected with far-flung family and friends through weekly Zoom calls. And for the two of us, lessons learned in the pandemic led us to find the courage and clarity to take a leap and launch a new professional enterprise.

As is always the case, there are many factors that contributed to our firm’s founding in January 2021. But four can be directly tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

First, months spent conducting meetings and hearings by Zoom made us confident in our ability to effectively collaborate from different physical locations. This became important when we decided to open up a firm with offices in Minnesota and Missouri. Both of these states are in the Eighth Circuit, and there are overlaps in terms of clients and culture. But the real driver of our decision was the team with whom we wanted to work—a team that includes Andrew DeMarea, a prominent, Kansas City-based trial lawyer. Because we know that remote meetings will remain a fixture of how we do business even after the pandemic recedes, we are confident that our multiple locations will allow us to better serve our clients while maintaining a close-knit and team-based firm culture.

Second, remote work has reduced some of the fixed costs facing clients and law firms. In many ways, this has been difficult. Trials—and a chance at the realization of justice—have been repeatedly postponed, and remote hearings have required the mastering of new and different skills. But these same reduced fixed costs made it (at least seem) less risky to start up a business that embraces alternative-fee arrangements and contingency-fee work. Plus, we’ve saved both time and money by not needing to worry about things like what flavor of LaCroix we stock in our conference rooms.

Third, our experiences juggling work, family, and self-care throughout 2020 provided us with confidence that we could balance the demands of starting a new firm with the other commitments already on our plates. Although it wasn’t always pretty, last year gave us a lot of experience with showing up as attorneys, as parents, as spouses, as daughters, and as individuals—sometimes all at once. Thus, when new-firm logistics brought one of us to Capella Tower on a weekend, it felt more natural than it would have a year ago to have the toddler in tow, finding joy in the office post-it notes and window ledges. And when another of us wanted to join a partnership meeting while on maternity leave, it felt unremarkable to turn off the camera and nurse a hungry baby while continuing to participate in a discussion about an important firm policy. Allowing this mixing of the personal and the professional isn’t always comfortable, and it can have downsides. But this blending of spheres can also be empowering. We realized that we can wear multiple hats at once and do it well—that we don’t always have to compartmentalize our various roles and instead can show up as our full selves. This realization has freed up additional time and space that we have chosen to invest in this new venture.

Fourth, we more fully internalized that life is too short and too uncertain not to try building our dream practice. The pandemic has reminded us all that life as we know it can change or vanish in the blink of an eye. Yes, co-founding a new law firm as sixth-year lawyers in the midst of a global pandemic might seem like a big risk. But something about the way 2020 turned the world upside down helped us reframe the question as being less about risk and more about regret. If everything changed again one month from today, would we regret not seizing the opportunity to build a new firm? A firm nimble enough to provide top-notch representation to everyone from individuals without the financial means to hire an out-of-pocket lawyer to Fortune 100 companies? With this shift in framework, what had at first seemed risky ultimately became a clear choice—a choice that we might not have had the courage to make a year ago.

Forgive the rosy gloss on a source of great pain and suffering, but it’s in our nature. We both admire Justice Sonia Sotomayor and often read about her to our children in Chelsea Clinton’s book, “She Persisted.” In that book, Justice Sotomayor is quoted as saying: “I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with.” For better or for worse, we relate to those qualities and believe that these lessons from 2020 were key to helping us find the courage to take this next step in our careers. With deep gratitude for all that has come before, we are enthusiastic and optimistic about all that lies ahead.