By Diana Konate • October 29, 2014•Features, Guest Bloggers and Profiles of Women in the Law
Attorney: Amy Beckstead
Firm: Beckstead Terry PLLC
Practice Area: Employment Law
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Amy Beckstead, co-owner of Beckstead Terry PLLC. Following 13 years in BigLaw, Amy has joined forces with her longtime friend, Jana Terry, to open up their brand new boutique firm in Austin, TX. Together, they provide their clients with employment law and commercial litigation services.
In the interview that follows, Amy discusses how DLA Piper prepared her for this stage in her professional career, some advantages to owning her own firm, and her advice for someone interested in starting a firm of their own.
I hope you enjoy!
Why did you decide to leave a large firm after achieving equity partner status?
It is the entrepreneurial bug in me. I just couldn’t shake it. I have thought about doing what I’m doing right now for a very long time, starting when I was probably a third or fourth year associate at DLA. While my old law firm was a wonderful firm, I knew I could have the same type of practice outside of DLA, with the benefit that I had complete control over my practice. At some point in most lawyer’s careers, I think that we start imagining what it would be like to be our own boss. Once you actually experience it, there really is no going back!
How did your BigLaw experience prepare you for opening your own practice?
DLA trained me to be a smart, responsive, business-minded lawyer. There is nothing worse than asking someone for legal advice and then having case law spouted back at you, with no application and no business solution provided. My training at DLA made me, at all times, cognizant that we are partners in our clients’ businesses and our job is to provide them practical legal advice that will help them achieve their goals. It would have been very difficult to learn those skills on my own. DLA also is very entrepreneurial. During my last years at DLA, I mainly worked with other corporate law attorneys. These attorneys taught me invaluable skills regarding business development – skills that I put into action when I started my own law firm.
What are some of the advantages of serving clients outside of BigLaw?
When you own your own firm, you are in control of many aspects of your practice that you aren’t in BigLaw: client conflicts, overhead, and rates. At DLA, it could take several days to clear conflicts before I could open a new matter. It obviously does not take that long at my new firm! My overhead is vastly lower now and that translates directly into a billable hour rate that is in line with the local market. The funny thing is, although my overhead is much lower now, I am using the same or better technology platforms that I had at DLA. So, I really do get the best of both worlds: I have the same technological resources that attorneys at DLA have, but I am no longer financing the “BigLaw” machine that invariably translates into really high billable hour rates for clients.
What have been some of the early challenges & how are you overcoming them?
So far, I haven’t had too many challenges. I luckily have many friends, including my partner, Jana Terry, who have done exactly what I have done – left BigLaw to form a boutique law practice. Their counsel has helped me avoid many missteps that I think can plague someone who leaves BigLaw, such as not knowing what functions to outsource. It is not smart to be penny wise and pound foolish. Having the right support – and knowing what that support should be – is probably the most important thing for someone to learn before opening their own practice.
How has your typical day changed now that you're not just an attorney, but a small business owner?
I’m happier? Nothing has changed with respect to the legal work I do. I still have a very busy employment law practice, and I am e-mailing and speaking with clients all day on various employment-related issues. On the business-side, I have had to learn how to run a business: what tools I need to purchase for the business, SEO, marketing. The good thing is, I find this new aspect of my practice really fun. It also helps me understand my clients a lot better: I know what it takes to run your own business. That can only make me a better attorney for the business clients I service.
What one piece of advice might you give a woman interested in hanging up her own shingle?
Focus on building your book of business. There are so many great books for women to read on how to do this, but the best teachers on business development are often right down your hallway. Take these folks to lunch and learn from them. Having your own book of business gives you power within your current firm, so that your decision to stay is because you want to stay, not because you have to stay.