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A Firm of Their Own:  Jeena Cho

Attorney:  Jeena Cho

Firm:  JC Law Group PC

Practice Area:  Bankruptcy Law

This month’s interview features Jeena Cho, Resident Writer of the Sex & Money column here at Ms. JD and owner of JC Law Group PC.  In 2009, Jeena opened her San Francisco based bankruptcy law firm with her husband, Jeff Curl.  The firm helps its clients with Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, as well as debt settlement.  Prior to hanging up her shingle, Jeena worked as an Assistant State Attorney.  

Currently, in addition to her legal practice, Jeena is working on her upcoming book “The Anxious Lawyer” which is set to be published in 2015.

In the interview that follows, Jeena discusses overcoming the challenges that came with opening her firm, the value in having a partner with different skill sets and the rewarding feeling that comes from being able to help her clients with their financial problems.

I hope you enjoy!

What gave you the confidence to go out on your own in a completely different area of law than you had previously been practicing?

Both of my parents, who are Korean immigrants started their own businesses. I grew up with their entrepreneurial spirits. I also understood the hard work, tenacity and resilience necessary to grow a successful business. Despite not speaking English, my parents pulled together their resources and figured out how to run successful businesses. So, I knew I would be able to do the same.

I had been practicing law for five years when I started our practice with my then boyfriend (now my husband). I felt that despite not knowing bankruptcy law, I would be able to figure it out. Having my partner be on the journey with me was incredibly helpful. We have very different skill sets so that was also a huge plus.

Did you have any challenges when starting out?  How did you overcome them?

Looking back, it seems like everything was a challenge. Figuring out how to register our business, office space, phone, receptionist, billing, client trust account, not to mention how to manage clients. Developing protocol for managing clients. The list feels endless. There was always something else to do. It often felt as though I couldn't do enough. There was always more networking, more marketing, more organization, and so forth.

I overcame a lot of these challenges by asking for help. We found great mentors who helped us with the law end of the practice. We attended lots of workshops on running a business at SCORE. I read books and blogs on entrepreneurship. I think the key is to start with a big vision of your practice, your values, your goals then put one foot in front of the other and walk in that direction. There's no magic formula for making it work.

There's a lot of trial and error. When something doesn't work, it's easy to get down on yourself and dwell. Building your resilience muscle is key. Things aren't always going to go your way and there will be many obstacles. Being able to call on your inner strength and not being so harsh with yourself for "failures" is key. Running your own practice needs to be treated like a marathon and not a sprint.

What have been some of the most rewarding moments since opening your doors?

This is tough because there's been so many rewarding moments. I helped many families keep their home during the mortgage crisis by filing for bankruptcy, restructuring their debt so they can afford their home and get rid of their credit card. I've helped people get out from overwhelming credit card debt, charging 28% interest rate. I've helped people save their business. Helped get rid of hundreds of thousands dollars of tax debt. It's really rewarding work and I love it.

What are some of the advantages of having a partner?

I feel very fortunate that my law partner is also my life partner. It's easy to coordinate our schedule, work, travel and spend time together. We also have complimentary skill set. I enjoy marketing, networking, social media, blogging, and doing client intakes. Jeff is much more academic. He enjoys research and writing. I love that complicated legal issues scratches his curiosity and his natural interest in law. He's also a brilliant writer. He's also in charge of depositing all the client checks and paying all the bills. I really appreciate him for doing that.

Do you find that you're better able to manage work/life balance now that you control your own time?

Yes and no. On one hand, it's easy to take a Friday or Monday off. I don't need a time off request. I just have to switch on my "away" message and we're off. It's harder to schedule longer time away. Fortunately, we've cultivated really good relationships with our fellow bankruptcy lawyers who has been generous enough to cover emergencies for us while we're away.

On a day to day basis, being a solo is great. I love not having to report to an office by a certain time. I can go to a mid day yoga if I want to. It also allows me the opportunity to pursue other interests like teaching, writing, and coaching.

What one piece of advice might you give a woman with an interest in going solo?

Don't be afraid to be yourself! Develop your own brand. Too often, we try to duplicate other people's efforts instead of being ourselves. This means some people will be turned off by you (or your brand) but you'll be much better at attracting the people who resonate with your work and your message.

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