Tips for Starting a Remote Law Firm: A Q&A with Beth Fegan, Esq.
FeganScott is nationwide class action law firm that specializes in litigation involving sexual abuse, discrimination, consumer fraud and antitrust cases, and describes itself as a powerful ally for consumers and small businesses. Attorney Beth Fegan, along with her husband, Timothy Scott, built the practice from the ground up in 2019. Beth recently spoke to us on the subject of start her own firm and managing employees spread out across the country.
Counsel Financial: Before we discuss the origination of your own law firm, can you give us an update on how your firm has transitioned to working remotely. Some firms have found the shift from working together in the physical office to working separately from home challenging. How has your team handled it?
Beth Fegan: Honestly, we have handled the work-from-home order really well because our practice has been mostly remote since it began. Unlike a lot of firms who are grappling with how to stay connected with each other while working from home, it’s really been business as usual for us.
CF: It sounds as though FeganScott was ahead of the curve with remote working. What made you decide to start a firm with that particular structure back in 2019?
BF: When we started the firm, we knew we wanted to lean towards a more remote style of working so that we could hire great attorneys who weren’t necessarily based in the same cities as our offices. Right now, all of our lawyers are working from home in all the different cities that they are in, so the COVID-19 shutdown isn’t that big of a change for us.
CF: As someone who has successfully run a firm on a remote basis even before the pandemic made it a practical necessity, you recognized that a remote firm is not only possibly but sometimes preferable to undertaking the significant costs of a brick and mortar office. Do you think that COVID-19 will result in lasting effects in the way that law firms are run in the future? Do you think that working remotely will become an accepted norm in the legal profession going forward?
BF: I do; I think its going to change the way a lot of businesses work. I was talking to a woman recently—she’s not an attorney but she has a 1,500-person office space here in the suburbs of Chicago—and she was telling me that their office space lease was up and they just decided to let it go. The shutdown has taught a lot of businesses that employees can work just as well, or better, from home as they could in an actual office. I think the days of flying across the country for a two-hour meeting are over.
CF: I agree, I think people are becoming comfortable with virtual means of communication and utilizing all the technology we have at our disposal. Moving to how your firm came to be, what was your first step taken towards starting your own firm? How long did the initial planning stages take?
BF: I think the idea of starting my own firm had been an idea in the back of my head for years, and running the Chicago office for my prior firm, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, really gave me a lot of the fundamentals of what it takes to run a law firm, like planning, overseeing employees and dealing with firm financials. So, while I thought about the idea of starting my own firm for a while, when it came down to it, it all really happened quickly.
CF: When you ultimately decided to take the leap of faith and form your own practice, did you take any attorneys or support staff with you from your prior firm?
BF: I started fresh with my new firm. I didn’t want to burn bridges with my prior firm because I still work with them a lot as co-counsel on cases. To me, it was really important to maintain a good relationship with my prior firm because the class action bar is so small.
CF: When you began planning for your new firm, did you know right away what type of firm structure you wanted to put in place, or did that come later on?
BF: I did know right away. I knew that I wanted to build a firm based on people and really allocate our resources and investments into [the] people as opposed to a fancy office space with marble floors. When we started, I was really focused on finding people who had experience on the plaintiff side and in the class action bar that could hold themselves out well and who could litigate and lead a case themselves.
CF: Was this firm focus on people what lead you to a remote office environment?
BF: Yes, actually it was. I was looking for the best attorneys out there and it really didn’t matter to me where they lived. Also, the way my practice works, my cases are spread out across the country. So in my mind, even though I’m barred in Illinois, when you practice in the federal courts you sort of have a nationwide practice in the class action context. I also saw that rent was just so high for these large offices and I thought, “what’s the point of this?” You rarely have people into your office, so what’s the point of paying all this money to impress people for the four times a year they visit the office.
CF: You’ve discussed how you told your firm that you were leaving; how did you inform your clients that you were leaving.
BF: I focused on the cases that I knew were important to me and important to my prior firm because I knew that neither of us wanted to screw up the objective of the case. We told the clients together and suggested that we would continue to co-counsel. A lot of the cases I handle deal with highly sensitive personal matters for my clients and I think it was important for the clients to continue to work with me because we had built a strong personal rapport.
CF: How did you tackle deciding upon a new firm structure, tax considerations, budget projections and partnership agreements?
BF: Right now, our firm is a limited liability company in which my husband, Timothy Scott, and I are the managing members, but we realize that as we grow and take on new partners, we will have to reconsider and restructure the firm. But I think it will be a process that we will be able to engage in with our current attorneys as they grow, based on their contributions [to the firm]. Partnerships structure was not something that I wanted to lock in right at the outset because we didn’t know who we were going to be in the future and wanted to be able to make changes.
CF: What would your advice be to lawyers looking to start their own remote firm, or even to existing firms who are looking to switch to a more remote style going forward?
BF: I would say focus on the technology. One of the biggest challenges for us starting out was learning to work with a cloud-based system because we didn’t have a physical location for servers. Also, technology is going to be key in making your firm work and collaborate together as if you are in the same office. I know for our office, we talk so much through video that sometimes it doesn’t seem like we haven’t been together face-to-face.
CF: Finding the right financing is crucial when you’re starting your own firm, how did you decide what financing was right for you?
BF: We looked at a number of different options before deciding what was right for us. It was important to me to find the right fit because, while we had a lot of ideas, we didn’t have a large number of cases at the beginning. We knew we needed to work with a company that was going to partner with us and believed in our firm and that’s why we decided to work with Counsel Financial. I think now, especially in the time of COVID-19, when cases and trials are getting delayed, it is important to have a lender who understands the area of law that you practice.
Counsel Financial provides working capital credit lines exclusively for the plaintiffs' bar in all states except California, where credit lines are issued by California Attorney Lending.