Traveling law man
Without an office or much overhead, a young attorney strategically practices law his way.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Attorneys meet with their clients outside their offices all the time as a part of their business, but few, suggests Forrest John Crawford, solely operate on the road. It’s a business strategy that he planned for Hometown Legal Services in 2016 with two goals in mind: first, to help people, and second, to maintain a work-life balance. Thus far, he’s two for two.
As a new attorney and new homeowner in Cottage Grove, Crawford, 30, was looking to minimize his business risk. He considered renting office space elsewhere, “but why sign a commercial lease for two or three years when I don’t know how things will go?” he reasons.
To his credit, Crawford didn’t want to make a costly mistake. The upstate New York native had already earned a biomedical science degree from the State University of New York–Buffalo, but after working in the field, he decided to trade his lab coat to pursue a law degree. “Law seemed the perfect blend for me to use my analytics skills for research and prep work, and my interpersonal skills to interact with people who may not work well with other attorneys,” he states.
He then beefed up his resume with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a paralegal certification. By the time he was accepted to the UW–Madison Law School, he’d already worked at a Buffalo public defender’s office and a Social Security disability law firm where stress ran rampant.
“Those experiences also helped me realize what I didn’t want to do,” Crawford admits.
Crawford was officially admitted to practice law in Wisconsin on June 1, 2016. The very next day, he signed his first client.
Now he meets with clients in coffee shops, at their businesses or homes, or even in other businesses, handling everything from estate planning needs to general law, and he’s become a familiar face in the Stoughton, Sun Prairie, and Cottage Grove areas.
“When I first started off, I had more time than clients so I joined several Chambers of Commerce,” he says. He’s developed what he calls strategic community partners — friends and bankers or other professionals who he can call upon if he needs to meet with a client.
“I have about a dozen locations and contacts I can quickly call if I need to set up a client meeting in a private office or conference room,” Crawford explains. “It’s beneficial for the other business, too, because I’m bringing people to their location.” In addition to estate planning, he handles things like startup business formation, trademark legislation, leases, small claims work, and real estate.
His business expenses are minimal — just about $250 a month, which no doubt helped Hometown Legal Services post a profit in its first year. “I had extremely modest expectations for year one,” Crawford admits. “I ended up doubling my expected income, which proved that this was a viable business.” He hopes to double his income again in year two.
Through time management, Crawford has been able to make time for the second part of his two-part goal. He’s participated in Sun Prairie High School mock interviews and is in a reading-buddy program at Royal Oaks Elementary. “My office and the Sun Prairie Business & Education Partnership split the cost to supply a class with a take-home library of books, and I choose one or two to read to the kids each month.”
He’s offered free estate planning services to first-responders in a Wills for Heroes program, and is committed to donating at least 50 hours each year to persons with limited means or charitable organizations. Engaged with the Cottage Grove senior community, he helps train businesses to be dementia friendly through Dementia Friendly Cottage Grove, and he speaks to community groups on anything from the Equifax breach to avoiding common scams to estate-planning basics. He’s also a village trustee.
Crawford’s caseload, about 21 files long, is a “decent” number for a “solo” attorney entering his or her second year of practice, he says, and he’s even seen some repeat clients. “I’m sorry they have so many legal issues, but I’m pleased that I can help.”
Would he ever consider joining a larger law firm? “Sure,” Crawford answers, “but I’d still want that work-life balance.”
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