We had the good fortune of connecting with Keren de Zwart and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Keren, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
My story isn’t as magical as many other journeys of entrepreneurship. My business initially started out as even less than a side hustle–it was a thing I did to support friends and family who knew I was a business lawyer while I was working in the corporate world. Sometimes I didn’t even charge my “clients” to do work for them. But referrals starting coming in and it turned into a more legitimate side hustle by about 2016. I operated the business on the side of my full-time corporate job–while raising a toddler and a baby–until it became apparent that something had to give. The safe choice would have been to drop the side hustle and stick to the well-paying corporate gig, but by then I was butting up against the old-school mentality that I wasn’t ambitious if I operated within the time constraints that motherhood allowed. Specifically, the industry in which I worked was not flexible, and my career growth was stymied by the fact that my kids’ daycare hours required me to leave the office at 5:00 pm each day. So, starting my own business really came from a place of acceptance that if I wanted to pursue “success” in any meaningful way, I wasn’t going to be able to do it in my traditional corporate role.
What should our readers know about your business?
Not Your Father’s Lawyer is technically a business law firm, but I view it as a place where entrepreneurs and small business owners can come for access to information. When you think of a traditional law firm, like the one I spent the first half of my career in, you have big retainer fees and exorbitant hourly rates. Have a quick question for your lawyer? It’s hidden behind this “pay wall” that charges you in 6-minute increments. From my very first experiences as an attorney, this felt counterproductive and at times, unethical. The truth is, a small business owner that knows her lawyer will charge her for a 3-minute phone call is much less likely to reach out to get the information needed. When I first approached the managing partner of my old firm and suggested we do some affordable, flat-fee work for our smallest clients, he literally laughed at me. I think there is this fear in the legal industry that if you make things affordable, the whole house of cards will fall. But there will always be a market and need for high-cost, complex legal services for the corporate conglomerates and large, international transactions. That doesn’t mean there isn’t also a market to support small businesses. The legal industry was shifting even back in 2009/2010 and it has changed so much since then. I didn’t want to be running at the back of the race trying to catch up. I wanted to be at the forefront of those changes. By contrast, everything I do at the virtually-based NYFL is flat-fee, project-based work. All your questions answered. No fear of surprise bills. No passing on of ridiculous costs like a fancy high rise office space. Just affordable, service-oriented legal support. There is definitely a delicate balance between providing cheap access to information and just losing a race to the bottom. The goal isn’t to be the cheapest–there is a lot of free and cheap crap out there. Small businesses still can and will pay for legal services, but there can be a happy medium where clients get the support they need but lawyers aren’t getting an ATM card to the client’s bank account.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
People have a lot of preconceived notions about Orange County, California thanks to a series of reality shows, but I’ve been here almost all my life and it’s a great place. There are so many hidden gems, but my absolute favorite place is San Clemente Pier. I’d grab an almond milk chai latte from Bear Coast Coffee and enjoy the beach. If it’s a nice day, a hike on any of the many, many trails. Crystal Cove has some easy hikes with gorgeous views. I’d have lunch at Cucina Enoteca at Irvine Spectrum Center. Bonus points for some amazing wine selections, both while you eat and to purchase at retail. I am a big fan of performing arts, so we are season ticket holders at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and I love taking people to see performances there, from Broadway hits to ABT ballet performances, and a beautiful symphony experience. It’s definitely South OC’s cultural hub. A little further south and inland, closer to my home, The Blind Pig is a great place for apps and craft cocktails overlooking a lake at the foot of Saddleback Mountain. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I know how lucky I am to have a supportive circle of friends and family around me, but no one has been more supportive than my husband, Pieter. He has always encouraged me to pursue my goals, and our partnership in parenting and life allowed me to take the risk of leaving my corporate job to pursue my own business. I am also eternally grateful for The Mama Ladder and its founder, Crystalee Beck. Crystalee and her organization support women in business no matter how humble or world-changing their business dreams are. Having a group of other moms in business made my unique experiences easier to go through.