Miriam Airington-Fisher of Airington Law on combining law and entrepreneurship and how she is making an impact
Describe your business in a few words?
Airington Law is a women-lead law firm specializing in defending against wrongful convictions and litigating civil rights issues
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I initially started my law practice out of necessity. I went through a divorce and became a single mom to a newborn. I was working as an associate attorney at a great law firm, but the traditional lawyer job no longer worked with my life. I needed to be able to balance being a new single mom and still earn a great living.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I had been practicing law for about 8 years. I had NO experience starting or running a business.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I did not begin my career as an entrepreneur. I loved practicing law and being in the courtroom. I grew into an entrepreneur partly out of necessity because I needed to leverage my time and delegate in order to achieve the balance and the income I wanted. When I began learning about entrepreneurship through networking groups, podcasts, and books, I was hooked. I’ve become really passionate about running my firm as a business. A common criticism in the legal field is that lawyers aren’t trained to be business owners. I have really enjoyed learning how to combine law and entrepreneurship.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
I had no marketing strategy whatsoever when I started the business. It was all word of mouth within my own circle. Marketing is a bad word in the legal field, definitely in criminal defense. The old rule of thumb is just be a great lawyer, and clients will flock to you. I already felt confident in my abilities, and I had strong referrals from clients and colleagues. However, I knew that wasn’t enough to build a thriving, modern law firm, so I had to completely educate myself through books, podcasts, and courses. I hit a marketing stride until about 5 years in by diving into digital marketing, video and social media. There have been a lot of advances in quality legal marketing over the past few years.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
If I have one regret, it is that I didn’t dream big enough in the beginning, I just modeled my practice off of what I saw others doing. An entrepreneur needs to blaze some new trails. These days I have the confidence to take risks and try new things.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I am very proud of the team and our firm culture. Everyone is very committed to our mission. As the leader, I promote and model balance. I joke that I’m an anti-workaholic. I love what I do, but I also like having a life. I have a family, and I exercise, and love to travel. I’ve implemented a 36 hour workweek, generous paid leave, and paid parental leave. I want a team of healthy, happy and motivated members…not burned out, miserable people waiting for the weekend. In that respect, I walk the walk when it comes to work-life balance.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
When hiring, I really look for people who are invested and committed to the type of work we do. It’s not for everyone. We represent people who are charged with serious crimes, or have been wrongfully conviction, or experienced some kind of discrimination or mistreatment, and work closely with their families. I can’t risk having anyone on our team who isn’t fully on board and able to show our clients the respect and compassion they deserve. I ask applicants what specifically about our firm and our work appeals to them, and why.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Thankfully, the pandemic’s impact on our business was temporary. all went home from mid-March until June, and we reopened with safety protocol. The months at home were very challenging for all of us. While it was a stressful time, ultimately our firm thrived in 2020 by adapting to our clients needs and continuing our marketing efforts. Clients still needed our services and we were able to adapt to the virtual world and continue to provide the same level of service. Many of the changes we were forced into ended up being great business decisions. For example, offering virtual consultations has expanded our footprint and now we work with clients and other firms across the country, not just in our own city. Even now that we are fully reopened (and moving into a new, larger office), our virtual appointments and online services are popular with new clients.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Where we began as a criminal defense and immigration firm, we are expanding and adding new practice areas to better serve our clients. So many of our clients have experienced discrimination and civil rights violations, and after building strong relationships and trust, many clients want us to handle their civil cases as well. Our home is in Richmond, Virginia but we have begun collaborating with other law firms across the country to serve clients from all over.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned in 2020 is to believe in the business, and keep my foot on the gas. In March 2020, when courts started closing down and no one knew how it would play out, I was terrified, but I didn’t let fear paralyze me and the firm thrived.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
Well, I really didn’t know anything when I started my business. It was like the scene in Legally Blonde where the admissions people are making fun of Elle ‘what, did she just wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll go to law school?”‘ I wish that I had educated myself on business structure, finances, hiring, marketing…you name it. I’ve been very fortunate but if I could go back, my leap into entrepreneurship would be a little better prepared.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
My family. For me, having children is a constant, daily, built-in reminder of what is really important. My husband and I strapped in and forged through together, and we all survived.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I am a huge advocate of work-life balance. I completely reject workaholism and the idea that working all the time and being busy equates with meaning and importance. As a business owner I view it as my responsibility to set that norm at the firm. I do not work evenings or weekends, period. I even use Boomerang to pause my inbox in the evenings and all weekend. We are able to have those boundaries and still provide excellent customer service and make our clients feel important by prioritizing communication and efficiency. I stress to my team the importance of personal life and I model it. In my own life, currently, that means I don’t take appointments after 3pm because I pick my kids up from school, and I do yoga two mornings a week. I love to travel and take time off throughout the year to do so, and I encourage my team to take time off.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I don’t think anyone even knows this about me, but I once got my motorcycle license. Years ago I took a weekend course and did really well and passed the test. I have absolutely no interest in ever riding one again, and it is completely random for me.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
My top 3 tips to stay productive are to wake up early, exercise in the morning, and make to-do lists. Number 4 would be to drink coffee.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
To me, being an Entreprenista means making your business fit your life, and finding a way to serve others while creating a fabulous life for yourself.