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Katelin Kennedy: One Job Loss Away From Better Opportunities

A client once described Katelin Kennedy as “the first lawyer [they] actually like working with.” Their endorsement has become one of Katelin’s measures of success.

Katelin’s mission to make legal less intimidating, and less painful began over 3 years ago. She has helped over 100 entrepreneurs, startups, and growing businesses tackle legal challenges with a strategic, business-focused approach. Her goal to strive to make sure the practical implications are front, center, and clear for my clients.

I approach negotiations with the end goal in mind; often preferring to pick up the phone and call the other side to close a deal rather than volley multiple redline versions back and forth. I’m someone who can mobilize to get things done, and who will stand up for the positions and the people I care about.

“My skills are still my skills and my work ethic is still my work ethic. Someone else outside of this kind of situation will recognize that.”

Katelin Kennedy

Takeaways:

  1. As stated directly above, your skills are still your skills and your work ethic is still your work ethic. Someone will always recognize that. Despite the hardship that job loss can bring, cling on to this truth.
  2. Make it different. When Katelin met her business partner John, he was in a tank top and flip flops with a backward hat; The Silicon Valley-type personality. Not in a stiff suit. Different is refreshing and allows your “why” to be unique and stand out. Different defies stereotypes and defies traditional impact.
  3. Stay in the middle of the audience that needed the services that you are providing.

Transcript:

BRYAN WISH: What is your One Away moment?

KATELIN KENNEDY: My One Away moment is one job loss away from bigger and better opportunities.

BRYAN WISH: How does this relate to you and your story?

KATELIN KENNEDY: After law school, I joined a typical mid-size law firm. I went the very safe route; the kind of job that most law students are looking for and kind of feel relief when they get. Then you get there after you study for the bar and pass the bar and sort of realize now you’re a cog in the machine and you’re just on a hamster wheel. It was okay. I didn’t love it, but it was what you were “supposed to do” after law school.

As a new associate, you rely on the partners to give you work because it was a litigation firm. You can’t just jump into a huge case and go to court all by yourself and you don’t have clients right out of law school. In the typical model, work is always delegated to you in the first few years. In some firms, the work, you’re relying on the older partners to give you work for like seven years and you can really be stuck in that. One of the partners that I worked with the most frequently, he was very productive.

He brought in enough work to keep like 4 or 5 associates busy on a full workload but he was not senior in status in the firm. Like most workplaces, there are workplace politics. I think at law firms, it’s probably worse than some businesses, or at least from my experience. He and the other partners had some disagreements and he felt he was entitled to have more of a say because he brought in a very significant amount of the workload to the firm. Eventually, he ended up leaving the firm pretty abruptly and it was a very contentious departure and no one was really being civil or nice about it.

He texted me within an hour of them sending an email out that he was leaving and he said, “Sit tight. I’m going to hire you eventually.” Within an hour, he was already going to be opening the Raleigh office of a much larger firm. I figured I’ll just wait a few months until he gets established in this new Raleigh office that he’s setting up. Then I’ll go over there.

I was very productive as an associate. I wasn’t missing my hour quotas. There was no indication that I wasn’t doing a good job. I never expected that 10 days later they’d walk into my office and tell me they were terminating my employment and walked me out. They said, “Leave your stuff.” The HR woman stood in my office while I got my purse and they shipped the rest to my house. They thought anyone loyal to this partner who left was going to steal files or be a risk to them which, in retrospect, I can understand. I was fired.

BRYAN WISH: It’s pandemic time. A lot of people are being let go. 30 million people are unemployed right now. Take us to that feeling. How did it feel? It sounds like it was a complete shock and surprise. How did you think about picking yourself up and figuring out what was next?

KATELIN KENNEDY: It was a complete shock. I think one thing that a lot of people, who are finding themselves unemployed in the pandemic situation have in common, as it wasn’t my fault. It was more collateral damage to a larger situation. You feel this panic kind of feeling set in. What am I going to do? You also have to remember and kind of keep in mind, “I’m not being fired because of anything that I’ve done wrong. I’m being fired because of this larger situation.” My skills are still my skills and my work ethic is still my work ethic.

Someone else outside of this kind of situation will recognize that. It was a shock. The first thing I did was go to Verizon and get my phone contract. This is not legal advice for your situation but I would always recommend having a personal phone contract and never letting your employer own your phone contract because then they can see things.

BRYAN WISH: You were let go. You got your phone for you. Tell us how you navigated the storm by figuring out what you were doing to do next for employment.

KATELIN KENNEDY: The first thing I did was start calling around and emailing contacts just to see if I knew of anyone else hiring. I was looking for another safe law firm kind of gig. The market was okay then. This was 5 years ago now. I thought I’d find something. Through a friend of a friend, I was connected to a guy named John. They said John’s this lawyer from Silicon Valley. He’s working in a coworking space and he just needs help on equity financing for a client that was happening at the time. I thought I’d contact this John guy and maybe it will fill the gaps kind of thing, do a few hours of work for him, jump on this one project, pay a few bills until I can find the stable job that I thought I needed. This happened 10 days after I got fired.

I didn’t look for very long but John and I started working together and realized that we worked very well together. I stopped looking for that stable job opportunity. We just kind of kept working together. A few weeks into working together, we decided we were going to start our firm out of a coworking space. Mind you, when I met John, he was in a tank top and flip flops with a backward hat. He’s the Silicon Valley-type personality. Not in a stiff suit. It was refreshing to kind of think outside the safe law firm, lawyer stereotype, and realize we’re going to make this different than that.

BRYAN WISH: It sounds like he took a shot on you but you guys ended up doing this. How did you get to the point of let’s work on a few projects together so we’re going to build a firm together?

KATELIN KENNEDY: He was licensed in California at the time. John is one of those people who can do like five full-time workloads of a normal person and it’s just not fair. He was going to Duke for what is called an LLM and that is a one-year specialty law degree if you have not had enough of law school which most people are crazy who do that. It was specifically focusing on law and entrepreneurship. It was a really valuable degree for him to have. He also had to study for the North Carolina State Bar which we kind of did together. We’d walk around the block and do flashcards. I was already licensed in North Carolina at this time but he had to take the North Carolina test even though he was licensed in California. He was doing both of those things.

John had a family and two children at the time. He was getting work randomly from people that he knew out in Silicon Valley and also getting work through HQ which was the coworking space where we were meeting at the time. He couldn’t sustain it all by himself. It just kind of kept coming and the momentum built. We realized there’s enough work here for us to call this legitimate and it’s not just freelancing and we can build upon it if we are intentional about that.

BRYAN WISH: What was it about John that you said he could achieve so much of what five people could do versus one? What made him special in your time working with him?

KATELIN KENNEDY: Our values aligned. Our goals are aligned. Do you ever meet someone where you just kind of click with them and you can start working with them and it’s like you’ve been friends for a long time and you’ve worked together for a long time? It was just a really good personality fit. As far as how was the work coming in – he started a startup in law school with some friends and went through Y Combinator. He has really good connections from Y Combinator.

For anyone listening who doesn’t know, it’s one of the well-known accelerators out in Silicon Valley. Being in the coworking space was great too because we got to meet entrepreneurs and startups and that’s the clients we were looking to work with and enjoyed working with. We were kind of right in the middle of the audience that needed the services that we were providing. As far as how he does it, I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure it out.

BRYAN WISH: What do you think it was about you that he thought you could go do this together?

KATELIN KENNEDY: I made a conscious decision to figure out anything I didn’t know. I came from a litigation firm and that’s very different. That’s like the kind of lawyer that goes to court. It’s very different from the kind of lawyer that does contracts and business transactions and doesn’t go to court. Through the course of working together and being partners in our firm, we try to bring people in and I think people get very intimidated by figuring out things they don’t know.

Out of necessity, when it came to working with John, I had to figure it out. I had no other options at that point. I’ve always kind of been that way but initially when it came to working with him, it was very much something I had to do to make it work. The lesson there is you’ve got to be willing to go out on the limb and also have the confidence to know if I don’t know something, I know where to look and I know that I’m going to research it to death until I figure it out.

BRYAN WISH: You and John built this firm. You guys worked with 100+ clients. How did you grow the company? What did you learn in the process to get where you are now?

KATELIN KENNEDY: I learned when it comes to business in general, no one knows what they’re doing as far as building a business. I don’t think there’s a blueprint that fits every business. When it comes to building a business, we’re all going to run into different challenges and you’re all going to have different strengths. The way that your business grows is going to look so different than mine and you’ll probably cringe at this but we hardly did any marketing ever. We just relied on word of mouth.

When we put effort into the marketing, we realized the quality of potential clients that you get online who don’t know you or haven’t been referred are just not as – don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing online marketing at all -but for our kind of business, referrals were so much stronger. We didn’t need to do a lot of marketing because we had a pretty steady stream of work coming in. It did help to be located in the coworking space. We were the only lawyers with an office in that space. That kind of helps you get to know people and most businesses have legal needs of some kind. We didn’t do much marketing. Don’t judge me for that. I don’t know either.

BRYAN WISH: It sounded like there was a fork in the road moment. What was the journey like with John and when did it get to a point where you thought there was a different path and explain how you got there.

KATELIN KENNEDY: John and I worked together for about four years in the firm that we built which is called Fallone SV. His last name. He already had the domain and everything. We work very well together. We’re a great personality fit but I’m not going to say it was easy the whole way. Big firms were trying to strike deals with us that we disagreed on whether or not it was going to be a good deal. We had some challenges. We got to the point where we decided it’s just going to simplify things from a financial perspective. It’s going to simplify things if we separate into two firms.

Also, I realized that he wants to build a much bigger empire than I do. I love my clients that I work with regularly, but I’m not trying to hire 10 attorneys and build this empire and start managing the company more than working with my clients. I think both of those things are okay. John has not hired 10 attorneys either but he needed more room to grow than I was invested in going with. We just separated. Now we still work together, not directly under the same firm, but we talk almost every day still. I’d consider us still partners in we always send one another gut-checks like, “Hey, what do you think about this?” We still send one another work.

He is an equity financing wizard. I’m going to brag on him for a second. Some of the really big firms that people pay up to $1000/hour or more for, they don’t always catch everything. You’re paying for a lot but sometimes you’re getting associates who are fresh out of law school at those firms who may not know the little details to look for or may not catch all the little details. John does not miss any of those details. When it comes to unique or creative ways to do equity financing work, he is the man. I also didn’t love equity financing work.

My focus is more on contracts, data privacy, trademarks. If you’re a company that is a service provider and you need a contract, I want to work with you to get a contract that you feel it’s not in Greek and it doesn’t have all of the extra fluff that isn’t always really necessary and you understand why some things are there and why some things are not there. Then I want you to be able to use that contract so you don’t have to rely on me every time. It’s as much legal as operational. I enjoy helping clients with that. John is like the equity financing guy. Our focus areas still complement one another a lot.

BRYAN WISH: Why do you think you love contracts so much?

KATELIN KENNEDY: I like puzzle type things and working through puzzles. I feel they’re oftentimes like a puzzle. I like writing and even more than writing, I like editing writing so that it’s not so painful to read. Lawyers get a bad rap because they make things not relatable in a lot of ways or they don’t explain why this section in this contract matters. It’s also not that I love contracts. I like working with service provider type companies because it’s a different relationship. It’s not like, “Okay, we’re just going to do this financing and then not talk for six months.”

Some of my clients, I’m on their Slack channel because they have enough work that it just kind of comes up here and there. I get to know them. It’s a combination of I like writing. I was a terrible writer until law school and if anyone is trying to improve their writing, read a lot of bad writing. Then you start to see. We had to grade legal briefs for some stuff in law school and it finally clicked when I had to grade like 40 legal briefs and I could see the difference between the good writing and the bad writing.

BRYAN WISH: What got you into legal work in the first place?

KATELIN KENNEDY: I can’t pinpoint one thing in particular. My dad was a career NCIS agent. He was NCIS for 30 years and he wrote the book on solving cold cases that all of these other agencies use. I could brag about him forever. He retired from NCIS and he now is on a TV show on Starz that’s going to be released on Amazon soon called Wrong Man and they investigate cases where men and women who have been convicted of capital murder claim that they’re innocent and they’re all really old cases and they go back and kind of reinvestigate. It’s sort of like a Dateline. So my had has been in career law enforcement.

I think I would have enjoyed that kind of job but he was gone. He’s been to over 100 countries. He’s deployed to the Middle East multiple times. He was gone a lot. Because he saw the really hard side of humanity in his job, he kind of didn’t encourage me to follow in his footsteps. I think legal is kind of a close parallel to that.

There wasn’t a defining moment. I studied health and exercise science in undergrad and just sort of realized that there’s not a whole lot of upward mobility in that whole industry. It’s pretty dense as far as personal training. I was a personal trainer all through college, and I wanted something that had more opportunities than that. I took a year off and worked at a law firm as a paralegal and decided I liked it and then went to law school.

BRYAN WISH: How have you split off on your own? What’s been the best, most rewarding part? What’s been the most challenging part?

KATELIN KENNEDY: I started my firm, Brevity Legal, in January of this year. I chose the name Brevity because I think law firms with all last names are overdone. I wanted something a little more creative. Brevity represents being concise. That’s what I want to be known as a lawyer. A lot more relatable. A lot more concise.

My work is not this 30-page contract that no one wants to read. It hasn’t been different than building the firm with John, because I’m just continuing what we already built on a different branch. I took a lot that I learned with John on the business side — not necessarily the legal side, and just kind of made it my own in some ways.

I don’t need another partner to buy in to pursue those ideas as much. It’s been great. I’m very fortunate to have a lot of loyal clients who stayed on when I switched over to Brevity. I’ve experienced a little bit of a dip in work during a couple of months for COVID. But, it’s kind of picking back up which gives me some hope that people are getting back to normal in their businesses on the upward trajectory again.

BRYAN WISH: When you said you made the switch to the Brevity, to me, it felt seamless. You did what your brand name said. Brevity. You kept it short and simple. I just wanted to compliment you on how you handled that because that’s always hard to switch. What’s it take to make something simple and readable to the average entrepreneur? What is your secret sauce for making it so easy for other people to digest?

KATELIN KENNEDY: A lot of times, cutting words out. I write in the way that we speak; I will never have a, “therefore,” “thereafter,” “hereafter,” “hereunder” kind of word. There are some templates I’ve developed over time that I’m constantly tweaking, maybe changing some sentences, making them more plain language type of style. Whenever I’m writing, I’m always trying to write in the way that we would just have a conversation like this and not put in the extra-legal ease unless there’s a real reason for it.

I think a part of it too is when I provide you with a contract, I’m going to provide comments that explain this section is for this purpose or this section, you can modify in this way. Then you have an outline to review it with you so you’re understanding the reasoning behind it as you review it.

BRYAN WISH: We were in a Word doc earlier today. I crossed out a “that” and you wrote, “I always take a machete to “that.” I had a little giggle which I think is so funny. It goes back to how you enjoyed writing and writing well and understanding what bad writing is. The process I just went through with you, it exemplifies how easy you do make it. Are you working with people just in North Carolina or where do your clients generally hang out?

KATELIN KENNEDY: I’m only licensed in North Carolina. I do not have an office anywhere else outside of North Carolina. There are ethics rules about how you can work with clients on very discreet projects outside of the state where you’re licensed. Like I don’t have clients in California because I’m not licensed in California. Primarily, my clients are all in North Carolina. What are they working on? A lot of people are still trying to move the needle forward.

I’ve had some clients who are starting a business or they’ve had a business but they’re kind of taking this time to do a reset and refresh and take a step back and say, “I sort of have been winging it for a while but now let’s get some solid agreements in place. Let’s think about our trademarks and get those registered” which I think is smart. I’m not someone who says, “You have to have all of these legal agreements on day one.”

Is it best practice to have your legal fully buttoned up on day one? Sure but nobody does that. Everybody wings it until they feel like they have some stability under them. You should consult a lawyer if you’re thinking about starting a company so that you start with the entity type that works best for your goals. One thing I admire about entrepreneurs and one thing I learned in this whole process is just started. You’re never going to have all of your ducks completely in a row but if you start, you’re at least making some progress forward.

A Representation of Your Company

BRYAN WISH: Something I appreciated about you is as soon as we started working together, you asked to see the contracts that we send to clients. You asked to see our contractual agreements and employee agreements; all the pieces we built on the foundation we’re on to set us up for success. We have a client that we renewed with and he’s from round 1 to round 2, he goes, “Wow, your contract is very buttoned up.” I’ve never heard a client comment on a legal agreement. Thank you. It says a lot about the work you’ve done to make it so easy for our clients and the team to make it happen.

KATELIN KENNEDY: That’s what I love to hear because when you send a contract to one of your customers, it’s a representation of your company. If you either don’t have a contract in place at all or you have one that somebody can tell you just downloaded it from the internet and it kind of works and kind of doesn’t, your first impression is not as good as it could be. Those contracts you download online, if you don’t understand every section of them, you could be agreeing to something that you don’t want to or shouldn’t agree to.

I always think of if my client is a service provider of any kind, their contract is a representation of their company. That’s one of the first things that your customers are going to see in writing. If that’s a smooth process, you’re getting off on a good first step. If it’s a rough process, you’re starting the gate and they already have some kind of negative experience.

BRYAN WISH: As you move forward in the next 3, 5, 10 years, where do you see Brevity going?

KATELIN KENNEDY: I think it will probably just be me and I’m okay with that. I think something that a lot of younger people and myself in the past kind of get trapped into is in the entrepreneurial world or the startup world. Everyone thinks you have to grow and scale and get huge. That is a great goal to have if that’s what you want, but you can also have a great business and make a good living and enjoy what you do without trying to scale and get huge and hire a bunch of people.

I think there’s a place for both of those things and I’ll probably continue to just be solo. My husband and I are starting to think about having kids. When I have children, I’m very fortunate that I can just maybe take a step back or pair it down a little bit.

BRYAN WISH: Love that. I think it’s so important to think about the long-term. I’m excited to see you build a family. One more question. It’s all said and done. People are at your funeral. What’s the tombstone saying and why?

KATELIN KENNEDY: It’s not something I’ve ever thought about before. You’re putting me on the spot. My faith is really important to me. That’s something that I want to be known for because I think that is much more eternal than today or even a lifetime. I want to be known for what I believe and what I stand for. What’s yours?

BRYAN WISH: I wrote a whole article on it. I broke it down about having these building blocks, and all those building blocks add up to allowing me to have that verse. It’s a very structural and foundational piece of writing but also an end goal in mind. I’ll send it to you. Where can people reach out to you if they want to work with you? Where can they find you online?

KATELIN KENNEDY: Brevitylegal.com. I honestly don’t do anything with the firm on social media yet. I think there may be a day when I do. If you go to my social media, there’s a placeholder for now. Check out the website. If you want to get in touch with me, there’s a contact page.

BRYAN WISH: I highly recommend working with Katelin. She’s been a joy and a treat and it’s super easy for me. I prefer to greenlight everything she does and not ask questions because it makes my life easier.

One Away Podcast
Leah Walsh

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