When attorney Erica Payne made partner at the largest firm in the upper peninsula of Michigan, it appeared she had “made it.” She thought she needed the big firm, the big resources, the big network, and the big paycheck. She didn’t anticipate leaving big law.

Big Law Impacted Erica’s Health 

Soon after, she received a devastating medical diagnosis— a chronic health condition that would likely get worse if she continued at her current pace. 

As she started to understand the reality of living with a chronic condition, Erica began to search for alternative ways to be a “successful” lawyer without selling her soul to her career, working long, stressful hours, and ultimately facing burnout (if not worse).

She knew the answer was leaving big law and partnership behind, but soon got stuck in, “Well, what do I do now?”

Leaving Big Law for Her Health

That’s when she found Lawyerist. Erica joined Lawyerist Lab in 2021, where she learned how to turn her vision of a values-based firm into reality.

With encouragement from the coaches at Lawyerist, Erica found the confidence to move forward and build a firm that would allow her to thrive.

“The vision for my practice was to find a different way to practice law that can be a more positive experience for everybody, from the client to the lawyer to the staff.”

Relying on Systems

Facing a tremendous amount of uncertainty in her health, career, and the nature of running a litigation practice, Erica relied on systems to generate certainty in the areas she could control.

Lawyerist helped her understand how things like flat fee billing, for example, can create an overall better client experience and provide for a more predictable revenue model.

Creating a Values-Based Firm 

Early on, clarifying her core values influenced many of the tough decisions. Including who to bring on as a partner and how to stay organized to get work done. Eventually, she named her firm Heirloom Law Group, a name inspired by something very meaningful to Erica’s life— gardening.

Once she was able to nail down what was truly important to her, everything fell into place. Heirloom became the firm Erica needed, including space for fun and authenticity.

“Sometimes lawyers don’t like to have that word brought up because we do very serious work. It’s serious stuff that we deal with, but your job can still be fun. The court process can be pleasant, or at least a positive experience. I want to go to work every day and have fun. We wanted to be authentic to ourselves.”

In building a practice around values, Erica demonstrates that law firms don’t have to be cookie cutter. She admits to being a goofy person and doing things differently than the average attorney. 

And, it works.

Another thing Erica does differently? She says no to multi-tasking.

How Erica Got Over Multi-Tasking After Leaving Big Law 

Erica recalls touting her multi-tasking skills in previous positions, as many people often do. Now, she realizes it’s simply ineffective and goes against one of her other core values: working systematically.

Now, she practices being fully present for one task at a time. This allows her time to focus It increasing productivity delivering legal work in a way that doesn’t negatively impact her health.

A Key to Systematizing 

Systemizing legal work does not have to be complex or expensive. One small thing Erica now uses to stay on task is a simple pack of post-it notes. 

“I’ve started every day writing three work tasks, three personal work tasks, and three fun or relaxing things. I like to pick up that post-it note and set it in front of me. It helps me be mindful about what I’m doing if I do get derailed.”

Everyone faces distractions, but when they pop up for Erica, she writes them on a larger sticky note and sets them aside. By doing this, she calls the shots on her true priorities, and her clients thank her for it.

Embracing Imperfection 

Above all, running a values-based business has taught Erica the importance of being willing to be imperfect. 

“It only works if you are kind to yourself, and that’s one thing that lawyers don’t do well. Lawyers are perfectionists. We don’t like to fall short, but we do. A process like implementing a system takes time. I want everything done yesterday, to be working smoothly, and for everybody to know what they’re doing, but that’s impossible all of the time.”

The Importance of Business Coaching and Healthy Self-Talk 

After leaving big law, Erica joined the Lawyerist Lab coaching program. She decided that it was time to practice law through a more human-centered approach. That human-centered approach started with herself. She works on her self-talk and practices speaking kindly to herself daily. Not only has this changed the way she practices law, it’s improved her health.

She calls Lawyerist a “life-saver,” and with her chronic health condition, she means that literally.

“I’m grateful because this is probably going to lead to a better, healthier life… a longer life. I don’t want to be the lawyer who’s working towards retirement. I don’t want to think about retirement, because I have had some scary situations over the last couple years and I want to live a good life today, tomorrow, and the next day. Maybe I won’t even see retirement age. That’s reality. I wish I would’ve taken the dive earlier, but I try not to dwell on it because I only knew what I knew.”

Erica’s Advice for Starting a Values-Based Firm

Erica proved through Heirloom Law Group that building a successful values-based lifestyle firm is not only possible, it’s profitable. 

“Don’t be scared. Keep reading about what’s possible for you. I found Lawyerist, and I found that it made me feel not so alone, that I could do it, and I could go out and I wasn’t going to be alone. It’s not as solo as solo sounds.”

We’re so proud of Erica for prioritizing her health and well-being and for having the courage to leave big law, envision her dream, and build it from the ground up.

If you are interested in learning more about how Lawyerist Lab can help you build a systemized, values-based firm that supports your life, we’d love to connect with you.

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Last updated August 30th, 2023