Stephanie talks with Lawyerist Lab coach Ryan McKeen and his former firm partners Meghan Freed and Kristen Marcroft. They discuss their journey of starting a practice together, going their separate ways, and building their own successful practices. Despite the ups and downs, they quickly realized the importance of acknowledging differences, learning to pivot, and honing in on specific practice areas.
If today's podcast resonates with you and you haven't read The Small Firm Roadmap Revisited yet, get the first chapter right now for free! Looking for help beyond the book? Check out our coaching community to see if it's right for you.
- . Starting a firm together
- . Deciding to part ways
- . Important conversation to have before starting out
- . Learnings from the other side
Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Lawyerist supports attorneys, building client-centered, and future-oriented small law firms through community, content, and coaching both online and through the Lawyerist Lab. And now from the team that brought you The Small Firm Roadmap and your podcast hosts
Zack Glaser (00:35):
Hi, I’m Zack Glaser
Jennifer Whigham (00:36):
And I’m Jennifer Whigham. And this is episode 399 on the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Stephanie talks with attorney and lab coach Ryan McKeen, and his two former law partners about breaking up with your law partner.
Zack Glaser (00:50):
Jennifer Whigham (01:02):
Zack, before we started this recording, you and I were talking about something, and I said to you, I think we should talk about this on air. So here we are. Do you remember what it was? It was like five minutes ago. I’m just kidding. I’m not gonna quiz you. I’m gonna actually ask you the question. The question is we talked about how to our lobsters, who are the lawyers in our coaching community and to each other on the team, we often ask the question, what does help look like? When we see someone’s overwhelmed and they’re busy, or something’s not getting done, we say, what does help look like? And it’s a good question, but I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find that overwhelming to answer, because I don’t know what help looks like, but I know you recently had a conversation with Ashley Steckler, you’re a manager and had a little bit of a light bulb moment. Tell me about it.
Zack Glaser (01:50):
Yeah. And you know, I think of those as, as glass breaking glass shattering moments where your perspective shifts on something. And the word help is a loaded word. I think for, for a lot of people, because it’s, it’s vulnerable, it is filled with this idea that I couldn’t do this thing without help. Mm. And that’s not really the case for help. You can think about it a lot of different ways. You can think about it as assistance. You know, you’re carrying a couch and you need help. On the other side, you literally wouldn’t be able to, well, I mean, I don’t know about everybody else, but I literally wouldn’t be able to carry the couch without, you know, somebody else on the other side, that’s one form of help. But the thing that unlocked for me was understanding that by asking for help, with whatever it was, even if it was something I could do on my own, the help is the time that I get. It’s. The fact that somebody has freed me up to do something else that is hopefully a priority of mine. And a lot of times, me personally, I, I look at these tasks that I have and I, I think, well, I can do that. Well. Yeah, sure. And other people on the team can do it as well. But in order for me to ask for help, many times, I would have to think I can’t do that.
Jennifer Whigham (03:11):
Zack Glaser (03:13):
And so thinking about help in a way of giving me time. Well, I can’t give myself time.
Jennifer Whigham (03:20):
Yeah. You’re literally unable to give yourself more time, unless you take something off your plate and give it to somebody else And so the help isn’t necessarily doing the task for me in the sense that I can’t do it. Yeah. And I think that this speaks well, this idea kinda speaks to lawyers a lot of times, because we can do it. Can I do this intake portion at my office? Of course I can. Should I, I don’t know. Can somebody else, yes. And maybe help. Isn’t the fact that you need somebody to do that and need their experience. You need the time.
Jennifer Whigham (03:55):
Yeah. I think that is so sage and wise to take a stigma out of help. I mean, not to say that sometimes you don’t actually need help because you are drowning and you literally need someone to pull you out of the ocean. I don’t know how to swim, but I assume people swim there, but
Zack Glaser (04:13):
Assume people do pull people out of the air. Yeah.
Jennifer Whigham (04:15):
Pull people question. But, but that you just need a weight lifted. So you can focus not only on what your priority is, but what your skillset is. I mean, are you doing things that aren’t even in your wheelhouse that are bringing you down because you have to have so much more mental energy put into them because it’s not what comes most naturally to you and what you were hired for or what you started your firm for. This makes a lot of sense to me. And I think that’s the way I’m gonna start talking to other people about it too.
Zack Glaser (04:42):
It definitely unlocked something in my brain. Yeah. Because it really is like, do I need help? Yes. Yes I do. Could I get this done without somebody ultimately, no, I couldn’t get these broad ideas done without somebody’s help. Could I get this specific task done without help maybe. And so it’s difficult to ask for help for that specific task.
Jennifer Whigham (05:06):
So how’s it gonna change? How you work? How will you ask for this help? How will you get your time back? Like what are the, the actual concrete things you’re, you’re gonna say to people or do
Zack Glaser (05:19):
It’s twofold for me. And I think that it probably exists very differently for, for everybody, but twofold for me, one is thinking about saying no to things. Yeah. As asking people for help.
Jennifer Whigham (05:33):
Zack Glaser (05:33):
With my time, if someone says, Hey, Zack, would you mind doing this? Or would you mind showing me how to do this? Being able to say no, I can’t. And not thinking of that as telling them that their thing doesn’t have priority. Yeah. It’s my way of asking them for help because I’m asking for time,
Jennifer Whigham (05:53):
Brilliant. That’s a brilliant reframing.
Zack Glaser (05:55):
And the other is, is taking a step back and looking at my my week or my month or whatever, and looking a little bit forward and being able to say, where can I get help from people that will give me time?
Jennifer Whigham (06:09):
That’s amazing that future planning. Good deal, Zack, if you ever need help slash more time for me, you know where to find me.
Zack Glaser (06:18):
Jennifer Whigham (06:19):
You’re welcome. Yeah, just I turn in there. All right. Next, we have Stephanie’s conversation with Ryan McKeen and his partners.
Ryan McKeen (06:26):
I’m Ryan McKeen. I’m a coach at Lawyerist and co-founder and CEO of Connecticut trial firm.
Meghan Freed (06:32):
My name is Meghan Freed. I am the cofounder and co-partner in Freed-Marcroft, LLC. We are a divorce and family law firm in Connecticut. And I’m Kristen Marcroft, the other co-founder of Freed-Marcroft.
Stephanie Everett (06:48):
Awesome. Well, thank you guys for all being with me today. And the reason we’re actually here is because at one point now you just heard from their introductions, they’re at two different firms, but at one point you guys were all business partners and you all had a firm together. Right?
Ryan McKeen (07:03):
Stephanie Everett (07:04):
So maybe Ryan to kick us off, tell us a little bit about that. How did you guys decide to start a firm together? What was that like?
Ryan McKeen (07:14):
It was an act of courage. Really? Meghan and Kristen are bold people who live life fully. And I think I was drawn to that and I was like, you know, I think I wanna start a law firm. I, I think I don’t wanna be an associate anymore. I want to go out on my own. And I’m like, who would be good to bring along in this Avenger to go with? And I thought of Meghan, which is sort of an unusual thought because Meghan was in house for an insurance company at the time. And Kristen was in law school and I’d met Kristen once and we started talking and we decided to go for it.
Stephanie Everett (07:47):
You just said, Hey, let’s start a business together. And Meghan, you’re like, okay, <laugh>.
Meghan Freed (07:51):
Yeah. I mean, I think one of the things that we always like to make sure we give Ryan credit for this, we have ultimately wound up with two really successful law firms, Ryan and ours, and had Ryan not said, let’s get together and start a firm. I have to tell you, I just don’t see that it would have happened at all. I was complete, as one says with my coverage career as internal counsel. But I think I would’ve gone to work for a firm that someone else owned among other things Ryan’s bravery in setting out on his own. What he understood about small firm practice definitely was far exceeded either of ours. For example, I had been in very large firms prior and, and I really just didn’t, I didn’t even know the basics, like where does one get, you know, professional liability coverage, but also Ryan had a lot of confidence around court and state court practice that neither Kristen nor I had. So like, but for Ryan, there’s just no way.
Stephanie Everett (09:05):
Yeah. And so I hear you guys saying you were both attracted to the personalities is what I’m hearing, you know, Ryan, you’re super complimentary of one another and it was more like, Hey, this might be a good person to do this with. Is that, is that fair Ryan?
Ryan McKeen (09:24):
That’s right. And, and, you know, for Meghan and Kristen as well, like I never would’ve done this without that. Like, and that was a great gift to me that they were willing to do this. I think gave me the confidence to take the final steps. Cause I think every associate at one point or another thinks like, maybe I should go out on my own or maybe I should try this and I wouldn’t have had the courage to do it without them. And I’m just really grateful for that.
Stephanie Everett (09:53):
Yeah. So, you know, we’ve already previewed in your introductions. You are no longer together. <Laugh> at some point,
Meghan Freed (10:01):
At some point there was a breakup.
Stephanie Everett (10:03):
Yeah. Like we gotta get into it at some point it didn’t work, but you did start a firm together. And how long, how long were you guys together with the firm?
Meghan Freed (10:11):
We’re all doing math, right? That’s what’s happening?
Ryan McKeen (10:15):
Was it like a, it was like a year.
Meghan Freed (10:16):
Yeah, no, it was like one year. It
Ryan McKeen (10:18):
Was a year. It was a year. It was like July to July.
Kristen Marcroft (10:20):
That part failed quickly. <Laugh> yeah. But, but, and, and I don’t, and I say that in a good way. I think this conversation is I made better for that. I think in, in particular that there’s been so much time. Now that has passed between then and now this is Kristen by the way. And I’ll just add, I’ll just add my 2 cents on the, the partnership there or the pardon me the firm in the beginning. For me, I was, as Ryan mentioned in law school at the time, but I went to law school a little bit later. So I graduated from law school when I was 40. So for me, the prospect of starting a firm with Meghan and with Ryan was, was magnificent because from my perspective, I was going to be a 40 year old, newly graduated law school person who still didn’t still had not passed the bar exam.
Kristen Marcroft (11:05):
Norman admitted to the bar, frankly, I have a bit of a checkered pass that made me not certain I was going to be admitted to the bar. So I didn’t feel like my, you know, my employment prospects were particularly promising. So I had kind of gotten to a place where I was happy to have been able to go to law school that, you know, at that point in my life, I had spent 20 years waitressing with an undergrad. And if the law thing didn’t work out and I went back to restaurants with a JD, I was kind of okay with that, but the opportunity to do something bigger and more exciting and actually maybe get to use the degree that I just earned was just tremendous. And I echo Meghan’s sentiment that, but for Ryan, that opportunity for me would not have presented itself cuz it’s not something I was gonna get to on my own.
Stephanie Everett (11:48):
Yeah. But let’s dig into the, some of the, you know, we gotta hit the ugly stuff. Like yeah. I mean, what happened that you guys decided, you know, after a year you were gonna go in different directions. Meghan, you wanna cover that one?
Meghan Freed (12:02):
<Laugh> sure. I, you know, I have to say that Stephanie, so, so much of this is like in retrospect, I can’t tell you what I would’ve said five years ago or certainly like, you know, a longer, but if you boil it down, the firm that Ryan built is a personal injury litigation house. And the firm that we built is a traditional divorce and family lab boutique. And so much of the reason that Ryan’s firm is successful and our firm is successful is that we are heavily niched in to those particular practice areas. And I think that if I could go back, I don’t really wanna change anything. Cause I like how everything came out. But if I could go back and give advice to someone else, I think that we actually needed to have a deeper conversation about practice or area, which seems so simple, but so much of that impacts culture and, and, and the bigger things in the firm. How, how how you take on expenses, where the firm invests, where it doesn’t invest. And I think that if we had realized that we wanted to be a divorce and family law firm and Ryan had fully realized he wanted to be a personal injury firm, by the way, he was further along than we were, then we probably would have done a better job of structuring ourselves for a longer term relationship.
Stephanie Everett (13:34):
Yeah. I mean, those are two completely different business models. I mean a contingency practice. And, and so, yeah, I mean, those were gonna be some of my questions. Like it was pretty obvious to me just listening to the startup story. It was like, oh wait, did you guys, you were attracted to your personalities and your love of one another and respect for one another. But it sounds like some of those basic business conversations maybe were a little bit missing, which is no, no judgment. It’s just learning. Right.
Kristen Marcroft (14:01):
Yeah. I, I think that’s a really important point to make. I would go further than that. I think again, with the benefit of hindsight, I think there were just a lot of conversations that we didn’t have, cuz we didn’t know any better. So we had all the, we had all the exciting ones, like what colors should we use? And, and we talked about, you know, branding, we talked about words that, that resonated with us, you know, when we were talking about marketing and that sort of thing, there are a lot of conversations I know now that are important to have, there are also pieces that are important in a business like, oh, I don’t know a business plan. There are things that I think just owing to our immaturity, as you know, early entrepreneurs, there are conversations that we just didn’t know to have and failed to have, you know, and they showed up very quickly in ways that we weren’t, that we weren’t on the same, same page as things.
Kristen Marcroft (14:51):
And we didn’t know it because we’d never talked about it. And I think one of them, for me, from my perspective, I think in hindsight and Ryan, I don’t wanna put words in your mouth, but just knowing, knowing you now and, and what’s happening in your firm and, and, and where it’s been and for sure where it’s going. I would say for myself that I think maybe I could have been a little bit more risk adverse. And again, I’m guessing Ryan might say he would, would be a little bit less risk adverse, but we didn’t have those conversations about appetite for risk, whether financially or just any of those, just really like the hard conversations that in order to like really grow business partnership, not a partnership, the conversations that have to happen so that when, not just the rubber meets the road, when things get hard, that you can make decisions together, like what do we do to get outta this hole where we’re in that we’re in, what do we do? How do we grow? Do we, do we spend more, spend less things like that? There, the hard conversations about expectations, and, you know, just real things that I think we’ve all spent so much time screwing up more along the way probably. And learning from that, that we just didn’t have back then. We didn’t know to have them.
Ryan McKeen (15:59):
I agree, Stephanie, with all that’s been said, and there was so much less information in this space on how to do this. There was so much less information on like business plans and vision and systems and, and structure and all of these sorts of things. And what we had was, I mean, I still have my shirt from this. Like we had, we had an attitude of wanting to be pirates, right. And so pirating is like, is fun. You’re like, Hey, we’re gonna go out. We’re gonna hunt. We’re gonna get this thing. But there needed to be a transition from that. And it’s something that we failed to make. And I think the Kristen’s point, like had we been able to sort these things out sooner, we would have realized that it was incompatible. And also, I mean, I think the other thing here is like, we wanted to be different and we did so much. Right. And we did so much different that other firms don’t do or other firms are now doing is now common practice. I mean, really in fact, like even my, my tech stack at my firm is pretty much the same as it was 10 years ago when
Ryan McKeen (17:03):
We were paperless. We were paperless. We were digital at a time that that was even early for that, but we weren’t able to transition to, to it. And, and you know, part of it is too, like, we were just like, let’s do this. We didn’t have very much money. Like I think our initial capital con our initial, our initial capital contributions were like $2,500 a piece. And then we, we borrowed money on Kristen’s card for like furniture. I mean, like, and, and we just never, we never really had money. Like, and, and at the time $5,000 seemed like a lot of money. And now it is knowing what I know it is zero money. It is negative money.
Meghan Freed (17:48):
There’s a, a lot of Freed McKeen. In the DNA of Freed Marcroft. Yeah. And I would suspect there’s also a Laura lot of Freed McKeen in the DNA of Connecticut Trial Firm. I think that the initial things that we were good at the particular skill that we are attracted to each in each other, and that we brought to bear in Freed McKeen really shown, and they really endured, but it really is a lesson of not knowing what you didn’t know. Right.
Stephanie Everett (18:23):
Yeah. I’m smiling and nodding so much through all of this because, and I’m so appreciative that you guys came on to have this conversation with me, cuz the reality is this is what we see every day. Like your story is not unique, right? Like people, I see lawyers and they’re drawn to each other’s personality or they think, well, I like this lawyer. I respect them as a lawyer. They do good work. So let me go into business with them. And what I hear you guys say, you know what I always like tried to coach is that’s not enough. Like, are you guys aligned as business owners? What is this business you’re going to create? How are you gonna create it? Who’s gonna be responsible for what and what are the values and how are you gonna make the hard money decisions? Cause money makes everything hard. And it’s so easy to just say, well, I like, I like this person. They’re a good lawyer. Let’s go start a practice together. And unfortunately a lot of times it doesn’t work out.
Meghan Freed (19:19):
Yeah. And I think one of the things that I consider us really lucky about is Connecticut is a relatively small state. And I really feel grateful that we aren’t ultimately competitors because I think that that has really, I, I don’t think there was any distraction of that when the two firms split, if that makes sense, we were able to go take what we learned and create our own things without any distraction of feeling a certain way about how the other person was doing. I truly, when I say I truly always wish Ryan’s success, it’s it is absolutely true. But it also was easier because we weren’t like trying to be on opposite sides of a divorce. Is that other people’s divorce? Not our <laugh> law divorce. Yeah.
Kristen Marcroft (20:10):
I think at the end of the day and it’s 10 years later, not since we parted, but since we started Fred McKeen and I think while our firms are very different in terms of practice area, I mean like fundamentally very, very different because of practice areas are so different. I think if you got down to brass tax about culture and core values, and I also would go so far as to say, if you were to ask, I believe if you were to ask our teams to describe us and, and our, and, and the, and what we have built and what’s important to us and, and our vision, I’m guessing there would be a tremendous amount of overlap and alignment in that regard.
Stephanie Everett (20:50):
Yeah, for sure. Well, let’s take a quick break. We gotta hear from our sponsors, when we come back, we’re gonna dig a little bit more into the breakup and how you guys got to the place you are now. Cuz I think that’s helpful.
The Lawyerist Podcast is brought to you by Posh Virtual Receptionist. As an attorney. Do you ever wish you could be in two places at once? You could take a call while you’re in court, capture a lead during a meeting or schedule an appointment with a client while you’re elbow deep in an important case? Well, that’s where Posh comes in. Posh is a team of professional US-Based live virtual receptionists who are available 24/7/365, they answer and transfer your calls. So you never miss an opportunity. With posh handling your calls. You can devote more time to billable hours in building your law firm. And the convenient Posh app puts you in total control of when your receptionist steps in. So if you can’t answer, POSH can, and if you’ve got it, Posh is always just to tap away. With posh. You can save as much as 40% off your current service providers rates. Even better, POSH is extending a special offer to Lawyerist listeners, visit posh.com/lawyerist to learn more and start your free trial of Posh Live Virtual Receptionist Services. That’s posh.com/lawyerist.
And by Albatross Legal Workspaces. When running any business including a law practice there are critically important operations that are often overlooked and ignored by lawyers. Top on that list is data security, ransomware protection, data leaks and data backups. Those tasks can seem unimportant and time consuming or an added cost. And even with IT teams involved, they are often misconfigured and mismanaged.
Albatross Legal WorkSpaces is an excellent solution for law firms to streamline those types of operations. Albatross Legal Workspaces was built to be the all-in-one cloud office for law firms. It stores all your applications, files, desktops and servers on your own private cloud that is accessible from anywhere. No need for expensive desktop or server upgrades or unresponsive IT companies coming to the office; and the mundane yet-critical security and backup operations are seamlessly integrated hassle free. The service also includes 24/7 IT Help Desk. Albatross Legal Workspaces covers you from A to Z.
To learn more and receive one month of free service please visit https://albatross.cloud/lawyerist that’s albatross with a double s . Again that is: A L B A T R O S S .cloud/lawyerist
And by Postali. Finding a marketing partner for your firm can be challenging. Are you getting sound advice? Is your marketing agency always working in your best interest? You shouldn’t have to worry about these things. At Postali, they believe marketing companies should adopt the same duty to their clients that is required of the legal profession. For this reason, they require that all team members sign a fiduciary oath to act in good faith and put clients’ best interests ahead of their own. They service with care, candor, and loyalty. Postali is a full-service digital marketing agency exclusively for lawyers. To learn more about how they’re different, visit postali.com/lawyerist.
Stephanie Everett (24:17):
All right, we’re back. And at some point you guys realized about a year in this wasn’t headed in the right direction. And I think that a lot of people feel that sometimes they have that little bit of a thing going on in their gut, but it can be really hard to like say <laugh> and to implement and to do so. Ryan, what did that look like for you guys? And how did you navigate sort of that hard conversation?
Ryan McKeen (24:43):
You, you said a year in, we realized, I think it was more like two or three months. Yeah, it was, it was way sooner than that. And then we just kinda like coexisted in various degrees of not talking and trying to talk and not talking. And this is really like a great gift that was given to me. Like, I didn’t know how to get out. Like, I, I didn’t know how to end it. It was like one morning, like a Saturday morning, like Meghan had sent an email and it was like, Hey, we need to end this thing. And I felt like relief come over me. Like, I was sad. Yeah. Like I was like, I, I was sad. Like it was definite rejection, but I felt like, okay, I have a way forward. Like, I don’t even know what that is, but I’m okay. Like, I I can do this. Right. And so that, that was like ending it and having somebody say like, no, we need to end. This was, was a gift.
Kristen Marcroft (25:34):
Right. I mean, I think back then, you know, again, this is 10 years later, I think at that time there were a lot of hurt feelings and upset and even anger. But with the benefit of time, you know, we’ve all grown so much. I personally, and professionally, and, you know, Ryan mentioned there, there, there wasn’t as much available then as there is now in terms of I’ll call it coaching and you know, and Ryan is a coach now, I think we’ve all spent a lot of time working on ourselves, both personally and professionally and gotten to a place to sort of cast our mistakes and, and our successes in sort of a different light than we did then when we were immersed in it. Yeah. And you know, it’s true what Meghan says. Like, I don’t think neither of us were ever anything but wishing Ryan’s success. And I know Ryan wasn’t wishing us anything but success, but we weren’t friends after.
Stephanie Everett (26:23):
Well, yeah. That’s what I was about to say. Like it’s
Meghan Freed (26:25):
No, it took a while.
Ryan McKeen (26:27):
Yeah. It took a long time and it really took, you know, other than like random sort of text of like, you know, I’d see something or Meghan or Kristen would see something and say, congratulations, that kinda thing.
Meghan Freed (26:40):
Big one, Ryan. Remember when you bought your space and Jeff did the work for you who, and the architect that did the work in Ryan’s space is actually somebody I grew up with. And so that I was seeing pictures and they were gorgeous. I was just so genuinely happy for you and proud of you both for like owning it and then building it to look like that. Like that’s another place where it was like, we were always aligned that way. Like, you need a beautiful space, not like a hoity toity, fancy space, but it’s gotta have soul. And I was so genuinely happy and proud. And I had that moment of like, well, I should tell him. And I did. And you know, that could have gone any number of ways because the fact of the matter is like, I’m not proud of a lot of the ways that I behaved 10 years ago. So it would’ve been perfectly reasonable for Ryan to either have ignored me at that point or told me, you know, where to go with it. But he didn’t. He said, thank you.
Stephanie Everett (27:35):
Yeah. And you guys kind of didn’t talk as much as you do now, like for a while. Right? Like it’s fair to say. There were years. Years that went by and maybe there was a few texts here and there, but for the most part, you guys weren’t necessarily talking a
Meghan Freed (27:49):
Lot. Yeah. We’re closer now for sure.
Ryan McKeen (27:51):
What, what happened is a mutual friend. Who’s now a pellete council on the case that’s going to trial for us, invited all of us to a Yukon football game. Yep. And, and he didn’t know like the backstory or anything. And I saw Meghan and Kristen’s name on there. And I was like, look, if this is gonna be weird, like, I won’t go. And like, just like, go, go and hang out. And, and I won’t go. And they said, no, please come. We would love to see you kind of, kind of thing. And you know, or don’t, don’t not go because of us. And it was something like that. And it meant, it meant a lot.
Kristen Marcroft (28:22):
And, no one’s gonna watch the football game because they suck.
Ryan McKeen (28:29):
It’s not SEC football. OK. Stephanie, this is Yukon “football”. Okay. <Laugh> so I think, and, and I think that that day was just, you know, very important.
Stephanie Everett (28:40):
Yeah. No, I love that. And people have probably heard me, I’ve sure I’ve said this on the show. Like I, you know, I’ve been through a divorce and I’ve been through a business divorce. And I felt like for me, my business divorce was significantly harder and messier and emotionally harder. Like, I don’t know, like, it was just, it’s tough. And so I, I’m glad you guys have gotten to this amazing place where you are now. My understanding is y’all talk, you send each other business. You’re huge fans and, and all the things. But I think the lesson here for our listeners is that don’t enter into these relationships lightly. Like, just like with a spouse, you know, you date. And I think a lot of times business owners don’t do do that dating process where you do all the things, Meghan, that you were saying, where you ask all those questions. And I tell people like, run hypotheticals, like, and use money. Like what’s gonna happen. If a client doesn’t pay us or what’s gonna happen if this, because how would you answer that? You need to know before.
Kristen Marcroft (29:40):
Yeah. Because if you don’t get that stuff figured out, it’s not gonna matter that you picked cool colors for your logo. <Laugh> right.
Stephanie Everett (29:46):
Kristen Marcroft (29:48):
<Laugh> I mean, not that they weren’t cool. Not that they weren’t cool.
Stephanie Everett (29:53):
I’m sure it was beautiful. And the pirate theme seems fascinating. I’m sure that was really fun, but yeah. Like, and you gotta get personal too, like, think about where the resentments build. So is it okay if I take an afternoon off to play golf or whatever, or go see the kids? And that sounds like such a no brainer question, but that’s the stuff where the resentments and you know, the other piece of advice that I’ll just throw into the show is like, you gotta include your spouses because I see more spouses break up businesses because if one partner goes home and the spouse is like, well, what’d they do today? Blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, like, they’re like this little thing in your ear. And all of a sudden, you know, that gets in the business, partner’s head, it matters.
Meghan Freed (30:37):
I have two other things to throw out. There is pieces of advice. One is with my divorce pat, right? Yeah. There is a reason we say prenups, make good marriages. Yep. <Laugh> it’s like one of the things I always try to articulate to people is if I’m successful at selling prenups is I would like to be our gross revenue would go down fewer divorces. And the ones that we had would class, right. It’s a loss leader that is good for people. Yep. The analogy here is like, we really should have thought about not just a business plan, but an actual like workout strategy in advance. We should have, we should have had a better operating agreement. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>. And I now know that it seems so obvious in retrospect, but at the time it, it truly, wasn’t the other thing that I would add if I had to do it over again, is that I think that we did a very good job of talking a lot and we genuinely like each other. And I think that if we had identified some of the core things, like put them to paper that we respected in each other, it would’ve revealed our holes. Yeah. Like for example, the reason our tech stack is still basically the same as the one that got designed for Freed McKeen is cuz Ryan’s really good at tech.
Meghan Freed (31:58):
He’s really good at it. And Kristen’s really good at design. And that impacted the physical space that we have. It probably influenced some of the things that Ryan kept and decided to not keep in his new space. There are things like that, but what you like about it, each other does reveal the gaps. One of the things that gives me great joy when I refer to Ryan is that I know he cares about communicating with clients and that is really hard to find in contingency-based firms. Right. A weak point can be like, I’m not billing hourly. So I might not get a response. It’s easy to sort of, of lose people in the shuffle or respond, you know, when it’s more essential rather than when it’s really just client-focused. And I know that when we send Ryan a client, he’s going to take care of them in this phenomenal way in which we are so aligned. And so the good parts, the things that we shared, the strengths of Ryan’s that I admire live on in his firm. And also he gets to go be good at the things that we weren’t good at together.
Kristen Marcroft (33:12):
Keep the keepers. Right.
Stephanie Everett (33:14):
Yeah. I love that. Ryan, any kind of other closing thoughts?
Ryan McKeen (33:18):
Yeah, I really think for anybody who’s listening to this and going through it, I think it’s really important to understand the strengths of others and celebrate them and be grateful for what people are bringing to the firm and to the table and understand and accept that that can be true. And it can also be true that it’s not working right. And you’re not on the right path. And it is okay to go out on a new path. It is okay. And maybe 10 years later, you know, you’ll look at it and you’ll say, and yeah, there are so many things that, you know, I’ve taken from Meghan and Kristen as well. I mean, we, you know, I always hear Kristen’s voice where it’s like, we’re trying to sponsor something and I’m like, Nope, I only wanna do it if I can be the naming sponsor. <Laugh> like, and that is, that is a definite thing.
Kristen Marcroft (34:09):
No one’s gonna look at that page and the pamphlet.
Ryan McKeen (34:13):
So there’s definitely so much good that can come of it, celebrate what that is. And ultimately I think that the universe puts you on your path and it’s like lean into that and, and go, go forward. And, you know, if you’re having trouble trying to figure out like, Hey, it’s not working. I don’t know how to get out of it. Like have that conversation with somebody, whether it’s a coach or a lawyer or a therapist or a business partner and say like, I don’t know how to end those cause that’s okay too.
Kristen Marcroft (34:41):
Yep. I, I think that’s a really important piece because as much courage as it took for us to all start this thing together, in my opinion, it took exponentially more to leave it. And I, I think there’s just a really important lesson here, because once you figure out that you can leave, then it’s permission to start. I mean, at the end of the day, this is a, it ended in a breakup and, and just like some breakups, you wind up being friends after. And some you don’t, some, it takes a bunch of time. And, you know, in this case it took some time and now, and, and we’re friends because we remember the things that brought us together in the first place, which was like a genuine, like, and respect. But as I look back, I know that I’m where we are now needed us to be where we were then like, you know, we needed to go through the things that we went through and learn the lessons that we learned and made, make the mistakes that we made in order to wind up where we are now. And, and I think that we would all agree that where we are now is, is awesome.
Meghan Freed (35:38):
One post breakup lesson that I would like to share for people thinking about this is that one mistake we made after the breakup that we’ve only sort of recently figured out, oh, wait, that’s what that was, is that you do tend to over-do people that you are a fit with. And what that means is some skill sets can, let, can get left out in the new firm you build. Right? So for example, Kristen and I share some overlapping strengths. And for a period of time, we forgot that we needed to hire people to counteract us right. To balance us out. So I think that’s something to think of, really think about making sure that you onboard people that are a cultural fit, but that also are good at things that you’re not naturally or by virtue of being a student, good at. The other thing I would say is like, look, the thing is ending anyway, right? The relationship is ending. The marriage is ending. The business is ending. It’s ending. It’s all. When you acknowledge it, right. We were going to drive Freeden into the ground that was happening. We didn’t, we exited and we pulled up our respective noses so that we could launch what were much more successful models and have proven, but it was going exactly where it was going. And I think there’s something freeing about that concept. That just because you don’t name, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening and you’re set up for success sooner afterwards, if you grab the bull by the horn.
Stephanie Everett (37:28):
Yeah. I think that’s a great way to end that. And the idea that you guys are truly grateful for the experience that you had and the lessons you learned from it, I think that’s a beautiful story and lots of lessons and yeah, you you’re right where you’re supposed to be. And that’s how you got there. But maybe this story will help somebody else take a different path that might be a little easier
Meghan Freed (37:51):
Or take a path, right?
The Lawyerist Podcast is edited by Britany Felix. Are you ready to implement the ideas we discuss here into your practice? Wondering what to do next? Here are your first two steps. First. If you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap yet, grab the first chapter for free at Lawyerist.com/book. Looking for help beyond the book? Let’s chat about whether our coaching communities, right for you. Head to Lawyerist.com/community/lab to schedule a 10 minute call with our team to learn more. The views expressed by the participants are their own and are not endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said in this podcast is legal advice for you.
Ryan McKeen is a Strategy Coach at Lawyerist. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Connecticut Trial Firm. His leadership has not only led the firm to secure a record-setting $100 million jury verdict for a workplace injury, but has also earned it a spot on the prestigious Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in the nation. Recognized for its exceptional work environment and culture, Connecticut Trial Firm has been honored as one of the Best Workplaces in CT. Ryan’s individual prowess as a lawyer is underscored by his membership in the Multi-Million Dollar Advocate Forum, an accolade reserved for attorneys who have won multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. As an author, Ryan has contributed significantly to the legal literature with books like “Tiger Tactics” and “Tiger Tactics 2: CEO Edition.”
Kristen’s approach to her legal practice is as hands-on as her approach to life. The majority of her time is spent working with clients in Freed Marcroft’s family law practice area. Kristen has supplemented her formal legal education with advanced training in mediation and is a member of the Connecticut Council for Non-Adversarial Divorce.
Kristen is a graduate of the Quinnipiac University School of Law and the Honors Program at the University of Connecticut and studied Irish, European, international and comparative law at Trinity College in Dublin. She is a founding executive board member of the Connecticut Bar Association’s LGBT Section. She is a member of the Connecticut Bar Association, the Hartford County Bar Association, the National LGBT Bar Association, the Greater Connecticut Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Metro Hartford Alliance, and Business for Downtown Hartford.
Meghan is particularly experienced with alternative dispute resolution, including arbitration and mediation, is a graduate of Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation, and has supplemented her formal legal education with advanced training in mediation. She is a member of the Connecticut Council for Non-Adversarial Divorce.
Meghan has been widely recognized for her leadership in the legal community. She was included on the New England Super Lawyers® Rising Star list in 2013 for general litigation, in 2014 for her estate planning work, and again from 2015-2020 for family law. In 2013, Meghan was named a Hartford Business Journal 40 Under Forty winner, and a Connecticut Law Tribune New Leader of the Law. In 2014 the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) named her one of 40 Women for the Next 40 Years.
Meghan is also particularly proud of her practice within the LGBT community. Her name appears in the Connecticut Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decision on marriage equality, Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health, for which she co-authored an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign.
Last updated November 23rd, 2022