I found Brittany Ratelle on Instagram and I'm so glad she's been willing to share her story! She is SO helpful and the happiest lawyer I've ever seen. I love that she's paving her own way and changing the stereotypes around her profession.
Tell us a little about yourself and your career
I studied PR as an undergrad and graduated with minors in Spanish and business marketing. I then went to law school, unsure of what I wanted to do with my degree, but sure of what I didn't want. I did not want to practice with a traditional firm with a firm billable requirement and also wanted a lot of temporal flexibility as I had a newborn baby at the time. So -- I hung up my own shingle as a solo and did estate planning and family law.
I had sought out mentoring in both of those areas and knew I could handle them without a lot of support, and I learned a ton over the next few years. However, I never LOVED the practice areas. I would get occasional projects dropped into my lap by creative friends of mine who were bloggers, designers, makers, photographers who need legal help and had no idea where to go for help. So, bit by bit I began to do more work in the creative world and really enjoyed it. I loved being able to use my creative side (my mom was a costume designer) with my legal side (my dad was a mergers and acquisition expert) -- and I knew in my gut that I had something I need to pursue.
I rebranded myself and launched my official "attorney for creative entrepreneurs" practice in early 2017 and have never looked back. Currently, I help clients with intellectual property, contract drafting and revision, entity formation, and social media/internet law issues. I am still a solo -- working completely virtually from my home office -- but I get to travel to some events and conferences in my niche and love being able to work with my creative people and celebrate their growing businesses!
How does your community of women you surround yourself with support you?
One of my favorite things about the work I do is having access to amazing friends and colleagues who are building incredible businesses. I have met many of my friends and clients in person, but even the ones I haven't I feel very close to as we share our wins and our loses -- our highlight reel and the real bummers when deals go bad, stuff gets ripped off, and there are crickets after a launch.
I love the close-knit community that listens to my podcast about creative entrepreneurship and the way that I have been able to get to know successful creatives better by interviewing them. I am die-hard extrovert -- so talking to people, whether one--on-one in client consults, or when I teach workshops, is such a joy for me. The kind words/DMs/emails that I get saying " I don't know what I did without you" or "I am SO glad you're in my corner" make it all worthwhile. I love hearing from my clients that, "You are the most easy-going attorney I've ever met."
I don't want to paint with a broad brush stroke here -- but lawyers tend to have some communication and ego problems that get in the way with really connecting and serving their clients, especially as a true counselor and business advisor. Especially with small businesses, creatives, artists, artisans (who guess what -- some have VERY profitable and growing businesses!) I try to be very careful about showing respect to my client and where they are at right now -- including their business mindset and their hopes and dreams for it. I never make my clients feel "dumb" for asking questions, or having a unique or novel job title or business.
I've had clients who have told me horror stories about seeing an attorney (of their Dad or something) who charged them a lot of money, gave them no relevant help, and made them feel VERY small about what they "do" -- whether someone is a dog-walker, a birth photographer, or a vegan baby food blogger. Making a client feel small says so much more about the lawyer then it does about the client -- and none of it is good.
What advice do you have for women considering law school?
Law school will change the way you think -- and that is the WHOLE freaking point. However, don't let pressure or tradition dictate how you need to plan your career. Try to pick as a cost-effective program as you can so that you have options in how you will "use" your degree (a silly turn of phrase really, as if ANY education were ever a waste of time in the grand scheme of things). I went to law school because I wanted to help people -- especially women and children. I did some interning for the US State Department and there were a lot of ex-attorneys there who recommended getting a law degree even if you didn't want to practice.
They said, "when you have a law degree, people take you seriously", and they were absolutely right. I have gotten a chance to help people in some of the ways I always wanted (some adoptions, have helped represent children in high-conflict divorces, have helped some domestic violence victims). And, I really love that a lot of my clients are women business owners who are achieving their business dreams on their own terms. I love helping women become more confident business owners.
Law school was challenging, especially when I had rising fears of what I was supposed to "do" with my degree, especially graduating in 2011 after the recession had reared its ugly head across the legal profession. I had a baby two weeks before my last law school final and remember nursing her in one hand while trying to study for tax law with the other (and finish up my law review editing) -- and it was a very surreal and overwhelming moment.
And then, of course, I just had to study for the bar, with a 2-month old -- no biggie, right? It was never easy, but I loved the challenge and I'm really grateful for some of my female professors and administrators who supported me and never batted an eye that I was looking for a "non-traditional" career in the law.
What do you wish you could go back and tell your younger self re: your career aspirations?
It will all work out -- so just learn as much as you can, laugh at the craziness, and enjoy the ride! I have FOUR kids now and while I have been able to blend parenting and lawyering together -- it doesn't mean it's been easy or glamorous all the time. I've had permanent marker on my doors during client phone calls, and I have definitely tossed a bag of cheetos at my toddler to keep them quiet while talking to clients and opposing counsel.
I had to run to my hotel during the lunch break of the bar exam to nurse my baby while my mom spoon-fed me my lunch, and I've had whole legal pads of information "edited" by my legal assistants..aka pre-schoolers. But, mostly I've been so grateful to live in an age where there are so many choices available -- particularly to women - and that I get to design a work life that fits with my priorities.
What is your career-related mantra?
You are a business owner, so OWN your business. And frequently "you can do all the essential things -- just not all at once."
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