I have had the pleasure of getting to know Kathy Konzen, an attorney new to family law here in San Diego. I asked Kathy to write about her experience of leaping from insurance defense into family law. I was fascinated to learn more about how someone makes the switch from the "dry" practice of insurance defense to the messy "blood and guts" of family law. Here is what Kathy had to say:
My Leap of Faith - into Family Law
By: Kathy Konzen
When I graduated from law school, I had a vision of helping people. I wanted to practice family law, but at the time there were no jobs.
So I took the first thing that came along, which was insurance defense, where I took a lot of depositions and learned a lot about litigation but quickly realized I did not want to represent companies. Insurance defense is a very dry practice area where I never met the actual "client" because the client was a large insurance company. I felt very disconnected from my original "vision."
In January 2017 I made the decision to start my own practice, and decided to focus on family law at last. At first the sheer excitement of it all was enough to motivate me to pursue my passion of helping people and making a difference. I spent hours researching and downloading demos of document management software; I read all the family law practice guides, codes, and other rules; I attended numerous family law trainings and still attend all the free CLEs I can. Several experienced family law attorneys have told me to invest in training now because I will be too busy to do it within a year (I can only hope).
On the business side of things, I set up my own S-Corp., filed all my business licenses, and created my own website; I even set up my own 401k plan so I can contribute to my future once I actually make money. For now, every penny goes back into the practice.
I had my first client before I even launched my practice. I had this crazy idea that the minute I launched my website and made it public, the calls would start pouring in! Yet, there I sat, with my one client, waiting for the phone to ring. A family law practice is a business and I am in sales. Yes, sales, selling myself and my services to anyone who will listen. The number of hours spent marketing, attending networking events, coffees, lunches, etc., is daunting. Starting a business, any business, takes a tremendous commitment, even if you have been in the business development space for years and know a lot of people. Marketing yourself is different than marketing a product because you are the product. You have to be comfortable asking people to recommend you to friends, family, co-workers, and anyone else in their circle. The best clients are referrals and the only way to get referrals is to connect with A LOT of people.
Since then, my clients have come from various sources including personal acquaintances, referrals from friends, referrals from other attorneys, and the County Bar’s Modest Means Program. I was taking anything that came in the door because I thought any experience was good experience. I soon realized that is not always the case. I have not always followed my instincts to turn down a potential client, but that will come with time and experience.
People think that because I have my own practice I can sleep in and work when I want. Yes and no. Any practice that involves litigation is somewhat dictated by the court calendar and, to some extent, opposing counsel. Do I work fewer hours? Not necessarily, but I can work at 6 a.m., 9 p.m. or on the weekend if I want a weekday off. I have office hours and generally stick to them because rarely is there a true emergency in family law.
Family court is different than civil court in many respects. There are many self-represented litigants, so I think the judges have to be more flexible and tolerant. The "rules" of family court are somewhat looser than general civil litigation in that they are followed, for the most part, with some wiggle room built in. The cases are emotionally charged, but I tell my clients up front to think of it as a business negotiation (I know, easier said than done). I also suggest they see a therapist if they do not already have one, because I do not pretend to be trained in dealing with the emotional fallout of family law.
My initial plan was to not take any cases involving children; as it turns out, not a realistic goal starting out. A few of my clients have adult children, but the majority of my cases involve minor children, who are often a huge issue of contention between the parties. The parents’ behavior during divorce has a huge impact on their children. I have no control over the parents; I can only assist with the legal issues involving children such as custody and support. It is sobering to realize the effect my work may have on a child’s life.
My client roster is up to 10 and I could not be happier. I have become friends with many seasoned and respected family law attorneys in town who are happy to share their expertise with a newbie. I have the privilege of helping people through a challenging time in their lives, and most of my clients are thankful for my services. I learn something new every day and would do it all again.
Kathy Konzen, Esq., is a California licensed attorney focusing on family law and divorce mediation. Her practice philosophy is to preserve relationships and avoid unnecessary costs by either party by using negotiation and collaborative techniques to resolve issues before resorting to litigation. She graduated from Metropolitan State College of Denver with a degree in Business Management, and went on to earn an ABA Certified Paralegal Certificate prior to attending Concord Law School.