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Fran Griesing of Griesing Law

A large law firm with a national or global reach is often the dream destination of fresh law school graduates, and with good reason. The pay, benefits and security are often unparalleled – especially if you are a white man, work for an incredibly progressive firm, or are willing to put your personal life on hold for 40 years.

That’s largely why lawyers, particularly women, are leaving large firms in droves. Almost half of all large firms report no women “rainmakers” among its top 10 business generators. Only 15 percent of equity partners at large law firms are female. It’s not surprising that between 30 to 45 percent of women leave the legal profession mid-career.
If you doubt those numbers, just listen to Fran Griesing. She points out that it’s more likely that a mother leaves work to take care of a sick child, and large law firms often determine that fact means she is not committed to her career. The one-time, big-firm attorney  with three decades of experience wanted to reduce pressures like that when she left the large firm she worked for and started Griesing Law in early 2010.

The company has grown largely because of its increasing capacity for servicing entrepreneurs, startups and the technology community, a sector that has seen its own share of growth in Philadelphia.

“Part of the reason it’s happening in Philadelphia is because Philadelphia has a lot of cool,” says Griesing’s Kate Legge. “There are a lot of entrepreneurial kids who are being given the opportunity in their schools to innovate. We have a long way to go compared to other entrepreneurial cities, but we’ve come a long way.

Says Griesing's Dina Leytes: “There are also a number of incubators providing support.”

Jessica Mazzeo, who handles much of the firm’s involvement in the burgeoning hospitality industry in Philadelphia, is paving the way for Philadelphia to host the 2014 annual meeting for NAMWOLF, a national organization that supports women- and minority-owned law firms. Next week, Griesing is hosting a reception for NAMWOLF’s new CEO and large companies from the region that are interested in law firms like Griesing.

Griesing, who previously worked with both Mazzeo and Legge at a large firm, has certainly created a unique atmosphere, one in which employees with children need not worry about origination disputes over clients or making time to care for sick children. And that atmosphere seems to be driving the impressive growth of the firm, which includes seven lawyers and three other staff members.

What was the inspiration for founding your firm?
I wanted to create an environment in which everyone who worked there could reach their best potential. Big traditional law firms are not that environment for many people. And it didn’t have to be only women. We have two men working here. We also wanted to create an environment where the clients we had would be really happy with all the work that was done for them and how it was done. When you work in a firm with thousands of people, you can bring in the client, but you can’t control what everyone else does.

What was the toughest part about getting your firm off the ground?
The hardest part is you have to do everything. It’s no longer enough to be a good lawyer. You have to understand HR and insurance and rent and payroll and taxes. You have to do and learn everything about the business side. You have to go out and get work that people will pay you for and you have to collect it. If you’re just a good lawyer or a good dentist, then you have to become everything else or your business can’t succeed. In our first year I don’t ever remember having a single day off. I couldn’t turn my mind off.

How is Griesing growing?
We started in 800 square feet of a rented conference room at another law firm. Ten months later we moved into a 4,000 square foot office, and last year expanded to 8,000 square feet. I expect by the end of the summer we’ll be using most of it. We expect to have one or two more lawyers on staff by the end of June. We’re very selective in how we add people. We don’t want our culture to be impacted negatively. As for clients, we started out with a handful and now we have about 87. We represent more public companies than we did in the past and we expect to continue that trend.

But much of your growth overall can be attributed to the work you’ve done with entrepreneurs and in the technology sector, right?
When we started, our experience was primarily as a commercial litigator in the typical big-firm sense. Now we have a much broader spectrum of work in technology, new media, intellectual property and social entrepreneurship. All those things are the fastest growing parts of our practice. It’s the future of the firm.

Have there been any key partnerships that have bolstered your firm?
We’re part of a national organization, NAMWOLF, which is the National Association of Minority and Women-Owned Law Firms. It’s a collaboration between 115 law firms around the country, a couple hundred major corporations and some governments. We’re all involved with NAMWOLF and Jessica is most involved. She does the lion’s share of collaboration with them. NAMWOLF is not a principal source of work for us, but our affiliation has enhanced relationships we already have.

What’s up next for you and the firm?
Kate and I are speaking at a panel in New York in June. There’s a book called Road to Independence, published by the American Bar Association about a year ago. It traces women starting their own law firms from the 1950s through 2012. There are 100 law firms and we’re in it. You’ll see over time that the trend is increasing. The No. 1 reason they’re doing it is they’re not reaching their potential in the traditional big firm settings where they have to make tough choices that short-change their work or personal  lives. They’re reaching places in their career where they face what appear to be insurmountable obstacles. It’s such a great price, with more and more women saying I’m not going to pay that price. They’re saying ‘I can have a great career and still have a personal life.’

-- by Joe Petrucci

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