Who are these “enterprising lawyers”? Look for the more engaged and happier lawyers in the crowd. Deeply invested in the power of the work they do, they have ample interests beyond the practice of law as well. And they seem to have more energy for getting things done than anyone in the crowd. You probably know one — you may even be an enterprising lawyer yourself!
Google “low bono lawyers” and Salt Lake City firm Open Legal Services shows up near the top of the list every time. Launched just a couple of years ago by Shantelle Argyle and law school classmate Daniel Spencer, Open Legal Services is Utah’s first nonprofit law firm for clients who “earn too much to qualify for free/pro-bono legal services, but also earn too little to afford a traditional private attorney.”
Shantelle L. Argyle
Co-founder and Executive Director
Open Legal Services
Salt Lake City, Utah
University of Utah SJ Quinney College of Law, 2013
Utah Valley University, 2007 (English Literature)
Why did you want to be a lawyer? I wanted to do something great; as the first in my family to go to college I had a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. It seemed like the best way to help people like myself and those in my family was to go to law school. I had watched people in positions of authority, with a real ability to change things, and their credentials definitely helped them do that.
What is the focus of your personal law practice? Family law and criminal law for low- and moderate-income clients.
Who was your most important mentor and, in a sentence, what did they teach you? My trial advocacy professor, Judge Richard McKelvie. He taught me that when you have a strength, such as good courtroom presentation, you should find a way to do a job that lets you use that strength because you will be happier and more successful.
What about the practice of law did you learn the hard way? I learned to talk less. This seems strange as a litigator, but silence can be particularly powerful when asking for what you want.
What is Open Legal Services? We are a low bono charitable law firm. Here’s our mission:
“Open Legal Services is leading a revolution in the legal industry. We bridge the justice gap by providing affordable legal services to low- and moderate-income people. We also mentor others to fulfill this need, start careers for new attorneys, and work to spread the revolution across the country.”
Describe a typical Open Legal Services client. Most are making minimum wage or slightly above it. They typically fall between 100 and 200 percent of Federal Poverty Level. They are everyday people, some of whom are refugees, persons with mental health or drug issues, persons with criminal records, child victims of abuse or neglect, or simply those who need help with custody or divorce but cannot afford it.
What is different about a day spent practicing at Open Legal Services compared to a day practicing at a “traditional” law practice? Every practice decision we make is influenced by our client’s ENTIRE life, not just the legal aspects of it. We consider their health, their pocketbook, their dreams, their fears and their diseases. It is a holistic approach and it’s really important.
Where did the idea for Open Legal Services come from? My co-founder Dan Spencer and I were talking about how to serve the low- and moderate-income market because we knew there was a huge unmet need. The idea to do it as a nonprofit was Dan’s, given that we had seen similar models in other industries and we weren’t sure why it was not something that is common in legal services.
How long have you been working on Open Legal Services? We began preparations in the summer of 2013, and opened our doors in November 2013. Since then we have grown from two attorneys to six attorneys, two staff and several interns.
What has been your greatest challenge? Learning how to do something incredibly unique with almost no precedent to look to for guidance. Our assistant director, David McNeill, likes to say that we are building an airplane in mid-air. It is a constant challenge to be innovative while practicing law.
Many lawyers have good creative ideas but struggle to bring them to reality. To what do you credit your ability to do this? I have a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on who you ask) desire to not only reject the status quo but to actively disrupt it. If you don’t want to do things the way they have always been done, you have to get creative. It’s really the only choice I have.
How would you describe the décor of your office? We recently got a big donation to replace our old thrift store desks. I often refer to our new office space by saying we are “totes legit” now. It’s a good mix of mid-grade office furniture and surplus computer hardware, but it works for us.
What is your favorite technology tool? I absolutely love my ScanSnap scanner. It does high volume and weird documents almost flawlessly every time. We try to be paperless as much as possible.
What is your favorite non-technology tool? I have a stamp in the office that says “Shan Approved” on it. We have a joke that if I am okay with something I put my seal of approval on it, so my partner Dan Spencer bought me an actual stamp. I use it a lot.
What is the first thing you “check” each morning? Timehop. I love seeing old photos and status updates from past years. It reminds me of why I do the work I do and it keeps my family in my mind before I head to the office.
Where do you think the practice of law is going? I think it is becoming a more commodity-based market. Consumers want to consume, and they want to do it on their own terms. Lawyers have to start recognizing this and sell a product people want to buy (and can afford).
Where are you going? This is a tough question. Innovation can be exhausting. Some days I fantasize about moving to New Zealand and being a school teacher. Other days I imagine being a goat farmer in Peru. Other days I think about OLS having offices all over the state and I am still the executive director.
What are people most surprised to learn about you? I present myself fairly well, but I have crippling impostor syndrome. I question my own leadership skills regularly. My passion can be mistaken for absolute surety, which I don’t really have. I want to question things and be challenged when I am wrong because I am always learning.
What do you use every single day that you could actually easily do without? Not a thing. I am super minimalist in my personal appearance and routines.
What three things must you always have in your brief bag, desk drawer or refrigerator? Candy. I need a quick sugar fix to get through my day. Plus it makes me so very happy. I also need lotion for the dry Utah air and my favorite Pilot II blue pens.
Where do you turn when things go really badly? My partner Dan or my husband Brian. (I have to complain about them to each other. Just kidding!)
You can find Shantelle Argyle at www.openlegalservices.org and follow her on Twitter at @shantelle8.
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Photos courtesy Shantelle Argyle.