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Who are these “enterprising lawyers”? They’re easy to spot. Just look for the more engaged and happier lawyers. Deeply invested in the power of the work they do for their clients, they have ample interests beyond the practice of law as well. You probably know one or two—you may even be one yourself! In this interview, we talk with New Jersey lawyer Lynda Hinkle.
In the four years since opening the doors of her law practice—just two weeks after passing the bar—Lynda has built it up from one lawyer and one office, to three lawyers and three offices. And she’s done it with no debt and no doubts about what it takes to succeed: Guts, heart, a serious sense of humor, an unfailing support system … and a drawer full of emergency dog treats.
Law Offices of Lynda L. Hinkle, LLC
Rutgers Law, 2009, J.D.
Rutgers University, M.A., English, 2006
Rowan University, M.A., Teaching, 2002
Rowan University, B.A., English, 1992
Why did you want to be a lawyer?
It was an accident. I tripped and fell and landed in the law. The truth is, I wanted to be an eccentric English professor. But as it turns out, the law is actually more rewarding. I can have a powerful effect on the day-to-day lives of so many, and enjoy the intellectual and emotional challenges of the law—and I don’t have to publish any more articles on obscure subjects, unless I so choose.
What is the focus of your law practice?
Even in law school, the things that I loved most were the personal cases … family trouble; weird, twisted situations where things went horribly awry; estates where dogs inherited a fortune … the elements of human drama and tragedy, and the glimmers of hope that sometimes shine out of them like diamonds. Our biggest area of practice is family law—divorce, military divorce, domestic violence, custody, spousal and child support. Second biggest is estate planning, estate administration and elder law. We also work with small business clients, including single-unit landlords, because I believe this underserved population needs legal help more than they know.
What is the “real reason” clients hire you?
Clients hire me because I am a real person. I look at their problem in a holistic way, the way I would look at it if it were my own. I offer practical, real-world solutions—and I am not too money hungry to engage in a realistic approach, even if it undercuts my profits. I can be kindhearted and generous, but I can be absolutely ruthless when I need to be to get the job done for my clients. I won’t be unethical, and I won’t be a jerk for the sake of it, but I am not afraid to put lines in the sand. Finally, clients hire me because they can see I care about them, and I am not judging them.
Who was your most important mentor and, briefly, what did he or she teach you?
When I first thought about doing this crazy thing—opening a law practice right out of law school—I reached out to another lawyer I knew just a little bit from my law school, named Keith Owen Campbell. Keith and I went to dinner and he taught me two things—and gave me one thing—that have carried me through the entire process of starting and growing my practice.
What Keith gave me was a Post-it note with a scripture on it. James 1: 22-27: Be doers of the Word and not Hearers only. Take care of people. Keep your mouth shut and your hands busy. That’s the backbone of my faith.
What about practicing law did you learn the hard way?
Everything. Everything. Everything. I’m still learning everything the hard way. Every day, I’m learning new things … always the hard way. Because the easy way rarely gets you anywhere. You have to take on the challenges—and have the guts to try things you are very scared of—to succeed. I guess the biggest lesson I learned the hard way, though, was what good ol’ Jay Foonberg always says: “Get your money up front.”
What is your favorite technology tool?
I love my iPad, but I wouldn’t describe it as my most useful tool. It’s just my favorite. With blog reading, news reading, books and anything else I need at the touch of my fingers, I could get lost in it for four or five days if I had the time. My most useful technology tool is my iPhone. It lets me call opposing counsel, text my staff and get my email when I am on the road to court or to a networking event—and I can even open one eye in the morning and start working before I get out of bed!
What is your favorite non-technology tool?
I am not sure if this counts as non-technology, but I love my electric teakettle with wild abandon!
How would you describe the location and décor of your office(s)?
We have three offices in three different South Jersey counties. My style is sort of modern and comfortable. We have a ton of Partylite candles and warm, fun paintings, and soft furniture to sit in. In my main office in Blackwood, my little dog Petey is always running around cuddling the clients. We like people, including my staff, to feel at home here and at ease.
Why would someone describe you as “enterprising”?
I started my firm right out of law school, two weeks after passing the bar. You aren’t supposed to be able to do that. I made a profit the first month and every month thereafter. You aren’t supposed to be able to do that. I’ve grown tremendously in four years, from one office and one lawyer to three lawyers and three offices. You aren’t supposed to be able to do that.
I’ve done it while keeping my ethics, my sense of self, my sense of humor, the level of sanity I had when I started (perhaps not that impressive), and my feet firmly planted on planet Earth. Definitely not supposed to be able to do that.
I think of myself as having a dual career as an entrepreneur and a lawyer, and I split my time somewhat evenly between those two to build this practice.
Explain why a firm the size of yours has three locations?
In the area we live and work in, people tend to be very regional. No one wants to cross the imaginary line between counties. Rather than expand the size of one office, it made some sense to make it possible for clients to be seen closer to where they are, because if you make it easy for them they are going to be more likely to hire you. We have three lawyers, two full-time, and between two to four part-time staff at any given time, so we do need the space. We plan to expand to more counties in the coming year.
What is the first thing you “check” each morning?
Text messages and email. I usually get a couple of friendly texts from entrepreneurial friends who know I am up with the birds like they are, a ton of email … and then next is Facebook to find out who had insomnia and who is launching something new. Social media is a huge part of our marketing and building of the community in which we work.
Where do you think the practice of law is going?
The practice of law is a pretty big topic! It isn’t going one place. I think that bigger firms will start hiring smaller, boutique firms that give them very personalized service. I think individuals are going to be looking for better service, higher-quality returns and a lot more flat-fee work. I think the move away from hourly billing in some fields is maybe a decade away, but it’s coming.
And I think that small firms and solo lawyers forming greater affiliations with one another and other types of professionals—such as accountants and social workers—to provide clients with a full-service law firm experience is a potential wave of the future, if some of our ethics rules can be brought up to date to permit us to share fees and costs on cross-disciplinary issues.
Where are you going?
I am moving on up! We are continuing to grow, continuing to expand our reach, our skills, our offerings. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to run this practice. I also have a pretty clear sense that I couldn’t do this alone and that at any time it could all fall apart … like any business, even up to big ones that people once thought were too big to fail. We are careful not to make the big mistakes that might lead us to that failure: We don’t have debt, we don’t spend past our capacity, and we never allow ourselves to “coast,” but keep striving and working and improving.
What are people most surprised to learn about you?
That I sleep! I do a lot of things—run a law firm, plus charity and community events, alumni association activities and my church. I chair a small interdisciplinary academic journal called MP Journal, and I network like crazy. Plus I have a husband and stepsons. People assume this means I mustn’t sleep, but I really truly do. But I get up very early and then go to bed by 10 p.m., usually.
What word do you use altogether too often?
It’s a phrase really. Can I say it? “Crap taco.” As in, “That letter from opposing counsel was a real crap taco, wasn’t it?” or “That settlement conference was like chowing down on a big crap taco!”
What item do you use every single day that you could easily do without?
Candles. Oh, I could do without them. It wouldn’t be a hardship. But nice smells and cheerful little lights make the day better.
What three things must you always have in your brief bag, desk drawer or refrigerator?
Where do you turn when things go really badly?
Prayer. And then I hug my dog. If he doesn’t have any good ideas, I’ll call my husband. If that fails, I call my parents. God, those three people and one pup are my support system, followed closely by my wonderful staff and a few awesome friends.
What else (if anything) do you think our readers ought to know?
Man, am I lucky.
Lynda Hinkle manages a firm with three office locations in Marlton, Woodbury and Gloucester Townships in New Jersey. She employs two more attorneys, two of counsel, one paralegal and one executive assistant. Her legal specialties include family, small business, wills and estates and criminal offense law. Follow her on Twitter @HinkleLaw.
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