…“Progress doesn’t always look like progress.” This is a mantra that I find myself repeating whenever I start a new project. Because sometimes we expect our work to yield immediate success and we kind of try to blow past the “messy” stage. But the reality is we have to be willing to sit in the mess for a little while.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Nobles, Lisa Sigman and Tania Shah, founders of In The Know Legal.
Erin: Erin left a successful career in litigation and co-founded her law firm focusing on proactive personal legal planning after her youngest child was born with a serious chronic medical condition. Her passion is to help women and families ensure that they have a solid personal legal foundation in place no matter what the future might hold. Now she brings her years of legal experience and personal perspective to In The Know Legal as the creator of the personal legal protection materials and education.
Lisa: Lisa is a single mom and proud member of Gen X. Independence and the ability to provide for her children is her top priority. Representing small businesses for over 15 years, Lisa’s passion is to help women entrepreneurs who are starting and growing their businesses build a solid legal foundation, so they can feel empowered to focus on their strengths and passions, while building the life they want on their terms.
Tania: Tania started her first company over 20 years ago, finding a niche in the legal tutoring market and establishing LawTutors, LLC. Since then, Tania has started her own business law firm for mom and woman-owned businesses, has become a full time law professor, and has published numerous books with her legal publishing company. Two decades since starting her first company, Tania is super lucky to have teamed up with Lisa (who thought of the In The Know Legal concept) and Erin (who provides the much needed personal legal planning side to women-owned businesses) to fill another much needed niche for our mom and women-owned businesses.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Lisa: I completely credit my being a lawyer to Reese Witherspoon. I graduated college with a degree in Radiologic Technology and with an X-Ray technologist license. I transitioned to working as an MRI technologist shortly after my first job. A few years into the profession and I was questioning if it was really where I wanted to be. I caught Legally Blonde in the theater with a girlfriend (and fellow MRI tech) one night, and as we walked out after the show she said, “Did you know you can go to law school part time at night?” I figured if Elle Woods could get into Harvard, I could get into law school! We agreed to start studying for the LSAT. My friend quickly decided it wasn’t for her, but I figured I would take the LSAT and see how I do (I did well). Then it was, I will apply and see if I get in (I did). Then, I will go for a year and see if I like it (I loved it!). My timing for law school wasn’t ideal — one of the largest firms in Boston broke up right before I graduated and the landscape for getting a job wasn’t great — new graduates were competing with lateral hires with a book of business. So, I decided to risk it and just put a shingle and start my own firm. It was quite the education — running a law firm out of my one bedroom apartment on a zero budget. But it instilled in me an appreciation for what it takes to start and run a new business — and opened my eyes to the pain points all new businesses experience. I still keep that perspective in mind when working with clients in my law firm, and with the creation of In The Know Legal.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Lisa: When someone talks about the law and lawyers, I think the image that is often conjured up is one of mahogany desks and leather books, unreachable attorneys, billable hours and large retainers. It’s very static and unmoving. The law can be very slow to embrace technology; something like In The Know Legal wouldn’t have even been possible when I started practicing. But as businesses change, and how business is conducted changes, the way lawyers practice and provide legal services has to change. By offering online templates, we are able to remove many of the barriers that stand between a small business owner and the legal documents they need: time, money, confusion.
Unlike a law firm, In The Know Legal is available 24/7, and the one-time purchase price for the templates is a fraction of what a lawyer will charge. And we carefully designed the website, and the process of picking the right template or package, so that the customer doesn’t even need to know what questions to ask or what the agreement she needs is called. If the customer knows what her problem is or generally what she needs, she is guided on our site to the right solutions. It takes a lot of the intimidation out of the legal process for entrepreneurs.
Once they purchase the right template or package, our step by step process explains the terms of the agreement, how to properly customize it, and how to confidently put the agreement or document into use — and we account for all learning styles in how the information is presented (written, visual and auditory). In The Know Legal is intended to meet the customers where their needs are with on-demand, affordable, templates and an empowering process.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Erin: Prior to launching my own firm, I had always worked for a big firm or for the government. This meant I had always been fortunate enough to have administrative support. When I decided to open an estate planning practice, I was on my own — no assistant.
I was very excited to work with my first clients, a lovely older married couple. They had some significant assets that they wanted to pass along to their grandchildren, so we decided to set up a trust. I prepared the documents and presented them to the clients at the final meeting for review and signing. Imagine my horror when I realized that in multiple places throughout their documents, instead of writing the “Bob and Mary Smith Family Trust,” I had written the “Bob and Mary Smith Family Tryst.”
I learned a couple of important lessons from that embarrassing experience. One, it is absolutely essential to save plenty of time for review and revision and to have systems in place for catching errors. Often, setting something aside for a day and then reviewing it again allows me to see it with fresh eyes and catch errors that might have escaped me otherwise.
Second, I learned that when you are an entrepreneur, you are responsible for every little detail. The buck stops with you. Every time.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Tania: My favorite professor in law school was Professor Pettit. He taught contracts, was brilliant, and he challenged us every day. You wanted to do well in his class, and you did not want to miss class. But more than that, Professor Pettit sang songs in class about contract law. Yes, it was possible to make contracts fun.
In our last class of the year, he sang a song about contracts to the tune of Hotel California, and I actually cried. Who was going to sing about contracts now? Professor Pettit shaped me as a lawyer, an educator and someone who learned how to take otherwise seemingly boring, scary or complicated information and make it into something informative, interesting and fun. When Professor Pettit passed away a couple of years ago, my best friend from law school flew from Hawaii to Boston to attend his services. That was the first time I had seen my friend in 18 years, and as we caught up over lunch, we talked about how we felt as though a part of us was gone now that our beloved professor was gone. But the truth is, Professor Pettit will never be gone, as his legacy and teachings will live on in all those he impacted so much.
Professor Pettit’s ability to make the law fun and accessible changed my outlook on it, and in the long run, that philosophy is what led me to In The Know Legal. It’s a good thing for entrepreneurs to be able to understand and feel confident about their contracts because our team has made it accessible for them. Not all law needs to be serious and stodgy — with the right 80s tunes, you can make anything a little more fun!
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’?
Lisa: Despite the fact that we are disrupting the practice of law and how business owners can access the legal documents they need, we aren’t going to be putting lawyers out of business. For better or worse, the practice of law has and will stand the test of time. Not every legal need can or should be handled with a DIY approach. A complete disruption and break-down of the law would not serve anyone well, and in legal matters of great complexity there is really no replacing the lawyer in the equation.
Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Erin: I grew up in the late 70s in the American deep south. My mother was an attorney — one of the few “lady lawyers” in town — and she spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent. In our sleepy little town she was a one-women industry disruption! My mother worked hard to cultivate a group of diverse and like minded professional women for me and my youngest sister. We drove across the county to be seen by the only woman pediatrician for 50 miles. I was the only kindergartener with a Ms. lunchbox!
But years later, I have come to recognize that being at the vanguard of an essential disruption was hard on her. She was often lonely. People said some pretty ugly things to her…and we even got the occasional death threat! So, where we talk about disruption as a positive, and often very necessary force, that isn’t to say that it can’t be a difficult path to choose.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Erin: “Progress doesn’t always look like progress.” This is a mantra that I find myself repeating whenever I start a new project. Because sometimes we expect our work to yield immediate success and we kind of try to blow past the “messy” stage. But the reality is we have to be willing to sit in the mess for a little while.
Lisa: “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” This is as true in life and as it is in business. A classic Type-A, I want to fix all the things all at once. But trying to do that is like trying to paint a whole house by going from room to room and doing one brush stroke at a time. To accomplish anything with real success, you’ve got to focus on one thing at a time. This is something I have to remind myself of both at home, and at work. Creating In The Know Legal has been so exhilarating that it’s easy to get caught up in each new issue and task that arises without completing the one before it, but doing it haphazardly wouldn’t have allowed us to create the right foundation and systems to be able to scale and grow the business in the future.
Tania: “Find the problem and create the solution. And if there is a solution out there, do it better.” As outgoing as I was, law school was an isolating, lonely and scary experience. It seemed like there was this big secret to doing well and everyone knew it except me. But then I found that I was certainly not the only law student who had felt that way, so I created a company where law students could come for help with law school, find mentorship, and understand that there are people out there to support them.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Lisa: The mission of In The Know Legal was to remove a lot of the barriers between women entrepreneurs and a solid legal foundation for their business. But there are so many other barriers that women face personally and professionally that we could address. Women often have a complicated relationship with money and finances. Women often don’t receive the same level of medical care as men, and need to know how to advocate for themselves in a medical setting. Women face barriers entering the workforce and moving up the corporate ladder. There is a lot of potential for the In The Know brand to expand into helping women by removing these barriers, or showing them how to navigate or remove the barriers themselves. I think the potential for the ways In The Know can help empower women is limitless.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Tania: How much time do you have?
First, women are rarely seen as disruptors by the outside business world. Women can be seen as being highly successful, but we are rarely seen as disruptors. Disruption has historically been seen as a very male thing. Men are often seen as having a growth mindset where women are viewed as having a fixed mindset. The stereotype that men take risks, men don’t fear rejection the way women do, men create and innovate may have its roots in history, but not in fact.
Men peacock that they are disruptors, where many women do not even know they have the ability, or that in fact already are, disruptors since the expectation is that we either hide that part of ourselves or that we simply do not have that in us. The path for female disrupters has be fraught with naysayers, discrimination, harassment and “protectionist” warnings: “that is too risky” or “we don’t want you to get hurt” and “we don’t want you to fail” and “think of your family” or “think of your kids.” This, in turn, builds a mountain of challenges: social expectations are defied; we struggle to be seen as women rather than as women conforming to what men do; we have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously; we have very limited access to funding and investors; we are expected to be able to balance family and work perfectly where men are seen as really just needing to focus on work; and we have to face failure in an environment that is not as friendly to female failures as they are to men.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Erin: I am a huge fan of Gretchen Rubin. I have read all of her books on how we can create more happiness in our daily lives by being more conscious of our behaviors, thoughts, and habits. Her books, Better than Before, and The Four Tendencies, where she talks about how we can use self-knowledge to help create good habits and break less positive ones are always on my night table.
One of my great joys was when I was in Hong Kong and I found a Chinese edition of The Four Tendencies in a local bookstore. I was so excited that I snapped a picture and posted it to her Facebook page. She liked my post immediately and I was so excited I bought the book…even though I can’t read Chinese!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Tania: We need knowledge, support and coverage for the fertility issues women face. Women need to know their options early on regarding cryo-preservation, IVF, fertility testing, single women by choice, and, most importantly, cost.
The Constitution awards us our most basic of fundamental rights under the 5th and 14th Amendments, and one of those is the right to procreate. Yet, that right is denied to so many women who face issues since in almost all states, fertility treatments are not covered. I was spoiled when I lived in Massachusetts since that is one of the few states where insurance does cover fertility treatment, and it is looked at as a medical issue rather than as a pure business. It also guarantees that women of all income levels could have children, not just those women who can afford the extremely high costs of those treatments.
I truly accidentally found out about fertility options when I met a couple who was staying at my place when I rented it as an AirBnB, and had I known and understood my options years before, I would have started trying cryopreservation earlier (right now, as far as I am aware, no states cover cryopreservation aspect of preserving fertility). So, we need 1. Knowledge; and we need 2. Coverage.
I would call the company ‘Sup Baby.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Erin: When my daughter was born, she was extremely ill. She spent the first three days of her life on a heart-lung bypass machine. For a long time we really didn’t know if she would survive and if she did, what her quality of life would be. That was a dark time in my life, filled with so many unknowns. Every day was a struggle to just get up and out of bed so I could go to the NICU to be with her. I took comfort in the brilliant Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
How can our readers follow you online?
Visit our website at www.intheknowlegal.com
Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @intheknowlegal
In The Know Legal is also on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/in-the-know-legal/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!