There are a lot of lawyers in the United States, but according to a 2014 study, only 3 percent of the lawyers at large law firms are African American. And only 1.9 percent of the partners are African American, found the American Lawyer’s Diversity Scorecard. So creating your own law firm is one way to ensure career advancement in the legal profession.
That’s what three enterprising female African Americans lawyers did in Chicago. Keli L. Knight, Jessica B. Reddick, and Yondi K. Morris got together and formed Knight, Morris & Reddick Law Group (KMR).
“We came together in 2011 and decided to form Knight, Morris & Reddick Law Group (KMR). We spent a whole year learning and planning what it would take to run a firm, and formally opened our doors three years ago in September of 2012,” explains Knight.
And to think it all started with a tweet. “KMR did begin with a tweet!” says Knight. One day Morris left work feeling a bit undervalued and frustrated with the type of work she was doing. She jumped on Twitter, ready to vent and tweeted, ‘I just need to start my own law firm!’’ Knight, who was in a similar position tweeted back, “Let’s meet to discuss!” Reddick had previously expressed an interest in being an entrepreneur. “Together, the three of us met at Starbucks, sketched out a logo and an informal business plan, and got the ball rolling that day. We’ve never looked back,” says Morris. “The three of us were in different spaces in our careers prior to coming together, and as a result, we each had different personal reasons for wanting to step out and form KMR. What brought us together was the common goal of wanting to create something for ourselves that could be a tool and resource to others. We each had the desire to become entrepreneurs; and after having spent a year in the planning phase, we were confident that we were prepared to step out and hang our shingle!”
But while the passion and the legal expertise were there, there were some entrepreneurial startup challenges the trio faced. “We each knew how to be lawyers, but what we quickly learned was that we also had to learn how to be business owners,” shares Reddick. “In the beginning, one or more of us took on the role of secretary, paralegal, file clerk, office manager, web designer, bookkeeper–all while practicing law and doing our best to generate new business. It was quite the balancing act, to say the least.”
The process has taught the threesome more than a few business lessons. “I never realized how customer service based being a lawyer could be until we started KMR. I’ve learned that, while I may be very comfortable practicing law and counseling several clients at a time, for most of my clients whatever I have been hired to handle is one of the most important things going on in their lives at the moment. Transparency, patience, compassion, and responsiveness are just as important as legal knowledge. Without these things, clients may not trust us to handle their affairs and certainly will not refer us to their friends and families in the future,” says Knight.
Morris adds, “One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned while running a business is that it’s very important to figure out how to have a healthy work/life balance. When we first started KMR, there was so much to get done. Because we didn’t have a secretary or assistant, we had to do everything; practice law and run a company. It could often be a bit daunting and there were times where we were so focused on the business that we weren’t nurturing other areas in our lives. Being able to hire people to help often comes later into the business venture so it’s important to learn early on how to make sure you’re taking care of yourself and those around you. Your business will still flourish.”
And for Reddick, it was a chance for her to push herself professionally and personally. “I would say my biggest lesson is the idea of learning how to function outside of your comfort zone. In business, you will make many mistakes, but you must move forward undiscouraged. In the same vein, you are also forced to make decisions for the future, even when the next steps may be uncertain. Extending your professional reputation and yourself financially is required to grow, but can be quite scary. Once you master trusting your gut and vision, you have a key element to becoming a successful business owner,” she says.
KMR specializes in real estate, corporate, and entertainment law. “For our real estate clients, we assist individuals or investors in the purchase and sale of residential and commercial properties. The corporate work we do revolves mostly around guiding our clients through the corporate formation/start-up process and later serving as counsel as the business grows. Our entertainment clients include professional athletes, celebrity chefs, ballerinas, fashion designers, writers, musicians and music producers,” explains Knight.
Now after three years, KMR is looking to continue its expansion–and they have big plans. “In 2015, we expanded to the West Coast, hiring an associate and opening the doors to our Los Angeles office in October. The next step for KMR is to continue to grow our firm and expand to Washington, D.C.,” says Morris. “In 2013, we created a subsidiary of our law firm, KMR Legal Staffing. This company serves as an agency that provides companies and law firms with the additional support needed in order to complete short and long term projects. For this arm of the KMR brand, we hope to grow internationally and support the needs of corporations and law firms worldwide.”
And they are looking to continue to give back to the community. “We all have philanthropic goals for ourselves personally and professionally. KMR has a passion for education and children, and we plan to use our reach to lift up our community,” says Reddick. “We also are mediators, so we hope to spread the knowledge of meditation as a tool to resolve conflicts of all kinds in these times of growing unrest.”