Join us as one of Atlanta’s most successful young, female attorneys shares her journey to becoming a leading practitioner in her field, a flourishing small business owner and entrepreneur.
Her energy and passion for law and business are sure to rub off as she explains age and gender can work for or against you – it’s up to the individual how that turns out. Listen to the complete interview below and make sure to subscribe, share and review the podcast.
Tracy: Alright. You are listening to Tracy Merda with Speakeasy Marketing Podcast and today I have a very special guest. The young and beautiful successful attorney Sonia Lakhany of the award winning trademarked law firm Lakhany Law located in Atlanta, Georgia. Wecome Sonia, I appreciate you coming and spending some time with me today.
Sonia Lakhany: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
Tracy: Did I see that you also have an office in Los Angeles?
Sonia Lakhany: Correct. Yes. We actually just opened our 2nd office earlier this year and so I actually manage both vital processes now.
Tracy: Congratulations. That is another huge feather in your hat.
Sonia Lakhany: Thank you. I’m actually originally from Southern California, so when it came time to expand, it was sort of a natural choice to cough up a storefront back home.
Tracy: Absolutely. I just wanted to talk to you. You have blown me away by what I’ve seen on the web and sort of looking into your career and other set, I hate to keep harping on it but the fact that you are such a young successful female attorney. I wanted to know if you could just tell me a little bit about your upbringing and what were your early career goals when you were a young child, a teenage girl and maybe later on, as you started and went off to college.
Sonia Lakhany: Sure. I kind of always figured I would end up going to law school and it was actually something that my mom pushed me into but what’s kind of a running joke now is it looks like it was all planned out but really she just wanted one of her kids to be a lawyer and I got nominated so that is kind of how it happened. I always had an interest in business and I always liked reading about marketing in the news and I always was very intellectual. It’s like I kind of knew that I would end up in a career that was very brainy so to speak. I love to read and I love studying. I’m very academic minded but also very business minded and I kind of grew up watching my brother who was a serial entrepreneur starting on his different businesses and had a lot of success with it and really just enjoying the autonomy that he had in his life as well and so even though things started on a bit of formulated track with undergrad and law school and I kind of always knew I would do something a little different and it took me some time to figure out what that would be and it ended up shaping out to be having my own law practice but that was only after working for years at other firms before I decided to make that leap. So it was always just something that I knew I would do and to have my own business. I just never knew it was going to be a law firm.
Tracy: What was that ultimate tipping of the scales for you when it came down to law?
Sonia Lakhany: Sure. I had worked at other law firms like I said and I enjoyed the experience that I had at each position and I felt like that they each sort of created a corner of the learning square for me and taught me the things that I needed to know to move on to the next stage. At a point I reached where I started to think about sort of the other ways I wanted to serve my clients and the relationship I wanted to have that expanded beyond the billable hours and the regimen of a traditional law firm and I realized that I was very good at connecting with my clients and having a relationship with them and going the extra mile and I enjoyed that portion and I started to identify areas where I could add more value and perhaps run a business a little bit more efficiently in terms of how I spent my time and the things or the activities that I did. Most of all it was really that I wanted to focus my entire practice on trademark law. I had positions certainly obviously where I was a trademark lawyer but I was also sort of in charge for full client files where I was maybe reviewing a lease or maybe negotiating another deal and I really wanted to specialize in an area where I feel that entrepreneurs really need a lot of guidance which is naming and brand protection. Now the biggest reason of all is that I wanted to just be able to do trademarks and I realized that sometimes instead of hunting for that perfect job, you just have to create it and that’s kind of what I ended up doing, so that’s what led me to start my own practice after years of being at other firms.
Tracy: Do you ever question going into a predominantly male field? In history, we know there are these types of changes but did that ever play into a way into this position?
Sonia Lakhany: No. I have to say it didn’t because I don’t think I realized it was a male dominated field until I was actually in it. Maybe for better or for worse, there is a saying that something about, ”She didn’t know it couldn’t be done, so she did it.” If you don’t know your limitations, you just kind of blow past them. I didn’t realize that was what I was entering. It wasn’t until I had graduated and entered the job market where people started talking about you’re in a male dominated field. I’m like, “I guess you’re right.” It wasn’t apparent to me, it also wasn’t apparent to me in undergrad. I didn’t even think about it. I mean everyone was so encouraging about me being a lawyer. I had really started to read up on other female lawyers and the things that they were doing. I wanted to grow up to be Marsha Clark and I always knew that I wouldn’t be the courtroom type, that’s not my personality but seeing her and she was one of the earliest people I knew that was a strong female lawyer. I don’t think that I realized it and now that I am in it, it’s certainly something that I do notice but I actually, I’ve seen it play out as more of a strength where I think the market is turning into a place where business owners and particularly female ones want to work with another female entrepreneur. They want to work with another person who understands what they are going through and the decisions they have to make and their challenges. Actually, I have many male clients as well who have sought me out because I’m a female entrepreneur and a female business owner. They want to support that, they want to encourage that. It’s just like with anything else, like with age for example, it can fight for or against you and certainly n the younger end of attorneys that have their own law firms. I’m aware of that but again, I think it’s something that’s been encouraged by other people and supported and I know that a lot of my business comes from people who do it solely to help my practice and I’m so grateful for that because I really don’t know how else I’d have pulled it off if it wasn’t for them sort of having that notion to say, okay. Here is someone young, we want to encourage her and we don’t want to stifle their growth. Let’s send her business or send her a matter here, a case there and help her grow until she can get on her feet and a lot of people did that. Then I think that it can all be interpreted one way or the other but for me they actually represent strength.
Tracy: That’s awesome. Do you ever, I mean I have to wonder, any business that someone opens, I mean there is a huge gamble regardless, especially in law firms. It’s a difficult field. What gave you the courage and made you decide to venture out on your own where you could probably have joined a number of large firms that are already fully up and running?
Sonia Lakhany: That’s a very good question and it is something that I think about a lot actually because at the time, I didn’t fully let the fear set in and I think that was probably for the best and I didn’t really fully let the fear set in and I think it was probably for the best and then as an afterthought I thought I knew it was risky at the time but I’ve always been the personality that’s relatively fearless when it comes to business. Personally, I’m afraid of dumb things like cooperatives and thunder and clouds and people go like who is afraid of clouds? But from a business standpoint, I’ve always been that fearless, indispensable, what’s the worst that could happen and I’ve really internalized that mantra because I’m really like how bad can it get? Okay. So I don’t have any income for a certain period of time. Well there are all kinds of avenues to make money to keep yourself afloat. It’s not like, it’s not a zero sum game. Either you make money or not, it’s like you don’t make a ton of money in the beginning, that’s the risk but I knew I was employable as an attorney and even in related skill sets like consulting and other fields where maybe I can lend my skills to those fields if needed and pick up some contract work. So it crossed my mind but I wasn’t about to let that be the reason why I didn’t do it. I was like, so what? I think part of that is again, where I like to talk about gender and age to an extent but not have it be the theme of what I’m doing but to reference that, there is something a bit freeing about being on the younger side where you don’t feel like you have a lot to lose. I was single when I started my law firm, I had no kids, I still don’t and so it was just me that I was responsible for. I think that goes a long way into that fearlessness where you can have a psychology f being fearless but also, pragmatically when it comes to an actual practical evaluation, you really have no reason not to be fearless because the expenses are just not that high and I was never really an extravagant person, so I wasn’t really worried about up keeping this house or big fancy cars or anything. Even though I was working as a lawyer, I was never really thoughtfully into that lifestyle. Everything I had or was involved in financially was, everything was pretty moderate. I drove a moderate car and lived in a moderate apartment and I was like well I can manage these. I don’t know, I think that was a big driving force and I just figured if it was risky, I would find a way out of it. My friends often tell me that entrepreneurs are the type of people that jump off a cliff and then throw the parachute on the way down and they used that to describe me because I’m just like, well it’s a calculated risk, you figure it out along the way like you kind of want to have one or two things figured out and then you just fix the rest as you go. I think that’s a mentality which has served me really well because it’s ensured that I don’t get caught up in small details like how’s this going to go? What about that? What about this? I’m okay with that. I’m very comfortable with uncertainty.
Tracy: Oh my goodness. I love your energy and enthusiasm. I do because that is exactly what I hope and wish for every young woman. I’m a mom of a young toddler girl and I just want everyone to have that attitude. Tell me if I’m overstepping here but you mentioned that you don’t have any kids, if that is something that is in your life plan. Not everybody walks that path but if it is, do you see as a female that it’s going to be an extra challenge or do you see it more again as another benefit?
Sonia Lakhany: Oh no. I can’t wait to have kids. I’ve always loved them and I’ve always wanted to have them. It’s obviously been a position to postpone them until the time is right but I really am excited about it and sort of inherently, I believe I’ve created a lifestyle and a business that lends itself to that. Obviously when you are on your own path, you create your hours, you create your workload and your schedule and it’s not a matter of having more or less to do, there are arguments both ways. You are obviously busy working in a law firm for someone else and then you are going to receive a salary versus you don’t have to work so much or do you and also you wear many other hats being a business owner and not just a lawyer. There are arguments all the way but the fact remains true that even if the workload doesn’t change, you can shift it around so you are not stuck in this typical 8 to 6 model where you are at a desk and regardless of if your child is sick or has a thing at school or PTA. Those things can be moved around. Even in my life now, I’ll break to go to lunch with a friend who is visiting or to get my nails done and then come back. You are free to break apart your gig the way you see fit and a lot of entrepreneurs will say that we don’t mind that someone is going to sit back down and start at 7:00 or 8:00 but if I have plans that night, on a weeknight, I’ll just sit on my couch and do some emailing and work on that stuff but it’s because I’d love for 3 hours to go to the mall or to go to see somebody or hang out or something. You’re still sort of working the same or more or less but it’s just moved around and I think that lends very nicely into being a mom where obviously your schedule is so unpredictable. Most of all, you want to be home for those moments as much as you can be and my work is the type that can be done from anywhere luckily. Trademarks are federal and we are not limited to any one particular state which is why I was able to open up a second office in California. I am in the process of working on getting licensing in California. I’m already licensed in Georgia, in Maryland and in DC but the trademarks can be done electronically. They are filed online through the patents and trademarks office so location is not an issue, being in the office physically is not an issue so a lot of those things are alleviated and I know there are some things that I had in mind when I designed my business because I knew that I wanted to be a mom one day and give full attention to that.
Tracy: I love that because the thing is that with everything you described, when you do become a mom, I’m sure you feel the same. I hate it when people say women can’t have it all. You can. In this day and age, you can. Like you said, having the mobile office and I do it every day. As long as you love it, which you do, which is what it sounds like, you are very passionate about anything is possible.
Sonia Lakhany: Absolutely. I think that you just have to decide what are going to be the pieces of ice in the glass and then you pour everything else around that or the rocks in the jar or whatever the saying is but you kind of know what your non-negotiables are so that’s flexible hours and deciding your own priorities, then you design things around that. Thinking of being single when I want to go out for a vacation or if I know I’m going to be out of town or if I had a friend in town being in Atlanta and in LA and living with and having friends in so many places that are always coming in and out of town. I can decide that you need this by Monday, I’m not going to be able to do it. I’m not going to make a promise that I can’t keep and you have that leeway to say, this is not something that I can be a part of or I know that I want to be in the LA office more in December because it’s cold in Atlanta, then I may not be able to take care of certain things but those are the decisions that you make and the thinking when you are a mom I imagine is that you prioritize that and you say, I would love to be there, I would love to take this on and do that but my kid has a play at school or my kid has won an award and I want to go see it. That’s the kind of parent I want to be and so I really try to design it around that but I’m not there yet so it may be that my little plan crumbles when the time comes. We’ll see.
Tracy: What did you find that, maybe looking back at some of the mistakes you might have made earlier on in your career that you might warn others about now?
Sonia Lakhany: I think one of the things that was a challenge at the beginning of my career was obviously job selection. I graduated in a very bad economy, the legal market changed for good in 2008 and 2009. It’s never been the same and I graduated in 2010 so it was right on the heels of that and I had a lot of trouble finding a job period let alone one that paid decently well. I say often that my first job made me $32,000 an year as a Bar attorney. I was licensed from a Top 20 Law school and that’s where I was 6 or 7 years ago. I wondered how I could get out of it. I sort of accepted the first job that kind of came along and I don’t know if it was a mistake because I don’t know what else I should have done at that time but it was in a totally different practice area and so that’s something that I hadn’t decided at that time. I knew I just wanted employment as an attorney and to try to get some experience in whatever area. But bringing it back to trademarks which is what I’ve always wanted to do was tough and again I don’t know if I would categorize it as a mistake but I was certainly challenged with it was just making the key decisions because your next job is determined by your last job. With the experience and your title and all these things, you know, that was a tough process to know what to do but in hindsight, I can’t say I would have done it any differently because there were only so many jobs available and really I was lucky to get the job that I had even at the meagre pay that I got.
Tracy: What do you think are the biggest factors that have made you or your firm successful?
Sonia Lakhany: There are a couple of things. I talk very openly about having passion for what you do and I’m so flattered and I’m so excited that you can hear it because that is something which is either there or it’s not. You can’t be a little bit passionate. It’s a yes or a no and so I think you have to bring that to what you do. The other big thing is that I’m very determined. I mean, to me it’s not a matter of if I can pull something off, it’s how. So if Plan A doesn’t work, then plan B or Plan C. I think that you have to have that no fail, no Plan B mentality of we are going to make this work. I don’t know how and if this doesn’t work, we’ll try something else but I have a relentless work ethic and I think a lot of people say I’m ambitious, a lot of people say I’m driven but you really can’t test driven until you are 6 months into your new law practice and the last 3 clients had a signed retainer and you are sitting there trying to figure out what to do. A lot of people would fold under it. This is a slow month but it’s going to be difficult and I certainly have never claimed that I have it all figured out. Our two years are coming up and so it’s very new compared to a lot of law firms out there but I think that having those two things has gotten me this far and it allowed me to expand and hire staff and grow essentially but hopefully I think people see that. Our clients and our referral partners and our colleagues, people that know me personally trust me to take care of things when they are sent to me because they know how I am. They know it’s not a project, it’s not an experiment, it’s a commitment. For me, when you commit to something, you do it even when you don’t feel like it and that’s the biggest thing which is having a commitment to pulling something off even when it doesn’t quite work out at the time.
Tracy: Are there any final words of wisdom that you can share with other attorneys out there, specifically other young women who are starting out or maybe in other law firms or maybe there is comparing going on?
Sonia Lakhany: I think it’s really important to weigh out some different factors and also to kind of set boundaries in whatever stage you are in so certainly, if you are still at a law firm then it’s wise and important for you to try and set some boundaries if possible and I know they are tough because you don’t want to tell a partner that is doing your review that you can’t make it or that you can’t do this project or something but I think drawing some boundaries goes a long way even if they are internal, in telling yourself that this life is ours for so many years and so this happens or if you are pulled back in putting limitations because I think that when you don’t have boundaries or a plan, that’s how you end up 10 or 15 years out and you’re like, wait. What happened? I never intended for this to be the outcome but here I am. If going out on your own is something that you are interested in or entertaining, the best way to understand what is involved in that is to ask other women or other people who are doing it. Not just people who are solo but solo in your practice area or in your city to understand what their talents were or how they navigated around certain things. I learned so much from other people and in going to coffees and lunches and dinners and breakfasts and I still do that. I still schedule those and there are still so many people that I meet with regularly and learn from them and I just absorb their information and view them as a mentor. I think you can never have too many of them but there is no substitute for hearing it from somebody’s mouth because they all sound great when you look at someone’s website or when you see them speak at something but you really won’t know the full story until you meet with them and in fact, the biggest advice I can give is to get a realistic understanding of what you are headed for and if you really want to know what it is like to work in a certain field, ask people who do it. You can’t rely on what you are learning in school because it’s so limited in it’s delivery of the practice area and the best information will come from people who do it every day.
Tracy: Wow. This is some awesome information. I just want to give a special thanks to Sonia Lakhany of Lakhany law firm of Atlanta, Georgia and now in Los Angeles. If someone would like to reach out to you and find out more information on what you do, what’s the best way to reach you?
Sonia Lakhany: The best way is through our website which is Lakhanylaw.com and that’s got information for both of our offices, both of our office phone numbers and you can call, make an appointment to talk by phone or emo me and hopefully we can help out. I’m happy to mentor, I’m happy to provide more information about anything I talked about. I’m happy to do it. So thank you again for having me.
Tracy: Thank you so much. I appreciate all your time and what you do out there for all of us women.
Sonia Lakhany: Thank you again. I appreciate it.
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