Building a Legal Practice | With Business Owners In Mind
Meet @glcbusinesslaw Gina Campanella Esq., FACHE. She founded her law firm in the fall of 2015 after working for some of the most reputable companies in the industry. Born in Brooklyn, New York, but raised in New Jersey, she came home to New Jersey to attend law school at Seton Hall University. Years later, she returned to Seton Hall again for a Masters in Healthcare Administration. After working in various firms for a decade, she decided to take matters into her own hands and opened her own firm. Specializing in representing small business owners and medical professionals, her boutique firm is inspired by a lifetime of experience growing up in a family that ran a small business in the health care industry.
A woman who is passionate about helping others, Campanella is constantly raising the bar by giving the utmost attention to her clientele while providing excellent services and exceeding expectations. She has never been happier with her law career and glad she took the leap of faith to start her own firm over five years ago to date. Her story is one of resilience, hard work and dedication to her craft. Here is her entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us about the beginning of your career, did you always know you would become a business owner?
I was always interested in both the legal and business paths. My sister and I are the first attorneys in our family. My father and my other sister are both physicians so that is how I ended up in that niche because growing up the family business was a healthcare business. My father owned his own medical practice. I knew I was interested in business and the reason I chose Seton Hall is because they had a very strong health/law focused program. I graduated and did a judicial clerkship from 2005 to 2006 which is typically something that attorneys who are interested in going into litigation would do.
Once I did that clerkship, I ended up working for a solo practice attorney, and then I actually worked for legal services in New Jersey. I really enjoyed the public interest elements of it. I think the one way I probably would have been happy doing litigation and Family Law litigation, would have been if I had the ability to stay with Legal Services and do it on a public interest basis.
What made you decide to leave that position?
Unfortunately, Legal Services experienced a funding crisis, so I had to leave and I took a position in a private firm. At that point, I was 28 years old, and I was working constantly. I was working six days a week, I was lucky if I had oﬀ on Sundays and barely making enough to pay my mortgage and other bills. It was not conducive to my wellbeing. I needed to reassess where I was and what I was doing to be able to be happy with my career. I got an in-house position at an Ambulatory Surgical Center, as well as the administrator and I went back to school for a master’s in healthcare administration, which is essentially along the same lines [as an MBA] but specifically with a health care business focus.
What made you decide to go after a Masters in healthcare?
I gave myself a second chance, and potentially go and do this diﬀerently. Then what happened was when I graduated, and I started applying for those C suite jobs in the hospitals, the responses I was getting were : “you are an attorney, why are you applying for this job?” everyone kept telling me I was overqualified.
I finally found a very good mentor, who was a professor of mine in my master’s program, who was an attorney, who had one of those C suite jobs in the hospital. I called him and I said, you know, if this is what’s happening to me, I don’t know what to do. Can you help me, I just need some guidance and some help. So, he said “Gina come down to the hospital and let’s have a cup of coﬀee. Bring me your resume, we’ll go over it together and we’ll chat.” When I met with him he said to me that divorce law is one of the worst fields you can practice. He urged me to try again in a diﬀerent field.
I started applying for law firm positions in transactional health care law, meaning, the business of healthcare, and I got oﬀered a position at a very good boutique firm in central New Jersey and they gave me a very good oﬀer. After doing my due diligence and speaking to people who worked there, I found out it was a wonderful place to work with a great quality of life.
I accepted that position, and the rest is history. From there it was an incredible journey. The advice I had been given by my mentor was ended up being the correct advice. I just needed to try a diﬀerent field. It turns out that being a transactional business attorney was the right field for me. After about three years with that firm, I took an in-house position much closer to home; however, I was very unhappy and I missed my client facing work so much. After about five months in that position, I decided I was ready to open my own firm.
Tell me about the first few years of this new venture as a now business owner?
I mean, it was very frightening, and I am glad I got the support I needed from the people around me to take the leap. As far as just being a business owner, and being in business for myself. That’s where I really started to look to both my parents as mentors and guides. They really had that partnership, they were in it together, which was a great example to follow. I really, took a lot of my guidance and a lot of my support in running my business from both of them.
Who do you credit to your ongoing success?
I really had a very good foundation of mentorship and support from my parents who, were the businesspeople that that came before me and my family. Thank goodness for that, because the first year, I had taken such a break between leaving my firm, and then going in house and then deciding I was going to open my own firm, that I didn’t really have many clients that were going to come with me, because they were all now working with somebody else at my old firm. So, I really started very much from scratch and had to make sure I had a certain number of months saved up because I had to build up the client base again.
What do you believe is your biggest asset in your firm?
Being able to help my clients not only with their legal issues, but also to be a business advisor as well. I didn’t have the business recipe the day I opened my doors, which was the most stressful thing in year one. Bit it also helps me now because when I’m working with my clients who are new business owners and I think there’s value that my clients know that not only are they’re going to get an attorney with me, but they’re also kind of going to get a business mentor, and they’re going to get somebody that gives them business advice, not only because of my degree, but also because I’ve been in their shoes. When I was at the bigger firm, a lot of the time we had small businesses or solo medical practices calling us for help. We were just too expensive for them. As an Associate Attorney, I had no authority to waive the bill or agree to charge less or anything like that. So, I really like that I have the freedom now to adjust for people, so I can be accessible to them.
What was one of my biggest passions for my practice, was to really remain in control, and remain in that sweet spot where I can keep helping other small businesses such as myself. One of the things I absolutely love is when it’s somebody who’s thinking of starting a business or has just started a business calls me and finds out they can aﬀord a lawyer. That I am willing to work with them as far as what they can pay, and I oﬀer them flexible payment options, a menu of diﬀerent accessibility that they can pick from, and I am willing to work with them based on their budget. If I can keep doing that, I think that I’m always going to feel like my firm achieved its mission and I am achieving the success that I wanted to achieve for myself.
What does success represent to you?
Success, to me is the ability to help people. At the end of the day, we all work to make money, pay our bills, and most importantly build our dreams. There is a fair price for my services, but I believe there is a way to balance not undervaluing yourself and making sure people who really need your help and your expertise have access to your services. People ask me all the time if I’m selling my self short and the truth is no, I’m not.
I can confidently say I have never had a client, take advantage of me, or feel that they are not getting value for their dollar. I do feel that you must find your sweet spot. There is an amazing benefit to operating this way being that you keep your clients for life. I have clients I consider as friends and family. That’s really what it is, it means everything to me, and I would rather have a client with whom I work out a payment plan the first year or two while they get back on their feet and then I can celebrate all there success five or ten years down the line than just write them oﬀ completely because of their financial status. I’m all about building the client relationship for life.
Where do you see your firm in the next five to ten years?
The business model of my firm is that I do not have employed associate attorneys. The model is purely such that the other attorneys I work with is “of counsel” which allows me to be more flexible with my clients and ultimately help more people. I have a roster of about nine attorneys who are of counsel to my oﬃce who provide services that I don’t provide, which is an incredible asset to my clients.
What advice would you give yourself looking back at your journey?
I do think opening your own business is a decision that takes a lot of courage. I think everything happened at the perfect time. At the end of the day, I’m very happy and grateful that I had to go through everything I had to go through. I believe made me the businesswoman I am today. I don’t know if I’d be sitting here talking to you about my business if I had gotten an amazing job right out of law school that I loved, I would probably be a partner somewhere and be a slave to the bills. I’m grateful for every twist and turn along the way, because I don’t think I would have ended up here without them.
What advice would you give to a young student just fresh out of law school?
Find a mentor. Find someone who’s already been out there 10 or 15 years, just that you can talk to about their experiences. Furthermore, don’t let fear of ruining other people’s expectations of what you should be doing control you and make your own choices. I think that’s something that I see a lot of young attorneys falling into; they’re making choices based on the expectations that other people have about what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their degrees and what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their careers. Find your way, and follow your own path.
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