Welcome to MyShingle’s series celebrating Woman-Owned and Mom-Owned Law Firms. This profile features Jessica Markham, a family law attorney in Bethesda, Maryland.
What is your name?
Law School attended and year of graduation.
University of Miami, 2005
Name, location(s) and URL of Law Firm.
Markham Law Firm
Summarize your work experience, if any, prior to opening your firm. Both as a lawyer or prior to becoming a lawyer.
I went straight through from college to law school to being an associate at a small family law firm in Bethesda. I spent 10 years there before I decided that I wanted to be my own boss, and I was ready for the challenge and adventure of starting my own firm.
When did you start your firm?
Why did you decide to start your own law firm?
I felt I needed more help in my cases, and felt that I wanted to control who I had to help me, and I wanted more control over procedures. I wanted to be able to be creative about business, including marketing. I wanted to be able to grow professionally and creatively and as a business person, and couldn’t do that where I was.
What was the reaction you received from family, friends, colleagues, law school classmates, judges, etc…when you announced your decision to launch?
Family was worried I wouldn’t have enough business. Not my husband, he was not worried. Colleagues were all supportive of me. Several people assumed I was doing it to have more time with my kids, which was not a factor for me.
What practice areas does your firm concentrate on?
What size is your firm?
Typically 8 attorneys, one more starting in September. About 5 supporting staff.
Do you practice full time or part time?
What makes your law firm unique and different from any other law firm in the world?
We emphasize work-life balance, diversity/equity, and inclusion, volunteering in the legal and local community, we have a reasonable billable requirement, and a team-based environment.
How many children do you have and what ages are they?
2 children, ages 5 and 8.
Has becoming a mom influenced your decision to start or continue to operate your own law firm? If so, how?
Yes, it has. My children assume that owning a business is a likely outcome for them in the future. My daughter in particular is very proud of me. I also think once you own your own business, it is very hard to go back to working for someone else.
If you are married/living in a committed relationship with a partner, what role has your spouse played with respect to your practice and mutual family obligations and conversely, what impact has owning your firm had on your marriage and role as a mom?
I am married and my husband’s support has been integral in starting my firm. He has helped wire the internet, work on the IT (which is his field, so that is very useful). Even if he wasn’t so hands on, his moral support has been invaluable. I think owning the business has made me more fulfilled in my life which has a positive influence on my marriage and role as a mom.
If you are a single parent, have you faced any unique challenges in running your own practice and raising a family and if so, please describe what they are?
What are the pros and cons of law firm ownership as a mom with respect to attaining work-life balance?
The pro is that you have control over your time in that you’re the boss and can always hire help or delegate. The cons are that often crap flows up to you, as you’re backstopping the business. No one will be more invested than you in it.
What are the pros and cons of law firm ownership from a professional standpoint?
Having your name on the door implies legitimacy to potential clients. And other law firm owners will refer to you out of respect for what you are doing.
In your opinion, has the pandemic changed your colleagues’ attitudes towards parents – particularly moms – in the workforce?
I think there is more of an assumption that we are all working and parenting at the same time.
Please share a parenting mishap or embarrassing kid moment that another parent who practices can relate to
I recall I once took my breast pump to another firm for a mediation and had the milk cooler in their freezer. Someone assumed I had packed a lunch and I corrected him in front of the whole lunchroom. It was funny more than anything.
Please share a story about an opponent or colleague who grossly underestimated you (whether due to youth, limited experience or just being a woman or parent) or an awesome victory that you achieved
I think many people underestimated my firm when it started out because I started it by myself, and they have been surprised to see the growth from 1 to almost 9 lawyers in 7 years. I assume this was due to my age of 34 when I started out.
In your view, what role does law firm ownership by mom lawyers play in advancing gender equality in the legal profession?
Women need to see other women in positions of leadership and to model what they can do. Also, women I think tend to seek out mentors and advice from other women.
Let’s pay it forward – share your best advice or most powerful lesson learned with other woman mom lawyers who may be thinking about starting a firm or have started a firm but are going through a rough patch.
Seek advice from other women who have done it. Pose your problems to them and see what they suggest. Businesses all experience the same problems, from getting clients, retention of employees to management. Someone has experienced this before you, don’t reinvent the wheel.