Last June, New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) released Ethics Opinion 1062 , the first ruling of its kind by any bar association or regulatory body to provide guidance on use of crowdfunding to launch a law firm. The Opinion was issued in response to this request by Stephanie Lynn Ramos and Miriam Lacroix, who at the time had just graduated law school and were looking for a way to fund a practice – initially conceived of as a non-profit – that would provide quality services to immigrants in need of competent legal representation. We at MyShingle reached out to Ramos and Lacroix to profile them as Shingular Sensations because by seeking an ethics ruling on an alternative approach to fund a law practice, they helped to advance the body of ethics law for all lawyers with dreams of starting a law firm. Thank you, Stephanie and Miriam!
Welcome to MyShingle! Please tell our readers about your law firm.
Lacroix Ramos is comprised of two young attorneys — Stephanie Lynn Ramos, Esq and Miriam D. Lacroix, Esq. — with a passion for public service, social justice and immigrant rights. We formed this practice to provide services to immigrants who need and deserve competent legal representation.
Our practice provides a variety of immigration services including: removal defense, family-based petitions, and various types of humanitarian relief. We also plan on expanding to provide services such as business contracts for immigrant entrepreneurs, real estate transactions and estate planning. We have been open since September 1, 2015 and are located at 33 Crane Ave. White Plains, NY 10603 . Currently, we serve clients from Westchester and Fairfield counties, but we have served clients in New York City as well. We are conveniently located so that clients from each of these locations can get to us. For the convenience of our clients, we have also met with them at their homes or other places close to them. Ultimately, our goal is to improve the lives of immigrants by providing high quality, accessible legal services tailored to the immigrant experience.
Why did you choose immigration law as a primary practice area?
When we were in law school, we were both very involved in our law school’s immigration clinic, where we learned to love the complexities of immigration law and the positive affects we could have on an individual’s life. Immigrants are one of the most vulnerable populations and often distrusting of government and other authority figures based on their past experiences. We want to change the way in which the immigrant populations view lawyers and the law in general. We love practicing immigration law because we see our clients as much more than just immigrants. They are entrepreneurs, parents, students and more. They are hardworking and want to be full, equal and contributing members of US society. We enjoy helping them with that.
We do this because there is no better feeling than to reunite a husband with his wife and his children, telling your client that she does not have to return to a country in which she felt unsafe and unprotected, and helping a young man get citizenship just in time to vote during the election year.
When and why did you decide to open your own law firm?
Our practice was created a little over a year after we graduated from law school. Although we did not open our law firm immediately after we graduated, we knew in our third year that this was something that we were going to do. We both were chosen for fellowships right out of law school, which have been invaluable in our learning experience. Our fellowships have allowed us to learn substantive law, fully practice under the supervision of experienced immigration lawyers, as well as build our networks all before going into our own practice.
We decided to open our own law firm because we did not see a job out there that would allow us to make a difference in the immigrant community in the way we wanted. We decided that we would make a difference by opening our own firm and serving this community in a way that no other firm was. We also wanted the flexibility and free reign to take the cases we wanted to take on
How did come up with the idea of using crowdfunding to raise money to get your firm up and running?
Initially, we wanted to begin a non-profit law firm to provide these services. However, as we further researched the legal and funding requirements we realized that forming a non-profit organization was not viable because funding for ongoing immigrant legal assistance is extremely limited and the structure of non-profit organizations is too cumbersome. The funding that is available would limit the types of clients and cases to which the firm could provide services. Additionally, that funding is highly competitive and already being utilized by very amazing organizations doing great work for the immigrant community.
We realized that in order to expand the amount of competent accessible legal services to immigrants, we would have to start a for-profit law firm, but one that had a non-profit spirit of community, justice, advocacy and accessibility. We wanted to be affordable and fair because we valued our clients more than our profits. However, starting a law firm is very expensive from the very beginning (i.e creating your corporate structure, equipment, technology, etc.). At this point, we came up with the idea of starting a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to build a strong foundation upon which to launch our practice and help as many people as possible.
As I understand, you requested an opinion from the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) about the ethics of using crowdfunding to support private law firm. What were the mechanics involved in making that request? Did you simply submit a written request? Or did you also present research and arguments in support of your desired outcome?
Yes, the process for requesting an opinion from NYSBA was fairly straightforward. We submitted a written request (see here via email to the NYSBA Committee on Professional Ethics with our ethical question about the propriety of crowdfunding to fund raise for a start-up law firm. We included research about different models of crowdfunding and their benefits and discussed the model we intended to use and our plan.
How long did it take for the NYSBA to act on your request once it was submitted?
It took about 3 months. We submitted the request in early April 2015 and received a response in July 2015.
Did you actually run a crowdfunding campaign? What platform did you choose to run it on and what were the results?
Yes, we ran a crowdfunding campaign for about five months via Fundrazr, which was great. In those five months, we only raised about 6% of our $10,000 goal, but this was still a major success for us. What we raised went into providing resources for a firm that now, almost a year later, has helped immigrants win asylum, avoid deportation, petition for their family members, obtain lawful permanent residence, and open their own business.
Would you recommend crowdfunding to other lawyers starting a firm as a way to generate capital?
Totally. To be honest, running a crowdfunding campaign was very difficult for us. Your success depends on the time you can put into marketing yourself and your campaign. Being that we were a new firm, most of our time went into managing the business side, obtaining clients, and completing legal work. Learning how to accomplish these things were so time consuming that it did not leave much time to focus on crowdfunding. Unfortunately, in the end we decided to focus on building our practice and abandoned the campaign.
This is not to say that crowdfunding does not work. We would have never started it if we thought it couldn’t work. We may not have been ready for it. We would definitely recommend this to new firms as a way to generate capital as long as they take into account the time and energy it would take to make it successful and create a plan to market it ahead of time.