Our second Mom Owned Profile is Sierra Butler, owner of Butler Elder Law, serving clients throughout Bradenton, Sarasota and Venice, Florida. Sierra’s career has taken her from a clerkship and big law associate position in Boston, Massachusetts back to her home state of Florida where she worked for an elder law firm and a few months after making partner, launched her own practice. Sierra’s firm focuses on Medicaid/asset protection, special needs law and estate planning and probate. Sierra is an “accidental solo” – she’d never intended to start her own firm or had an entrepreneurial bug, but once she decided to start, she embraced being a law firm owner.
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Money Quote: I feel like I will earn more at my own practice than I ever would have at my prior employment as long as I stick with it and keep setting and achieving goals. Professionally it hasn’t set me back.
What is your name?
Law School attended and year of graduation.
Vermont Law School 2005
Name, location(s) and URL of Law Firm.
Butler Elder Law, P.A.
Serving clients throughout Bradenton, Sarasota, and Venice, FL
435 12th St. W., Ste. 215, Bradenton, FL 34205
How long has your firm been in operation?
2 and a half years (May 2016)
Summarize your work experience, if any, prior to opening your firm. Both as a lawyer or prior to becoming a lawyer.
I went straight from undergrad to law school and took my first job as a Law Clerk to the Justices of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court in the fall of 2007. After a two year clerkship, I landed at a Big Law firm working as an associate in its Boston office (Foley & Lardner). Two years later I followed the partners I was working for at the firm as they opened a boutique family law firm. I left there in 2011 to move back to my home state of Florida in search of warmer weather and better work-life balance. After taking the FL bar, I worked for a small elder law firm in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, ultimately making partner but leaving 5 months after the announcement to start my on firm.
Why did you decide to start your own law firm?
I was 3 months pregnant and returning to work from my annual ski vacation when I realized I needed to make a drastic change in my trajectory. I needed to have ultimate flexibility in determining my own schedule and not feel like I was letting down my partners or my family with any decision I made. Prior to this, I never had a burning desire to hang my own shingle, and I certainly did not possess the entrepreneurial bug. My decision to open my own doors was born out of a realization that the stress I was placing on myself in my current position was going to negatively impact this little baby growing inside me. If there was ever a time to make a change, it had to be at that moment. To my surprise, I have completely embraced being a law firm owner and love that I can help clients achieve their goals while not sacrificing my own. This whole motherhood thing is amazing and I am incredibly grateful and proud of myself for taking the leap to go solo. Although it isn’t perfect, it is better that I could have ever imagined.
What practice areas does your firm concentrate on?
I have an Elder Law practice with a focus on Medicaid/asset protection, Guardianship, Estate Planning, Probate and Special Needs Law.
How large is your firm?
My firm Butler Elder Law, P.A. is just me; however, my PA is part of a PLLC, and I have two Law Partners who also practice in the same area of law. Together we are Ferrari, Butler & Moneymaker, PLLC. The beauty of this is that we can share resources bur maintain control of our individual firm finances.
Do you practice full time or part time?
How many children do you have and what ages are they? 1 son, 2 years old
Has becoming a mom influenced your decision to start or continue to operate your own law firm? If so, how?
Please see above. It is THE REASON!
What is your marital status?
If you are married, 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?
My husband is also a lawyer and works for a firm in the same town. He was my biggest supporter, encouraging me to go out on my own for the flexibility it gives our family. I never thought my practice would grow as quickly as it has. The initial concept was to have me work 60/70% of full time and handle more of the parenting/child rearing, but over the short course of a year, it is shaking out 50/50.
For example, last week when our son was sick for 4 week days, I stayed home with him 2 days, my husband stayed home with him 1 day, we hired a sitter for 1 day and then my husband took care of our son over the weekend so I could catch up on the 2 days I missed when I stayed home with him. Overall, owning my own firm has given me confidence which has translated to a deeper respect for myself. My husband consistently tells me what amazing wife and mother I am and says he is in awe of what I have accomplished for myself and our family in such a short time since opening my practice. That said, I still would like to be at 60/70 of working full time and hope to get there during 2018!
What are the pros and cons of law firm ownership from a professional standpoint?
Although I am not where I want to be financially yet, I am taking home slightly more than I was prior to going out on my own, and this does not include the fact that I am able to run several expenses like my son’s health insurance through the business with pre-tax dollars ultimately be sitting out family unit as a whole. I feel like I will earn more at my own practice than I ever would have at my prior employment as long as I stick with it and keep setting and achieving goals. Professionally it hasn’t set me back.
How open are you with colleagues and clients about your family? Do you tell them about your kids? Do you ever use child-related activities as an excuse for changing your schedule, and if so, are you open in sharing those reasons?
More open with colleagues than clients. I do tell clients if I have to juggle times due to child illness, but not to attend midday classroom party!
What was your worst or funniest child-related scheduling mishap?
Haven’t had this yet!
As a mother who owns a law firm, have you ever encountered discrimination from colleagues or judges or been taken less seriously or treated with less respect? How did you respond?
Would you recommend to other women lawyers who have children to consider starting a law firm – and what advice would you give them?
Absolutely. Believe in yourself, create a business plan, adjust as needed, and ask your village for help. I have learned to ask for help from friends and family which was extremely difficult for me for some reason. I always felt like I was “putting someone out” by asking for what I need. Learning to do this has made life so much easier!
If you can, share the name of (or if possible recipe for) one of your family’s most reliable, easy go-to recipes:
We have home chef, a meal delivery service, and with the time we save by not going to the grocery store, we are able to cook 3 meals a week at home to eat as a family.
You can find more Mom Owned Law Firm Interviews by clicking here.