Welcome to MyShingle’s continuing series celebrating Woman-Owned and Mom-Owned Law Firms. This profile features Genie Doi who owns an immigration practice is Southern California
What is your name?
Law School and year of graduation.
Loyola Law School, Class of 2014
Name, location(s) and URL of Law Firm.
Avocet Law based in Southern California.
Summarize your work experience, if any, prior to opening your firm. Both as a lawyer or prior to becoming a lawyer.
I have been working in immigration law since law school—I would work during the day as a paralegal and take classes at night. Once I got my license, I worked as an immigration attorney at boutique firms until I got completely burnt out and jaded with the practice of law—I decided to pivot and work in house at a tech startup instead. After 2 years in the tech space, I felt it was time for me to get back in the game and start my own law practice; President Trump had just gotten elected and so I felt that immigration law was under attack. I felt I had a lot to offer the public based on my immigration law experience and worldview. I also needed more flexibility as I had a 9-month-old at home and the only job that could offer that was being self-employed!
When did you start your firm?
Why did you decide to start your own law firm?
After having a baby, working in a traditional 9am-5pm was just not sustainable. I would wake up at 6am, leave for work at 7am, drive an hour to work, get off work at 5pm, drive an hour back home, and barely make it in time for daycare pickup at 6pm. Then I’d come home, eat, and then get my child ready for bed. I’d spend 1-2 waking hours a day with my baby aside from weekends. It was not the kind of life I wanted for myself or for my child. I had also depleted most of my vacation days to stay at home and care for the baby when he got sick. I thought: what kind of job will let me work flexible hours, be understanding about raising small children, offer unlimited vacation days and also pay enough to take care of the bills and build savings? Such a job did not exist! So, I had to create one.
What was the reaction you received from family, friends, colleagues, law school classmates, judges, etc…when you announced your decision to launch?
Everyone was very supportive, enthusiastic, and optimistic—they knew my capabilities. But they also thought I was crazy to hang my own shingle with only 3 years of law practice under my belt plus a 9-month-old baby.
What practice areas does your firm concentrate on?
Exclusively business and family immigration.
What size is your firm?
4 staff including myself.
Do you practice full time or part time?
How many children do you have and what ages are they?
I have a 5-year-old and am 6 months pregnant!
Has becoming a mom influenced your decision to start or continue to operate your own law firm? If so, how?
I don’t think I would have had the courage or drive to start my own firm if I hadn’t been a mother. Now that there is another mouth to feed and another heart to inspire, I am so much more accountable to grow the business, uphold an ethical business, and maintain healthy boundaries with work and clients. Now with a second child on the way, I can’t imagine working a “traditional” job or working for anyone 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?
My spouse was fully supportive of me hanging my own shingle. Because his work is less flexible, it made sense for at least one of us to have a job that allowed our family to roll with the punches when they came. He is my number one cheerleader. Owning my firm has been incredibly empowering and given me more confidence that (A) I married the right man and (B) I’m a good mom.
What are the pros and cons of law firm ownership as a mom with respect to attaining work-life balance?
The best part about law firm ownership is that you can better control work-life balance; you can adjust your schedule and workload as needed to prioritize family obligations. The hardest part about law firm ownership is that as the (sole) owner in my case, there are no real vacations—it’s not possible for me to completely disconnect for an entire week since I have to supervise my non-lawyer staff. That being said, my coworkers are incredibly intelligent, independent, and 100% trustworthy so I don’t have to supervise too closely.
What are the pros and cons of law firm ownership from a professional standpoint?
As a solo practitioner, you’re siloed within your own law firm and practice, it’s harder to find professional challenges or inspiration. It’s not impossible, but pursuing a new type of matter outside of your comfort zone is more difficult because you work alone. That being said, the sky is also the limit when you are a solo practitioner—if you want to change your practice area completely—no one can stop you.
In your opinion, has the pandemic changed your colleagues’ attitudes towards parents – particularly moms – in the workforce?
The majority of my colleagues are fellow working parents and moms; with the stresses of working from home while providing childcare, I feel that colleagues are more open and willing to talk about their families. I also think those without children are more understanding of last minute changes to schedules or deliverables given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.
Please share a parenting mishap or embarrassing kid moment that another parent who practices can relate to.
My 5-year-old knows I’m a lawyer that “helps people get to America.” One day I couldn’t help him get ready for school because I had a hearing; after school he asked me how the hearing went, and I said “I won!” He didn’t quite understand so I explained that I exchanged words with someone to get the result that I wanted. The next day, he proudly proclaimed to his teachers at school that I got into a fight and won a word battle with an officer.
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.
There were a few haters who urged me to get a few more years of experience under my belt, take more “traditional” steps or take less risks before going out on my own. I might have considered that advice had it been given in good faith, but they seemed more like scare tactics or discouragement rather than advice given with the intent of actually helping me. I’m glad to say I didn’t listen and my current success and growing business is a testament to being confident in your own abilities.
In your view, what role does law firm ownership by mom lawyers play in advancing gender equality in the legal profession?
Gender equity in the legal profession means providing people with the resources they need to thrive; some people need more, some people need less. Moms need more. We need paid maternity leave, competitive compensation, flexible work from home and time off policies, and empathetic professional support. The best employer to provide those resources is someone who has experienced those challenges—a fellow mom.
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.
Don’t shy away from seeking help; whether it’s help with marketing, breastfeeding, legal analysis, mental health, grocery shopping, or fashion choices—there is always someone willing and happy to help. There is no way one person can go through business ownership or motherhood alone.