Welcome to MyShingle’s series celebrating Woman-Owned and Mom-Owned Law Firms. This profile features Frances Shefter, an education law attorney in Rockville, Maryland.
What is your name?
Law School attended and year of graduation.
Stetson University College of Law, 2005
Name, location(s) and URL of Law Firm.
Shefter Law, PA
110 N. Washington Street, Suite 350
Rockville, MD 20850
Summarize your work experience, if any, prior to opening your firm. Both as a lawyer or prior to becoming a lawyer.
I started my education with an undergraduate degree in early childhood education from Towson University. After a few years of teaching regular education, I obtained a master’s degree in special education from Florida International University. After seven years in the classroom, teaching general and special education, I moved to an administrative teaching position as the Special Education Coordinator. Two years later, I decided I was not making as much of a difference in children’s lives as I wanted. I decided that law school was the answer. Shortly after graduating from Stetson University College of Law with a Certificate of Concentration in Advocacy, I opened the firm, Shefter Law, PA, in Rockville, MD, where I help families have a Stress-Free IEP™ experience. The firm’s main area of practice is special education law in Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Since opening her firm, Ms. Shefter has assisted families with all steps in the IEP and 504 process. She prides herself in reviewing all of a child’s school records in order to assist families in choosing the right path for their child. Ms. Shefter then helps guide the family through each step of the process. She has assisted families in obtaining eligibility for services, non-public placements, 504 plans and assuring that the IEP goals are appropriate.
Taking Ms. Shefter out of the classroom did not remove her passion for teaching. She hates when schools take advantage of family’s lack of knowledge of the laws and procedures of the special education process. She has dozens of short videos on her YouTube channel that explain different parts of the IEP process, IEP parts, 504 plans and other parental rights. Additionally, she sends out newsletters with more information on each topic. Check out her website at shefterlaw.com to sign up for her newsletter and a link to subscribe to her YouTube channel.
When did you start your firm?
Why did you decide to start your own law firm?
Honestly, because I was a contract attorney in Washington, DC and I could not find another job that fit. I knew I wanted to practice education law to combine all of my education and knowledge but could not find a firm that fit with my core values and was hiring.
What was the reaction you received from family, friends, colleagues, law school classmates, judges, etc…when you announced your decision to launch?
My husband, Seth, said go for it. He was so supportive and encouraging. I don’t remember telling everyone else before I did it. I was on the DC Superior Court CCAN panel as an Education Attorney, and everyone knew about that. But I was originally working as a contract attorney when I got appointed to the panel. When I quit contracting and started focusing on my firm only, I just did it and did not really tell anyone other than Seth.
What practice areas does your firm concentrate on?
My firm solely practices Education Law.
What size is your firm?
1 attorney, 1 part-time advocate, 1 administrative assistant and 1 social media assistant.
Do you practice full-time or part-time?
What makes your law firm unique and different from any other law firm in the world?
My education background and ability to relate to everyone at an IEP table. My education and work experience gives me the unique ability to be able to act as an attorney and an advocate at all meetings. I am also the only person at an IEP table that can honestly say she has been in almost every seat at more than one meeting. During my teaching career I participated in IEP meetings as a regular education teacher, a special education teacher and as the LEA representative. I have also attended IEP meetings as an attorney and as a mom. This brings an extra level of experience to the table because I can truly relate to how her clients are feeling throughout the process.
How many children do you have and what ages are they?
Chana is 8 and Esther is almost 5
Has becoming a mom influenced your decision to start or continue to operate your own law firm? If so, how?
Shortly after Seth and I got married, we started fertility treatment. It was cool focusing on both growing my new firm and working on getting pregnant. Having Chana, and then Esther, reinforced my feeling that opening my firm was the right decision. I have the flexibility to be a mom and attend school functions during the day while being a role model for my children. I remember growing up thinking I couldn’t be a good mom and work full time. Well, I now proved myself wrong. I can be an awesome mom, a full-time lawyer, AND run my own law firm.
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?
Seth has been my number 1 supporter. We split family obligations with cooking, caring for children, and running the household. We outsource a lot because he works full time also. But, we are both equals in the home. There is no “man’s” work or “woman’s” work. Well, except maybe killing bugs. That’s his job.
I have blocked off family time almost every night and most weekends. My phone gets put away and no work is done unless it is a deemed workday, which is only about once a month. Quantity and quality family time is important to both of us. We waited a long time to have children and went through a very lot. We want to enjoy them while they are still willing to hang out with us.
What are the pros and cons of law firm ownership as a mom with respect to attaining work-life balance?
Pros: make my own schedule, good role model for my children, available to attend school events if enough notice is given
Cons: Not able to just take time or a day off when child is sick or needs something at school; sometimes have to work evenings or weekends; sometimes cannot attend school events when advance notice is not given
What are the pros and cons of law firm ownership from a professional standpoint?
Pros: choose my clients; decide how to manage cases; get to do things my way; manage my own calendar
Cons: worry about where the next client is coming from; not having a steady paycheck; no vacation or sick leave
In your opinion, has the pandemic changed your colleagues’ attitudes towards parents – particularly moms – in the workforce?
Not really. The only thing that comes to mind is maybe that we can handle even more, ie working from home with children attending virtual school next to us.
Please share a parenting mishap or embarrassing kid moment that another parent who practices can relate to.
When I was in virtual court one day, my then 3-year-old literally climbed on my head. Thankfully it was just a status hearing and everyone just said hi to her.
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
At an IEP meeting I had a male principal try to talk down to me and say that I didn’t understand running a school. He was literally standing over me in an authoritative manner. I remained seated and calmly explained all my degrees and experience. His draw dropped and he said, “So, basically, you can do my job and your job.” I said, “Yep!” He sat down and the meeting continued. I got the student everything my client wanted.
In your view, what role does law firm ownership by mom lawyers play in advancing gender equality in the legal profession?
It proves to us that we can have it all. Men are still going to be the same and some will treat us unequally. But we will prevail. I actually love when someone underestimates me or asks me who I work for in a condescending way. It is fun putting them back in their place in a sweet manner. I also love the support and love we have for each other just because we are fellow mom’s, lawyers and law firm owners.
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.
One day at a time. Do not be afraid to ask for support. Reach out to fellow mom, lawyer, law firm owners and get advice. You can have it all; just take the first step and don’t look back!!