Here is another addition to MyShingle’s series celebrating Woman-Owned and Mom-Owned Law Firms. This profile features Sarah F. Horowitz, an estate planning and adoption attorney in Silver Spring, Maryland.
What is your name?
Sarah F. Horowitz
Law School attended and year of graduation.
University of Baltimore 2010
Name, location(s) and URL of Law Firm.
The Law Office of Sarah F. Horowitz, LLC
Summarize your work experience, if any, prior to opening your firm. Both as a lawyer or prior to becoming a lawyer.
After graduating from law school, I served as a law clerk for a Judge in the Howard County Circuit Court. After completing the clerkship, I was hired by the FDA – first to do tobacco regulation compliance, and then with the office of legislation, advising the FDA commissioner on legislative endeavors, and preparing FDA staff for hearings before Congress. I had no experience with the substantive areas in which I currently practice, estate planning and adoption, prior to starting my own firm.
When did you start your firm?
Why did you decide to start your own law firm?
I was drawn to starting my career with the Federal Government because I thought it would provide a better work life balance as compared to the private sector. However, while I found the work to be interesting, I found that I did not have the work life balance that I was seeking, especially after having my third child. Even though I eventually switched to working for the FDA part time, there were still school performances I had to miss, and it felt like I was running a marathon every night after work between picking up the kids from school and daycare, getting dinner on the table, despite the fact that I had a spouse who equally shared all of these tasks with me. I also felt guilty about taking time for myself to do basic things like eating meals and exercising. I started to read about other lawyer moms who had quit their jobs to become estate planning attorneys, and after doing some research and calculations, and speaking to a few inspirational women who had taken a similar path, I drafted a business plan where I would be able make my current government salary by working even fewer hours at my own practice. When I first left the government to start my own law firm, I tried to minimize my childcare to save money, and figured that even if no client ever hired me, I could still have a website and a business card to give out to new acquaintances at school events to maintain a professional persona. I never dreamed that I’d exceed my government salary in the first year at my own firm, and am now making several multiples that amount, while being able to exercise during the day, volunteer at my kid’s schools, and take as much vacation time as I want without any guilt.
What was the reaction you received from family, friends, colleagues, law school classmates, judges, etc…when you announced your decision to launch?
Many people in my life were excited for me and encouraging of my decision, but others were not as supportive. One female attorney who I saw as a mentor tried to tell me over lunch that it was a horrible idea to try to start my own firm without any experience, and that I definitely needed to work for a firm for a few years beforehand. The judge for whom I had clerked, who is one of the nicest individuals I have ever come across, told me that he thought I was too nice to charge enough money and that I’d end up giving too much legal advice away for free, and he also had concerns for my safety when my initial plan was to meet with my clients in their home.
What practice areas does your firm concentrate on?
Estate Planning and Adoption
What size is your firm?
Other than myself, I have a virtual assistant, an attorney that I contract with to oversee the signing of the estate plans, and then a slew of other contract paralegals, interns, and other professionals (accountants, etc) whose expertise I use on an ongoing basis.
Do you practice full time or part time?
What makes your law firm unique and different from any other law firm in the world?
I’m wondering if I’m the only mom of 4 kids to have a combination estate planning and adoption practice. I’ve also never gone to court in person – the first court appearance of my law practice was during covid where I represented my adoption clients on zoom. I also work to live, not live to work – I try to minimize the number of hours that I work each week so that I can work the bare minimum to get by so that I can maximize my down time, self care time, parenting time, spouse time, friend time, and volunteer time.
How many children do you have and what ages are they?
I have four children between the ages of 9 and 2.
Has becoming a mom influenced your decision to start or continue to operate your own law firm? If so, how?
Becoming a mom was the impetus for starting my law practice. I used to think of myself as a very risk averse person, and without the need for radical flexibility in my life because of my desire to be an all in mom, I never would have had the guts to go out on my own.
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 has been extremely supportive of my practice. He started his own business a few years before I started my practice, and I have adopted a lot of the start-up business principles in my law firm that he used to found his tech start-up. Having my own practice has enabled me to increase my earnings to the extent that my spouse and I are both equal contributors to our family’s finances – something that would not have been possible had I continued to work for the government. Being equal earners also creates more equality in our home because since we both need to work equally to support our household, we also see our roles in our home as equals. For instance, I take the kids to all of their doctor appointments and he takes the kids to all of their dentist appointments. Owning my own law firm and building a successful practice from nothing has made me feel more confident in all other aspects of my life, and has had a positive impact on my relationship and my role as a mom.
What are the pros and cons of law firm ownership as a mom with respect to attaining work-life balance?
I think the most empowering part of being a law firm owner is that I do not have to ask a supervisor for permission to take vacation, come to work early or late, or prioritize other interests, such as exercise or volunteering. I’m able to take off any days that my children are off of school without stress. If there’s a snow day or a sick kid, I can be home with my kids, and can always move clients around. I think the major drawback is that I can’t ever totally leave my law firm unattended in the same way I could really sign off from my government work. If I really set an intention to completely shut off everything for a limited amount of time I’m sure I could make it work, but I’ve found that it is less stressful for me to stay on top of my e-mail while on vacation than it is to completely ignore it. It was nice in my government job to be able to go on vacation and know that someone else would take care of everything at work in my absence. I think the trade off is worth it because I am able to take much more vacation now that I used to, even if that means having to check my work email from vacation.
What are the pros and cons of law firm ownership from a professional standpoint?
I’ve been able to grow immensely from a professional standpoint because I’ve been able to learn and practice new areas of law, and master how to manage a business. On the other hand,, it can be challenging to work alone, both socially and professionally, but I’ve been able to compensate for that by creating a professional community for myself through other lawyer moms, mentors, mentees, the bar association, other professional networking groups, and my community volunteer work.
In your opinion, has the pandemic changed your colleagues’ attitudes towards parents – particularly moms – in the workforce?
I think that the pandemic has made working virtually much more accepted. Prior to the pandemic I used to feel slightly unprofessional about working from home and not having an office, but now that working from home is the norm, I think having a remote/virtual practice is much more accepted.
Please share a parenting mishap or embarrassing kid moment that another parent who practices can relate to
When my 5 year old found my notary stamp and decided to notarize himself all over his body.
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 am constantly asked by other attorneys if I would like to join their law firms. I know that they are probably just asking me because they think I would be an asset to their firm, but I also feel that by asking me they are underestimating the success of my law practice. I think the attorneys that inquire are usually a little taken aback when I politely decline, mentioning that they wouldn’t be able to afford me and that they wouldn’t be able to deal with my crazy schedule.
In your view, what role does law firm ownership by mom lawyers play in advancing gender equality in the legal profession?
For so long I think that women felt that they needed to “be like men” in order to fit in in the legal profession (learning to talk about sports, smoking cigars, etc) and bring in business for a law firm. I’ve had a tremendous amount of success with what I like to call “the mom network” which I think is equally as valuable, if not more valuable, since women are the ones who very often, at least stereotypically, make spending decisions for their households. In the same way that women have struggled to gain access to the cigar room, men are equally excluded from “the mom network.” I think instead of trying to be someone else, we should just celebrate who we are and attract business in different ways. For me that means that a playgroup with my kids or volunteering on a school committee is just as valuable for my business as taking clients out to an expensive meal or a sporting event. I am meeting my clients where they are, and I think my clients feel like they can relate to me and want to hire someone they feel they can trust.
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.
If you are waiting until you are “ready” to start your own law practice, that day may never come. In fact, there will probably never be a time when you feel fully ready to make this huge leap in your life/career. But if your heart is telling you to try it, I suggest you go for it. Taking the leap was the scariest part of the process, but after that, everything else has been doable, thanks largely in part to other mom lawyers who have paved the way. You have been successful in your life so far with getting through law school and achieving professional success – there is no reason that you too can’t be successful at starting your own law practice if that is what you want. I really believe that being a business owner is the only way to have it all with regard to professional and financial achievement and work-life balance.