By Nelson P. MillerRecent reports indicate that mothers are now the sole or primary breadwinner in 40% of American households, a long-term demographic trend that the Great Recession accelerated. Over 60% of those breadwinner moms are single parents. Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law, notes how one particular Cooley graduate, Tamsen Horton, has in a very creative way developed a means to deliver legal services to working mothers.
Breadwinning mothers face unusual time and resource challenges as they take on greater responsibility for the economic security of their households. Social norms do not necessarily change as quickly as household demographics. Working mothers must balance new financial and legal responsibilities with the rewarding but time-consuming demands of traditional child-rearing and household roles.
The multiple demands on working mothers and particularly single moms can leave those households in precarious position when challenged by common crises. The breadwinner’s short-term illness, a child’s special needs, an elderly parent’s disability, or a motor-vehicle accident or home fire threaten those households with severe disruption and even complete demise, especially when the working mother did not prepare for crisis. What can we do for these fragile homes? Who can possibly help?
Mamattorney to the Rescue
Cooley J.D. and Tax LL.M. alumna Tamsen Horton operates her burgeoning law practice Vuja De Law specifically to serve 25 to 40 year-old working mothers. Tamsen is herself a working mother, married and with a preschool child. She knows what she calls the “pain points” working mothers face trying to maintain and promote a stable and prosperous home.
Take as an example a temporary power of attorney for guardianship of a minor. Some families need such powers of attorney for school programs, family travel, and the like. Or take as another example a financial power of attorney for an elderly parent. These common legal documents can help a working mother manage a household and avert severe crises.
“How though, is my working-mom client going to consult with me to get the documents prepared and signed?” Tamsen asks. “Her job keeps her from seeing me until after work. But if she is not home at 5 p.m., then no one gets fed, and no homework gets done.”
Mamattorney’s solution? “We just arrange a Google chat from home to home. My virtual law practice solves her pain point. The documents get done, and my working-mother client has the critical household-management documents in place.” Mamattorney to the rescue.
Tamsen also calls herself a Mamapreneur. Entrepreneurial she is, following entrepreneurship’s rules that you must know your clients, create value for those clients, reach sizeable client populations, and communicate value to those clients. Tamsen knows her paradigm client mom so well that she says she even pictures her features.
Entrepreneurship involves personal and professional identity. Tamsen knows her gift for seeing paradigms and then shifting them. She connects those gifts to her law practice. The name of her law practice Vuja De is a twist on deja vu, meaning not to experience something over again but instead to take a new perspective.
Tamsen indeed finds new perspectives. In addition to her concept of pain points, her virtual practice, and her innovative use of home video-conference capabilities, she developed the concept that her working-mom clients each have a life footprint. “Carbon footprints?” Tamsen asks rhetorically, continuing, “My working-mom clients care most about their life footprints. My family law, business-planning and estate-planning services help working mothers discern, organize, enrich, and protect the multiple intersecting dimensions of their complex lives.”
Tamsen gladly shares her law practice insights with Cooley students and graduates. In fact, she developed a website and consulting service My J.D., My Terms to help students and recent graduates discern their distinct career paths, drawing on their unique personal and professional identity. She uses the same entrepreneurial principles that inform her law practice to guide students and recent graduates in their own paths.
My Kid, My Plan
True to her law firm’s name, Tamsen is always searching for the fresh paradigm to communicate new value to her clients. When she was trying to help her working-mom clients connect early estate planning with their commitment to their children, she borrowed her My J.D., My Terms concept to come up with My Kid, My Plan.
No service or identity detail is too small for Tamsen to consider or re-consider in improving her law practice. Logo design, website colors, the location of her pricing information—Tamsen thinks constantly of how her clients react as sophisticated consumers to the way in which she offers them critical law services.
For Tamsen, it is Vuja De all over again, in itself a constantly fresh paradigm.
For more information on serving emerging client populations, see the Cooley law practice books Entrepreneurial Practice: Enterprise Skills for Lawyers Serving Emerging Client Populations and Lawyers as Economic Drivers: The Business Case for Legal Services. Cooley’s four Law Practice courses in Business Development, Technology, Finance, and Management help students sharpen their entrepreneurial skills.