David Pisarra, Esq.'s law firm currently is based in Santa Monica, CA. However they handle child custody cases in 5 southern Californian counties. His practice is dedicated to empowering men since the founding in 2008. He is also a local writer whose weekly column, What's the Point? appears in the Santa Monica Daily Press.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
We represent men, primarily Fathers, in the trench warfare that is Family Court. Historically men have been underrepresented in divorce and custody proceedings and this plays itself out in a myriad of ways. The most common is the bias of the court when a divorce involves children and which women are usually granted custody based on nothing more than gender. Men also tend to react to litigation differently than women and we feel it's important for them to have a strong advocate helping them see the forest through the trees. We aren't about bashing women but focus more on empowering men.
When did you start the business?
I founded my law practice, Pisarra and Grist, in 1999 and formed Men's Family Law in 2008.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
While Family Law has been my main focus I've also been an entrepreneur in other areas. From the time I was 12 and mowing lawns, to working my way through law school where I was doing small business turnarounds and then on to a couple of healthcare related companies I've always been drawn towards turning a vision into a reality.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
It takes a great deal of emotional wall to be able to handle the ups and downs of being your own boss. While the idea of not having to answer to anyone seems attractive on the surface the reality is that you do have to answer to someone…yourself.
Start-up entrepreneurs are typically responsible for each phase of their business, from financing and marketing to taking out the trash and it's not something you can just phone in. Hiring the right people and learning to delegate is key but at the end of the day it's still your name on the shingle. The reality is that either due to time or family constraints, or just underdeveloped business skills, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. So it's important to be brutally honest with yourself before diving in to what is a very competitive pool.
How did you come up with your business idea?
This particular model of law practice has evolved over the years. In analyzing our business we realized that the best clients we had were men and that the marketing message needed to be tailored to be more effective. Marketing is an art and for it to pay dividends the message needs to be presented with laser-like clarity. By clarifying our niche, and making it about a very specific group that has particular needs, we were able to focus our efforts and grow that market.
What is the biggest hurdle you've had to overcome?
Discipline. If you don't have the self-discipline to approach your work with energy and commitment you can easily become distracted. And as your own boss this can lead to missing opportunities and not growing your business as consistently as it needs. Having the freedom of being your own boss is very seductive at first but it's a temptation that must be guarded against. It's all about focus.
How do you confront the emotional issues surrounding your business?
Family Law can be an emotional powder keg. And when I'm involved deeply in my client's cases it's very important for me to try and separate my life from me job. I remind myself that I'm in a paid relationship and my client's life choices are theirs to make and own. Keeping some distance from my clients emotional ups and down, and the battles that are fought between divorcing couples, allows me to be most effective in the arena where I have the most impact, the courtroom.
This greater level of distance has led me to become a much more effective attorney while also allowing me to shut off my work at the end of the day and be happier in my own life. I think that's a valuable lesson for most any entrepreneur. As hard as it is sometimes do your best to not bring your work home. You'll be more effective as both an business owner and a person.
For anyone opening a business do you suggest concentrating on a specific niche?
I think that finding a niche or a need and filling it is the number one factor in a successful entrepreneurial enterprise. A rule of thumb I like to follow is go deep, not wide. It's a much stronger marketing model and gives you an opportunity to explore the differentiation that is so important to success.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
As a young attorney I think I was more focused on being all things to all people. Now, I understand the importance of separating yourself from the pack by providing a concentrated service. But I'm not sure if I would have come to this conclusion if not for the experience of trying to find my own voice. Like the old saying goes, "It's never too late to turn back if you're going down the wrong road." And for me, going down some wrong roads was what it took for me to find the right one. Sometimes you don't know what works best until you've experienced what doesn't.
Thanks again David, we're sure your advice will offer plenty of help to our readers.