Hartford-based entrepreneur and immigration attorney Isis M. Irizarry is Founder and Managing Partner of The Law Offices of Isis M. Irizarry. She’s also one of 17 startups in the 2020 reSET Impact Accelerator cohort. Isis spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about some of her startup challenges and why she’s participating in the accelerator.
NAN PRICE: When and why did you start your own law firm?
ISIS IRIZARRY: After graduating from the University of Connecticut School of Law, I spent a few years interning and working at other law firms. I knew how I wanted to run my own firm, I knew others had taken the leap, and I had thought: I can do this. I got my LLC in August 2019.
NAN: How did you find your niche?
ISIS: I was raised by a single mother who speaks English as a second language. She left Puerto Rico shortly before I was born. It was challenging to see my mom try to navigate the world in a language that was new to her. Many times, my two sisters and I acted as her interpreter or translator.
I always felt it was inherently unfair that children should take on this role of assistant/interpreter. It’s easy to adjust the way services are provided so that role doesn’t need to be filled by a child or an interpreter, which creates a communication barrier. Providing multilingual services helps people feel more empowered and more comfortable with the service they’re receiving. In my case, the service is immigration lawyering.
NAN: How did you became aware of reSET and why did you join the accelerator?
ISIS: I had been coworking at reSET for about a month and a half when I found out about the accelerator. reSET Program Director Shane Chase explained the process to me and I applied.
I went to school to learn how to be a lawyer and I’ve been practicing law for two years. I know how to be a lawyer. But I didn’t go to business school, so I hadn’t learned how to be a business owner and I hadn’t learned how to run a business. I realized, if I truly want to provide services the way that I want to provide them, I need to make sure my business can continue to survive. I needed to learn those skills.
NAN: Do you have clients already?
ISIS: I have a good number of clients. At one point, I talked to someone at Community Economic Development Fund (CEDF) about financing and a week later I got a couple of new clients, so I realized I didn’t need additional financing.
NAN: How are you marketing and building clientele?
ISIS: Marketing is tricky, because there’s an ethical component. It’s my professional responsibility to filter everything I do with an ethical lens and if I don’t comply with these rules, I could lose my license.
NAN: Would you say that’s your biggest challenge as a startup?
ISIS: Absolutely. Ethical rules prohibit me from just walking into businesses, introducing myself, and handing out my business cards. So, it becomes a challenge to find a way around that and promote my business without risking my license. I’ve been putting ads on Facebook and Google. A lot of my marketing ends up being word of mouth.
NAN: Does working with local organizations help?
ISIS: Yes. I really enjoy giving presentations to staff at different community organizations, like the Community Renewal Team (CRT) in Hartford. I’ve also participated in legal clinics run by Make The Road CT, which is a grassroots immigrant-led organization. I’m working with another immigration lawyer to organize an Immigration 101 type of workshop, too.
NAN: Tell us about your approach and what makes your services innovative.
ISIS: The way I described it in my latest pitch breaks down into three components: Individualization to ensure each unique human being feels seen, communication to help them feel less lost in the process, and compassion to honor the struggles my clients have overcome.
To quote British-Somali poet Warsan Shire, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” If we remember people are seeking safety and they want to build a home for themselves and their families, then it’s easy to make an effort to connect with them, comfort them, and affirm their feelings. When I make those connections, it makes it easy to do the work with love.
NAN: What do you see for the future of your firm? Do you want to bring in other attorneys? Or do you want to be a solopreneur?
ISIS: That’s something I’m constantly thinking about: Do I want to build a practice I can eventually sell? Financially, it could be appealing to sell my business to another firm. But part of what is so important to me about my work is the way services are provided. So, one of the possible configurations of my long-term dream could be having other attorneys with the same vision on board with me.
I would never want to be a huge firm. Honestly, I see the business model as perfect for an attorney who wants to do good and wants to help people without spending every waking hour in the office. You have to be able to maintain some sort of work-life balance. Because if you’re spending 80 hours a week practicing law, you don’t have the bandwidth to give each client the attention they deserve.
I want to be intentional about how I’m building my business. My client load needs to be big enough to make the business sustainable, but small enough that I can achieve my mission goals in terms of what I give—and what I receive from giving.