I was having one of those days in which I was compulsively checking my email every 20-30 seconds. A few days before, I had launched my trademark law firm’s Web site. I was anxiously waiting to see if anyone would submit a contact form, let alone hire me to file a trademark.
And then it happened. An email popped up in my inbox with the subject line “Gerben Law Firm Contact Form Submission.”
It was the summer of 2008, at the height of one of the biggest recessions in history—a time when no one should have considered voluntarily leaving a secure job, let alone starting a business, but I was ready to go. It had always been my goal to own my own firm, and, then, only two years removed from law school and working at a law firm where I had no clear path for growth, I knew it was time to make my move. That entire summer, I spent nights and weekends working on building a Web site for my law firm. And, finally, it was showtime.
it had always been my goal to own my own firm… working at a law firm where I had no clear path for growth, I knew it was time to make my move.
Upon getting that first inquiry, I had a problem- I could not call the potential client while in my office. If someone overheard me trying to get my side hustle off the ground I would surely be fired, I reasoned. So, I grabbed my phone, took the elevator ride down from my office, and ran across the street to a garage where I had parked for the day. I jumped in my car, slammed the door shut, and the world fell silent. It was just me, sitting in my silver Honda Accord, engine off, in a parking garage. The next thought I had was “crap, what do I even say when I call this person back?” The details of that first phone call are a blur. The only thing I remember is walking out of the parking garage with my heart beating fast and a huge smile on my face. The potential client had committed to hiring my new firm to assist with her trademark. I had just started my law firm— right there in the parking garage.
This routine went on for a few weeks. As the first month drew to a close and I had signed up at least a half dozen new clients, I knew it was time to tell my boss. While I couldn’t live large on what I was bringing in from my trademark law firm, it was enough to pay the bills of a single guy in his 20s. I set up a time to meet with my boss at the law firm, but before I did, I began to pack up and clean out my belongings, believing that, surely, she would fire me on the spot.
I’ll never forget walking into her office, ready to tell her I was starting my own firm, and thinking to myself “dead man walking.” I sat down in front of her desk and she looked up at me to say, “What’s up, Josh?” I swallowed and started to tell her what I was doing. Then, something crazy happened… I got a couple of sentences out of my mouth and she interrupted me with a few words I will never forget: “Well, I think this is so cool,” she said. She proceeded to invite me to stay—to continue working part time for her, with the freedom to continue to grow my trademark practice at the same time. I had managed to stumble upon a way to start my firm and not worry that I would fall flat on my face. Not many people can do something with that type of security. I am forever grateful for the kindness that my boss showed me that day.
i’ll never forget walking into my boss’s office, ready to tell her I was starting my own firm, thinking to myself “dead man walking.”
Following this moment, there were no more mad dashes to the parking garage. I could have phone conversations with my clients from my desk at the law firm. My new firm kept me busy. I took calls during the day and spent nights and weekends working on trademark applications—and learning everything I could about how to manage clients and actually run a law firm. There were no higher-ups or managers to rely on when I had a question. I was the higher-up, the manager, the partner, and the associate. But that’s exactly the way I wanted it to be.
Growing up, I had seen that same entrepreneurial spirit in my father, a business owner that had, at one point, a dozen automotive repair shops in and around Philadelphia. It was a difficult job—he worked seven days a week, and many days I didn’t see him at all, but I was so proud of him. I admired his work ethic, his determination, and his role as a business owner. No one could tell my dad what to do or hold back his ambition. Even as a kid, I could appreciate that. And I knew I wanted the same for myself one day.
As far back as I can remember, I enjoyed helping my dad. And he truly put me to work. As a six-year-old boy in the 1980s, I tore the perforated edges off my dad’s computer printouts. I cleaned toilets at age ten, and, eventually, I graduated to unloading a truck filled with tires into the warehouse. After unloading tires in the Philadelphia summer heat a few times, I convinced my dad to give me a job indoors—as a sales associate at the front counter of a shop. It was here that I honed my sales skills. Convincing people to get needed work done on their cars was not an easy task, but I enjoyed the challenge and learned how to negotiate with customers.
Those memories of my dad’s hard work stayed with me as I started my own firm. I worked seven days a week—every day was a work day, and every night was a work night. The hustle paid off. By early 2009, I had entirely left my job at the firm in D.C. I was busy enough that I was able to fully support myself financially.
Now, after nearly eleven years in business, my firm has grown to six employees. We have worked with nearly 6,000 clients from six continents around the world. I could never have imagined this was possible when I took that first call in the parking garage. It is truly amazing what hustle and determination can accomplish.