Global Transaction Attorney Jann Moorhead has held the reins to her own private practice since 2005. After a successful career as an associate at big law firm Loeb & Loeb, VP of Business & Legal Affairs at Winterland Productions and Associate General Counsel at Lucasfilm, she decided to set off on her own — and she’s never looked back.
Jann has found her niche in the Bay Area working with a wide range of tech, digital media and entertainment companies, and orchestrates her practice on her own terms and schedule.
In this Q&A, Jann discusses her trajectory from Columbia University School of Law to becoming her own boss using UpCounsel, and why she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Why did you start your own practice?
I worked in both a law firm and in-house with a few companies as their general counsel. Yet, I always felt that I needed my own business. I wanted the satisfaction of doing something entrepreneurial that was mine, and being able to grow it and hopefully making it successful.
I also wanted more flexibility in terms of my lifestyle. Back then, working remotely wasn’t really as accepted as it is now, so there was an expectation to be in an office.
While in-house, I was always hiring lawyers that came from big firms, and I noticed the need for someone with my kind of experience —someone with good judgment who knows what matters and what doesn’t – and could offer that at a more affordable price. I represent start-ups from seed round to Series-B and beyond, as well as fortune 1,000 companies. I do commercial contracts of all types, and intellectual property protection and licensing. I felt like I could do the same work as these attorneys but on a more cost-effective basis, essentially offering my services to companies who needed my skills and had champagne taste, but a beer budget.
What are the benefits of having your own practice?
I feel so fortunate that I’ve been able to shape a practice that I enjoy. At some point, I became disillusioned with the practice of law, in particular, the handling of commercial transactions. The process can be very acrimonious. My style is the contrary. My objective is always to make both sides happy and ensure my client is protected. Usually, you get more with honey than vinegar.
A part of my decision to go solo was wanting the freedom to practice law in a way that’s aligned with my philosophies and values. Ultimately, your client wants you to close the deal not destroy it. I think everyone’s better off if you can find a way to make it a win-win, and to meet the other side’s needs and concerns without being acrimonious, adversarial or beating up the other party. I didn’t become a litigator because I couldn’t stand that approach to law.
What are the personal benefits to going solo?
Having flexibility in my lifestyle. I can do what I want during the week, because I always make sure my clients are taken care of. I never drop the ball. I don’t mind working evenings, weekends, and vacations because that’s the trade-off in terms of getting flexibility. Nobody knows if I’m home, driving, or in Bali, because technology has made everything seamless. I do everything remotely. Many of my biggest clients I’ve never met, and nobody really cares. I feel so lucky that technology is where it is today, because it allows me to do what I do.
I love that I’m in complete control of what I do in terms of the way I set up my practice, the hours I work, and how I work. Another plus is I get to keep all the revenue, aside from what I give to Uncle Sam, of course.
What are the cons?
Being isolated, and the fact that no one pays me to go on vacation. The upside is I like being in charge and in control, that I don’t have to take instructions from anyone — other than my clients of course. The good news is that I’ve been able create my own network of people, lawyers in particular, that I can go to when I need help in an area where I don’t have an expertise. However, that rarely happens. For example, I don’t do patent work, and in those instances where the client needs a service I don’t offer, I just refer them out. The other challenge is that your work flow, and therefore income, can be variable and unpredictable. I am fortunate that there have only been a few short periods in my solo practice when I wasn’t sure who would put bread on my table!
I’m more of an introvert, so I don’t miss chit-chatting at the water cooler and endless meetings (sometimes even meetings about meetings!). For me, this was all just a waste of time. I’m super efficient, and that would just get in the way of getting stuff done and having time for other meaningful things in my life.
You spent five years at a law firm and 13 working in-house. How did those experiences prepare you for going solo?
There’s no way I could do what I do if I didn’t have that training or experience. First of all, I don’t think anyone can go straight from law school into a solo practice. At that stage, I don’t think they don’t have the experience or skill set. When I went off on my own, my credentials and expertise enabled me to develop a roster of clients.
Did you have a moment where you decided to go on your own?
Ultimately, my disillusionment and my dissatisfaction with traditional law practice was what motivated me to make changes. But yes, there was an event that prompted me to shift gears. Back when I was in-house counsel, I was working three days a week. Then my boss left, and the person who took over asked me to start working full-time. I pointed out that we were in a slower period and there wasn’t enough work to justify my being in the office five days a week. However, this new supervisor insisted that I rev up my schedule, so it was in that moment that I decided it was now or never. Even though I had two small kids at home, a partner who wasn’t working at the time, and no anchor client, I just jumped. I had faith, and somehow I landed ok.
What’s your advice for attorneys who are considering going solo?
About Jann Moorhead
Jann Moorhead is a global transactional attorney with more than 25 years of experience representing both multinational established businesses and startups. She was the lead attorney for the Star Wars franchise and its licensing activities and has negotiated numerous license, distribution and other commercial contracts for clients from a wide range of industries. Jann began her legal career in the corporate and media departments of national law firm Loeb & Loeb.