This month marks 15 years since my partner Keith and I started this firm. In November of 2004, I walked into the plush K Street corner office of the founding partner of our old firm and told him Keith and I were leaving to start our own law firm. He tried to convince us to stay, tearing up as he talked about how he had “stolen” me from an insurance defense firm after a having a case against me when I was a very young lawyer. It was an emotional meeting, but I’d made up my mind.
Then the next day, they sued us for $15 million. I guess he got over the emotion of us leaving. And if you’ve never had the experience of going home and telling your wife and 3 young kids you’re being sued for a boatload of money, well, I wouldn’t recommend it...
As I’m sure you can imagine, that time in our lives was rather stressful (to say the least!). Every fee we earned was tied up in court and we couldn’t use any of that money to run the new business. But, even in the midst of that, Keith and I had a lot to be thankful for. When we left our previous firm, we had asked 118 clients we had served if they would come with us to our new firm. All 118 of them (many of you reading this) said yes.
Our new office space wasn’t going to be ready for a couple of months, so in January we moved our new firm to a dimly lit building on Vermont Avenue undergoing renovations at the time. It might have honestly been condemned later on. There was mold on the walls of the long hallway (I thought it was just green wallpaper at first). We knew the building manager and she let us have some of the old office furniture left behind by businesses that had moved out because the building was about to be gutted. I remember long walks on rainy winter nights between our old firm and our new office, talking on whatever primitive cell phone I had at the time, thanking clients for sticking with us and having faith in our vision.
At home, my wife had us on a strict budget as we used our savings and borrowed more and more money to run the business and finance the cases. In fact, that year my family had a wonderful Christmas, one of our favorites to this day – we did the whole thing for $100. And the best gift that year was “Big Jake” a motorized dump truck you could drive for my boys (2 and 5 at the time) that I trash picked in the neighborhood, cleaned up and put some construction stickers on – they loved it!
So why did we leave cushy partnerships at an established law firm to start over and create Donahoe Kearney?
Why go through the hassle, uncertainty, stress and litigation and put our families through all that?
Because of you.
You see, back in 2004, Keith and I knew there was a better way to help people. We were the two youngest partners at that big firm here in D.C. But that didn’t make us any less successful at attracting great clients and handling serious, complicated cases. We were the firm’s up-and-comers, and that would have been enough for a lot of young attorneys. But Keith and I wanted to do something more – it wasn’t enough.
Like a lot of big firms, the one we worked at became more and more like a client mill. They took on high volumes of cases and cycled through clients so fast that they never got to know them. Clients were just numbers that turned into legal fees padding the bottom line. Keith and I wanted to actually form relationships with people — real people who work hard to support the people they love. We wanted to make a difference in people’s lives; we wanted to help the plumbers, electricians, carpenters, elevator mechanics, construction workers, and nurses of the world. We wanted to get to know and help the people and families who needed us.
We wanted to hold hospitals, insurance companies and construction companies accountable for the harm they caused regular people. We wanted to serve our community and make it safer for everyone.
So that’s exactly what we did it – and why we did it.
We were lucky we had all of you to support us during that time, and now. You’ve trusted us and referred your friends, family, and coworkers to us and helped us grow. We’re thankful we get to help all of you fight against a system that seems to knock you off your feet at every turn. To this day, we still don’t have the perfectly designed beautiful office space, but the first thing you’ll see when you step through our door is a wall of pictures of our clients. They remind us what’s really important.
And we want everyone to know why we are here the minute they walk through our front door – our employees, our clients, insurance company lawyers, delivery drivers, the mailman, the Fed-Ex guy. Everybody.
It’s fitting that the month marking our firm’s start 15 years ago coincides with the Thanksgiving season. Looking back, we have a lot to be thankful for. So, to those of you who have been with Donahoe Kearney since the beginning, and to those of you who are new to the firm, thank you for your support. We may have helped you get back on your feet, but you’ve helped us stay on ours.