All Points North: How a Public Defender from Alaska Became an Estate Planning Pro

Meaning in the Middle of Nowhere

In the summer of 2019, Liz Smith joined New Law Business Model and began building her new practice.

But much like the city she hails from in Alaska, arriving at this important place wasn’t an easy journey. And taking on this new chapter of her life took her off the traditional path she’d been on most of her professional life and into someplace new and exciting.

From Law School to Disillusioned Public Defender

Right out of law school, Liz Smith knew exactly what line of work she wanted to pursue as a lawyer. She had trained hard for it

She began her career working for the State of Alaska in their Labor Relations department, working with state unions. Public service had always been her passion. Then she worked as a law clerk for a judge, and finally, was appointed as a Public Defender. Her goal was to work in public service for ten years, pay off her mountainous student loans, and work with the people she cared for most for the rest of her career.

But she soon realized the limitations of the work and the incredible strain it was putting on her professionally and emotionally. In 2012, she was the only lawyer retained to work for the state in her city. Her job at that time entailed removing benefits from those who were disabled, or most in need, due to budget cutbacks.

She lasted two years in the post before being transferred. She’d make it to five years out of her projected ten – and she was exhausted.

Her summation of the challenges presented is as simple as it is hauntingly painful.

“Yeah. It was hard.”

Feeling disenchanted with the work she was doing and her time as a public servant, she decided to resign her position and go in an entirely new direction, working as a health coach. This decision, to leave the commonly accepted path for one that allowed her to really take control of her life and help those who most needed her – would be one she would repeat seven years later – when she found the New Law Business Model.

Journeying to a Solution  

During her time both working for the State of Alaska, as well as the various odd jobs she did in the interim before finding NLBM, Liz is adamant that being an employee wasn’t for her.

“I’m not fit for a job, I discovered, but it took me a long time to figure that out. I had moved around to a number of different jobs, trying to find a job that I loved and not doing it, which I know now that that’s because I didn’t fit in a job.”

What Liz was discovering was that like many future NLBM lawyers, she wanted the flexibility to lead both her life and law practice the way she wanted. But finding that with the traditional law practice model didn’t feel like the right fit. Still, she couldn’t shake the idea of starting her own practice and even dreamed of making it a reality.

“Every time I’d apply for something new because I was miserable, I’d think, “If I don’t get this job, then I’m gonna work on this business.”

Liz felt the pull to start and grow a practice that was hers, but she wasn’t entirely clear on what the focus would be until someone brought up Estate Planning.

“Another attorney had mentioned to me when I was thinking before about going into starting my own law practice, and he said that maybe in town there was some need for Estate Planning, and he just wasn’t doing it because he didn’t have the time to learn and that he was doing what he had always done in his practice.

That kind of set a seed…and I thought, well, maybe that’d be a good fit for me and started to look. My big concern was how do I learn Estate Planning? I think I did a will once in law school in a class.”

Seeing the need in her city of Juneau, Alaska, for trusted estate planners and recognizing her own need for training, guidance, and help to build her practice, led Liz to find NLBM in 2019. She enrolled quickly, encouraged by both the program and the leadership of NLBM’s Founder, Ali Katz.

“I really liked what the materials were telling me about Ali, about NLBM. I was very intrigued. I listened to some podcasts that Ali had been on…I just thought, okay, this is a good fit and signed up.”

One of the immediate obstacles that Liz had to overcome was the isolation of working in a remote place like Juneau, which can only be reached by car or boat and is surrounded by water and glaciers. Not the easiest of places to build community.

“That’s why NLBM was so important to me because I had so many resources to turn to when I didn’t know what to do, and of course, that didn’t cover all the local pieces, but it allowed me to have the confidence and get the information that I felt I needed.”

Liz began to build her practice, first in Juneau, then traveling to the neighboring towns and communities to serve a larger clientele base. Best of all, she was building the practice she wanted and using her time the way she knew was most beneficial to her clients and those she loved most.

Finding Her Own Path

Since 2019, Liz has continued to expand her practice to three staff members, as well as developing a wider base of clientele in Southeast Alaska. And the numbers tell the story of her success.

“I serve 8 to 12 clients a month, so an average of 10, and I typically average about $3,500 per engagement currently. And I’m starting to see some additional growth as I get into some other areas.

I range from about $33,000 to $43,000 per month income.”

But for Liz, these numbers and the expansion of her practice signify that she’s just getting started. She has more significant desires for her practice and her ability to help more and more clients.  

“I have been very steadily growing and expanding my practice, and I do have goals of steep continued growth. I’m actually looking at bringing in another counsel attorney to help serve some of our clients that we have now to allow me to expand to other estate planning areas such as elder law, serving Medicare clients, and giving me more time to manage the business.

I am finding that I’m at about my capacity to serve right now, could do a little bit more.

I’m ready to continue expanding.”

Liz’s story is both incredibly uncommon in the legal field and incredibly common within our body of lawyers at NLBM. What most lawyers possess is a sense that there is more out there, something greater and more expansive. But what they often lack is the training, resources, and support to actually realize that “more.”

For Liz, New Law Business Model became the catalyst for her personal growth, as well as the growth of her own practice. Whether she thought of herself as an entrepreneur when this all started back in 2019, she is most certainly one now.

Her encouragement to other lawyers who might be considering New Law Business Model?

“NLBM provides a really great legal foundation. So, the knowledge and the education, and then continuing guidance and mentors along the way…they provide amazing support to build the business that’s right for you.

It’s not about building a business that someone else did and their model. It’s very personalized.”

Personalized indeed. How else could a lawyer from Juneau, Alaska, build a six-figure practice in under three years in one of the more remote and isolated places on earth?

…with a team of coaches, mentors, facilitators, and peers who are there for her each step of the way.

The New Law Business Model was right for Liz, and it can be right for you, too, no matter where you are in your life or career.

To learn more about New Law Business Model and how it can work best for you, please schedule a complimentary call with one of our Law Business Advisors here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Our Growth Framework
Share via
Copy link