Meet Shivani Honwad, Esq., a brilliant Immigration Lawyer based in New York Almost for the past 2 years ago. Shivani founded her own Law firm and is a strong believer and advocate for human rights and against human trafficking. Shivani learned through hard work and many challenges what it takes to build your own business and succeed.
This is her story.
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I have always been one to march to the beat of my own drum so starting my own law firm was my way of being able to do what I wanted to do as an attorney with more control over the cases I worked on and the clients I represented. My aim in starting my law firm is not only to help people turn their dreams into reality and pursue their passions but also so that I could have the flexibility to pursue my anti-human trafficking advocacy work and assist children who were trafficked in the United States. To this end, aside from taking on children’s cases pro bono, I also recently co-founded a film production company, Meatpacking Films LLC, which focuses on creating short films to raise awareness about human rights issues.
What was the first advice you got?
Ironically, many of my mentors gave me the same piece of initial advice when I reached out to tell them I was starting my own law firm. They told me to remember that I cannot help anyone if I do not take care of myself first. They all told me to make sure I make time to exercise, that I watch what I eat (one mentor’s specific words there were if you eat junk you’ll feel like junk and won’t get any work done), and to make time for people and experiences that make me happy so I do not burn out.
What would be the first advice you’ll give someone who is starting now?
For someone starting a law firm, I would tell them to have a partner or at least a very strong support network of other attorneys they can call on for assistance. When “life” has happened over the past two years, I cannot begin to describe how thankful I am for the other attorneys I have developed relationships with who have advised me along the way and assisted me with cases. As supportive as your friends and family are, they cannot always understand the day to day of starting your own law firm (unless they did it themselves) so it is invaluable to have people in your life to help walk you through some of the challenging situations so you feel less alone and also someone to celebrate the triumphs with since calling your non-lawyer friend and saying you won a difficult and possibly precedent setting case does not have the same effect as calling someone who understands what it’s like to pull a dozen all-nighters to draft a 50 page brief with 100 pages of Exhibits. I also say this with the experience of having started my own film company with a partner as passionate and driven as me and know how much support I get from her. People have repeatedly discouraged us and tried to dismiss our idea as naive or too optimistic but we decided at the beginning that no matter what other people say as long as we can support and back each other up we will be fine and we will make our films happen!
What was the most difficult part of starting or building your business? Were you surprised by it? How did you overcome it?
One of the most difficult parts about building my business was the strain it put on some of my relationships with family and friends. When I sent my NYU professor a picture of my first law firm business card, he wrote me an encouraging e-mail where at the end he wrote: “As for friends and relationships, you cannot deal with chaos and instability in all areas of your life at the same time. If you’re starting your business, you need to have stability in your personal life. Otherwise it can get destructive. Get friends who understand your life and are willing to put up with it. If you cannot find them now, you’ll find them later on when your career is stable.” I did not understand what he meant at the time since I could not fathom my friends or family not being supportive, but when I started having limited time to have catch-up dinners since I had 4-5 networking events a night to attend (which to anyone who does not have to network for work looks like you are just out partying with strangers all the time), became slower at responding to personal phone calls and messages and was trying to save any income I had to reinvest into growing my business rather than going on last minute weekend trips, many people in my life were not happy about my choices and some even told me to get a “normal” job. Needless to say, these individuals are not a big part of my life anymore. However, I have met some incredible people along the way who are in similar situations to me, whether in the same industry or not, those who understand what it means to start your own business since they are doing it too provide me a level of support and friendship that is invaluable and helps me find peace and normalcy in an otherwise chaotic world. The best part is, none of these friends call me crazy but rather are always trying to find me new clients and support what I’m doing however they can. I guess my NYU professor was right. Thanks Sunder!
What is the most important thing to you when it comes to your business or your clients? Did it change over time?
Being a services oriented business, the most important thing to me when it comes to my law firm and clients is that I work with good people. By this I mean people who are driven, passionate about what they do, and most importantly, people who are kind. When I first started I would take on almost any client who contacted me that needed assistance within my realm of expertise. These days, I have a much better filtering process and will not represent or work with rude or abrasive individuals. The amount of anxiety, stress, and negative energy they bring into my life is not worth the monetary compensation. Working with driven and passionate people is always rewarding since they inspire me daily to work harder and push boundaries.
If you started all over again, what would you do differently this time?
Although I was a marketing major at NYU, I graduated college before social media really took off (Facebook started my freshman year of college but was just for staying in touch with people from high school and people you met at parties or in class at college. Twitter was just starting and there was definitely no Instagram) and I knew virtually nothing about marketing my own business online via SEO, blogging, commenting in forums etc. I started my firm at a time when I had several initial clients. However, much to my chagrin, this did not predict a constant flow of clients and work. I wish I had started with a strong marketing plan from the beginning and marketed myself consistently when I was busy and when I had slower periods. I am starting this now thanks to the help of some of my amazing friends, but I think I could have had a better growth trajectory had I learned about and initiated these marketing methods when I first began my law firm.
Do you ever feel alone in your journey as an independent professional? How do you cope with this feeling?
Sometimes. I cope by surrounding myself with kind and supportive individuals in the other parts of my life and making time to see these people in person (not just the trite “I miss you” text every so often). I look forward to daytime mini-dates with my friends to get cupcakes or tea to break up the day a bit and recharge myself. I take group fitness classes (like boxing, Bettlebells, and my new favorite of Tabata) rather than working out alone at the gym. My favorite activity with my family is cooking & baking so I stay in touch with many of them by sending recipes back and forth of things we should make next time we are together. This is completely unrelated to what I do as an attorney so it helps relax my mind, relieve stress and alleviates any feelings of loneliness in that moment since I am in touch with much of my extended family so there is always someone to talk to here…especially about food! Finally, as stated above, it is also really important to have good relationships with people in your industry who are starting or have started their own business for a quick pep talk, to have someone to commiserate with when needed and to also make you feel less alone in that you are not the only one on this path and if they can do it so can you!
Shivani gave us a few recommendations for professionals from her field that she loves!
Alex Kaplun, Corporate Lawyer
Alena Shautsova, Immigration lawyer
Joseph Greenwood, Immigration lawyer
Rachel Fischbein, Intellectual Property Attorney
These professionals are Shivani’s top professionals from other areas of life that she loved sharing with us:
Priya Malani, Financial Adviser
Jess Perez, Founder and Financial Adviser
Sourabh Sharma http://figorout.com/about/
Sam Caucci http://www.saleshuddlegroup.com/sam-caucci-bio/
Nitika Chopra http://www.nitikachopra.com/