Two local attorneys find work/life balance by opening firm
The Cooley grads hatched the idea while still in school.
The two had crossed paths first in classes and later while serving as treasurer (Kramer) and vice president (Lupanoff) of the student bar association. Then they ended up in offices next to one another while completing an externship for the Court of Appeals.
“We both decided that we didn’t want the full-time, corporate, big-law job,” Kramer said. “So we did a little brainstorming during our downtime at the externship. Could we job share? Do it ourselves? We started doing research, talking about it, making lists, and decided it just might work.”
The biggest factor in the decision to open their own firm was family. Kramer already had young children when she began law school, and Lupanoff gave birth to twins during her time in law school.
“I spent 12 years working in a big company,” Kramer said. “It was government employment, climbing the ladder, and working at the beck and call of the supervisor, and just thinking I need to be in more control of my own day.
“When the kids came along, it was more important to be home, so finding that balance has been what we’ve been all about — balancing our careers and our family.”
With that flexibility in mind, the two opened Lupanoff & Kramer in 2009. They had no clients at the time, but slowly, through word-of-mouth, they have built a stable practice.
One big benefit they did have was backgrounds in business. Lupanoff had experience with starting a business, income tax preparation and bookkeeping, and Kramer had previously worked as a financial analyst.
“I’m just amazed at how valuable that was, that we did have that experience going in,” Lupanoff said.
Now, four years in, the pair is very happy with their decision. They appreciate the flexibility that has allowed them to focus on their families and their careers, as well as the control they’ve been able to maintain.
“For me it’s all about just being in control of my schedule, of the work I choose to do,” Kramer said. “I’m not given assignments. We can take cases that are meaningful to us, that we might want to make a difference with.”
Additionally, the pair said the decision is beneficial to their clients. Having chosen to stay small, they can take a one-client-at-a-time approach.
“From what I’ve heard, if you go and work in a big law firm, you are overloaded with work immediately, whereas we’ve been able to take our time and devote time to the client,” Lupanoff said.
Lupanoff focuses her practice on criminal defense. She also is on the court-appointed substitute list for abuse and neglect cases. Kramer focuses her practice on transactional law, such as estate planning, property tax law, collections and business formation.
They agree that one of the most integral elements in choosing to open a law firm together was a respect for one another’s character and the alignment of their ideals for work and family. They are supportive of each other’s individual needs with their families as well as with their careers.
For other attorneys or law students considering starting their own practice, Lupanoff and Kramer are encouraging. “It’s doable and it’s so rewarding,” Kramer said.
The pair credits the small community, both within Cooley and the larger Grand Rapids legal community, with helping to make their firm successful. They said that Cooley provides a wealth of resources, mentors, networking opportunities and events — things they are still taking advantage of today. Additionally, the larger legal community is well connected and willing to help one another out and provide mentorship.
They suggest that mentors are a necessity and are already getting opportunities to give back in the same ways in which they received help when they were starting out.
The two hope eventually to have the ability to hire a law clerk and maybe provide other opportunities for law students.
“We’ve been deliberately keeping it small, though,” Kramer said. “Now Michelle’s kids are in school and mine are old enough to watch themselves for a while, and we are starting to think about expanding a bit.”