McDivitt Law Firm – Family Business Q&A

by Richmond Williams | January 2, 2013

Q1: When you and Karen founded the firm more than 20 years ago, did you have any idea that both of your children would one  day be working there?
Karen: I had no idea. Mike: It never dawned on me either. David: Never in their deepest nightmares. Karen: This has been an unexpected blessing. I wanted them to move to other parts of the country. David: We were unemployable. Lisa: I actually never would have done this 10 years ago. Mike: You would have hated it, and it would have been miserable for me too. Lisa: That’s true.

Q2: What are some of the operational advantages of having a “family-run firm?”
David: Operationally it helps because we spend time together outside of work. Mike: So decisions are made at all hours of the day, at nights, on weekends. We have a pretty unique relationship. Karen: The negative side is when we spend time together outside of work, we always end up talking about the business.

Q3: What are some of the challenges?
Karen: We don’t always agree on everything. And if we don’t agree on something, it could spill into our personal lives. Mike: Another big problem is calling people on the carpet when they don’t do things right. You may not want to because of the relationship, but you have to.

Q4: Has having family in senior leadership roles helped or hurt your culture?
Karen: I think it has helped our culture. We treat everyone as family; it’s how we treat each other, and it’s how we treat our team members. Mike: It’s a family-centered team culture. We’re all working toward a central goal of providing good service to our clients, and having the whole family working here lends itself to that culture.

Q5: How do you avoid the appearance of favoritism?
Karen: That’s easy. I picked one early on and ran with him. Lisa: It’s true. David is your favorite child. Karen: Seriously, I trust that my kids are doing their jobs. And they are held accountable, not only to Mike and me, but to the other team members at the firm as well—just as Mike and I are held accountable to team members and clients. Mike: I think the team knows that we expect our family members to focus on the objectives of the firm. There is even a perception that we’re harder on each other because we’re family.

Q6: What advice would you give other firms considering merging their homes and professional lives?
Mike: Be sure you have your family house in order before you do it. Karen: Sometimes it’s good if your children had other jobs beforehand, so you get a sense of their work ethic and see what kind of an employee they will be. David was an investment banker and had trial experience before working for us. Lisa was a journalist for several years and also worked in communications at a Fortune 500 company.

Q7: Are there any marketing implications?
David: It gives us something that sets us apart from other firms in the market. Mike: That uniqueness allows us to connect more with potential clients. Karen: We’ve even heard from the community that they trust us because our family is involved. Lisa: I think if every person saw who we are, how hard we work, and how much we all want to help, we actually wouldn’t have to advertise.

Q8: How do you keep your professional and private lives separate?
David: We don’t. Karen: I think it would be impossible. Karen: It’s our biggest challenge. It’s why we go to movies, because while we’re there, we can’t talk about the business. Mike: We can’t talk at all when we’re at the movies.

Q9: How does your family dynamic enable you to better serve your clients?
Karen: We have a similar value system and our primary objective is to serve others. Because that’s really who we are, it enables us to follow through on behalf of our clients.