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The Magazine of Illinois Lawyers

October 2016Volume 104Number 10Page 12

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LawPulse

Rare African-American female firm in national spotlight

Chicago-based Knight, Morris & Reddick uses technology and an entrepreneurial spirit to carve out niches in real estate, estate planning, and other practice areas.

The Atlantic recently published an article highlighting one of Chicago's newer law firms. Founded in 2012, Knight, Morris & Reddick Law Group (http://kmrlawgroup.com) is one of the few Chicago law firms owned and operated solely by African-American women.

As The Atlantic reported, the legal profession is one of the least diverse in the United States (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/07/black-women-lawyers/493448/). The Washington Post reports that minority students are about 20 percent of law school graduates, but make up fewer than 7 percent of firm partners. Only 9 percent of general counsel for large corporations are African Americans. Women fare no better - they receive almost half of the law degrees, but are only 33 percent of the population of lawyers.

Prior to founding KMR Law Group, partner Yondi Morris was a contract attorney at a large law firm in Chicago. Feeling frustration about the firm's culture and the attitude of the supervising attorneys, she turned to social media, tweeting, "I need to start my own law firm."

Partner Keli Knight, who knew Morris via a mutual friend, responded to the tweet. Knight and Morris planned to meet to discuss further, and Morris suggested that she invite her likeminded attorney friend, Jessica Reddick. The three met and began planning the foundation of the law firm.

Reddick told The Atlantic that they planned the move for a year before formally opening the firm. Their planning process involved reaching out to attorney mentors, web designers, marketing and branding consultants, and business coaches. "So many small businesses collapse in the first 18 months, and we didn't want to fall into that statistic," Reddick said.

It's not surprising that a firm founded on a tweet has a very sophisticated, technology-forward bent. In a conversation with the Illinois Bar Journal, the partners said that leveraging technology was part of their decision to be "as frugal as possible."

Their main address is in the Willis (né Sears) Tower, which is a shared office space. They have access to offices and conference rooms, but much of their work is done offsite. One of their primary practice areas is real estate law, which has the partners in real estate closings across the Chicagoland area on a regular basis. Much of their work is done online; the partners frequently use Skype or Google Hangouts to meet with each other and with clients who are comfortable meeting remotely. Their physical office still allows for in-person meetings if that is the client's preference.

One key element to their success is relationship building with clients. KMR has an associate based in Los Angeles who primarily practices in estate planning. Leveraging technology allows an attorney to serve as many clients as possible, they say.

Not for techies only

Although one might think a tech-forward firm would only have tech-forward clients, their firm's client base is fairly equally distributed between younger and older clients. While their brand tends to attract younger entrepreneurs, they find that their real estate and estate planning clients run the gamut between young and old.

For a firm so wired-in, it may seem that it is impossible to achieve a work-life balance, especially when it comes to clients respecting personal time. Not so, they say. Setting client expectations is essential.

Managing and controlling client relationships and expectations is part and parcel of relationship building, they say. If you start contacting clients after business hours, they'll respond in kind. The partners tend to handle these relationships on a client-by-client basis; the nature of some clients' businesses means that after-hours communications are necessary, or at least more convenient.

The partners aren't just working on KMR Law Group. They also have a subsidiary company called KMR Legal Staffing. They provide contract attorneys who work onsite and at turnkey locations for both general counsel at corporations and attorneys at law firms. In some situations, KMR Legal Staffing pitches candidates directly to hiring partners at firms.

They hope to grow their staffing practice into markets like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., ultimately scaling the model to a world-wide staffing solution. Looking towards the future, the partners at KMR are also very passionate about charity work, hoping to find ways to focus on helping children, communities, and educators.


Matthew Hector
Matthew Hector is a senior associate at Woerthwein & Miller.