Michelle Bomberger is the CEO and Managing Attorney at Equinox Business Law Group. As a small business founder and a fellow entrepreneur, Michelle understands the emotional and practical aspects of owning a business. This makes her an effective guide for business leaders in evaluating risk and opportunity in their decision making.
In addition to her J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law (cum laude) and M.B.A. from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Michelle also holds a B.S. in Finance and Computer Applications from the University of Notre Dame (cum laude).
Michelle was honored by the Puget Sound Business Journal as one of its “40 Under 40” in 2012. In addition, Michelle and Equinox Business Law Group were award the King County Executive’s Woman Small Business of the Year Award in 2013.
Michelle serves on the Board of Directors for Bellevue LifeSpring and Youth Theatre Northwest, serving youth and families in the community. Michelle is also an active member of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing Puget Sound which provides a community for networking and learning for manufacturers. She has served on the Board of Directors, Membership Committee, and Programs Committee.
Born and raised in Panama, Michelle paddled in the annual Ocean-to-Ocean Cayuco Race through the Panama Canal during her sophomore year in high school, winning the women’s category of the race.
When she is not advising small business owners and entrepreneurs, Michelle spends time with her two teenage kid, her family, and her friends. She loves to cook, travel, and read.
Where did the idea for Equinox Business Law Group come from?
Equinox Business Law Group, and specifically our innovative General Counsel Services model, grew from an idea – “Business law the way it should be”. The legal industry has done a poor job demonstrating its value for businesses – it’s not responsive to the business’ needs and it’s incredibly expensive. Even when business leaders know that a legal review is prudent, they weigh whether it’s “worth it”. I wanted to change how businesses view and work with counsel in their business – as a strategic toolset to help the business build the necessary infrastructure for a secure and successful future. Our General Counsel Services model is built on getting to know the business’ short- and long-term goals and to understand its leaders’ risk tolerance. We become an extension of their management team to provide practical, relevant, timely responses to their needs. Because our services are provided at a monthly fixed price, the team is encouraged to call – rather than to avoid calling. We know that if the legal team doesn’t provide value, the business won’t use it. The “equinox” represents the balancing of light and darkness, when both hemispheres of the Earth are equally illuminated. In a similar way, the Equinox team partners with business leaders to balance of risks and opportunities in both everyday and strategic decisions they face.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A typical day includes a mix of working with clients on their strategic and tactical needs, managing our internal business needs, and working to build awareness of our unique business proposition. On the client front, I participate as a strategic viewpoint in discussions. I work to understand where they want to go and provide business and legal insight to the different paths they could take to get there. For our internal needs, we are working to scale the General Counsel Services model which requires building processes and infrastructure to ensure our clients are getting value, responsiveness and proactive services from us. The awareness piece is about ways we can educate clients and potential clients that strong legal infrastructure is essential to success – and it should and can work for them.
I struggle with balancing the three items above. I love the strategic work with clients but often get pulled into more tactical work. I need to remember where my best work is needed and leverage my team to do work that helps them grow. We have developed processes to help streamline project communication and I use time blocking to get important projects done. I also find that “hard stops” help keep me balanced. For years, I had a 3:00pm stop to pick up my kids from school. This ensured I had the essential tasks of the day complete.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Our RISE UP culture emphasizes an environment of innovation. We foster an environment of iteration and flexibility which gives the team freedom and confidence to innovate. For example, our General Counsel Services were expanded last year to offer a more limited service appropriate for companies with fewer complexities. The idea came from a team member’s conversation with a client which was tossed around, and a new solution launched within a week. We highlight these victories and encourage the team to find ways to add more value to our clients’ experiences with us every day.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am excited about how business owners are opening up to outside advice which benefits their business in both the short and longer terms. More and more professional services are offering “outsourced” or “fractional” or “managed services” models which help to normalize utilizing services this way. Because it’s really unusual to see a law firm offering this, we still have to get past the skepticism of “what’s the catch” – but business leaders are becoming more and more willing to accept it as an option to in-house or hourly services. If we can make these essential services – from CFO to CMO to COO – accessible to smaller companies, they’ll be more confident and secure in their futures.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My most productive time is in the morning. I plan my day the night before and get started early to hammer out the essential projects before the busy-ness of the day takes over.
What advice would you give your younger self?
“Don’t get so mired in the routine – be open to spontaneity.” I find that my days are full of tasks and my calendar is booked out for weeks during my core business hours. This leaves little opportunity for an impromptu lunch with my husband or kids or a walk when the weather’ nice. The routine allows me to get things done – but it also limits me in many ways.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Meatloaf is a fantastic dinner option.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I openly admit that the business is a work in progress and that it can only grow with the help from the team. Their input is what will help us get to the next level. I reiterate that what we’ve historically done is not gospel, but rather we’re in an iterative process to improve. They are encouraged to leverage our values and our mission and add to it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We have built a team of business people – who are also attorneys. This business acumen is uniquely valuable to our clients and to our own growth. Our service offering builds on this business acumen and is unique in the marketplace. Our General Counsel Services provides all-inclusive, customized legal support for clients at a fixed monthly price. Through the General Counsel Services, businesses purchase a “subscription” for legal services to proactively tackle their priority projects while having full access to our team for any other issues that may turn up. We change the way business leaders think about legal in their world – from avoidance to necessity.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In 2014, our family had an opportunity to move to Ireland for a couple of years. I was confident in my team’s ability to operate the business without me – and I am proud to say they were successful in doing so. However, I discovered during this time that I had built a sustainable business operation but not a strong culture. I hadn’t invested in who we were and the why of our business. The team could keep the wheels turning but they weren’t invested in “our” success. As I prepared to leave for Ireland, the cultural disconnects came to light; and by the time I returned, significant damage had occurred. We lost a number of team members and had to rebuild. We’ve invested in understanding our culture and work hard to emphasize it in our hiring and our day-to-day activities.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A lot of first time homeowners have little knowledge or experience in home maintenance. I have wondered on many occasions how my husband knows that the caulking around the chimney needs attention or that the air filters should be replaced every few months. I was never taught any of this and I think many young adults were not either. I could envision a service that takes care of all your homeownership needs – from checking for water around the foundation to ensuring trees near the house are healthy to replacing air filters – so you can be confident that your house – your biggest asset – is maintained for your safety and its future value.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I purchased a ReMarkable device. It’s a digital writing tablet that feels like writing with pen and paper. I bought it to eliminate the need to scan hand written notes from meetings. I really like the feel of it and that all my notes are consolidated in one, easy to access place.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We use Clio to manage most of our firm’s activities – from pipeline management to project management to invoicing. Clio is robust and flexible and makes it easy for the team to manage their workload. For me personally, Clio offers a central place where I can see everything going on relating to clients and prospects. It frees up my mind space because I don’t have to remember everything about a project – it’s all there for the team to access and self-manage without my involvement or intervention. This is important because my most important work is not managing all the projects but working on the company’s opportunities for growth.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Who” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. This is the more modern version of the original “Topgrading” by Bradford D. Smart, Ph.D. We have adopted the Topgrading methodology in our hiring and it has made a world of difference in how we evaluate candidates – and their ultimate success in the firm.
What is your favorite quote?
“The time is always right to do what’s right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Find the gaps in the marketplace and fill them.
- A failure is just a starting point for future opportunity.
- “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” – Peter Drucker
- Know yourself and always continue growing
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.