Interview with Gina Bongiovi
Who is your “typical” client?
Many business owners find themselves in a dilemma – they’ve grown enough to face pressing legal issues but aren’t yet large enough to hire a full-time staff attorney. These businesses are often forced to keep an outside firm on an expensive retainer, which makes them wary of calling for advice for fear of being billed for every minute. These minutes rack up when the client has to educate the attorney about the business before even getting to the heart of the matter. When the business owners finally call with an issue, it’s usually in an emergency situation and they speak to someone who knows nothing about their business and doesn’t think like a business owner. Thinking like a lawyer and thinking like a business owner are vastly different, but striking a balance is crucial.
What inspired you to choose small business law as your focus?
I’ve either worked as an independent contractor or had my own small business for years, so I can appreciate the challenges facing small business owners. When I was still in college, and had legal questions about my own business, I had a hard time finding an attorney who would really take an interest in the unique characteristics of my business in order to give me useful advice. Instead, I sat in front of the senior partner of a very successful firm, having been referred to him by another high-powered attorney and he simply wouldn’t allow me to describe my issue and dismissed me when it became clear the most pressing matter in my world was small potatoes in his. I left his office feeling like my little business was somehow inadequate, which made me angry. No one’s business is inadequate. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to leave steady employment and a guaranteed retirement check to follow your passion. And I don’t think you can truly appreciate the emotional rollercoaster that is owning a business until you’ve done it.
You have a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and an MBA. How do you feel your education has helped you in your practice?
My education has enabled me to take a more well-rounded approach to solving any problem. Though my exposure to many different industries and different companies over the last decade has shown me that theories in textbooks don’t always apply in the real world, I have a better appreciation for both the academic approach and the real-world approach. I think my clients benefit from this combination, particularly when we’re working on marketing plans or brainstorming solutions to problems. Many professionals, attorneys included, have no business background, which is why UNLV began offering an MBA in combination with law, dental, and hotel management degrees. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to enroll in that dual program so that I can provide my clients with more valuable representation.
Can you describe your “hands-on” approach?
In representing small businesses, my focus is on client service. I familiarize myself with their business, stay in close contact, and ensure that I’m available when they need me. Rather than meeting in a fancy office, I prefer to meet my clients at their place of business. That way, I can get a feel for their corporate culture, meet their employees, and develop a better appreciation for what they’re trying to accomplish so that, as the lawyer, I become a valuable member of the team rather than a necessary evil.
What about your fees?
I absolutely loathe the billable hour, from both my perspective and that of my clients. I hate having to account for every minute of my time and it makes fees very unpredictable. As business owners, my clients are on tight budgets and it is unfair and unreasonable to expect them to set aside funds for unknown costs. Depending on the project, I charge flat fees where I can. Because I know every business is different, I remain flexible and work with my clients to determine what fees they can afford and how much of my time their issues will demand.