June 16, 2021

Put Some Giddy-Up in Your Niche Practice

As a child, Julie Fershtman loved horses. And she managed to cultivate that passion into a niche equine law practice – in Michigan, of all places. How did she do it? 

Through lots of research, outreach, and the discipline to listen to the needs of influencers in and around the equine community. 

Julie wrote countless articles and four books, attended many conferences, and made a name for herself while using conversations with the people she met to generate an impressive body of online and offline content. Her writing and speaking not only established her subject matter expertise but also opened the door to new business.

Active in the State Bar of Michigan beginning early in her career, Julie shares how she viewed her committee experience as a master class for developing a professional presence. Now she gives us a master class in how to start and grow your niche, give back to the profession, and find fulfillment in the practice of law.

Enjoy the conversation with Julie.


Show Notes

  • What is equine law? [02:24]
  • Julie’s old school research on horse-related law. [02:47]
  • Motivation to jump into equine law. [05:22]
  • Self-promotion via writing articles for consumers with an interest in horses. [07:08]
  • Using speaking engagements to connect with audiences and their needs. [08:28]
  • Geographical challenges for niche law practices. [10:39]
  • Proving Jay Foonberg wrong. [11:21]
  • Niche practice doesn’t mean you won’t cover other areas of the law. [17:15]
  • Social media is a must for marketing a niche practice. [19:33]
  • How bar association involvement helped her practice. [22:25]
  • The importance of listening and learning from mentors. [23:45]
  • Bar association involvement can build your referral network. [27:05]
  • Article writing should tell readers how to minimize risk. [29:33]
  • Collections of articles became books that sold well. [30:27]

Links From the Episode

Transcript

John Reed: [00:00:00] Hey, here's a question for you. If you didn't have to work for a living (in or outside the home), what would you do? Keep that idea in your head for a second.

[00:00:11] There are a lot of attorneys who put in their four or five or six years of college and, not knowing what to do next, they decide to go to law school with nothing more than a few short summer months in between. Then there are those who decided at a young age they wanted to be an attorney, maybe after reading To Kill a Mockingbird or challenging everything their parents or teachers told them. 

[00:00:33] Here's the thing. Regardless of whether you're an accidental lawyer or it's been your lifelong dream, one way to find professional fulfillment in the practice is to specialize, to identify a narrow area of law and own it. 

[00:00:48] From a profitability perspective, lawyers have heard the drumbeat of specialization for years. Niches make riches that if you concentrate in that narrow area, you can become a valued and valuable subject matter expert. But what if that specialization isn't based on a legal discipline, at least not entirely? What if you could base your practice on a personal interest, that thing you would do if you didn't have to work for a living?

[00:01:18] We've all heard stories of successful entrepreneurs who turned their hobbies and high school jobs into thriving businesses. The kind of people I imagine have motivational posters in their offices and who tell us, “You'll never have to work a day in your life if you do something you love.” You know those people. 

[00:01:34] But can an enterprising lawyer transform a hobby into a profitable, sustainable, and gratifying niche practice?

[00:01:44] I'm John Reed, and this is Sticky Lawyers, a podcast featuring conversations with attorneys who differentiate themselves through the relationships they cultivate with clients and influencers and the unique nature of their law practices. 

[00:01:57] Today, I'm talking with Julie Fershtman, a nationally -- actually internationally -- known equine lawyer. That's right. Of course, she has some great stories to tell about what it took to launch her specialized practice and the doors that it opened all the way to the presidency of the State Bar of Michigan.

[00:02:15] Julie. Welcome. 

Julie Fershtman: [00:02:17] Well, thanks for having me. 

John Reed: [00:02:18] So, first things first. What exactly is equine law? 

Julie Fershtman: [00:02:24] Equine law is the practice of law devoted to just about any aspect of horses, whether it is ownership, issues, sales issues, administrative issues, racetrack types of disputes that people have, tax --all different aspects of horse ownership and use.

John Reed: [00:02:41] So let's go back. You pass the bar exam you're sworn in, and then what happens?

Julie Fershtman: [00:02:47] Well, I'm a victim of my age. When I graduated from law school and passed the bar all in the same year, thankfully, the internet didn't exist. And so, anybody trying to learn about developments in the law or the law had to work for it.

[00:03:03] And as we recall back then, we needed books, magazines, any kind of paper to educate us about what was happening. So, when I decided seven years out of law school, seven years into being a lawyer, that I was looking for a way to merge my practice with the law, I wasn't able to obviously connect to a computer. 

[00:03:22] Instead, I would spend entire weekends in the law library, researching every article, case, digest, ALR annotation, everything that I could find dealing with horse-related law. And I began to spot trends in the law. I began to learn about cases that dealt with the issues that I really wanted to be involved in. And it was through the reading of them, the organizing of the information, a spotting of trends that I learned about things that might be of interest to different aspects of the horse world. 

John Reed: [00:03:53] You were the self-studied subject matter expert. 

Julie Fershtman: [00:03:56] I don't know about expert. There were a few attorneys doing this, mainly in areas like Kentucky with a very robust horse industry, but I was somebody who was an interloper. 

John Reed: [00:04:07] Gotcha. So, I want to go back. Where did the interest or the love of horses come from?

Julie Fershtman: [00:04:11] Oh, in my case, it was as a kid. I owned my first horse, thanks to my parents, as a ten-year-old. And kept, I had a couple of other horses after that until I was ready for college. So, it was years of riding and working with horses, but never, ever in my life had I met a lawyer who had a law practice dealing with horses.

John Reed: [00:04:29] Sure. 

Julie Fershtman: [00:04:30] Nobody to look up to. No real mentor as a young lawyer and as a kid. 

John Reed: [00:04:35] So fast forward out of law school, passing the bar, you went to practice where in that interim seven years? 

Julie Fershtman: [00:04:42] Oh, in the interim seven years, I started off right out of law school with a very large firm, one of the largest in the state of Michigan and naturally in the Detroit area.

[00:04:51] And that was in the Detroit office of a very large firm. Horse-related law didn't exist. In fact, I don't think it existed anywhere in Michigan. So, my beginnings were in business litigation and a little bit of tort litigation and insurance litigation. As we know, as a young attorney, they'll tell you what they need you to do.

[00:05:09] And that's what I did. And it expanded into some degree of real estate litigation for a while, but I broke off on my own and left the firm seven years out because I managed to develop one client and I thought I could get more.

John Reed: [00:05:22] And that's why I want to ask you what motivated you to make the jump? I definitely want to talk about how the equine law practice evolved and what you did, but what was the impetus to say, “I'm leaving the ostensible comfort of a large firm to go out and hang my own shingle?”

Julie Fershtman: [00:05:37] Well, having a good support system was absolutely the number one thing, because clearly when you begin any new business, you're reinvesting your profits into the business to keep it going. And so, the disposable income that you're bringing in is pretty limited for a short period of time. Hopefully very short. In my case, it was a while, but what the impetus was was the belief that I could grow something.

[00:05:58] We're talking about now about seven years out in 1993 or so -- but I got the attention of one insurance company that sought me out. They found out about me from something that I had written or listed in and had a case for me. And it occurred to me that I could make this grow and I could try to do as very, as good of a job as I could, which you need to do as a lawyer clearly to grow a practice.

[00:06:20] It's not just marketing, it's developing and having a product worth marketing, but I thought I could make it work and devoted a lot of effort to it . And sure enough, the practice expanded. 

John Reed: [00:06:31] Long hours with actual real-life pulp and paper. Boning up on this -- boy, talk about a niche area of equine law. You've got this knowledge that you've acquired. You're looking for trends and patterns. How do you get what you know, how do you get your brand out there at that time? How are you promoting what you do? 

Julie Fershtman: [00:06:52] Well, because again, we still didn't really have the internet. That was about 1993. My business plan was to make my name, to the extent that I could, a household word. And that meant getting myself in front of people with minimal expense by articles.

[00:07:08] So my investment wasn't necessarily writing a check to get advertising. It was writing articles, taking the information that I had developed through my research and making it understandable -- not to lawyers. I wasn't marketing to lawyers. I was marketing to the people who might need them. And that generated an article every month, sometimes four or five every month, in a variety of publications that ended up going all over the country.

[00:07:32] Also back then, because we were more reliant on the paper and the publications, one would contact me after having read my article in another and ask if they could use it. And of course, the key is you write it, and you want a good byline to be able to let people know how to find you. 

John Reed: [00:07:47] I think it's so interesting when lawyers who are new to the practice, new to a practice area, take what they're learning and write about it, speak about and educate the audience.

[00:08:01] And it's not necessarily a fake it til you make it kind of thing. But it actually, I find, it keeps your momentum up. Right? You're learning something. You identify, as you say, a trend in the law. You write about it. It gets published. People respond to it. As you learn more, you're not only building up your own knowledge base, you're creating your own marketing inventory of articles, publications, hopefully speaking appearances, and things like that. It sounds like that was your world at that time, too. 

Julie Fershtman: [00:08:28] It was. And I think that the best way to focus your marketing is to have as good of an understanding as you can of the industry that you want to be known to. And the best source I found wasn't so much going to the law library and getting all the articles and researching. It was taking that one step further when I got speaking invitations.

[00:08:49] At the beginning, I was willing to fly myself out, to meet with people at the biggest conventions that I could get invited to. And then it got to the point where I would be invited and they would pay my travel, put me up, and give me a nice stipend. But it was listening to the audience in the questions and answers, speaking with them before I took the podium and after, that I think was the best education that I could ever have had. That was the source, then, of articles that I continued to write because I realized what mattered to people. And I think it also helped as a lawyer because you're learning to communicate.

[00:09:23] You're seeing how your message is getting received or not being received. And it translated, I think, into a better ability at trial in connecting or trying to connect when I had some jury trials. And I think it made me an overall better lawyer, just having that opportunity to connect with people and listen.

John Reed: [00:09:41] I love the fact that you realize the value of not delivering the program and then sitting back and waiting for people to throw business cards at you. Instead, you used the time before your presentation to connect and warm up your audience. And then after the program was over, you engaged further. You used a unilateral marketing activity as a business development tool to meet people. And I think that's such the key, you know? Leverage all the tools that you have and build those relationships. 

[00:10:11] You mentioned that Kentucky is kind of, was, maybe still is the hotbed of equine lawyers. So, here you are. You're in the Motor City, which -- motor, not horsepower necessarily, not different kind of horsepower.  You are newer to the area of the law, and you are a woman. And I'm just curious if any of those things created any impediments for you or obstacles as you were building your practice and building these relationships? 

Julie Fershtman: [00:10:39] Absolutely. Certainly, the geography, and for anybody developing a niche practice, you will know that the geography can sometimes make or break your practice. Although I think the industry is changing. And that's another topic we can get into about the ability to assist in other areas ethically. But being in the Detroit area was the biggest impediment. I think a story that I'd like to share is, we're taking you now to about 1993.

[00:11:00] I was a young lawyer, about seven years out, just about to make that exodus from the firm and really try my hand at making my practice go. But I was also involved in bar associations then. And thanks to my being a, I think I was chair or close to that or I was an officer of the state bar young lawyers back then, I was allowed to travel to ABA annual meetings and mid-year meetings.

[00:11:21] And it was around that year that I was flown out to the annual meeting somewhere out on the west coast. And I met with Jay Foonberg. Anybody younger listening to this may not know who he is, but the people who are in their forties and up may know him. He was quite the guru of legal marketing, and he wrote the book for the AB -- How to Start and Build a Law Practice-- maybe some other side publications.

[00:11:42] He was the one we turned to on marketing back then for ideas. And I told him after his presentation, walked up and asked what he thought about my plans that I had told him about. And he was very clear, very blunt and said, "You're going to starve. If you want to do horse-related law in the Detroit area," which is, as you point out, John, not noted for horses, "you're never going to get any work. You may as well, just give it up, find something else."

[00:12:09] And I suppose we can take that, no matter whether it's legal marketing or anything, as a personal challenge. Because Jay Foonberg told me I wasn't going to make it and I wanted to prove to him that he was wrong. And I would truly think that propelled me through long hours, weekends doing work, doing everything I could to prove him wrong.

[00:12:29] And I truly believe I did. And he and I've spoken since.

John Reed: [00:12:32] I was going to ask you if you got your "I told you so" moment later on. 

Julie Fershtman: [00:12:35] Well, obviously, every year we never know if we're going to succeed as we did the year before. So, every year is a new challenge, but fortunately for me, I was able to keep the momentum and I did talk to him about it. Now in the last speeches he's given in the last several years, he's talked about my example and tried to encourage people to look into niches for marketing. 

John Reed: [00:12:56] And you get a royalty from that every time he mentions that. 

Julie Fershtman: [00:12:58] That would be nice. But I do have a friend in him. He's a great guy. 

John Reed: [00:13:03] That's good to hear.

[00:13:05]We're going to take a short break, but when we come back, Julie's going to tell us more about how her personal marketing, particularly her writing, led to better business development.

John Reed: [00:15:04] And we are back with equine lawyer Julie Fershtman. I'm curious. You're doing this writing and getting published and that's snowballing. Did any opportunities come out of that writing? I think you mentioned there was an insurance company that read something you wrote. Maybe you could talk about that. 

Julie Fershtman: [00:15:22] Sure. Early on, when I was just getting started, I learned of a publication that somebody actually told me about in the industry. Back then we wrote letters to each other and a lawyer in New York had read something that I wrote and wanted me to know that he really appreciated it. And then he offered a tidbit of advice, which I've taken to heart, and I give other people advice if I can, to help them move up. His advice was that there's a really great publication out there with developments in equine law.

[00:15:48] He didn't think I knew about it. He was right. And he said, “You know, you ought to read it and there's a listing of lawyers. Get yourself on there.” And I did. And apparently, insurance companies read that newsletter too. And when a case came up in Western, Michigan, not exactly near where I live, a company found out about me and that kind of got things started. That was where things began to move. 

John Reed: [00:16:09] What was the nature of the case and how'd you do, and then where does that take you? 

Julie Fershtman: [00:16:14] Well, it's interesting. I don't know if any abilities that I had at the time were the reason I got hired. I think the fact that I was female got me hired because the very first equine law case that I was hired on involved a --and this is where the insurance company got my name-- a woman in Western Michigan, who was at a stable and got bitten on the breast by a horse.

[00:16:36] The company had plenty of lawyers all over Michigan. Most of them were men. I think they all were men, but they found me and thought that I could offer something aside from being female. It was my interest in the subject matter that I think they felt would also lend itself to an efficiency that they may not be able to get otherwise.

[00:16:55] So I got the case and yeah, it grew into many more. So, the company is still a client. 

John Reed: [00:17:01] You never think that Mr. Ed would have a "Me Too" moment, but apparently that's kind of what happened. So that relationship with the insurance company, did it continue to be equine law cases, or did it blossom into other areas of the law? Other types of metrics? 

Julie Fershtman: [00:17:15] It grew because there are a number of cases you hear about around the country and we read about them and reporters, but overall the volume of equine-specific cases isn't all that great. So, it fortunately got to the point where my name got passed around to other companies.

[00:17:31] They called about claims. Sometimes they didn't hire me, which is another point that I would always recommend. To the extent that you can do so ethically, offer some assistance, not necessarily doing the work, but offer some commentary because the companies were willing to give me a try with more than just equine matters.

[00:17:48] And frankly, that's what's kept my practice going. Plenty of equine work, I suppose. Yeah. But the majority is not equine. All that started because of doing the equine law. 

John Reed: [00:17:58] When I talk to people about specialization and niches and personal branding, there's this misconception out there that if you're going to go into a niche or at least represent that you're in a niche practice, that you have to do it to the exclusion of everything else.

[00:18:15] For branding purposes, it's good to have that focus, but that doesn't mean you can't do other things. And I think it's great that you, as we started out this conversation, you turned something you love into a professional legal career. But you took the blinders off, and you were able to move into other areas and have what's become obviously a very successful insurance defense practice.

Julie Fershtman: [00:18:38] The flip side is that frankly, in my case, you can be trivialized. People don't understand what equine law is and they think I'm an animal rights lawyer. Yeah. I respect the animal rights community, but that isn't where I get my work from.

[00:18:51] And that means that the fellow lawyers out there have bypassed me for referrals because they think all I do is, you know, animal rights law, which I don't. Other people think it's a joke, that I must not have much of a practice because they think I just do, you know, horse law. So, the problem is with anybody who has a niche and if they broaden out their practice to other areas, make it known that you don't just practice in the niche to keep your practice growing.

John Reed: [00:19:15] One thing that also impresses me about you is we've been kind of joking about the papyrus world of books and whatever from way back when. But you were pretty much an early adopter and early entrant into the internet. You had a website early on. I know, I saw it, and you kept it going.

[00:19:33] You have an incredible social media presence now, and it's not new. You've cultivated that over time. It just seems like you are willing to go where things are new. You see the value of it, and then you do a great job with that. And is that a pattern? Is that the right pattern that I see in your career?

Julie Fershtman: [00:19:52] Well, I think it's a necessity for a lawyer. I think we have to, and I think we need to keep up with technology aside from our ethical obligation to do so. The fact is that we need to keep evolving with the practice and with the logistics, if you will, of how to keep your practice going. But frankly, I think social media is an absolute necessity and I think we would both agree on that. If nothing else, it puts your resume and your background in front of a worldwide audience of potential clients. 

[00:20:19] But at the very least, it's a great way and I think it's an excellent way to engage with clients. And in today's world, now that I can't travel out like I normally do and pay visits to companies all over the country that I work with, at least I can keep up through LinkedIn, for example, and use that as a tool to let them know I've seen they have a new development, new COO, new job, and I think we need to have that. We need to do that. 

[00:20:44] Of course, the other thing that my fellow lawyers generally take to heart that I can't emphasize enough: watch your message. Because as lawyers, we know that we, if we take advantage of social media, whether it's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, our image is everything. So, I have made it a point-- sometimes it's hard to keep things off social media, like politics for example. Somebody's going to be hurt and it may not reflect well on you, depending on how you receive it. 

John Reed: [00:21:11] And I should say for purposes of the community of listeners that we have, you are the epitome, you are the model of proper and meaningful social media engagement.

[00:21:23] And what I mean by that is number one, you do it, you see things that other people are sharing. And instead of just only, you know, likes -- you are commenting, you are spotlighting others as well as respectfully and humbly promoting yourself. And you're not a pouncer. And what I mean by that is if somebody has a job change or something, you know, some people congratulate you and it almost sounds like they're trying to get your business and they probably are.

[00:21:49] And it just is so transparent where I think you're very authentic in your social media presence. So, I'm sure people are going to go and look you up on LinkedIn and they should, because you are an example to everybody. 

[00:22:00] The one thing we haven't talked about that I want to get to, because it's so important is your bar association activity. It is obviously a big part of who you are. I know we talked about your general assembly involvement and then, of course, you became the 77th president of the State Bar of Michigan, but where did it start? And was it a goal of yours to rise to that level? 

Julie Fershtman: [00:22:25] It started oddly as a young associate, two years out of law school, working insanely long hours at a large firm in Detroit. It started because our Michigan Bar Journal, which is the magazine we get every month from the state bar of Michigan, had a set of nominating petitions for different opportunities within the bar. And one of those was the Young Lawyers Section of the state bar. And because I didn't go to law school in Michigan, I went to Emory in Atlanta, I didn't know a lot of lawyers in Michigan. I didn't get to know a lot of people in my firm because I was always in my office. But I took advantage of that nominating petition, passed it around, and I got elected to the Young Lawyers Section of the state bar, which is the largest section of the bar.

[00:23:08] It's mandatory for young lawyers. They become members and I really didn't know what I was getting into. So, it was merely breaking the isolation of law practice that was the entry point. But it was once I got involved in the state bar at the time that I learned the benefits of bar association involvement, the benefits of what a bar can do for the public and for the profession. Whether it's a continuing program put on by a section or whether it's a dedication to the public service that lawyers can do through the bar and the access to justice work through the bar, I saw what the bar did and wanted to become a more active part of it. 

[00:23:45] And what I learned is it's worth listening again. I talked about growing my practice by listening to the market, listening to people, learning what matters to them. But I also listened as I sat in meetings of lawyers. One of the things that I'm talking about is as you move up in the leadership ranks, at least in the Young Lawyers Section, you earn a seat on the state bar governing body, which is called the board of commissioners.

[00:24:10] And it met about every six, seven weeks. And here I was --young lawyer, you know, about 10 years out of law practice, sitting in meetings with some of the most dedicated lawyers and judges from all over Michigan, clearly highly successful people because they got elected to that body by their peers. And I developed mentors from many people on that board that really helped make a difference for me.

[00:24:36] But I think it was the process of listening to these attorneys, watching how they work that, really made me, I think, a better lawyer, better thinker, hopefully better communicator and made a difference in my practice. It did not give me referral work. Bar association work didn't do that. But it gave me, I think, a way of practicing and I guess a character that I took to heart, and it stayed with me. So, I continued involvement through the years. 

John Reed: [00:25:01] What started out as, “Hey, this looks fun and interesting,” turned into essentially a many years-long master class. You were among some of the top lawyers and judges, obviously in the state and basically just being a sponge and learning from them.

[00:25:16] And I think you've told me before you've honed your professional presence, maybe some of the things that you do, how you carry yourself in the courtroom. Some of that stuff was learned because of your activity with these folks. 

Julie Fershtman: [00:25:28] I would agree. And I think it's almost counterintuitive for some of us as lawyers to listen and to watch in that we are learning to educate, to have the answers, and know-how to counsel people. But I think it's an acquired skill and I took it to heart to listen and to use that opportunity as a master class. And it made a difference. 

John Reed: [00:25:51] I will admit to you, I have stepped in piles when I've said in workshops and presentations that if you're looking to build your practice with new business, a bar association ain't the place to do it. If you are a member, for example, of the Employment Law section, and you think you are going to build your employment law practice with other employment lawyers, unless it's conflict work, or a referral from the other side of the aisle, it's just not going to happen. 

[00:26:17] People have challenged me on it, and I challenge it back and say, “Okay, tell me how it's worked for you.” And they say, “Well, because of my presence, because of my leadership, people know me. And it's helped with my brand and that notoriety has attracted business.” And I said, “That's it. You're absolutely right.”

[00:26:35] But you don't go around looking to find your next best client at a bar mixer. It's not going to happen. And so, I thank you for validating these things that I've said. If you're going to join a bar association and be a leader, do it because the cause is good. Do it for all the things you enumerated and talked about. It's access to justice. It's serving the public. It's collegiality, networking, and things like that, but it's not necessarily the best business development tool. 

Julie Fershtman: [00:27:05] But let me take a moment on that and suggest that it can be, and not so much for building a resume as something bar associations do. I could suggest this to you and let's use the employment law example.

[00:27:14] Let's say you become involved in even your local bar's Employment Law committee. And you know that this is a tremendous opportunity for continuing education programming. What you can do, and where the bar association is your right-hand person, is you can create a program with a really timely topic. Even better, still, not just one talking head, which might be you at the podium, but a panel discussion. And now here you are, as a member of that section or committee of the bar, you can make calls to people who you think would be dynamite for that panel, which might include general counsel at companies that you've never represented but you sure would like to know. And now you're making that call, not as somebody who is looking for their attention and their (maybe) work.

[00:27:56] You're calling them to see if they want to be on your panel, and you now have met the general counsel of a company that you otherwise would never meet. And you may find that this person is ecstatic to hear from you and have this opportunity. And now you've made a connection. You now will keep up with this person. You will run the most professional program that you can by making sure every member on that panel knows all of the details.

[00:28:18] You're going to send a thank-you note to them. You're going to show them that you have run your programming in a first-class manner. You'll have, hopefully, a very good audience, and they're going to have a great experience. And now, now you know some of these people and they know you and they look up to you as somebody who gets things done. You may have a new client and you can owe it all to your bar activity.

John Reed: [00:28:37] And you just circled back to the speaking thing we were talking about before. You took what is essentially a one-way-facing, unilateral marketing activity, giving a presentation, hosting a panel, or putting a panel together.

[00:28:51] And instead, you're using it to build relationships with your panelists. It's perfect. It's that perfect blend of business development and marketing so that they work together. So, I completely agree with you about that. That's fantastic. 

[00:29:04] One of the things that happens with the niche practice is unless it's a niche by geography practice, is it extends the bounds of the jurisdiction in which you're admitted. And you were not limiting, obviously, your research and your education on equine law to Michigan. You were learning about equine law across the country. So, Julie, as you're doing all this writing and article writing, what was the hook of your article writing, and then where did those articles go next? Did it lead to other types of publications? 

Julie Fershtman: [00:29:33] The interest that I had in beginning my articles was not so much just to focus on myself, you know, “Hey, I'm a lawyer and I'm going to show you what you need to know”. But to focus on minimizing risk, risk management. And just about every article that I did in the beginning, and it's pretty much continued through a lot of them since, is I'll talk about a legal issue, such as loose livestock, loose horses on the road. But then the last part of it is “what can you do to avoid these liabilities?” Talk about insurance, for example, that you can purchase on horses. And that's a big part of my practice now. It's one thing to educate about it as I did. These are the types of insurance. But, also, here are the disputes that people have, and here's how you can avoid them. And I think that became a huge part of the article writing that I did. And also, the speaking. People didn't just want to hear about the law, but they wanted to tie it in.

[00:30:27] But what ended up happening as I began writing articles every month, as I mentioned, sometimes multiple articles a month, and also always retaining the copyright if I wrote it for a magazine and got a certain payment. I began to gather these articles --this was all pre-internet-- and write books, put together books.

[00:30:45] And I was a big fan of self-publishing. If you do it right, the book that you can self-publish looks just like a book that you would find at a major bookstore or even Amazon. And it got to the point where I was getting speaking engagements around the country, knowing that people probably didn't want to pay for me and a local lawyer so that we would stay within unauthorized practice of law limitations.

[00:31:05] But what they could do is they could buy one of my books that would explain all the things my articles cover: legal issues, how to avoid liability. And the books did very well. I wrote one in 1996, just as the internet was really starting to take hold. The second book came out four years later in 2000. And the book sold quite a bit; 12,000 books sold from online sales.

[00:31:30] Well, actually I had an 800 number to sell the books, but in person, it was tremendous that nobody else had done this. And so, the value at conventions that I was able to sell was huge. ABA just published my newest book last year. It's called Equine Law and Horse Sense, which combines a lot of my material over the years.

[00:31:50] I'm a big believer that if you can't serve people because they don't have the ability to pay for you if you're out of state, in addition to a local lawyer, there are other tools that you can do to educate and to help pay the bills. 

John Reed: [00:32:04] Put a little jingle in your pocket, as it were, as you were building your practice.

[00:32:08] Julie, I have to say, this has been kind of a “fanboy” moment for me. You and your equine law practice and your state bar visibility are all examples that I've used in the workshops that I've conducted and in coaching engagements. So, it has been a real treat to talk with you and such an honor. If people in our community of listeners want to learn more about you and get in touch, where should they go?

Julie Fershtman: [00:32:33] Well, that's another recommendation. When I began to develop an online presence, I locked in a lot of websites, a lot of domain names, and they all hunt each other. But one of my websites is EquineLaw.net and a lot of sites hunt to that. Then I have EquineLaw.info with info on my books. But then Fershtmanlaw.com is a very simple site with information on my practice. So, these are the main ones in addition to others that I own. 

John Reed: [00:33:00] Fantastic. We'll make sure that those are in the show notes, too. So, if people are listening and they want to go to our website and get that, we'll have the links for them. 

 [00:33:07] So, Julie, this has been such a privilege for me. Thank you for sharing your stories. And there is so much that we can learn from them, not just about equine law, but about marketing, about hanging your own shingle, about professionalism. This has been my master class, so I appreciate you taking the time with us today. 

Julie Fershtman: [00:33:24] Thank you for having me. It was fun. 

John Reed: [00:33:27] And thank you for listening. To hear this episode again, or download other Sticky Lawyers episodes, visit stickylawyers.com. There you'll be able to view episode transcripts, behind-the-scenes notes, and recommend a standout lawyer you know who might be a future guest. And please don't forget to subscribe to this podcast. Everyone at Rain BDM who works so hard to produce this podcast would greatly appreciate it. 

[00:33:54] Until next time, I'm John Reed and you've been listening to Sticky Lawyers.

Julie Fershtman

Shareholder, Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC

Julie Fershtman is widely considered one of the nation's leading practitioners in equine law. She has handled matters for a national clientele involving contract disputes, fraud, association liability, partnership disputes, and personal injury liability. She has also helped draft and advocate for legislation impacting the industry. In addition to her law practice, Julie is active in bar associations, ultimately serving as the 77th President of the State Bar of Michigan, and only the fifth woman in the bar’s history to be elected to this role.

Juilie has written more than 400 published articles, seven ABA law journal articles (co-authored), four books, and two blogs. The ABA published her latest book, Equine Law and Horse Sense, in 2019, which has won four national awards since its publication. In 2021, the book was selected to receive a "Finalist" Medal by the Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the category of Animals/Pets.