Women on Purpose: Shabnam Malek and Amanda Conley

Changing your work-life to welcome more freedom and fulfillment is a process and a journey. Here, every month, we will share stories of women who are doing it. Real stories, real transformation. This is a virtual treasure chest -- full of the challenges, struggles, lessons and insights of others -- which you can use to enrich your own path.

This month’s featured "woman on purpose" is actually women -- a partnership, Shabnam Malek and Amanda Conley.  Shabnam and Amanda are intellectual property attorneys who partnered professionally to form their own law practice, Brand & Branch LLP.  They’ve also launched two other organizations at the same time -- the National Cannabis Bar Association, and the Bay Area chapter of the national women’s cannabis industry networking group Women Grow.  

Shabnam and Amanda have made a big change this year -- they knew they needed a change when, while still working for someone else, they began to see what it might be like to build and own their own company.  Together they left their steady jobs and regular paychecks, and leveraged their "big law" backgrounds and cannabis industry contacts and launched their own law firm, Brand & Branch LLP.

Describe the big shift you’ve made in your work-life. What led you to that change?

Shabnam: For me, the big shift was leaving a steady, secure, well-paying job with a strong future to start my own law practice. I had two young kids, lots of debt, and my spouse and I did not have a nest egg -- so I knew I had to make it work right away.  

Amanda: The big shift was similar for me. Going out on my own meant giving up a steady paycheck, which is a terrifying process in the face of insurmountable law school debt. It also meant taking a risk that I wouldn’t be successful -- something that would have terrified me only a couple years earlier.

For both of us, many factors motivated this change. On a really basic level, the decision was drive by a desire to be our own bosses, define our own time, and practice law in the way we wanted to without having to "report" to a boss.

On a more inspirational level, the desire to do and pursue more work that truly resonated with us finally hit boiling point and we could no longer ignore the noise. We had built a cannabis law practice at the firm where we were both working and could feel there was something else waiting for us if we were willing to take a risk and go out on our own. We found ourselves in a perfect storm of good timing, lots of energy, good vision, and a terrific partnership. We knew we’d always regret it if we didn’t take this chance, and so we leapt.

What were you most fearful of in making that change?

I think the obvious answer is: failure and no money, but there’s also this fear of not having the same external measure or validation for your success anymore.

Amanda: Before going out on our own, I felt like all my decisions were in line with what my law school career services department wanted: choose the best firm available to you, work hard, and you’ll develop an impressive resume and therefore be a "successful" person. Being on our own meant no safety net, but it also meant no highly reputable company to attach my name to. Instead, we were creating that company from the ground up -- simultaneously thrilling and terrifying.

How is your experience of life different now?

How is NOT different!? Everything is different.  Our daily schedules are different, our nightly schedules are different, our clients differ, our legal advice is delivered in a different (more confident) manner, our goals and outlook on the future are different. Although we are far busier than ever before and we definitely struggle with time management and balance, we both have a whole new lease on our careers.  We want to work.  We want to play after working very hard.  The whole cycle is rewarding in a truly unique way.

What’s your biggest concern in this moment?

Managing growth. Simple as that. We had a retreat recently, after a few of months of data gathering, and were able to make some decisions about restructuring our rates and our offerings. But at the end of the day, we see some growing pains on the horizon.  We need more help than we’re able to commit to right now financially so we’re working more hours than ever, and we were already working all the time! On the upside, we love the work -- all of it, the substantive law, the advice and counseling, the business development, the whole bit.

What are you most excited about going forward?

We’re excited about so many different things.  First, we’re excited about the growth and trajectory of the firm.  We discuss the various directions the firm could go in and all of them excite us -- continued growth, merger, geographic expansion -- you name it.  We’re excited that we started something with so much potential brings us energy every day.

On a personal level, we’re excited about the constant, changing opportunities that find us.  Not a week passes by that someone doesn’t approach us to collaborate on something that we are genuinely interested in.  And to add to that, we are now able to manifest our ideas and dreams through the community around us.  Just about everyone we know is thrilled to help me launch an idea.

We are also excited about the future of legalized cannabis and what that can mean for the people who are the most negatively and directly affected by the drug war -- young men and women of color. Being able to witness, first hand, the kind of change in this country that will directly impact people’s lives, is one of the most exciting things I’ve experienced ever.  That it is also changing our lives directly is even more thrilling.

If you could travel back in time, what’s one piece of advice that your current self wishes that you could tell your former self?

Shabnam: Don’t worry, you’ll get there.

Amanda: It turns out you’ve been defining "success" all wrong. But you’ll figure it out.

About Shabnam and Amanda 

Shabnam Malek and Amanda Conley are the founding partners of Brand & Branch LLP, co-founders of the National Cannabis Bar Association, and founding co-chairs for the Bay Area chapter of Women Grow. Brand & Branch advises clients on intellectual property ownership, enforcement, and defense; growth strategies for companies in all stages; disputes, advertising, privacy, and online compliance issues. Find out more at www.brandandbranch.com.