Welcome back to Beyond the Docket! We had the pleasure of interviewing Abe Lichy. We discuss Abe’s passion for music, his experience running his own fashion company, and returning to practicing law by opening his own firm. Enjoy!
Tell us a bit about your legal practice. What type of work do you focus on?
I started Lichy Law in October 2017 after a 6 year stint in Biglaw and then 5 years as the co-founder and CEO of a women’s accessories brand in NYC. I was originally going to be a “Fashion Law Firm” but quickly realized that my background and skill set could offer value far beyond the limited field of fashion-related legal matters, and so it naturally transitioned to a Start-Up firm. I like to think of Lichy Law as a Start Up for Start Ups. The type of work we focus on is pretty much anything that new and budding entrepreneurs need help with.
I don’t like thinking of my firm as fitting into a type of “field” because I view the type of counsel we provide as being more fluid as opposed to linear. What I mean by that is: we look at the overall strategies that our clients want to employ in building their businesses and give advice based on both the legal context and, equally as important, the business context. Having been on the other side as a founder and non-legal service-based entrepreneur, I know what my clients are going through with all the hoops and uncertainties that come with starting ventures. That said, of course there are some traditional legal “fields” that most small and emerging businesses need counsel on, and so we focus a lot on trademarks, copyrights, contracts, and business law issues. But really, the work we focus on is giving our clients the tools to get off the ground and not break their bank doing it.
The other half of my practice focuses on real estate law. This may seem incongruous at first (real estate and start-up law) but I find commonalities in them, which include helping people achieve their dreams and guiding them through ownership of property - whether it’s intellectual or real. My family has a real estate background, so it was a natural fit for me. I also invest, so it’s a fun practice area for me personally.
You have a strong passion for music and play in a jam band as well as being a DJ. How did you first get involved with music? Have your musical experiences helped you with the practice of law?
I love this question! I am obsessed with music, it’s true. I’ve been playing in jam bands since college. I even took two years off in between college and law school to play in a band out in Madison, Wisconsin - one of the best decisions I ever made. I got involved with music from an early age. My grandparents were very musical. I have great memories of my Cuban grandmother singing and performing Spanish music at our family gatherings growing up, and of my Grandfather (other side of the family) singing at Shul in Ladino. There was always music playing in my house when I was growing up. For me it all started with the Beatles (it was in fact my Bar Mitzvah theme!) and in college I was exposed to Phish, which changed me forever. I started DJing in college too and ended up playing around the world for a few years while also pursuing my JD. Looking back I should’ve performed as DJ Palindrome (DJ JD). Ugh, I’m turning into my father with these jokes.
As far as how my musical experiences helped me with the practice of law - in more ways than one might think initially. To me, being in a jam band and being a lawyer are really similar. I actually wrote an article on this a little while ago (if anyone’s interested: https://liveforlivemusic.com/features/representing-start-ups-jam-band/) and the basics of it are that both require mastery over the art of listening. I can’t stress this enough - I don’t care how well you know the law or the intricacies of any legal issues - if you’re not listening to your clients then it’s essentially meaningless. Same goes with playing jam music - if you’re just noodling on your instrument and not really listening to your bandmates, it starts morphing into noise without purpose or resolution.
Related to this is the ability to think on the fly and implement strategies and solutions in real-time. As lawyers, we’re stereotypically overly analytical and we take forever to make decisions. When you’re working with small businesses, things happen fast. Really fast. No one has time to wait for decisions to take weeks when it could be done basically on the fly. By attuning yourself to the client’s needs and their overall positioning and also with practiced application of legal solutions, you can achieve great things in real-time for your client’s benefit.
Lastly, adaptation. By being fluid and flexible you allow yourself to be open-minded to solutions that may not have been clear in the beginning or that might require immediate attention. This fluidity and creativity allows you to connect ideas and concepts between business, legal, and personal facets that might not be readily apparent to someone thinking along a more rigid path of thought.
On a personal note, music also helps me with the practice of law because it’s a creative outlet for me. I play in a band, called The Lichy Nuts, with my brothers, and we jam a couple of times a month. Just for the fun of it. Keeps me grounded and brings me joy. What else is there to say?
You left practicing at a law firm to run your own fashion company with your wife. What was that experience like? With your prior firm experience did you handle the company’s intellectual property filings or did you use outside counsel?
The experience of leaving Biglaw to start a fashion brand was many things. At the time, it was extremely liberating but also carried a real sense of insecurity and fear. I had wanted to leave my old firm for a couple of years, and it was a slow transition out, but after I had my first kid and saw what could be my life if I stayed in Biglaw (no offense to anyone in Biglaw! It just wasn’t for me), I knew I had to choose a different path. And so my wife and I were at a music festival in New Orleans, and I had an intense moment where it all dawned on me in a very real way that I needed to get out.
The whole fashion thing was really random now that I’m looking back. My wife’s background was in Real Estate, and we started our company on a whim. We were on our honeymoon, and she was playing out this fantasy of being a fashion designer and I, grasping at any opportunity to make an exit from Biglaw, was just like “yea, let’s do it.” And so we did. We took a huge detour in life.
We met incredible people, traveled the world, learned A LOT by trial and error (and there were a lot of errors…) and found ourselves truly humbled for the first time in our lives. While we had our moments, in the end I don’t think it was the right fit for us. We both love(d) being entrepreneurs and creatives but realized our passions lay elsewhere. Also, working with my wife in such close proximities presented its own challenges. When you spend so much time with someone in close quarters all the time, tensions are bound to arise. Especially when business is not doing as well as you want it to and you have a second kid and are making no money because you both work for a start up. It was tough… really tough in the end. I think it was after our car got repossessed and we had to ask my mother-in-law to buy us groceries because we couldn’t afford them that we decided to call it quits with the business.
If I could do anything differently, I wouldn’t. It was just a very expensive MBA is how I look at the whole experience. I learned more than I ever thought I would about business, and I wouldn’t have been able to start my firm and grow it to where it’s at now if I didn’t have that real world struggle and experience. And my wife and I are much much happier doing our own separate things with work. She went back to real estate and landed a job at Douglas Elliman with the Eklund Gomes team, and I’m really excited about the path we’re on. As far as all the legal matters, I handled all of them. I actually was in litigation for most of my time at Kasowitz so it was through being a CEO that I learned a lot of how to be a transactional lawyer.
Are you still involved with the fashion company that you started? Was it a successful venture?
We sold the intellectual property and assets a year and a half ago. Was it successful? Depends on your perspective. From a business standpoint - nope. I failed with that, and I’m damn proud of that fact. From a learning perspective - a resounding yes. I couldn’t begin to explain how much I learned from that whole process. A lot of what I learned translate into skills I use to counsel clients and grow their businesses and grow my firm.
What made you want to get back into the practice of law and start your own firm? How long have you been running your own practice?
I’ve always loved being a lawyer. My parents would tell me since I was 11 that I was destined to become one. My mother’s father was a lawyer in Cuba for the government there before Castro came into power, and I always loved negotiating and arguing (“debating”). The decision to go back into law was one that wasn’t so clear to me at the time though.
After we decided to leave our fashion brand, I was still lost for a few months. I actually went to a Tony Robbins seminar (Unleash the Power Within) in July 2017 after my mother-in-law gifted me a ticket. I thought it sounded culty, but I’m pretty open-minded, so I went for the 4 day seminar by myself, and it was transformative in ways I didn’t think it would be. I still thought it was a little culty, but I didn’t care… It was amazing, and it worked. One of the things I remember most is an exercise where we were asked to write down some of our “limiting beliefs.” For me, it was that I was too old to start a new business and that I didn’t have a marketable skill set to work as an executive in an existing business. This thought plagued me for a while and held me back through the fear.
The months following my Tony experience were still amorphous. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. At one point I thought about starting a drop ship t-shirt business (my wife was not too happy with this idea…) and then after realizing I was a 34-year-old man with no job, a wife and 2 kids to support, things got real, and I started interviewing at law firms. I was so resistant to doing this, but I needed a way to earn a living, and other than starting at the low rung of a start-up or established business from a business/executive facing position, being a lawyer was my main marketable skill.
I interviewed at a few firms and started getting depressed at the idea of working at a law firm. Working for “the man.” One night in early October 2017 I had one of those “aha!” moments and realized that I could do both of the things I love and be happy: business and law. I had this vision of “Lichy Law” that was more a compulsion than anything else. It was my soul reaching through to my brain saying, “Wake up you idiot. The path is right here. Take it.” I spent the entire night building my website, taking a profile picture, and incorporating my law firm’s entity. The next day I told my wife about my idea, and to my pleasant surprise, she was 100% supportive right away. It resonated with her too. I haven’t looked back since!
What is your law firm’s technology stack? Do you use Slack? Practice management software? Trademark management software?
I used to use Slack when I was in fashion, but don’t find the need yet with my firm. For Practice Management I used PracticePanther (which I love!) and Alt Legal for trademark management. I know this is an Alt Legal interview but I do want to say that I LOVE the platform. It’s super user-friendly, and it’s saved my ass more times than I can count when it comes to deadlines. I also use Markify for clearance searches and other browsing and Docu Sign for engagement letters.
If you could create any legal practice-focused technology, what would it be and why?
My own AI associate. I’d love to have a machine-learning capable synthetic assistant to help me with all the small things I need to deal with running my firm. Integration would be a key component - sending out engagement letters and invoices, adding matters to my dockets, reminding me to follow up with clients and help me pull info to provide them with responses to basic questions.