One of the biggest things that prevent a small business from seeking legal advice is the costs. How much do I need to pay up-front? What are the up-charges? Do I need to pay for a phone call?
These are the sorts of questions that cause many entrepreneurs, creatives, startups, and solopreneurs to ‘go it alone’ when it comes to getting the legal services they need to start (and run) a business.
Portland, OR, attorney Michael Jonas is different. He works on a project basis. During this week’s podcast, we explore the top 3 things every small business needs to consider from a legal perspective, what it means to be a value and benefit-based business, and what it means to be a Rational Unicorn (and why we all need to be one).
- Michael's journey into entrepreneurship
- Business and community building baked into the business model
- Having a values-based and benefit-based business - and how you can stand up for what you believe in and continue to be successful
- Why the name Rational Unicorn?
- Why you need to be a Rational Unicorn, too
- The top 3 things you need to get to cover your legal bases
- Preventative law vs. transactional law - what's the difference?
- Community events
Check out our other interviews with experts essential to your business growth:
Have you talked to a lawyer about your business? Learn the top 3 things every business must know by listening to this podcast episode. #smallbusiness #business #pdx
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Meet Michael Jonas
Principal Attorney and Owner of Rational Unicorn Legal Services LLC
Michael Jonas is the Principal Attorney and Owner of Rational Unicorn Legal Services LLC, a community based business law firm. The firm offers pay as you go legal services including but not limited to business formation, contract review and drafting, and preparation and filing of trademark and copyright applications. The firm is an Oregon Benefit Company and strongly believes in and practices the triple bottom line (people, planet, and profits).
Passionate about community engagement, Michael dedicates time to volunteering with several nonprofit organizations. He currently serves on three nonprofit boards: New Leaders Council (NLC), the hub for progressive Millennial thought leadership; Hatch Innovation, a social entrepreneurial innovation incubator; and The Main Street Alliance of Oregon, the local chapter of a national network of state-based small business coalitions. He is dedicated to empowering all community members by practicing "Community Business Law for Everyone in the Community."
Transcript: Why You Need To Be A Rational Unicorn with Michael Jonas
Michael Jonas is the Rational Unicorn. On this show you'll learn what that means. Why attorneys and small businesses really do need to get along better and that there are people out there who can support your small business from a legal standpoint that aren't going to cost an arm and a leg. All that and more here on women conquer business. [music]
My name is Jen McFarland. I help business owners like you lead, plan, and execute their projects for maximum impact. Women-led businesses receive less funding, yet our businesses are more successful. As consumers, we hold the purse strings. It's time for us to take on the business world. Welcome to women conquer business. [music]
One of the most important things a small business owner can do is set up goals that will move their initiatives forward. If you've ever struggled with setting up goals and following through on them or even just setting up the right goals, I've created a free e-book for you just to help you understand the three key components for setting up your goals. If you go to jenmcfarland.com/free you can download this guide today. Happy goal setting.
Michael Jonas is the principal attorney and owner of Rational Unicorn Legal Services LLC. A community-based business law firm.
The firm offers pay as you go legal services including but not limited to business formation, contract review and drafting, and preparation and filing of trademark and copyright applications. The firm is an Oregon benefit company and strongly believes in and practices the triple bottom line. People, planet, and profits. Passionate about community engagement, Michael dedicates time to volunteering with several non-profit organizations. He currently serves on three non-profit boards. New Leaders Council, The Hub for Progressive Millennial Thought Leadership, Hatch Innovation, a social entrepreneurial innovation incubator, the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, the local chapter of a national network of state-based small business coalitions. He is dedicated to empowering all community members by practicing community business law for everyone in the community. Please welcome Michael to the show.
Hey, Michael. Welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Sure. Hey, why don't you tell people how you got to where you are today. I think you have a really great story about starting your business and the people you serve now.
Sure. Well, I know there's a limited amount of time. I can talk for eight hours. You as well. Basically, I grew up being a mix of social justice and media marketing. So I've always been somewhat creative, somewhat analytical. Did speech [inaudible]. Never thought that I would end up going to law school because I said no and veered away from it. Long story short, got a bachelor's degree in psychology for UC Santa Barbara and then did non-profit work. Then I went to law school. Graduated in 2009 in the recession. Lost my apartment and my car. Took nine bar exams. Passed my ninth bar exam and then in 2017, I finally passed the bar. Opened up my law firm, Rational Unicorn Legal Services. That's a lot in a very short amount of time. Essentially, my law firm is myself as a lawyer, as opposed to me being what people want me to be. So what does that mean? It means that our firm is a certified benefit company. We believe even community building and business building at the same time. We offer pay as you go services and our clients are small businesses, nonprofits, and artists and entertainers.
Which is awesome.
Yeah, I really enjoy it. It's a really fun way to practice law. I have clients who are extremely passionate about what they want to do in life and a lot of them are very civically engaged, so they know about their community, they care about their community. And it's always fun to help people not only figure out their dreams and the logistics of that but to talk about their projects, what inspires them, what do they want to do, what do they vision for their future?
Absolutely, and I wanted to circle back to the business building and community building because I think that that's one of the things that makes you really unique. Could you talk a little bit about how you encourage or build both in your business or with others?
Sure. Sure, so first I'll tell a really short story. When I was working at a downtown law firm in Portland, I was a client manager, hadn't passed the bar yet. My boss basically told me, "Don't do food bank night or don't do this. Our firm can't take the time to do that. You do charity on your own time." Not that he was a horrible person. He was a nice guy, but I basically thought, "I don't want to do charity on my own time. I want it to be part of what I'm doing." And so most of the people who I'm really inspired by or businesses that I'm inspired by, they do both at the same time. They do community building and business building at the same time and it's possible. And it's possible to do that and to also make a profit. So when I started my firm, for me that was the only way is making it so the community was involved, making it so that services were accessible, making it financially affordable to have a lawyer so that you're paying a project fee versus a large retainer that we're eating away in a trust fund. So all of those things I've sort of thought about for years and they've been a part of who I am. And then when I made my law firm, I kind folded in the good, bad, ugly and then also my morality into this firm.
Sure. Yeah, so what are some of-- when you say you've built your morality into it, what are some of the causes that you're really passionate about?
Yeah. Well, that's a great question. So I'm on three nonprofit boards, so when I'm not managing the firm or being an attorney, I have that. So the three of those, there's New Leaders Council, which is a community leadership organization. It's a national organization. I helped start the Portland chapter and we're going to be having our fourth cohort of community leaders in January. So basically 20 community leaders get chosen and from January to May or June, one weekend a month we have all sorts of speakers and activities and things like that. So they learn about policy and law and fundraising and advocacy, how to be a leader, how to grow. And then the beauty of it is there's people from every walk of life and every career so it's not just a group of 20 lawyers or politicians. There might be an environmental scientist who meets someone who works in the legislature and they can talk about things with each other, so that. I'm also on the [Main Street?] Alliance.
And we advocate for small business owners for not just for wages, but for access to commercial leases, to paid leave, for just a variety of things. We're sort of arguing for those things, and I don't know if arguing is the right word, but there's been a lot of talk about fighting for change, so I guess arguing [laughter] is appropriate. And then the third thing that I'm involved with is I'm on the board of [Hashlab?]. So [Hash?] is a social incubator for entrepreneurs, so I help administratively, I also help with some of the social enterprise stuff. So for the social pitchers, I do a free [inaudible] for all of them to do an overview of business law. My firm itself, we do all kinds of things, so from taking a stand on issues, whether it's trans rights, whether it's that children should not be in cages, whether it's women should have equal pay, we blatantly just [laughter] draw a line in the sand and shout that out. We also do a free seminar series, which we could talk more about, which is a really good opportunity for the public to learn about the law and then also to network with other small business owners, and I'm trying to think of what else [laughter]. But basically all that we do, especially being a benefit company, is stand in not just profit, but people and planet. So we're always thinking about, does the language of this make sense? Is this project affordable? Does this require, maybe, explaining it in a different way for other people to understand? We're always sort of thinking about these different things. And the other really interesting thing is our firm is probably 90% paperless, so we really don't have-- I have one, maybe, two-foot filing cabinet for the whole entire firm. Other than that, we have no paper.
It's all done digitally. Yeah.
Wow, that's so cool. And I think that the main thing for people to take away is just the fact that you can have a successful business and stand up for what you believe in. It doesn't have to be mutually exclusive. I know that I've gotten pushback from family members who really, "You can't say that stuff online [laughter]." But it's part of me and then it's an extension, part of the brand. And I guess there is risk in that, but it's also finding your people.
Yeah. That is a really good point. And I think when I was younger, I probably would've thought, "Okay, well, if I watered down my brand or who I am-- the goal would be to get as many clients, right? So if you are more general, you'd feel like you're not offending anybody. Everybody's going to come to you." But that's actually not true. When I take a stand, both with the brand and with who we are, we actually have people who come to us specifically for that. So when they're presented a choice of, do I want to work with a benefit company or I not want to work with one? Or do I want to work with an organization who cares about the community? Not that people do not care, but the point is this, what happens is we get really passionate people who fit with our values. It doesn't mean that everybody's the same. Our clients are all different races, religions, sexualities. We have clients who are trans and non-binary. And the thing is there's this common thread of social justice, and progress, and love. I mean, our firm is sort of premised on love, which a lot of lawyers would say, "You can't do that. It's a law firm [laughter]." So it actually makes me happy because it means that [she's?] not going to come to our [laughter] office expecting services. And I'm happy with that. So I actually like my clients. And so not only with the services and the types of clients that we have but with the branding. You know the name is Rational Unicorn Legal Services. And then our slogan, which just got trademarked, which - yay [laughter]!- is Community Business Law for everyone in the community. And we absolutely mean that. We want to make sure people know that, that this is not only community business law, meaning it's not just your average business law, but it is for everybody in the community who wants to utilize our services.
That's amazing. So how did you come up with name Rational Unicorn?
Yeah [laughter]. It's a great question. Well, the first part of it is I didn't want to be scales of justice, or Jonas Law, or something like that. I thought that those are really boring and taken. And then the other part of it is I knew that I wanted to work with a lot of creative people and community people, so I thought that I could use a creative name. And basically, I love unicorns. A lot of people love unicorns [laughter]. But the issue is how to be a dreamer with also being a realist. And so I have that issue, and, also, clients have that issue. So the goal of my firm is for me to be a rational unicorn. Before I frolic and glitter and sparkle and dream and all that, or while I'm doing that, I have to also do reality testing, follow laws, be logistical, do goal setting [laughter], break down projects. And so that's also a lesson for my clients is I want them to become in this process a rational unicorn. I want them to be as successful as possible and to dream but to figure out what they need to do in a responsible way. So that's what that rationality is.
I love that. I love that. Yeah. I think sometimes creatives spend too much time being unicorns [laughter], and it holds us back a little bit because there is this whole world that we have to navigate that's not frolicking all the time [laughter].
Yeah. Yeah. So that's true in that regard. It's also true in the sense of I tell people, "You could be the best singer, the best baker, the best writer," whatever it may be, "but there's also this business admin component." And a lot of people who are really successful, they have both. But sometimes there's someone who's extremely good at what they do, they're not good at marketing, or they're not good at business, or they haven't tried, or they need a little bit of help with either my services or your services, for example. So a rational unicorn's also someone who knows what they know and knows what they don't know. They know when to ask for help, and they know to seek counsel. So there's a big part of that. And so I tell people often, "It's not just the thing you do, it's what is the business behind it, what are the legalities behind it." Because, again, you could be the best in the world at what you do, but if you haven't figured out the business side, or the legalities, unfortunately, the world won't see you or know you, but also people could take advantage of you, or try to steal your intellectual property, or things like that. So a rational unicorn-- or when a client is a rational unicorn is when the client has figured out, "This is a business. I am all in. And I'm in in a business admin way, a marketing way, and a I know my liabilities way [laughter]." And then I say, "Okay. Well, it looks like you're a rational unicorn now [laughter]."
That's so awesome. What do you think are the two, or three, most important things or things that you tell people over and over and over again to help them when they're just getting started?
Yeah. That's a great question. One of them is don't freak out because [laughter] there's so many things, right? There's Portland Revenue Division, there's the Oregon taxes, there's the IRS with federal taxes, there's the Secretary of State's office. There's so many either organizational things, paperwork things. So I tell people like, "We'll figure that out. Let's talk about it." So we demystify that. We tell them what those things are. We break them down. So a big part of it is don't freak out [laughter]. So that's the first one. I would say that the next one is you have to break down your goals, and you have to calendar them out, right? And you can time block, and you can say, "This week, I'm going to be working on this and this. Next week, I'm going to be working on this and this." What happens is that everything sort of hits us, we want to do everything. And with process-oriented things, you cannot do that. Even process-oriented things, they have to be broken down. So I think don't freak out [laughter], break things down. The last one I would say is be patient and also and this kind of relates. This is something that helped me when I had a lot of dark days is ask yourself, "If someone else was in your position, what would you say to them?" And usually, you would be more kind and more patient to them than you would be to yourself. So you would say to that person, "You're doing a great job. You're almost there. Try again." Or you would say, "Look. You've done 80 percent of this thing." But to us, we continually beat ourselves up, we were mad at ourselves, it's not enough, you didn't do enough that day, or you scheduled 80 things to do in one day which was unrealistic. So I would say the last one is be patient with yourself and talk kindly to yourself. And it's something that I have to practice on a daily basis because there's always more to do, right?
And highly ambitious people, they often say to themselves, "More, more, more. Not enough." But that's really not a beneficial way to live, and it's not really a recipe for success. You have to have moments where you breathe in what you've done and you say, "Okay. Well, I did this this week. I'm going to do this other thing next week." So all those kind of [relate?] of patience, not freaking out, and time blocking and scheduling and breaking down goals into smaller goals.
Well, I think it's easy to freak out about all of the legal stuff.
You know what I mean? I imagine you have a lot of people that are just like, "I have to do what? And then I have to do what?" And so they're like, "I'm just going to do it all." And it's so boring for somebody who's not a lawyer. You get overwhelmed, I think, in that. You want to just knock it out because you don't get it. But then you can get really bogged down, I think.
Yeah. Yeah. I definitely can see that. And there are people who say to me, "I'm not good at law stuff." And I go, "Well, I'm not good at baking," or, "I'm not good at being a business coach," or something like that. So there is nothing that says that you would just automatically know the law or that you would know what these processes are. So the first part is just like, "You're okay. I'm not looking down upon you or thinking, 'How is this person going to ever be successful? They don't know the law.'" It's not like that at all. My job is to help you with that. And again, we're back to the being patient. But I treat law in a preventative business way where we start early and we figure out what we're doing and why. And there's this educational component. A lot of lawyers, it's, "Tell me what you want, pay me, and then here's your contract. Have a good day." So I don't really practice that way. I want to talk to you about what you're working on in a thorough way, figure out what all those pieces look like, and then discuss options with you. And that may be breaking it down even further. So what kind of business entities you need. Why? What does this mean? I had people who were like, "My friend, Bonnie, is telling me to be this." And I'm like, "Well, that's great. But let's look into that. Let's discuss that." Or contracts. I mean, contracts can be extraordinarily scary. But I want a client to have a contract that they actually understand, and then they use it in their business practices. I don't want them to say, "My lawyer wrote this. I have no idea what it means." So I think a big part of demystifying these legal things is with preparation, is with knowledge, is with discussing them. I've also had clients contact me and say, "I have a really great contract that you wrote for me. I still haven't used it. I admit that." And I go, "Okay. Well, why? Let's talk about it." And then it may be that there's a part of it that they don't understand. It may be that it's not presented in the right way for example, maybe it should go with other forms that you're giving out, or maybe it can go on fun stationery.
A contract can-- it can be pink, like a legally bond type thing. It's still legally blind-- legally binding, not legally bonding [laughter]. But I mean, my point is making the law as accessible as possible. A big portion of that is talking about it and educating on it, and giving clients options versus giving an explanation that makes no sense is full of legal theory and then saying, "Give me your money," and that's it.
Exactly, yeah. No, I, I totally love that. And it's refreshing. It's like, wouldn't it-- I would love to find a doctor like this too, more interested in preventative medicine that doesn't talk-- I mean, it's kind of the same thing. These are services that are sometimes hard for people to find that make a lot of sense. So I was hoping you can talk a little bit about what you mean when you say that it's on a project basis because I think a lot of people-- are what makes lawyers for small businesses seem so inaccessible is the idea of thousands of dollars that's just sitting there. And you do it-- you do it differently.
Yeah, absolutely. So we have a pay as you go model. So payment is what allows us to start the services. Basically, once we have that conversation and figure out what you may need, we give you price quotes. So we may say it looks like you need an LLC formation, two trademarks, a client service agreement and maybe a contract agreement. This is what each of these will cost. You can decide to do one of them, you can decide to do all of them. You can do one a month. The difference is throughout that process, you're already talking to us. Whereas there are some firms where-- or the traditional is you pay me $3,000 to start with our firm. I put it in a trust account. You don't see it. And then what happens is, as I'm working on your project, I take money out from the trust account. One, it could be eaten through right away. And maybe you owe additional money for the project. Two, they bill for calls and emails. We include all calls and emails within the project. So you'll never get an additional bill that says because you called to ask about your project, here's an additional bill. So people are [really goo in?] understanding of how much they're going to pay and how much they'll get done for that. There's no bells and whistles or some mysteries. So what allows people do is it allows people to budget and it allows for us to deliver on whatever's needed. I don't like the idea of holding money and if you think about it, say, for example, someone is opening a brand new business like a coffee shop, like I mentioned, and they have kids. If I take $3,000 from them, they may not be able to pay their rent, they may not be able to feed their kids, they may not be able to pay their other expenses to open up that coffee shop to get it going. So the idea of taking that money and putting it in a trust and holding it, it doesn't help them, it doesn't really help me. So it's a simple menu or all a cart, which makes me hungry, legal services. And I think it seems revolutionary, but it's really simple and it's really common sense. It's, this is what the fee is for this project. Do you want it? Sure. You order it, you pay for it. And then that's what you get.
Right. Yeah. Well, and you also help people figure out what is on the menu for them yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. And we give options. Of course, if you need it, we'll tell you, "Okay. Maybe you need this," but there's never an up charged. I never throw anything in there and say, "Okay. You owe me another $1,000." It's very trusting relationship of, "What sort of things do you need?" and, "How do you want to proceed?" and then you give us permission to do so.
Sounds great [laughter]. Sign me up. Everybody should sign up.
Yeah. Well, I appreciate that. Honestly, it's a really great way of practicing law. I thoroughly enjoy it. I enjoy working on the projects. I enjoy knowing that people are getting personalized, legal help. And one thing that I forgot to mention in that vein is edits of contracts, up to a month after completed, are included as well. And so, if I write a client service agreement for you and you want to fix it, I don't just say, "Oh, that's going to cost additional money," or, "I already delivered it to you. It's done." We make an appointment. We do real-time editing of that contract. And maybe I didn't get something right, right? Maybe I didn't explain the scheduling process or the fee process, or maybe you want to add something, or maybe you want to talk about one of the clauses that I added, for example, an intellectual property clause. So we actually take time to do that before I leave you with your final draft. And then you go and put it into play. And I think that additional process of editing or confirming with the client that this is what they need is really crucial to me and to the client's success and both using the contract and then, also, us both knowing that I delivered the service as desired, and they got what they needed to help their business.
Right. Yeah. I mean we're working right now on my client service agreement, and, I mean, you've been very helpful. And I'm going through it, and I know that I can ask questions if I need to. And that's really the thing. I think, a lot of times, it can be a black box, like the money goes there; the attorneys take it out; they tell you it's gone. And that's a little scary for people for all the reasons that you said. But then also, when we've talked before, you've mentioned that sometimes people are hesitant to call, and they might not actually get what they need. So I appreciate that it's a lot in the way that I work too, about wanting people to actually use whatever it is that you've delivered, not just once but over and over again.
Yeah. That's definitely true, and I've enjoyed working with you so far. Yeah. But yeah, that's definitely true. And the thing you mentioned about calling is-- what we need to realize is, if someone's worried that if they call, they have to pay or they're going to have an additional bill for calls or emails, they may not call, or they may make their call really short, and that could be detrimental. What if we actually do need to have an hour editing session of your contract draft, not just a five minute call? So at any other law firm, if you're afraid that you're going to be charged every 15 minutes, you're going to look at your watch, and you're going to make sure that at 15 minutes, you're done. So it's a different way of practicing law. It's a more humane way. Again, it's not revolutionary. It's simple. It's the way that it should be. I don't know how we got into the other. We could've gotten to the other because corporations were paying. We could've gotten to the other because attorneys have a lot of bills. So maybe they thought that if they billed that way, that they would make more money my whole thing is if I don't feel good about it, if I feel like I'm being slimy or screwing people over, I don't want to be practicing this way or in this profession. So
I try to make sure that what I can stomach morally is the way that I actually act as a lawyer. And like I said, I can sleep at night because of that.
I think that that's awesome. So how can people get in touch with you? Or do you have anything that you want to share, especially for people who are in Portland or Oregon?
Yeah. Well, you can find me on the Eight Modalities of Communications. We're on Twitter, not too active. But we're on Instagram all the time, Facebook quite often. You can email me. You can contact us through our website. We have a website contact submission page for potential clients or people who just want to chat about these things. We do offer a no-cost 30-minute phone or in-person consult. Obviously, if you're further out, phone would potentially be the best. The thing I want to share is we have a really great seminar series called The More You Glow, also trademarked.
Yes. That's so cool.
I know. I was worried that NBC was going to stop us, but they didn't. So The More You Glow is a seminar series, and we put out two slates a year. And a slate is generally, for example, from January to June, and then we take two months off of that, and then we release another one. So we're about to release another slate of events, and they're all free to affordable. And we have our standard Intro to Contracts. We have How to Protect Your Brand. We have Employee Versus Contractor. We have a bunch of different topics. And people come and they learn, and it's so much fun, and then people network as well. And don't think of it as a boring legal seminar because we have memes. We have video clips. Class participates. It's a lively environment. It's not your standard boring legal type of thing. So that's going to be posted on our website www.rationalunicorn.com and then under the event section, and then it'll link right to all the Eventbrite events. So I hope--
That's super awesome.
Yeah. Thank you. I hope to see folks at are events. It's always fun because there's people we know, there's people who I've never seen in my life, and we figure out what they're working on and what they're doing, and it's really cool. Almost all the classes, too, everybody gets to introduce themselves and what they're working on. And that's a really good way to see not only who's doing things in public but who is on the path of learning, who is trying to figure out these questions about their business.
That's so cool. And I missed the ones about podcasting. So I'm really hoping that something like that'll be offered again because you had a couple, I think, that I missed. And then the other one that I missed that I was super stoked about was at Halloween time, and it was like Wine, Witches, and Taxes or something. Yeah.
It was Wine, Witches, and Withholding.
Yes. That's what it was. Yeah.
Yeah. So we try to do our own or the teacher, me, or one of [my council?] attorneys, but we also do a lot of kind of goodwill resource type things. So we have bankers and a tax panel. We're going to be doing an event all about funding coming up in the slate. So we're going to have funding from the government, funders related to for profit banks, non-profit banks, how to get grants, kind of just an all funding [laughter] event to have people start thinking, "Where can I get funding for my business and what does that look like? And how are all of these pieces different?" So definitely check out the different seminars, both the business law ones and then also the more resource-oriented panel type ones.
That's so cool. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Yeah. Thank you. I really appreciate you having me and all the work that you're doing. Thank you so much.
Hey, ladies, I know you're working so hard to grow your business, a business that aligns with your vision and your values, a business that supports your lifestyle. And I know it's been a bumpy ride sometimes. I see it all the time, women overspending on shiny objects and magic pills because they're tired of not seeing results, business decisions based on short-term gains without a critical eye toward the future, most heartbreaking of all, women who walk away because it's just too damn hard. The good news is, you're not alone. You have support all around you. If you're ready to take joyful action on your biggest business goals, if you need strategy, accountability, and a path to get you exactly where you want to go, let me know because I'm here to support you as a consultant and strategist. You can fill out a quick application to work together at jenmcfarland.com/ready. I've opened up just a few spots over the next couple of months for clients who are ready to make a move. It just takes a few minutes at jenmcfarland.com/ready
Hi! I’m Jen! I have over 25 years of training, teaching, and executive experience in leadership, strategic project planning, and digital marketing. Today, I am the founder of Women Conquer Business, a boutique consulting firm dedicated to helping women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community build sustainable businesses. I’m a frequent guest speaker and trainer. Get access to my free business growth accelerator and hang out with me on my weekly women in business podcast, Women Conquer Business.