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How Two Floods Led to Dunlap Law

In August of 2007, as the summer sun faded behind the mountains, my dear friend Peri sandbagged me. “What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to do that you’ll die without doing?”

I was 38 years old. Eleven years into a teaching career. Five years into single motherhood with eight more to go. I worked two side jobs. And it had been almost four years since the morning I stood in the road and, for the second time that year, watched filthy, brown floodwater swirl through my kids’ bedrooms in the house I vowed we’d never return to.

Tricia and Peri in January, 2018

By the numbers, my 30’s had not been promising but I had survived and solved problems of near-biblical proportion for myself and others. “Go to law school”, I said.

“Well then, go.” Peri replied, as if it was a simple errand to Kroger.
“But I don’t have any money.”
“I’ve got the kids to take care of.”
“Maybe I won’t get in.”

I paused and drained my wine glass. She looked at me like she knew something I didn’t and said “Just take the LSAT and see.”  That seemed like a reasonable idea. I had a month to waste before the school year started. Why not?

A year later, I left the safest job in the world, took out the first round of student loans, and joined the class of 2011 at the University of Richmond. Bright-eyed and optimistic, I was determined to retain the sense of doing good in the world that teaching had always given me.

Three weeks in to law school, Lehman Brothers failed. Then Bear Stearns. By the time I turned 40 that October, the global economy had disintegrated. “Oh my God, what have I done?” I wondered.  But once you’re committed, fear is a powerful whip.  Like my clients today, I was “all-in” . . . sink or swim, and sinking was not an option.

After law school, I worked with some of the world’s flagship global businesses on their sustainability and climate change initiatives and then joined McGuireWoods where I learned the ropes of business law and complying with regulations. I always knew, deep down, that I’d start my own firm someday and build into its DNA the sense of purpose that has always driven me.

I started Dunlap Law in 2015 with a mission to help businesses thrive and an emphasis on empowering clients by educating them.  I am still a teacher and everyone at Dunlap Law applies that ethic to our mission. Today I teach my clients so they can understand risks, weigh pros and cons, and protect what they’ve built while spending their legal budget wisely. We understand what keeps you up at night because we’re a small business too. Maybe you have an amazing logo that needs trademark protection. Or your executives need advice on spotting and managing risks, and communicating that to stakeholders. Perhaps you’re growing and need to lease or buy new space. We can help.

In 2017, Dunlap Law became the first and only law firm in Virginia or D.C. to earn B-Corp status. In a country with 50,000 law firms, currently only 21 hold B-Corp certification and Dunlap Law is proud to be one of them. It’s a voluntary credential that was hard to earn and will be harder still to keep when we re-certify in 2019. B-Corps are for-profit companies that leverage the power of business to create positive social and environmental impact. Think: Ben & Jerrys, Patagonia, Seventh Generation, and The Honest Company. We are proud to be among the best companies in the world, doing well by doing good. Stay tuned as we continually choose new avenues for impact.

Leaving a steady pay check and starting a law firm is really hard. I have chosen to make it even harder because I envision a firm that uses its strengths to also do good. So, not only do I have to operate my business efficiently, serve clients well, meet payroll, and make a profit, but now I’m also publicly accountable for my firm’s promised impacts on the world. I must be nuts.

For me, there is no other way. Because if I learned one thing from my life it is this:

Charge into your fear. Do not walk. Do not stand at the edge of tomorrow and peek timidly around the corner. There is no time to waste. Commit, then charge.

Dunlap Law will be here to help protect you.

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