Sara Movahed, a founding partner of Movahed & Fisher Law, LLC., decided to start her own firm when she realized she had better ideas about how an immigration firm could be run. She came to Frederick to fill a void in legal services for the immigrant community. As Movahed & Fisher Law turns two years old this fall, we sat down with Sara Movahed to learn what it was like to start her own successful firm.
Tell us the story of your business.
In October of 2017, my partner Calvin Fisher and I started the firm together. We’re both attorneys with a passion for immigration. We separately worked at different firms and different practices and realized that our managing attorneys weren’t doing as good a job as we had expected. We realized this is a service we could be providing to the community on our own terms and on terms we thought would be more fair to the clientele, so we joined forces and opened this firm with the goal of serving Frederick’s immigrant community.
Why did you choose Frederick?
I'm originally from Rockville, and my partner is from Middletown. We realized Frederick has an underserved population, especially in contrast to Montgomery County, which has a large, growing immigrant population but also plenty of representation, nonprofits, and services available. Frederick was lacking in high quality and affordable legal representation for the immigrant community. We realized this was a void that needed to be filled. And I'm so glad we made that decision because Frederick has embraced us. There are definitely growing pains and obstacles but the clientele is so glad we’re here.
What prepared you for owning a business, what could have helped you more?
Nothing can really prepare you for opening any type of business, just doing it and taking it day by day. A law firm is unique because you have to be an attorney to open a law firm. In law school I took some courses with professors in a kind of incubator program, learning what to expect. But really, nothing prepares you. You just have to be able to take emergencies with stride, and understand that the day to day might not be anything like you expect. Having a strong support system, like family, friends, and a wonderful partner who complemented me in many ways, has helped.
What have been the easiest and hardest part of opening your own firm?
The aspect I enjoy most is meeting so many amazing people: our clients, the professionals we work with, and the communities we’ve connected with. It’s been effortless in the connections we’ve been able to foster. The difficulty in our field lies in the subject matter. It’s a highly emotional and highly politicized topic. It’s also been difficult to learn all the little nuances of running a practice - but two years later, we’ve kind of gotten a sense of how to do most of it!
What have you learned specifically as a woman in this profession?
There is a certain expectation of what a business owner looks like, and as a woman and a minority, having to overcome that expectation in my day to day interactions with clients is always annoying and kind of a struggle. So I’ll walk into a meeting and they’ll say ‘when is the attorney coming in, where’s the attorney.’ It's an opportunity for educating other people on what a business owner might look like. I feel like as soon as I start talking and interacting on the actual substance of what we’re doing, people quickly take me seriously, but it’s frustrating there is even that obstacle to overcome in proving myself before we even get to the heart of what we have to do. It’s something I’ve dealt with, not just in this capacity but at prior firms, but you feel it more when you’re the owner, it’s your own firm, and you've built it from the ground up, just to have somebody say ‘where’s your boss.’ But I have been pleasantly surprised by how many people quickly take me seriously and show respect.
Have you found any more issues that are unique to your position in this firm as a woman and minority?
As an immigration attorney, we’re exposed to so many beautiful cultures, and every culture has its advantages and some not so pretty aspects. Trying to communicate in an effective way with people from all different backgrounds has been a unique challenge. More so as a woman because in some cultures, you’re not expected to be a professional or to give opinions or guidance to men. So there is some resistance and some hesitation, but with clients, it's an evolving relationship.
Do you have any advice for other women or minorities interested in owning a business?
Absolutely do it. Don’t let your own perception of how other people perceive you hold you back. Often times, they might not be perceiving you in the way you think. So do some research, and find what you're passionate about more than anything. Otherwise, you’ll quickly run out of steam. It’s very trying and very exhausting. That said, it’s extremely rewarding! There is so much that can be gained from opening a business (not financially, especially for a little bit!) but in experiences and in how much impact you can have. So, don’t be afraid, be prepared, find what you’re passionate about, then go for it.