Nice Being the Boss

“Pay your quarterly taxes” and other lessons from family law attorney Emily Yu

Published in 2019 Georgia Super Lawyers Magazine — March 2019

Growing up in New Jersey, Emily Yu’s family expected her to become a doctor, an accountant or a lawyer. “I liked to argue,” she says. “So…”

Her goal, however, wasn’t to climb the ladder at a large firm. The 34-year-old founder of Yu Family Law in Atlanta envisioned herself as an entrepreneur, partly because, she admits, “I do better calling the shots.”

She concentrated on family law, first at Meriwether & Tharp in 2011, then a year later, at Hunter, Weinstein & Somerstein, gaining the experience she needed before striking out on her own. “I didn’t want to become a small-business owner and a new lawyer at the same time,” she says.

When she hung her shingle in the summer of 2016, some aspects came naturally; others, not so much. “It wasn’t the actual management of cases or even getting clients that was difficult,” she says. “What was challenging was being a small-business owner. I quickly realized, especially because I had a 6-month-old, that I needed help.”

Initially, Yu tried working nights to catch up, but a few things fell through the cracks. 

“Rookie mistake—I forgot to save for taxes my first year,” she says with a laugh. “I ended up having this big tax bill at the end of the year that I had completely forgotten.”

Realizing she was wearing too many hats, she hired an accounting firm and signed up for business consulting. Yu now employs a part-time assistant and a full-time paralegal who primarily telecommutes, and she recently contracted with a new marketing expert to maintain her social media presence. “Finding good help is the hardest part of all of it,” Yu says. “I’ve had to manage my expectations. I’ve learned certain things, like you have to put in time to build a relationship with staff to make sure things are working well for all of us. So it definitely took a load off, but there’s been a learning curve associated with building a team.”

Yu tries to set realistic expectations for clients in even the most hotly contested child custody cases. “If my client is being unbelievable, I will tell them they’re being unbelievable,” she says, “and that it’s not good for their case.”

She’s getting better at setting realistic expectations for herself, too. “It’s all trial and error,” she says. “I think it’s important to be open-minded in figuring out what works and to be able to change with it.”

She now maintains a flexible schedule between her home and her office in Dunwoody. Yu says the shift has made her more productive, and she still has time to teach seminars at John Marshall and Georgia State law schools, among others; mentor younger attorneys one-on-one (they often contact her after her lectures); and volunteer with her neighborhood association.

“It’s really nice being the boss,” she says of her decision to go solo. “I love the control over my schedule. I love the control over what cases I take and that I have the ability to fire clients, and only represent people in cases I believe in. It is way more work than I ever did as an associate, and I don’t think anyone properly told me that would be the case. … It brings a different focus into every day because it’s more than just a job now. It really feels like a career.”

Yu’s Top 3 Must-Do’s When Hanging a Shingle

  1. Be open-minded when figuring out what works and be able to change with it.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
  3. Don’t forget to pay your quarterly taxes.
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