After 15 years in the profession, Adv. Jackie Donner was no longer prepared to go to work in high heeled stilettos. “I said to my daughter that if it is not comfortable, it is not beautiful,” she boasts a smile that accompanies a foreign accent and an English outlook. Comfort, flexibility, improvement and balance are the values that have guided her over the past two years, since she left her demanding position in a law firm and founded the legal venture, LawFlex, which attempts to tackle the legal market. There are too many lawyers in Israel who have invested financially in their studies, completed a year of internship, passed the bar exam and joined the most overcrowded market in the world, in which 684 of every 100 thousand residents are lawyers. If they find their way into a small law firm in the periphery, they are likely to earn NIS6,000 a month.”
The second market is motherhood: “This world is not suited for women. The employment culture belittles women, does not meet their needs and is inflexible. I am attempting to educate the market that it can work differently,” she says.
Her solution is to bring flexibility back to heart of the field and to navigate large firm surplus labor towards dozens of expert freelance lawyers who work in their free time. For this purpose, she runs around between law firms selling them the concept and matching them according to their needs with talented employees available from her database at a cheaper price.
What is the business model?
“The product we sell is lawyer’s hours and the increase in transactions and deals is our model. It is a model that has worked for many years in the US and in London and it is very simple. If a law firm requires assistance for a certain project, which is estimated at, for example, NIS 22 thousand, 10% goes to us, and the rest to the lawyer who we place at the firm for project.”
One of the biggest challenges for independent lawyers is to find clients. How do you find them?
“We approach large and well-known firms and sell their managers the concept that they can contact us when their workload gets too much, to find a lawyer when their lawyer is not available due to maternity leave or an illness or if they need certain experts. After all, they wouldn’t be able to find a Portuguese speaking lawyer, hire him/her for two months and then fire him/her. We offer them the ability to retain one of our lawyer who has special experience and skills and who can work from home at reduced rates (NIS 250-600 per hour) for a short period, and they see that wow, this could works.”
Who are the lawyers that have joined you?
“Women and men who want to work from home in the two hours that the baby is sleeping and to be home when the children come home; many are new immigrants that didn’t find their place in the big firms; people who want to combine law with another profession and more and more people that understand that one can work when it is convenient while earning more than they earned in a firm without having their salary finance the firm’s rent, the secretary’s salary and the partners’ pension funds.”
300 dollars for an hour’s work
This creative solution which echoes the trend of flexibly employment and cooperative employment around the world was born out of a personal turning point. During her third pregnancy, right before she turned 40, rather than rejoicing in the expansion of her family, Donner was filled with concerns regarding her career which had reached a dead end. “With my eldest son, Ilai (seven) I managed to survive in the profession. They did a lot for me in the office. After a nine-month maternity leave I started working part (half) time but I was still made to also work from 8pm until midnight. Two and a half years later, Caylee was born (four) and two years later I became pregnant with my third (with Benjamin, who is now one year and seven months). The men who started working at the same time as me were promoted and became partners. When they offered me partnership, I stopped and thought, would I be able to manage the demanding hours that the position would require from me? I decided to downshift. I looked for creative occupations, starting with editing texts to setting up a gourmet marshmallow boutique. But after earning an hourly rate of 300 dollars, the standard hourly salaries in other fields just didn’t suit me. I saw that the same shit happened to all my girlfriends. Despite the fact that we have professions, knowledge and experience, if we want to see our children grow up we are forced to stay home. So I thought about offering law firms the option to work together in a flexible way. The level of response was low, only one or two law firms took me on. The majority did not understand the concept.”
“I also asked myself how could this be. I am an Oxford graduate, I have extensive legal experience in Israel and abroad, I specialize in contract law, merges and acquisitions, and I offered to work for them at low rates. The moment I connected with my partner, Zohar Fischer, one of the owners of “Robus,” who has been working for decades in legal marketing, the matter picked up speed. He knew how to push me forward. He told the office owner: ‘This is Jackie and she has a cool idea, an amazing solution for law firms.’ He was convinced of it and his self-confidence always manages to convince everyone.
“I have a British personality, I engage with someone once and wait a year for him/her to get back to me. Zohar taught me not to give up and not be afraid to bother people, to pick up the phone time and time again until the deal is sealed. This approach changed my life and also got me this article. He encouraged me to call you every day.
I wrote you 20 emails. This doesn’t suit my personality, it is not particularly pleasant and can hurt the ego, but it always works,” she admits with surprising honesty.
After she found herself an employment solution, she understood that this mechanism had potential and expanded the initiative. 40 law firms in Israel and overseas and 160 freelance lawyers have already joined, in her words, the project. Everyone has eight years or more of experience. 80% of them are female professionals, ages 35-50, mostly mothers. “Indeed, none of them tell us how hard it is to be a parent” Donner says, “in addition to working as a lawyer, I aired “Mamish” on Radio TLV1, together with Toby Adar, my friend. It was a program about parenting, which includes conversations with different experts on raising children. It was important for us that women know that they are not alone and that they should be prepared to get help from their surroundings. They say it takes a whole village to raise a child, and today we are so alone. Just yesterday I was in a park and I saw a mother of two. Her three-year-old was having a tantrum and the baby was crying because he wanted to be breastfed. All the parents sat and looked at her. I went over to her, I told her that no one was judging her and I offered her a hug. She had tears in her eyes. I support female solidarity.”
Sleeping in the office
Donner grew up in South Africa and moved to Israel as a child. She only learnt Hebrew in the army in her service as a clerk. Upon her discharge, she signed up for a BA in communications and political science at Tel Aviv University, after which she left Israel for the UK. There she studied her second degree in political science at the London School of Economics and a second degree in eastern culture at Oxford University. After completing her studies, she settled down in London.
Despite not having studied law, she was accepted to work at Freshfields, one of the five largest firms in the world, who paid for her to convert her studies over to law, and employed her from the first day of her studies for a period of four years. “In the UK, they encourage people with different degrees to work in law. Freshfields is a huge company with offices in 32 countries, and the headquarters in London accepts one candidate out of 200 who apply from all over the world.”
Who do you remember from your time at Freshfields?
“It was very intense work, from 8am to midnight on a good day. In the building, there was a medical center, a post office, restaurants and beds which we often slept in. Like a Casino in Los Vegas, they supplied everything so that we wouldn’t leave the location. Many papers, piles of contracts and documents. Today I can’t understand how this can happen and I wouldn’t agree to it, but then I was in my 20s and I really wanted to be a lawyer. My dream was to be a partner. “There were good parts to work too, parties and action in the office, which is really fun at that age. I didn’t know what was waiting for me later. I became an associate (intermediate level – between a starting lawyer and a partner), I earned a salary of a lawyer with ten years’ experience and I was already in charge of my own deals.” She met her husband in London Arthur Stocki, a Jew from Sweden who wanted them to live in Israel.
How was the return to Israel?
“When I came to Israel I received really good offers from all the firms, and I decided to join ERM (Epstein, Rosenblum, Maoz) and the series of ‘accidents’ began – a son, a daughter and another son.”
And then you founded a startup. Are you saying now you don’t work hard?
“Of course I work hard. But it isn’t just about work hours but rather the flexibility – to work only when we can and to combine it with the rest of our lives. This idea isn’t originally mine, in Britain and the US, there are companies that work on this basis, but it is time to penetrate the Israeli market. This good thing should reach everyone. I support equal parenting, in which fathers also bring up their children, and the work market is heading in this direction. In many fields it is already standard to work from home – in law this takes longer because it is a conservative profession.”
How does the egalitarianism apply in your home?
Part of marrying a Swedish person is to have an egalitarian parenting style. I am in charge of laundry, he is in charge of cooking and groceries for the home and also takes out the garbage (we live on the third floor without an elevator in Tel Aviv). When Arthur was employed he was forced to work long hours, and in the two years in which he became a partner in a startup (which supplies banks with a program for risk management), we split the childcare responsibilities fifty-fifty. It is easier for him this way, he believes in it, it is how he grew up and it is what he saw in the home. The last maternity leave was so different from the first, he was really there with me, it gave me sanity as well as time to develop my initiative. When you go through it together it changes your whole experience.”
How does it work in Sweden?
“I spend August in Sweden every year and see groups of men sitting in coffee shops with strollers. Government policy there encourages equal parenting, all men have to take at least four months of paternity leave of the one and half years given to spouses who are parents. Workplaces are used to both men and women taking parental leave. Men wave goodbye to their wives who go out to work in the morning while they stay at home to look after their child alone – it is very healthy. This way men understand their wives better and it effects the entire dialogue at home. In Israel, a man can take eight days of vacation, which are mostly sick days. It is sick! In Sweden, education for children is free and travelling on public transport with a stroller is also free.”
It sounds like a dream. Why don’t you move there?
“Because I am a Zionist. I want to make changes here, so that it will be better here. Despite the good conditions over there, I chose to stay. And choice is the most important asset for women.”