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Virginia Lawyer Builds a Boutique Firm from Scratch

Have you ever read a good book that you just can’t put down? You find yourself sneaking a page on the way home from work, when you should be sleeping, even pouring over it when there are more important things to be done. Finding out how the story ends is the goal of reading any book. But what happens to your favorite characters after the book reaches the final pages? That’s the life of an entrepreneur. It’s a story full of twists and turns. Just when you think the tale is headed in one direction, it completely curves in another. Just when the final page has been written…an entirely new volume begins. As an entrepreneur, you never know where your story is going. While most business professionals have a fairly fixed path put in place for them, an entrepreneur scrambles around trying to build the bridge as they move ahead. The warning label on being an entrepreneur may read ‘the plan is that there is no plan’ and maneuvering through your story can take a little guts.

Dontae Bugg, a lawyer based in Fairfax, Virginia, started his journey as an entrepreneur by building his path brick by brick. “I was working with another law firm that was paying me pretty well considering I was only a year out of law school. It wasn’t the greatest environment but considering where I came from, the money I was making, I could put up with it for that. After the way that experience went, I decided that I didn’t want to work for anyone else.  I realized how much work I was doing and if I made a tenth of what this firm was making… I decided to branch out on my own. I started in the spare bedroom my wife and I had. She was supportive thankfully. There were some very lean and negative months in the beginning. I kept working at it and we made it thankfully. I was lucky I had my wife as a support system.”

Like any good book there are supporting characters willing to help the protagonist on his or her journey. Bugg knows just how valuable having a support system is to the success of your business, “I think it helps in two ways. It was good to have someone to lean on. It was incredibly motivational to have my wife there. There were times when I might have been being lazy or not giving my all. So she would give me some verbal motivation that I needed to bust my butt and build my practice.”

Even with the best supporting cast it is always up to the entrepreneur to figure out how to best approach any issues ahead. Building knowledge of business and how to operate a company can be a little tricky at first. “I had no experience whatsoever running a business,” says Bugg, “I never even did the little lemonade stand. I never sold anything in my life. The two law firms I worked for, one in Richmond and one in D.C., I kind of just watched. I drew from what I saw my bosses doing. My first boss ran a wonderful firm. I looked at the things he did and tried to model from those. My second firm, there were issues there. I saw what happened once the firm got too big. I took lessons from those pitfalls and quite frankly I read everything I possibly could. I probably Googled 20-30 different variations of ‘should I start a PLLC or a corporation?’ and just read everything to try and make informed decisions. There were definitely decisions along the way like tax structure that I ended up changing. Once I talked to someone who knew a lot more, they told me which way to do it. I changed the name of the firm from a marketing standpoint. There were definitely decisions I screwed up on but I tried to educated myself and make informed choices.”

Once you’re holding the bag in terms of building a company that support system is more important than ever. Entrepreneurs need a community to lean on. For Bugg, finding the right organizations and groups was the best call to make sure he had people to turn to with similar backgrounds, “One of the first things I did once I branched off on my own was I got active in bar organizations. I would probably say Northern Virginia Black Attorneys Association was the first one I got actively involved in. It was because I wanted to be able to network and grow my business. I also wanted to be able to learn from folks that had a similar experience of what I was going through that I could glean from small minority business owners in Northern Virginia starting to build a law practice after working from someone else. Again, I hadn’t done it before and I needed to talk to someone. It helps in terms of having folks I can bounce ideas off of. I still call people and ask questions.”

No matter when the story takes you, it’s always nice to be in a place that values what you do and gives you the motivation to continue. The D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area is a perfect spot to continue cultivating your business. “In D.C. you can probably find just about anything you could want and if you’re a business owner, there’s going to be someone to buy it. Even places outside like Alexandria and Old Town and you look at all these shops popping up and these places are niche businesses. You have something that people want, a ridiculous population that’s concentrated, so you just have more of an opportunity.”

When all is said and done an entrepreneur continues the journey. The book might be over but the story never ends. Learning how to continue on the positive path is the real challenge for any business owner or entrepreneur. “Just stay true to yourself. Especially with what I do, and my profession, it can be stuffy at times. You have to be true to yourself because that’s what’s going to keep you grounded when you’re going through the ebb and flow of business ownership. You’re going to have some lean months and some great months. You just have to stay true to yourself and make sure you’re not losing sight of yourself. There’s one thing I can say about entrepreneurship – I probably work more now than I did for other people. But it’s a million times more rewarding which makes it not feel as much like work.”


To learn more about Dontae's firm or connect with him for legal services, visit the Bugg Law Firm website or call (703) 591-4507.

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