Our Woman of Impact feature presents women who are breaking barriers in their careers, businesses and lives. These women are inspiring us to do our best work and live our best lives. Today’s feature focuses on attorney and entrepreneur Bianca Gay.
Bianca Gay is a brilliant Boston business attorney and entrepreneur whom I virtually met online. I started following her, as I was drawn to her impeccable legal advice, especially as related to immigration matters. Her sense of humor and savvy business advice is also always on point. Read more on the gems she generously shares with us in this interview…
Hi Bianca! Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m an attorney. I mostly practice immigration and business law, with a bit of family law on the side. I also do compliance for a healthcare company. I actually do compliance for a number of companies, by helping them determine whether their policies and procedures are in compliance with the law.
What prompted you to set up your own practice?
I’ve always wanted to work for myself. Just for the purpose of having the autonomy to decide what kind of day I would have and what case I would work on. However, I’ve always wanted to work for someone else first. However, after I graduated in 2013, I didn’t pass the bar the first time. I did it again and passed. I applied to many firms, but at the time, didn’t find any open position, so I decided to start my own business. Nowadays, I split my time between working on and off for companies and working for myself.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I don’t really have typical days. Lately, I’ve been really busy. I do compliance for a company, and with open enrollment, it’s been quite busy with everything happening in Washington. My day is typically just working. If it’s not working on compliance for clients, I’m working on immigration cases, or tracking the laws in effect. It seems like immigration laws are always changing. I’m also trying to get my workout life in control and get back to it.
What advice would you give other women who are looking to work for themselves?
I would say to think about what you really want to do, first of all. I find that a lot of people want to work on their own because they want to set their own rules and work for themselves, but in doing that, literally everything falls on you, especially when you’re starting out. You may not have a staff, so you may have to be the secretary, the person going to the post office, doing every single thing for your practice. Just make sure that you’re able and willing to do that. Also, there’s no rush to want to work on your own full-time. The reality is, we’ve got bills to pay. I mean, I do compliance work for a healthcare company right now. I do a variety of things on the side, but we’ve all got to do what we’ve got to do.
Even if you decide to quit your job, and you realize it’s too hard, or you’re not making as much money as you want, or its’ not what you wanted, you can always go back to work. There’s no finality when you leave your 9-to-5, you can always go back. Worst case scenario, if your law firm fails, you can always go work for someone else. You can always go back and forth. There is no finality of when I quit working my 9-to5 , I can never go back. Working on your own gives you the option and the flexibility to go back to a 9-to-5. I actually know a couple of attorneys who work 9-to5 for corporations and have their own practices as well. This way they have the security and consistent income on both sides while being able to have all their benefits. There’s so much flexibility as to how you work nowadays that it’s no longer an all-or-nothing approach.
I like your realistic take on it? Can you tell us more?
I’m all about having a backup plan. I never had a backup plan until I was forced to have one. I always wanted to be an attorney since I was 12, that’s all I’ve always wanted to do. I didn’t have a backup plan in case I wouldn’t be able to do it. When I didn’t pass the bar, I was petrified because I didn’t know what else to do. That’s when I started exploring what my other interests were, tapping into my other experience. I majored in International Business and I have my MBA. I thought maybe I could do consulting with my MBA.
I also have my real estate license. I thought if anything, if all else fails, I can always go sell real estate. I’m also not too proud to go work at a mall if I need to. We’ve all got to do what we’ve got to do to make our dreams work. I just don’t want people to think that there’s a particular way to do it, or if they stay at their 9-to-5 longer than they have to, that they’re a failure because they’re not doing their passion full-time. Sometimes it can be a blessing in disguise. You may be really passionate about this thing you want to do, and then you do it full-time and find out that you’re burnt out really quickly, whereas when you were doing it part-time, you weren’t. Or you’re doing it full-time and it’s not what you thought it would be. I think that everything happens in our lives when it’s supposed to happen. The best we can do is go with the flow, and take it day by day, and not be in a rush to have this dream lifestyle that we see everybody showcasing on Instagram.
What’s the best part about what you do?
For me, it’s helping people. It’s being able to take cases that other people wouldn’t take. I actually have a friend of mine who needs a lawyer right now and she lives in another state, so I can’t help her because I’m licensed in Massachusetts. Unless it’s an immigration case, I can’t take cases in other states. It’s breaking my heart that I can’t take her case, because she’s not getting any lawyer to help her because it’s not a money-making case.
For me, the main reason why I wanted to become a lawyer was to help lower-income people. Being on my own means that I have control over all the cases that I take. Whereas other lawyers may reject a case because it may not make them a lot of money, I may accept it. Any domestic violence case I do, I do pro bono. Many law firms may not do that because they either don’t have the time or don’t find it to be a priority. I like that I have complete control over how many cases I handle at a time, what kind of cases I handle. Obviously, I’m in business, so I can’t do all cases pro bono, but I’m able to take cases that are not necessarily money-makers.
What are the main challenges that you face in your work?
Currently, my biggest challenge is trying to convince clients that you provide value. We live in a DIY society where everyone is turning to Legal Zoom. People are asking: “Why would I pay you when I can go to Legal Zoom to do it?” I try to show people that when they hire me, they actually have a real attorney helping them. They can ask questions, and in a lot of instances, they’re actually getting me to work for them, as opposed to filling out a form on Legal Zoom. If you have questions or want to customize things on Legal Zoom, you don’t really have that luxury, whereas when you hire an attorney, you do. You have someone who can help answer all your questions, walk you through the entire process and be there for support. My challenge is really fighting the Legal Zoom of this world, and show people the benefits of using real lawyers. Not everything can and should be replaced by a computer.
As a woman of color, what advice do you have for other women of color in this field?
Above anything, you should stay true to yourself. I believe wholeheartedly in bringing your whole self to work, not a watered-down version that you think people may not like. What happens if they don’t like that person? I feel like if you don’t like me and take me as I am, you’re not for me. Honestly, I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to change who I am to fit into any work environment. I have for the most part been the only woman of color in a lot of my professional settings, and I’ve always worn cornrows, braids, ‘fros, unapologetically. It’s never been an issue. I’ve always brought my whole self to work. I’ve never been in a place where I felt that being myself was not ok. The minute that if ever I were in a situation and I felt that way, I would leave. Diversity matters, and I feel that the more others see us as who we are, the more they’ll get used to it. I realize it’s really not that big of a deal. It’s the others’ responsibility to deal with what whatever negative impression they have of us.
We have so many women who are showing that they’ve been able to be successful by being themselves. Women like Oprah, or Bozoma St John, or Whoopi Goldberg. I refuse to believe that we still need to water ourselves down to be successful.
What books are you reading right now?
I’m reading two books right now. I’m struggling to find the time to read much, which is one thing I miss about my old commute. One of them is “Drop the Ball” by Tiffany Dufu. I met her a couple of years ago, by chance. The first time I met her, at an event where I was a volunteer, she basically told me to not wait for anyone to tell me what to do and go do it on my own. I randomly found her book, and went to a book signing with her.
The other book I’m reading is “You’re a badass at making money”, by Jen Sincero. It gave me the courage to negotiate on my behalf. Although I would negotiate for my clients, I wouldn’t necessarily do it for myself.
What are you listening to these days?
I don’t listen to a lot of music unless I ‘m working. I used to listen to music in my car, but now I’m listening to a lot of podcasts. I’m listening to Bodak Yellow on repeat right now, I do like the beat. I listened a lot to Kendrick Lamar before. But mostly, I listen to a lot of podcasts.
What is your best way to relax?
I really like boxing, which I started in high school. Other than that, taking a nap woud be pretty nice.
What advice would you have given you 20-year old self?
To take more risks. I was always the one to do things by the book, which was probably a result of being a child of immigrants. My mom is definitely not a risk-taker, while my dad really is. She’s worked at the same company for 30 years. In my 20’s, that’s what I did. I worked at a job I didn’t like because I thought that’s what I had to do. In my 30’s, I’m more confident, and I’m striving to live life on my terms. I wish I were more like that in my 30’s. Life is short, do what makes you happy.
Where can we find you?
You can find me on Twitter at @bjgesq, and on Instagram at @attorneybianca.