After working grueling hours at a big law firm, Amanda Butler Schley founded Business Law Group, a boutique firm focused on representing Louisiana entrepreneurs. Having her own firm and not having to show up in court allowed her to practice from her 44-foot sailboat as she sailed along the Gulf Coast. She’s been back on land since 2020, but that hasn’t stopped her from taking to the sea from time to time. Listen to the interview to learn about how forming a mastermind group of law firm women entrepreneurs helped Amanda learn valuable lessons about the business of practicing law and how she set up her business so that she doesn’t have to work at it 24/7.
Business Law Group
A transcript of this podcast is available at lovethylawyer.com.
TOP-RANKED BUSINESS LAWYER AMANDA BUTLER SCHLEY INSPIRES, SUPPORTS AND ENCOURAGES HER ENTREPRENEUR CLIENTS TO MAKE FEARLESS CHOICES—KNOWING THAT GREAT (BUT, EDUCATED) RISKS BRING GREAT REWARDS.
When business owner clients face an unavoidable legal problem like a huge tax assessment or a dispute with a partner, Amanda resolves the legal crisis… and then helps them position their companies for future success by taking a proactive legal approach.
Ranked as a Top Rated Business and Commercial Attorney, Amanda has more than a decade of experience representing boutique hotels, restaurateurs, family-owned businesses, breweries, artists, CEOs and entrepreneurs. In her almost 15 years of practice, she has become skilled at spotting legal issues and pitfalls at each stage of the business life cycle, from inception to rapid growth to successful exit. She nurtures and mentors her clients to succeed beyond their wildest dreams, resolving hundreds of complex legal issues along the way.
In 2016, Amanda Butler Schley made a bit of a career move. She not only left her job at a large law firm to found her own boutique, Business Law Group, focusing on representing entrepreneurs, she also sold her home and most of her belongings and moved onto a sailboat.
The question on her mind was this: Can lawyers truly work from anywhere?
She discovered the answer over the next year while sailing her way down the Gulf of Mexico with her two dogs, Ava and Kadan, and her boyfriend, Rob. “He was really the captain and I was the first mate,” says Butler Schley.
Their vessel, Stay Foolish, was a 44-foot Island Packet 420 sailboat, also called a monohull sailboat. It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and it was designed for long-term “blue water cruising,” as opposed to shorter excursions like coastal sailing. They officially set sail from New Orleans in December 2017.
“The plan was to go all along the Gulf Coast,” she says. “We didn’t have any place we had to be at a specific time. We were just going to let the adventure take us where it would.”
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Attorney at Law
Amanda Butler Schley - Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:03
Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to attorneys about their lives and careers. I'm Louis Goodman, and today I have the privilege of speaking with Super Lawyer Amanda Butler Schley. Amanda worked at a large law firm before founding her own boutique, The Business Law Group. What really interested me about Amanda was her moving the practice onto a 44 foot sailboat and practicing while on the water. As she says, "You get a totally different perspective from the vantage point of a sailboat." Amanda Butler Schley, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Amanda Butler Schley 00:42
Well, thank you so much for having me. It's a delight to be on your show. I've been following it and listening to it for the past couple of months and have really enjoyed everybody's stories and how they ended up in the legal profession.
Louis Goodman 00:54
Where are you talking to us from right now?
Amanda Butler Schley 00:58
We're currently on land. We live in New Orleans, Louisiana, and like you said, we're back from the sailboat. We actually turned in our full-time cruising lifestyle a couple of years ago, and so we've been land lovers since about 2020.
Louis Goodman 01:14
But you still go out sailing?
Amanda Butler Schley 01:16
We do. We do.
Louis Goodman 01:18
And from what port?
Amanda Butler Schley 01:19
So, we have friends with sailboats in New Orleans. We had kept the boat at a marina in Florida for a couple of years as well. So, we would say a lot of a marina close to Naples.
Louis Goodman 01:32
Where are you from originally?
Amanda Butler Schley 01:33
I'm from Dallas, Texas originally.
Louis Goodman 01:35
And is that where you went to high school?
Amanda Butler Schley 01:37
I did. I went to Catholic high school for a couple of years, and then public high school for two.
Louis Goodman 01:43
Well, were you one of these girls who got really wild once you got outta Catholic school and went to the public high school?
Amanda Butler Schley 01:49
You could probably say that. I certainly was a wild child in my younger, but I was also the head of my debate club as well. So, I did always keep the two in balance, I think.
Louis Goodman 02:03
When you graduated from high school, where'd you go to college?
Amanda Butler Schley 02:06
So, I went to Louisiana State University at the, probably the real sadness of my father who was a huge Texas A&M fan. And so, I set off for LSU, which is a huge, huge football rival for Texas A&M, and I had the idea that I'd go back to to Texas A&M at some point and transfer back in, but fell in love with Louisiana and fell in love with Baton Rouge and haven't really been back to Texas.
Louis Goodman 02:34
Other than the outstanding football team, what else interested you there at LSU?
Amanda Butler Schley 02:40
I think when I got to LSU I was really just blown away by the food, the culture. Louisiana has, you know, definitely a spirit of, you know, "Laissez les bons temps rouler" - let the good times roll. So many people are just, you know, in love with the food and the fun and the Cajuns are, you know, they're really an interesting mix and type of people that I just have found a very, a kindred spirit with.
Louis Goodman 03:11
Now, at some point you decided that you were gonna go to law school.
Amanda Butler Schley 03:15
Louis Goodman 03:15
Did you take some time off between the time you went to college and the time you went to law school?
Amanda Butler Schley 03:20
I did. I took about two and a half years off and I moved to Lake Tahoe. When I graduated from LSU I had a journalism degree and did some newspaper reporting in Lake Tahoe, California for a couple of years where I also taught skiing to three to five year olds. So, I was a ski instructor on the weekends and a newspaper reporter during the week and realized very quickly that that a law degree might be a good next...
Louis Goodman 03:54
Which resort were you at, did you work at as a ski instructor?
Amanda Butler Schley 03:58
I worked at North Lake Tahoe and Truckee at North Star, which is near Alpine Meadows.
Louis Goodman 04:05
Oh yeah. I'm very familiar with the whole area. My wife and I have a house in Olympic Valley.
Amanda Butler Schley 04:12
Oh wow. Well, that must be nice.
Louis Goodman 04:15
Amanda Butler Schley 04:16
I think that's one of the reasons I decided I needed to go to law school, was so that I could get my own house in Olympic Valley and realized quickly that the ski instructor salary would probably not allow me or afford me that opportunity.
Louis Goodman 04:31
Well, I'm gonna have to get you to come to Tahoe again and give me a couple of ski lessons.
Amanda Butler Schley 04:37
I'm there pretty frequently. We try to make it down there at least once a year, if not twice. I've been skiing the past couple of years in Colorado, but if we can make it to Tahoe, it's always on our list, travel list for sure.
Louis Goodman 04:52
So where did you eventually go to law school?
Amanda Butler Schley 04:57
I went to Loyola University School of Law here in New Orleans.
Louis Goodman 05:03
And you said you took about two and a half years off between college and law school?
Amanda Butler Schley 05:08
Louis Goodman 05:09
And what newspaper were you working at in Tahoe?
Amanda Butler Schley 05:12
The Sierra Sun in Truckee, California.
Louis Goodman 05:16
Do you think having taken a couple of years off between college and law school focused you in terms of dealing with the academics in law school?
Amanda Butler Schley 05:28
You know, I think what it did is it gave me some needed time away from academics to really appreciate academics. I certainly was committed and I think that's half the battle. But what I had done in the interim by writing, especially as a journalism major, you know, journalism, writing, writing like you would write for a newspaper or for television is a very, very different animal than writing legal research and writing. And I really, really struggled with that my first year.
Louis Goodman 06:05
Getting the legal writing language and way of thinking like a lawyer and putting it on paper as opposed to thinking like a journalist and putting it on paper?
Amanda Butler Schley 06:16
Exactly. I mean, I think when you're at, as a trained journalist, the whole part of journalism is hooking that audience in and writing in a compelling way. And legal research and you know, legal writing is very formulaic.
Louis Goodman 06:31
When did you first know that you wanted to be a lawyer? I wanna go to law school, I wanna be a lawyer?
Amanda Butler Schley 06:38
I think it was gradually. I had witnessed my mom put herself through law school when I was five, and that of course, planted the seed that intelligent, fun things happen when you're in law school. I had to come to it of my own volition. So even though the seed was planted when I was younger, I think it was after graduating from college and really thinking through what does the actual, what will my life look like and what do I need over these next 10 years?
Louis Goodman 07:12
I'd like you to take us through that a little bit from the time you graduated from law school through your career as a big firm lawyer and then onto the sailboat and off the sailboat and where you are now. How did that all work?
Amanda Butler Schley 07:28
Sure. So I was at the law firm that I worked at. I was going to school full time and I actually was a paralegal at night and I worked at the firm that ended up hiring me as an associate and I was working crazy hours. I think I was probably putting in somewhere between 60 and 80, if not 90 or a hundred hour weeks. And it was really grueling, but I was loving it. I was very, very excited about learning how to practice law. And for the first five years or six years of my practice, I spent all of my time really learning how to practice law.
And I was kind of at this stage where I needed more balance in my life. I needed, you know, not 90 and a hundred hour weeks. And ultimately that's what led to kind of exploring sailing and I had an idea that the great thing about a transactional practice is that you aren't stuck in court, you don't have regular court appearances, and that you could really take a transactional practice and practice from anywhere in the world. And I just decided that the only way that I was really going to get to do that would be to hang a shingle. I'd always wanted to hang my own shingle, and so that's what I started out doing.
Louis Goodman 08:59
Did you immediately put the office on the boat or did you start off with the office on land in New Orleans?
Amanda Butler Schley 09:07
I had one pretty, pretty large client that was growing fairly rapidly and kept me very busy, and I didn't want to freak them out to the point that, you know, they thought I was just gonna sail off into the sunset on them. So I got an office space and I even decided, in addition to some office space, it would probably be a good idea if I had somebody at the office.
So my next step was, okay, even though I'm not gonna be in the office. I will have somebody at the office, an assistant, and I'll maintain some office space. So, I gradually started working the clients into this notion that I was gonna actually be working from the boat sometimes, and then from the office as well.
Louis Goodman 09:56
How did it go on the boat?
Amanda Butler Schley 09:58
You know, I think you can envision and imagine what it would be like working from a sailboat, and when I did that, I think I was, you know, I envisioned this very romantic environment where I was working from a sailboat and we were in all of these amazing locations and we were traveling and, you know, I think I had one vision in my head of what it would look like to work from a sailboat. And then reality kind of started to set in, so...
Louis Goodman 10:30
Yeah, what was the reality?
Amanda Butler Schley 10:33
The reality was, it's challenging to work, especially on large deals, on big projects from a sailboat. We had an island packet and it had two beds and two heads as they say. So, two bathrooms and two state rooms. It had a desk that I set up shop in that in-between the kitchen and the living room. It became pretty obvious quickly that having another place to work outside of the boat was equally as important as being able to work in the boat.
Louis Goodman 11:11
So, you ultimately moved your practice back on land, back to New Orleans. Is that correct?
Amanda Butler Schley 11:19
Louis Goodman 11:20
But you did open up your own practice and you got to hang your own shingle and you got to run your own law firm. And I know that you have a lot of business ideas and ideas about running a law firm and I'm hoping you could talk to us a little bit about that and some of the things that you've put into your practice that have really made it work?
Amanda Butler Schley 11:44
Sure. So, I think when I first hung my shingle, the idea was I didn't know a lot about the business of law, but I was gonna figure it out. So, I started a masterminds group that was comprised of eight other female women law firm owners or managers, managers of their firms in New Orleans. And we started meeting quarterly to discuss, you know, business ideas, business plans. I think that was a critical step, the masterminds group, it was really valuable in helping me figure out kind of what to do next, what levers to pull, what I could be doing in terms of hiring, what I should be doing in terms of client management or CRM systems, technology, all of those types of issues.
The thing that I think I really just didn't know almost anything related to the practice of law, the business side of practicing law. And so those first three years of owning the law firm were just trial and error. I had, you know, plenty of clients, plenty of revenue. It was, I think, not knowing though anything about how to grow that, and how to sustain that.
What do you do in terms of not having to work 24/7? I mean, the idea was I had left this big law firm so that I could have more balance, and yet I was finding that, you know, I was working in the practice 24/7 and that was just unsustainable. So, I started really after, you know, during those first three years while things were going well, I started thinking about tweaking things, optimizing, figuring out how to grow the profit side, how to maximize profits. And I think, you know, that's what I've done over the next year. In that fourth year, I started really focused on that and then realized I'm a little lonely. It gets a little lonely being the only person in your practice. Or, you know, I had a paralegal for the past couple of years, but I think I started thinking about what if I were to grow the firm to be the type of place that I wanna work at?
You know, is it possible to work at a law firm that was at the caliber that I was at, but have it be enjoyable and have it be, you know, not a choice between a satisfying personal life and a career. And so that's kind of been my goal this year, is to build a practice with other people doing what I love. And so it's, it's been interesting.
I hired my first associate this year and he started in March and that's been great. I had a full-time paralegal already, and then we've just now added an assistant who's gonna be focused on intake. And so I think I'm trying to now design that law practice that I was really looking to be in when I was a younger associate, and I think there's a lot of room in the market for that.
I think that's the one thing that you'll hear, you know, five year and six years associates talk about consistently is just how miserable they have become as a result of overworking, as a result of 24/7, an expectation of 24/7 communication, an expectation of 24/7, you know, turnaround with clients. I think, you know, we have to get back to a place where we understand that work is work and everybody needs a break from work. You cannot work 24/7 and have a happy life.
Louis Goodman 15:52
You've gone through a number of different iterations of the practice of law and done it in a number of different ways, but you continue to practice, you continue to be involved in being a lawyer. What is it that you really like about being a lawyer that keeps you there?
Amanda Butler Schley 16:10
You know, being a lawyer is constantly solving problems and I love to solve problems, and to me, I'm thrown a million problems a week. And it's all about just sorting through those problems. And I think at the end of it, that's what hooks me, is I'm drawn to the art of solving problems and I'm drawn to the art of solving the problem even better the next time around. And building and optimizing on, you know, the problem solving that I've done previously. And I've found the practice of law is much like a game of memory. You remember when you were a younger child and you'd have a deck of cards that got laid out and you'd turn one over, and then you'd have to match one that, you know, try to find the same card in the deck or on the board. And the practice of law to me is very much that game where, you know, you're looking to match things or skills or abilities or problems that you've solved before with a client's current problem. And because you've unlocked that piece, you really are able to solve the next time you see that problem in even a more, you know, beautiful way than you were able to the first time around.
Louis Goodman 17:28
Is there anything that you know now that you really wished you'd known before you started practicing law?
Amanda Butler Schley 17:33
I do wish that I would've known how stressful it is and how much that, and how much of it will become being a skill to, you know, to help you put the right boundaries in place so that you can live, you know, a beautiful life.
Louis Goodman 17:52
What advice would you give to a young attorney who was starting out?
Amanda Butler Schley 17:58
That's such a great question. I think, you know, step one is to learn to practice. And so sometimes it's important to see that there's gonna be phases in your career, and that first phase is truly learning to practice law and figuring out which area of practice you gravitate towards.
Once you have that down, or once you've identified that you are in the right practice area and you have learned the right practice area knowledge that you need to be successful, I think you have to start thinking about optimization. And optimizing not only for, you know, the type of law that you're practicing, but optimizing your life and having your career really answer yourself, you know, really address what you're looking for in your life and not let it be the other way around.
Don't let your career dictate every single thing about that life path because you certainly will miss out along the way and you shouldn't sacrifice being with your family, being with your friends and doing those things that are really important and add so much value to your life just because you're trying to build your legal career. You really need to think about having both in conjunction with each other.
Louis Goodman 19:24
If a young person was just coming outta college and thinking about laws as a career, would you encourage that? Would you recommend it?
Amanda Butler Schley 19:32
I probably wouldn't. And I say that as somebody who loves to be a lawyer. But what I think is that many people have pretty great disillusions about, they just don't really understand what being a lawyer actually is.
So, you know, another piece of advice that I would give to somebody thinking about it is becoming a paralegal and working in a legal office is absolutely the best way to have an idea of whether or not the profession might suit you.
Louis Goodman 20:05
Yeah, I think that's good advice. I'm gonna shift gears a little bit. You've talked about your sailing and you've talked about, you know, being on the boat with your husband. I'm wondering about if you've had any other travel experience or recreational experience that you enjoy? I mean, I know that you were a skier, and what do you do on a regular basis to empty out your mind when it comes to getting out of work and leaving the office for a while?
Amanda Butler Schley 20:34
We travel all the time, usually at least a week, if not a couple of weekends a month. And we'll, you know, we'll travel close by either driving, we'll fly. We spend a good amount of time someplace other than New Orleans, and we do that regularly because we both have the flexibility to do it.
Louis Goodman 20:54
How do you define success?
Amanda Butler Schley 20:56
I've come to see success as less about just the pure number, just the pure amount of money that I make and more related to having all of the things, you know, in having the practice set up in a way that makes me happy and brings satisfaction.
Louis Goodman 21:19
Speaking of which, let's say you and your husband came into several billion dollars, three or four billion dollars, what, if anything, would you do differently in the way you live your life?
Amanda Butler Schley 21:30
I was just thinking about this because, you know, the mega millions got up to what, like a half a billion? And so in thinking through, if we won this, you know, what would our life look like and what would we do different?
And probably the answer is not a lot. I would still continue to practice law. I do think, and my grand plan has always been that when I retire, probably at the age of 55, I wanna retire from the practice of business law. And I would like to move to pro bono representation and criminal defense. So, I think I would head into that phase sooner rather than later if I won the lottery.
Louis Goodman 22:18
What keeps you up at night?
Amanda Butler Schley 22:19
I think I'm constantly concerned that I've forgotten something, and I'm sure everybody has that sense, even if they aren't lawyers. But as a lawyer, you're just always running through your to-do list and I'm always worried that I've just completely forgotten something.
Louis Goodman 22:36
Who, living or dead, would you like to meet?
Amanda Butler Schley 22:40
So my idol is definitely Oprah Winfrey. I am obsessed with Oprah. I have watched every Oprah Winfrey show since I was young. I have them all like on the VHS tape and DVD, that's how old I am. And you know, I just absolutely love Oprah Winfrey.
Louis Goodman 23:04
Let's say you had a Super Bowl ad, someone gave you 60 seconds on the Super Bowl, and you could put out any message you wanted to, to this enormous audience. What would you like to say?
Amanda Butler Schley 23:16
Oh, I would give a shameless plug for the Business Law Group every day of the week. I'd come up with some sort of Business Law Group ad to really, you know, be one for the ages. You'll notice there's like zero business lawyers advertising on television or bill billboards or anywhere for that, you know, anywhere in that realm. And if I was gonna have a spot on, on the Super Bowl, I'd figure out a way to, to do it the best that I possibly could.
Louis Goodman 23:45
Well, this podcast gets a few less listeners than the Super Bowl, but can you tell us how to get in touch with you at the Business Law?
Amanda Butler Schley 23:59
Sure. My email address is email@example.com, L A W G R O U P dot BIZ, and you can find us online at www.lawgroup.biz
Louis Goodman 24:15
Amanda, is there anything that you'd like to talk about that we have not discussed?
Amanda Butler Schley 24:20
Do I get to ask you a question?
Louis Goodman 24:23
You can ask. I also get to do the editing, though.
Amanda Butler Schley 24:27
I wanna know what you see for yourself in the next five years. What, what do you, what is, do you see retirement in your future or do you think you'll continue to practice law, and if so, for how long?
Louis Goodman 24:39
There's a podcast that I listen to that's done by a business and finance professor at NYU named Scott Galloway. And what Professor Galloway says is that working and contributing to society is a lot like going to the gym or getting some other kind of exercise that the human being is set up to be active and to make a contribution to other human beings.
And as long as I think that I am able to make a contribution, and that I'm able to be effective for my clients, I would like to continue to do that. I also would like to do more podcasting and less court work, because I've been doing court work for a very long time and I've been podcasting for a few years and so I think it's always important to keep growing intellectually and keep growing in terms of skills.
And so the podcasting really is an outlet for me to go in that direction and have another intellectual professional pursuit that's related to what I've done, but moves in a somewhat different direction, both in terms of podcasting and talking to lawyers, and I also have some ideas for some podcasts that are just completely different.
Amanda Butler Schley 26:13
Well, I wish that I would've had your podcast when I was going to law school or thinking about going to law school, because it would've been a huge influencer for me, and I think it would've helped me digest what the experience was gonna look like. So I'm so thrilled that this is a resource for younger people that are coming up into the profession, because I think it's a great tool and you're really providing a lot of service.
Louis Goodman 26:40
Well, if people ask you what you think about going to law school, maybe you can give them a link to the show and ask them to listen to a few episodes.
Amanda Butler Schley 26:49
Louis Goodman 26:50
Amanda Butler Schley, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's really been a pleasure to talk to you.
Amanda Butler Schley 27:00
Louis, it was great. Thank you so much for having me and I always Love Thy Lawyer.
Louis Goodman 27:04
That's it for today's episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.
Thanks to my guests and to Joel Katz from music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Amanda Butler Schley 27:41
Oh, I don't hear you at all. I don't hear you. Hmm. Hello? Hello? Okay. Can you hear me now? Yes. Yeah. Yeah, you froze up and I, and you just stopped hearing you.