Rising Star⭐Rising Star: Michael Jonas and Rational Unicorn

What was the spark that inspired the birth of your concept?

I graduated from law school in 2009 but didn’t become a lawyer until 2017 (when I passed my 9th bar exam). At the time I had just started a contract position at Bonneville Power Administration’s Real Estate Records Department. First, I decided to stay at my current job until I was able to find or create another job. Then, I realized I had a choice of three options: 1. Work for a corporate law firm that may or may not align with my values, 2. Work at any attorney job available or 3. Create my own firm. I went with #3. 

Part of my decision in choosing to create my own firm was that, in addition to having a variety of jobs since youth, I had two other businesses. In San Diego, I had a mediation business and a real estate business. I learned a great deal about what to do and not do from both. I also worked as a Client Manager for a downtown Portland Intellectual Property law firm. 

My goal was to do business law differently by combining the good, bad, and ugly of the past 10 years of my life with my personality and creativity. A silver or gold lining was born-Rational Unicorn Legal Services LLC.

 What problem does it solve?

Our firm provides community business law for everyone in the community. We allow everyone at every level to have a lawyer which breaks the usual “I’ll hire a lawyer when I reach [fill in the blank] in sales and can afford it or when I get sued…” We help folks with preventative business law by showing them how to incorporate practices that decrease liability and increase peace of mind. We don’t tie up thousands of dollars in trust funds so a client can still operate their business and feed their kids without worrying about paying lawyer bills. 

How did you come up with the name?

I’ve always been both a dreamer and a realist and strongly believe it’s what is needed to be successful. A rational unicorn is a fan of dreaming, frolicking, and sparkling but also understands the importance of process, logistical reasoning, and reality testing. 

My firm is a reminder to me to be a rational unicorn. It’s also a reminder to my clients that they can and should be rational unicorns themselves. As a passionate business owner who has clients who are themselves, business owners, I want all involved to become rational unicorns 

How are you better/different than your competition? 

In addition to being a certified benefit company which is rare for a law firm, we try our best to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Our prices are at or below the market level. We do not take a $2000-$3000 retainer to start. Instead, we offer a 30-minute consult to assess what services are needed at no cost. We then provide the client with project-specific price quotes. They can choose to do one or all quoted projects and pay for only the project(s) they want to be worked on. Calls and emails related to projects are included. Meaning, if a client calls to ask questions via phone or email about a project they already paid for, we do not send them another $600 bill for that communication. 

We believe in talking with clients, not at or down to them. We believe in developing business by developing trusted relationships. 

How do you make money? 

Our services include but are not limited to: business entity formation, contract review and drafting, demand letter writing, commercial lease negotiating, trademarking and copyrighting. 

Our clients primarily fall into three groups: small businesses, nonprofits, and artists and entertainers. 

What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur? 

  1. You can do your thing while being yourself. My company is an extension of who I am and the values I live by. 
  2. You can decide how to brand and deliver your services or products (ie. name, logo, processes, etc.). 
  3. You can make your own hours (which, truth be told, can be all day, every day). 
  4. You can take your work on the road (ie. last winter I wrote contracts on the plane and then got to meet my baby nephew in D.C. without having to request time off of work).
  5. You are working hard for you and your future life, not some person who may or may not appreciate your efforts. 
  6. You can be creative and try new things with less bureaucracy. 

What has been the biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date?

Your business really can make money while also doing good. We can operate a law firm, offer affordable legal services, help the community, be ourselves, and get paid at the same time. None of these things cancel out the other things. 

Your biggest success?

Reaching a point in my life where I can not only make a living but can be myself both professionally and personally. Even after long days, it’s the best feeling in the world. 

Do you have a failure story to share? What did you learn from this failure?

I’ve had a lot of failures. There’s the saying that “Failure is not the opposite of success, it is a part of success.” I truly believe this. It took me 9 bar exams to become a lawyer. Yes, 9. I failed 5 in California and failed 3 in Oregon. I passed my 4th in Oregon in mid-September of 2017. So in 2009, I became a doctor of law, but it took me until 2017 to become a licensed attorney. 

I learned that even if hope slightly weighs more than fear, you can fight through pain, tears, doubt, and depression to reach your goals. I also learned that if you don’t keep on trying, you will never know. Time passes regardless, so you might as well keep trying at something if it means a lot to you. There will be people along the way that doubt you or suggest that you “just move on.” Those are often the people that may look stable but give up after one failure and never reach their full potential. Or, they never take massive risks to achieve great success. It’s good to be risk-averse and cautiously optimistic but we also only get one life—fight for your ideal one. Surround yourself with people who are honest but in a way that lifts you up, not tears you down. 

My firm is a combination of countless good, bad, and ugly stories and lessons. There are silver linings that come from failure that are incredibly beautiful when they blossom, but giving up in winter will cause you to never see spring. If I hadn’t taken another bar exam and stopped, I wouldn’t be an attorney or own a law firm. And, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to set forth this vision of what I believe a community business law firm can and should look like. 

As an entrepreneur, what keeps you up at night?

I’ll give you a list: 

-All of my other dreams (This is just one of them–an important one, but just one) 

-The lack of healthcare for all 

-The destruction of our planet 

-The fact that women (especially women of color) still make less than men in their same role. 

-The fact that hate, racism, xenophobia, transphobia, and homophobia still exist and quite prominently. 

-The corporate greed in our society/corporations not paying taxes/corporations being seen as people.

-People not believing in truth or facts.

-Guacamole being extra.

What is the best entrepreneurial advice you have received (and from whom)?

The best entrepreneurial advice I’ve received is, “Be authentic.” It sounds simple but will fundamentally impact your business. I tell people that “authenticity” is my 2019 word and when they ask what my 2020 word is, I say, “authenticity.” Being authentic or maintaining authenticity allows you to run your business as yourself and both you and the public you serve will appreciate that. It is about being real and vulnerable, admitting mistakes and learning from them, and being self-reflective personally and professionally. Do not do your business as it “should” be done or how you are “expected by society” to do it. Follow the laws and regulations of your industry but do it by being you. The owners of the businesses that I admire are the ones who continue to tell me to be/continue being authentic. Even with all the technology, ad space purchases, data studies, promised services and perks, etc. it really comes down to whether or not you are a nice, genuine, authentic person who is accessible and relatable. 

What is your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur?

Realize that you have to be good at the product or service you make or offer, but you need to be equally good at business administration, marketing, and networking. This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert in everything. It means you have to know what you are good at and what you are not good at. You need to be honest with yourself on recognizing what you need to learn about and how you need to grow. Hire experts. For example, I’m a business and intellectual property attorney, not an accountant or tax attorney. I never guess on important things that I don’t know about that are vitally important. 

I realize this is the second piece of advice, but equally imperative. You need to hold your brand and reputation as being equally important to your product or service. Protecting your intellectual property is not a luxury, it’s a necessity for all businesses in 2019/2020. Take a moment and ask yourself, “What is my intellectual property and how best can I protect it?” 

What is the #1 book you would recommend for a budding entrepreneur? 

As you can see I’m not the best at picking just one thing, but I’ll try here. I think Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, is a must-read. 

What song best describes your entrepreneurial journey?

I can’t pick just one. Here are 2 songs that describe my journeys: 

“Lost in My Mind” by Head and the Heart

“Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” by the Avett Brothers

Imagine your venture becomes wildly successful. What does that look like?

November 15, 2019 starts year three of the firm. My goal for year 3 and beyond is to scale. Any growth is scary, especially in the service industry as you want to expand, but also maintain the very things that made the business successful to begin with. 

Growth/expansion would include not only having Rational Unicorn Attorneys in different parts of Oregon (including rural and coastal), but also having satellite offices in Washington and California. Could there be Rational Unicorn Attorneys in various states across the United States? Absolutely!! But, one day at a time and by organic and intentional growth. 

What’s your favorite local business and why?

I have to say all of my client’s businesses. I know that’s a cop-out but it’s true. My clients combine creativity, hard work, and passion. Here’s a list of some of them: https://rationalunicornlegalservices.com/clients. I’m also a big fan of Green Drop Garage. They’re a great example of how you can successfully combine any product or service with a social justice and/or eco-conscious lens. 

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be financially stable (insert a real stare mixed with laughter here). I wanted to be an actor, teacher, writer, and politician at varying times. My law school application essay discussed how being a lawyer would allow me to take on a variety of roles. I still have the same issue I had as a child. I’m interested in all of these: law and policy, entertainment,  marketing, nonprofit work to writing. 

Do you think Oregon is a good place to start a business? How has it helped you, and what challenges has it posed?

Yes, 100%. Oregon supports creative business ventures and lifts business owners by offering not just a listening ear, but a variety of resources. There are also numerous business and networking groups where business owners can meet other business owners not just for referrals but for mentorship. Practicing law in Oregon has been great because folks in the legal community are very supportive of one another. 

Any other tidbits or fun facts to share?

Because we believe that education is vital for the success of business building and development, we offer a free to affordable business law seminar series called “The More You Glow.” It’s a fun way to learn about business processes and resources while networking with other soon to be/current business owners. 

https://rationalunicornlegalservices.com/events

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