Ontra lawyer spotlight: Lisa Fitzgerald

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Lawyer Spotlight

We sat down with Ontra legal partner Lisa Fitzgerald in early March 2022. Let Lisa tell you about her onboarding experience and first six months working with corporate clients through Ontra.

Tell me about yourself. What do you do for work and outside of work?

My background is in public defense and legal aid. For about three and a half years, I worked at the public defender out here in Portland, primarily with homeless youth. Now I’m working in restorative justice and mediation.

I still do expungements and pro bono criminal cases, as well as some legal aid, like eviction defense and domestic violence cases. That’s really my passion — using legal services to support people in crisis.

Also, my family has been going through some financial stress. My mother is aging and isn’t ready for retirement but also can’t work anymore. I’m the only one in a position to support her. I realized I needed to make a change because the money I was making wasn’t going to be enough.

When I’m not working, I’m a singer-songwriter, and I perform folk-style music around the area. Living out in Portland is also really great for outdoor activities like hiking and camping.

How long have you partnered with Ontra and how does it fit into your day?

I started in October 2021, so I’m pretty new. It actually works out really well. It’s part time for me. I mostly do the contracts in the morning before my full-time job starts, and then I finish up in the evenings. The more experience I get, the faster I am at the work.

It’s also very different from the other work I’m doing right now. It uses a different part of my brain and it’s very satisfying to just see something through from start to finish. I feel very productive

How did you find Ontra?

It’s actually really serendipitous. I have a friend who I worked with at the public defender’s office, and he was already a partner in the Ontra network. I was talking with him over dinner one evening and sharing a little bit about my stress about finances and at that time, I didn’t know if I could fit anything else into my life. What kind of part-time job could I do that isn’t during typical work hours? I didn’t even know what opportunities could be out there. And then he told me about Ontra.

What was your decision-making process before starting with Ontra?

I wasn’t sure if I would be qualified because my background is in legal aid. But I was able to learn quite a bit about NDAs and the other sorts of transactions that Ontra does beforehand. I went into the interview feeling a little bit better. I actually thought okay, I can handle this even though I don’t have that work experience.

As for deciding, it’s so flexible. It really felt like it would be a perfect way to supplement my income without adding a lot of stress. And since it’s work from home, I don’t have another commute to fit in.

What was onboarding with Ontra like?

It was really easy. Everyone was so friendly and answered all my questions. And there are really great resources. Everything I wasn’t sure how to do, the help center had the answer.

Also, I’m not a naturally organized person. Even though you’d think working with the high volume at the public defender’s office, I’d have learned. But I’m not; I get overwhelmed if I don’t have good systems to keep everything straight. Ontra has the easiest system. I really don’t ever worry about losing track of something. I update every time I do anything. I don’t have to remember what stage all of the contracts are at. I was so relieved that there’s a great system already, and I’ve been really organized because of that, and not stressed out at all.

Did Ontra help you get comfortable with corporate contracts?

There was great training. The woman who onboarded me was amazing. She had me do a bunch of practice contracts, after talking me through the process. Then she asked me if I felt ready for a client, or if I wanted to do more practice. I felt ready to go. But she was there as a resource. I had questions about some terms that seemed unusual that one of my clients wanted and I was able to talk through it with her. I felt really supported.

Have you scaled up or down with Ontra?

I started with one client because I was getting used to it. And the contracts were taking me a little longer. But now I have three and it’s a steady stream of work. I really like it. I think it’s perfect right now. And if anything changes with my other job, I know I could add some. It’s such a great feeling to know I could have that job stability.

What’s the biggest benefit of partnering with Ontra?

Coming from a public interest background, I’m used to being under compensated. It’s been really nice to get paid as a lawyer. I feel respected.

The other big thing is, it’s kind of amazing that this opportunity exists. I’m an early riser anyway, and I can get some things done first thing in the morning — start my day feeling really good. I was already able to set aside some money for my mother.

And people are friendlier than I expected. I’ve never worked in the corporate world, and I was intimidated. But it’s actually really great.

Do you feel if something unusual came up, Ontra would have resources to help you handle it?

Definitely. Each account has someone at Ontra that helps with that relationship. There was a question I had — I wasn’t getting a lot of contracts from one client. I wanted to understand why it was less than they had estimated they’d be sending and I was concerned that they weren’t satisfied with my work. She talked with them, and it turned out they’re just having low volume right now. She made sure they were happy with my work. And that was so nice that I didn’t have to have that conversation myself.

Do you feel Ontra will help you support your family in the long run?

The way Ontra can fit into the things that I piece together, it’s just so, so convenient. I love that it allows me to keep doing the work I love and volunteer without feeling guilty about doing the things I am passionate about and not fulfilling my obligations to the people closest to me.

Would you recommend Ontra to other lawyers?

Yes, I would. I know there are a lot of people who do public interest law and are really struggling to support their families. This is a really nice way to not have to give up those commitments and still be able to do the work that matters so much, and to be compensated closer to our earning potential without having to work the crazy hours that I always associated with corporate law. I know some of my friends who went that path are really stressed out and this is not that kind of work. This is not causing me any extra stress.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people about Ontra?

I was intimidated by the idea of doing a new type of legal work that I’d never done before. But it’s the kind of work that you can get up to speed on. You have to be really detail oriented, but I think most of us already are that way. So, it’s something to consider.

It’s a challenge at the beginning. But I’d encourage people, even if they don’t have a corporate background, to see if they can learn this. They shouldn’t be intimidated.

Lisa Fitzerald joined Ontra in October of 2021. She also works as a mediator, trainer, and restorative justice facilitator in Portland, Oregon. She holds a JD from Harvard Law School where she represented low-income clients through the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and served as President of the Harvard Mediation Program. When she moved to Portland in 2017, she piloted the New Avenues Legal Clinic where she served homeless youth. She is passionate about the opportunities that arise when we take a relational approach to addressing conflict and harm. When she isn’t working, Lisa enjoys songwriting and performing around town.

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