The Blueprint According to Yasmine Salem Hamdan
Word By: Chris Panayiotou
Interview By: K.G. Graham
(Yasmine is featured in Issue 23 of COSIGN, The Blueprint Issue which can be purchased here.)
Yasmine Salem Hamdan, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, is a lawyer and a businesswoman from Fort Worth. Originally dreaming of becoming a pop star, (full disclosure, this was when she was eight years old), at some point during middle school she came to the realization that she wanted to become a lawyer and defend people for a living. “I would defend anybody and everybody in random situations that came up at home or at school,” she says. “You could say I had a knack for it. Others might say I didn’t know how to mind my own business, but oh well.”
We spoke with Yasmine about creating YSH Law Firm, entrepreneurship, her thoughts on Legal Zoom, plus more.
Where are you from and how does your culture impact your business?
I am the proud daughter of Palestinian immigrants. Born in Fort Worth and raised in Euless, Texas (a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth), the community I grew up in was diverse in many ways. I was exposed to different foods, languages, and music living in Euless and going through the HEB ISD public school system. I remember my elementary school holding a cultural night type event. Students and their families would have a table displaying the country of their choice, featuring food, traditional clothing, dance, music, and more. And many people would participate. I haven’t thought about that for some time now. I love that they did that. My family and I would proudly have our Palestinian display, of course, decked out in traditional Palestinian thauwb, or dress. Our table featured hummus and falafel, along with works of art including detailed olive woodcarvings and works of tatreez, the traditional Palestinian style of embroidery.
I was friends with kids from all over the world, through school, family friends, and the local YMCA. I listened to ‘90s/’00s R&B and hip-hop, but before that, loved me some Britney Spears & *NSYNC. In high school, I developed a love for Arabic music, too, and even studied abroad in the Middle East for a semester during college. I had, and still have, a love for reading, and as a child was encouraged to read by my parents, in particular, my father, who would spend time reading with me regularly. My mother would always buy me books and take me to the local library. They encouraged and nurtured my love for learning and I am eternally grateful to them.
My mother & father are both Palestinian refugees that were forced to leave Palestine in 1967 as young children when Israeli forces expelled my grandparents from their homes and illegally occupied the land. But that didn’t stop my parents from teaching my sisters and myself about our Palestinian heritage & passing on many traditions, as well as the beautiful Arabic language. We would visit Palestine and Jordan, where my mother’s side of the family resides, often in the summers. I very much consider myself a Palestinian-Texan. One thing the two cultures have in common: hospitality is HIGHLY valued. Nothing rivals some Palestinian & Southern hospitality, that’s for sure.
My culture, which is quite the melting pot, has allowed me to connect with and serve others in my own way; in true, unparalleled YSH fashion.
What led you to create YSH Law Firm and what was the process like?
I started YSH Law right out of law school. Rewind back to college: I studied criminology and had planned to practice in the area of criminal defense. I have always been passionate about criminal justice and reform. After interning with a criminal defense lawyer during my first year in law school, I realized that role wasn’t for me and that I would have to contribute to criminal justice reform in another way. I always had an interest in business, so I took some courses on entrepreneurship and intellectual property and fell in love. I interned with a business law firm after that and, while I enjoyed my experience there and made many good friends, I knew I could put my own spin on things and serve clients in a better way. Fast forward to post-law school; I spent the summer after graduation preparing for the bar exam and reading everything I could get my hands on about law practice management. I was sworn in on a Tuesday and had my first client consult scheduled for Wednesday. It was an exciting time!
As far as the process goes, a lot of preparation was involved. I knew I wanted to serve entrepreneurs but needed to figure out how I could best serve them. After meeting with tons of business owners through networking events and professional introductions, it became clear to me that business owners need guidance at the start of their business ventures and throughout their ongoing development. I narrowed down my services to include business and contract development, with a focus on trademark clearance, registration, and enforcement.
As I worked to develop my brand, the plan was to launch in the spring of 2017. But plans shifted when my husband, Yousuf, & I made the decision to move to Waco due to a business opportunity. We opened an automotive customization shop, Texas Tires of Waco (@texastiresofwaco) in the spring and moved to Waco from the DFW area in May. After getting settled in, I officially launched YSH Law in June.
I knew I didn’t want to operate as a “traditional” law firm. When I worked at firms in Fort Worth and in Dallas throughout law school, I witnessed 60+ hour workweeks, billable hour requirements, and zero flexibility. Yeah … no. I now offer my clients flat rate fees, in an effort to provide transparency and predictability. I never want for my clients to receive a bill they weren’t expecting, simple as that. I also meet with my clients virtually by video call, if they prefer or if they are not local. Most clients enjoy this means of communication, as do I! I conduct much of my business virtually and focus my energy on creating a satisfactory and pleasant experience for my clients, while also educating my audience.
Growing up were you inspired by any lawyers? If so, who?
I actually have an aunt and uncle that are both lawyers. My aunt is a District Attorney in Palestine and my uncle was a judge and now holds a position within the Palestinian Embassy in Tunisia. I didn’t realize it until a few years ago, but I’d like to think that seeing my aunt pursue, and excel in, a legal career allowed me to believe that it was within my reach. She’s awesome.
Why are you passionate about law and specifically business and brand protection?
The more I talked to business owners and brand builders, the more stories I heard, and the more stories I heard, the more I realized that there was a significant lack of information-sharing between the legal world and the business world. Legal issues can devastate a business; it can lead to infringement lawsuits, legal disputes with employees, bankruptcy, and forced re-brandings. The great thing is that, many times, these issues can be avoided simply by building a solid legal foundation for one’s business early on. I am passionate about helping business owners be proactive within their businesses, as opposed to reactive, because it is always less expensive & less time consuming to do it right, without cutting corners, than it is to do damage control later. It is an investment in the future success of your business.
What all does your law firm offer and as an entrepreneur, when should you hire a lawyer?
My law firm focuses on three main objectives: helping you to protect yourself from personal liability, helping you to protect your brand’s intellectual property (IP), and helping you to protect your business. I help my clients to shield their personal assets, those separate from that of their business, from being accessed in the event of a lawsuit through the formation of legal business entities. As for intellectual property, our goal is to ensure the client is not infringing on the IP of another and to secure ownership and exclusivity of their own brand’s IP in order to deter others from infringing and also to place my clients in the best position to enforce their IP rights. And finally, I view contracts to be the building blocks of business. I work with clients to develop solid, enforceable written agreements between themselves and their business partners, customers, employees, contractors, and other business relationships.
As an entrepreneur, you should consult with an attorney at the start of your business development. After developing your master plan, but before investing resources in the development of your brand, you should work with an attorney to conduct a trademark clearance search for your brand name and logo, to make sure that one, you aren’t infringing on the IP of another business and two, that you will be able to secure the exclusive ownership of the IP you’re planning to develop. Work with your attorney either before or after your launch, to file for your trademark’s federal registration, which is the key to brand protection and enforcement of your intellectual property rights.
Before beginning your business operations, meet with an attorney to discuss the right business entity for you. Some think that an LLC is a one-size-fits-all, but that is not always the case. You should also have tailored contracts developed for all of your business relationships, whether it’s your first employee or your vendor, even if it’s a longtime friend or relative. Having the terms written out clearly allows for both parties to be aware of his/her obligations & creates realistic expectations for all.
How do companies like Legal Zoom affect your business and other business lawyers?
LegalZoom and other document preparation businesses are wreaking havoc on the entrepreneurial community. Many clients come to me after using those services and I do my best to help them clean up the mess. I realize the question is how these companies affect my business. I don’t believe it affects my business because those that value having a legal advisor on their team, don’t waste their money on LegalZoom & Co., which are merely document preparation companies and do not provide legal guidance, representation, or consultation.
Do you think Legal Zoom is helpful or do you recommend people hire a lawyer like yourself?
I do recommend avoiding these document preparation companies at all costs. My understanding is that these companies simply take the information input by the customer, who is likely not a lawyer, and submit the filing as is. There is no legal guidance, no attorney-client relationship, and the customer’s unique circumstances are not taken into consideration. Your business is unique; a standard contract template or operating agreement is not fitting. I understand that these companies probably offer rates much lower than that of lawyers, but you get what you pay for in these situations. Plus, I read a while ago that there was a class action lawsuit pending against the company for unauthorized practice of law, so, as a client, I would avoid it.
For those who want to practice law like yourself, what are some marketing tools you utilize to grow your business/brand that you recommend other lawyers do?
My marketing strategy is rooted in education. I recommend that lawyers not be afraid of sharing all the information they can. Empowering your clients through education helps them to make educated decisions. If they don’t understand the importance or benefits of owning their trademark, how can they reasonably make the decision to move forward? If they don’t understand the implications of bankruptcy, if they don’t understand the purpose of a will … I could go on. I understand it may be against some people’s instincts to share information freely, but my practice has flourished thanks to, I believe, my willingness to share information, provide clarity, & answer questions.
What are you most afraid of?
I am most afraid of complacency, as well as becoming blinded by all the shiny things this world has to offer and losing sight of the bigger picture.
Last but not least, who do you #COSIGN and why?
I #COSIGN Kendra James-Anderson, of The Finance Femme. She is a ROCKSTAR Virtual CFO! I look forward to what I call our “Money Meetings” every month. Enough said. Check her out online @thefinancefemme. I also #COSIGN:
Within the next five years, Yasmine sees herself educating and contributing to her community and to the youth. “I want the generations that come after us to know that opportunities are there,” she says. “And if they aren’t, you have the power within you to create it.” She also sees her business growing and providing opportunities to lawyers that are over the “traditional” law firm model and are ready to serve the growing entrepreneurial community. “In five years, God willing, we will still be offering high quality legal counsel and services to business owners and providing access to information and resources,” she says.