Photo of Patrice Perkins by Wayne Slezak.
Some lawyers might shy away from associating themselves with the word hustle.
Patrice Perkins is not one of them. Her Chicago solo practice focuses on contracts and intellectual property work for creative entrepreneurs.
With a firm called Creative Genius Law and a clientele composed of event planners, graphic artists and food truck vendors, traditional networking events don’t work for her. So in 2011, Perkins created what is likely the Second City’s first food truck festival, StreetFood Artistry.
“Patrice is trying to meet the need of a very specific clientele, so why not use the terminology her prospective clients may use in an effort to connect with them?” says Tiffanie B. Powell, a suburban Chicago estate planning and probate lawyer and one of Perkins’ mentors. “That’s what made Patrice so interesting to me.”
“My passion was always working with creative people. I felt that there was a lack of business savvy there, and no one had attorneys,” says Perkins, 33, a 2008 graduate of DePaul University College of Law whose website touts helping clients use legal strategies to “promote your business from side hustle to main squeeze.”
When discussing retention with a potential client, instead of offering a free or low-cost initial consultation, Perkins charges $250 for what she calls a “legal strategy session.” That screens out people who aren’t serious about their business. If the person decides to hire Perkins, she charges a flat fee and gives a $250 credit.
They talk about things Perkins thinks the individual should have for a business, like contracts, intellectual property protection and brand positioning. Everyone who purchases a session gets a one-year subscription to Entrepreneur magazine, regardless of whether they retain Perkins.
“Most attorneys will talk to you about how you have to fix a problem,” says Perkins. “My focus is how can we maximize and use legal strategies to develop your business goals.”
Until recently Perkins called her law firm Lifestyle Zen. People searching for yoga information rather than legal representation were often landing on her website, so in May she changed the name to Creative Genius Law. She also has a blog and manages social media for WireLawyer, a networking site.
When asked about her creative clients, Perkins mentions a Steve Jobs quote about “the misfits” and “the round pegs in the square holes” changing the world.
“That quote describes exactly who I work with—and kind of how I classify myself as well,” she says.
Perkins grew up in suburban Olympia Fields, but attended a Chicago public school for grammar school. Her grandparents still lived in the city then and her mother, an educator, thought it was important for her to have that experience.
A former lawyer with the office of Cook County’s Shakman compliance administrator, Perkins started a sole practice in 2010. Her office is in the Zhou B Art Center, a building in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood about 3 miles south of downtown. The Zhou brothers, contemporary sibling artists ShanZuo and DaHuang Zhou, founded the center, and it includes a rental gallery, studio and events space.
Perkins also represents the Zhou B Group, the management arm of the center. It’s owned by Michael Zhou, the son of ShanZuo Zhou. Perkins met the son when she had a food truck festival at the center.
Maya-Camille Broussard, the owner of a Chicago design and creative consulting business, hired Perkins after an idea was stolen. As a creative, Broussard says, it’s often hard to share ideas with lawyers because they may not understand them.
“I was really impressed that she was able to be an outsider and how knowledgeable she was,” Broussard says. “She saw in me that I had a gift to create visual images and platforms for other brands, and she really felt I needed to protect my work.”
For fun, Perkins enjoys going to street festivals. But she doesn’t pass out business cards while she’s there.
“I used to, but now I force myself to shut off,” she says. Otherwise, she adds, “everything would turn into a networking event.”