Attorney Thinks Outside the Box to Impact Community

July 18, 2018

By Kathie Ragsdale

She has slept in the rain in a cardboard box, rappelled down the side of Manchester’s second-highest building and instituted a billing system meant to take the anxiety out of small business owners’ interactions with lawyers.

 
It’s all part of Kristin Mendoza’s belief in combining law with community service, and she says she’s looking forward to more of both.

Now part of the Bernstein Shur law firm in Manchester, Mendoza has carved out a niche working with tech startups and business owners — in addition to her pro bono work and multiple volunteer commitments.

The Londonderry native went to local schools before setting off for Boston University with no particular interest in a legal career. That was before she got a job in college working for the Massachusetts IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts) Committee, which uses pooled interest from lawyers’ short-term trust accounts to provide civil legal aid to vulnerable citizens.

Mendoza says she was impressed by the high-powered lawyers on the committee “who were successful in the problem-solving aspects of law but also deeply committed to the community service side of the profession.”

“It struck me as something I’d be excited to be a part of,” she says.

Many of her college friends were engineers and computer science majors, so when she decided to pursue a legal career, she wanted to play to her strengths.

“I knew in my heart it was in the transactional side,” Mendoza says. “… I’m good at problem-solving. I just have this interest in being around technology even if I’m not designing it.”

She went “very intentionally” to the University of San Francisco School of Law just to be close to Silicon Valley during the Dot-Com boom.

“It was an amazing time to be out there,” Mendoza recalls. “I was there for the birth of Google.

“I remember I had friends who interviewed to be the seventh employee of Google.”

The boom was continuing when she returned to the east coast, and transactional attorneys were in high demand, so she quickly got a job with a Boston law firm, Morrison Mahoney. After seven years of commuting, she joined Devine Millimet in Manchester, where she stayed for another seven.

“In New Hampshire, tech startups were not as abundant so I really diversified my practice,” Mendoza says. “That’s where I first started incubating my idea of a flat-fee billing model.

“I was seeing a lot of different clients in lots of different industries with the exact same concern – ‘we can’t afford the hourly rate.’ It’s a legitimate point, the unpredictability.”

She started her own Nashua practice, Millyard Tech Law, posting her pricing on her website.

“I was super-transparent in my business model and my pricing model,” Mendoza says. “That has been absorbed by Bernstein Shur, where I started at the end of last year.

“I had been showing a growing client base and growing revenue under an entirely different business model and they were very interested in in it. That to me is my biggest professional accomplishment. I changed the minds of so many small business owners with this model, where they are happy to be engaging with a lawyer.”

Client Kris Magnusson, principal in the fuel procurement and risk management company Fire Cat Consulting, found Mendoza’s individual approach refreshing.

“What I love most about Kristin is that she is approachable, and her non-judgmental presence creates the ability for a complete understanding of not just my small business issues, but the associated personal family impacts and implications,” Magnusson says. “I feel Kristin has taken the time to understand me personally and that allows her to customize affordable business solutions.”

Mendoza has also been recognized for her accomplishments in community service, which started from a place of vulnerability.

In 2006, when the first of her two boys was a toddler, she went through a period of “feeling very disconnected from the profession and the practice of law,” she says.

Then, Mendoza read a book — “Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Women’s Barriers to Success in the Law,” by Lauren Rikleen — that made her realize she wasn’t alone in being a woman who struggled to balance a law career and family.

She got involved with the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association, became part of its program committee and helped to develop the Path to the Bench Program to inform women about the process of becoming a judge in the state.

Eventually, Mendoza became president of the association and helped plan a 10-year gala, the Tables for Eight mentoring program, and a program for advising women with breast cancer about their legal rights.

“It was very affirming,” she says. “It kept me engaged in the profession.”

That sense of engagement proved addictive.Mendoza soon was participating in the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Greater Nashua program, and was also recruited to join the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“My proudest moment of community service was co-chairing the committee that merged the four existing regional Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations into one statewide organization, taking four very different groups with different cultures and leading them through a process that created a statewide program positioned to help even more kids,” she says.

A Nashua resident, Mendoza is also active with United Way of Greater Nashua and in September 2015, participated in a “sleep out” to raise awareness of what it’s like to be homeless in New Hampshire.

She and her fellow volunteers were given cardboard boxes and background information and then all attempted to sleep outside in the rain.

“It was cold, it was wet, it was the end of September and it was a perfect experience of how challenging it is to be homeless in New Hampshire,” she says. “… That’s one experience that will stay with me forever.”

Mendoza continues to offer one or two hours a month of pro bono work for the Center for Women & Enterprise in Nashua, giving free consultations to clients on starting businesses.

Executive Director Nancy Pearson says Mendoza is one of the group’s most sought-after volunteers.

“She donates her time to counsel our clients on their many concerns regarding legal formation, contract review, the many considerations of forming a partnership, and much more,” Pearson says. “The quality of her involvement and the attention she gives to our clients is an invaluable service.”

 
Last year, Mendoza joined the Over the Edge challenge in Manchester, when teams from 10 nonprofits rappelled down the 34-story Brady Sullivan Plaza building and collectively raised $140,000 for their cause.

“It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done,” she says.

Nevertheless, as those same nonprofits consider an event involving a zipline ride between the Plaza and the building next to it, Mendoza is on board.

“If it does happen, I will be there in harness and helmet,” she says.

Kathie Ragsdale is a freelance writer based in Chester and a frequent contributor to NH Bar News. 

Reprinted with permission from the New Hampshire Bar Association. Originally printed in the New Hampshire Bar News on July 18, 2018: https://www.nhbar.org/wp-content/uploads/fliphtml5/39/flipbook.html.