Marquee Player: Attorney Ruthanne Deutsch
Founding Partner of Deutsch Hunt PLLC
It came to Ruthanne Deutsch in a dream. She was a lawyer and she was happy. When she woke up from this dream, she told her husband. He told she was insane and that she should go back to sleep.
Why did he take this position as a loving and supportive spouse?
Well, because at the time, she had two young children; already traveled the globe for her job in international development; and held the following degrees:
Ph.D., Economics, Yale University
M.Phil., Economics, Yale University
M.A., Economics, Yale University
M.A., International Relations, Yale University
B.A., Economics, Amherst College, cum laude
That kind of schooling is enough for most people. But not for Ruthanne.
Undeterred by her husband’s initial skepticism, the day after her dream, Ruthanne bought a book on taking the LSAT. With book in hand, after work and after caring for her little ones, she would study. She had so much going on in her life at the time that she found taking the LSAT restful and relaxing. It was simply an intellectual pursuit given everything else swirling around her.
Her LSAT efforts paid off and Ruthanne entered Georgetown Law. She took a three-year leave of absence without pay from her job. And even though a guaranteed promotion was waiting for her, she never went back.
Instead, after graduating from law school, Ruthanne clerked for Judge Dyk on the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals and ultimately clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ruthanne spent time in the Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Groups of two major DC law firms, doing appellate work for the Federal Trade Commission, and in academics teaching appellate advocacy.
While working at one of the firms, she met her law partner, Hyland Hunt (who is also a second-career lawyer, and clerked for the D. C. Circuit, and then Justice Stevens on the Supreme Court). As Hyland and Ruthanne discussed their futures, they learned they were each thinking of starting their own firms. With that, the two spent about a year planning their firm and eventually took the plunge to start Deutsch Hunt PLLC in 2016.
Planning to Start Her Firm
In the planning phase, Ruthanne and Hyland discussed division of labor, compensation, managing overhead, how they would decide what work to take, client service, and the need to practice in a way that allowed them to take time off.
In short, they wanted to deliver quality work and have a quality of life, a combination that is often impossible at big firms.
This notion was a driving principle for their firm. Ruthanne knew from her own experience, which included drafting some of the most complex of legal documents, appellate and SCOTUS briefs, that consistently working 16 hour days did not result in quality work.
Ruthanne is passionate about using her creativity and analytical ability in her work. And, she has learned that her ability to be creative and analytical includes allowing her mind respite from the intense concentration that deep and creative thought requires. In other words, Ruthanne knew that a quality life would produce quality work.
Her theory has been validated.
Starting Her Firm
The evidence? For the 2017 SCOTUS term, Ruthanne is tied with other lawyers for writing the 5th most SCOTUS amicus briefs, Hyland is tied for writing the 6th most, and their firm is tied for 7th place. (Empirical SCOTUS: Attorneys and Firms for the 2017 Term). That’s incredibly impressive considering their competition for the most part are huge AmLaw 25 firms.
Ruthanne and Hyland are thrilled about this result.
But it’s not just about the numbers; they are also happy about how they have built their business and their practice.
First, the hard work and planning they put into their business has allowed them to be selective about the work they accept, which includes about two-third paid work and one-third pro bono work for a range of clients, including trade associations, unions, corporations, and non-profit organizations.
Additionally, they planned on the type of services they would provide clients. Like all good plans, this one has evolved a bit to include not only direct appellate representation, but also what they refer to as “appellate counseling work.” As Ruthanne describes this type of work, she coaches her clients, who may be other law firms or organizations with their own in-house team of lawyers by helping them develop the strategic vision for the litigation and then assisting them as they draft their own briefs.
Second, Ruthanne and Hyland realized that their work styles and personalities complement one another. This is a vital element for their personal happiness and firm success. Hyland is expert in situating a case into the river of evolving legal doctrine, while Ruthanne loves to develop the narrative theme for each appeal, telling a compelling story about why their client’s position should prevail. They take turns being counsel of record, with one of them doing the lion’s share of the work and client interface on each matter. They collaborate on case strategy, and nothing goes out the door without both partners’ input and edits.
Third, Ruthanne has discovered that her organizational clients are happy to have a lawyer with her abilities and experience, whom they trust to deliver smart, creative, strategic thinking. Her clients love that they have two partner-level, former SCOTUS clerks, rolling up their sleeves, diving into the project, analyzing the value of pursuing an appeal or creating the strategic vision as the researchers, initial drafters and the editors.
This approach differs greatly from how Ruthanne practiced before starting her own firm. In large firms, appellate litigation is led by a superstar partner who leverages a team of young, talented lawyers who conduct research and write the initial draft of a brief. The superstar will ultimately review and edit the work to refine the product to the quality required.
From Ruthanne’s perspective, although this works for many clients, it was not as enjoyable as her current practice because the earliest phases of research and writing are often where experience of a more seasoned lawyer can contribute most, in making connections and pursuing ideas might not occur to a more junior lawyer. Further, from the client’s perspective, it is often hard to re-tool a brief or re-direct the thinking in the brief once the initial draft is written.
Fourth, from a pricing perspective, what Ruthanne loves is that they can adapt their billing to each client. This includes offering rates or a billing structure that actually assist the client in managing costs, including flat fees and hourly rates with caps. And for matters where both sides recognize that there may be unforeseen costs (e.g. coalitions of clients with multiple perspectives to include in a single brief), the firm will kick in with hourly billing after a certain agreed buffer over a fixed fee, to ensure fair compensation while recognizing the costs of coordination and internal client churn.
Fifth, when it comes to their marketing plan, Ruthanne has discovered that their pro bono amicus briefs are their best form of advertising. Doing the work for free has raised the profile of the firm overall.
There was never a doubt that Ruthanne had the smarts to be a very good lawyer and the work ethic to get it done. But the real secret sauce to Ruthanne’s success is that she combined those smarts and years of hard work with a real entrepreneur’s gift to give clients what they needed.
Ruthanne’s dream (literally) came true. You can hear it in her voice when she talks about her firm, her clients, and the law as she tells you how much “fun” it all is.
Connect with Ruthanne Deutsch
Our Marquee Players section is our chance to introduce you to a small-firm lawyer, an inside counsel or another innovator in the law who is exceptionally talented, innovative or otherwise phenomenal. We conduct intimate interviews of these folks to learn about their career paths – including all the interesting frolics and detours - to find out what makes them tick, and understand why they are so darn good at what they do.