OK, so we’re a law firm, and law firms can’t eat cake. Plus, nobody’s having birthday parties these days anyway—or at least they shouldn’t be. But on this occasion of Pathfinder’s first birthday, we thought it would be cool to share our origin story and reflect on what the past year has brought.
The interesting thing about Pathfinder’s birthday is that it’s also the birthday of our son, James Kenneth Swartz (aka “Spud”). If you read between the lines there, you might ask yourself, “Why would anybody in their right mind start a law firm the same day their first child is born?”
It’s a totally valid question, and the answer is “Nobody.” But starting Pathfinder the same day Spud was born wasn’t a matter of choice; it was a matter of survival. Let us explain.
This day last year, Bryn was working for one of the biggest Workers’ Compensation law firms in the state. You know the type—suits, ties, a bunch of stuffy offices, all that noise. If you’ve turned on the TV anytime in the last few years, you’ve probably had the guilty pleasure of cringing at their TV ads.
Spud’s birth had been planned for Aug. 30. Bryn went out on paternity leave. But then, three minutes before being due to go back for the C-section, as Bryn and Mandy sat in the pre-op room in surgical gowns awaiting the imminent arrival of their firstborn, Bryn got an email from the firm’s administrator.
He was being laid off. By email. The day his son was born.
What came next was a blur, and, unfortunately, so was Spud’s birth. How could it not be? Newly unemployed and a new father. Shock, terror, disbelief, panic … words can’t do justice. What do you do when you callously and inhumanely get fired moments before you become a father?
Well, if you’re anything like us, you look at each other, take a deep breath, try to stuff down the terror, and say “So … want to start a law firm?” And then you go have a baby.
So that’s what we did. We gritted our teeth, got through the C-section, and welcomed an incredible gift into our lives in the form of James Kenneth Swartz.
And then we got to work hatching another baby: a law firm.
We sat in the hospital room after Spud was born filling out Virginia State Bar paperwork, forming our LLC with the State Corporation Commission, registering a website, getting email accounts set up, etc.
In a very literal sense, Spud and Pathfinder were born and nurtured in the same days sitting in the same hospital room by two frazzled, scared, intimidated people trying to do the best they could under the circumstances to muster the strength, wherewithal, and resilience to get up off the mat and come back swinging.
Oh, not to mention learning to feed, care for, attend to, and otherwise keep alive a tiny human the stork had just dropped off.
That’s how we started. But what has our first year held? This year has been incredible in many ways. It’s been a blur, but it’s also been rewarding in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Ups and downs, highs and lows, the deepest struggles and failings, and soaring triumphs.
We have accomplished more than we thought we were capable of. We have grown as people; we have faced off with our doubts and wrestled with our shortcomings. We have had to learn how to be new business owners and new parents at the same time.
We’d both been doing Workers’ Comp law for years, but running a law firm? That was uncharted territory. But somehow, through serendipity, fortitude, hard work, tenacity, help from the grandparents, and probably a lot of luck, we’ve not only survived—we’ve succeeded. We’ve thrived.
Now we should say here that success can mean a lot of things. It can be measured by many different metrics. Some people (and maybe most in the legal field) measure it by money earned, material goods acquired, prestige, awards, accolades, and a bunch of other vapid junk like that.
If you want to measure success in strict terms of dollars and cents, we’ve been incredibly successful this year. We’ve gotten our clients almost $1.7 million in settlements and benefits so far (that’s just cash, not even counting the medical bills we’ve gotten paid for people). We’ve had the privilege of delivering our clients life-altering sums of money, peace of mind, and most importantly, a sense that somebody finally has their back after they got hurt.
But success is more than money. It’s purpose, it’s self-determination, it’s autonomy, it’s lifestyle. It’s getting to raise your son with his parents around, teaching him cool things, bringing him to depositions and mediations (well, before the pandemic at least), showing him what struggle and grit and toughness and resourcefulness looks like—not just in words, but in actions. It’s getting to take bike rides in the middle of a weekday. There’s no dollar value to those things. That’s because they’re actually priceless.
And success is also professional achievement. As a firm, we’ve made law in our cases that changes important things about how Workers’ Compensation works in Virginia. We’ve opened up an avenue to transparency in discovering what insurance companies are paying their doctors to say against Workers’ Compensation claimants. We’ve faced down international behemoths like Amazon and Philip Morris and their multinational law firms with thousands of attorneys, and we’ve not only held our own, we’ve come out on top.
Two upstarts in a tiny office they built themselves (literally swinging hammers and sanding drywall), with no big-firm infrastructure, rising from the ashes after a blow that would have crushed a lot of people, in the middle of a pandemic. Helping people hurt at work, achieving professional success, staring down giants and kicking them in the teeth, recovering huge sums of money for people and doing it all while raising an incredible little baby boy in the process with the lifestyle we wanted. That’s success.
There’s an old adage about life giving you lemons. But the truth is sometimes it’s not just lemons; it’s a dump truck full of manure. And when that happens, you either drown in it or you dig out, gather your thoughts, put on a clean shirt, and start a family business selling the manure for profit so you can do things like going on a seventeen-day road trip through New England and showing your brand new young son all the pretty fall leaves and colors.
And in case you were wondering, Spud came out just perfect. He’s healthy, happy, incredibly intelligent, capable, sweet, pure, and is going to be such a handful as he gets older. We can’t wait to see who he becomes and what he does.
Thank you to the clients who have trusted us with their cases and their livelihoods; we take that responsibility so seriously and appreciate the trust so much. Thank you to the other lawyers and firms who have referred us cases, given us advice, and been mentors and colleagues. Thank you to our families for holding us up and at least trying to help keep us between the lines.
And thank you to that former mega-firm for the blessing in disguise of a square roundhouse kick to the face that came in the form of an email three minutes before Spud was born. After coming to and clawing our way back up on our feet, we’ve come to realize they did us (and the clients we’ve now been able to help) an incalculable favor.
That’s our story. That’s our first year. Happy birthday, Pathfinder Injury Law! And happy birthday, Spud! Two brothers (only one of them planned). It’s been a wild ride so far, and we’re just getting started. Here’s to many, many more.
Bryn Swartz is passionate about helping others navigate work-related injuries. Read more from the founder of Pathfinder Injury Law in VA.