Russell Knight, owner of Law Office of Russell Knight, took a slightly different route than most lawyers. Rather than studying pre-law or taking legal courses as an undergraduate, Knight studied Business Computer Systems at Bradley University. At the time, tech was booming and he wanted to be part of it. His choice to study business and technology was also influenced by the fact that his parents owned a small business and his own desire to move in that direction. When Knight graduated in 2000, things didn't exactly go as planned.
"Even though the demand was there for computer programmers, I realized I wasn't any good at it," he said. "That's when I shifted my attention and decided to go back to school to get a law degree."
Knight graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law in 2006. Unfortunately, this wasn't the best time to be graduating with a law degree. According to Knight, the 'legal economy' typically crashes before the larger economy. Nevertheless, Knight was lucky enough to find a job working as an attorney for a small firm on Chicago's west side. While getting his feet wet in the legal world, he sought to gain a new skill and distinguish himself by learning Spanish. As Knight shared, this proved to be a very fruitful decision.
"Learning a new language as an adult is not easy," he said. "I listened to tapes and met with a tutor several times per week. It took just over two years before I was comfortable speaking Spanish with clients in a professional setting. It was a lot of work, but it was well worth it. Today, nearly a third of my clientele are Spanish speakers. I can honestly say that learning Spanish was one of the best professional decisions I've ever made."
In April 2009, Knight was ready to answer the entrepreneurial call and start his own firm. From day one, the fact that he was bi-lingual made him unique. He also devised a way to streamline the system for preparing affordable divorces. With the recession in full-swing, he had to figure out a way to help people get divorced as cheaply as possible. He did so by utilizing systems and by tapping into an under-served Spanish speaking market. People could walk in with less than $3,000 and get divorced.
In 2018, Knight decided it was time to expand the business and start a second location. He identified Naples as the perfect place to open his new office.
"Naples has great schools and it's beautiful," he said. "I also looked at divorce rates per capita in Florida and found that they're higher than most places in the country. I purchased a three bedroom furnished condo and moved my wife and children down that winter. Today, I spend a little over 50% of my time in Naples and the rest in Chicago."
Knight shared that since launching his first office in 2009, one of his biggest challenges has been finding good staff. In most cases, specific training is required. Paralegals are not necessarily taught how to do a divorce in Chicago or Naples.
In terms of growth, Knight's approach, while not entirely novel, is certainly clever and one that produces significant results. "If you go to my website, you'll see all the articles I've written about various legal issues," he said. "I have things like 'how to enforce or break a prenuptial agreement', articles specific to Muslim divorce and even an article on 'How to deport your wife'. The articles are how I continue to teach myself and reinforce what I've learned. They're also viewed by a lot of people. When most people read them, they realize I'm the expert and they hire me."
Looking ahead, Knight would like to wind down the Chicago office to focus more on the Naples office. He's also considering a second Florida location in Fort Myers.
What advice does Knight have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "People are much more supportive than you think," he said. "People love success stories. I've noticed that's especially the case in Florida. There's a lot of support for entrepreneurs in this state. Also, if you're going to go for it, go full throttle."