The Cornell University engineering graduate began his career in a factory on the outskirts of Washington, helping manage production of the Tomahawk cruise missile and the portable Stinger surface-to-air missile for a defense contractor.
After two years, he applied to law school and business school. He ended up going to Georgetown Law School, graduating in 1995. A chess player with a facility for numbers, Lieber went to work the next four years solving complex tax cases for Covington & Burling, one of Washington’s biggest law firms.
The tax work was interesting but unfulfilling. Instead of helping companies avoid taxes on transactions, he wanted to advise them on whether the transaction made sense. He joined McKinsey & Co., the consulting firm, in 1999.
“I viewed it as a career-laundering opportunity,” Lieber said. “This was my path to becoming a businessman.”
He eventually joined Axiom Law, a worldwide legal outsource firm, in 2008. He helped launch its Washington office, where he recruited lawyers. He helped manage the office. All tasks that prepared him for launching his own law firm.
“I hadn’t had any experience selling, prior to Axiom,” he said. “This gave me the confidence that I could go out on my own.”
He already had a business in mind. For years, he and his wife, who is also a lawyer, had socialized with a group of people, several of whom were fellow lawyers. Many had gone to top law schools such as Yale and Harvard, followed by high-powered, lucrative careers.
The majority were women who had pushed the pause button on their legal careers to start a family and had trouble reintegrating into the 24-7 demands following maternity leave.
At dinners and cocktail parties, “I saw all this high-end, blue chip legal talent that was idle. It seemed inefficient. I noticed the women’s predicament. The big firms could not accommodate their schedules.”
In early 2011, Lieber started calling the women, taking them for coffee and describing his vision for a legal business. He outlined an alternative to the all-or-nothing choice at many big firms, offering instead a flexible life that may not include the million-dollar partner paycheck but still paid well.
“I recruited them,” he said.
He quickly had 12 signed up.
He borrowed $75,000 from a line of credit on his home, which he used to buy malpractice insurance, put a down payment on office space, and buy computers, fax machines and scanners.
He wrote his company’s legal papers himself, forming a limited liability company in March 2011, registered in the District.
His first big breakthrough came a month later when a fellow lawyer who had a connection in Savannah got him an interview with the president of the Savannah College of Art and Design. With 11,000 students, the school has become Lieber’s third-largest client.
Lieber’s pool of lawyers now numbers 42. Most are in Washington, but some are scattered around the country in Florida, New York and Illinois.
He spends his time fielding requests from his legal clients and then assigning the jobs to the lawyers who have the appropriate expertise. Most assignments can be as short as half a day and as long as six months.
The key is making sure his legal stable is qualified and engaged. Most of his hires come through word of mouth from neighbors and friends.
Marissa Mayer may rightly want her people in the office so they can be more interactive and creative. But that’s not a prerequisite at Potomac Law Group.
“You don’t need five lawyers in a room to modify a warranty clause,” Lieber said.