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Southern California Entrepreneurs

Better Idea: Umbrella Company Built for 2

July 01, 1998|Karen E. Klein

Chere Estrin and Gloria Herrera met 15 years ago because both provided staffing for law firms. After Estrin quit her job and Herrera's firm suffered during the recession of the early '90s, the two women decided to join forces by forming a unique partnership--sharing staff and office space but maintaining their separate companies. Estrin was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.

I was a division president of a litigation support company, earning six figures and helping to run a multimillion-dollar firm, but I knew it wasn't going to work out when the president of the parent company introduced me to a client as "the girl who runs the temp division."

I had lunch with Gloria one Saturday at Jerry's Deli in the Marina and we started discussing our options. I said, "Here's what I need," and she said, "Here's what I need." We made a handshake deal and I arrived at her office the next Tuesday with my Rolodex.

Gloria's company, Legal Careers Unlimited, has been operating since 1979. She recruits and places legal secretaries, word processors, bookkeepers, receptionists--all the people who help run a law firm. Over many years, I worked in recruiting and placing contract attorneys and paralegals for law offices, and that's what my company, the Estrin Organization, still does now.

We had shared contacts and client referrals for years without ever realizing we were doing it. When we decided to get together, we formed a parent company, Estrin Legal Careers Inc.

Gloria is still in charge of her company and I'm in charge of mine. We are aligned in terms of philosophy, corporate culture and strategic planning. We share resources, like our 3,000-square-foot office space, our receptionist, office equipment, professional consultants, training programs and all our professional services, including an attorney and an accountant. That ability to share saves each of our companies a tremendous amount of money.

We also do a lot of cross-selling, and that's probably the biggest plus for us and very convenient for our clients. They can come to us with their support staff needs and their legal needs and they can get help from experts in both areas.

The two companies have different advertising materials that are usually aimed at different buyers. Gloria's target client is typically an office manager or human resources director, where ours may be a managing partner or legal administrator.

We hold separate staff meetings and have different budgets, and we each make our own day-to-day decisions about operations, but we come together in terms of strategic planning and cross-selling.

Gloria and I are very different people. Our personalities are like day and night. But we have exactly the same mentality about money, and that's been key. We have a lot of discussions about whether we need to spend money, but if we need to spend the dollars, we do. We also feel the same on moral issues, hiring philosophies and our commitment to success.

Gloria covered my first payroll because her company had the cash flow. We could not get a bank to finance us or even take us seriously when we first decided to join up, but it never entered our heads that we couldn't do it. As our companies grew, we faced tight cash flow situations, but we were always able to cover each other. As one company was growing, the other was resting, and so we helped each other out, and we've always been able to pay each other back over the years.

We think we've come up with a unique situation. We're both strong individualists and we've found a way to help each other while staying true to our natures instead of trying to overcome them.

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At A Glance

* Company: Estrin Legal Careers Inc.

* Owners: Chere Estrin and Gloria Herrera

* Nature of Business: Professional legal staffing

* Location: 2040 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 400, Los Angeles

* Year founded: 1996

* Employees: 14

* Annual sales: $3 million

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