Shari Shapiro has gone from a lawyer to founding a communications business in a move that isn’t too far from the industry she left behind.
“I think it’s an outgrowth of my blogging experience. I started the Green Building Law Blog in 2007. I think I was one of the first few thousand people who were on Twitter. I have seen first hand how the social media world has changed communications and has changed interactions between people in the country and across the world,” said Shapiro, author of Green Building Law Blog.
After spending over 10 years as a lawyer, Shapiro launched Calliope Communications in July. Her latest venture combines her legal and business strategy background and communications experience as a blogger – but with a greater focus on government and energy policy.
“I had been doing government relations and policy as part of my work at Cozen O’Conner for a couple of years, and I wanted that to be all of what I did. I found that working within the structure of a very large law firm…wasn’t going to work with the fee structure of those kinds of engagements that I wanted to do for environmental clients and clients that didn’t have the kind of budget for a big law firm,” she said.
Only a month into her venture, Shapiro has already started to seek out nonprofits and industry groups as clients.
“I can do the research to make policy decisions but also to draft the regulatory language. Being a lawyer for a long time has been helpful in that regard. … I do both research and policy development so the clients in general are looking for that type of services are corporations who want to advance policy incentives or government relations incentives,” she said.
Research and policy development is only part of the process, however, with the boutique consultancy emphasizing how clients’ messages are spread.
“What I think makes my set of services different is that I also think it’s important to integrate communications with policy efforts. I see government relations as an extension of marketing and communications and that the target that you’re marketing to is either the policy makers or – sometimes both – the communities of that are affected by whatever policy that you’re trying to implement or resist,” she said.
Shapiro points to the Affordable Care Act – aka Obamacare – as an example of how the message deserves as much fine tuning as the policy itself.
“That was a messaging issue as much as anything. The Republicans came up with the Obamacare name, and there wasn’t a lot of counter-communication on the part of the Obama administration,” she said. “I find that very interesting from a communications standpoint because if you do not effectively communicate and market policy, someone else will do it for you. Either the media or the opposition will frame the issue for you.”
As part of her own communications marketing efforts, Shapiro decided to revive the Green Building Law Blog, which she took a break from in 2013.
“Green Building Law blog has been my platform for quite a long time and I’ve gotten a lot of public demand to keep that as a resources and to bring that back as a resource. I see that as very complimentary to the business that I provide. It’s a place for me to display my policy expertise and understanding of these issues from a platform that I have use for many many years,” she said.
From being a stringer for a Rhode Island newspaper while at Brown University to keeping up her blog, Shapiro has always had an interest in the communication business side, but she had to have a genuine conversation with herself before deciding to leave her legal career.
“I took a long time thinking about what I wanted to do and what it was that I was good out before I made a jump. I literally made a list at all the things that I’ve been successful at really going back since childhood and the things that have engaged me throughout my life, and built from that list what I really wanted my business to look like,” she said.
For other lawyers who are considering about a career shakeup, Shapiro advises them to “have a reason to do it.”
” [Don’t] just make a change for the sake of making a change. … You need to have that hard conversation with yourself before making that jump.”