A Connecticut Lawyer on the Cutting Edge

Aug 16, 2013

Legal Cuts, a barbershop law firm in New Britain.
Credit Diane Orson / WNPR

With law school grads facing a tough job market, some entrepreneurial attorneys are trying out hybrid businesses. One Connecticut attorney has opened a shop that combines his passion for the law with his skill as a barber.

Donald Howard says he first got the hybrid-business idea working as a paralegal for a personal injury attorney who doubled as a sports agent. Then he saw the concept again on a reality television show.

"It was a guy in California who did Legal Grind, a coffee house and a law office."

Rather than combine lawyer and a latte, Howard’s business venture offers shave-and-a-haircut with legal advice. 

He’s been cutting hair since he was a kid. After a scrape with the law, his father put him in a vocational training program for barbers.  All through college and law school, Howard cut hair on the side. 

Now at 32 years old, and having passed the bar, he wants to lessen the anxiety people feel, dealing with the legal system. He says traditional law offices can be intimidating, but folks are comfortable sharing their problems with a barber.

"Even if it wasn’t a law office and a barbershop, people would still talk to their barber. And I know working as a barber, that you’re trusting somebody with a razor, so they trust people with their information too."

This morning, the chairs are full and razors buzzing at Legal Cuts in New Britain, about 10 miles from Hartford. Known in the early 20th century as the “Hardware City”, New Britain was once America’s largest hardware manufacturing center, with the Stanley Works and Corbin Locks. Now locals call it “Hard-Hittin' New Britain”, as workers have felt the loss of thousands of good-paying jobs. 

Howard says he opened here because Hartford is overrun with lawyers and barbers. He focuses most of his time on the law practice in the back office while three barbers out front cut hair in the salon.

Head barber Travis Mims says the location, right near the courthouse, means plenty of walk-in business.

"You got people that come in here for legal services and also they walk out of here with a haircut also, so it works out for both of us."

Dante Spell is a college admissions officer who’s just had his hair cut. He says he’d consider coming back if he were in need of legal advice.

"I think it’s a cool concept. If I had a question I think its a kind of convenient place where I think you can talk to an somebody in a setting that’s not as stuffy as a general attorney’s office would be."

The barbershop offers specials, like the 5 dollar “Misdemeanor” cut. The 18 dollar “Nolle” gets you a full haircut, shave, shirt and tie in case you need to head straight to an interview, or perhaps to court. 

The law office in back has a whiteboard listing flat fees for legal services. Wills are $150 and up; a first DUI is just under $800.

Howard says down the road he’d like to host educational programs at night so people can learn more about how the law works. He sees the barbershop turning into a kind of social epicenter for the community.  

"Its gimmicky. But I want people to know that its a gimmicky thing that could work and it can help them out. And that lawyer is down to earth. And if I need him, he’s going to explain things to me and I’m really going to come out feeling a little bit more confident than I went in."

The business just opened in April. The barbershop’s been busy, though Howard says most law clients are still finding him through more traditional channels. 

But Legal Cuts has already earned a mention in the journal of the American Bar Association. And hey, attorneys starting out today gotta be on the cutting edge.