Catherine Hedgeman ’00 has been hard at work for years making a difference in the Capital Region—in the legal field and in the community—and that effort has earned her a major acknowledgement.
Earlier this year, her Albany-based law office was designated as a Certified Woman-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE) in New York State.
“Being able to have a female-owned firm in New York—in Albany—is an extreme honor. When I [first] went to work, 20 years ago, there were no female partners,” Hedgeman said. “To get the designation from the State of New York, getting a thumbs up from the state, has been an extraordinary experience.”
She also saw a chance to step up and offer a helping hand to other Capital Region small businesses navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. By hosting webinars, offering calls, and serving as a sounding board, her office is helping local businesses make sense of the aid available to them.
“Getting the right advice and guidance can make all the difference to the survival of a small business and it feels good to provide that advice and guidance and see the business go on to be successful,” she said. “[Many small business owners] are so busy running the business and producing their product that to stop and to have to go back and look at financial records and make sure they are in a format to get some of these benefits—like payroll protection or an economic injury disaster loan—they may not have the records readily available.”
Some cases may require a dose of some harsh truth, Hedgeman said. A business taking out a massive loan might create a bigger problem when customers aren’t guaranteed to return.
“Some of what we do is legal and navigating the programs, but a lot of what we do is listening and offering a reality check to some businesses,” she said. “Most lawyers can tell you the law and what you need to do to comply with it. A lot of what we do is business related. We run a business, we have a lot of clients who run a small business. We’ve seen a lot of the best practices and we’ve seen a lot of the poor practices.”
Along the way, she’s also had to learn how to market herself through social media and cultivating an approachable web presence—skills she recommends to all lawyers, not just those who work for themselves.
“Successful lawyers will need to be online, available, nimble, and creative. The law is changing and people have complex problems,” she said. “You really need to have an attorney with a skillset that goes beyond what the public might expect from a good law firm.”
Being active offline—out in the community—and making it easy for others to do the same is another best practice Hedgeman has learned along the way.
In 2004, Hedgeman founded GenNEXT, a business council of the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce (now the Capital Region Chamber) for young professionals. She noticed a need to connect working people with meaningful places to volunteer their time.
A few years later, she went on to form her own group—The Stakeholders—which expands on the idea of GenNEXT and fosters connections between individuals or corporations and organizations in need.
When she established her law firm in 2007, she wanted to pick her clients and the areas in which she specialized. She’s found success in providing guidance to small businesses, nonprofits, and real estate. In offering services to regionally based clients—such as the Albany County Land Bank—her work is able to make an impact in her lifelong home, the Capital Region. She grew up in the city of Albany. Aside from a few years in Washington, D.C., she’s remained upstate.
“When I get a chance to—as an attorney—play a part in bringing the city back to what it could be, that gets me up every day,” she said.