“Conventional,” thank God, is not a word that ever can be used to describe Terry Lyons.
The founder of the law firm Lyons & Associates, which has offices in Morristown, Somerville and soon to be in Freehold Township, Lyons’ mission is to redefine how law is practiced. “This means how we think and work and live and act,” she says. “We’re not a typical law firm, and we’re proud of it.”
At Lyons & Associates, the uber-friendly offices advertise themselves with the catchy slogan “Your Lighthouse in the Storm.” Like Silicon Valley tech firms, they have a variety of fun features ranging from putting greens to waiting rooms appointed with toys and candy.
“We do TikTok videos, there’s no dress code and lawyers enjoy unlimited paid time off,” Lyons says, adding that it is that atmosphere that helps the firm always put the client in the center of the decision-making process.
Lyons, one of the top matrimonial and family law attorneys in the state, was one of the first in New Jersey to earn a dual degree in law and social work, a defining distinction.
“Lawyers think too much, and social workers feel too much,” she says. “It’s a scary combination.”
It was that combination of talents that led Lyons & Associates—one of only 2 percent of female-founded businesses in the country to exceed annual revenues in the millions—to create the first free smartphone app of its kind in New Jersey that allows users to get information on divorce, calculate estimated child support and be instantly connected to the state’s domestic violence shelters.
Lyons was a teacher when she decided to attend night classes to get a master’s degree in social work from Rutgers University. One of her requirements was a five-week class called “Law and Social Work” that changed her career path.
The professor had just authored a new dual-degree program in conjunction with Rutgers Law School in Camden, and the rest is history.
After graduating in 2001, Lyons clerked for a justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court then went to work for a nationally recognized firm that had hundreds of lawyers across the country.
“One of the partners handled matrimonial law as a courtesy to our clients,” she says. “I asked to work with him, and he taught me everything he knew.”
In 2004, Lyons opened her own firm, which now has 12 lawyers whose practice areas range from adoption and real estate to wills, trusts and estates, criminal law, special needs law and general business litigation and administrative law.
“We are,” she says, “a different breed of human. We are wicked smart and super-kind.”
Lyons, author of the best-seller Sticks and Stones, Life Lessons from a Lawyer, was named one of the “Top 10 Best Female Attorneys” by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys, and her firm was declared the No. 2 best place to work in New Jersey by NJBIZ.
“I don’t pay attention to accolades,” she says.
As a female lawyer in what is still considered a male profession, Lyons, who has served on several boards of trustees supporting women and children, is dedicated to “breaking ground and bringing others with me.”
“Mentoring is the right thing to do,” she says. “It gives us satisfaction to see others mature, and it’s good business because it creates an army of people our firm has helped, who in turn can then help us.”
Lyons lives in Somerset with her wife, Linda Tamm, an entrepreneur who owns her own company, and their two adopted children, 20-year-old Destiny and 17-year-old Jamei.
“In New Jersey, adoptive parents are permitted to change their children’s names at the time of the adoption, but we didn’t, because their names are a lasting gift from their birth families,” Lyons says. “We wanted to respect and honor that.”
Through the years, the couple has fostered and mentored several children, which Lyons finds rewarding.
“We also have a lot of pets,” she says. “There’s Oliver, a pig who is the size of a poodle and likes to listen to Jack Johnson music. There have been lots of dogs, cats and other animals as well. We always say that anyone who can stand the chaos of our home is welcome to join it.”
When asked how she balances her work and home life, Lyons has a well-rehearsed ready response: “The first thing we need to do is stop asking this question only of women,” she says. “We need to ask it equally—of men, too. The second thing we need to do is actually recognize that there is no such thing as balance; it’s choosing on a daily basis what to prioritize, whether it’s attending my son’s track meet, cooking with my daughter, spending time with my wife or working until midnight.”
She’s set a high goal for herself: Before she hits 65, in 13 years, she and her team want to grow Lyons & Associates into a 50-lawyer firm, with a national reputation and in which she owns only 1 percent.
“My sole purpose is to build something that can succeed without me,” she says. “Our entire team works every day to create a legacy firm that will exist beyond me and beyond us. It’s not the easiest journey in the world, but it sure seems like one worth taking.”
Learn more about Terry Lyons and Lyons & Associates at lyonspc.com.