Carnegie Mellon University

Five Questions with Heather Batzel

Alumna Heather Batzel answered our "5 Questions" about the law's role in business ownership and what she’d do if she wasn't a lawyer.

A skilled negotiator and zealous advocate for her clients, Heather Batzel (DC 2000) founded Batzel Law PLLC in 2013. Her law firm, which has offices in Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, represents companies and their founders with a variety of legal business issues, but her heart lies in helping entrepreneurs protect their interests and grow their businesses. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon, Batzel earned her law degree from American University. 

On November 2, at 1 p.m. EDT, Heather will lead a CMUConnect Professional Development Webinar, "Legal Primer for Entrepreneurs." She will provide insights and practical information about what entrepreneurs need to know to launch or grow their businesses, types of legal issues business owners face at every stage and how to develop a sense of legal risks and how to address them.

Heather sat down with us to answer five questions about the law's role in business ownership and what she’d do if she wasn't a lawyer. 

Q: What was the most valuable thing you learned at CMU, and how did it prepare you for your law education and career?
A: That hard work is okay and is to be encouraged. I face challenges frequently in my work, ways of doing things that aren’t the way I've done them before. I have to examine whether they are consistent with law and then quickly become an expert in that approach to lead the development of a game plan and draft all of the legal instruments to effect the desired outcome. 

Q: Why is knowledge of the law so important for entrepreneurs?
A: Laws are ubiquitous. If you don't know what and legal issues govern your activities, you're likely to run afoul of them. As most people (I think!) know, ignorance is not a defense, and in some areas (e.g. securities, tax and even some corporate), violations are actually criminal offenses. And more generally, people harm their business and themselves individually by not protecting their interests. 

Q: What's the #1 mistake you see entrepreneurs make when starting their businesses?
A: It's tied between a) not considering fully (or at all) and committing to on paper what the deal is between the founders – not only equity split but also commitments expected, how and when one can get out and several other aspects, and b) thinking that one can raise money from whomever they want and violating federal (and state) laws. I see it over and over again. Sneak preview: there's not a friends and family exemption to securities law! 

Q: What knowledge should attendees expect to take away from your seminar?
A: I hope to encourage an appreciation for what legal issues are likely present in some key situations, to provide information as to what to be on the look-out for and to help the attendees have a better understanding of the trade-offs involved in postponing things and/or seeking legal help at different stages. I don't mean to say no one should ever take a risk, but it's important to be informed of the type of risk involved so that a reasonable business judgment can be reached. 

Q: If you weren't a lawyer, what career would you pursue and why?
A: Something in the social sciences. I studied policy and management at CMU and loved behavioral decision sciences with Professor Baruch Fischhoff and many other courses in my home department of SDS (Social and Decision Sciences). These days, I am still fascinated by, and give a lot of thought to, why people make the decisions they do. It's such a relevant topic whether planning negotiation strategies in business, coordinating plans with friends or examining the current political context.