Law firm founder, expert in mortgage fraud and ’22-hour days’
- Attorney and founding partner
- Smith Dollar
- 404 Mendocino Ave.
- Santa Rosa 95401
SANTA ROSA – Rachel Dollar, attorney, certified mortgage banker, certified financial crimes investigator and founding partner of the law firm Smith Dollar, was just 17 when she first took a job in a law office.
As a legal secretary, she spent a number of years working in the construction and accounting fields before she decided to get a law degree.
“The first attorney I worked for offered me an apprenticeship,” said Ms. Dollar. “But I just wasn’t interested at the time.”
She previously had worked for her father’s construction company, but in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when the economy went into a slump, she figured out she probably should find another line of work.
Born in Oakland, she was only a small child when her parents took the family “off the grid” to the mountains in Southern California. At 11, they moved to a small town near Redding where they lived until she was 15 and moved to Rohnert Park. She graduated from Rancho Cotate High School and attended Santa Rosa Junior College.
Then she got work with a New York-based attorney who was doing a project on the West Coast.
“It was there that I learned how to work 24 hours a day. It was a real Wall Street kind of training, not the kind of training one gets on this coast,” she said.
From that experience, she eventually decided to go to law school, which she did via correspondence school. She earned her bachelor’s simultaneously with her law degree at Newport University School of Law and continued to work for the same lawyer.
But in her third year of school, he had a heart attack.
“I took a year off after that,” she said, taking time to explore whether the high pressure and long hours were for her.
During that year she decided that law was indeed where she wanted to stay. She had found her career.
After finishing her degree, she went to work for O’Brien, Watters & Davis, then to Smith and Miller. One of the partners there, Glen Smith, is her current partner at Smith Dollar. Then it was off to Lanahan & Reilley, after which she started her own firm.
Her main area of focus is providing litigation and transactional representation to the mortgage banking and financial services industry.
She said that due to the current economic situation and the historically large number of lawsuits brought to mortgage companies, her business has thrived. From 2008 when Mr. Smith joined her as a partner, the firm has grown to 14 attorneys. There are a total of 30 staff in the downtown Santa Rosa office.
Instead of a 24-hour workday, she said she works about 22.
“Every waking hour is spent on work when you are a business owner,” she said.
In addition to her work as an attorney, she is the editor of the industry website, Mortgage Fraud Blog, and is the author of “Protect Yourself from Real Estate and Mortgage Fraud” released by Kaplan Publishing in 2007.
She is often called upon by publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other various news outlets to give opinions on trends in the industry as well as being asked to talk on panels at conferences relating to her area of expertise.
Smith Dollar was recently named a certified Woman Owned Business. Her family lives locally, which has been a factor in her staying in the area.
“I have three brothers and two sisters,” she said. “The sisters work here at the law firm.”
She said throughout her career she never really thought about how being a woman in the financial world would be.
“Growing up, we just didn’t recognize it as an obstacle,” she said. “There were circumstances, however, where I was treated differently. A lot of deals get done in the men’s room. It can be a good old boys club.”
But she said doing your job well and being well-known will win out in the long run.
“If you are not the best person for the job, it doesn’t matter. Being a woman is an added challenge, but I have not let it hinder me,” she said.
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