15 Years of Solo Practice in the Big Apple: Relating to an Ethnically Diverse Clientele, Tracking Key Metrics, and Effectively Leveraging Paralegals
I’m looking forward to sharing this episode with you as an interview with David Zaslavsky who’s one of our provider attorneys in The Big Apple, New York City. This is a challenging market, a lot of competition.
Thousands of lawyers, thousands and thousands and thousands of people but a tough market and very expensive to run a practice. He even shares his monthly expenses on any given month. It could be anywhere from eight to $10,000 a month right out of the gate. The prices he has to charge adjust accordingly. There’s a limitation of the payment plans you can do. In other areas where attorneys might take a payment plan of 250 or $500 a month. His minimum right now is $1,000 a month but it’s what the market can bear and what he can bear running his practice. It’s really interesting to see how the economics of an individual locale can impact the degree of flexibility of the ways in which attorneys have to work with folks and still be able to afford to run their practice.
We also talk a lot about how to relate to people, how to handle the initial call, how to convey credibility on that call and to make sure the person has a full understanding of what else he could do for them and that you’re an expert in what you do and you’re a professional. He takes more of what he would describe as a dispassionate approach where he’s very much being a professional and that I’m going to get this job done for you but isn’t necessarily someone that’s going to provide a whole lot of emotional support. At least he doesn’t go down that path as much. It’s really interesting to hear the different styles based upon the market you serve, the way you have to charge. It’s a great episode with David.
Let’s get right into it. This interview with David Zaslavsky, one of our provider attorneys out of New York City.
Dave Aarons: Hey, Dave. Welcome to the show.
David Zaslavsky: Hi.
Dave Aarons: Really appreciate you coming on and sharing the story. It’s been a few months that we’ve been working together, for what I’ve heard through Graham and our chats. I’ve really been pleased to hear the results we’ve been able to see in such a short period of time. We are looking forward to give you the bottom of what it is that you’re doing that’s working so well. I appreciate you taking the time to share your story.
David Zaslavsky: Sure. No problem. Looking forward to it.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Yeah. Maybe a good place to start, Dave is if you could give us a little bit of background on who you are, where you come from, how you got started the practice of law and then what the focus area you serve in your law firm.
David Zaslavsky: Sure. Sure. My practice is solely devoted to family matrimonial law. Divorces, child support, custody, neglect, which is pretty rare for private attorneys to do. Almost anything that comes out of there, I do. As far as how I got into it, I’ve basically been solo for going on 15 years. When I was in law school, I worked for a very well regarded matrimonial attorney here in Manhattan. That’s right. I’m in New York City. After I graduated, I worked for another boutique firm where I was the attorney’s only associate. That was about a year and a half. That was very hard work for her practice was very good. Movie stars and billionaires literally but unfortunately, that didn’t work out. Clash of personalities and all that. At that point, I decided, “Well, I’m going to work for the worst boss in the world, me.”
Dave Aarons: Okay.
David Zaslavsky: That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
Dave Aarons: When was it that you started out? You said 15 years ago?
David Zaslavsky: Yeah. I guess, yeah. I’m going on 15 years now. Yeah, as a solo doing this stuff, working in family matrimonial law.
Dave Aarons: Right. What is it about family law that keeps you focused and obviously that you loved or that you like and what is it?
David Zaslavsky: I do love it.
Dave Aarons: Yeah.
David Zaslavsky: I do love it. A litigator, that’s what I do. I argue. I really enjoy standing up in front of a judge. Not a jury because we don’t do juries in family laws here in New York state and making an argument. I find it to be entertaining. Frankly, this is one of the few remaining jobs, remaining careers I think outside of professional blood sport where it’s you against another person. There is a winner. There is a loser. Whether it’s you against the person you litigate, you against another attorney. Ultimately, it’s who has the better argument, who has the better grasp for facts, who has the better facts? I enjoy that. It’s a game. It’s a very enjoyable one. If I’m going to do something for the rest of my life, I want to enjoy it.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely. Obviously, when you do win those battles that means that parents get to spend more time with their kids and impacts their lives there possibly, too. Winning those battles is really critical for those people’s lives as well.
David Zaslavsky: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Maybe where we could start, we were just talking before we got started here a little bit about how closely you track the numbers. There’s a wide variety of how into the numbers attorneys will get when they run their practice. Some take your spreadsheets on all the different variables and metrics. Others took it as just a bird’s eye view. Things are going well. Can you talk about maybe share a little bit since we’re beginning about the numbers you’ve seen from the leads but also maybe talk a little bit about why it is that you feel it’s so important to keep close track of the numbers in your firm?
David Zaslavsky: Well, let’s start with the second part first. Why it’s close to keep? Look, it’s very important for anybody to know if the money that they’re putting into their practice, especially for us, we’re not IBM. I’m assuming most of the people who listen to this, we’re not IBM. We’re not HP. We are all small business people. Every dollar that we put into our business, we want to make sure that dollar is working for us because those dollars are limited. That’s why it’s important especially for something like advertising, which can be very femoral. Sometimes, depending on what kind of marketing you do, you may not know what you’re getting back. Back when the Yellow Pages was a thing and lawyers used to put their ads in the Yellow Pages, I would assume that they would be asking people who call them based upon those ads.
“Where’d you hear about me?” That’s something I do all the time. If I don’t know, if the name of the person who’s calling me is not familiar, I always ask. “Where’d you hear about me?” Usually, with Unbundled, that’s not the case because I will know when somebody reaches out to me through that. If it’s for something else, it’s a personal referral, if it’s some other way, something they saw, they heard me here or there, you always want to know. If the time and the money that you’re putting into marketing is working for you. With Unbundled, it’s easy. You have a list of all of your leads and you can keep track of it. You can just keep track of how much money you’re putting into it.
If you don’t want to count per lead, you could just look at your bill when you guys send it every two weeks and then figure out how many of those clients have you closed and just how much money have you made? Both in how much money they’ve paid already and how much you have left on receivables.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. I was going to ask. What specifically are the numbers that you tend to keep track of in order to stay on top of the health of the way any … Obviously, our advertising source being the leads of any other practice. Any numbers you might track in your practice.
David Zaslavsky: Sure. For Unbundled, the way I do it, I don’t have the time and I would say the patience probably to do a detailed analysis. I don’t think it’s necessary.
Dave Aarons: Yeah.
David Zaslavsky: You look at the amount of money that you spent say for the last month and then you look at how many clients you’ve closed. If you really want to be specific, look at the retainer agreements they’ve signed. If you don’t want to be specific, for example, for me, I know that my average retainer is about $4500. I charge $300 an hour. In the average, I charge people for an initial retainer is for 15 hours of my time, so 4500. I’m closing I would say between four and five new cases a month from the leads from Unbundled. That’s about $18,000 usually about 5,000 of what I collect when they first come in and sign up and then the rest is in receivables. I’m paying on average about $2,000 a month for the leads. Yeah.
You’re looking at about a 10x return on investment, which is very good. It’s better than most. I’ve used other services. I do. I used a service called Legal Match. I don’t know if it’s okay to mention your competitor.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, of course.
David Zaslavsky: I’ve been using them forever. I’d say at least five, six years and why I’ve been using it for that long because I see a better return on investment but it’s definitely not 10 to one. I would say my return on investment with them is probably closer to three to one or four to one. Mostly because the leads that they send me, they don’t just send to me but they send to several different attorneys. Whereas the leads that you guys send are leads that are just for me. The other thing I find that’s very interesting and it’s only been with your service is that when I would say 40% of the time, they’ll contact you before you contact them.
Dave Aarons: Right. Yeah.
David Zaslavsky: I don’t know what you’re doing on the backend or what kind of advertising you’re putting out there, but the people that are looking that come across your ad, the eyeballs that come across your ads are very desperate ones. They’re people who need help now. Not in a month, not in two months but now. For family law, that’s very important because family law has always been a very immediate thing. Other practice areas, maybe not so much. I don’t know how Unbundled works for the practice areas but the people who come to me are people who need help in a very short period of time. A person who I was in court for this morning retained me less than a week ago.
Dave Aarons: I’ve called in one week. I really need this taken care of right away.
David Zaslavsky: Exactly or at least I need to have somebody to help me take care of it because things go very slowly in New York City. I hear from colleagues outside of New York City and in other states where the average case, let’s say a custody case, the average custody case takes about six months. Now, down at divorce to straight custody, parties were never married. Average custody case in New York City is probably about a year and a half. If you’re in Brooklyn, in Kings County, it’s two and a half years. If you’re in Richmond County, which is Staten Island, it’s less. It’s about maybe a year. Things take a long time because we are so populated.
Dave Aarons: Right. Exactly. Given that you’ve had a lot of experience working with lead generation companies for a number of years, can you talk about the importance? Well, maybe start with the process by how you’re receiving the leads and from maybe that first call. How quickly you get back to people? Maybe talk a little bit about the importance of that and then also what your goal is on that initial call once you get them on the line.
David Zaslavsky: I try as best as I can to get them as soon as possible. Sometimes, it’s just not possible, unfortunately. I’m in court. A lot of times, I found that I will get leads overnight. People come at home from work. Probably incredibly nervous and not sleeping because they’re going through one of the most difficult things in their lives. They’re online looking for help and some time, at 2:00 in the morning, boom. They find you and they fill out whatever form they fill out and there you go. The sooner you can get to them, the better I found. First of all, they’re incredibly appreciative. That’s the first thing. They’re incredibly appreciative. If you are prompt with them, they will be very appreciative.
The other thing is that you want to get to them first before they look for another way to find an attorney. That’s the other thing. It’s very important to try to get to them as soon as possible. It’s not always mandatory but it’s important and it helps. It helps a lot.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It’s a little bit different when you’re receiving it exclusively versus when you have maybe three or four or five other lawyers calling the exact same lead. It’s a rush to the phone to get to them first before they-
David Zaslavsky: You’re absolutely right but the thing is again, we’re in New York City. If I were in a more sparsely populated area, there may not be a lot of family lawyers who work in a particular county. Here, even though relative to all the other attorneys, there aren’t a lot of family lawyers. Let’s just say that I’m not the only one.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know if we want a list of how many lawyers but in the thousands for sure. There’s a lot of competition. We’ve talked a lot about this on previous podcast episodes that not only are people really appreciate when you get back to them but they’re serious about moving forward like you said. It’s important to be able to get back to them soon. Otherwise, they’re going to keep looking and hire someone else because they’re really ready to move forward as quickly as they can.
David Zaslavsky: Absolutely. Then once you get them on the phone, you have to convince them that you’re the person that they’re going to really want to use. I found that the best way to do that is to try to get into as much of the nitty-gritty of their case as you can base upon what they tell you. At the very least, give them an idea of what it is that you want to try to do for them based on the information they give you over the phone. I have heard and again, this is usually what I hear from clients who have used other attorneys or are looking for other attorneys. They call somebody and that person gives them a short shirt. They say, “Okay. What’s your problem? Okay. Come into the office and we can talk about it.” Well, anybody can do that. Any schmuck can do that.
Anybody could say the same thing and you still don’t know if the person on the other end of that phone knows what they’re doing. If somebody comes to me and they say, “Well, I’m going through a custody situation. What can I do?” If you devote 10, 15 minutes of your time to giving them some analysis of their specific situation, with the caveat that you’re obviously only talking about, you’re basing this only what they’re telling you. If you at least do that, that person at least going to know that they’re not talking to a paralegal. They’re talking to an actual attorney who knows what they’re doing, who’s done this before. One of the best things that I find is I ask people. One of the first questions I ask them is, “Do you have a court date and when is it?” Once I find that out, I find out where they’re in court.
I can ask them, “What’s the name of your judge or your SOE or your magistrate?” More often than not, I’m familiar with that person. I will be able to give them some insight into who that person is, which helps a lot.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. That’s really important to your credibility of your experience in working in that court, right?
David Zaslavsky: Absolutely. Absolutely. I’ll give you another real-world example. About three weeks ago, somebody contacted me through Unbundled. I figured out based on where they live, their accent, their name that they were Orthodox Jewish or either Orthodox but Conservative something and that’s a particular community here in New York City. When I found out who their judge is, I happen to know this judge was also raised in that same community. I tell them that. I told them how that could reflect on their case, how this person would have more of an understanding of certain aspects of their case than a judge who didn’t go all that way. How that could affect them in the positive or a negative way. Those skin off my nose to tell them this but now, this person looks at me as somebody who’s perhaps a little inside knowledge into the way things happen.
Dave Aarons: Right. You’re really taking the time to not only listen to the situation but also give them some insight into the level of experience and knowledge that you could bring to them, which obviously they can interpret that as beneficial to them and their ability and giving them a chance of winning their case and getting what they want out of what they’re seeking.
David Zaslavsky: Absolutely. Absolutely. I have to feel confident especially with I think we talked about this before we started this where people who come across the website and are concerned that these are not real lawyers. That these are paralegal service or something. Once they get past that, they realize the person talking on the phone isn’t just some lawyer but a lawyer who really knows what they’re doing. It gets them past that, which is important because your client has to be confident in you.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned something that one of the clients that came through was an Orthodox Jewish person. One of the things that’s unique about New York City obviously is you have people from every country, every walk of life, all over the world, different religions, Italians, Chinese, every kind of culture and background.
David Zaslavsky: Yeah.
Dave Aarons: I would assume by living there, you get a feel for how different people relate. Can you maybe share a little bit about maybe over the years, whether it be personality types or a certain type of people like the ways in which you’ve found ways to adapt and relate to people differently? In other cities that don’t have the diversity maybe won’t be as relevant but certainly, personality types are. The way people’s backgrounds are. Can you talk a little bit about running your practice for so long as you have in New York what that’s taught you about relating to certain types of people based on their background?
David Zaslavsky: What I found is that what people want more than anything else to feel comfortable with the person who they’re speaking with. What I try not to do is to so to speak give people the high hat. I try to meet them to a certain extent on their level. At the same time, letting them know I know more than you when it comes to this. My personal favorite clients are people who are professionals but not lawyers. Doctors are great because they need to understand that in the same way as somebody close to them for their expertise, that’s what they’re doing here. I’m not a plumber. I’m not a mechanic. I am a family law attorney. You have a family law problem. You’re coming to a specialist to resolve that problem.
I hate to say this to you but can you please give me half a second? I don’t know if you’re going to cut this from the podcast but you just have to give me half a second.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Go ahead.
David Zaslavsky: All right. Hold on a second. I’m sorry. Okay. I’m back. Sorry about that.
Dave Aarons: No problem, Dave.
David Zaslavsky: Hello?
Dave Aarons: Yeah. I’m here.
David Zaslavsky: Sorry about that. Anyway, yeah because somebody may be coming in about 20 minutes and they need to let them in. Anyway, I find that that’s the most important thing. To relate to them on their level but to let them know that they’re dealing with somebody who is not just knowledgeable but capable. It’s one thing to have somebody who’s just going to say they know their thing. It’s another thing especially talking about litigation where this person isn’t just going to give you advice. This person is going to be with you in court and is going to have to speak on your behalf. It’s important that people understand and feel comfortable with the person that’s going to be able to do that.
One of the ways I found I can do that is when people come and I can tell them a lot of times, “I see what your attorney did there. It was wrong. This is what I would do.” That tends to work. Also, I found that a lot of the people I get from Unbundled, I am not their first attorney. I am their second attorney. Unfortunately, they were burned by the first one. They really want to know that this is somebody who knows what they’re doing. The gentleman who I spoke with earlier today had an attorney in his divorce who is now doing time for embezzlement and other crimes.
Dave Aarons: Wow.
David Zaslavsky: Obviously, this person has been burned pretty badly by their old attorney. Now, they need to feel confident that this new person that they’re paying money to help them is going to know what they’re doing.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, exactly. How do you balance out, Dave? I think a lot of attorneys are trying to find the balance between conveying credibility, explain to people what exactly they need to do. Delivering value on an initial call so that people feel like walking away from that call feeling they’re more informed. They feel more confident. No matter what happens, whether they hire them or not, a lot of attorneys have talked about that. It’s a very common theme. There’s that. A lot of attorneys share that commitment but how do you also balance that out with maybe not giving away the farm or at least not getting too in-depth where the person is now getting advice to try to do it themselves. You’re not giving too many details with someone.
Do you have ways to qualify? How do you make sure that you’re balancing out conveying credibility, getting the details of their case but at the same time, making sure the person values that advice and is going to be moving forward to the next step, which is actually having you come on board to work with them?
David Zaslavsky: The first thing I think I do is I always explain to people that it’s not enough just to know what to do. You have to have somebody there who can do it. It’s not enough to tell somebody. “Well, this is what I would do. This is how to handle this.” They have to have somebody who knows how to do it. I can sit down and read a book about fixing a car all day long. I still won’t know how to get under a car and fix it because there are nuances to it that I don’t know. Same thing comes with the advice you get from an attorney. An attorney can say, “Well, I can do X, Y, Z.” I can tell them, “It’s time to file a motion to dismiss,” for example. I’m not going to write the motion for them unless they pay me but I can tell them again, using a real-world example. Somebody came to me. They have a situation where they are the mother.
The father passed away. Now the paternal grandmother is looking to take custody of their child. After getting the whole story, I told them, “Look, what I have to do is to file a motion to dismiss because this is what happened. This is what the grandmother said. I don’t believe that she hasn’t done it properly and it can be dismissed.” I could explain to them in very broad strokes what’s going to happen and what the basis for a motion to dismiss is but I’m not going to give them case law. I’m not going to tell them how to do it. I think that the more complicated I make it seem, the more they’re going to want to hire me because they’re going to realize there is no way that they can do this themselves.
Dave Aarons: Yeah.
David Zaslavsky: I guess I use a lot of little cliches. One of the things I tell people either over the phone or at a consultation is that most of the time, the people that come to me are going through some very hard things in their life. A lot of times, it’s one of the hardest things that people are going through. I tell them that. “I understand that you’re going through something very difficult right now. To you, this is awful. To me, this is Friday. This is just another case. I’ve got a million of them and I’ll do a million more and I can help you with yours.” I think that once people understand that they’re dealing with an expert. That they’re dealing with somebody who really understands what’s going on and can handle it and can handle it in a kind of a dispassionate way, in a workman-like way, in a professional way.
They feel like that’s the person who they wanted to use. Not somebody who’s going to cry along with them, not somebody who is going to feel their pain. Honestly, when people come to a lawyer, they’re not coming to a priest. They’re not coming to a shrink. They’re coming to a lawyer. They want somebody who’s professional. You show them that. They will buy it. At least they do for me.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. I really get that. I like that perspective of people really looking for that. Some people at least are really looking for comfort and knowing that this guy does this all day long. This is all he does every day. He’s an expert. He knows the judge. He knows the magistrate. Then you have the confidence to just give their cards over to you and just feel comfortable that you know what you’re doing and you know how to do it. It’s really why someone’s hiring a lawyer is they want to feel like all the uncertainties, all the things they don’t know, someone that really has experience and does this all day long is taking it over.
Being able to convey that so they can feel comfortable in that knowledge and grounded in that is a really important aspect of that. Especially in the initial call is to make sure that the person feels like they’re going to be in good hands and that you know what you’re doing.
David Zaslavsky: Absolutely. Absolutely. Especially when it’s something like this. This is family law. This is their kids. This is their lives. A lot of people, it’s their house. It’s the most important things in their life.
Dave Aarons: Yeah.
David Zaslavsky: They need to know that. They need to understand that.
Dave Aarons: Okay. All right. Go ahead.
David Zaslavsky: No. I just said that they need to understand that you understand that. That’s all.
Dave Aarons: Right. Yeah, exactly. Okay. It sounds to me like the call is broken up into maybe two or three segments. Number one is an introduction, them explaining what’s going on. Number two is where you’re really getting into some details, asking about the judge, the magistrate, their case. Who’s their previous attorney was? What exactly happened and give some like you said, broad strokes information about what needs to be done. How to proceed from here basically and through that conveying credibility. How you do then transition? What is the next step of your initial consultation? Is there for them to come in and meet with you in person? If so, are they paying a fee for that? Are you essentially doing the enrollment over the phone and they’re coming in just to pay? What’s that next step that you’re doing from there on the initial call?
David Zaslavsky: Well, the next thing is to qualify them, I think. I have to give Graham, the rep that originally contacted me from Unbundled and the person, I have to give him credit. I find this approach works very well. I never thought about it doing it particularly this way. It does work. What I ask them and I’m sure that everybody who’s listening does something along the same lines. I ask them. “How much money do you have available if you’re going to hire an attorney in the next couple of days?” I’ll get pushed back on this a lot. I don’t know how well this works in other parts of the country but I found that New York City is a very unique place. The demographics are different. The prices are different for things. It’s much more expensive to live here and everybody understands that. A lot of times, I’ll get pushback.
What they’ll say is, “Well, that’s what I want to know.” Rather than just giving me a number. I explain to them that I charge an hourly rate and that I require an initial consultation. What my hourly rate is and what my initial consultation is. The reason I ask them that question is because a lot of times, people will come to me through Unbundled. There are people who may not have that entire amount available immediately. What I need to know is how much they have available and then we could work out a payment plan possible. I need to know if they can and if they can, we’ll work out a payment plan where they can pay me over a period of time. I need to know how much we’re starting with.
Dave Aarons: Sure.
David Zaslavsky: I think that when people know that you’re willing to work with them, that you’re not just going to say, “Well, it’s 7,000.” “Well, I don’t have seven. I have five.” “I’m sorry. It’s seven,” and they hang up the phone. There are people out there. There are attorneys like that. That’s why people say that they don’t have the money to hire an attorney. People will find money if they think that there’s value in it but you have to help them a little bit. You have to let them know that you’re going to work with them. They’re going to be so happy to pay you. They’re going to be so happy that they have a competent, excellent attorney who they can afford. They’re going to be ecstatic to tell you, “I have somebody.” I don’t even have to run after her. She pays me.
Just doesn’t tell me about it. Just sends me money. It’s beautiful. I have several from Unbundled. It’s beautiful because they’re so happy that they have somebody who will help them with their very, very personal and particular problem that they’re happy to pay.
Dave Aarons: How was it that you were able to help them, Dave and maybe other attorneys hadn’t? I mean, because a lot of clients says as you know, come to you and you ask them, “Have you spoken to other attorneys?” “Yeah. This guy wanted $5,000 upfront or 8,000 all up front.” You’re right that New York, especially Manhattan where you’re servicing and Kings County so far there’s a different market. It’s got to be top three most expensive places to live in the entire United States. People earn a lot but they spend a lot, too. It is unique as a market and generally speaking about what are the types of options that you’ve been working with or playing with that allows you to be able to work with folks that other attorneys may just turn away?
David Zaslavsky: I ask them that first question. How much? Once they get past the initial off-putting of somebody just asking that kind of question because most people don’t approach it that way. Let’s say for the sake of argument that they have 1500 of a $4500 retainer.
Dave Aarons: One of the things I want to circle back on here is when you ask someone, “Have you spoken to attorneys? I wanted to know what they charge. Can you give me an idea of how much you have available to put towards the case?” Some people will just tell you but other people are going to be like, “Well, how much does it cost?” That’s what I want to find out. How do you typically handle that or address that when people are reluctant to tell you where they’re at financially?
David Zaslavsky: What I do is I explain to them that the way I work and the way most family law attorneys work is that we have an hourly rate and the retainer for which we charge. I explain to them that my hourly rate is about $300 an hour. My retainer, my initial retainer is $4500. It could be more depending on what the issues are. Once I explain that to them and I tell them that most of the people who come to me through Unbundled are people who don’t necessarily have that money right then and there. I need to know how much they have available initially so that I can then determine if we can work together and I if I can give them a payment plan that they can afford. The way I work with the payment plan is I found over the years that people who are in a situation mostly can afford about $1,000 a month, more or less.
For example, the $4500 retainer and somebody says, “Well, I only have 500.” I say, “Okay. That’s fine. We could start off with 500 and I can give you anywhere from 90 to 120 days to pay,” which translates to about $1,000 a month for them. I’ll be honest with you. If somebody can’t afford $1,000 a month at least for the initial retainer at that point, it’s probably not worth it or somebody can scrape up $500 to start a case. I don’t think that they’ll be able to pay. Those people I can’t help but as long as they can come up with at least 500, then we can go to work. I can help them. They’re usually happy. They’re usually very happy to have somebody who’s going to be helping and working with them.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Well, that makes sense as well in the sense that you’re working in New York. Not only are people have more income but they’ve got more costs. Also, you have more costs. It’s really expensive to live in New York.
David Zaslavsky: Absolutely.
Dave Aarons: Maybe in Oklahoma City or Tulsa or something like that, an attorney could take payments of $200 a month and be fine because when you’re dealing with a New York market, it’s going to be times three to 5x just because of a cost to rent a house and own a house and also rent an office and operate a business there, too.
David Zaslavsky: Just to give people some perspective, the listeners some perspective, those who work in the smaller markets. I have in my suite of offices, I rent my office which is probably, let’s say for the sake of argument, 150 square feet. I have to work carols that I rent for my two paralegals. I pay $3200 a month just for that. That’s my straight up business overhead before phones, anything else, before anything else. Before paper, before paper clips. That’s just to have an office, to have a space to work, to have a space to meet clients. Yeah. The economics are different. The clients are also different.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, right. Exactly. It’s both. Right? What do you think is your monthly just to run your practice before paying everything including your rent, your phones, everything like that? Just to run a practice in New York City.
David Zaslavsky: That’s very easy. My monthly nut to run a practice, to run my practice is probably, the office is 3200. About another 3,000 for my paralegals. That’s 7500. Let’s just say 1,000 for incidentals, so 8500?
Dave Aarons: Well that’s almost 10,000 actually. No. I’m sorry. That’s about 8,000. Yeah. You’re right. When you walk in, the first 8,000 needs to go to just bills and expenses whereas if I were to compare that to some of the other attorneys we’ve had on the podcast, let’s say in Oklahoma City or wherever, it might be half of that.
David Zaslavsky: Yeah.
Dave Aarons: I guess the thing for a lot of attorneys to consider is to figure out where they could be flexible whenever they can. Also, based upon their market and the going cost of things and also what it costs to run a practice. You have to factor all those numbers in. I would assume that a lot of the clients are very happy and surprised when you’re willing to start working with someone for $500 down and about $1,000 a month relative to what every other attorney, most attorneys typically require in your region.
David Zaslavsky: Absolutely. The only way to do this is to have to a certain extent, a volume practice. You have to always balance that with, “Well, can you service the clients in a way that they’ll be happy?” A lot of it comes from taking cases in a smaller region. I try to work in just three counties. I try not to roam to the Bronx or to go to Queens although sometimes, it’s unavoidable because you need to be able to do two cases in a day, three cases in a day. You may have to. You also have to have the time to come back to the office and do the work and make sure that work gets done. The paperwork involved in any kind of a case, so you have to service the clients. The clients need to know that they’re not walking into a mill. They’re walking into an attorney’s office who’s going to handle their case in the best way possible.
Dave Aarons: Right. Exactly. Yeah. That’s going to be a wide variety. You mentioned that you’re handling a volume practice that’s the way that works. Do you have any tools or systems that you developed over the years either working with your paralegals or with technology that allows you to keep track of the higher volume of cases. Whether it be case management software or anything like that or just systems you developed to be able to field. That’s one of the commonalities of attorneys working with us specifically as well and we send a lot of clients. They’re getting a lot more clients than they’re used to and making that transition while still remaining a solo, other attorneys will hire another attorney.
Get contractors and expand the number of attorneys that are working on or handling cases. In your case, you’ve stayed as a solo even with a higher volume. What are some of the things that you’ve done to make sure that you’re able to still handle the higher caseload as well continue to remain a solo?
David Zaslavsky: The first thing is handling the volume of potential leads. Obviously, you don’t want to let any go. For that, I have my paralegal who is about to start law school herself. What she does is she does a lot of my initial calls. I will tell her call these people. We actually share a calendar on Google, Google Calendar. We share Google Calendar. What she can do is to put in the Google Calendar. I need to call these people today. She calls. When I’m in the office, she’ll call them. She’ll call them and try to get them on the phone. She has a very good phone voice and a very good phone manner, which is very important. What will happen is, obviously, you can’t keep calling people. Sometimes, people are just not there. They put something into the ether and then they just ignore it. I call people three times.
We have a very simple system that she puts an X next to each one when she calls them. When they say it’s three X’s, that’s three strikes and you’re out. You erase it and we move on. As far as other attorneys, so far I haven’t gotten to the point where I need to hire other attorneys. I don’t want to work with contractors because again, I pride myself on doing good work for my clients. I don’t know how good of a work ethic a contractor has. I did hire my second paralegal soon after I started working with you guys. He is actually a third-year law student who is going to be a lawyer and he wants to be in this practice. I’m probably going to hire him once he becomes a real boy as I’d like to say, soon as he becomes a lawyer. Right now, he’s doing a lot of my paperwork.
He does it fairly well. I still don’t let it out of the office until I review it but again, when it’s something just captions and all that stuff if something like that would take me three, four hours to do, he does the work and I can do it in one hour just reviewing it. I call him jokingly my keyboard monkey but that’s what he is. He’s very good at it. Now I have been training him to write the way I want him to write. Once he becomes a lawyer, I’m going to start teaching him how to do appearances. Not throw him into a trial initially but just doing the simple appearance, the initial appearances on family court matters that take up a lot of my time but don’t really accomplish much and are not complicated. I can have him do it.
This would allow me to spend more time in the office. It would also allow me to be a different case. I can take more caseloads that way.
Dave Aarons: Do you have your first-
David Zaslavsky: That’s how I’ve been doing it.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Do you have your first paralegal call the initial leads, too when you’re out in court?
David Zaslavsky: Yes, I do. I have her call leads. I have her make that initial contact and just let them know we got your information. “Mr. Zaslavsky is out of the office right now. Please let me know when will be a good time for him to call or you would like to call him.”
Dave Aarons: I wanted to bring that up because we’ve had a lot of attorneys that the way they started handling the volume is they started having someone else to do the call entirely, to book them in, to get them in the door. The vast majority of time hasn’t worked. What we’ve heard is exactly what you’re describing. In certain cases, they’ve had a paralegal do the initial call to basically get them scheduled to talk to you. They don’t actually get to the specifics and then explain the fees and all that stuff. It’s really just getting them on the phone with you.
David Zaslavsky: Obviously, you didn’t see me but I was shaking my head as you were saying that. That never worked. First of all, I’ve learned over the years that cold leads are the hardest leads. These are essentially cold leads. These people don’t know you from Adam. You add to the fact that Unbundled while again, I have nothing but praise for you, guys but because of the way you market, people may come into it already a bit apprehensive. Is this a real lawyer? Is this a paralegal service like we said before? That initial phone contact has to be with an attorney one way or the other. Either it’s a paralegal calling professionally saying that, “We’ve got your information. Mr. Zaslavsky isn’t available. He’ll call you soon.”
I think that it is imperative that somebody needs to speak to a real lawyer who knows and who can assuage their fears so to speak before they come in. I will tell you over the years, and this is since before I started working with you guys but over the last 15 years, I can count the number of times that people have come in without at least speaking to me a little bit on one hand.
Dave Aarons: Yeah.
David Zaslavsky: It almost doesn’t happen. People need to feel comfortable. They’re going to be spending a lot of money and they know it. They’re not spending hundreds of dollars. They’re spending thousands of dollars. If their case is going to get complicated, ultimately they’ll be spending tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. They need to know immediately that the person they’re going to be talking to is worth it.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely.
David Zaslavsky: Yeah. I don’t think that would be problematic.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. That’s what we found as well. I remember Richard Shannon came on and he said a lot of firms, the secretary gets the phone. She says, “Okay. Well, we can book you in with the grand high pool ball. It’s going to be $5,000. He spent 30 years of experience. He can help you out. It’s going to be $250 for consultation.” That’s what they say on the first call. People are like, “Okay. Well, we’ll think about it.” It’s just gone.
David Zaslavsky: They never show up.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. They don’t show up, yeah because they don’t have any confidence or credibility. Everything that we’ve talked about in this interview until now, they need that trust. When we say cold leads, it does come through a process. They have not met you. They don’t know who you are relative to any other attorney. You have to build a relationship first. They have to trust and have a voice and get a sense for the human being that’s going to be the person on the line for defending the rights to their kids. The fact that they’re willing to take the time is huge.
David Zaslavsky: Even if they don’t get any of that, they have to be at the very least may be able to get them interested in what you have to say. If you can’t-do any of those other things, you have no way of developing any empathy between you and the potential client over the phone, at the very least, give them something where they’re going to want to hear your opinion about what they’re going through and how they can be helped. That will get them to actually want to come in.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. All right. I have maybe one final question here and then we’ll just go ahead and wrap up for today. I really appreciate you coming on and sharing so openly about what’s been working well for you so far because you certainly had a great start. I guess the final question I might ask is just you’ve been doing this for a long time. You’ve worked with Legal Match for a number of years. You filled a lot of leads. Were there any mistakes that you made early on or things that you found to come up over and over again as something that you have to watch out for when fielding specifically, fielding leads or relating to clients whoever it might be that you’ve learned over these years? That contributed to some of your success.
David Zaslavsky: The only thing especially working cold leads, working with Legal Match, working with this, the only thing that I could think of is practice makes perfect. Like I said, I’ve been doing this for many years. I find that you keep on trying to work different angles until you find something that works for you. You have to keep doing it. I can’t think of any particularly bad thing that I’ve done. I’m sure I did a number of them. I’d like to think that I’ve learned from them very quickly and that was a very long time ago. The thing is, I have found that I get better at talking to people, talking to potential clients, the more I do it, the more anybody does it. Practice makes perfect in everything especially in how to deal with people who are coming at you at the very least, the very neutral perspective, not apprehensive.
You need to be comfortable speaking with them. The only other thing I can possibly say is you have to develop a very thick skin. People say the oddest things. They say the most ridiculous things especially when they’re on the phone talking to a lawyer about their family law issue. I found that the people say just the oddest stuff. We can’t take any of it personally. It all has to roll off your back because if you let it affect you, you’re probably not safe.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It also impacts the way which you relate to the very next lead.
David Zaslavsky: Absolutely, yes.
Dave Aarons: The attitude of the person on the phone, the space that you hold when you’re calling each new lead has to be one of service and one of space. If you let someone throw off or maybe could piss you off a bit, that tonality is going to come through in the next call then it’s going to cause it. It’s why sales agents or anyone doing sales or selling themselves as all lawyers do, it will get you into a momentum where they’re doing really well and everyone seems to be enrolling and want to go forward. There are days that are off. It’s just the mentality is so important.
David Zaslavsky: Yeah.
Dave Aarons: I want to accent that how important it is to just recognize. The numbers are the numbers and to put each call as a brand new call, as a brand new person that hasn’t met you and you haven’t met them and to come out of it from a standpoint of service.
David Zaslavsky: Absolutely. Especially with this because sometimes, you’ll walk into your office and you have five new leads. Then you have another 20 that you need to respond to or you want to give them the second or the third call. You’re going to get into that system. You’re going to turn into a salesperson, unfortunately. That’s just the way of the business. If you’re doing that, you better be able to not let anything anybody says affect you when you’re in that mode, that selling mode.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. All right. Listen, Dave. I really thank you again for taking the time and just sharing sense and good tips and give us a perspective into what it’s like to run a practice in the jungle of New York City. Also just appreciate your flexibility and the way you use your working with folks even amongst really high expenses and an interesting demographic of folks you’re working with. I thank you for again taking the time and just really appreciate all the work that you’re doing for the clients we’re sending you there.
David Zaslavsky: Thanks for the opportunity. You have a good day.
Dave Aarons: Absolutely. Right. With that, we’ll go ahead and wrap up. For everyone else who’s listening, we certainly appreciate your participation in the podcast. If anyone else that could benefit from it, feel free to share it around because that’s how we grow the show and impact more lives of attorneys and the people that they serve. Thanks for your support of the show. We’ll see you all in the next episode.
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Episode 30: 15 Years of Solo Practice in the Big Apple: Relating to an Ethnically Diverse Clientele, Tracking Key Metrics, and Effectively Leveraging Paralegals
David Zaslavsky has had his own solo family law practice in New York City for over 15 years. Today, he joins our show to share his insights about how he has learned to develop rapport and relate to people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and personality types whom he encounters in NYC. David also shares his experiences from working with many lead generation companies through the years. He discusses how they compare to Unbundled Attorney, and he outlines some of the strategies he has found most successful. David talks about the high costs involved in running a practice in NYC, one of the most expensive business environments anywhere in the world. He also explains how he structures fees to ensure he provides affordable services for his clients, while still covering his high overhead.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- The importance of closely tracking the important metrics and expenses in your practice
- The main benefits David has found with Unbundled Attorney compared to other lead companies he has worked with
- Tips and tactics to establish credibility and build client confidence in your expertise on the initial phone call
- How to relate to people with different personality types and ethnic backgrounds
- The value of “qualifying” each lead by asking questions about their case and their financial budget
- How to respond to clients that aren’t transparent about their ability to pay
- What it costs David to operate his practice in New York City
- How David structures his payment options to compete with typical rates of other attorneys while meeting the high cost of running a practice in NYC
- How he leverages the use of his paralegals to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete his documents and other legal work
- How to have your paralegal call leads when you are not available, and avoid losing clients in the process
- The typical learning curve involved with fielding leads, and why so many attorneys quit before they have a chance to start seeing results
- And much more...
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For more information about Unbundled Attorney and how our Lead Generation services help grow your practice, visit: https://www.unbundledattorney.com