21st Century Mobile Lawyering: How to Utilize Legal Technology to Build a High Volume, Streamlined, and Location Independent Practice
We are really excited to share this episode with you. This is an interview with Rebecca Fuller who is our family law and estate planning provider attorney in Las Vegas, Nevada. We just had Forrest Mosten on the podcast about two podcasts ago and he was talking about the very basic fundamental core unbundled service options and he described himself as kind of a horse and buggy approach to offer unbundled services in the sense that being an unbundled service provider can be quite simple. You can do one task at a time, it can be done in person, and you’re coaching one hour at a time, and that works great.
And then we talked about the more Tesla, more technologically enabled and implemented an approach to offer unbundled legal services as well and this is an example of that Tesla version. One of the things we talk in depth with Rebecca is she has implemented a lot of technology that allows her to streamline and step out all her workflows using technology, so she has some practice management software that allows her to have the client enroll electronically with a click of a button, set up a matter in the practice management software and have all the workflows and all their documents signed without having to print out a document, sign it, send it back. All done electronically and all the workflows are automatically triggered and assigned accordingly to whoever in the firm needs to handle these tasks, and really just makes the whole practice and delivery of the service so much more efficient and accessible from any device anywhere.
Rebecca has a six-year-old daughter who is an aspiring actress and so, they make trips to Los Angeles quite often and she’s able to not skip a beat whenever she’s making that drive from Vegas to Los Angeles or is working from LA without a problem, because she can access all her files, all her case files, and make calls, take notes, access the court documents, ’cause everything is electronically accessible through the cloud.
So this is a really great example of how an attorney is implementing unbundled legal services. You’re doing it affordably, but also, you’re doing it efficiently in a way that enables her to work her business around her lifestyle, rather than her lifestyle around her practice. Let’s get right into it, this interview with Rebecca Fuller. Again, one of our provider attorneys out of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Dave Aarons: All right here Rebecca, welcome to the show.
Rebecca Fuller: Thank you.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, excited that we’re having to catch up. It’s been, I think, a year we were just saying since you started working with us back around Thanksgiving and from what I’ve heard, things have gone really well, so appreciate you taking the time to share how this past year has been for you and what’s been working well.
Rebecca Fuller: Yeah, absolutely. Seemed like a good way to mark the one year anniversary, right?
Dave Aarons: Yeah, we can take a look at the saga that’s been the last year of our partnership of working together and unpack what’s been going so well, ’cause I’ve heard things are going well. Maybe what you could do is just start by giving a bit of background, the how you got started in your practice of law, the area that you serve, and the practice area as well and why you focus in on the family law and estate side.
Rebecca Fuller: Yeah, absolutely. I started my law career, honestly, on a whim. I had some friends in college who we all had a conversation one night and the light bulb went off that I should be going to law school when I graduated, so I went to law school, I worked for a general practice firm while I was in school and had the best mentor I could’ve asked for, but had made the decision to move out to Las Vegas, which is where I am now from Jacksonville, Florida.
So I came out here and kind of learned the ropes, took the Bar Exam. Thankfully passed on the first try and decided that working for other people wasn’t for me after about six months of doing so and so I went out on my own and opened my practice. That was back in 2006, so I’m 11 years out at this point. Initially, I was very much the kind of take what comes in the door and get my feet wet and take whatever business there was so that I could get things up and running and the more I sort of honed in on my sweet spot, sort to speak, and the things that I enjoyed doing and the areas that I really wanted to focus on, the more I kept kind of coming back to family law.
Also, the estate planning and probate side of things. That’s where I’ve focused my practice over the last several years and it’s been fun. It keeps things interesting. It’s probably the one practice area where things always sort of new and different because you always have these unique family situations that you’re dealing with. No case is ever the same. It certainly keeps you on your toes, that’s for sure.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, and you mentioned that you pretty quickly realized that working for someone else wasn’t for you. Do you recall what aspects of that were most challenging for you and maybe if there are attorneys that have been working for someone else for some time or have been considering going out on their own and starting their own practice, what are the qualities or things that might be coming up for them that came up for you that made you want to make the transition?
Rebecca Fuller: I think what happened to me initially was that I was spending so many hours working for other firms and really just not having a life outside of my work and to me, it was more important to have work-life balance and have time for family and friends and really be able to dictate my own schedule and frankly, to take the kinds of cases that I wanted to take, not whatever was assigned to me or I had to take because I was an associate at the firm.
That was kind of my motivation behind it and really just having that flexibility to be an entrepreneur and do the things that I wanted to do. I think the thing that gets in the way for most people, honestly, is fear. Fear of failure, fear of not getting clients. Fear of how am I going to pay the bills this month and that sort of thing. Thankfully, I was raised in a family where fear and failure weren’t an option. You face the fear and you did it anyway and so that was never something that held me back or something that I let dictate what I did with my life or my career.
I think the single biggest piece of advice I can give people in that regard is to kind of feel the fear and do it anyway, just jump into the fire and it’ll work out, which may sound like crazy advice, but for me has certainly paid off.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, and you mentioned also something, a keyword, that I think a lot of attorneys don’t necessarily self-identify with, but is the word entrepreneur. A lot of lawyers think of themselves as lawyers and as being self-employed and not necessarily as a business owner or entrepreneur. Can you share with me why it is you see yourself more as an entrepreneur? Of course, you see yourself as an attorney as well, but when you think of yourself as a business owner and entrepreneur instead just an attorney.
Rebecca Fuller: I think for me a lot of it has to do with my personal background. I come from a family of entrepreneurs quite honestly. My father was an automotive technician and built race cars and things and he always had his own businesses and so, I grew up with that and I think that with a lot of my motivation for wanting to do my own thing and have my own business, but I watched him and the flexibility that he had and the fact that he never missed a band concert or a school play or any of those things because he had the flexibility to do that as a business owner.
For me, that was something that I always wanted. I didn’t want to be stuck with someone else always dictating my schedule and so, I think for me, I’m a business person first and a lawyer second in some ways. If the business doesn’t run, then as a lawyer, that’s not helpful. I mean, it’s not like all of the legal knowledge in the world is going to help you succeed at your business and frankly, one of the issues I think that a lot of attorneys run into is that business isn’t something that’s taught in law school. You’re taught the law and how to be a lawyer and how to manage your legal arguments and that sort of thing.
No one ever sits you down and says, “Hey, let’s have a practice management class.” It’s just not part of the curriculum. Probably should be, but for me, that was something that I spent a lot of time just sort of educating myself on the practice of law and the business side of things and the management of employees and creating the operating trust accounts and all of those things that are the behind the scenes type of things that we don’t really think about as lawyers. It’s something we have to focus on as business people.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely and that really is something that’s missing in law school and as we were most recently in a conference called Better Access through Unbundling conference, there’s also very little training on unbundled legal services and how lawyers can adapt their practice to changing market trends and these are business owner types of mentalities and ways of thinking that, a lot of times, lawyers don’t necessarily adapt in that way, like a typical entrepreneur would and so, it’s very cool to think yourself first as a business owner and then as a lawyer, so that you can really take the approach of how do I make this business work, what are the aspects that need to be in place to make it functional?
What’s the marketing, what’s the sales? How are we going to niche down? How are we going to differentiate ourselves from everyone else in the marketplace as well, so those are some … Was there anything actually when you were getting your practice going, any resources or things that you studied or books or things that you found were particularly useful or helpful in learning the business of law as opposed to the practice of law?
Rebecca Fuller: Actually, a couple of books that really helped me and, granted, they’re probably much different now than when I read them 10 plus years ago, were How to Start and Build a Law Practice and there was another book called Flying Solo. They were two that really helped me put the infrastructure of my business in place so that I could focus on the law side of things and meeting with clients and really discussing their legal issues.
Once you have those systems in place, as long as you sort of keep up with technology and really focus on ways to make your business as efficient as possible, it gives you more time to focus on the client aspect, which is ultimately what we’re all here for.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. As you were saying just before we started recording, is you talked about you’ve been doing maybe about half the clients you’re working with were working with unbundled legal services. Did you start out your practice or what point in your practice, if it wasn’t from the very beginning, did you start exploring delivering and offering unbundled services to your clients, at least in family law, and maybe you could share if you do that in estate planning, as well.
Rebecca Fuller: Yeah. I started offering some flat fee services and that sort of thing pretty early on in my practice. I would say almost right off the bat when I first opened my doors and that was primarily for the estate planning side of things, creating trust packages and that sort of thing. I think it was a natural thing because it just makes sense in those scenarios where maybe you already have templates and things that are established that you can use as your basis that you customize for each client instead of starting from scratch and needing to charge hourly on each one.
The thing that’s nice about offering those flat fees is that not only does the client know exactly what they’re paying, but you know exactly what you have coming in. That part is really nice to kind of get away from that billable hour structure. The family law clients were a bit different for me. Those all started out hourly for me and it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve really started switching to offering a lot more flat fees and breaking things down for clients where they sort of pay as they go, sort to speak.
Where they’ve got an initial fee for initiating the case and getting their preliminary documents done and then, an additional fee is due once we start filing motions or we have a trial come up and that sort of thing. It helps them plan, it helps the clients plan from a financial standpoint and it helps me like I said, know what I’ve got coming in each month, so that I’m not necessarily chained to the billable hour.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely. So maybe what we could do is just go back in time maybe one year when we started working together. Sort of takes the leads and take us through how the growth process has been for you, obviously, ’cause we’ve been sending you a pretty high volume of cases. I think you’re probably getting close to 20, maybe let’s see, 25 of … so close to 50 leads a month, plus or minus 10 or so. It’s been quite a number of leads. What were some things you had to do to adjust to the higher volume of clients from when we started working together? And maybe just take us through some of the challenges or things that have worked really well for you that you’ve implemented to handle the increase in clients.
Rebecca Fuller: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that I’ve always focused on in my business is just really making things as efficient as possible, which for me means having good practice management software that integrates with everything, my bookkeeping, my email, all of my file syncing, and all of that so that I can literally work anywhere, anytime without worrying about, “Oh gosh, I left the file on my desk.”
So that’s been one of the major changes that I’ve made and it was something that I was moving to right about the time I originally signed up with Unbundled Attorney. The two kind of happened simultaneously, which thank goodness they did, because I started getting all these leads and I probably would have been drowning in the volume had it not been for that.
I think that was the main thing, was switching to new and better technology that would really make the practice more efficient and about six or seven months into working with y’all and getting the leads and that sort of thing, I hired a legal assistant. I’ve had assistants and things in the past and after I had my children, I kind of slowed down a little bit and scaled my practice back a bit to be home with them and spend more time with them, but as they’re getting older, I really wanted to start ramping things up again and once I signed up and started receiving leads, of course, I became far busier than I had been.
I had a need to bring on some help, which has been wonderful, taking a lot of the sort of administrative tasks that the day-to-day running of the practice off of my plate so that I can focus on the clients and the law.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. A couple different topics or maybe before we go further on the hiring aspect and at what point to do that and so forth, just maybe you could briefly share the tools and technology that have been most helpful to you. I think you mentioned to me that you’ve been using Practice Panther and if there’s … maybe you could talk a little bit about that briefly and any other tools you’ve found that have helped you become more efficient in the way that you’re describing, that makes your processes more streamlined and allows you to work with more clients.
Rebecca Fuller: Yeah, absolutely. Practice Panther is the practice management software that I switched to and what I love about it is that it fully integrates everything. I’ve got all of my client contacts, every matter is in there, so each client, we open a new matter, we have more than one matter per client and it keeps them all together so that you can access information. It syncs with Box.com so that I can access all of my files remotely all the time.
The program itself is also in the cloud, which is great because I can log in when I’m sitting in court on my phone through an app and I can track my time that way or send an email to a client or access various notes or time entries that we’ve put in. It also does track all the time and expenses. We do all of our billing. Everything, really. It’s a very comprehensive program, so everything is really in one place, which is wonderful.
There’s also a separate login for my assistant so I can track what she’s doing and make sure that tasks are accomplished. We can assign tasks to each other that need to be addressed for various clients or from an administrative standpoint. They also integrate with LawPay, which is great for credit card processing, so clients literally, when we send out invoices, they receive an email with a link that they can click on and just pay it directly from the email, so that’s really helped from a collection standpoint and really getting those receivables paid.
I also use Outlook for email, which integrates as well. One of the nice things that Practice Panther offers is each client has a synced folder with Outlook and so you can move your emails and things into them and they save automatically and sync automatically with the practice management software, so everything is just really fully integrated. It also integrates with QuickBooks, which I use for my bookkeeping, from the administrative side of things and that all syncs automatically as well, which is amazing.
It’s honestly, it’s eliminated so much time that I spent making double entries or that sort of thing to make sure everything was accounted for. So that’s really my primary technology tends to be those three things, Practice Panther, Outlook, and QuickBooks. Of course, I use word processing and that sort of thing as well. I also switched to using a different platform with LexisNexis for my legal research. I switched to their Lexis advanced system, which I’ve found to be a lot more user-friendly and easy to find what I need quickly, so that’s helped and made things more efficient from a research standpoint.
The other thing that we do in general is just keeping all of our documents and things scanned so that everything is electronic all the time. I have physical files for a lot of cases, but I honestly don’t need them or use them the majority of the time. These days, I pretty much pull up all of my files on my laptop or my iPad when I go into court. I work exclusively off of those when I’m in the office or if I’m working from home that day, which is great.
I also work in my car or anywhere I might be, which is just amazing to have that technology available and have everything at my fingertips all the time.
Dave Aarons: It’s pretty amazing how quickly the practice of law has changed now that we have cloud-based practice management and really, I think it’s only been around for maybe five years since it was considered … the original one started coming out that at least kind of had this cloud-based, all devices integrated type of aspect. It really enables a lot more time, location freedom, ability to work from anywhere at any time. We’ve had a number of lawyers come on the podcast that spends a lot of their time, the majority of their time, working from home and then have some staff at the office and then go back sometimes, but really, it enables a lot more flexibility in the work schedule and the capacity to also being doing things outside of the practice whilst still being efficiently able to get things done. It’s pretty incredible.
Rebecca Fuller: Yeah, it really is and for me, that piece of it has really been invaluable, particularly in the last few months or so, kind of just on a personal note. My daughter who will be six in another month or so is an aspiring actress and has an agent and a manager in LA and so, we’re back and forth between Las Vegas and Los Angeles all the time for auditions and things that she’s doing and the amazing thing is that on the trip, I’m working, I’m calling clients. I’m getting things done without ever missing a beat, because I truly can literally work anywhere, anytime, and it’s been absolutely invaluable to have that time with my family and also, not miss a thing with my client.
Dave Aarons: That’s awesome. It really is the mobile lawyering generation.
Rebecca Fuller: Right, it really is.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, it’s really exciting. It’s really exciting to see and see the potential of that and the ways it can express, like you’re saying, being able to be with your family and your daughter and go to LA or other people taking more extended time to be in other places like the beach or vacation or to be able to spend more time doing other things that they really enjoy to do, so the possibilities really become pretty endless in that way.
So one thing I want to unpack as well as you mentioned that you did hire an assistant and this is one … Understandably, this is one of the main challenges for a lot of our attorneys. They’ll come on board day one with our service and then get four leads that day and three the next day and it’s like, whoa, this is a lot of leads all at once and especially nowadays, ’cause we’ve made some adjustments and the lead volume really has been picking up.
And so, adjusting to that increase in hiring and trying to find a way to scale, we’ve talked about your efficiencies in technology. I think that’s really, really key for sure to develop and also develop procedures and processes around that and these types of technology and practice management tools have a lot of that built in, so that anytime a new matter is created, you’ve got all the tasks you need to get done, they can be easily assigned to whoever’s going to be knocking them out.
But can you just briefly talk about at what point it was that you decided, “I really need to get some help to continue to manage this and scale it up,” and how you went about hiring your legal assistant this time around, if there’s anything you’re also considering doing to continue to scale.
Rebecca Fuller: Yeah, so for me, the realization that I was going to need to hire someone happened pretty quickly, because the volume was just there, but it being that I came on right around the holidays, there was a little bit of a lag initially, just because people get busy with worrying about Christmas and Thanksgiving and travel and kids being out of school and that sort of thing.
Really after the first of the year, this year, was one thing started to pick up quite a bit, so after about, I’d say, four months or so of drowning in work because I was so much busier with having all these leads coming in, I literally said, “I can’t do this anymore.” Thankfully, it had worked out that my former assistant who I loved and we parted ways for kind of other reasons, was leaving her job, ’cause we stayed in touch and so forth and so it was the perfect opportunity to bring her back, which eliminated also the need to filter through potential job candidates and that sort of thing, so I was really lucky in that regard that I was able to just bring back a great assistant that I’ve used in the past who already knew a lot of the ins and outs of my specific practice and really, it was just a matter of teaching her the new systems that have been put in place since she was here last.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, and so it seems like there are two different directions that an attorney can go that’s dealing with a greater amount of workload than they can handle themselves. Number one, you can hire a supportive role, which would an assistant or a paralegal or someone to assist you with some of the workflows and workloads, so that you can handle more cases yourself. And then there’s the option of having contract lawyers or hiring associates to take over certain cases entirely, and you’ve decided to go the route, at least for now, of just getting support.
At any point, did you consider hiring an associate or expanding your firm itself or did you always think of going the route of just getting support for now?
Rebecca Fuller: Initially, my plan was to hire support staff and then to take it from there. I’m actually getting to a point now, a year in, that I’m really looking at some different options for contract attorneys and so forth. I don’t necessarily at this point want to bring on an associate and have someone full-time to expand the firm that way. I have had associates in the past and quite frankly, having employees is not the most fun thing on earth, to be honest.
My dad used to always tell me that the only thing worse than being an employee is having them and so I’ve always taken that to heart, but having an assistant’s been great and support staff I think, is a little bit different than having an associate or that sort of thing on board, but I feel like contract attorneys for me personally, are probably the easier, better way to go and so, what I’m gonna be focusing on as I’m continuing to scale at this point, is outsourcing as much of the drafting of documents and things as I can so that I’m the one available for the court appearances and that sort of thing.
But behind the scenes, the busy paperwork, research, that sort of thing is taken care of for me.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. That’s probably a window into what I was gonna ask you is, what are some of the tasks and workflows that you’ve been able to offload to your legal assistant so that other attorneys might … Attorneys, if they’re rolling solo and they’re thinking a little bit about getting overwhelmed and considering how they can do it, what are some of the things your legal assistant can do you for you that will then free up your time and then give you the capacity, that now frees up your time and gives you the capacity to work with more clients?
Rebecca Fuller: Yeah, so one of the things that have been great in particular is that I’ve transferred the duties to her of all the follow-ups. As the saying goes, the fortunes and the follow up, when you meet with a client or have a consultation or even just a phone call with a potential client, if you don’t follow up with them, if they’re not signing right on the spot, you might as well throw that money or time that you’ve spent in the garbage.
She has a daily schedule where one of the first things that she does every day or at different times throughout the day is to call and follow up and see if various potential clients are ready to move forward, which has turned into certainly having a lot more return on investment, sort to speak, and a lot more conversion of those potential clients, so that’s been wonderful. It can take significant time to do that and it’s something that, unfortunately in the past, I haven’t had as much time to be able to commit to and it’s something that’s really important just for the growth of the business.
That’s probably the number one thing that really has been important, but she also takes care a lot of the non-legally essential duties in terms of making sure that documents are electronically filed with our court clerk and following up on documents that are needed from clients and the day-to-day things like that. She, of course, answers the phone calls and that sort of thing as well and I have a lot of templates set up for my practice to streamline things and save me time when I’m drafting documents and so, for various court documents and things, she’ll be able to just pull up the template and fill in the information for me, so that instead of me drafting it from start to finish, I can just review it and make any edits or corrections and then it’s good to go.
So those have been some huge time savers and really have helped streamline things a lot to make sure that we’re not doubling our efforts instead, we’re really making things as efficient as they can be.
Dave Aarons: Is it possible to quantify in any way how beneficial it’s been to have a legal assistant, specifically focused on follow up, in addition to a lot of the things that are the day-to-day, but that’s one of the first times it’s really been mentioned and you’re absolutely right. I think there is a really great fortune in follow up and it is the type of … It’s the type of thing that tends to fall by the wayside for most firms, just ’cause they’re focused on new business, new clients, new leads and not necessarily realizing the potential of just following up and staying in touch with clients. Both the ones you haven’t quite reached and also the clients you’ve met with and didn’t quite pull the trigger right away, just to stay top of mind.
Rebecca Fuller: Yeah. I don’t know that I have necessarily a dollar figure or conversion rate or anything that I can apply to that, but I can tell you that in this week alone there have been five clients that she’s followed up with that have then paid their initial fee or retainer because of they now we’re ready. A lot of the time what we get is someone saying, “Okay, I’ve gotta get money together,” or “I’m gonna talk to my brother, sister, mother,” whoever it may be who’s gonna help me out that tends to happen a lot in family cases in particular and so, following up with them and reminding them, “Hey, we spoke a week ago or a month ago,” whatever it’s been, it does keep you top of mind and a lot of the time, it’s “Oh yeah, I expect that I’ll have the initial fee for you in a couple of weeks,” or whatever the case may be.
One, in particular, one client who she had followed up for me, my assistant followed up on, I literally have been speaking with this guy off and on for about six months and he called and paid his retainer yesterday, so I mean, sometimes it does take a bit of time and follow up. It’s not something that she’s putting excessive numbers of hours into. It’s something that she’ll maybe spend 20, 30 minutes a day just making some calls and following up. A lot of the time, it’s just leaving a message or maybe you get a voicemail that’s full or whatever, but they see the number and they remember it or they hear the message and think, “Oh yeah, I need to take care of that.”
I think just staying top of mind really does make a big difference.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, follow-ups been a very recent topic of the podcast as well. We had Robert Buchanan come on the show and talk about how he’s set up email autoresponders that he sends out broadcast emails periodically directly from him, but also just has a series of emails that have been written that last six to 12 months from the time he meets with each client as just another way in automated fashion that he can stay top of mind, give people updates, and say, “Hey, here are some examples of things that people might be concerned about in family law. This is something that came up in a recent case and this is my thinking on how we handle it.” But there’s so much … so many things to distract people from the things that they really need to get taken care of and legally and so many options out there, it’s really important to stay top of mind like you said.
Rebecca Fuller: Absolutely, and one thing that we’ve run into in the past is that a potential client may decide that they want to consult with two or three attorneys before they decided who to utilize and so what tends to happen is they forget which one they met with and what the name was or who the firm was, whatever the case may be. So when you’re calling them and following up and those other two firms that they met with aren’t, guess who they’re gonna go with.
Dave Aarons: That’s right. Yeah.
Rebecca Fuller: And it does, it makes all the difference in the world. That’s something that I’ve got some automated emails that go out to primarily for invoices that haven’t been paid and that sort of thing, but that’s another thing just from a technology standpoint, it really does help just to stay at the forefront and have those reminders going out.
Our practice management system also has options where we’re putting in appointments or hearings and that sort of thing on the calendar and it has an option to send an email to the client basically assigning the task to them and giving them all the information and that’s another one of those things that’s just a time saver, but they’re still getting the regular contact from the office without necessarily having to call them and say, “Hey, don’t forget you have this hearing.” It’s an automatic email that comes out.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, it’s a huge time saver and just one less thing that you guys have to keep on the conscious calendar to remind them about. Yeah. Okay, great. So I’d love to switch gears and just start to unpack a little bit about your workflow in the way that you guys are currently fielding your leads, especially now that you have an assistant and the technology behind you to deliver these services and so forth.
Could you maybe just walk us through how you currently receive the leads, who calls the leads, when you’re available … if you reach out to them when you’re available or if your assistant always makes the initial call and then, just step us through the process from there as well, because from what I’ve heard, your conversion rate … I don’t know if you have an idea off the top of your mind of roughly what your conversion rate out of 10 is for the leads, but I’ve heard it’s very strong.
Rebecca Fuller: I should’ve probably looked at the numbers and figured that out for you, but I’d say it’s probably around 70% that are converting into clients once we’ve had contact with them. It may actually even be higher than that quite honestly-
Dave Aarons: Yeah, I heard that it was greater than 50%, so that’s really, really excellent.
Rebecca Fuller: Yeah, and typically my process is, for the most part, my assistant makes the first call and a lot of the time, a lead comes in and we call generally if at all possible, as soon as it comes in. You’re getting the text message notification and the email notification that there’s a new lead and so, we always try to follow up as soon as possible.
Now granted, sometimes we get calls or leads that come in at three o’clock in the morning and obviously we’re not calling those ones when they come in, but that’s kind of the nature of Las Vegas and my unique market that a lot of people do shift work and that sort of thing, so they look us up and get the information at all hours of the night, but for those ones, they typically are the ones that we call as soon as we come in the next morning or follow up later in the afternoon if we don’t get them right away.
Typically, she’ll make the calls and schedule phone consultations. It tends to be faster and easier to get people on the phone than to try to schedule an in-office meeting and we find that most clients prefer that for the initial meeting. Some of the older ones, for estate planning, for example, tend to want to meet in person, which is totally fine, but they’re also the ones who are usually ready to pull the trigger as soon as you meet, so it’s kind of killing two birds with one stone.
But yeah, typically she’ll set that first appointment, we’ll do a phone consultation. A lot of times we’re retained right over the phone on that first call. Sometimes it will be scheduling an in-person meeting from that call to sit down and go over some more in-depth information about the case and get the initial retainer payment-
Dave Aarons: And right there, I just want to briefly stop you, ’cause I think it’s a really good point, especially with your assistant making the calls and we’ve had to explain this to a lot of newer attorneys coming on board is, they’ll initially start calling the leads themselves, doing the initial calls and they’re doing great and they’re rolling clients left and right and they’ll say, “Well, I’ve got all these clients now. I don’t necessarily have the time to be calling these leads.” So they’ll just take a staffer or they’ll hire any random person, say, “You start calling the leads and just book them in to meet with me and it’ll work out great.”
All of a sudden, maybe they’re calling to cancel or say, “This just isn’t working out” and we’ll look into it and go, “What’s been happening?” “Well, I’ve got my staffer calling and he’s just booking me in, but [inaudible 00:38:21] no one shows up” and so we’re okay, well there’s this underlying problem which you can’t … Is the assistant … The most you would ever usually want to have an assistant doing is just booking a phone consultation, but not booking straight into the office unless, like you said, it’s just someone that that’s … they’re very clear that’s what they want to do, but it’s just so they have an opportunity to talk to you. It’s just a really key point that a lot of attorneys when they’re looking to scale and they’re making that transition, it’s kind of that mistake they made. They think that it’s the same if their staffer just books them into the appointment as it is for themselves, the attorney, to actually talk to the client and how important that is.
Rebecca Fuller: Right. That’s what I’ve made the solid policy that in almost all cases, the first conversation is a phone consultation and it saves a lot of the people are not showing up or whatever the case may be. Now, if they’re adamant that they want to meet in the office, the thing that we’ve implemented is while we require them to provide us with a credit card to secure the spot. We don’t charge them unless they’re a no call, no show without any advanced notice.
That has virtually eliminated the no call, no show type of client and frankly, it helps weed out the tire kickers, sort to speak. The ones who are just calling to get information and don’t actually want representation and that sort of thing, because people don’t want to give out their credit card number unless they’re serious.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so key that you’re just starting with that phone consultation, because like you said, a lot of times … specifically lead generation, it’s really important for you to have an opportunity to build some trust and some rapport with the client, have them get to know who you are, because a lot of these leads that are coming from our site, they don’t necessarily … they haven’t met you yet, so it’s not the same as a referral in that sense and it’s really important that attorneys, newer attorneys, coming on board with lead generation understand that distinction. It’s different from a referral in that way.
Second of all, like you said, a lot of clients are open, willing to enroll over the phone. Can you maybe talk a little bit about that and what percentage of the clients do you think just say, “Hey, it’s okay. We can just go ahead and get started now and here’s my card and let’s get going.”
Rebecca Fuller: Yeah, I think one of the things that so unique about my market, in particular, is that we have a lot of people who either lived here for a short time or have moved away. It tends to be a high turnover market and so, what ends up happening is they may have opened a case here and now they live in California or Utah or whatever the case may be. And so a lot of times, they have no choice but to do a consultation by phone because they aren’t gonna drive in or fly in just to meet with an attorney.
For those ones, it’s particularly easy and they pull the trigger over the phone regardless because they don’t want to have to travel to meet in person, but also for a lot of the local clients who still do live here, I would say probably at least half of them, maybe more, are comfortable once they’ve spoken with me and we’ve kind of talked about the specifics of their case and what needs to be done and what direction they can go, what their options are, they’re ready to move forward.
Most of the time, they do go ahead and just sign via electronic signature or through email back and forth and I think a lot of people these days appreciate not having to take the time to drive across town to meet in the office or to take time off work to do that, because a lot of times, we can schedule them by phone right when they get off work and they don’t have to worry about, “Okay, I get off work at four, your office closes at five, am I gonna have enough time to get there and meet with you?”
Most people at least can take a 15-minute break at work if they need to and then they’re not missing time out of their workday in order to meet with an attorney. I think we’ve moved to that culture these days where there isn’t as much in person interaction as there once was because of technology and all the things that we have available. A lot of people these days, they want to communicate by text. They don’t even want to talk on the phone, so I think it makes it a lot easier to sort of sign people without ever having that in-person meeting.
I have at least probably, I’d say, a dozen or so clients right now that I’ve literally never met in person.
Dave Aarons: Right. And that’s uncommon, I mean, unless you go to court, of course, then you meet them there, but a lot of them-
Rebecca Fuller: And actually, sometimes not even then. I mean, I have a client who lives in Virginia and I’ve arranged it so that he can appear telephonically for his hearings, so we literally probably will never meet.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, and that probably also has somewhat to do with the types of options you’re offering. Even providing some different unbundled legal services and I’d love to unpack that, but either way, you’re still converting a lot of these clients over the phone and you mentioned about 15 minutes, we found is kind of a trend that the attorneys that do more of the phone enrollments tend to spend a little longer on each call, whereas the attorneys that prefer to do things in person and enroll people in person will do like a five to ten minute touch base, get some details, “Okay, we can help you with that. Why don’t you come in?” And that’s kind of the way they do it as opposed to taking the time on the initial consultation. If you could just unpack … Do you spend a little bit more time on the phone consultation and then also, how do you start to determine whether you’re going to be taking more of an unbundled approach or full representation and … This is three things, but also maybe some types of options you offer. That’s a lot, I know, but trying to [crosstalk 00:44:08].
Rebecca Fuller: Right. Usually, the way that I schedule my phone consultations, I allow up to 30 minutes for each one in the scheduling. If it takes that much time, I have it available. Most of them take about maybe 10 to 15 minutes. That tends to be about the average and I think part of the benefit of doing them by phone is that the conversations tend to be much faster than in person. You’re not having their small talk and that sort of thing that you might with an in-person meeting.
It really cuts down on, okay, let’s get straight to the point. Initially, I always get just a brief history from the client. I try to keep them on point and I don’t necessarily need their life story in order to assess what’s going on, but I generally know in the first five minutes if it’s something that either A, I can help them with, sometimes we get calls from people who have a case that’s out of state or something that’s not in our jurisdiction and B, if I want to help them.
Sometimes I don’t want a client because I can tell they’re going to be difficult from that conversation and thankfully, being an entrepreneur and being my own boss, I can make that decision if I choose. Usually, in the first five to ten minutes I have that question answered and I generally have also heard some clues from them as to what they’re looking for and what services are going to be best to offer them. That having been said, I always offer clients both options of having unbundled services or having full representation.
Typically, I explain to them what the differences are. I explain to them that with unbundled services, we’re in a very limited scope. We’re only handling a specific issue or a specific court appearance, whatever the case may be, whereas, with the full representation, they have me start to finish. We talk about payment options, what is available in terms of methods of payment and that sort of thing. Most people, quite honestly though, end up doing full scope of representation.
Once they’ve kind of … With the litigation cases, I should clarify that, because of estate planning and that sort of thing, it’s pretty much always on an unbundled basis and I do quite a bit of that as well. I’d say it’s probably a 50/50 mix, probably about half that does estate planning or just minimal services and typically, the ones who do the unbundled services tend to already have an open case. They’ve been through this before and maybe they’re looking for a child custody modification or something like that, and so they don’t necessarily need a full scope of representation. They might just need help with a court appearance or they’ve already filed the paperwork on their own, whatever the case may be.
I kind of assess those things as we’re chatting and make notes and that sort of thing for my record, but I always offer both options to the client unless, like I said, it’s an estate planning issue or something that would typically be done on a flat fee.
Dave Aarons: When you have a client where it’s clear that finances are limited enough where they can’t just pay your full retainer right up front, how do you make the delineation or decided the approach between taking a much lower retainer and then offering some form of payment plan? Maybe you can talk about types of options you offer there and just doing some limited scope engagement to start with, having them handle one specific task and then they can retain you for more later on if they can get more resources or once they’ve handled the next step and so forth.
Rebecca Fuller: Usually for me, that depends on the complexity of their case. If it’s something that’s relatively simple or straightforward, I pretty much always recommend to them, “Okay, you may not have a lot of resources available, this is what we can do. This is what you’ve told me you can afford,” sort to speak. The other ones that kind of are more complex and that really is going to need someone in their corner from the get-go, what we require is that they do a retainer up front and then we put them on an automatic either weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly payment and that is done with a credit card through LawPay. It’s set up as an automatic thing that I don’t even have to think about. I just put in the information and the parameters and it charges automatically at the designated interval.
That way, we don’t have to spend a lot of time chasing payments and the client knows okay, this is what I can expect each week or every two weeks or every month.
Dave Aarons: I got you. Okay. And can you … are you able to give an example? I’m not sure how particularly helpful it is, because every market’s a little different, but on average, what is the range of what you’d be willing to accept as the initial and then monthly as a payment and working with folks? I mean, it depends, of course, the time factors. If things need to be done quicker, so maybe just share how you determine what you’re willing and able to accept as initial and then as a monthly based on certain factors.
Rebecca Fuller: For me, a lot of it, it’s very case specific. I don’t necessarily have sort of a set amount. Typically though, I always have a minimum based on what the complexity is that I have in mind. Usually I won’t accept less than between $1,500 or $2,500 down payment for those who are doing the ongoing payments, because I know that based on the amount of need that they have, it’s going to go quickly and I don’t want to be in a position where I’ve got clients owing me thousands of dollars at the conclusion of their case.
Most of the time, those that are doing the full scope, they’re depositing at least $1,500 to $2,500 down and then, they’re typically paying somewhere between, I’d say $300 and $1,000 a month, depending on what their financial situation looks like and also the complexity of the case going forward.
Dave Aarons: Okay, great. So you’re looking at complexity, we didn’t really mention time factors there, but usually want to have some form of retainer up front, $1,500, $2,500. I’m just curious, if they don’t have the $1,500, is that where even if they have a complex or let’s say, contested case, is there a point where you still will offer an unbundled service to someone to get them through the next step or give them that limited assistance because it’s better than this having no assistance at all? How do you determine whether it’s, okay, I can’t or it’s not gonna work or does that just never come up? I mean, I’m just curious ’cause, that’s something we’ve talked a lot about-
Rebecca Fuller: Well, I think for me it doesn’t … Yeah, it doesn’t come up a lot for me, only because I offer both options to every client, so I think they’ll say, “Okay, I really want to have you handle everything for me, but I really can’t afford it,” and we’ll talk about whether they’re able to meet the financial requirements of the initial retainer and then those ongoing payments. If they’re not, then we go back to “Well, you still have the option to do the unbundled services, this is what that would look like.”
I’m really, I’m offering both services to almost every client and so, I think it eliminates having to have the conversation twice, sort to speak, of okay, the full scope is what you really need, but unbundled is what you can afford. They’ve already heard the pros and cons of each.
Dave Aarons: Okay, great. And maybe the last thing, just on this thread here and then we can wrap up is, we talk a lot about the initial consultation, the types of options and so forth on the podcast, one thing we don’t necessarily talk too much about is just that enrollment process and some of the initial workflows in, okay, they decide they want to move forward. Okay, from that point forward, there’s an electronic retainer agreement. There’s a payment agreement, and how does that work within the practice management? And then, once that’s completed, what kind of tasks are fired? Can you unpack just a little bit about that next step? They say, “Okay, I think we have an agreement. What’s the best way to proceed?” How does that enrollment process take places, especially over the phone and then, how the initial tasks start getting to work from there, especially given that you’re utilizing a lot of this electronic practice management type of system.
Rebecca Fuller: Sure. What we always start with is I’ll give all the details of what we’re doing to my assistant, she’ll prepare the fee agreement and any initial questionnaires that I need the client to fill out. We’ll send those to them via email, they’ll return the items along with payment if we haven’t already gotten it over the phone and then, we set them up as a client and a matter within the practice management system.
Practice Panther has workflows that you can apply to each matter, based on your specific parameters, so we can apply the workflow and then assign the various tasks that need to be assigned from there. Let’s say, for example, someone comes in with a divorce case that hasn’t been initiated yet. So we know off the bat, they need to do … we need to prepare a complaint and a summons and have the other party served and all those things. So we have all that in the workflow and assign out the tasks either to myself or my assistant and we’re sending task lists to the client of information that we need from them and then, my assistant will follow up on getting those items back from them, so if we haven’t gotten the fee agreement and initial questionnaire and the initial payment back within a day or two, she’s right back on the phone or following up by text or email saying, “Hey, wanted to make sure you got it. Did you have any questions and when can we expect it?”
I think that’s the initial process and once they’ve paid and sent in the initial paperwork that we need, then we can focus on assigning out what needs to be done, keeping the client in the loop with things that are coming up, especially if the other party is filing a motion or something of that nature, and really just keeping it pretty automated for the most part with the way the software works.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, I mean, the electronic enrollments where you can send an email and it’s just a payment link where people can just click, put in their card number, and it’s just done electronically, right from their mobile device or from their laptop, really doesn’t matter. There isn’t a need for them to print it out, sign it, send it back. That really has gone the way of the dodo in most practices nowadays, so that really streamlines the enrollment.
And then also, you mentioned all these work flows where you can in each different type of scenario, all these workflows fire, and the task can be created, but in any different case, there’s a very specif number of things that can happen that need to happen and they’re itemized and every single time a new matter is created, it creates those workflows so that everyone knows what needs to be done and in what timeframe, and I just can’t imagine how helpful that must be to be able to keep track of where each person is at in the process and, like you said, automating and streamlining to make sure everything is done on time and by the appropriate people.
Rebecca Fuller: It really is invaluable. You can’t even put a price on how much time it saves and how much easier it makes it.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, it’s really, really key. Okay, so with that, I think we can begin to wrap up. I think the last thing I might ask is, you’ve been doing this for … working with us for about a year and adjusted accordingly, hired an assistant, implemented new technology, is there anything else just in your strategy or your approach or your working with clients or the options you’ve been offering or anything else that sticks out to you that you’ve implemented that also has just really helped either with communication or any of those different aspects that you feel has been really beneficial to achieving the results you need to accomplish since we started?
Rebecca Fuller: I think the biggest thing is just getting into a routine of, okay, as soon as the leads come in, we’re calling them, we’re scheduling them. Sometimes I’m taking the call right then and there if I happen to be available if I’m not either in other consults or in court or something. Really just following up as quickly as possible, because with a lot of these family cases and things in particular, if you don’t follow up immediately, they’re right on to the next person.
They feel like it’s an emergency, they need help now and that tends to be the case more so with family law than any other practice area, in my opinion. I think that is really the number one thing that has made a huge difference, is just that immediate follow up. If we don’t get them by phone, we’re also automatically sending them an email and a text message. I do both because sometimes one method or the other is easier for someone to respond to.
They also might not check their email as often as we do as attorneys, so that text message will get to them right away and so, I think those things have really made the biggest difference. It’s just made it much easier and frankly, having that availability for the texting and that sort of thing, ’cause the phone system I use, I use a company called Ring Central and they have an app where you can text directly from your business number, so I’m not giving my personal cell phone number to clients or they’ll be calling me at three o’clock in the morning. It’s great to be able to text them from my business number and have that communication and give them yet another option to utilize the technology and be in touch and so forth and really offer as many options as possible.
I think in a lot of cases, it makes it faster and easier for the client to follow up, too, or the potential client I should say, because maybe they’re at work and they can’t take a phone call, but they can respond to a text message. I think that’s been really helpful as well.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It’s so important and we, especially when we enroll new attorneys, we can’t speak highly enough about the importance of number one, calling in real time and also using text message. So many clients will just respond, “Hey I’m at work, let’s call back.” You can just set up a time right there through text while they’re working, ’cause a lot of people just can’t take the call. And really, your ideal customer can’t take the call, ’cause if they can take a call at two o’clock in the afternoon, probably means they’re sitting on the couch and they might not be working.
The type of person that you want to get ahold of, to get in touch with, might not be able to answer that call the first time and so, being able to be texting and like you said, Ring Central is a good service for that. Google Voice is also a free service that any lawyer can set up with an area code or with their office line and send a text message from something instead of their cell phones so they have that barrier of access as you talked about, so they’re not getting text messages to their cell phone in the middle of the night and so forth, and that’s just an app on the phone as well.
These are really the fundamentals. These are the fundamentals of lead generation. It’s so easy to get off them to be responding to people, but they are serious. These leads, obviously, we’re doing what we need to do to get people that are serious about hiring an attorney, so it’s of critical importance that you’re able to respond to people in real time and I’m really glad that you shared that, ’cause … and also happy that you found that that’s made the difference for you, too.
Rebecca Fuller: Yeah, it really has. Like I said, especially with the family matters. I think that if they don’t get a response right away, they really will just move onto the next person because they feel like it’s an emergent situation and often times it is when kids and custody and that sort of thing are involved.
Dave Aarons: Absolutely. Okay, so we will go ahead and wrap up. I know you’ve already got five leads in the box from today and you’ve been in court all day, so I’m sure you need to get back to calling those leads again.
Rebecca Fuller: Absolutely.
Dave Aarons: But with that, I really want to thank you, Rebecca, for coming on the show and sharing so openly what’s worked well for you, the technology. I mean, Forrest Mosten was just on the podcast and he described himself as kind of the horse and buggy of unbundled services does everything belly to belly, very traditional in the way he does it and it works great, and then there’s also the people who call it the Tesla version of unbundled services, where you’ve got streamline, electronic enrollments, practice management software and it really impacts your ability to be very efficient, serve a lot more clients, and streamline the process.
Thank you for sharing how these systems have impacted your practice and really-
Rebecca Fuller: My pleasure.
Dave Aarons: … looking forward to seeing how this continues to unfold over the years to come.
Rebecca Fuller: Great, thank you.
Dave Aarons: And with that, for everyone else that’s listening, thank you for chiming in and tuning in every couple weeks to listen to these podcasts, improve your practice, implement these systems. It is certainly an exciting time with the internet and these new technologies that are enabling you to continue to maintain and expand your lifestyle and your location dependence and work mobile and serve a lot more clients by working with people in these affordable ways as well. It’s certainly a new generation and we appreciate you being a part of it.
So with that, we’ll go ahead and wrap up. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you all in the next episode.
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Episode 45: 21st Century Mobile Lawyering: How to Utilize Legal Technology to Build a High Volume, Streamlined, and Location Independent Practice
Rebecca Fuller is part of a new era of lawyers who embrace legal technology to build a highly efficient and streamlined practice. The cloud-based tools she uses enable her to operate her practice from any location, at any time, and never skip a beat. Today, Rebecca joins us to share the technologies she uses and explain exactly how she implements them in her practice. She provides a complete walk-through of how each tool comes into play from the moment she receives a lead all the way through to the delivery of her services. We also discuss how she leverages new technology to scale up her practice, enabling her to effectively serve a higher volume of clients.
To read a complete transcript of this interview, click here
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why Rebecca decided to start her own practice after years of working for someone else
- The typical fears attorneys face when considering opening their own practice, and how she overcame them
- Why she sees herself as a business owner and entrepreneur first, and a lawyer second
- Some of the books she read that helped her tremendously when she first started her practice
- The advantages of delivering estate and family law services as a flat rate
- How working with clients on a “pay-as-you-go” basis can make your services more affordable and your practice more profitable
- The importance of investing time into implementing technology and systems that help build a more efficient practice, and how this plays a critical role in your ability to serve a higher volume of clients
- A breakdown of the main tech tools she uses and how they help streamline her practice
- How technology helps her become location independent, enabling her to continue her practice while traveling and spend more time with her daughter
- A list of the specific tasks Rebecca offloads to her legal assistant in order to free up more of her time
- The importance of building systems to ensure you are following up with your clients, and how this leads to a significant increase in the number of clients retaining your services
- A step-by-step walk-through of Rebecca’s process from the time she first receives a lead, to consultation, intake and retention of each new client, then through to the preparation and delivery of documents, and beyond
- How Rebecca has been able to eliminate no-shows from her practice
- And much more…
Resources Mentioned in This Episode
- Book: How to Start and Build a Law Practice
- Book: Flying Solo: A Survival Guide for Solos and Small Firm Lawyers
- Book: Attorney and Law Firm Guide to the Business of Law: Planning and Operating for Survival and Growth
- Practice Panther
- Microsoft Outlook (Office 365)
- Lexis Advance
If you enjoy this podcast, please head over to iTunes, subscribe to the show, and leave us a review. We love hearing from our listeners and look forward to reading your feedback!
For more information about Unbundled Attorney and how our Lead Generation services help grow your practice, visit: https://www.unbundledattorney.com