A New Era of Immigration Lawyering: How Embracing Technology and Affordable Pay-As-You-Go Pricing Can Significantly Increase Profits and Accessibility to Legal Services

January 8th, 2018

Today, we’re going to be interviewing Jamila Little, who is one of our immigration attorneys in west Florida, originally she’s from Trinidad, is an immigrant herself, and transitioned into becoming an immigration attorney after having a background in a corporate world and corporate practice, making good money, but not feeling like she was making the impact. She felt like had desire to make a difference and was drawn and called to immigration.

As she shares on this episode, it took her four years to make the jump from being in the corporate world, a corporate lawyer, to starting her own practice and following that desire to make a difference through immigration as an immigration lawyer in her own solo practice. She talks about some of the fears that she had to overcome and also how she got the practice off the ground and some of the things that she did in the early days and then later on how she was implementing some systems that helped her streamline and make her practice a lot more efficient and how that’s impacted the way in which she can work with clients more affordable and creatively

Moreover, we talk about pay-as-you-go. In immigration, a lot of cases, in family law as well, some of these cases take some time, so there’s an opportunity to test out working with clients where you don’t have to charge so much up front and then using billing software that allows you to automatically bill a card maybe once a week, once a month. She mentions LawPay on this episode, which many of our attorneys have used it.

 For her, having that cash flow and working with people, not only has she been able to serve three out of five more clients, which to her has represented over $15,000 a month in additional revenue by not charging $1,500 up front and accepting $250, $300, about $400 down, but she also feels like she’s making a difference by making her services more affordable and accessible.

It’s that combination of making more money and I think that’s a real underlying misconception is, if you lower your upfront retainer, folks are not going to pay it. I think a lot of attorneys are afraid they’re going to be out some money by being forced to represent folks that aren’t paying them. In reality, I think what we share on this episode, what she talks about is how much additional revenue there is by being able to open the door to so many other clients.

We also talk about transparency, sharing, her being transparent with her clients in order to allow them to be and help them feel comfortable being transparent with her about sharing their exact situation, all the factors of their legal case, but also where they’re at financially so that she can use her creativity to find a way to serve them.

There’s so much in here that any immigration attorney, any attorney practicing in any area can take away from this to better relate to their clients and find more creative ways to work with them so that more people can access your services. With that, let’s get right into it, this interview with Jamila Little, one of our immigration attorneys out of western Florida.

Below is the transcription of this episode from our Unbundled Attorney Mastermind Podcast. You can listen to the entire episode by clicking here.

Dave Aarons: Jamila, Welcome to the show.

Jamila Little: Thank you.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, looking forward to this conversation. We’ve had quite the saga thus far over these past four months of working together, some expansions to new cities come tracking back to your local area, a lot of success in your local region, so very excited to chat with you today and unpack the story. Thank you for taking the time.

Jamila Little: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Dave Aarons: All right. A great place to start, Jamila, is obviously you have a unique background coming from Trinidad and being an immigration attorney. I’m sure that can give you a greater degree of empathy for what immigrants such as myself, I’m from Canada, I immigrated to the United States in the late ’90s, so kind of went through a very similar process of becoming a permanent resident through my family. Why don’t you share a little bit about your background, how you came to the US and decided to become an immigration attorney?

Jamila Little: Okay. Sure, Dave. That’s so nice to hear. It’s so interesting sometimes when you have conversations with people, that immigration touches everyone. I actually [inaudible 00:04:38] from Canada, so that’s pretty cool in my books. Yeah, I am originally from Trinidad and Tobago, small twin islands in the Caribbean. I moved here about 17 years ago, doesn’t seem that long, but it’s been a while. I started school, did undergrad and then my master’s and went on to law school because for some reason I always wanted to practice law.

During law school, I was exposed to immigration. I did all the clinics. I actually had the opportunity to meet real clients, represent them in court under the guidance, obviously, of my professor and just fell in love with it. When I started practicing, I decided to go the commercial route, because I did have a background in finance and an MB and decided to try to use those things to move on with my law practice and didn’t like it all. I was still doing immigration pro bono. It just came down to am I going to do what I love or not?

About two years ago, I decided to open up my own shop. Now, I practice primarily immigration and I love it, because I really feel like I help people. As you mentioned before, I do take a very sympathetic approach, because I know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. I know what’s at risk for them. It’s high-risk, especially at this time that we live in. I really enjoy starting a case and being able to help people and being able to offer so many resources. A lot of it, I’ve actually learned from my time with Unbundled Attorney and being able to offer everything, the client, a way to get help.

Dave Aarons: Yes. By the way, did you go to law school in Florida? At what point did you come from Trinidad to the United States?

Jamila Little: Yeah. I actually came from Trinidad after high school. I went from high school to college. I attended Spelman College in Atlanta and then went on to business school. I was in Atlanta for about nine years and then from there moved to south Florida. I went to school in Miami, a shout-out to FIU, and got my law degree there and really got my feet wet with immigration there. I had a really good immigration professor. Then, basically from there decided to move to Tampa, just because it was better for me in terms of my family. They were here and I wanted to be close to family, so I moved to Tampa.

Dave Aarons: Awesome. Can you contrast the life you had working as a, sounds like a commercial or corporate lawyer, to the practice you run today? Also, can you get at what that feeling was for you at the time when you felt, obviously you were doing pro bono, you were loving the way you were helping people in immigration, but maybe you felt like you had to make money in the corporate world and being a corporate attorney and maybe had some concerns about making the jump? Can you just flashback to those moments right before the transition and what made you make that decision and maybe what prevented you from making that decision for some time?

Jamila Little: Absolutely. Fear was one feeling, to leave the known and what was really steady and stable and a really good job with a firm in South Florida with the potential to grow. Honestly, it was not where my heart was and I knew it. It took me about four years to actually make that transition to actually owning my own practice. I took it little by little. I actually started off just doing pro bono and getting my name out that I’m doing immigration.

Then, when I actually started my firm, I still did some contract work in addition to running my own firm. That gave me some stability as I build my clientele. Then, I really, really just felt like I needed to go all-in. At some point, I just really need to go all-in. It was a leap of faith for me and really haven’t looked back. It’s been an amazing journey.

Dave Aarons: Do you remember what it was that propelled you to finally make that decision? Did you have an office open up or was there a window that opened up or was it a certain point where you’re just so frustrated, where you’ve had one bad day in your corporate job where you’re just like, “I’m done with this”? I mean, you just got to a point of decision. What was that moment of decision for you?

Jamila Little: I just felt that it was time. I am a person of faith and I felt that this was the direction that God was leading me into. For me, my practice is more than just I went to law school and I want to be an attorney. I feel like it’s my passion and it’s a calling for me. I felt like it was just time for me to take that step because, at some point, I knew I would get locked into the lifestyle and it was just safe and I made pretty good money, so why leave?

A lot of people thought it was a little bit crazy, but I felt like that is what I had to do. It’s been amazing. It’s been really, really amazing just having the ability to work my cases the way I feel best. You don’t always have that in a medium-size firm and just having [inaudible 00:10:31] to take clients that maybe would not have ever got in the system because they couldn’t afford an attorney or they thought they couldn’t afford an attorney. Having the ability to do that now and having that flexibility, I love it. I really love it.

Dave Aarons: Absolutely. I can only imagine so many lawyers go to law school. Yeah, they can make great money, but I think just as important as making great money or certainly up there is being able to make a difference. It seems like so many law students get jobs in corporate settings or in environments that aren’t necessarily in alignment with what they felt was the way they could make a difference or in a practice of area that they were passionate about, but then get stuck in the job and may be attached and tied to, understandably, the financial security. Maybe they have a family and need that consistent income. It seems like there’s that moment where either if you go that route, you have to make the jump, otherwise, like you said, you could get stuck in that. Do you think it’s possible that you could’ve started from the beginning or do you feel like this path was the way you had to go to experience the opposite?

Jamila Little: I think I had to go this route because I needed to know I have so much drive to do what I want to do. I have that drive, I think because I had the opportunity to experience the corporate and the firm world first. I know what that’s like, I know what it’s about. I knew what I was letting go. I didn’t know what I would be embracing once I left, but I have no regrets. I have absolutely no regrets.

Dave Aarons: Do you have any message for attorneys that are working either in a firm that obviously pays the bills, but they’re not feeling like they’re truly passionate or maybe they’re working in an environment that they’re not so happy about, but they have passion and want to make a difference? Is there anything you can share your perspective and how this has worked out for you in running your solo practice to someone that might be in that position and maybe has that same fear to make the jump into pursuing the area of practice or they’re opening their own practice or whatever it might be that is going to be in alignment with their passion?

Jamila Little: Yeah, absolutely. I think we all have real needs to have financial stability. We all went to school. We all went to law school, for the attorneys out there. Hopefully, at some point, your decision to go to law school wasn’t fully about making a lot of money, but I would say to them, if this is something that you feel passionate about doing, then try it.

I always tell my colleagues we have such a flexible degree, a law degree. You could do anything. If it doesn’t work, you could always go back to corporate America or go back to firm life and get another job. How would you know if it’s going to work if you never even try? Your heart may be leading you to your passion, to what you were created to do.

I think with a law degree, we have so much power as attorneys to help people, to change lives and to also make a living doing that. For those out there who feel like there’s more out there, there is more out there. If you feel like your heart is taking you in that direction, just try it. Just try it and, if it works, great. If it doesn’t, you can always go back.

Dave Aarons: That is some sage advice. I appreciate you sharing that. Thank you.

Jamila Little: Absolutely.

Dave Aarons: I’d love to maybe jump forward to when you first started your practice up and running. If you could share some of the things that you did well, some of the things that you had as helping you and supporting you, but also some things that you struggled with initially that you were able to overcome or maybe just talk a little bit about how you got your solo practice going? What are the things that really helped you do that effectively and some of the things you had to work through to become successful as a solo practitioner in immigration?

Jamila Little: Okay. One of the things that you come to realize very quickly is that you are, not only practicing and doing new work, but you’re also running a business. The two are drastically different. When I first started, I wanted to try to keep my overhead low. I started off with one office as a virtual office and that worked really well for me.

I had front desk staff that would greet my clients when they come in. The face of my firm looked extremely professional. I still keep that office, it’s with Regus. It really worked well, up until the point where I was getting so many clients coming in that … You pay per hour if you have one of those types of offices. It was getting to the point where I was paying so much, I was like, “Well, I’m paying all of this to rent a room per hour. I might as well just go ahead and get some office space.” I did have a virtual office for some time and that worked really well for me.

I found out early out that having some systems that help you automate a lot of your processes is very helpful, especially as a solo practitioner. I went about trying to learn about things and software that I could utilize that would help my practice run seamlessly and keep that professional face for my clients. We spoke a little bit about INSZoom for immigration. I actually use INSZoom and didn’t start using it at the beginning of my practice, but when I did learn about it, I incorporated it. It’s been a huge, huge help for the ton of documents that we actually need to fill out for most immigration applications, very, very helpful.

Then, there are other software packages that I use that make some of the processes, like processing payments, really simple on my end and also very convenient for my clients. Some of those things, like I said, I didn’t incorporate at first and ran into obstacles that stopped clients from paying and just things that made practicing a little bit more difficult and made the running of the business side of it a little bit more difficult. I’ve found that if you can find the type of software that would specifically help your firm become more automated, it’s really, really helpful. It really helps efficiency.

Dave Aarons: You’re in a unique situation that you started out your practice without some of these tools in place and then have since transitioned to having them in place. Obviously, that creates a different experience for the client, makes it more seamless, as you described, but maybe can you share some specific things that are different now that you have some of these tools in place that has streamlined some of these tasks, like some of the things that it enables you to do or some of the things that it has eliminated in your practice?

Jamila Little: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll talk about INSZoom, specifically for immigration. I’m pretty sure there’s software that is out there for each type of practice area. INSZoom allows me to send out, to my clients, questionnaires for them to fill out with all of their information that flows really, really seamlessly into the forms that I would need to send into USCIS or to other immigration agencies to complete petitions or applications.

Just to give you an idea, sometimes to complete one case, you probably need about five different documents. You need to send in about five different documents. Over the past couple years, USCIS has increased the length and complexity of these documents. What I found myself doing is collecting paper documents from clients with information about themselves, about their history for the past five years, so it’s a lot of paperwork, taking that manually from them and entering that into five different sets of forms. You can imagine how time-consuming it was.

For me, INSZoom was such a time-saver, because I could actually send my clients the questionnaires and they would fill it out themselves. I figure they know the best about themselves, right? They can fill out a questionnaire about themselves, send it back to me. Then, that information flows into the actual form that I need to send in, so that was really helpful. Another system that I started using-

Dave Aarons: I don’t want to interrupt, but can you quantify what that difference is an amount of time? Like, when you’re sitting down-

Jamila Little: In time? Wow.

Dave Aarons: … they fill it out on paper and then you have to manually enter versus having it where they’re doing it themselves, you’re not having to do it with them, and then it auto-populates into all those forms.

Jamila Little: Yeah. I would say, in time, believe it or not, it would cut maybe a four-hour process into one hour.

Dave Aarons: Wow.

Jamila Little: Yeah. That was huge for me. I have some colleagues out there who are resistant to this software, but I tell them it would change their life. It will totally transform the way you practice immigration. That’s the free plug for INSZoom.

Dave Aarons: Well, sure. Yeah. INS, this one’s on us, but give us a call.

Jamila Little: Yeah, I know. Definitely. I was also going to talk about LawPay. This is another piece of software that I use. I know a lot of attorneys who have the unbundled service actually use LawPay. It’s something that you guys also talked about in many other podcasts. I love LawPay. It’s very simple to send out invoices. I’ve set up payment plans for clients using LawPay.

What I usually do with my clients is, once they come in, I set the expectation where they can make an initial deposit. This is something that I hadn’t been doing before. Once I started implementing, it really increased the number of cases that I was closing. Prior to implementing this, I would either take my total fees upfront or have the client pay at least half. That’s just not a reality for everybody to be able to do that financially.

What I now do, using LawPay, is I would have the client tell me what they can afford to put down as a down payment. As long as they have some sort of bank account or credit card that I can use through LawPay to set them up on a payment plan, I would do that. I utilize payment plans really, really heavily for my clients.

They get to choose the day that they want their payment to be deducted. Sometimes they choose monthly. LawPay is so flexible, it’ll let you do it monthly, bi-weekly, weekly. I just let the clients choose how they want this payment to come out and set it up. It just keeps going until the total fee is taken out of their account. Over the process of time, they pay their fee.

Immigration is such that, because a lot of the processes take months and months, they actually don’t have to pay it all up front. If your case is going to take six to nine months to close, you have the opportunity to make those payments over that time. That’s just another system that I currently use that’s really, really helpful.

Dave Aarons: I’m assuming that has made a tremendous difference in the number of people that are retaining you because they can put down … Can you give an example of what you used to charge, whether it’d be the full amount or half and what people are paying now and how that’s impacted the number of people that are able to afford to move forward with your services right away?

Jamila Little: Yeah. The majority of my clients, as long as there’s a way that I could actually help them with their case, they’re happy to move forward on a payment plan if they need to. Instead of upfront having to pay maybe $1,500 to $2,000, if they could afford to pay $400, $500 upfront and then be put on a payment plan that would allow them to pay maybe $100, $150 a week or four, five, $600 a month, and I’m really, really flexible as to what works for them, then that just opens the door to allow them to make those payments as they go whenever they actually get paid for their job. It’s a lot easier to think, “Okay, this pay period I’m going to pay $500,” as opposed to, “Oh, my goodness. I have to pay $5,000 this pay period.”

Dave Aarons: Yeah. I can only imagine how many more people just … It’s interesting. At each different financial level, there’s going to be some attorneys that say, “I want $5,000 up front,” only a certain amount of people can afford that, let’s just say one out of 20. Then, once you get to the point where you’re doing, “Okay, we’ll take $2,500 now, $5,000,” okay, well maybe two out of 20 or one of 10 can now afford that, right?

Now, if you say, “Okay. Well, instead of $2,500, I can take maybe half of that down and do some more payments,” a lot more people can afford that, maybe three, four, five, two, three, four out of 10 or something like that. All of a sudden when it’s like, “Hey, what can you put down?” and it’s $200, $300, $500, something like that, and then, “What can you afford a month?” when you have that level of flexibility, it’s no wonder that … I think you said your conversion rate was something like four out of five or eight out of 10?

Jamila Little: Yes.

Dave Aarons: Your local clients, yeah?

Jamila Little: My conversion rate, yeah, for the Tampa Bay area is probably four out of five clients. I would say maybe three out of every five of my clients actually requests a payment plan. It’s extremely, extremely helpful and valuable to them, especially knowing their situation. They’re here and they’re in need of help. If they could get this help and it’s affordable, there’s no way they’re not going to do it.

Dave Aarons: What are your thoughts, Jamila? Obviously, we just had Lauren on the podcast as well. She shared the same thing as far as, in the vast majority of her cases, something like 90, 95% of her cases, she’s eliminated the upfront retainer and is just doing pay-as-you-go [inaudible 00:25:37]. This is in family law. Sometimes family law has some different time frames and time factors involved.

She balances that to a certain degree. That sometimes when she has to do the upfront retainer is a person’s got to go to court, there’s an enormous amount of work that needs to be done within the first month. That usually isn’t the case with immigration. Why do you think that so many other attorneys haven’t been implementing that? Do you think it’s just they haven’t tested it? Do you feel like maybe there’s just some fear that they won’t collect that money? What would you say to that? What’s been your experience?

Jamila Little: I think it’s a little bit of both. As I mentioned before, before, maybe mid last year, it was not something that I had actually implemented in my practice, either. I decided to try it out and see how it worked. For me, a little bit more of the security comes with being able to keep the payment plan going and being able to tell my client, “Well, this is a convenience to you to be allowed to get a payment plan over the course of your actual case. As a convenience to me, we’ll just automatically debit it out of your account.”

I think the fear for most attorneys is that they’re not going to get paid. We’ve all been in that situation, where we’ve been forced to do pro bono cases because we don’t get paid. I think if you have that client’s case over a period of three, four, five, six months and you have a payment option where you can automatically debit their payment, then to me that provides a lot of security.

Since I’ve been doing this, I honestly haven’t had any clients who haven’t paid. Now, I’ve had times where their card didn’t go through because it’s just an automatic payment. I’m not going to know if they have the funds or not, but it’s just going to keep going. I’ve had times when their payment didn’t go through and LawPay sends a notification to me. It will send a notification straight to them, so I don’t even have to tell them that their payment didn’t even go through.

They would reach out to me and say, “Can I include this in my next payment?” I honestly haven’t had an issue with it. It’s been more of a help for me to bill my practice, to be able to put clients on payment plans and have the auto-debit system going than it has been a hindrance. I think for people who don’t utilize it, they may just haven’t tried it out. I would say try it and see how it works in your practice.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. I feel like we need to get way on top of a mountain somewhere and just yell that, yell, “No one hasn’t paid me!” On the flip side, you said four of the five clients needed that payment plan, so that means if you didn’t and you were charging $1,500 an hour-

Jamila Little: They would’ve walked out the door.

Dave Aarons: … they would’ve walked out the door. How do we quantify? I think this is where attorneys don’t look, is the opportunity cost of not offering this and how much additional income that brings in. Is there a way you could quantify that, like what average client is worth and if three to five are walking out the door, how many clients you do a month? Could we do some quick math on this just to get clear?

Jamila Little: If an average client, for me, is let’s say $2,500 and I’m going to lose, let’s say, 3 of them, just do the math, that’s $7,500. Let’s say you multiply that by six clients per month, that’s a lot of money.

Dave Aarons: That’s $15,000 per month you’re just letting walk out the door.

Jamila Little: That you’re letting go. The thing that I have seen over time is that it may seem like little amounts, like, “Okay, I have 10 clients that pay maybe $150 a week,” but that’s just $1,500 a week in payment plans that comes in that I do nothing for, because I’ve already set up their case, their case is going. Some of the cases are maybe done and they’re still on their payment plan, but I’m still collecting that money, in addition to new cases that come in. If you can make $1,500, $2,000 every week just because of the payment plans that you have set up, why not? Why not do it?

Dave Aarons: Well, and having that cash flow must give you confidence in knowing that you’ve got your bills paid, you’ve got your expenses covered. How does that feel to know that you have that money coming in every month and every week?

Jamila Little: It’s really great to know. I look at all the payment plans that I have set up and do an analysis, projecting out, “Okay, this is how much it’s going to be every month.” Then, as I add clients, I make changes to it. It does create that stability that we’re all looking forward to knowing, “I’m going to have at least $2,000 a week, which is $8,000 a month, just from payment plans coming in.”

Dave Aarons: Isn’t that interesting?

Jamila Little: It works for me.

Dave Aarons: It’s so interesting, the very thing that most attorneys are afraid of is that security. They need that money up front to create the security that they’re going to get paid. At the same time, if they were to loosen that grasp on that need for that certainty for collecting that money up front, the security comes in the monthly cashflow from the payments.

Jamila Little: Right.

Dave Aarons: You’re secure in your practice because you know that the money’s coming in every month, right? Like you said, I think a lot of attorneys just haven’t really taken, and I think you said earlier about something else, a leap of faith in just running the numbers and seeing what happens and just taking even a statistical analysis on testing these different, more flexible payment options and working with people on a pay-as-you-go.

Jamila Little: Yeah. It does take time to build up to 10 clients that you have on a payment plan, but as you go along, it makes sense to keep those 10 clients, as opposed to having them walk out the door. I think if you look at it that way, it just makes sense. When you think longterm about building your practice, the more clients that you have, what do clients do when they are happy with their service? They go and they tell more people. That’s exactly how you have your word-of-mouth marketing being spread. It really, really just makes sense.

I think sometimes you look at the short-term, “I’m not going to get this upfront $5,000 retainer,” but if you look at it longterm in terms of building your practice and having that stability over time, as well as having happy clients who go out and tell people about the great service that they got and more people come see you, it just makes sense.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. Then, of course, every one of those people that walks out the door because they can’t afford it is now someone that needs legal assistance and is not getting it.

Jamila Little: Exactly.

Dave Aarons: The major problem we have in the United States is that legal services aren’t affordable aren’t accessible. We’ve got 60, 70% in most courts of people going unrepresented primarily because it’s too expensive because they don’t have attorneys, like you, that are willing and open to offer these options. Isn’t it interesting that I was at an unbundling conference maybe two, three months ago and some attorneys were feeling like offering unbundled or pay-as-you-go, you can’t make money doing that? This opened up a really fervent discussion at this event.

In reality, what we’ve found the numbers to be and we’ve had so many different attorneys in the network coming on the show sharing what these numbers look like, is that by offering these pay-as-you-go options, the marketplace is so ripe and needs attorneys that are willing to offer that. There are so many more clients they’re going to be able to, not only get the help they need, that they’re going to pay for that, that you make way more money.

As a result, you said an average of $15,000 more a month in income generated from the clients that you can now serve. All of a sudden, all of these clients that would otherwise go up unrepresented are also being able to get the legal help they need to proceed with their case, to protect their rights to live in this country, to secure citizenship, to bring their family in the country and reunite. All the different things that you’re helping them with, that sounds like what the whole goal in the first place was when you became a lawyer and wanted to make an impact.

Jamila Little: Yeah. It’s definitely a win-win for everybody. Clients get help. I tell clients that, especially at this point in the immigration-sphere and what’s going on, there’s a lot of busyness in the world of immigration today, a lot of change and a lot of things happening that maybe when I first moved here didn’t happen. They’re not necessarily positive things for immigrants. I tell my clients, “Let’s work it out.” I find creative ways to have them become clients because I know that this will be so helpful for them. Just having the option to say, “If you work and you want a payment plan, we’ll get it done,” is I think just something that they really, really appreciate.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. Are there any other creative ways that you might mention that either is just outside of the box or, let’s say, anything else that comes to mind that you’ve done to work with folks that were in tight circumstances or otherwise?

Jamila Little: Sometimes I know that there are some companies out there and I would say to everyone who is listening to this to check with your bar association, but there are some companies out there that also provide financing for cases in different areas. That may be another option if a client can go to that company that would provide financing. It takes the burden off of them even having to be necessarily on a payment plan. Now, I obviously wouldn’t know what the criteria would be for the client to actually be approved or to repay that loan, but that’s just another way I think that clients can actually afford their cases. If they can’t even go on a payment plan, then maybe financing may be a good option for them.

Dave Aarons: I’m curious, are there any specific financing companies in your area that you’ve mentioned or suggested or anyone else that we’ve noted, and if there isn’t really, or you just say, “Hey, you might want to look into getting a credit card”? What do you advise someone in that circumstance to see if there are ways to get financing for them to be able to proceed in these types of matters?

Jamila Little: Yeah, I tell them, like I said, “If you want to put it on a credit card, you could do a credit card.” There’s a company called Good Fund. They work specifically with immigrants to provide financing. They’ve been really helpful to some of my clients as well. There are also other companies outside of the realm of immigration. This is for attorneys or practitioners who may be outside the realm of immigration, there are some finance companies that provide finance for different areas. I would say look it up. I don’t know them on the top of my head. Go look it up and see what they are.

For me specifically, because I do immigration, Capital Good Fund has been the financer that sometimes I would have my clients to give them a call and see if that’s something they could help with if they’re not able to even afford a payment plan. I pretty much try to cover all the bases as to, “How can I help you to get your immigration process completed?”

Dave Aarons: Yes, exactly. Thank you for sharing that. There was also financing on the lawyer side as well. There was a company, I was at a CLIO conference maybe a couple years ago. I don’t know if this company’s still around, but there was a company called Fundbox. There were a few others where you could say, “Hey, I have this signed retainer agreement. I have this payment plan,” but if you need cash now or something like that, then you can get financing from these companies to maybe get the full amount up front if you really need it for cashflow reasons with the assurance that you have a case that’s panning out.

They charge some kind of a fee to do that because they’re providing the firm financing. It’s based upon do you have a case that’s going to pay out over time. Sometimes you need money, this happens a lot I think in personal injury cases, that technically you should settle. They got the settlement, the client’s retained, but they need some money to be able to run this. I can see other applications as well.

Again, like you said, it’s just finding creative ways. That’s a solution-oriented approach to you’re looking for a new client, they have an issue, here’s what their means are. It’s very transparent. You’re really getting to the root of, “Okay, how can we make this happen? What are all the options?” as opposed to the exact opposite, which is being rigid, “Well, this is how it works. These are the rules.” For each individual firm that might be listening, where are those areas that you can embed or imbue some flexibility into your practice, especially around your payment terms, to give people and enable people to work with you more effectively?

Jamila Little: Right. I think you just have to have the conversation. One thing that I emphasize with my clients is transparency, as I think a lot of attorneys will tell their clients, “I really can’t help you if I don’t know what I need to know.” A big part of that is not only in terms of the facts and factors surrounding their case but also in terms of what their financial situation would be.

Specifically in immigration, as in some other areas of law, you have fees to pay. You have court fees to pay. You have to pay to file things. If you have an application that’s completed and then the client says, “Well, I can’t afford to pay to file it,” then that totally shuts the process down. If you have that conversation at the beginning of your first consultation, maybe over the phone when you first talk to the client, then you could set the expectations. You can offer some solutions and tell them, “Well, you may want to consider this or this.”

Even sometimes with immigrants, I have found that they actually pool from family members. They’ll get their family involved. A lot of the applications that I do are family-based applications anyway. It may be a husband and wife or a family with kids. You find that they pool their resources together and get that money to make that payment. I think it’s so important to have the initial conversation about, “This is what it will cost. Let’s see how we can make sure that everything that needs to be paid at the end of it all is paid.”

Dave Aarons: Yes. How do you cultivate a space that’s trustworthy and feels comfortable for the client to be able to share transparently where they’re at, something that I think, a lot of people, it’s very personal what they have available financially, like, “How much money do you have? What can you afford?” It’s in our training script.

The question is about how much you have available to put towards this case and if people give you some pushback, I can just imagine. Some people might have the fear, “Well, if I tell them how much I have, then they’re going to raise or they’re going to charge me more,” or something like that. There are these fears and these insecurities around money. How do you cultivate that ability for people to feel okay about being transparent?

Jamila Little: Some of the things that I do, well, one, first of all, I basically just tell the client what it would cost. Most of the fees for certain immigration applications are pretty much the same. There’s not a broad spectrum I think of what different attorneys would charge for certain applications. I just tell the client, “This is what it would cost.” Even before that, what I do is I talk to the client to gain their trust.

When I say that I’ve walked in their shoes, I know what it’s like to be an immigrant. I talk to them about that journey. I’m really very open about my journey, tell them how I came here. I am transparent. I think my transparency maybe allows them to open up, not only about their journey, but when I say to them, “Well, what can you afford to start your case?” they feel more comfortable disclosing, “Well, I really don’t have that money,” or “I can pay it all up front” when I’m first transparent to them. I’ve gained that trust. They know that I’m here to help them.

Jamila Little: They believe that “Well, you’re an immigrant as well, so you know what I’ve been through. You know where I’m trying to go,” and I genuinely do. I think the first step is really to gain the trust. Then, secondly, just letting them know, “Realistically, this is what it would cost. If you tell me what you’re able to do, we can work something out where we’ll make it happen.” These are basically the words that I use to my clients. I tell them, “I’ll work with you to make it happen, but I need to know where you are at.”

Dave Aarons: Yeah, that’s so key. I think being able to share your story in that way, it’s a good lesson I think for attorneys to remember why did they become a lawyer. Why are they involved in the practice of family law or divorce or bankruptcy? Why is it they’re doing what they’re doing? Yeah, maybe it’s money, but it’s really because, “Well, hey, I like helping people because I was once divorced,” or maybe they fell on hard times financially at some point or they were once an immigrant such as yourself and know where they’re coming from. There’s always something that you can share transparently and from a standpoint of maybe some degree of vulnerability, I suppose, that creates the space and the openness for them to also then feel like they can be transparent in the way you are. You’re leading and creating that space for them.

Jamila Little: Yeah, absolutely. Over the years, talking to different attorneys, some family law attorneys, maybe bankruptcy attorneys, they have a story behind why they do what they do and it becomes personal. I feel like if you’re able to share with your clients why you do what you do and let them know that, “You’re not just another case to me. You’re not just a dollar sign. Yeah, this is a firm that I’m running, it’s a for-profit business, but I actually want to help and I’ll find ways to help,” I think if you come to your clients from that direction, then they’re very receptive and very open to wanting to share and wanting to be as open as possible with you as well.

Dave Aarons: Absolutely. Well, hey, Jamila, I know we’re running short on time here so we can wrap up. I just want to thank you again for just sharing so openly about some of the things that you’ve had to overcome, some of the fears you’ve worked with, and also really getting some clarity on the true economics behind working with people on a pay-as-you-go.

Obviously, I have an appreciation for how many people you’re helping as a result and being willing to take that leap of faith and start offering those flexible payment options and working with people because that’s what you care for. You want to help as many people as you can. You’re doing this because it’s your sole purpose, it’s something that you’re really drawn to. You’re embedding that into everything you’re doing in your practice.

I just thank you for being an example of what we’re trying to inspire attorneys to do all across the country. There really shouldn’t be an access to justice problem if attorneys can unify and share these ideas, implement technology in the way you’re doing it. If you can cut down every task from four hours to one hour, you can just imagine how can that impact your margins, how can that give you a little bit more ability to work with people financially. Technology’s a really big important component of this. I just thank you for coming on and sharing all these tips and ideas and strategies and doing it from the heart.

Jamila Little: Absolutely. Thanks, again, Dave. Thanks for all that you guys are doing at Unbundled, as well.

Dave Aarons: Well, yeah, you’re so welcome. This is certainly why we do what we do, is to inspire other attorneys and really shift this industry. I think it’s really a lot of the problems that we have, as far as access to justice really come down to misconceptions and untested assumptions. That’s what this is about, is sharing these ideas. Hopefully, a few attorneys will start implementing this and impacting lots of people as a result.

Thank you, again, for everyone that’s listening, applying these ideas. We’re getting so much good feedback for the podcast and how you’re implementing it. It’s not a question of “Are you?” We know you are. Thank you for participating and being a part of this movement. As always, we will certainly see you in the next episode.

What did you think of the interview? Do you have any questions or comments for Dave Aarons or for our guest Jamila Little?

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Episode 47: A New Era of Immigration Lawyering: How Embracing Technology and Affordable Pay-As-You-Go Pricing Can Significantly Increase Profits and Accessibility to Legal Services

Originally from Trinidad, Jamila Little has always been passionate about immigration law. However, it took some time to take the plunge from the corporate world and start her own practice. Once she did, she committed herself to not only making great money but also serving as many clients as possible. During this interview Jamila shares how she implements legal technology to reduce the amount of time she personally spends on each case up to 75%. She also shares why eliminating an upfront retainer and allowing her clients to “pay-as-they-go” enables her to serve more clients and consistently bring in over $15,000 per month of additional revenue into her firm.

To read a complete transcript of this interview, click here

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The fears that prevented Jamila from starting her own immigration practice for over 4 years, and how she overcame them
  • Some of the benefits of running your own practice, including having the flexibility to choose which cases you take
  • Advice for lawyers who have a passion for a particular area of law but are reluctant to make the leap and start their own practice
  • How to use virtual offices and keep overhead low when you first start your practice
  • The importance of investing time to develop systems in your practice that create a seamless experience for your clients
  • How immigration document automation software significantly reduces the amount of time needed to spend on each case
  • How payment processing software that offers automatic recurring payments reduces administrative time and increases the number of transactions that process successfully
  • How eliminating up-front retainers and enabling clients to pay-as-they-go has consistently generated over $15,000 per month in additional revenue for her firm
  • The importance of finding creative ways to serve more clients, and how this improves access to legal services and attracts more referral business
  • The value of legal financing, and why it is a useful option for those clients who need funds to hire your services
  • Why Jamila believes transparency has been instrumental to the growth and success of her practice
  • How Jamila is able to get clients to feel comfortable sharing with her the complete details of their case as well as exactly what they can afford to pay for her services
  • The power of sharing with your clients what motivated you to start your practice and what you are most passionate about
  • And much more…

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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