Becoming an Effective Legal Coach: Understanding Your Client’s Decision-Making Process, Guidelines for Structuring Coaching Sessions, and Compassionate Communication with People of Faith
Welcome to the Unbundled Attorney Mastermind Podcast. We’ve been doing this coming up on 50 episodes. I think this is episode number 49, so we’ll be doing our anniversary episode next time around. So we’re excited for that. Today we are interviewing Jamie Manning. There are some really key components of this interview that haven’t really been talked so much about on this podcast, one of them being coaching, and Jamie has cultivated a great skill and a great system for helping clients retain and apply what it is that she provides in her coaching sessions, from diagrams and drawings to outlines and vocabulary, and also has kind of a three-part structure that she’s going to cover in detail on this interview, from practical interview about the courtroom, managing emotions, structuring arguments, and so forth.
So she’s really built a very useful structure that I think anyone listening to that that doesn’t currently offer coaching as an option in their practice, or maybe has been toying with it, it really is that … When we talk about unbundled services for representation, you’ve got full representation, maybe initial retainers $1,000, $1,500, $2,000, sometimes lower, depending on people’s financial needs. We’ve had lawyers that have come on board that is starting retainers as low as $500 or so but generally speaking, $1,000,$ 1,500, $2,000 and up and so forth. And then you have unbundled services, where you’re providing document assistance, limited advice, perhaps limited appearance. That’s more in the $500 to $1,500 range, and usually maybe more toward $750, $1,000.
And then there’s this bottom level that I think many attorneys have not yet implemented in their practice, or at least consistently, and that’s providing coaching. That’s just a consultation, advice for one hour, or the way she does it, talks about she likes to one hour and then another hour later on for the things that they forgot or slipped their minds and so forth. You know, one hour, two hours, just getting people oriented to the courtroom and what to expect, just really insightful, a lot of great ideas there for attorneys that could start to consider how they could begin to offer coaching as a much lower option, to deliver a service that is just $250, $500 for the folks that maybe can’t do the $750 or $1,000. So really helpful option there.
We also talked a lot about the phases of the enrollment process on the consultation, talking to people that are either in the phase of just looking into it, and this is the first time they’re contacting lawyers, they’ve tried to do some things on their own, all the way up to people that have already talked to lawyers and realizing it’s too expensive, and how to address each person based on where they’re at in the decision-making process, as she takes a different approach for each and unveils a really clear structure on how to do that. So really helpful strategies for the initial consultation.
And then finally, as a Christian lawyer, she has a lot of Christians that come in and work with her, and she helps them a lot to overcome some of the guilt and fears around getting divorced when their religion, or their beliefs about their religion, might say that this is a sin or something that they should be avoiding. So gives a lot of great perspectives and new ways that she can give people to think about what it is they’re doing that really can give people solace in moving forward with filing a divorce or dealing with a custody matter when they have a religious background. So lots of great practical strategies you can take away from this episode straightaway, so let’s get right into it, this interview with Jamie Manning, one of our unbundled attorneys out of Columbus, Ohio.
Dave Aarons: Hi, Jamie. Welcome to the show.
Jamie Manning: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, I’m glad we’re getting a chance to connect, a little after when we expected, but here we are, and I’m looking forward to hearing about this great start you’ve had in Columbus, working with us and also finding lots of creative ways to work with the clients you’re serving that we’re sending you. So I certainly appreciate taking the time to share the story and enlighten us to what’s been working so well for you.
Jamie Manning: Cool. I’m really looking forward to sharing.
Dave Aarons: Cool. All right, so awesome. So why don’t you start? Maybe you could just give us a brief background, you know, how you got your start in the practice of law, the region you’re currently serving, and maybe something unique about you that no one else would normally know.
Jamie Manning: Cool. Well, I am Jamie Manning, the founder of the Manning Law Company, Christian divorce attorneys. We exclusively handle family-related matters, so divorce, custody, child support, some guardianship things, but we don’t do any personal injury, no criminal defense. We’re very specific to our practice area. I’ve been doing family law since I was a law student. I started clerking at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, even as a law student, where I got my start helping victims of abuse get divorces and civil protection orders here in Ohio, a protection of abuse order they call that in different jurisdictions. And I knew right away that I had found my passion, an area of the law that was really just as much social work as it was law, and that’s where I fit in.
We became the Christian divorce attorneys just in 2015 when it came to me that I really needed to know who I wanted to help and what I wanted to help them do. And as I looked deep into myself and at some of my best clients and the things that were important to me, I realized that I’m into divorce because I have a message. I am a devout Christian, and I have been since I was five years old, and many of my clients were also Christians. Many of them were clergy or children of the clergy or just really active in their ministries. And even though they were in these bad marriages, a lot of them felt like they were trapped in the marriage, that based on biblical teachings or things that they had been taught, that it was better to stay in a bad marriage than to get a divorce because God hates divorce.
From that, my message was very clear, which is that’s not true. God loves you, whether you’re marrying or divorcing for the right or the wrong reasons. Getting a divorce does not disenfranchise you from God. It doesn’t mean that you can’t participate in church, act within ministries. It doesn’t mean that you won’t fall in love and get married again. All of these things are really possible and realistic outcomes from a divorce. A divorce can really just be a new beginning, and so it’s based on that message that we came out with Christian divorce attorney.
Dave Aarons: I see. Okay, great. So maybe you can talk a bit about some of the experience you had in those early days, working on this protection from abuse cases and what you meant. Maybe you can elaborate a bit on how you meant that you were doing a mix of social work and practice of law. We’ve had a couple lawyers come on, such as Richard Shannon, where he talks about the importance of the second part of the phrase “attorney and counselor of law” and how much of going into being a lawyer and working with clients, especially in family law, there’s a really important aspect of being that counselor and that support person for clients. So maybe you could share a bit about what that means to you.
Jamie Manning: Oh, absolutely. What I’ve learned from working with people is that people have personal problems, people don’t have legal problems. As an attorney, we can solve their personal problems through legal channels, but really your issue is personal. If you are a woman who has two or three children, and you’ve been a stay-at-home mom, and you’re married to a man who is abusive to you, physically, emotionally, sexually, financially, in any kind of way, it’s not necessarily that you want a divorce. Do you know what I’m saying? Which would be a legal problem. Really what you want is to be safe. You really want you and your children to be safe, and if you could do that in a marriage with your husband, you’d take that. If you could do that by just taking some pills, you’d take that pill. It’s not necessarily that you want the help that I can offer.
And just understanding that about people I find is really important, because it’s easy as a lawyer to always think about like we’re issue spotting like this is the issue, this is the issue. But that’s not how people are thinking, and you have to really listen, like with your heart. You know what I mean? And not so much with your legal mind, because a lot of times, especially victims would have conflicting desires. I had one client, in particular, I remember her. She wanted full custody of her kids, and she wanted the protection of abuse from the husband, and she wanted to be able to stay in the house. But then she also wanted the husband to still be able to come to the house and visit with the kids, because oh, he was so great with the kids. And those are conflicting goals.
The protection of abuse order says that no, he can’t come to your house. No, he can’t be around you. Any relationship he has with the children is going to be really separate from you. And it was just kind of difficult even, but very rewarding, leading that client to the end resultLet’s figure out how we can do this. How can we keep you away from your soon-to-be ex-husband and also maintain a relationship with him and your children that are not violating that order? What can we do to work this out? And those aren’t really necessarily legal … I mean, they are, but you know what I’m saying? [crosstalk 00:10:06] they’re really more social issues. How can I make this woman’s life better instead of creating new problems?
Dave Aarons: Yeah, exactly, and I think there’s the education component, where people need to understand the legal aspects of what they’re trying to do and how they can be … I like the fact that you used the word “conflicting goals”. On the one hand, they want to accomplish one thing, but on the other hand, they want something else, and it doesn’t really seem like it’s feasible. So maybe you can talk about just how you break through. Do you start with you talk about the legal situation, do you start with empathy? What’s your approach when you, let’s say, you first take a lead or you get a consultation? Maybe take us through what your strategy is, or at least your … I don’t want to use strategy, but just the way in which you relate to the client and then start getting down into how you’re going to solve their problem, both from the legal aspects and also relating to them on the more personal level.
Jamie Manning: Excellent, excellent. The first thing would be family law matters, that I learned over time is that you listen. The first thing you’re doing is you’re listening, and you’re not listening to be issue spotting. You’re really listening to emotions. You’re listening for pain point because the problem that they present with isn’t necessarily really the problem they have. So I start every conversation by just kind of trying to figure out how can we help you? What is it that you want? If this thing, situation you’re in, were to turn out exactly how you would have it, what is it that you want?
And then I try to figure out what they’ve tried already to get that outcome and why they think those things haven’t worked, and if in fact, it’s a reasonable goal, at that time I give them a sense on how I could help them get it. But often what’s happening is once we get to the heart of what their goal really is, what we do … how do you call it? Manage expectations, Dave. It’s important to manage their expectations. So here I have a young dad that comes in because we get a lot of unmarried fathers, an unmarried father comes in and he’s like, “Listen, there’s this little … My child’s mother has my baby. He’s just six months old. She’s calling all the shots, and I want the baby for a week at a time. For the mom, everything should be equal 50/50, and that’s exactly how I want to see it happen.”
Then you dig deeper and say, “Well, has the child ever been over for overnight?” “Well no, I only see the kid for a couple hours at a time.” “Well, is this six-month-old nursing?” “Well, yeah.” “So then maybe what it is that you’re trying to get right now isn’t realistic. How can a six-month-old baby stay with you for a week at a time when he’s nursing from his mom? Let’s talk about some realistic goals for right now, and maybe develop a plan that can down the road get you to what you want.” So really listening to what they want, then determining if that’s a realistic goal or not, managing those expectations. That’s very key before you quote prices and before you sign on to help somebody, that you really are able to help them do the thing that they’re trying to do.
Dave Aarons: Exactly, because the reality is, they may be able to accomplish their goal, it just might not be right away.
Jamie Manning: Exactly.
Dave Aarons: And so you’re still putting together a plan to get them where they want to go, it just might not be in the same timeframe that they were initially anticipating. That example is pretty logical. It’s just someone obviously is a parent of their child and may not be thinking quite as logically about it because their emotions are so heavily involved in it. So, in a way, it sounds like you’re separating emotions somewhat. I mean, you’re understanding their emotions, but also separating it from the rational, logical, and legal aspects of what it’s going to take for them to be involved in the child’s life or for them to be able to accomplish what seems to be in the best interest of that child.
Jamie Manning: Exactly. Exactly.
Dave Aarons: So you kind of manage those expectations, and it sounds like somewhere in that next step, once you’ve developed a clear plan for how to proceed and move forward, then you have to manage financial expectations, and certainly as part of our script, that it kind of flows in that way, where you ask them what they’d like to see happen, if there’s something to look into right now. Others you want to take care of right away. Have they talked to any attorneys? Have they hired attorneys in the past? Are there existing orders? So you’re getting some of the backgrounds.
So what are some of the things that you might hear someone say about the ways in which they’ve tried to obtain assistance in the past, and what does that tell you about the way in which to … how does that inform your approach going forward? Maybe we’ll start there, and then we can move down into the finances.
Jamie Manning: Oh, excellent, excellent. Most people have tried one, just negotiating with the other side. That’s the number one that they tried: “I call her, I text her, I email her. I call her, and she’s ignoring my calls.” This is referring to the dad. “She doesn’t respond to my texts. She told me to quit harassing her when I contact her and I want to see the child.” So that’s usually a failed attempt.
The second common failed attempt was, “I reached out. I went down to the law library or the clerk’s office, and I filled out these papers, but then she would never sign them” or “she would never come to court.” That’s the second way they’ve failed. And the third common way that fails is, “I reached out to an attorney, who told me $5,000 or some number that I simply cannot afford.” And so listening to those options really does help me, because the first one says that this person has been trying to be nice, and what they need is an advocate. The second failure, where they’ve tried it themselves and they just didn’t know, also lets me know that this person at this point understands that they need an attorney. And the third fail lets me know that wow, this is probably a good person for the unbundled option because they want help enough so to have sought it out, and they feel like it’s out of their reach.
And those are the three common scenarios, and when I tell them the unbundled beach, that says hey, you know, like other law firms, we offer traditional full representation, and we do ask for 3,500 to $5,000 upfront for that. But that’s full representation, where the attorney does everything. We go to court, we do all the negotiating with the other side if they an attorney, or with the other side themselves if they don’t have an attorney. We complete all the documents. We answer all our questions. We take all of the stress away from you. I said, “And that is the ideal situation, but everybody isn’t prepared for that upfront, and that’s why we offer these unbundled options.”
So in addition to full representation, we also offer limited-scope representation, where maybe we help you with just specific aspects of the case like maybe you’re able to handle it, and then you’re asked questions about discovery, and you don’t know how to handle that. And so, as an attorney, we represent you just for that area. Or maybe you need representation just at a particular hearing. We do that for a fee. Also, we offer document preparation, where unlike the law library or the clerk’s office, where they hand you documents and say, “We can’t help you,” we as the attorneys actually prepare the document for you, explain to you why you’re asking for what you’re asking for, and then you can go and file those with the court, so that you can really be heard.
And for you clients who really feel like you could represent yourself if you just had some direction, we do the client coaching. There, still, unlike the law library who just hands you the forms and can’t help you, you would fill them out yourself, but we would look at them for you and then help you, advise you on how to represent yourself in court so that you don’t piss the judge off. I find that that beach, which you guys have developed the outline of, goes over wonderfully with the people, no matter what things they’ve done that have already failed. All of those options sound really attractive to the people, and then when they come in, more often than not, they want the full representation, even if they thought they couldn’t afford it.
Dave Aarons: Right, and so maybe we could talk about some of the creativity with which you’re structuring the full representation, so that maybe it doesn’t have that barrier to entry upfront, and so people can go that direction without the usual barrier block of that big upfront requirement that a lot of people just can’t afford to overcome. I thought what was really interesting is that when you ask the question, “Have you spoken to any attorneys? Do you have an idea of what they charge?” Or I don’t know if maybe you have a different question you might ask, you know, “What have you done to try to begin to resolve this case?” Do you have a different question there to figure out … Do you ask them what have they done so far to start to resolve this, or do you ask a similar question to the script?
Jamie Manning: I ask the question that you have, “Have you spoken to an attorney about this?” When I ask the question about what have you done to resolve this, it usually happens actually sometimes even a little later in the conversation, but I do ask directly that question, “Have you spoken to an attorney? Do you know how much they charge?”
Dave Aarons: Okay. So then we’ve got three different types of people. Number one is someone who hasn’t really spoken to an attorney, they’ve just been trying to do it on their own or try to work it out with the person and just isn’t getting anywhere. They’re not seeing a child, or they’re just continuing … they’re not getting accomplished what they’re trying to accomplish on their own, so now they’re just starting to look into having someone help them, get an attorney involved to either do it themselves or that they’re going to need the help of an attorney. So that’s the nice,,, and then you need an advocate. So you could describe what you meant by “advocate” and how that … and then we can maybe contrast that with someone that’s tried to do it on their own, can’t do it, needs an attorney, versus the number three, is, knows he needs an attorney and has tried to call an attorney, and they’ve just been too darn expensive. Those would be maybe three categories we could look at.
Jamie Manning: Yep. Very good. Our nice guy, who is really the typical client, I’ll tell you, of the Manning Law Company, is some person who’s just so nice that they’re almost being run over, and those people, the issue really is not … a lot of times the issue is not the money, it’s just they don’t want to be mean. And so just explaining to them that doing the right thing to protect yourself or to protect your children is not mean. It’s not mean. It really is like a mindset thing that you have to explain to the people by saying, “Hey, it’s not that I don’t want dad to visit with the kids, but sometimes he shows up drunk, and I don’t want to just have to get the kids to him when he’s drunk.” That’s not being mean, that’s protecting your children, and what you need is an attorney who can stand up for you and present these issues to a court in a way where you don’t feel like you’re being mean. You’re paying somebody to be the mean person. So a lot of them, it’s just it’s a mindset issue.
Dave Aarons: Okay. So you’re essentially empowering them to take action, to recognize that by taking action they’re doing the right thing for their children if in their heart of hearts they know that what they can provide, or whatever the change of circumstance they’re looking for, is in their best interest. And then they need someone to kind of support them in that direction.
Jamie Manning: Exactly.
Dave Aarons: Awesome. Okay. So that type of client, you’re giving them some encouragement, you’re kind of letting them know that you stand in their corner and that you support them in what they’re trying to accomplish … or, if you don’t, maybe clarify, like you said, manage their expectations, and really make sure the person feels that you’re on their side and that you’re going to be there to … Maybe you can share some language of what you might say to someone in addition to, obviously, what you’ve already shared here as far as understanding that they’re doing the right thing to seek help and pursue what they know is best for their child. That’s the loving act here.
Jamie Manning: Let’s see. Some of the languages really stem around just really basic words: “You’re a good parent. That’s what a good parent would do. We are going to make sure that your child has a relationship,” because that’s people’s concern, “with both parents, just in a way that makes you feel safe.” So there’s a lot of that kind of language. “In a way to make you feel safe, we’re going to protect the children. We’re going to protect this relationship.” So a lot of that kind of language. I don’t know if I can think of anything else right now.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, it makes me think back to the days when I was on the phone working with a lot of clients in the legal plan days, and I remember one of them had to do with a visitation order. One of the reasons you get a visitation order in place is so that the relationship between you and the other party, the mother or the father, doesn’t become in between the relationship between you and your child. And if that begins to happen, and it’s not overcomable between the two of you, then that’s where really a court order can really be what’s necessary in order for you to rekindle your relationship with your child.
Jamie Manning: Oh, yes. Well, put. Well, put.
Dave Aarons: And they go, “Oh yeah, that’s exactly kind of where things are at.” “Okay, great, well let’s get you connected to an attorney to help forward.” So this is some of the empowering understanding. The kind of base level understanding is like this is where the legal system gets involved to assist you with doing what you know is needed in order for you to be the parent that know you need to be and provide the circumstances and environment for your child, but you just don’t have the capacity to do it necessary anymore with the other parent, and that’s where the legal system gets involved. So it’s like this is the steps, you’re doing the right thing, these are the things that sometimes you have to do to make sure that your child is protected. And so they can start to feel good about the fact that they’ve got someone on their side and that they’re actually doing the right thing.
Jamie Manning: I’m with that. I’m exactly with that. That’s well put, well put. And I like to talk about sometimes taking power away from one parent and giving it to the document. That’s a good way that a visitation order helps kind of balance the power between the parents. It’s no longer you or the other parent who’s making the call. The document is making the call now, and that just in a lot of ways helps too, like you say, take you the parents’ relationship out of the picture and allows you to focus on the child.
Dave Aarons: Yep, exactly. That’s a really powerful way to put it as well. That’s great. Okay, so let’s move down the line here, so maybe let’s talk about someone that’s maybe tried to file some things themselves. Maybe they got the forms off the internet and maybe had their paperwork rejected, or maybe they got the forms, like you said, and tried to have the other party sign them, and obviously are running into some challenges. So what’s the approach for that type of individual as far as okay, so now they’re realizing they need help? Maybe they still haven’t talked to any attorneys yet, but they’re realizing yeah, I’m getting stuck here. I need help. That might be a little bit different than if someone’s already talked to a lawyer, so you’re probably going to have to start to give that person an understanding of what typically things cost, and then you can transition. So maybe you can share a little bit about how you would approach that call a bit differently.
Jamie Manning: Oh, gotcha. Then I would say usually to the people that it’s really impressive that you thought it was important enough to try to solve this problem on your own by going to the court yourself and getting court intervention. That is very noble. It was the right to do. It just so happens that no matter good your case is, no matter how strong your arguments are, if you’re not speaking the language that the court speaks, you cannot be heard and you will not be heard. And that’s why you need an attorney. Because most people who have not gone to law school go to court, you file these papers, you’re so proud of yourself, because a reasonably intelligent person can get a case started, but it really takes an attorney to get a case completed.
And that happens because the judges are looking for you to talk to them in court language, and if you’re not trained in court language, the court is not going to hear you. And when you feel like the court was frustrated with you, because you hear that a lot from pro se people, “I felt like the court was ignoring me, or they were frustrated with me, or I wasn’t being heard.” And I say, “It’s because you weren’t,” because the court doesn’t particularly like people who are coming in there who don’t know the language. If you’re saying something super-intelligent, but you’re speaking Spanish and the judge only speaks German, they’re not going to hear you. You have to be speaking the same language. And that’s why you can bring your arguments to an attorney and let an attorney, you know what I mean, translate them into words that the court will understand.
Dave Aarons: Exactly. And so in that case, would you give them a suite of options at that point, where you can … And by the way, do you start usually, so there’s a lot of … if you were to go in, would you just talk about full representation first and drop down to unbundled? Or would you start with unbundled, say so we can help you with crafting these documents and these things, all the way up to full representation? Have you experimented with both, or how do you typically approach it from there?
Jamie Manning: We always start with full representation. We always start with that, because it really is what I suggest. But if you can’t afford the full representation, and you just were not prepared to make that kind of outlay of money upfront, then we suggest that we will do something to help you that’s within your budget. If you believe that you could represent yourself if you just knew what to do and what to say, then coaching is really ideal for you, and that’s something we can do, and you can kind of pay as you go, and you could pay for as much or as little time as you need. And then if you get to a point where you feel like you know what, I do need an attorney to step in, at that point, we can do that for you. You can just handle the case for as long as you feel comfortable doing it. And that seems to go over pretty well with people.
Dave Aarons: Okay. We’ll cover the third one, and then we can start to talk about how you would transition from there, depending on some of the selections of the discussions you have and the different ways people might suggest how they want to move forward. So let’s say that the third option is that you ask them, “Have you spoken to attorneys?” and they said, “Yeah, I talked to so-and-so, and they said they wanted $3,500 upfront or $5,000 upfront, and I just can’t really afford that.”
Jamie Manning: Right. Then, to those people, we explain, “You know what? We do that do, but the point is for you to get the help you need, and so we will not let finances be a problem. We’ll find a way to help you within your budget.” And that’s when it’s usually good to ask from the script, “And how much money have you set aside to work on this?” And then I let them know we can craft something within that budget. We have tried … I think you started to ask about this earlier … a pay as you go. We’re still just instituting it, so I can’t explain it really well.
I heard some podcasts where people really have a good system for this pay as you go, but right now we’re just kind of working on it, where we could say, “Okay, for initiating documents, this part of the case, would cost this much, and so let us help you up until this part of the case, and then if you can afford us for the next part of the case, then you can pay just for this next session. And we’ll do that until you feel like you need to downgrade to coaching, or if you feel like you have it on your own.” People seem to like that idea too.
Dave Aarons: Okay, great. Whether they’re at the advocate stage where they really just need to understand that you’re on your side, that they’re doing the right thing and they need to move forward, and then, obviously, you would probably talk about some various different options. Or they’re at the stage where they’ve tried to do it on their own, they definitely need help, they’re obviously knowing that they need to go through the legal aspects, through the legal pathway, to resolve their personal problem, as you said, but now they’re just figuring out how do I go about doing that? Can I get the advice or guidance? How much is it going to cost?
And then you have the person that maybe has already talked to an attorney and knows what it costs, and now they’re trying to figure out a way they can deal where it’s actually affordable. So let’s just suppose you kind of go through some options, you give them full representation, you talk about unbundled services. At that point, so they kind of give you an idea of what option is most interesting to them? And if so, what’s typically the next step for them in a proceeding, moving forward with retaining your services or getting started? Do they then come in the office? Do you do some kind of enrollment over the phone? What extent do you take this initial consultation once you’ve described some of these options, and how does it depend on based on what the feedback they give you is?
Jamie Manning: Oh, I gotcha. Generally, once I’ve made it through the speech on the phone, offering the four options, I just move right into, “Let’s schedule you a time to come in so that we can start to build the plan for you and see what we can do for you in your budget.” And I find that just letting the people know on the front that there’s going to be something that’s not $5,000, there’s going to be something that’s not $3,500, makes them willing to sign up for the consultation. Now, initially, my office always charged for consultation. With this unbundled program, for the unbundled leads, I’ve moved to free consultations, but I was having a show-up problem, so now what I’ve been doing is saying, “Hey, these consultations are free, but we ask you to pay $40 to reserve your seat.” I have found that this works really good for our practice.
I know that there is somebody else who did a podcast where he just takes their credit card number and says, “I’ll only run it if you don’t show up.” But logistically, that doesn’t work for me, just the logistics of how I’m using the phone and where I’m at. So I found that asking just the $40 reserve-your-seat fee, just to make sure that we’re only giving away free consultations to people who are really serious has resonated with the people. And then we send them a link, and they’re able to pay the $40 online. I’ve found if the people have not paid the $40, they don’t show up.
So it’s helping me out being able to schedule the counsels as they come. So that was the moral of the story. Once I’ve felt them out, I’ve given them the spiel about the unbundles and that there are options, that there will be some help here that you can afford, they’re usually very excited to schedule the consultation right away, and more often than not, they’re willing to pay the $40 to reserve their seat. And then they come on in to see us face to face.
Dave Aarons: Okay, so the $40, it’s a fee to book a consultation with the firm. That’s paid whether they show up or not, right? So they’re paying $40 to book a time for the consultation?
Jamie Manning: Correct.
Dave Aarons: Okay, gotcha. That’s interesting. All right. So it’s separate from a consultation fee. So it’s not really a consultation fee, it’s just to secure the appointment. Do you give any analogies or kind of explain to them about why you take a card to secure the fee? Do you talk about … You know, Tera Lee, on Tera Lee’s podcast episode, he gives the analogy of being a doctor and just like doctors we bill for our time, and we can only see a certain amount of clients per day. That’s because there’s only so many hours in the day. So he gives that analogy that if I’m going to block off a piece of time, that’s not only my livelihood, but it’s also, that would be someone else, if you didn’t show up, that’s someone else that otherwise isn’t going to be able to get the medical care that they need that day, because that’s been blocked off. So we ask for that reservation fee. Do you have a similar type of analogy, or do you explain it a similar way so people understand?
Jamie Manning: I really like that analogy. My analogy goes more like this: “Hey, business around here is booming, and there is just a limited number of consultation spaces available, and therefore we try to reserve them to people who we know are serious. And we know you’re serious when you pay the $40 to reserve your space.” But I like that doctor analogy. I may throw that one in there.
Dave Aarons: Yes, indeed. It gives people a little bit of context and relates it to something they can understand, is that “Look, you know, we do hour-by-hour here. I’m just like you. I go by the hour, and we only have a certain number of hours in every day. And so we need to make sure that you’re able to come in, and so we just ask that you put this as almost like a good faith deposit,” that’s one way to put it, is a good faith deposit or a reservation fee, whatever it might be, “just to make sure that we set aside that time just for you, and we don’t end up having a situation where we’re having that as an empty slot and someone else isn’t getting help if you’re not going to be able to make it.” That kind of thing.
Jamie Manning: Exactly.
Dave Aarons: Okay, cool. And one thing I think you mentioned earlier that I think is really key, and I think a lot of attorneys might overlook this piece, is … Well, I mean every attorney has a different approach, but I like how when you give the different options, you talk about full representation, you talk about unbundling, you’re kind of implementing a pay as you go, we also have the ability to do coaching, and so you really cover the gamut, If you can imagine full representation, let’s say it’s $2,500 to $5,000 or something like that, and then obviously we can unpack a bit about the ways in which you’re working with folks to make that upfront maybe a little less when they can’t do the whole thing up front, type of thing.
But then you’ve got unbundled services where you’re doing document preparation and advice and coaching kind of wrapped together in that $500 to $1,500 range, depending on what they’re needing to be done and the extent of support and help they’re needing. Then you have the pay as you go, where they can do one specific segment at a time and, depending on how long each segment is, it can work out. But then you have coaching, which is hour-by-hour. It could right down to whatever your hourly rate is, or even just one hour. Whenever they need an hour. So there really is a service that can be offered in every price category.
So in a sense, price no longer becomes an issue, because no matter what happens, they’re going to get time with an attorney to get service. I really love the fact of how creative you’re being in that, but also when you lay out all those different options, it’s very clear, okay, we’re going to find a way to fit something in your budget. Through our office, you’re going to get some help. We’re not going to turn you away. Great. And that’s really all people know, and so at that point, I think what a lot of attorneys will do is they’ll say, “Well, which one do you want? Okay, well let’s get you signed up, let’s get you set up.”
Whereas you’re saying look, the person should just know that you’re on their side, you’ve addressed their legal problem, you’ve listened to them, you’re someone that cares about them and is there to help them. You also empathize, secondly, with their financial situation and how expensive it can be to retain an attorney and the fact that you’re willing to work with them financially. And those are really, it seems like, the two main concerns. I mean, Sou Bounlutay talked about this in an episode a long time ago. It was called, I think, “The Turnaround Episode: How One Shift in Approach Can Dramatically Transform Your Results”. She would just make sure that people understood, “I’m on your side. We can figure out a way to make it work financially.” And that’s enough for people to go, “Okay, cool. I want to come in.”
Jamie Manning: Exactly.
Dave Aarons: And you don’t necessarily have to quote-unquote “close the deal” right there. They’ve got enough information to know and proceed that hey, they’re going to want to take the next step and come into your office and get set up. And given the fact, like you said, that they know that you have affordable pricing options they can fit in their budget, to invest $40 in a direction where they know they’re going to get help seems like, for anyone that’s serious about getting the assistance and investing to some degree to get help, seems like a no-brainer at that point to take that initial commitment.
Jamie Manning: That’s right.
Dave Aarons: Okay, awesome. We don’t hear a whole lot yet about coaching specifically. On the podcast, we talked a lot about unbundled legal services, and certainly the payment plans and so forth, and full representation, but there’s a lot of lawyers out there that are starting to offer coaching hour-by-hour. Could you share a little bit about how you offer coaching and what that typically includes, if it’s review of documents if you’re just straight advice, and maybe just give some examples and ways in which you’ve coached some clients, and maybe what the billing has gone for that?
Jamie Manning: We’ve done two coachings. I think this was in the last two weeks or so. One was a woman who was going to be representing herself, defending a CPO, a civil protection order. A lot of the coaching number one starts with just practical information about what the courtroom is going to be like, what it’s going to look like. We draw diagrams, and we explain who all the parties are going to be, who’s going to go first, who’s going to sit where. Just that kind of stuff, because most things that people would know about court they’ve seen on TV, or maybe they’ve been in traffic court, and these are different experiences than the family law kind of areas that I work in. So practically, we give them just that kind of information so that they know what to expect.
Then we go through a lot of exercises about kind of managing emotion, and explaining that I know that you’re excited about these things, and you really want the court to see that the other character is a bad player, but realistically, the court doesn’t know that person the way you know them. They only know the person who’s presenting at court, who seems to be a pretty nice person, who’s dressed in a suit, who’s smiling, who’s just asking for these things. And so just helping the people to kind of understand to think like a lawyer and not to think like yourself. This is not the stuff that the judge cares about. And to help them focus on what the judge does care about.
And then we move kind of specifically into how to structure your argument that you’re going to make to the court. You know, how to open with this is what I want, this is why I want it. When people who ask for a couple of hours of coaching, we’ll even go as far as to organize exhibits for the people, kind of label them, explain look, here’s the copies, here’s how you’re going to hand this to the judge, so that you can actually get this evidence in front of the court. Because you’d be amazed how often people really have good cases, they just don’t know how to present the information or they can’t afford the attorney to present the information for them. So with the coaching, it’s really nice. I find that people really like it to sit down with us and get their arguments written down and structured so that they can go to court and represent themselves.
The lady who had the CPO, she did manage to go to court and represent herself. She felt a lot more confident about her arguments, and by having something written down in front of her, it helped her to not get too emotional during the hearing while representing herself, which was really good feedback. Unfortunately, she did not win her motion, but there was no guarantee she would have won it even with counsel. It’s the nature of courts. But she felt a lot more confident in how she was able to get her message across and control her emotions. So that’s one.
A second lady we did coaching for, this was very interesting. She is involved in an abuse neglect dependency case. So this was in juvenile court, where she risks losing custody of her children to Children’s Services or even to the other parent. She could not afford full representation, and even though she wanted limited-scope representation, I had to decline it, because she’s eligible for a court-appointed attorney, who is her attorney for free. And the way it is here, the minute I was to show up for a hearing as private counsel, it could mess her up from being able to get that free attorney. And what if at some point she was only able to pay me for part of the case and not all of the case, and then now she’s out here with no attorney? I didn’t think that was the right thing to do.
So instead, she came and saw us, and she was able to kind of gripe a little bit about the relationship she was having with the court-appointed attorney, and I understood because those people sometimes have a lot of cases on their docket. They’re doing the best they can with what they had in front of them. And so I was helping her to help her attorney. So we went through all the things that she had covered in her case plan, all the things she’d done, what her facts, what her story was. Same kind of thing. We gave her a sense on how the courtroom was going to be set up, and she was like, “Yes, I’ve been in there before, and this happened.”
And we talked about who would talk first, and we laid out her arguments for her and helped her to practice the argument so that she wouldn’t lose track of her thoughts. Don’t run off, let the court know that you wrote your notes down, and you just want to be able to read them into the record. And we explained to her that she could give these notes now that we’ve given you to your court-appointed attorney. He can make these arguments for you. So now you know if he doesn’t make the argument, you’ll get an opportunity to talk. You fill it in. You say the rest of these points because all of this needs to be said on your behalf.
And she felt so good at the end of that coaching session, which just lasted for one hour because she felt like before she came to see us for coaching, she felt like when she went into the courtroom she was just going to hope that this attorney said the right thing. Even though he didn’t really know her, even though he’d never met with her out of court, she was just going to hope, but now she has the sense on what he should say and what to say on her own behalf if he doesn’t say the right thing. I haven’t followed up on her yet about what the outcome of that hearing was, but she felt so much more confident walking out of here that I knew that coaching is a real thing, and I’m glad it’s something we offer.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, that’s wonderful, and I could just imagine, because in many ways … Maybe could you just elaborate just on the first part, as far as some of the diagrams that you would create? Could you just create kind of a visual for lawyers to start to imagine how you might diagram out the courtroom and how it works? I mean, do you draw the judge is going to be up here, you’re going to be there? This is where the lawyer [crosstalk 00:44:13]?
Jamie Manning: Yep. And here’s where the witnesses are going to be. Yep. Here’s the court reporter. Here’s where the witnesses are going to stand. Sometimes the attorney will have you go to the witness stand. Sometimes you’ll just sit right here and talk. But yeah, we actually draw the picture out, just some stick figures and everything.
Dave Aarons: I would love it, Jamie, if at some point you could send us maybe like a picture of the courtroom drawn out with one of your clients. Whatever you do, and maybe we could attach it to the blog post with the transcription and so forth, so lawyers could see an example of what some of these drawings look like and so forth. It’s like there’s so much that when lawyers are going to court every single day, that they take for granted about the way things work.
Jamie Manning: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly.
Dave Aarons: He talks, then you talk, then he has one more time to talk, or you wait till the judge say this, and that’s when you’re presenting. You’re going to be over here, not over there. Just really basic stuff that kind of takes out the guesswork and the uncertainty and surprise of what everything’s going to be like when that person’s walking into the courtroom. Just trying to get … so they don’t have that disoriented, uncertain feel. That’s just enough to get them at least to know how things are going to go. And then you’ve got the managing of their motions and dealing with what to present as far as the facts.
When you coach, you mentioned that you do also sometimes go further into helping them present their arguments and help them with some documents as well. Does it evolve in that way, or do you kind of set that at the outset, or do you kind of go by an hour and then well, if you want, I can help you with this thing, and then they come back for another hour, or how does that tend to go?
Jamie Manning: Well, I gotcha. Very good. It kind of depends. I explain to the people that your ideal coaching session is about two hours long because that would include the preparation of the exhibits and things like that. So that’s usually how I try to set it up, but if you only have an hour, take the other coaching, and I’ll just talk to you about the exhibits, and you’ll set your own exhibits up. If you have an opportunity … Unfortunately, so far, people who are coming to us for coaching usually have the court right away. What I would like is an opportunity where the person could come in for two coaching sessions, because I’d really much rather do an hour now and an hour later, to give the person an opportunity to let the information sink in, because sometimes, it’s like you said, there’s so much uncertainty, there’s so much you don’t know. I’ve talked to the person for an hour, it’s nice for them to leave, let that sink in, see what they forget, and then come back for a second hour at another time, but that’s just not always feasible.
Dave Aarons: Do you find that you’re accessing … I guess the second piece of that was … Is it a little bit of different skill set to be able to be a coach for someone? Like I play golf, and so I can certainly empathize with the fact that like I can just go play golf, but when it comes to teaching someone how to play golf, it’s like I really have to go back to the very basics. I literally have them swing without a golf club at all for like a while, just to get the basic swinging motion of their arms, and then I’ll add just the golf club. No golf ball, no touching the ground. And then we’ll swing the golf club, swing the golf club. Do you feel the weight of the club? Do you feel the momentum of the [inaudible 00:47:31] energy? Do you see how that takes you up to the top and swings it back to the bottom, just kind of like swinging a broom? It’s a swinging action. And then we’ll slowly introduce the ball. But that’s a different skill set than okay, pick up the golf ball and be a lawyer. Just go hit it. It’s very different. So did you have to … How is it different for you, and how have you kind of learned to coach people?
Jamie Manning: Oh, that’s a good question. It’s a good question. Well, it helped that, for the most part, I coach all of my full representation clients. I mean, I coach them anytime we’re going to have court anyway. I go through this with that. This is where the witnesses are going to sit. This is what it’s like for you to be a witness. This is what it’s like for you to be a witness. These are the questions I’m going to ask you. This is what it’s like to be cross-examined. So just my extensive work with clients has really helped me to kind of learn and develop what it is they need to be coached on, because every client, whether they’re going into the court for the first time with an attorney or without an attorney, it’s still confused, you know what I mean? And they don’t know what’s going to happen and what’s going on around them.
So a lot of what I’m doing with the clients I’m coaching is I am treating them like my full representation clients, I’m just not going to court with them. So it is a different set of skills, but it’s one that I’ve learned that clients, they need. You know you can sit in the courtroom with a person, you’ve done all this talking, you’ve done prep, the judge says something, they nod yes. And you walk out of there, and you say, “Do you know what happened?” And they always say no. For years this has been going on. I’m like, “Come on, you said yes every time the judge said something to you. We talked about this ahead of time.” But their answer’s still no, they really don’t know what happened in there. And so just with that knowledge is how I’ve been kind of crafting what is it that I can help them know on the front end that will make them better able to retain or understand what happens in that courtroom?
Dave Aarons: And so how do you help people retain the information? What are some of the things that you’ve implemented? Obviously, it sounds like drawings are key so they can have a visual representation.
Jamie Manning: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Drawings are key. Drawings are huge, and then after that, just kind of … I don’t know, you call like an outline or even a bullet point. These are the keywords you’re kind of listening to. If you hear the word “continuance” … just there are a few legal words … that means that this hearing isn’t going to happen today, it’s going to happen another day, and so that’s something that you need to know. So just kind of, I guess, vocabulary, maybe that’s the answer. So diagram and some key vocabulary to be paying attention to, I think, kind of helps them, and it makes them feel more prepared when they hear those words now. Like, “I do understand. I know what that means.” And that in itself seems to help with some of the retentions.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, great. Okay, this is some great suggestions and ideas. I want to circle back on something we started at the very, very beginning as well … I just thought it would be remiss if we didn’t cover that … is you talked about how you are a Christian, a lawyer, and you have a lot of clients coming to you as Christians. And as part of the Christian faith, like you said, there’s a lot of belief systems around divorce being wrong, divorce is bad, God doesn’t like divorce, and so forth. But this applies to many, many, many religions. There’s a lot of negative views in many texts of many different religions around how divorce is viewed and how sacred it is, and in many cases that it’s abomination or sin to divorce. So maybe you could just share a little bit about how you help them understand what it is that they’re doing, maybe do you correct them a little bit with maybe some texts?
Maybe you can’t relate to some other religions, I’m not sure like the scope of the types of clients you work with, if it’s just Christians or you have other folks from other religions, whether it be Muslim or Hindu or anything else that might have a similar reservation around what they’re doing. How do you help them overcome that or have a new perspective on it?
Jamie Manning: Oh, gotcha. Well, I do tell people that Christian defines me as much as anything else, and so we would absolutely handle clients who are Christians, Muslims, Hindus, atheists even. As long as you’re not offended by me being a Christian, I don’t have any real problems with your beliefs either. But what I try to explain to the people is that marriage, in the eyes of God, makes you and your spouse into one. That’s the idea. It made you into one, and anytime you take something that’s one and make it into two, it’s really a violent happening. You’re ripping, you’re tearing. There’s going to be some pain involved. And what God doesn’t want is for people to hurt. It’s not the divorce itself, it’s all of the pain that leads up to divorce, the hardness of hearts, the unforgiveness. The hardness of hearts and unforgiveness, those are really the big things that result in divorce.
It’s those bad things that lead up to divorce that God doesn’t like. He also doesn’t like the pain that comes from divorce, because you do have to recover from it. God doesn’t hate people. You know, the Bible says that God hates divorce, but note, it only says that in some translations. Really, what God was talking about there in that verse in Malachi, was there were these men who were married to women of their own kind, their own clan. They had taken over a land with these foreign women, and so then these men were just like, “Whatever. These foreign women are better.” And they were just dropping their wives, divorcing their wives to marry these foreign women. And that’s when God was saying, “I hate this. This is cruel and mean, what you’re doing to your wives. That’s what I don’t like.” God doesn’t like that cruelty. He doesn’t like that meanness. He doesn’t like that pain. And so I try to explain that to people.
Also, people are under the impression that once you get into the marriage, you can’t get out, but I say Who says that you were supposed to be in that marriage in the first place? Maybe you have it upside down. Just because you marry somebody doesn’t mean automatically God has to bless that. What if you should have never been married to this person? Certainly, the right thing to do is to end this union. And so helping people to see this, sometimes they have the argument upside down. I used to say we help Christians get out of the marriages that God didn’t put them in, and that’s helped a lot of people just change their perspective on the marriage. You’re not trapped in this thing. You’re not doing something bad to God by getting out of this thing. Divorce is a result. It’s a result of the bad things that happened in the marriage that led up to the divorce, and God doesn’t like those things. It’s not you that he doesn’t like. That’s the message.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, exactly, and I think you added one thing as well, that the divorce can also mean a new beginning and a new opportunity and new pathway, to start anew and to make amends and walk a new path.
Jamie Manning: That’s right.
Dave Aarons: All right. Well, yeah, I appreciate your thoughts on that. It’s a unique perspective. It’s something that any lawyer’s going to be addressing, whether they’re a Christian or not, is some folks are going to have some reservations around going through the process of splitting up a union, especially if they have a religious background, and so these are some perspectives that perhaps they may not be able to embody on their own without being able to see it in those ways and really narrowing it down to the pain and the challenges that are the things that are not necessarily … are the things that God doesn’t want and doesn’t want to have part of it. In that light, and seeing it in this light, it really can give people some solace in their ability to move forward and know that it’s the right thing to do.
Not that you’re trying to convince them that it’s the right thing to do. I mean, I don’t think we’re ever trying to convince someone to move forward with the divorce. It seems like they’re really just looking for someone to understand where they’re at and where they’re coming from and give them some perspectives that maybe they didn’t have before.
Jamie Manning: Exactly. Exactly. I say this last thing, and I’m going to say this to you, and I’m not going to hold you much longer. At the Manning Law Company, we really believe in authentic God-honoring marriages. We believe in that. And just like you wouldn’t treat a real diamond like a cubic zirconia, you shouldn’t treat a cubic zirconia like a real diamond. If your marriage is not an authentic, God-honoring marriage, we’re not going to treat it like it is. If it is one, we’re going to encourage you to get counseling and to save your marriage. Maybe it’s just a rough spot. But if really what you have is not the real thing, you shouldn’t treat it like it is. Let’s get you out of that thing so that you can get into an authentic, God-honoring marriage.
Dave Aarons: That’s right. All right. Well, Jamie, this has been just really, really enjoyable and a lot of fun, and also just very, very informative on so many different levels, especially around the coaching and the different ways in which … we’ve really … I think we’re both wordsmiths in many ways, and just the way in which we relate to people, and the examples in which you’ve described the various different options and meet them where they’re at, depending on where they’re at in the process, the three different phases in which they’re coming to you for legal assistance, all the different levels that you’re offering as far as tailoring the services you offer so that it can fit almost anyone’s pricing budget. And then, of course, just the ways in which you’re creatively educating folks on how to get through the process, I mean, I’m not surprised that so many folks that we’ve been sending you in the Columbus metro area have been retaining you left and right, because why wouldn’t they?
You’ve taken away all the reasons why so many folks are going unrepresented: because they can’t afford it because attorneys are unapproachable, they don’t understand, they don’t listen, they don’t respond. And we didn’t even talk about the fact that obviously you’re responding to people quickly and getting in touch with them and being responsive and so forth. So it’s a great model for attorneys to set as an example of ways in which they can overcome the barriers that the public has and the reservations they have, and the actual barriers, especially when it comes to finances, that are preventing people from getting access to legal services in this country. So I really thank you for everything you’re doing and the constant journey of improvement that you’ve been undergoing since we’ve worked together and long since before, to continue to improve that accessibility going forward.
Jamie Manning: Well, thank you. This has been excellent.
Dave Aarons: Awesome. And so with that, we’ll go ahead and wrap up. To all of you that are listening, of course, as always, we appreciate your participation in listening to these podcasts. Plug it in on your commutes or at the gym or while you’re drafting documents at the office and taking notes and finding ways to improve your practice. This is how we’re going to overcome this access to justice gap in this country and get more and more people help. So thank you for your participation. As always, the podcast will be live at UnbundledAttorney.com/podcast. You can also read the transcripts at UnbundledAttorney.com/blog.
And for those of you that are active attorneys in our network, coming up here soon we have the Unbundled Attorney Mastermind Retreat. If you haven’t heard about it already, you can go to UnbundledAttorney.com/retreat. It’s going to be a gathering of all of our active provider attorneys and a couple special guest speakers to share ideas, share knowledge, and all see what we can do to work together to solve this access to justice problem and also build profitable practices in the process. With that, thank you so much for your participation, and we will see you all in the next episode.
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Episode 49: Becoming an Effective Legal Coach: Understanding Your Client’s Decision-Making Process, Guidelines for Structuring Coaching Sessions, and Compassionate Communication with People of Faith
Jamie Manning is an Unbundled Attorney out of Columbus, OH who has a background working with the Legal Aid Society. When working with her legal aid clients she often only had a limited amount of time to help them with their case. As a result, she developed unique and creative teaching tools that would simply the court process for her clients and were very effective at helping them understand how to properly handle their case. When Jamie launched her own practice, she implemented many of these strategies during her client consultations and when providing unbundled legal services. Today she joins us to share the fundamentals of effective legal coaching. She provides guidelines for how to structure and bill for your coaching calls, tips to help clients remember and apply your advice, and the important points to include during each coaching session. Jamie is also a Christian lawyer and discusses how to communicate with Christian clients and people of faith to help them overcome their apprehension about filing for divorce.
To read a complete transcript of this interview, click here
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- The importance of listening to clients with your heart instead of your legal mind, and how that can impact your interactions and communication
- How to help people work through conflicting goals and get clarity on what they really need to accomplish
- Clear guidelines for your initial consultations, including the exact questions Jamie asks her clients and why she asks them
- The different phases of the decision-making process that clients experience, and how to tailor your approach to helping them depending on where they are at in that process
- How she explains full representation versus unbundled services, including exact wording and the main benefits she highlights for each option
- How she structures and bills for her legal coaching sessions
- The process she uses to book clients in for consultations that completely eliminates “no show” appointments from her practice
- Three primary things she likes to coach clients on during every coaching session
- The three types of clients she coaches and how her strategy differs for each
- Some of her unique tools and methods that help clients better understand and apply what she shares with them
- How she provides coaching and limited assistance for clients who have abuse, neglect, or dependency cases
- How Jamie helps clients with a religious background overcome their apprehensions about filing for divorce
- And much more...
Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
- Unbundled Attorney Podcast Episode 20: Lessons from 50 years of Practicing Law: Empathetic Listening, Limited Scope, and the Disrupted Legal Market
- Unbundled Attorney Podcast Episode 36: Experienced Social Worker Turned Practicing Attorney: Active Listening, Cultivating and Communicating Empathy, and Understanding the Lifetime Value of Each Client
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For more information about Unbundled Attorney and how our Lead Generation services help grow your practice, visit: https://www.unbundledattorney.com