Designing the Law Firm of Your Dreams: How to “Lead" with Unbundled Services, Run a Virtual Practice from Anywhere, and Provide Affordable Access to Justice
Dave Aarons: Hello and welcome to the Unbundled Attorney Mastermind Podcast. My name is Dave Aarons, I'm the founder and CEO of Unbundled Attorney. In this podcast we interview our unbundled attorneys as well as the leading experts in the industry to identify the best practices for converting leads into paying clients, and how to ethically and profitably deliver unbundled legal services and other affordable options in your practice. To learn more about how our exclusive, unbundled leads can help you grow your practice, visit our website at unbundledattorney.com.
All right, welcome to the Unbundled Attorney Mastermind Podcast, I am really excited to be sitting here with Dia Rogers. Actually I feel like I've been hounding you to have this interview because ... and the reason I've been hounding you is just what we're going to be talking about today as far as the way in which you've been providing unbundled legal services to the vast majority of your clients, and to unpack the impact that that's had on your practice, the amount of people you've been able to serve.
It's just on all the different levels, so I really appreciate you taking the time today to have this interview with us, and to explain the evolution of your practice and how you're providing these services to these clients these days, so thank you so much for being here and being willing to jump in the hot seat.
Dia Rogers: Sure, thanks for having me.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. So with your kind permission, maybe you can give us just a little bit of background to how you got your start in the practice of law, and I remember we were talking a little bit about how you originally worked for a period of time in a big firm, and then made some transitions. So maybe you can just talk briefly about the journey that's arrived you at running your own solo practice now.
Dia Rogers: Well I would love to be able to say that it was always the purity of the practice of law that is how I arrived at where I'm at today, but really it was always a focus on life, and lifestyle, and how I wanted to live my life, and what kind of choices I wanted to make for my life, for my family, and how it was going to structure and mold work and the practice of law around that as opposed to the other way around.
So, I did the normal thing. I went and worked for a big firm. I put in the hours. I was a slave to the billables, and-
Dave Aarons: That was right out of law school, eh? And where did you go to law school, again? Was it Thomas Jefferson?
Dia Rogers: Thomas Jefferson. Yeah, and I worked for a period in San Diego, and then I went chasing the bigger jobs in LA, the bigger litigation, on a massive scale that I thought I was looking for, that I wanted to have experience in, and where I wanted to go with my education. And it just turned out not to be as fulfilling as I expected it to be.
And so I started looking for other things, and at that time my husband was starting his own firm. He had taken off from working for someone else. He always knew that he wanted to work for himself, so that's what he did. I was still doing the working for an employer, working for a big firm, working downtown, feeling all of the working girlness of that.
And it just turned out not to be what I wanted exactly. So I started looking at other things, saw him getting clients on his own, running his own practice, trying to figure out his way there, and it just turned out that maybe I should step away from the big firm and figure out what's more important, and a way to kind of practice the kind of law I want to practice, that is personally fulfilling to me, and I'm still able to be the kind of attorney I want to be, that ultimately is always about helping people.
Dave Aarons: Right. So what ... Was that missing for you when you were working for the big firm?
Dia Rogers: Definitely.
Dave Aarons: And what aspect of that life and the way that they were running their practice made it so you didn't feel like you were making the impact? Was it the kind of law, was it the way in which they were billing, like what was that?
Dia Rogers: Well I think it was just the personal satisfaction of it really wasn't there, it was completely, almost void, really. It's a bunch of paperwork, you're working with a bunch of other people doing just paperwork, even where there is the litigation and the trial practice and going to court and making argument, still the client that you're working for is someone else working for the big firm.
It's not really a big win in court, or a big loss in court. Yeah, it's good and bad, but it's not really effecting anybody's life, really. And it's not even really effecting anyone's bottom line significantly, unless you're working on that really humongous class action lawsuit, which of course I wasn't at that time, because I'm still junior attorney. You have to put in the hours and the time to get up to senior level to work those kinds of cases.
And it just didn't seem like the kind of work that I was doing, with the level of investment, and the years that I spent in my education, it really wasn't the kind of satisfaction that I was getting back from the work that I was expecting to get from that kind of dedication and devotion that I had just spent however many years in my adult education and money, to get that kind of level of education to be able to serve other people.
It wasn't satisfying to me personally, it didn't seem like I was having a good effect on anything that I was doing, even when I was doing good work, and I know I was, and getting good results on my cases, and for the companies that I was working for. It just didn't feel like that was something that I could do the rest of my career. It was something that I did long enough to realize, mmm, this ain't it. I got to find something else.
And I had already at that point had experiences with other firms in family law. I had one firm that I had worked for that did juvenile dependency law. So I found kind of ... and then my husband went off on his own and did family law. He's always done family law. So I had touchstones, I had little experiences with it here and there, enough to know that not all law practice is like the big civil litigation --- very impersonal, just basically about the bottom line, how quickly you can get in and out of cases to be able to save the bottom line for your client. And I knew that there was more out there for my practice that I could find personally rewarding. And so I went off looking for that.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. I get the sense that this is ... I can imagine that there is a lot of attorneys out there that went to law school because they wanted to make a lot of money and do great work but they also really wanted to have a positive impact on people's lives. To make a difference.
And I could imagine that there's a lot of attorneys that come into law school that have the fervor and desire to want to make that impact and serve people in a meaningful way, and they just don't find that necessarily in some of the environments that are available. And in some ways, you're still going to get good experience and through the context of experiencing that, kind of give you some clarity around like, "Okay, well, that's not for me." Well for some it is. Right?
Dia Rogers: Yeah.
Dave Aarons: They like the big civil litigation and they want those kinds of cases and so forth, and you could work your way up. So that's another path. But I can imagine that there's a lot of attorneys that, that's not ... the path isn't there for them. But maybe haven't had the confidence or had the wherewithal to be able to start a practice on their own or make that transition, make that pivot.
So for you was there a defining moment or a period in which you made that decision? Or you got to a certain breaking point? Or was there an opportunity that opened up for you? How did you make the shift from the financial security of a full time job .... Right? And so forth ... into going into a direction that was more in alignment with your purpose?
Dia Rogers: I think I just took it so far that I was in a position where there really wasn't any choice anymore. The situation that I was in was untenable. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to maintain. That it would not be a life worth living. I mean the practice-
Dave Aarons: The point of no return.
Dia Rogers: ... right. The practice of law of course everyone knows is very demanding. Your billables, the client interactions, what clients demand of you, what you're expected to ... the performance, deliverance. Like everything that's involved in your practice of law is very demanding. Whether you work for yourself, or for someone else. And I think where I was at that point, it just the pay off was not good enough for me to continue. So I had to figure out something else. And I knew that my strengths were not just in doing the paper pushing, not putting in the long hours, working seven days a week, 90 hours a week. The things that all young attorneys do.
That's not my strength, just working hard. I want something that feels rewarding. I want to feel like I can make a difference. Everybody goes to law school, I feel mostly, to make that difference, to feel like they have an impact on people's lives and make things better and I wasn't getting any of that with where I was.
Dave Aarons: So let's talk about that transition you made. I believe you mentioned that you started working for your husband in his family law firm. And maybe you can talk just a bit about the way he ran that practice. And how you had ... you guys were engineering your lifestyle first and then basically engineering the practice around your lifestyle, rather than your lifestyle around the practice.
Dia Rogers: Yeah. That's a good way to put it. I think a lot of that was born out of just the frustration of where I came from. Working for that firm and not being able to do that anymore. So it was a complete ... let me reorganize our entire lives because this is not the way to do it and I can't do it for this ... until I'm 60 or 70 years old. That's not going to happen. I'm not going to keep it up.
At first, there was a point in which I took a break, I regrouped. I need to figure out what my priorities are and it's not working 90 hours a week and not feeling rewarded, so let's take a moment and figure out what my priorities actually are. And because I did have the luxury or the benefit of having a husband who was also an attorney, another professional who was just starting out on his own, we could kind of put our two heads together and figure that out together. And between the two of us ... I don't know if it was him or me, but somehow we came up with the bright idea of ...
Well there's two professionals do we both need to be working 40 hours a week to be able to have the kind of life that we want? Or could we scale that back some to be able to make more room for the life that we want. Do we really need two professional incomes to be able to live where we want, and go where we want, and do what we want? And so I guess the idea kind of was born out of, I would like to go to the beach more. I would like to go to the park more. I would like to go visit places during the week, Monday through Friday, when there's not a humongous crowd, and be able to actually walk up to the painting at the museum instead of see it from really far behind, because there's so many people in front of you. And how do we make that happen?
And I think, the way that we kind of figured that out was just to do what was important to us first. Go to the museum, go to the beach, go to the park, and then figure out how are we going to make client calls, do the work and meet deadlines, and go to court, and get all that done at the same time. How are we going to mold that around it like you said. And one of the ways that we figured that out was we each had our strengths. He could go to court, I could do the doc prep. We both could do the client contacts, and between the two of us, just kind of fill the gaps.
He played at each one of our strengths. And if we did it that way, he wouldn't necessarily have to work full time and I wouldn't necessarily have to work full time and we could still kind of manage the same kind of case load that we needed between the two of us to have the life that we wanted.
The way that we kind of evolved our practice, I think, was with that focal point of how do we bridge the gap on this problem of billing. I don't want to hire a billing person. I don't want to hire an assistant because then we have to put them somewhere, and that means I have to be there. So that means I can't be at the park, and the beach, and the whatever. So how do we fix that? How do we deal with all the paperwork? How do we deal with clients who want to meet you in an office? Well, there's the virtual office option.
All of those ideas and looking for those ideas and those solutions were born of that. How do we do this so that we both don't have to be in a cubicle under fluorescent lights or in the courthouse all day?
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Well, and this is key. A lot of attorneys just get started practicing, and then clients start coming to the door. And now they're getting real busy, and things just grow, and they ramp. But there's an opportunity there, which you embraced from the very beginning, is to ask the question. "Well what is, or my ideal practice?" Like what is the balance? If I were to have a magic wand, and imagine the type of life I would want to live, and how that would show up in the form of practice that I would be practicing, because you obviously love what you do. You want to make an impact, and positively serve other folks through your practice.
But at the same time, you don't want it to own you. In the sense that you don't have the capacity, or the freedom, or the liberty to have some control over your time, location, like you said, the days of the week you're working, and whether you need to come into an office each day. And that primary question that you asked in the beginning, literally dictated everything that ... all the decisions you would make beyond that. Right?
Dia Rogers: Yeah. And I don't know, I honestly don't know how long it would have taken me to get to that point if I hadn't been so burned by the fire at the very outset. I don't know how long it would have taken me to look up from my desk and go, "Do I really want to be doing this for the rest of my life? Putting in 70, 80 hours a week?"
Just me working hard is not the goal. I can work hard, whatever days and hours I put into it, I'm going to work hard. Doesn't mean that I'm doing any better for anybody, including myself, just because I work that hard, or have that many assistants, or employees or the bigger, better office, or ... That's not the metric by which I want to measure my practice or my life.
Dave Aarons: Okay, so once you guys made the decision, okay this is the ways in which we want to live. And you took some time to imagine that, spending time at the beach, being at the park. Some of the questions started to arise, well, okay, how could we be doing this, running our practice from here? Because it wasn't necessarily, we'll engineer a practice so we can take three days off. Or you work 30 hours a week. And it's also notable as well, that usually when two attorneys come together, it's like how can we maximize the revenue, the growth? Right?
Dia Rogers: Yeah.
Dave Aarons: This a very different question where it's like, how can we maximize the balance between making good money but also having a life that we can live and sustain for the long term?
Dia Rogers: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dave Aarons: That's a very different intention. Right? So, your way of going about that was, okay, well we don't necessarily have to just take Fridays off to start feeling good about the balance. How can we engineer our practice right into the ways we live every day? Such that you could take phone calls from the beach, and set up your laptop and through a MiFi device.
We're going to have some pretty good examples later on of working from the train and all that good stuff, which will impact in a bit here. So what are some of the mechanisms that you started to put into place? Because, and I could imagine there's a lot of attorneys that have had that idea like, hey, maybe I could work from anywhere. Be location independent. Have a mobile lifestyle. And nowadays it's quite possible. Right?
Dia Rogers: Yeah.
Dave Aarons: Its never been easier to do that with the technology that's available. So can you just talk about some of the things that you implemented in order to make that possible for you and your husband when you made the jump to go out on your own.
Dia Rogers: Well sure, I think the first thing was you don't want to be in a physical space, so there's the virtual offices that they have everywhere now. There's a whole bunch of services that you can find just by Googling these days that really weren't that much or that many that I remember when we started out.
But things like E-Typist or document preparation that's just on a per project basis. If you want to sit down and you're going to a deep dive on a work session and you need to write a really long brief and you're going to dictate it into your phone or some kind of recording device. Then you could send it off to somebody and they'll type it out. You're not going to sit at a computer and do it, so that you can do it from the beach or the park, technically.
There's the virtual reception. Every possible service that you would need for a law firm, there's a solution out there for people that will do it like Unbundled does piecemeal. And you just need to find the ones that fit for you. I can't think of any one particular service like that, that we use the whole way through. We just kind of tried various ones along the way, and found one that fit for us. Like the Clio Cloud Service Management firm-
Dave Aarons: Yes. Like firm software.
Dia Rogers: Right. Like the Ruby Receptionist. Right?
Dave Aarons: Right.
Dia Rogers: And just kind of piecemealed all those kind of together. And when the iPad was just out and I could remember scrolling through apps every day, and "Oh, there's a new one!" When you used to be able to scroll through apps like in a couple of minutes, because that's all there were.
Dave Aarons: You Right.
Dia Rogers: Right? Everybody-
Dave Aarons: Like circa 2007 or something like that.
Dia Rogers: ... Everybody had a new app for whatever it was that the new mobile business person needed on the go. And so we would try them and figure out if they worked, or didn't work, or the strengths or weaknesses that they had though. I would say that we were constantly trying those things out. Things to help with document preparation. Things to help with client contact, things to help with lead management, things to help with attorney appearances when you couldn't get to court, because you got double booked, or couldn't make it for some reason. There's a whole bunch of services out there more than we could ever sign up for, and we've done for the past 10 years pretty much at various points.
We just kind of patchworked that all together, kind of on a constant basis, as needed, and as it worked out and dropped ones that didn't work, or were too expensive, or didn't fill our complete need. So ...
Dave Aarons: Cool. I think what will be helpful perhaps is we could fast forward a little bit, as it relates to some of these tools, and give people a window into the systems that you have in place, and maybe walk through a client experience, from when a friendly comes in and so forth. We'll cover that in just a minute I think.
But before we get there, one of the things that makes this so much more possible for you, is that you do, you start implementing a lot of limited scope, unbundled legal services in your practice. And that lends itself well to having technology that streamlines the delivery of services, doing flat rates, not getting involved in heavily contested litigation unless you're really deciding that's what really what is in the best interest of you and the client.
And so maybe we can just unpack a little bit how you first started with offering your limited scope services. You talk about what that means to you, and how that's impacted your practice. And then maybe once we've really laid that out then we can start to talk about how you use some of these tools to deliver these limited scope services. Which is I think we talked about is almost 90% or 90% or more-
Dia Rogers: Maybe more.
Dave Aarons: ... of the clients that you enroll, are enrolling for some type of limited scope or unbundled legal service.
Dia Rogers: Yeah. I think in the beginning, we just started doing a flat fee, unbundled, piecemeal work. Just out of necessity, because we didn't want to hire the billing person to come in and input it or do the invoicing every month. Nobody, neither my husband or myself wanted to sit there and review billing or invoicing once a month. So it was kind of, "Oh this is a easy shortcut. Let's just cut out the billing person and we could just do flat fees, easy." I think that's where that originally came from.
But then as we started using flat fees more and more in limited scope, only for pieces of each person's case, the benefits of that ... It became apparent that that was much better for us, and how we were choosing to run the firm and in our lives. Because you weren't involved in the day to day, I'm going to say micro-management of the case. So all of the phone calls, all of the client contacts, all of the contacts of the opposing counsel, all of the calls to the clerk, all the ... What date is this hearing on?
All that is taken care of by the client. And they're just contacting us to say, "This is my hearing date, this is what somebody told me I need. I don't have any idea of what that is, but can you help me with that?" A lot of the things that really rack up, and I think, inflate a lot of attorney billing, and create a really big bills for clients that really aggravate them are those things that don't really further the case.
That technically, you're not supposed to bill for, but attorneys are completely entitled to receiving the value of their time for dedicating their time to working on those things. But if you can kind of cut out those things and just let me do the work, which is do the paperwork, go to the court appearance, make the argument. It really lessens the client's fees, the amount that are going to come out of the pocket for their case, and it also, on my end, it's beneficial because I'm not dealing with the aggravation of the little, tiny things, in my opinion.
Dave Aarons: Well and having to micro-bill as well. Right?
Dia Rogers: Yeah, yeah. And I don't think anybody feels good about that. I mean, I don't know that any attorneys really feel good about charging 30 or 45 dollars for an email. I know clients certainly don't. And if I can kind of alleviate that and not really feel it on my bottom line, then win-win.
Dave Aarons: Well yeah, and let's clarify one thing real quick. When we're talking about flat rates, some attorneys may confuse that as being like, "Oh, you got to contest a divorce, I'll charge you 5000 as a flat rate." Whereas, as opposed to limiting the scope to some specific tasks, and "It's going to be flat rate for these things and I'm not going to be doing those things."
Can we perhaps be a little bit more specific, or detailed in some example types of limited scope services? Or an example of limited scope service you would offer to clients, the type of conversation you would have with them around the different options on how to arrive at an option that would work best for them, and how that could express itself as a flat rate.
Dia Rogers: Okay so I know that there are a lot of attorneys, I've had the conversations with them myself about freaking out about how you can possibly quote them a flat fee for a certain amount of service, and you have no idea how much time you're going to spend on it. And to that, I really just say, "Well, aren't you doing the same thing? That kind of judgment and that kind of offer is happening when you quote someone a retainer."
You're going to quote them 3000, 5000, 25000, whatever it is, you're making a judgment about how much upfront you're going to need in a retainer to make it beneficial for you to work the case, even if you're billing monthly, and sending invoices monthly.
And I think that kind of analysis is just happening on a very small scale with the flat fees, which is ... Okay, someone comes to me and they need a divorce started. They need an initial motion done at the same time. What I'm trying to think about is, in my interaction with them, how much client contact and hand holding do they need throughout the conversation?
So I can figure out is this someone I can quote my absolute, rock bottom, fee amount, and know that they will really just leave me alone to do the work, and punch out the paperwork, and be done. Or is this someone who's going to need a couple more phone calls and it's not going to be ... I can't just call and say, "Hey give me this piece of information," and click. It's someone who's going to keep me on the phone for half an hour, and that is going to factor into my flat fee quote. Maybe that's not someone I would charge a flat fee of $500 to open up their case.
Dave Aarons: That's something you're evaluating in the consultation based on ... So yeah, what are you thinking about? It's like, okay, how talkative is this person? What's her personality type? What's the complexity of the case? How many lawyers have they been through?
Dia Rogers: How difficult is it going to be for me to get the information that I need and how quickly am I going to be able to do that from them? Am I going to be able to just send them an email, saying I need x, y, and z, and then I'm going to get it right back?
Or am I going to get it back in maybe two weeks, because I have to remind them a couple times, and they still don't really understand, and I have to call them. All of that is going into my consideration of how much I'm going to quote them.
And what I'm saying is that kind of consideration is happening when you're doing hourly too. And am I going to tell this person that the deposit they need to make in the attorney-client trust account is 3000 or 5000? How much are they going to spend in my fees, billed hourly, in the first month? I mean, you need to factor that in when you give that quote to them, and that's just what I'm doing with the flat fees too.
Someone that I could tell is really straight to the point, knows what they're talking about, isn't really all over the place. They're just very direct and we're done with our initial phone call in like 10 or 15 minutes. Quoting them a $500 flat fee to punch out a couple papers, I know is not going to be a big hassle.
Some other person that might need a longer phone call, and really isn't aware of all the facts that on the questions that I'm asking, and not really able to give me the information right away that I need. They're going to take a little bit more from me in terms of time, effort, energy, to be able to deliver to them what they're asking me to do, which is punch out this paperwork and get it filed, get it served. Whatever it is.
And so, for that person, I'm not quote my rock bottom flat fee quote, maybe I'll bump that up to $1000 instead, because I know it's going to take more from me. But so packets of paperwork, 500 a puff, 1000 to pop, whatever it is, there's wiggle room in there. And same things for hearing appearances, if there's a hearing appearance that I know is not going to be that big of a deal, because in my experience, I know most of the time you could go to a hearing for ... I call them administrative hearings, they're just show up and pick another calendar date. Right?
Dave Aarons: Right.
Dia Rogers: Tell the judge, "Yes we are moving along, your honor." Those kinds of things that I wouldn't expect to go all day. Unless you just get a really bad day, and sometimes you do. And then you get put to the bottom of the last called. Right? But not often. Not most of them time.
If it's just an administrative hearing, quoting someone a rock bottom, flat fee price is no skin off my nose. If I know it's going to be a gnarly hearing, an evidentiary hearing, it's going to require testimony and introduction of documents, I know that, that might be something that goes all day. So I'm not going to quote them the rock bottom price that I'm hoping to get in and out on.
Dave Aarons: You have to build a buffer to take in account the possibility that it's going to take more time than you expect. There's like a statistically likely possibility that's going to happen.
Dia Rogers: Right. What really I think freed me up to doing the flat fees, especially ever since I signed up with Unbundled, was changing my perspective on how to recoup from the client or whoever is paying you, the value of the time, effort, and energy that you're putting into their case. I think the hourly billing really makes, on the attorney's side, you focus on whether or not they are paying you what you're worth. And I think that really kind of ... that dynamic creates a bit of a tension that doesn't really help anybody on the case. Whereas the flat fee, I know that I've already quoted them an amount.
I'm logging my time because I'm required to do so. But I'm not sending out invoices. I'm not sending them out monthlies to show how much work I'm spending on their case, or how much time. And the value of that, therefore, I know that I have made a promise to do this part, and for X amount of dollars for to do this. X amount of work for X amount of dollars and get it done. And I know that we both decided on the value of that for them and for me. And there's no renegotiation on that. We've already made that deal. The tension, there is none. The tension is on me doing it. Getting it done. And-
Dave Aarons: Yes, because the onus is on you, because they've already agreed to the rate, you've agreed to the rate, now it's like, "Well this is what I'm going to get paid for this and so it's up to me to determine how long it's going to take me to get this done." And to the extent that I can do that in the most efficient way possible is how you will be able to benefit or not. Based on an effective hourly rate calculation of it.
Dia Rogers: Right, and at the quality-
Dave Aarons: It kind of on you.
Dia Rogers: ... with the quality of work that I expect of myself because I am the professional. Right?
Dave Aarons: That's right.
Dia Rogers: And I know better. You hand it off to the client, they may not know whether this is good work or bad work, but that's part of being a professional is you are your own judge on that. But I think the flat fee and the unbundled, really kind of just evaporates that kind of tension of they're not going to ... I'm putting in 12 hours for this motion and there's no way that after I send out my bill, they're ever going to pay me a dime more, because I know they don't have anymore other than what they deposited, and maybe they'll pay it off slowly over the next however many years.
But that is not there. And the only thing that is there is, I need to get this done because they paid it to me and it needs to be done, and that's just one little step. I'm not looking down the road, because down the road they will decide whether or not they want to continue to hire me. So it's in my interest to get it done as quickly, as efficiently, and with the level of quality that I think would serve the client, and would have them rehire me as quickly as possible.
Dave Aarons: Okay. So let's unpack this content of limited scope, and contrast it from the way in which you would normally ... most attorneys would work with a client dealing with a contested familiar matter. And the ways in which you are limiting the scope of your involvement to either specific agreed upon tasks or specific segments of the case, what we call as the vertical, which is: I'm doing these specific tasks, clients doing these specific tasks, versus the horizontal which is: We're going to do work up to this point in your case. Or I'm going to handle lead specific issues. Right?
Dia Rogers: Yeah.
Dave Aarons: So can you talk about the different ways that you would limit the scope and how you ... I mean, there's the conversation with the client which is an important aspect of that, of saying, "Here's the different options and so forth." But maybe we will just first start with, okay, here's the ways you can limit the scope of your involvement, and empower the client to handle some parts on their own. What are some particular ways you do that? And do you also do the segments by segment? Just so that lawyers that don't have as much experience with unbundled services recognize the difference between, "Okay, I'm now your lawyer, and I'm doing this from A-Z," versus, "Okay, we're setting some very specific limited parameters. And then and it's within these parameters that I'm quoting this flat rate, and this is the agreement I'm making with you, the client."
Dia Rogers: Well I think the easiest way that I've been able to divide it up is there's work that is paperwork, there's work that is court appearances, and then there's work that's kind of process. So, work that is paperwork, that's of course, putting the forms together, putting the motion together, getting it filed, getting it served. The court appearance, of course, it depends what kind of court appearance, so you can kind of vary your flat fees or your quotes on that. And there's process, which the easiest one for me to give clients, and anyone else an example of is submitting a judgment. You're not going to court. It's not a whole bunch of paperwork. Putting it together is kind of-
Dave Aarons: It's a procedure.
Dia Rogers: It's kind of a bare. But really you need to send it to the court and kind of need to manage whether it comes back, or gets kicked backed, or needs to be fixed, or resubmitted, or whatever. That's kind of a process. For that process, I will assign a flat, fixed fee quote of that piece. And so what I tell clients-
Dave Aarons: Do you break this for clients down into these three categories?
Dia Rogers: Yeah, yeah.
Dave Aarons: Okay, great.
Dia Rogers: And what I tell clients is, however they want to break it apart, it's possible. But they're these kind of general categories and this is kind of how I do things, and whatever parts they want to choose to handle on their own, that they can save themselves some additional fees by doing that. And I tell them it's like those old books, like choose your own adventure, if you remember those? Right?
Dave Aarons: Like Goosebumps, yeah.
Dia Rogers: Right. So you choose whether I can prep this document packet for you, and when it's ready, you can take it to filing. You can have your cousin serve it, or whatever it is. If you want to handle that aspect of that process, you can. If you want me to handle it, this is how much it's going to cost.
And you could decide, you don't have to decide now. You could decide when we get to that point, whether you want to handle it or you want me to. And at that point, I will tell you, "This is, remember, this is how much I told you it was going to cost. You want me to do it? Okay, fine." And I send them the link for payment, and we're off and rolling again.
Dave Aarons: And the limited scope agreement as far like, this is what we are going to be doing specifically.
Dia Rogers: Every single time.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Uh-huh (affirmative).
Dia Rogers: And so that helps because not only do they have to pay for the whole big chunk upfront, they could just pay piece by piece along the way. But it also helps them, I think, because no matter how much money you have, it's always hard to come out the pocket for someone you just met. Because hopefully, you're not really intimate with your divorce lawyer. Hopefully you only see one every once in a while. And having to sit down with them and forking over $3000, $5000, $25000 is-
Dave Aarons: It's a big decision.
Dia Rogers: ... it's big. Even if you have a ton of money, I certainly don't want to spend it on that kind of stuff. The flat fee really helps, I find, sometimes even for a client I know is going to take a little bit more. I might quote, excuse me, I might quote the rock bottom price just to get them in the door. Because-
Dave Aarons: Rock bottom being around 500 or so.
Dia Rogers: Yeah 500 for the initial packet, the petition packet, fine, 500. You want a motion at the same time? Depending on the motion maybe 500, maybe $1000.
Dave Aarons: Okay.
Dia Rogers: So for all in, for a motion, and initial packet, maybe 1500. That doesn't include court fees, or courier, or process server, or anything, but you can kind of take that as it goes.
Dave Aarons: With the appearance kind of thing, as well. Yeah.
Dia Rogers: And the appearance, we can talk about the appearance later. Because the appearance is not going to happen for two or three months. Right?
Dave Aarons: I see. Sure.
Dia Rogers: So they can decide, "Yeah I want you right now. I will pay that right now because I have it and I want to secure you for that date." Or they can decide later, after they've already gotten to know you, because they just paid you five and they saw you turn around the paperwork in two weeks or whatever. And they're now comfortable with you handing over the 2500 or whatever it is for the next step.
Because the process of getting divorced kind of lends itself to a drawn out kind of thing, you can't get divorced inside of six months, usually. It helps with the unbundled piece by piece because they can make payments over time. I know I'm on limited scope, I just finished doing the paperwork. I'm not doing anything on the case. A clerk calls, someone from the courtroom calls, opposing counsel calls, they're not calling me, they're calling the client. And if there's an issue, the client calls me, and that creates another limited scope, because they want me to handle whatever it is that popped up.
Dave Aarons: We should clarify at this point that California is one of the states where if you're preparing documents for a client, it's a nondisclosure state, where you don't have to disclose that, "Hey I'm an attorney, I've prepared this." Where there are some states in the country where you have to disclose that you prepare these documents, and here's the limited scope agreement.
And so as far as how that procedure works, you'll want to check with your local state bar. And the ethics opinions in your state, one of the great resources is the Unbundling Resource Center, that was provided by the American Bar Association and they have state by state ethics opinions. We can link to it in the show notes. On these types of things as far as the disclosure, limited scope, limited appearances, availability of forums in your state as far as limited scope container agreements and also those limited appearance, we'll touch on that as far as appearances. But yeah so-
Dia Rogers: It's just the life of the case lends itself to pay as you go step by step. For the big ticket items, like an appearance at court, you're going to know in advance, usually a couple two, or three months, maybe four depending. And clients can take that opportunity if they know already that they want to hire you to make monthly payments just as long as I'm paid in full, fine.
Dave Aarons: Right, exactly. Okay so let's talk a little bit about ... I mean, I would think ... this is the feedback we get from a lot of other unbundled attorneys, is the clients will often say, "Well, I just want you to handle everything for me. I'd rather just you do things from start to finish." And a lot of attorneys will say, "Okay, well, if you could fit this initial retainer in your budget --- the 1000, 500 --- and then you could make these payments per month, then we can just do everything for you." And that seems like an easy path, easier path. Like, "Oh, I just want you to do it all for me." Right?
Dia Rogers: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dave Aarons: How do you push back on that to some ... push back in the sense of like ... because the reality is if you're going to be prepaying a retainer, and they're going the hourly billable model, really what you're doing is just you're just making it a little bit more accessible because you're not requiring as much upfront. And they're using software to like fit a payment plan that works for their budget. But in reality, it's still roughly the same amount of hours because you're not necessarily empowering the client to handle parts on their own.
So it isn't actually, really any more affordable in as far as total cost. It's just more accessible because they can pay as they go. Whereas, when you are providing unbundled services to so many clients that you do, you are actually saving them on the cost of what they're going to pay out of pocket for their legal issues. That's going to be more affordable because it's less hours. Because their handling some parts.
So how do you empower the client? Well, first of all, I'm sure you get some clients that say, "Well, I just want you to do everything for me." Talk about that conversation real quick, and then also we can maybe start to explain a little bit more about how you empower the client to handle some parts of it. What are some of the things that clients can more easily do on their own? What effects these do you coach on them doing that can start to reduce the cost for themself?
Dia Rogers: Well as far as pushing back on the hourly retainers, I don't find that you have to push back that hard. One of the reasons maybe why is because when I have that conversation with a client and they say ... because I give them the option, "Look there's two different kinds, there's the old school hourly, big retainer, there's the new school, limited scope, unbundled."
Dave Aarons: Old school, new school?
Dia Rogers: Yeah. "You want me to take everything from your shoulders, because either your job is too demanding, or you just can't handle, or you just don't want to. We can do that. But it's going to cost you. And it's going to be a big chunk upfront." And so, usually when I tell them what the big chunk is, and then I tell them, "Or you can do the unbundled and manage some of it yourself, and I will still be here. I am still a reference for you."
Dave Aarons: Right.
Dia Rogers: Right? "You can still contact me. You still have my number. You can still send me emails for this, that, or the other thing." I know it's only going to take a second here or there. And all I'm doing is maintaining the client contact, so that when they do want to hire me, I'm the one that they come to for the next, however, 18 years sometimes. Right?
Dave Aarons: Sure.
Dia Rogers: So when I tell them that you manage your own case, and it could be 1500 or 25. Or, "You're going to hire me for full representation and you're going to pay for it. It's going to be a $5000 retainer and your first month's couple of bills might be 10000." It's not that difficult.
Dave Aarons: Okay, right. When you really unpack what it's actually-
Dia Rogers: It's not that hard.
Dave Aarons: ... going to cost.
Dia Rogers: Right.
Dave Aarons: Do you want me to do everything for you?
Dia Rogers: Right. You're going to pay a big retainer upfront and then your first month's bill might not cover it. You still might have to come out the pocket to replenish your retainer and pay on your invoice. So, the first couple months you might be out 15 grand. And would you rather do that, or you want to just pay me 1500 and get the paperwork done and just kind of see how it goes?
Dave Aarons: Sure. So what are the types of things that you're helping the client do themself, and how do you help them do those aspects themselves?
Dia Rogers: Well I help the clients realize that they can go to hearings on their own like the administrative one, picking a new date. Just telling the judge what the status is, and whether or not they filed a judgment, or they're moving the case along. Those are things you can just show up for and tell, you're not arguing about anything, you're not worried about getting slapped with any kind of order that's going to impact your life. You're just going to kind of show up and say "Yes, your honor."
I tell them which hearings those are, and you can go. Or yes, you can pay me because you can't afford to take off work, or you just don't want to, or you're freaked out about talking to a judge in a courtroom. Sure, I will go, absolutely. But you don't have to. You can go yourself. And these are those ones. I will tell you which ones they are.
Dave Aarons: Okay, perfect.
Dia Rogers: And a lot of times from clients the response is, "Really? You'll tell me which ones you don't have to go to?"
Dave Aarons: To save you money.
Dia Rogers: "So I don't pay you?" They're a little bit taken aback by that because I guess everybody considers the attorneys to be the grubby, money hungry, I want to charge you up the wazoo for any little telephone call, text, email, whatever. And so when I'm upfront with them about that, that's the kind of reaction I get.
I'm not trying to take you for a ride. You want to get divorced. I want to help you get divorced. What could be simpler? So I'll tell them what hearings they can go to. There's also, a part of the divorce in California is you need to do your preliminary and final decelerations of disclosure. There are some problems with having clients do those on their own. In terms of they don't understand the legal ramifications of filling things out this way or that way. Or not including attachments, or the ramifications.
But as far as putting the information on the forms, I don't know whether they own real estate. I don't know how much their Bank of America credit card account is. So I tell them, "There's no real reason to have me do any of that for you. You want me to? Yeah I quote you a flat fee, you could have me do it. And I'll sit on the phone with you or I'll make you email me all the documents and we'll put it in. Fine, I'll do it."
But your time, your money would be better spent saving those dollars for me to go to the actual hearing where we are going to argue and get you orders. So you can put your packet together and you can send it to me and I'll take two seconds to look at it and see if you're sticking your foot in your mouth, or there might be some consequences to you not filling out this portion correctly, or if this goes here, or that goes there. It's going to take me two seconds.
Those kinds of sections I tell clients, "You can do on your own if you want to save yourself some money." And inevitably there's always the client that says, "Yeah, that's a great idea let me go do it." And then they just can't get it together. Right?
Dave Aarons: Sure.
Dia Rogers: And what they email me is just a pile of ... no man this is not good, you can't serve this. You can't file it. You can't do this on your own. I mean go ahead you can, because I'm not on the case. Right?
Dave Aarons: Sure. That's right.
Dia Rogers: But I'm telling you if you do this, it's not going to be good. There's going to be consequences. So you need to hire me for this, but that's a conversation we have two weeks-
Dave Aarons: After they've given it a shot there.
Dia Rogers: ... a month after I've already told them, "Go do it on your own. There's no reason why you can't." And so when I tell them-
Dave Aarons: It's that piece of it. Right?
Dia Rogers: Right ... And when I tell them, "No you can't, you cannot. You need to hire me for this." We've already established the relationship. They already trust me that I'm not out to just kind of charge them for nothing. And that when I tell them, "No you do need to hire me for this part." They trust me, they believe me, and they do. There are other parts, of course, of the case that I tell them, "You have to hire an attorney. My least favorite uncle, I would tell to hire an attorney on this part." Right? "You cannot process a judgment on your own. You can, it's complicated, it's a mess, it's going to take years off your life, don't do it, just hire someone. It doesn't have to be me. Hire someone. But these are the parts that you're going to need an attorney for, these are the parts that you don't."
And all that does is really help our attorney client relationship, anyway, having those conversations. And all that really does is increase the likelihood that they're going to hire me for other things too.
Dave Aarons: That's right. It's like you're having a conversation about, how can I save you money. How can I prevent you from spending a dime more than you have too.
Dia Rogers: Right. Because my-
Dave Aarons: And you're like, because you're sitting in their chair, and you're like, "Okay, if I was in your position I'd want to limit the cost as best as I can. And I want to be transparent with you, but here's the things I think you could probably do. Here's all the different types. So I want to try to cut down the cost for you. Let's limit the scope and empower you to do something, so that we can reduce the financial burden that it's going to have on you and your family.
Dia Rogers: Right. Because my obligation to them doesn't stop with just getting them divorced, or the visitation schedule or the property division that they're looking for. I'm also there to make sure that they don't spend a ton of money on their divorce that they don't need to. I mean it's not just the results of the case, your attorney is supposed to help you ... I mean the reason why the attorney's coming into your life is to help you with your life. How is it going to be helpful if they get you the custody orders, or the property division, or the divorce that you want? But in the meantime, they take 50 grand? That's not very helpful. I mean certainly worth it, yes absolutely. But it could be done better.
Dave Aarons: Sure. Inevitability, I'm sure there was a lot of steps along that way through that A to Z process where they spent that 50 grand where they probably could have reduced it down to say 15 or 20 grand.
Are there any others? So we've got ... and for those who are taking notes, for example, listening to this interview, we've got administrative hearings, we've got preparing the documents and inputting information into forms, we could talk about perhaps some of the software you might use to make it electronic for someone to do that. I don't know if you have any kind of intake questionnaires from that online.
Dia Rogers: Well, yeah we have, you send out questionnaires by email, there's the Clio Fields for inputting and document preparation that are automatic.
Dave Aarons: Like the document assembly.
Dia Rogers: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Dave Aarons: Which [inaudible 00:46:22].
Dia Rogers: Yeah, there's the forms, software that we use, the Lawyaw, the DocuSign for when you want them to fill out the form to help you with sections of the form. What else?
Dave Aarons: These are all ... like Lawyaw, a loan, for example, is this document assembly system where you can send someone a link, they can get access to the form on the internet, fill that out, and then that's going to auto-assemble the documents ... basically take that information and auto-populate into the necessary places on the forms and documents that you're needing help with preparing, that you're going to be preparing for them.
Dia Rogers: Right.
Dave Aarons: Right? So-
Dia Rogers: It auto-populates and it works with electronic signatures too.
Dave Aarons: Yes, yes. And so in many ways you're ... that work is off-loaded to that client. I mean, it's no longer something that you have to input manually yourself, and it's something that's user-friendly enough that most people can do it.
Dia Rogers: Yeah, and do it from their cell phone.
Dave Aarons: And so you can imagine like 10 years ago or something like that, it would be very difficult perhaps, a little bit more challenging maybe, to offload some of that work to the client, in the sense of like, okay, well they would have to write it on paper, administrative, then you got to still take that and data enter it into the ... actually there would be no data entry at that point. Right?
Dia Rogers: Yeah.
Dave Aarons: Okay, you got to take their documents and then transcribe it into the actual rich-end forms. And so in many ways this limited scope and empowering the client to prepare their own documents and fill out the forms, not prepare the documents but input the information into ... provide the information that you need that's going to then be inputted into the forms, is made possible by some of the technological components that we talked about way early on in this conversation around, okay, we want to build a virtual firm, or have the capacity to work virtually.
What's the technology that we need to underpin that intention, that can make empowering the client to do some work themselves possible, and also feasible for the client. Because otherwise they probably wouldn't be able to do it or it wouldn't be efficient, so it doesn't make sense. So those things kind of go together.
So you've got the administrative hearings, you've got the client being able to fill out these forms for themselves. Anything else that comes to mind off the top of your head as far as the types of things that clients can do themselves, that you would like consistently coach them on, like filing documents, or stuff for the other party, whatever it might be?
Dia Rogers: Filing, service, administrative hearings, parts of the discovery, filling out some of the forms that are required, I mean that's pretty much it.
Dave Aarons: Yep.
Dia Rogers: And the other thing that I try to sell them on is the way to limit their costs is to work with me virtually, so that they're not paying me the hourly fee for my face time, because that's what's going to cost you. You want to come in, you want to have a meeting, you want to do some hand-holding, talk about the history of your family, and what's going on exactly, and how it's traumatized everyone, and that's going to cost an hourly rate, because that's not really advancing the case the way the client thinks it is.
From my side, on the attorney's side, I get all the information I need in the first five or ten minutes, and the rest of the hour and a half or whatever is just ... we're just sitting there listening to story. And if they're willing to pay for that, fine. But I know my time is better well spent getting the results that they want, and talking to other potential clients and working on other clients' cases.
Dave Aarons: Okay, so and what percentage of the clients retain you over the phone without having to come in for an office visit versus the ones decide they want to come into and visit even after that conversation.
Dia Rogers: 99%.
Dave Aarons: 99% will retain right over the phone?
Dia Rogers: Yeah.
Dave Aarons: Okay. And what percentage of the clients will retain for some form of a limited scope representation? Limited scope?
Dia Rogers: 95%.
Dave Aarons: Okay, yeah. So relatively speaking, I mean, we've got hundreds of lawyers that work within our network, providing unbundled legal services. I would say a handful would probably have similar numbers, but a lot of folks don't necessarily have that amount of clients enrolling over the phone virtually, for the reason that ... because of the fact the way you were educating them about how it's going to cut down on costs, makes sense that they would.
But they still have a lot of folks come into the office, and they still have a lot of folks, it would probably be the opposite, where somewhere like 80% full representation, and 20% unbundled legal services, and so there's just ... we really ... to the best of our ability want to help attorneys understand what perhaps that they're leaving on the table. Because I guess I could think in my mind that as they're hearing this, well, if you're empowering the client to do these things yourself, themselves, you're not getting paid for that anymore.
Okay, so let's deal with that for a second. So what does this enable for you in your practice as far as do you want to serve more clients, not maybe get so invested emotionally, or how is that a benefit to you to reduce the costs to the client. Obviously the client's going to be happy because you're a person of integrity and they can sense that, and you're trying to save them money, so they're probably going to be more likely to retain you because of the fact they can sense that you're not trying to over-bill them, so that's going to help to some degree.
But how does that benefit you and shift the way you practice, and how has it impacted your ...
Dia Rogers: Well I think it does wonders for the training client interpersonal relationship, of course, right off the bat. It also does wonders for my stress level, just personally, because I don't get embroiled in these cases that go on, can go on for years a lot of times, where attorneys can become personally invested in the cases because they are going on for so long and they know the opposing counsel, and they've been battling them for years. I don't have that.
My wars, my battles are short-lived, and so I don't have the cases that wake me up at night like I remember. The ones that I'm worried about because I've been working on them for so long, and I know we need to get to a goal that's far, and we need to set up strategically how we're going to get there, because my timeline on most of these cases, long time is six months. So I'm on these cases piecemeal at a time, one, three, four months maybe, and then there's a glow, and there's a recess, and then a year up again, and then I'm hired again for one, three, four months.
So, the stress level has ... it's a big difference, night and day, in terms of managing the cases, because really I'm not managing the case. I'm telling the clients what they need to do to move their case along and how they need to manage the case, and all they're doing is calling me, kind of for reference, to say okay-
Dave Aarons: Or the necessary appearance, that's like really going to be key for their case. But even then those are limited appearances with a notice of limited scope appearance. Right?
Dia Rogers: Right, and when clients call me and say this, that, or the other thing is happening again, or this, that, or the other thing is brand new, is happening, what do I do? Then that segues into another retainer, another fee agreement, or that's just ... this is what I think you should do, and they decide to head off on their own. It's not my deal anymore.
So it completely puts the ball in their court, and I'm just relieved to come in and do the work on the one to three months that I can do and get the results that I know that I can, and be done.
So in terms of just the effect that the unbundled or the flat fee, the limited scope has had on my practice and my life, it's made it much more enjoyable because a lot of people would tell you, in family law especially, there really are no winners or losers.
So it's not like if you work on a case for five or six years, like a class action lawsuit, and you get the big win at the end for everybody and their mother, even if you go to trial on a divorce case, and you get every order that you want under the sun, it still never feels like a really big win like that. At the end of the day, people still are getting divorced, kids are still splitting up Christmas and Easter.
So it's not like I need to be on a case for forever to get the result I want and feel good about what I did for that client. That can happen in the one to three month intervals.
Dave Aarons: Sure. So is ... unbundled legal services, not only is a benefit to ... well, so one of the major factors we didn't mention obviously, is if folks don't have to pay $3000 to $5000 up front, and they could get started working, and make payments at $500 to $1000 a pop, for you to deliver these limited scope services and have them empower you, you empower them to do some work themselves, that's a lot lower price barrier, and so I would assume that you have a lot more clients retaining your services as a result.
Dia Rogers: Yeah. But I mean, they overlap, because I'm constantly getting more, and I'm shutting off more clients at a quicker rate as well, as opposed to the hourly ones that you can be on for years. Right?
Dave Aarons: Right.
Dia Rogers: So the new clients that are hiring me as an attorney on their case, they're often three months. So clients that are making payments even monthly payment clients, are only paying for a series of a couple or three or four months.
Dave Aarons: That's how the offset of it, eh?
Dia Rogers: Yeah. So it's not-
Dave Aarons: Save a little more attrition. Okay.
Dia Rogers: Yeah, definitely. And-
Dave Aarons: But generally speaking, it's a more attractive offer so to speak.
Dia Rogers: Absolutely.
Dave Aarons: Sure.
Dia Rogers: And it's definitely more attractive also because they feel invested, like it's not just you hire an attorney and they go out into their office, and do their work, and then you show up at court, and then either win or lose, or have a good result or a bad result, and you don't really know how that happened or why or ... but what the unbundled, the limited scope clients ... they know what's going on. It's the turnaround time on their paperwork is very short. We're having discussions about what their next steps are all the time, where they're coming from, where they're going, because they're the ones who need to manage it and be able to decide whether or not and when to call me again.
So it's not like they hire me and then don't hear from me for two or three months and then see me at the court hearing. No. So they definitely feel like it's their case and they didn't just hand it off to somebody and they don't know what happened or how they arrived at this horrible order or a great order or not. They're involved, it's their case, and that makes them feel responsible for it, they feel like they're working with me on their case as opposed to just, I'm working their case and they don't know what's going on.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, that's a big contrast, huge difference where it's like having someone on your team guiding you every step of the way as opposed to here's my problem, take it away from me. You deal with it. And I don't even know what you're doing, I just haven't have gotten a call for two weeks, so I'm stressing out, or I get this bill I wasn't expecting.
Dia Rogers: That causes the tension at the end.
Dave Aarons: That adversarial relationship, and then you're like having to have a dispute over what was charged.
Dia Rogers: Justified, yeah.
Dave Aarons: And it's like this ... it's not a good dynamic. It's not the dynamic you want to create, as opposed to the empower model.
So, and what percentage of clients that begin working with you on limited scope will decide that ... hire you for additional unbundled services, or for representation from there. Do you know?
Dia Rogers: Well I think full representation is really small. But there are a bunch of clients that do start out small, and I do have to have conversations with certain clients of, look you got too many things going on, this is not a case that is actually good for unbundled limited scope.
You need someone to manage all of this, and I do have those conversations with clients when it's appropriate. It's not often. I would say maybe 2%, 3% of clients actually have cases like that, that do demand kind of like an onboard attorney to manage every aspect, either because the client themselves demand it because of how they are, what their capabilities are in terms of understanding the process and knowing what to do and not to do and stuff like that. Or because the case itself is just revving high and has a whole bunch of issues going out at the same time.
Dave Aarons: But what would be some of examples of the types of cases that would probably not be fit for unbundling, or types of clients? What are the things to watch out for for attorneys that are newer to providing unbundled legal services that they may want to insist on full representation or not insist on unbundled.
Dia Rogers: Well I would definitely say we have more than a couple issues going on at the same time, and by issues I don't mean just custody or visitation support. I mean you have subpoenas, discovery, detailed in-depth kind of discovery issues, motions to compel, motions against you for sanctions --- please, dear god, don't ever handle yourself --- processing the judgment just because it's a pain in the behind.
When there's issues about minor's counsel and how to handle that, because everybody expects them to be the family therapist. Things not to handle, preparation for mediation, because they don't know the ramifications of how it's going to happen. You need to at least to be briefed on how that's going to go down. Definitely trial, anything that includes testimony and introduction of evidence, and a preservation of the record for appeal, if that's an issue. I'm definitely not going to be able to handle that. I think that's pretty much it.
Dave Aarons: Yep, and what are the types of clients that ... I think, usually it's just like they don't necessarily have the intelligence or capacity to follow basic instructions or procedures, or there is a language barrier, would be two common ones. Anything else that sticks out of your mind with-
Dia Rogers: Yeah, absolutely.
Dave Aarons: ... absent folks.
Dia Rogers: I mean this divorce, so everybody's going through it. Right?
Dave Aarons: Yeah.
Dia Rogers: And they don't hire attorneys, because you need a rocket scientist. It's just you need an outside, a third party, objective person that's not in it to be able to speak intelligently and objectively about it. So clients that are definitely so taken with their own family dynamics for whatever reason and the breakdown of that, that they're not able to focus, not able to stand up and speak their mind, even when asked. Right?
Dave Aarons: Yep.
Dia Rogers: Just because the emotions [crosstalk 01:01:03] and the dynamics of the family. Yeah. No matter the education, no matter the means, it's just if it's really a trying and difficult divorce, and the person just can't be a good advocate for themselves. I'm going to recommend that they need full representation.
Dave Aarons: Right. So emotions are high whether they're feeling significantly or exceptionally disempowered.
Dia Rogers: If they can't realize a reasonable versus unreasonable course of action, what the difference is and why, then I'm going to recommend that they need someone to help them.
Dave Aarons: Good. I appreciate you kind of unpacking the areas to look out for and have these conversations, because the realty's, in some ways, just like a good doctor. It's like above all don't do any harm. And so taking someone down a path that maybe they can't complete themselves, you know, you have to watch out for those. Like you said, it's not a whole lot of clients, we're talking 2%, 3%, 4%, 5% of clients.
Dia Rogers: Very few.
Dave Aarons: It seems like, because the other question is, "Is this person going to be in a better position if I provide them with a limited scope of services from a symbol like myself, that's like for you that's a practicing attorney, he's got experience in that core, he knows what to expect.
As someone that's representing themself, going to be in a better position having you help them on some limited basis. Most of the time the answer's yes. And then that happened to be completely alone.
Dia Rogers: Yeah, I mean, but again, that's also part of the conversation of I wouldn't send my least favorite uncle into court on something that I think that he should win on and true justice and the American way should prevail on. But the reason why you have an attorney go with you is to prevent it from going sideways, or if it does go sideways, someone's there who is familiar, to be able to protect your rights when it does, because there's no after the facts fix it. Even though everybody wants to take it up on appeal and I mean, it's not always possible. And the only real time to fix it is in real time, and that can't happen if you don't take somebody.
So my least favorite uncle, he's smart, he's educated, he's charming and all that, but still, I would never send him in without an attorney. If he's able to hire one and he can find one to do the work for him, absolutely you need to. And I tell the clients that.
But I'm not going to tell them that and say that, one, I'm not biased, because I am an attorney. But two, that there aren't other options available. It's your case, it's your life, it's your divorce, you choose. I'm just here to tell you what those options are.
Dave Aarons: That's right. Okay, one final thing I want ... at least ... yeah, I think this will all group together. I'm sure there's some lawyers who listen to the podcast just kind of scratching their head like, "95%?" and "Over the phone," and, "Okay, I want to learn how to do that, too." Like, "What was he doing?"
Dia Rogers: I don't understand how they do it the other way.
Dave Aarons: So I want to unpack this to some degree just as far as like, being as specific as we can about your process, what are the major things you're going to cover in an example consultation. Because your calls are 20, 30 minutes, something like that?
Dia Rogers: Um ...
Dave Aarons: Not that long. 10, 15?
Dia Rogers: 15 is good.
Dave Aarons: 15 minutes, yeah.
Dia Rogers: 15 is what I'm happy with. If they need longer, of course, I've been on the phone longer than 30 minutes. But it's all about what the client needs.
Dave Aarons: Okay so there's two pieces of this, one is just how to handle that initial consultation, I think just some ... whatever tips that you obviously take quite a number of leads from us, I think over a hundred a month because you're servicing San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles. Los Angeles like is at hold for a little bit, but ... and that's expanded over time as you've gradually ramped up your practice, initially starting with Los Angeles, and then doing Orange County, then adding on San Diego as it became available.
So this has expanded over time, but suffice to say, you're fielding a lot of leads. You're doing a lot of consultations. And so over these, the course of these months, you've gradually improved your process and gotten better at being efficient on those calls but also having a lot of folks want to make the call.
And so what are the ... to the best of your ability unpack what are the things that you do in that consultation, the things that you'll make sure you hit every time so that's people understand, like I think one thing for sure would be the value of the virtual sales point, like you mentioned like, "Hey, you can come into my office, you can sit down with me, but I'm going to be billing you hour by hour for that time, and we can get into the whole story, or we can take a look at what are the specific things that you need to get done, and let's get those things done. And if we can save you from having to come into the office, that's going to save you a lot of money there, too."
So I can imagine that this conversation is around, "How can I save you money? What are the different ways we can do that?" So, maybe in your own words, what are the things that you hit in that consultation, you're either in a ... kind of said the order, or whether the many keys that you've learned that make that more successful for you?
Dia Rogers: Well I think the first thing is always just information. I'm not ... these are not sales calls for me. I mean, yes, of course they are, I need to pay for my own life and family and et cetera. But I find that so many people who speak to me, even if I'm not even the first attorney they've spoken to about their divorce, haven't the faintest clue about the process, the stages, the requirements, so I kind of boil that down as quickly as I can and give them just upfront, here's the information.
This is what you need to do, this is how it's going to go, these are the three parts of the divorce case, x, y, and z --- first, second, and third --- and give that information up front. And then if they want to talk to me about their particular issues, of their particular problems that they want resolved, then we can talk about that and how I can help them do that, and then usually at the end of the call it's, okay, how much?
Dave Aarons: Okay, right. Okay, so it's like, beginning of the conversation, it's like, tell me what's going on, bring me up to speed with your situation. Okay, they give you a synopsis of the situation, maybe you're asking a few questions, children involved, customers in place.
Dia Rogers: And usually I just cut right to the [crosstalk 01:06:58] the first thing is, whatever the situation is, whatever the details are, just upfront, just tell me what is it that you want to have happen. Just tell me the end result first, because that's the most important.
Tell me the end result, give me a little snippet of what's going on, and I can tell you how to get there. All the details of everything that's going to fill it out and make it full, and all the things that are going to be required for the judge, I don't need right now.
Dave Aarons: That's right.
Dia Rogers: We just need to know, what do you want to have happen, and how I can make that happen for you, and what steps, what are the requirements that ... the hoops you're going to have to jump through to get there. You can do it on your own, you can hire me, hire somebody else, go to the court, take a number, wait in line. They'll do it for you for free, not too great, but they'll do it, and it's free.
These are the things available to you, but in order for me to give that information to you, I only need a very limited set of facts, of information, of pieces from you. And that is, what do you want?
Dave Aarons: Yes, what do you want to see. "If you can have the situation turn out exactly the way you want, what would you like to see happen?" is one of the primary questions-
Dia Rogers: Yeah, and we just work backwards from there.
Dave Aarons: Yes, okay. So you'll ... if I go where their goals are, basic facts of what it is they're trying to do, and then process, okay, well here's the things that need to happen next. So like, you need to file this, these are the documents that need to get done, from there, this is going to happen. So you talk about some of the specific steps that come next?
Dia Rogers: Yes.
Dave Aarons: Okay. And the things that they're going to need to do in order to make that happen in the courtroom?
Dia Rogers: Right and each step, which steps that I can help them with, and which steps they can do on their own-
Dave Aarons: Ah-ha!
Dia Rogers: ... and which steps, the time frame for the steps I want to expect going forward. And all that doesn't have anything to do with whether or not they hire me.
Dave Aarons: Right, and do you give a bit of a precursor around like: Are you familiar with unbundled legal services? Did you read it on the website? Do you have an idea or you just kind of go: Okay, so these are the things that need to get done. These are the things I think you can handle yourself to save you money, based on just our limited conversation here. These are the things that I would say I could definitely do. How do you ...
Dia Rogers: I think the precursor is old school, new school.
Dave Aarons: Okay, so give that analogy.
Dia Rogers: Right, because I think that segue comes about from, look, here's the general divorce process: You do this, you do that, you're divorced. And we can do that one of two ways. Usually you do the old school, big fat retainer and monthly billing per minute, per hour, invoices, all that stuff. Or we do the flat fee and I try to find clients that'll do everything virtually with me so my overhead is low, and you can save on costs.
Dave Aarons: Okay.
Dia Rogers: And so usually they have questions about that. Well, okay, so of the process that we just talked about, how would that work with the unbundled flat fee limited scope? Well, okay we'll go step by step, and first we start with that first step, and would quote you this much, and we just go from there, and you can decide at each point along the process whether you want to hire me on to do that, or you're going to take care of it yourself.
Dave Aarons: Right, okay. I think that will give people a bit better ... it's like, initially find out what they need help with, talk about what needs to get done, these are all the phases of the process. Here's the old school way of doing it, this is traditional full representation. You pay me for A to Z, I do everything, it costs this much.
Then there's this limited scope new school way of going about it, which is, I can do parts of these cases, you can do parts yourself, we could find a balance between what you're comfortable with and what you can afford, and then we just kind of come up with a solution that's going to make the most sense for you, given your budget and what you're trying to do.
And then you'll get into some very specific options and then give them a flat rate quote, see if that can fit them in the budget, and then from there if they can't afford, do you give them a list of payment options, like let's say it's a $1000 to knock out the documents or whatever it is there need to get done.
Dia Rogers: Yeah sometimes they ask for it, are there options for payments, and then I'll tell them, "Yes, of course," and then discuss what the process is, because really the process lends itself to the payment options. So if they ask for payment options, I say, "Yes, of course," you want to start with the initial petition and a motion at the same time. You can just start with a petition now, and then wait, and when you're ready to go forward with the motion, then make a payment, and we can start that.
So, I kind of draw out, or describe better, in more detail, the process, and where they can take time, and use that to their advantage so that they can get the money together for the next step. But they don't have to do everything all at once if there's no danger, if there's no emergency right now. And that they can use that to their benefit.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, and in many ways it's just dealing with that next ... that thing that's right in front of them. It's like you're not trying to convince them to be ... The thing is you don't have to convince them to be, that you're their lawyer that's going to handle this whole thing for them for the next year or two or whatever.
The decision is, I can help you with this, here's this next thing that needs to get done, I can help you with this for that.
Dia Rogers: The immediate need.
Dave Aarons: Right.
Dia Rogers: Yeah.
Dave Aarons: And that enables them to kind of get an experience for whenever you want to try you out and get more comfortable working with you for a very small amount of money, relatively speaking.
Dia Rogers: Yeah, the risk-reward for them is much better.
Dave Aarons: That's right, because they're not making a long-term commitment at this point.
Dia Rogers: Yep.
Dave Aarons: It's a big piece. And also, I think, for you, you get to try them out a little bit. Right?
Dia Rogers: Yeah.
Dave Aarons: Get a sense for-
Dia Rogers: I get to try them out, and that informs my next quote. Right?
Dave Aarons: Yep, yep.
Dia Rogers: And my next recommendation of how to break up the future parts of their case, because now I have more contact with them, I'm more familiar with the particular facts of their case, I know what is coming down the pipeline because I've seen these cases a million times, and I can give them better information about how to handle it and what they're probably going to have to hire me for, because I can tell them, "No, don't hire me for this part, this thing is coming down, you're going to have to save all your duckets for that thing that's going to happen in six months."
Dave Aarons: Yes, yes, exactly. And I'm sure any lawyer that's provided for representation for any period of time will have at least a few clients where they're like, "Man, if I had known x, y, z about this case; x, y, z about this client, maybe I wouldn't have gotten involved in this one."
Dia Rogers: And then-
Dave Aarons: You could kind of take a little soul for yourself too, eh?
Dia Rogers: Yeah, and it makes it easier to kind of offload those cases, or those clients, that you necessarily don't want to work with for whatever reason. Either it's personal-
Dave Aarons: Right, because you haven't made the full commitment at that point.
Dia Rogers: Right, either it's personality, or just the case, or whatever. Your life is going nuts, and you have to deal with other things. So you can do the things that are attorneys do a lot of times, even on hourly offers, which is to jack up the deposit requirements for the retainer to try and make sure this is something the client really wants to hire you for, and kind of increase the likelihood that they are not going to.
And so there's a lot of wiggle room there, you just have to know where it is, and how to ... you just have to play with it, and figure out how to use it to get what you want accomplished, either not to have that client hire you as their attorney again, because you just don't want to deal with it, or just say, "Sorry, I'm booked," or whatever it is.
Dave Aarons: Right, but you actually, you have that choice of that play, rather than have it be withdrawn from the record, and you already, everything's been established at that point, you take things-
Dia Rogers: ... from the bar, because they think that you signed off improperly, or they feel bad about how the breakdown of the relationship went, or maybe you didn't fulfill your obligations from when they first remember you making promises to them at the retainer agreement signing. There's none of that, it's all just ether.
Dave Aarons: That's what Woody Mosten said, who was one of the --- Forrest Woody Mosten, one of the founders of the concept of unbundling itself, is malpractice insurance companies love unbundled legal services, because there's rarely any claims. It's just like virtually no claims at all, because of the fact that you're really having a meeting of the minds of the client every step of the way, and you're not having to make the commitment all the way down the road without knowing all the things that are going to be coming to play, all the different factors, and so forth, so ...
Dia Rogers: And there's also a whole bunch of things that just the client is unfamiliar with, doesn't have any idea about, professional responsibility obligations, things that they're billed for. I had a client I remember years ago that was hourly who wanted to be able to dictate whether or not I returned opposing counsel's phone call, and then get billed for it. And I have to, but he doesn't want to pay for it, and it creates that same tension that just does not exist with limited scopes.
Dave Aarons: Yes, well this has been so valuable to really get down to the meat of how it's done, like how you can deliver these services with the technology. We only hit that pretty briefly, but we've got a lot of different episodes with Rebecca Fuller, on legal technology and streamlining the process, streamlining your practice.
We've talked about practice management, document assembly. For those of you that want to get a little bit more information about how to implement these software services to make things a little bit more streamlined, we certainly cover that quite a bit. But Lawyaw, Clio document assembly, intake systems and so forth, that's really helpful, but above all it's really ... this is what, also, what he talked about when we went to his own legal services training in San Diego, and also his national trainings that he does. He's done a couple of them in the last couple of years especially, is the concept or idea of leading with unbundled legal services.
Try to find a way to help that client on an unbundled basis first. Figure out if there's a way to save the money. Can you advise them in ways that they can handle a couple of administrative hearings. Could you empower them to prepare some of the documents themselves, or at least input the information? Could you reduce some of the costs? Could you go one phase at a time to make things more affordable for that client so they don't have to pay the money up front?
Find a way to unbundle, if there's any way at the outset. Clients are going to really appreciate it. When you're doing things as a flat rate on a limited scope basis, we didn't really touch base too much on this, but you can really start to streamline the process so it doesn't take a whole lot of time to get documents out the door. You might be charging $500 to $1000, but it doesn't mean it needs to take five to 10 hours to do it. All these things can take the attorney's time, maybe an hour or two hours. So the effective hourly rates are really great, as far as the return on what you're collecting for the amount of time you have to put into each limited scope document.
And again, we've had these conversations, like for example, Clay Wilkinson's episode on how to make $500, $750 an hour providing a unbundled legal services. Check out that episode, he talks specifically about the running the numbers on the effective hourly rate and providing unbundled services set as a flat rate. So, I don't want to repeat what's already been discussed in that episode, but it can be very viable financially to lead with these very profitable service options to offer. Before you make the commitment to go all in with a client, just like the client, before they have to make the commitment to go all in with you.
Dia Rogers: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I would even make the argument that you're making that offer to serve your client better. But I would also argue that you have to make that offer to them to serve yourself too, because I really don't think, even before I met or became familiar with unbundled services, that the hourly billing structure really serves the attorney either. I don't think that it serves the client, with how they get billed, and it also doesn't serve the attorney because of how you have to watch over your billing, the risks involved, the liabilities with the malpractice, and the dynamics of it.
Dave Aarons: The account receivable percentages, I think the average percentage is like 60% to 70% of actual monies you collect.
Dia Rogers: A whole other person in your office, if not two or three to deal with that.
Dave Aarons: Deal with collections, yeah.
Dia Rogers: Yep, malpractice insurance, just the tension and the stress of knowing that you're working on stuff you're never really going to see payment for, and for a feeling of having clients that are ungrateful for that or just everything that's wrapped up in that, I just don't think it's the best way to go.
There are certain situations and cases that call for it and it's a good idea, but I just, as a general rule, I don't think it serves either party, on either side, the attorney or client, in the best way that we can.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Well, and it just so happens that there's thousands and thousands of clients out there representing 70% to 75% of the market that would be very grateful for the opportunity to work with an attorney like yourself that offers these options because at the end of the day, it's going to be more affordable for them, but also it's profitable for you, but it's very affordable for them, and they're getting the access to the legal services that they badly need in a way that the average working family or lower or middle income person can fit in their budget.
And so that's where we go all the way back full circle to: Why you left that big firm in the first place? Now you have the opportunity to have control of your own lifestyle, work virtually as you as chosen. Some people can work personally with the clients, but work virtually, work the hours you want, and also more importantly, be able to make a difference in people's lives by giving them access to the services that they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford.
So thank you so much for your generosity, your time, and helping me shine a light on what's possible here, and I think what's still on the table I think for so many other attorneys to really get to understand this business model a little bit better, and I think it's a real key component to actually having a measurable shift in the affordability of legal services in this country.
We have this access to justice problem, but in reality, it's a solvable problem. It can be solved by the for profit sector, by attorneys just better understanding this model and learning how to use technology and offer these services in the ways that we've described, so I really appreciate you just laying out how this has made it possible for your practice, and also made such a difference in the way you live your life not relative the why it was before.
Any final ... before we wrap up, any final points, things you've taken away from the last couple of years or so of implementing service options or anything that you would say, "Hey man, we really got to hit this final point," or anything that I missed you think before we wrap up.
Dia Rogers: I mean, the only thing for some reason- [crosstalk 01:20:51] ... the only thing for some reason on the front of my mind right now is just I went to that Clio conference, I think it was last year or the year before, I can't really remember at this point.
Dave Aarons: Yep, Clio Cloud Conference, yep.
Dia Rogers: Heaven help me, I can't remember who the speaker was, but I do remember one of the things that he said was that the opposite, I think the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but it's access to justice, and that's just something I think is paramount.
And this is one of the ways that ... sorry ... this is one of the ways that I could help in that area. So many of the people that you talk to just think that from the outset there's no way that they could hire an attorney, that there's no way that they can hire representation, and they're just going to get, pardon my language, but screwed. And they should just, or I should just tell them that they should walk away right now.
And no, if you're making services affordable at $100 increments, at $500 increments, at $1000 increments, even families that $500 is a lot for, they can still get their paperwork done, they can still get it done correctly, they can still make payments over time, they can still have an attorney as a resource to call or text or email, and just having that access for people who just automatically think that it's not possible I think is the most ... it's the most important thing.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, above all, that's what we're all ... it's why we're doing what we're doing. It's why we're on this podcast and all that other stuff, so I really appreciate that, your commitment to that.
Dia Rogers: And thanks for allowing me to be able to serve more people that way.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, it's certainly been a lot of people we've been serving, so I really thank you for all the work you're doing, and your willingness to work with folks on this basis and your commitment to all the way back from when you walked out of that firm, and you knew that that wasn't why you became a lawyer, that's not what you're here to do, and you answered that call, and you continue to do that every single day, so ... thank you so much for being willing to apply that every day.
Dia Rogers: Thanks.
Dave Aarons: All right, so thank you so much again for sharing. For those of you that are listening, watching the episode, we're doing it as a video podcast now, we certainly appreciate everything that you're doing to learn the nuts and bolts and strategies and find a little bit better way to approach this so that you can serve more clients and fortunately you don't have to go broke doing it anymore, because unbundled legal services is ethical, we've got the technology, and all the systems and tools available to make it possible so that you can make a great living and help a lot of people at the same time, and it just feels so darn good to know that we can all do that together, we don't have to volunteer our way out of this thing.
So thanks so much for being a part of this movement, and we certainly look forward to seeing you on the next episode.
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Episode 58: Designing the Law Firm of Your Dreams: How to “Lead" with Unbundled Services, Run a Virtual Practice from Anywhere, and Provide Affordable Access to Justice
The San Diego, CA Unbundled Attorney we interview today thought she had found her dream job working for a corporate law firm, but soon discovered it was nothing close to what she had imagined. Fortunately, she had the courage and ambition to leave that firm and build her own practice that would both support her ideal lifestyle, and make a significant difference in the lives of the clients she serves. That commitment set her on a path to design a technology-enabled, virtual practice that allows her to operate from anywhere. Imagine heading down to the beach or park, cracking open your laptop and enrolling new clients over the phone while soaking up the sun. This is the kind of location freedom that she has engineered into her practice, and you can too.
During our interview, she shares the systems and technology that make her virtual practice possible. We also discover how she enrolls 99% of her clients for unbundled legal services initially, instead of requiring full representation. This is known in our community as “leading with unbundled”, and she shares how this fundamental shift in approach has transformed her practice.
To read a complete transcript of this interview, click here
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Her background working in a high-end corporate law firm, which she once thought would be her dream job, and why she left the firm to start her own practice
- The value of engineering a practice around your ideal lifestyle, rather than settling for a lifestyle because of the demands of your practice
- The importance of taking time to create a clear vision for what your ideal practice looks like, and how that vision shapes each decision you make and enables you to build the firm you truly desire from that point on
- Why she decided to build a virtual law firm and the specific systems and technology she and her husband employ that enable her to run her practice from anywhere
- The benefit of keeping up to date with the latest apps and technology available to lawyers, and the valuable tools that she has implemented in her practice
- How she is able to enroll over 90% of her clients for unbundled legal services directly over the phone and examples of the typical unbundled services she provides
- Why offering unbundled legal services is a great option for attorneys who would like to build either a partial or fully virtual law practice
- How providing unbundled services as a flat fee eliminates the need to “micro-bill” your clients, improves the quality of the relationship with your clients, and can significantly increase your profitability
- A detailed breakdown of the factors you need to consider when determining what flat fee to charge your clients for unbundled services
- How she sells unbundling to her clients, including the three main categories of her unbundled services and how she tailors them to fit her clients’ legal needs and financial budget
- The power of explaining to clients the specific ways you help them handle parts of their case on their own to save money, and why this approach can significantly increase the number of clients who retain your services
- Some examples of the types of tasks she empowers clients to handle themselves, and some creative ways she helps them to reduce costs
- The types of clients and cases that are not a typical fit for unbundled legal services and may require full representation
- A walk-through of how she approaches the initial consultation so that 90+% of the clients that enroll do so right over the phone without having to come into the office
- Why she is so passionate about providing unbundled legal services, and her commitment to giving thousands of unrepresented people in this country access to justice that they desperately need and deserve
- And much more …
Resources Mentioned in This Episode
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For more information about Unbundled Attorney and how our exclusive, unbundled leads can help grow your practice, visit: https://www.unbundledattorney.com