Experienced Social Worker Turned Practicing Attorney: Active Listening, Cultivating and Communicating Empathy, and Understanding the Lifetime Value of Each Client
I feel like I say this every time, but this is just a fantastic episode, this interview Brian Picarello. He’s been our provider attorney out of Suffolk County, New York, since day one Unbundled Attorney. We first launched back in January of 2015; he’s been with us, literally, since January 15th, 2015, which is the day we launched.
One of the things I really appreciate about Brian is he is a self-prescribed numbers geek, and he’s been keeping track of the leads we’ve sent him, and also the referrals he’s gotten from leads, and what’s that brought for him in revenue, and all these types of things. It really has helped him recognize, and appreciate, and have confidence in the long-term value of each lead, and each client.
I think a lot of lawyers miss the long-term potential of each relationship. In marketing, we call it the lifetime value, and really it’s the lifetime of these individuals. We have so many leads come through that are in their twenties and early thirties, and, of course, the older folks as well, but a lot of clients have just had a baby, and they just had a new issue, and they’ve got a life ahead of them. Understanding that and knowing that, and in treating people accordingly, not because of what’s going to come later, but just recognizing that issues are going come in the future, that you’re going to get referrals. It just gives you the confidence to really take the time to drop in with that person, be a little bit more flexible on the options you take, lower those barriers of entry, just because you know it’s going to work out in the long run.
Brian not only has the numbers to prove it, he also has the perspective. His background was, he was a social worker and counselor, and so he has a lot of wisdom in the way to listen deeply to his clients, develop empathy, and he shares a lot of how he does that on this episode. So much to take away from here; I just want to get out of the way and get right to it, this interview with Brian Picarello, our provider attorney in Suffolk County, New York.
Dave Aarons: Hi Brian, welcome to the show.
Brian Picarello: Hi Dave, how you doing?
Dave Aarons: I’m good, Brian. I’m really glad that we’re finally getting the chance to have this conversation. Not only have we been working together for really long time, but we’ve also been going back and forth, to set it all up. I’m happy to be here, I’m looking forward to diving in on how this has all come together, and been working for you for the last couple years we’ve been working together, so I thank you for taking the time.
Brian Picarello: Yeah, thank you. I’m looking forward to it.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, maybe just a good place to start, Brian, just share a little bit about your background, how you got your start in the practice of law, the reason you serve, and the areas of law.
Brian Picarello: Sure. I actually was one of those people who went to law school a little later in life. I actually worked out at the high school; I didn’t even go to college right away. I worked doing some plumbing, doing some work like that, and realized that being outside in February, really, wasn’t for me, up here in the Northeast, so I’m going to hit the books and see if I can get a degree. I ended up going back to school, and I worked in the capacity as a social worker. Not a licensed social worker, more like a caseworker for people who were in crisis. My first introduction into the real world, if you will, was dealing with people who were going to have their kids removed by Child Protective Services.
So, you kind of jump right in there and started working as a resource for families in crisis. And then, when I realized that that was not only … The stress of that was tremendous, but the income wasn’t really something I could survive on here on Long Island. Yeah, I ended up going back to school again and went to law school. I realized that I wanted to wield a little bit of a bigger sword if you will. My advocacy would only go so far, in my capacity as a caseworker, so I really was looking to make some changes and to really help people, and be more of an advocate for those people who were being taken advantage of, or abused, or whatever. I just always had a soft spot for working with people at the worst point in their life.
I went to law school, and I did that and tried to get a job in 2010, and that was proving a little difficult, despite having done well in school. The market really wasn’t looking for a 38-year-old guy to go out there and start pushing papers around an office. So, end up [inaudible 00:05:01], and that took the lead from some really generous colleagues that sort of showed me the way, and was always there to help when I questions, which I had a lot of; and I went out there and I just started doing it. Unbundled came to me, probably, about two years after I started, and that’s where we first began our relationship; and that really did change the face of my practice.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, yeah, we could certainly dive into that. I was just looking at it; I think we worked together for, gosh, at least three years, almost, now. You were one of the first attorneys, and I think the first lawyer we ever had in Long Island.
Brian Picarello: Yeah, Long Island’s a big place. For those of you, your listeners that aren’t necessarily familiar with the East Coast, Long Island is quite a large area. Suffolk County is just about as big as Rhode Island, and there are about a million and a half people here, and we have some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and that some of the poorest people on the planet. So, you’re looking at a very large diversity of persons, and as far as mileage is concerned, it could take two hours to go across the county, just driving. It’s a big place, and there’s a lot of people here need good service.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, there are a lot of directions we can go. I found it really interesting, I’m trying to think about it, but I think you might be the first lawyer, that we’ve had on the show at least, I don’t know about lawyers in the network, that originally started out as a social worker and a counselor first, and then transitioned to becoming a lawyer from there. I’m really curious about how that experience and that training translates into, obviously, working with your clients and helping them deal with … They’re still dealing with a crisis, but now you have both skill sets that you can bring to the table.
Brian Picarello: You know, I think it’s one of my best selling points, to be honest with you. The people that come into my office, whether they’ve looked me up ahead of time, or within the first few minutes of a conversation, get a different feel for me than they do when they go into a lot of lawyer’s offices. And that translates to my probably never owning a yacht and a house in the Hamptons, but it does give me the opportunity to really meet people where they’re at, and it’s a place I’m comfortable with being, and it’s also subject matter that doesn’t necessarily intimidate me.
When people come in and they see that they are being listened to, actively listened to, that I’m able to connect with them in a place where they’re not, maybe, accustomed to having been connected to. It becomes a very good, positive experience for them, for the most part. I’m not going to sit here and claim that I’m anything special, in terms of a guru of any kind, but I was born with a big heart and that just never went away, and that’s really what leads my practice. Being a business owner was always second to be a lawyer. There is little bit of a learning curve there for me, on the business end of things, but I believe my clients have always been very appreciative of the attention they’ve gotten from me, and the insight that they’ve gotten from me, because, like I said, I can not only meet them where they’re at, but I also don’t tell them what they want to hear all the time; and I’m not looking to sell a product. I’m looking to save lives and really help people navigate through the most tumultuous waters they’ve ever been in, and that’s where I get the pride from, and that’s why I wake up in the morning and go to work.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, there’s a lot of nuance to that, as it translates to when you’re standing in front of a client, and you’re not selling a product, you’re shepherding them through a very tumultuous, very challenging type of circumstance. You mentioned active listing; could you unpack, a bit, about what active listing means to you, and maybe from a standpoint of, maybe a lawyer that doesn’t have the same level of training, what are the components that go into, really, fully listening to a client?
Brian Picarello: Sure. I learned, whether it was in school, or again, in the experience that I had after I graduated, working with those families, and training programs, and all the different things that you do as you work in the field of casework, social work, and whatnot. I sit across from a person, I might have a pen in my hand, but I typically don’t look at the paper. If I need to jot down a name or a date, I’ll do that, but for the most part, I engage with them, and I talk with them, and I listen to what they have to say, and I repeat what they say, summarize what they say in words that they understand.
A lot of my clients come in and they’re younger people, they’re in their twenties, some are in their thirties. This is the first time that they may be involved in the court system, or it may be the thirtieth time they’re involved in the court system; but it’s a very intimidating system, and I want them to be aware that I am cognizant of that, and that I’m empathetic to what they’re going through, because what they’re going through is the most important thing in their entire life. They’re dealing with a child; 9 times out of 10 they’re dealing with a child. Sometimes you deal with just money, but 9 times out of 10, you’re dealing with custody, or child support, or some kind of neglect or something like that. The person’s most treasured thing in their life is their child, and so you want to make sure that they understand that you understand that.
Sometimes, that involves sharing a little bit of experience, or sharing a little bit of what I’ve seen, in and out of court, but for the most part, it’s just making sure that they know that they have my 100% undivided attention; whether it’s on the phone, whether it’s sitting across a table, and I try to talk of them on their level. I don’t use a lot of legal jargon, I try to break it down as simple as possible, because like I said, a lot of the clients that come in, they’re not exposed to this, and talking about jurisdiction, and talking about the different types of legal concepts, and estoppel arguments and things like that. That’s going to go right over their heads; so we just talk in very plain terms and try to get them to trust, not only that I know what I’m talking about, but that I actually might know what’s going on with them, too.
Dave Aarons: Right, maybe we can look at that a little further, as far as how much time- Maybe we can start with when the lead first comes in, and we start to unpack some of the process a bit on how that threads itself from the initial call down to the in-office appointment, down to hiring you for your service, and then [crosstalk 00:12:17]
Brian Picarello: Yeah, sure, sure.
Dave Aarons: Why don’t you take us through what happens when that first lead comes in, when you’re doing that initial reaching out to them. Are you making that call, or is someone else doing it? How does that work?
Brian Picarello: I’ve done both ways, and there are benefits and drawbacks to both of those things. The lead will come in, I’ll get it in an email, and if it comes in during regular business hours, or before 7:00 PM, even, I’ll get in touch with them that day. If it comes in a little later, or if I happen to get stuck in- and I didn’t even get around to my email until after 7:00 PM, then they’ll get an email, as soon as I see it, letting them know that they’ll hear from me first thing in the morning.
In the beginning, I was making all of the contacts; every phone call, every email was from me. I would, 9 times out of 10, connect with that person on the phone. Sometimes there would be a little phone tag, and it would just maybe fall by the wayside, they wouldn’t call back or whatever. But 9 times out of 10, I would connect with them at some point, and I would listen to what they had to say, and I asked them questions, but for the most part, I would let them talk, because I know that when they sit in front of their computer, they’re doing so because they are upset, they’re anxious, they’re worried. They want some kind of relief from that feeling, and if it’s just having somebody listen to them for a few minutes, that’s the least I can do.
In the beginning, and again, this goes back to what I was saying before about not really understanding how to run a practice and the financial component of it. I might’ve spent a little bit too much time with people on the phone, probably providing a little bit too much in the way of detail, or extending the conversation to hypotheticals that might not really need to be discussed at that point in time. But, for the most part, I’ve gotten much better with that, and these calls could be anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, and would almost always result in a person coming into the office.
Now, I did have to delegate that, at one point. The practice just was getting much bigger, and the workload was getting to be too much for one person. So, I did have somebody start to do that, and they did a pretty good job of getting people in the office; but I lost connection with people from not reaching out to them right away like I was before, so I picked that back up and I started doing that again. I’m finding that it’s a little bit more beneficial, I think. The retained rate is a lot higher when I actually reach out first. Even though these people would come to the office, maybe they wouldn’t show up or whatever the case may be, but when they heard from an attorney, as opposed to a secretary, I think that they responded a little bit more willingly, if you will. Coming into the office, they wouldn’t mind taking the trip to see me.
And my hours would be very accommodating. I would see somebody 8:30 at night on a Wednesday if I had to. It really didn’t matter to me in that regard. I have a very supportive spouse, and so I’m able to do those things. But that’s what I’m back to doing now. So, I did both, and I think it’s beneficial for me to reach out first and contact people first, and I’m better on the phone. As you can tell, I do like to speak and I do like to talk so these conversations could last more than 15, 20 minutes, but the most part I get them in and I get retained.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, let’s talk about that, because been a common theme of many, many lawyers, that they’ll start by calling the leads themselves, and, of course, we start sending a high volume, or a lot more leads; or, even just they start calling the leads themselves, then they start retaining clients from the leads, then they have to balance between doing the work for the clients they retained on the previous leads, but then they still have new leads coming in every day. All of a sudden, you’ve got this balance of workload. I’ve got all these clients that have now retained me from the leads, but then I’ve still got leads coming in. How do I find that balance, right?
Brian Picarello: Yes.
Dave Aarons: We’ve had a lot of attorneys that respond to that and go, “Okay, well I’m just going to put someone on doing the calls, and then I’ll just meet them in the office.” And invariably, they tend to see a drop in the conversion rate, a drop in the connection, because it’s the nature of lead generation. They want to work with people they know, like and trust, as Brian Reedy said, and also, they have that anxiety, and these fears, and this upset. They need relief, and they also need someone they can trust and feel comfortable with. Until that connection’s been created, it makes it a lot less likely for people to come in, like you said, and also, when they’re coming in, now all of a sudden you don’t have that initial connection; they don’t have an idea who they’re coming in to meet with. So, you’re still in the phase of ‘let’s create a relationship,’ right?
Brian Picarello: Absolutely.
Dave Aarons: Your comments about that are just [inaudible 00:17:23] with what we found, and then you making the transition to doing those calls again. And again, like you said, it doesn’t sound like that call has to be that long.
Brian Picarello: No, no. And I think that that comes with a little bit of experience. Again, in the beginning, it was flying off the cuff a little bit more and was very concerned about losing the person. If I had them on the phone, my fear, and the insecurity that I had as a business owner was, “Well, I have to get this person in. This is [inaudible 00:17:51], I can’t let this go.” But what you realize is that just that simple connection, just to let them know that this is something that you can help them with, something that you want to help them with. Then, they’ll actually come in, and if they have the means, and if they have, actually, the incentive, they will hire you.
I did a little binge listening, if you will, to the podcast over the last couple of weeks, and I learned a lot. That was one of the things that did echo, is that the attorneys that are making these calls themselves, they’re the ones that are actually converting and securing the confidences of the clients. I found that to be the case early on, and so I made the change, and I revisited that, and that’s what I’m doing again. I’m better off for it, I’m better off for it, and so are my clients.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, yeah, it’s certainly been very consistent principle that … I think the only time you can get away from that is if the person, like, for example, if you’re in court and you just aren’t able to make that call, you could have someone make the call to book the phone consultation. Just get someone to make a call and say, “Hey, we got it,” maybe get a few details of the case, but still transition to a phone consult first.
Brian Picarello: I’m sorry, go ahead.
Dave Aarons: No, I was just going to say, I have yet to see someone be as successful, having someone handle the entire intake and book them into the appointment-consultation, without some kind of loss in between, with very, very little exception. Or, if it is, it’s a very high-level person in the company, or another attorney, or a paralegal and someone that can build that connection, because they’re an active provider within this firm, as opposed to a secretary or a staff member.
Brian Picarello: Sure. One of the things, also, that I find is a benefit is that, when the lead comes in, in the email, and in the comment section, that the request for help, it just says something like, “Support.” One word, quick, “Support.” Having somebody call to flesh that out a little bit will help me reduce the amount of time I would spend with the person on the phone. I would have a staff person call, and they would say, “Oh, tell me a little bit about what’s going on. Are you in court? Is this matter and in Suffolk County?” Just get a little bit of demographic information, just to get a quick picture. And then, I would contact them, and I would say, “Okay, so this is what’s going on, this is what I can help you with. Why don’t you come on in, we’ll sit down and we’ll go over all the things that we’ll need to do to make this work for you.”
Sometimes people aren’t exactly offering up a lot information on the form online, but when you have somebody able to call them, just to flesh it out a little bit, not only do they appreciate the prompt response, especially like you said, if I’m in court or something like that, and they’re getting the call within minutes. It’s a benefit to me to be able to know, okay, this is what I’m calling for; this is what I’m getting into. I don’t have to start listening to a 20-minute narrative; I can tailor my questions a little bit. That part of it I still do, and I think that that helps. But, if somebody generates a lead, somebody submitting, “My husband just left and he says not paying the bills anymore, generates a lead I don’t know what to do.” It’s a lot easier for me to sit there and call them, and say, “Okay, let me just calm you down a little bit,” let me walk you back off the cliff, and explain to you how the law works, and what you can expect. And then, get them in and we’ll start talking about what it would take to get them where they need to be.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. I’m really getting the sense, and rightfully so, it’s been what we’ve seen consistently, is that you really have to address the fear, and the emotional components, or the anxiety, or whatever it is that got that person to get up and reach out, in a way that you know that they’re giving up control. I think Sue talked about that in her interview at one point, that they’re giving up control and putting it in the hands of someone else to help them handle their problems. That is intimidating, it’s a vulnerable place to be, and so addressing that, and dealing with that as the first thing really seems to be the most important thing to address, initially.
Brian Picarello: Yeah, I agree with that, 100%. Again, and I can’t stress it enough, we’re dealing with people in crisis, and in a place where they feel like maybe their child is going to be taken from them. I mean, I can’t imagine any feeling on the planet as scary as that. So, you have to be able to connect with people on that level. But again, you still are running a business, and you still are providing a service, and you still have to make sure that you set boundaries; that you’re not necessarily going to be the person that they’re just going to dump all of their concerns, and worries, and problems that they would a friend, or posting on Facebook or something.
It’s something you want to make sure that you … I find it’s a delicate balance, because if you are able to speak to somebody, and make them feel comfortable, but also establish that you’re a professional and that you have a set of skills that can help them through this; but there’s this boundary there. You’re not going to be best friends. I get a lot of Facebook requests, and a lot of friend request on Facebook from clients, to which I respectfully decline. Because there is this, in dealing with family law, you’re so connected to their most personal and intimate things, that it’s really important to set up a proper boundary, so that you don’t get sucked into that. That is something that, I think, every single day I work on.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. I don’t know if we can flesh it out anymore, on how to find that balance on that initial call. Some things, where you take things to a certain point, and then transition, or anything that you can quantify that you do on that call to make sure they’re feeling heard, understanding and empathizing with their emotional state, and the fears that can go into that and their situation; and, also, transitioning things to next steps. Have you found anything that’s worked for you or things that maybe … Where you were spending a little too much time? Is there any specific strategies that you found worked well, or a balance there?
Brian Picarello: It’s daily … I don’t want to say struggle, but it’s a daily thing that you have to really be mindful of. I can’t point to anything in particular; it’s sort of an instinct, it’s sort of a feel. But I know from speaking with colleagues, and from being a very active member of my Bar Association and, again, really, having mentors and people that I rely on tremendously for guidance, and talking with people like this … Everybody does it differently. Everybody has a system if you will, or something that they feel tells them when to back off, or when to push forward, and I think it’s just an instinct. It’s a difficult thing for me to do. And, if I’m being candid, I’m not very good at it all time, and it’s something that I continuously work on.
But it’s not something I can point to anything in particular, where I say, okay this is the point of conversation where, now, I’m going to change from the soft listener, the kind of person who’s being empathetic, too, “Okay, let’s talk dollars and cents.” I find it very difficult to do that, and I’m not comfortable with that transition. Having only been doing it for a couple years, essentially, I’m not really great at it yet, and I work on it every day. But, hopefully as I get a little older I don’t get jaded, but I get a little bit better at making those transitions. I’m probably not the best person to offer up advice on how to do it because I probably don’t do it that well.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, well what’s really interesting, I think, Brian, when you were talking, is we have worked together for a long time, and it was basically up until recently that you really took a deep dive into the podcast and listened to a lot of episodes. I’m really curious, and maybe we could share for the listeners, what it was that you were doing for those years. And then, once you started listening to the podcast, you mentioned that you’ve gone back to making the calls yourself, and you noticed that was something that was really a key component. Were there anything, besides that, that you found to be particularly notable, that you’ve changed as a result of hearing the podcast? And, maybe a second point, were there any particular podcast episodes that you really got a lot out of, that you’d recommend to the local listeners that may not have listened to them all yet?
Brian Picarello: Yes. First and foremost, the things that I was able to learn from the podcast that I listened to, really gave me a little bit more of an insight on how they run their practices. And again, not having ever done this before, not having any experience in working in a law firm … Everything that I did, I did on my own, with the help of people who were kind enough to spend a little time answering some questions. I don’t know what I’m doing; I didn’t know what I was doing. Whether it’s a person in flesh and blood that I sat down with … And how do you get them to pay this they just decide that they’re not happy anymore? Whatever the question might be.
People will give me their take on it, and, in listening to the podcast, I found that a lot of the attorneys that I could relate to were ones that were like myself: going out there and trying to provide service while keeping the lights on. The hourly retainer mentality and those things were … I was able to transition from the idea that I have to start getting this high retainer, billing this hourly rate, and spending nights and weekends, billing programs, and all this other jargon that nobody wants to pay, and everybody wants to argue about. Instead of that, let’s start to offer some different types of options, and make life a little bit easier. And although, like I said, I’m not in a position right now where on the weekends I’m going to the dock, and getting on the boat, and going out to the vineyard. It’s just not my lifestyle, but that’s okay; that’s not the lifestyle that I have, and I’m able to still do very well and still be very comfortable while providing people with realistic payment type of options.
That’s one of the things I learned in the podcast. Some things, I knew by listening to it, and I can’t point to any person or episode in particular and forgive me if I don’t have the names off the top of my head, but there are some people who, I heard, were charging … Not a consultation fee, but we were getting a little bit of money to secure an appointment, and they would get that money back if they would come in, and whether they retained them or not. It was just to secure the appointment, to ensure that they would come. And that sounded nice, but it was one of those things where I just … I felt very uncomfortable with that. I would rather lose a few people than to try to take a credit card over the phone from somebody who’s calling with a question.
And I’m not criticizing, by any stretch of the imagination, because it obviously works for those people who do it. For me, personally, it wasn’t something I was comfortable doing. But then, I hear people who charge a flat fee, or reduced retainer agreements, or pay as you go-type of plans; and that really resonated a little bit more with me, and that’s basically what I do now. Aside from divorces, aside from straight up, I’m filing for divorce and we’re going to fight over everything, I don’t charge hourly rates, typically. I do a lot more per-appearance fees, flat fees, with the caveat that any kind of trials will result in a different agreement because that is something that involves way more work and a lot more time, and effort, and dedication than typical conferences and letters, and so on and so forth.
That’s been very, very helpful and also to know that I’m not the only one who’s not converting every single lead. I’ll be honest with you; I was getting a little discouraged for a while, because I wasn’t converting them. They weren’t turning into paying clients. But then, when I look at the rate of return, it was astronomical compared to any other type of referral system. If I take 1 out of 10, 2 out of 10, 3 out of 10, they’re paying for a month’s worth of leads not panning out. That’s really one of the true benefits of this type of unbundled service, and that’s why I’m so crazy about it, to be honest with you. I think that if I just convert 20%, I’m still getting over a 600% rate of return, and that’s okay for me. I’m okay with that.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. The challenge and the opportunity is, even at one out of five, you’re doing really, really well financially, but then the question starts to become, okay, what’s happening with these other four? What can I do to start to refine and improve? What are the ways that I can start to offer more creative options, because you get the same clients coming in every day, and the numbers are the numbers, and you can constantly start to look at, okay, how can I refine the process? How can I develop a better system? How can I be more creative with my options? How can I do this in a more profitable way? How can I leverage technology? That’s really that’s the fun, and the … Almost the science of it is that there’s so much room to start to experiment and test, because of the clients, for the most part, it’s a very consistent funnel, as far as the types of clients you’re going to end up with it. It gives you the room to be able to start to figure out, how can I improve things? How can I make a little difference here, a little different adjustment there, and how’s that going to impact the client? And you start to offer these different ways of working with folks.
Brian Picarello: The leads that I get, I put them into two major categories: one, people who are sitting up and are of the generation of instant gratification, where they feel like they have a question on their mind, and they want it answered right now. So, they’re going to go online, and then they come across your website, and they say, “Oh, let me find out. I’ll type in something into the Unbundled Attorney form, and I’ll say yeah, I’m looking for some information about not having received child support in two years from my ex.” It’s just a question that they had on their minds, at the moment, and that they wanted an answer to. Those, typically, do not pan out. Those people will either find the answer that they’re looking for or go on to the next thing; sort of the goldfish kind of mentality: they’re onto the next thing right away.
And then, there are those people who have, more or less, gotten to the point where they’re desperate. They’ve exhausted other remedies, they’ve tried to do it themselves, they’ve listened to the advice of their friends. Maybe they’ve had another attorney who totally, totally, totally messed them up. They’re getting to a point where they’re desperate. And those people, by far, will pan out more than those who are just looking at it like, “I got this issue that’s on my mind right now, and I want to deal with it right now.” It’s that instant gratification.
And I’m a numbers geek, to a certain extent, and I keep extremely, extremely accurate records of where my clients come from, the kind of income that they produce, going back to second and third generation referral type things; and the Unbundled clients, by far, are clients that I feel will be with me forever. Not in terms of because they’re such a mess, more or less because they’re young, and they’re using the computer, and they’re not used to calling places from a phone book. They’re 25 years old, they go on their iPhone and they type in a question, and whatever algorithms that you guys use in order to market your product, they find you; they ask that question, and then they have a two-year-old child.
For the next 18 years, they’re my clients. They’re the father or the mother of their child; they’re going to give them a problem every year. So, when they come into this office, or when I respond them to via telephone, then I look at it as, okay, I’m building a relationship with this person. I know at 25 they work at the supermarket, they get $50 a week in child support. They don’t have $5,000 to put down to modify their visitation plan. No, that’s not what they’re going to do; but what they’re going to do is, they’re going to get attention, they’re going to get a good price, and they’re going to come back to me next year when they stop paying child support again, or something like that.
And that’s what I’m finding is that my Unbundled leads from 2015 are still alive and well, on another issue, with a second baby with a different person, or if it’s another CPS intervention, whatever the case may be. The leads that I get from your service, even if they don’t pan out at first, the fact that they’re getting the attention up front, they’re going to be loyal. They’re not just shopping around for the best price, necessarily.
Dave Aarons: This is so huge, I just can’t … I’m just so glad you’re sharing it because we can’t say it enough. It’s just really great to hear the perspective, especially for you that we’ve worked together for so long that you could you’ve seen … In 2015 … January was when we launched Unbundled Attorney.
Brian Picarello: I’ll tell you right now; I have it right in front of me. My first client, my first lead was January 14, 2015. My first retained client was that same month. It was that same month; it was the third lead I ever got. Of the first 10 or 15 leads, I think I took on … I want to say, maybe six of them, so I was off to the races. But then, there was a little bit of a low, and you got to work it out, and you got to figure it out. And again, I have a client, I’m looking at it right now, which, on November 17, 2015 came in about a divorce, and hired me last week.
Dave Aarons: Wow.
Brian Picarello: Hired me last week. Haven’t talked to him in almost two years. That’s the thing – I keep these names, and I keep the lead information. I never solicit and never go after them. After the third attempt, it’s a telephone call, followed by an email, with another telephone call, and a final email telling them that you’re not going to hear from me again, I just want to know that I’m here, I’m not going anywhere; if you want to talk, here’s my info. But, this is the last email you’ll get from me; you won’t get any calls from my office. Not in an obnoxious way, of course, just to let them know that I’m not looking to chase them down. I’m not looking to annoy them.
They might’ve had a problem last night that doesn’t exist today; that’s fine. I get it. But, you know what? In three months, five months, ten months down the road, they’ll go back into that email, they’ll be like, “Oh, what was that guy’s name again?” And, boom. That’s what happens. Again, every now and again I’ll get an older person, a person who’s more established, and that’s fine. You deal with them as you deal with any client. But, I find dealing with my twenty something, my thirty something, they have a different perspective on how they interact with the world. I’m 42, so I’m not a spring chicken; but, at the same time, I’m also not grandfathered into old habit, so I’ve been able to evolve with this program, with this service. I’ve tailored the rest of my practice to come in line with what I find, and what I’m seeing from these leads.
And that’s where I found the most success. It’s not just from the leads that I get from Unbundled, but the demographics that I’m working with, I’ve gotten a lot better at dealing with them, on their level. I can’t tell you how much email and text messaging goes on, as opposed to letter writing and conference calling. It’s a different world, and it’s a different clientele. Like I said, I’m not representing celebrities and divorces yet, but they’ll take what I have, and I respect every single person that I represent, and I meet them where they’re at. That’s basically where I found my success.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It’s amazing, because this perspective informs so much of the way in which you’re going to relate to each new lead that comes in that inbox. Because if you see that person as, okay, how can I convert this guy into something right now? I’m going to get some document service, or I’m going to try and convert them into a client right now. You just look at it from narrow perspective, like how can I, basically, convert that person to a client right now. And then, you’re going to relate to them in one way; it might be kind of a sales call, it might be a little bit of convincing, and so forth. But as soon as you start to see … It’s been great to hear that the twenties and thirties have loyalty, and they stick with the people they work with. Obviously, you’re doing a great job for them, so that’s component for them, and you’re a wonderful counselor of law, so that’s obviously a tell-tale sign of the good work you’re doing, Brian.
On another level, so many folks, so many attorneys come in and they fail to see the long-term value of each lead, each client that comes in the door. And it’s so wonderful to hear the perspective, and also, the fact that you’ve been tracking the numbers for so long. It would be really great, maybe after this you and I could dive in and start looking at, what is the long-term value of these leads, one, two, three years down the road, so that attorneys realize that this is a relationship. As soon as they realize it’s a long-term relationship, and have a long-term view, then, all of a sudden, taking a little extra time on that initial call. You’re taking a lot of time to really connect with that client. Taking a little extra time to be a little more flexible on the front end, with what they require upfront, and being less rigid, and giving people a way to work with them that’s just a little bit lower barrier to entry. It just starts to make a lot more sense.
Brian Picarello: Sure. I mean, I have attorneys who been doing this for 30, 40 years that I rely on, again, for a lot of good insight into things. But, to a fault, if that person comes in, get as much money as you can upfront, because they’re going to give you a headache, and it’s not going to be worth it. And that person who argues with you over your fee is going to be a worse client, and da-da-da-da, you wish they’d never hired you. And there is some truth, there is some truth to that bargain-basement price point type of lawyering, and that’s not what I’m doing. I’m not undercutting my colleagues, and I’m not sitting there offering coupons and things like that. What I’m doing is, is I’m saying, you’re 25-years-old, you just finished college; you got your first job making $32,000 a year, you got a three-year-old, and the father isn’t giving you any money for child support. You’re trying to rent an apartment, you’ve got a car payment, and I get it, you don’t have right now.
But guess what? When you are, maybe, 35 years old, and you have that new two-year-old, or you have that 10-year-old or whatever the case may be, or maybe you’re going to get married, you need a prenuptial agreement. Or, maybe you’re going to get divorced, unfortunately, and you’re going to need some help there. Now you’re making $70,000 a year, and now you’re in a different place, and you’re coming back to me, because you felt like I gave a crap. People like to say that they have a lawyer. “I got a lawyer,” “This guy’s my lawyer,” whatever it is. You can feel some sense of … They feel good about it. They like to say that.
I’m not going to push them out the door because they may not have it. I might only be making a thousand bucks off them, maybe; maybe even less sometimes, to be honest with you. Maybe it’s just one or two court appearances, that they need some help navigating some child support issue, something simple to me, but overwhelming to them. I’m not going to kill them for it; I’m in court every single day. So, what I tell people is this: I say listen, here’s what I can do for you: I can charge you a few hundred dollars for the court appearance, but understand something, I’m going to put you on a day, but I have other clients. So, I’m not going to sit with you all day, we’re not going to be there hanging out. I’ll spend time you, we’ll get done what needs to get done, but I’m going to be running around little bit from courtroom to courtroom.
But, if you want, I could charge you hourly; I could charge you $300 an hour, and I can put you on a day where I have nobody else that day, and I’ll commit to sitting with you the whole time. And maybe you’ll be there for an hour or two, and you’ll get 100% of my attention. But I can guarantee you that if I’m there, and I have two or three other cases on that day, that you know you may be there from 9:30 until 11:30. But you know what? You’re only spending X amount of dollars. To it to a person, they’re like, “Oh, no, that’s fine with me. I’d rather do it that way. I know it takes a long time,” or whatever the case may be.
You want to make it like they are making the decision on how much they’re going to pay you, and it’s a tremendous way of doing things, I find, because again, in the here-and-now, with those clients, I may not make a tremendous amount of money. But they are coming back, and as any of the people who would listen to this would know, in this area of law, recidivism is quite high. And you are building, again, like you said, relationships with people that can … And I’m not even talking about all the people they refer to me. I mean, please, that’s a whole other conversation. Again, I track this stuff. I linked to how many clients do I have that were referred to me by an Unbundled client, and how much money I made off those people.
Dave Aarons: Wow.
Brian Picarello: It’s tremendous. But, my practice, and just to give you a quick understanding, percentage-wise, the Unbundled Attorney leads, the referrals account for 15% of my referrals. The way clients find me, 15% of that is through Unbundled. It’s not a tremendous amount. 22% of my income comes from my Unbundled Attorney clients, not including those who were referred to me by Unbundled Attorney clients. So, as you can see, if that number, if that income percentage number is higher than the referral percentage, the rate of return is very good. But I still get referrals from other attorneys, from other clients, from my local Bar Association; I have a lot of different avenues that clients find me, but Unbundled is the most consistent. It’s not the highest percentage referrals, it’s one of the second highest, it’s the second highest, but my Bar Association tends to send a lot of people here, too. And those are not referrals, those are retained clients, I should say. I shouldn’t say I said it as a referral percentage. They’re much higher in the referral percentage, but the clients that retain me from those leads are a significant amount.
I’m very grateful to have been found, if you will, by Graham, and sort of talked into doing this, because at first, I was hesitant. I had some bad experiences with other lead generation type of programs, and without mentioning names, they were just so cost prohibitive, and they returned nothing. So again, I was hesitant at first, but Graham was great, and he twisted my arm a little bit and assured me that I’d benefit from this. So, I gave it a whirl, and haven’t looked back since.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, it’s a shame. We know all the lead generation companies that came through the industry over the years. And honestly, there’s a couple popping up here and there, but really, it was just the main few. And unfortunately, gave a really bad name and reputation for lead generation, such that a lot of attorneys miss out on the opportunity, because they’ve already had one experience, and therefore that’s how all lead generation companies are; and it’s unfortunate, because there’s a lot of great attorneys we would have loved to work with, that offering Unbundled services seemed like a great fit, but you know, LegalMatch, or whoever it was just … They just had a bad experience. There are a lot of reasons for that, as far as their process and the things that we do; and I don’t really get into that kind of stuff. But there’s a big difference here. We do give a crap; we care, we care what’s going on, we care about our clients, and that’s a big difference, so that’s unfortunate.
But you said something, in marketing there’s a term that’s called lifetime value of a client. And what hit is, the word, “lifetime,” value, it’s because people, they have a lifetime, and you have a lifetime relationship with people. When you start to look at it from that perspective, gosh, it just completely changes the way you relate to people.
Brian Picarello: Absolutely.
Dave Aarons: You don’t see them as a number, or as a revenue source. I mean, yeah, because they’re going to be, because they have issues, but you can kind of relax, you don’t feel like you need to get the dollar right now, and the most amount of dollars. And, like you said, there’s certain boundaries you set, and you’re adapting, and setting the right expectations to make sure that they understand they’re getting a little bit lower cost, because you’re going to be doing these other things; and that’s really helpful too, to hear that perspective, that you’re not just discounting your rates and offering cheap service. You’re adapting the way in which you’re working with the clients, you’re doing limited appearances, and maybe we could talk a little bit about that. When you see the person as a lifetime relationship, or potential lifetime relationship, the whole dynamic changes.
Brian Picarello: There are older people that connect to me through Unbundled Attorney, there are some grandparents and things like that, who are looking to visit with their grandkids or whatever the case may be; but the vast majority are younger people. And those younger people are, again, you look at them and you’re like, this is not going to be the one and only time you’re going to have these issues. So, like you said, it’s not offering cheap lawyer services, it’s bringing quality legal services to people who just don’t have the means to afford a person who spends a lot of money on suits, cars and office space. That’s fine, and I’m not condemning attorneys to do this.
Believe me, I look at it with envy sometimes. But the reality of it is, is that I went and I broke my you-know-what in law school, at night, for four or five days a week for four years so that I can really meet my personal potential. A lot of that has to come down to still working with people in the way that I’m comfortable working with people, and that is on a personal level. I have enough clients who pay me enough money to keep the lights on, let’s put it that way, and I do okay, and I’m very blessed, and I’m very fortunate, and I’m very thankful that I have the lifestyle that I have. But again, it really does come down to meeting people where they’re at, and that’s one of the first things I learned as social worker, is meeting the person where they’re at, and I never lost that mentality.
And, like you said, it’s an investment. It’s a $500 investment in a person, that a person makes in you now can turn into a $50,000 investment down the road, when their aunt is getting divorced or something like that, and they’re like, “You know, my attorney was so attentive. He returned my phone calls,” which is one of the biggest things in the world, as you know, I’m sure; the biggest complaint people have is that they don’t get the chance to talk to their attorney. They call, and they don’t call them back; they email and it doesn’t get responded to. Sometimes the simplest thing as a phone call will secure you a client for life. That’s the kind of thing that I’ve grown up in, that’s the mentality that I run my practice on, and it’s working out.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, you can get relax. You just know, like, hey man; it’s going to come. It’s like you don’t even have to know the way it’s going to come, because it’s going to be a referral from this person to that person, and then they’re going to come back with a different issue, and then maybe they get in an accident; I mean, if you do different areas of law and so forth, it’s [crosstalk 00:53:22]. But, you don’t even have to know; it’s just that all these things are going to happen. You can just relax, you can drop the sales suit and just meet people where they’re at like you said.
Brian Picarello: Yeah. The sales aspect of things was never something I was 100% comfortable with. We’ve got to work to our strengths, and I know where my strengths are, and I know where my weaknesses are, and I do everything I can to improve upon those weaknesses; but I’ll encourage people, “Listen, you heard what I have to say, why don’t you call a couple of other people and hear what they have to say,” because I’m so confident that they’re going to come back to me. I just know it, it’s a foregone conclusion to me. I am more than confident enough to know that what I have to tell them is real. My knowledge of the way this stuff works is relatively good. But more than that, my personality, and I feel like if they go somewhere else, and they find something a little cheaper, and if that’s their primary goal, is to save money, and maybe they can get something a little bit cheaper from somewhere else; inevitably, I’m going to get a call from a year later saying, “Can you fix what they broke? Please? I’ll do anything.”
And again, I don’t want to come off and sound conceited, because that’s the last thing I am; I’m very humble. But, at the same time, there’s a confidence there, that I know what I’m doing and I know that I can help this person. And if I can’t, I’m the first person to tell them. I have sat across from somebody and said, “I can’t help you. I’m sorry, this situation is not going to be resolved the way that you want it to be resolved, and you might be better off with someone else.” And they’ll walk out. And that’s so hard to do, because as a person who’s got a family to support, you sit there and you’re like, “I don’t want to let any money walk out of my door. I got to make sure everybody comes in is going to pay me. I can’t afford to lose a client.”
But, especially with a number of leads that I get from the Unbundled Attorney website, and a number of quality clients that I get from it, it’ll ebb and flow. There will be months that aren’t as good as others, but that’s the nature of the business, and I’m much more confident now that there will be somebody else typing into that website, “I need help,” and they’ll come to me, and I should be able to help them. I can’t imagine running my practice now, without the benefit of that kind of security, in terms of lead generation; because I do, I still get plenty of clients from other sources, but this is much more of a secure sort of program for me.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Just hearing that, Brian, it just feels really good to know that what we’ve put together, and the lead generation we’re providing and all that, everything we’ve done in the relationship we’ve forged over the years has enabled you to have that trust, and have that security that translates into you being able to be more honest with your clients. And not that you wouldn’t be otherwise, but it just gives you that extra layer of knowing, hey, you know what? The next lead’s going to come in, and that it’s there, and it’s consistent, it’s reliable so that you can just meet a client and look at them and go, you know … You just feel more comfortable and confident with a family you’ve got to support, and know I can be honest this person, and really level with them, and just have the space and knowledge to know you can do that. It feels really great to hear that, which it’s translating in that way.
Brian Picarello: Yeah, and I think part of that is also the fact that the cost of services is something that’s not going to prohibit that. If I go a without … Which is not really very common, but if it happens, if I go a month without retaining a lead from the Unbundled site, then it’s going to cost me a couple of bucks, but it’s not something I’m going to sit down and go, “I have to revaluate this. I have to really think about this now, because if this happens again, I’m going to be out of business.” That’s one of the biggest things, for me, is that I’m willing to pay for a service that works, but it’s also, I don’t feel as though I’m getting sucked dry, and that’s a big part of it, too. That goes towards whatever business plan that you guys have is working, at least it’s working for me. I can’t speak to everybody, but I can tell you it’s working for me.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. I appreciate the comments, and I’m really glad that it’s been that source of consistency for you. And, to be honest, you mentioned something a little earlier, you said you went back to law school to fulfill your personal potential, and I got to tell you, that really resonated with me, and I’m so glad you did that. From the amount of people you’ve been serving, that we’ve been sending you, and I’m really just excited to see where that continual pursuit to be what you know is capable of yourself, both in the way you relate your clients, and what’s possible for you and your business, and what’s possible for us working together in the future. It’s exciting, and I really thank you for sharing so openly, and transparently, and honestly with the things that you’ve done to get where you’re at and where you’re going.
Brian Picarello: I thank you, Dave, I do. I thank you, and Graham especially, who’s been the point of contact for me over the last couple of years. There was a point where I was little skeptical of whether or not I would be able to continue. I think I hit a low, where I was getting a couple of leads that were getting me frustrated. But, again, he kind of talked me off the cliff a little bit, and convinced me to hang tight; and I’m glad I did, because, as in everything, there’s a little bit of feast, there’s a little bit of famine, but for the most part, it’s relatively consistent. And I got to say, and I can probably count on one hand of all the leads that I got that I regret meeting with, in terms of the fact that they sucked a little bit of life out of me. For the most part, I’ve had a tremendous experience and the ones that don’t work, it has nothing to do with the service, it’s just, and that’s the population. We’re dealing with a pretty emotionally volatile population.
I think, for sure, this is something that I’m going to stick with as long as you’ll have me; I’ll be that guy here in Suffolk. And, like I said, what’s fascinating, and again, this is a little bit of an aside, this is a very big county. And again, for people who don’t really understand, I’m sure people have heard of the Hamptons.
Dave Aarons: Yep.
Brian Picarello: I don’t think people are unaware of what that is. But Montauk Point is all the way out east, and on the border of Nassau County, which is not a very affluent county in New York. And I don’t know how it’s done, but I would say that 90% of the leads are very, very accessible, meaning that I haven’t lost a client because they said, “Oh, you’re too far,” which is interesting to me, because, again, it’s a very big county and people are spread out pretty far. Like I said, there’s over a million and a half people in Suffolk County. It just fascinates me that, however it’s being worked on the backend, the leads are very reliable, in terms of their ability to come get to see me. And even with that, technology has made it so easy nowadays to represent people with only meeting with them once, and meeting with them in court.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, we’re seeing a lot of lawyers doing things more virtually, and giving the younger generation, that is more comfortable with that, the opportunity to engage with them with the click of a button, on our electronic signature and get things out the door, or over the phone, for those that are busy. And then, there are folks that just really want to meet with you in-person, and that’s cool, too. But, the fact of that you can give them the options nowadays really just makes you that much more malleable and adaptive to the market, and then the way things have changed with the Internet, and everything else is that’s shifting in this world. It’s interesting to see it all culminate.
Brian Picarello: One of the things that I remember listening to on a couple of podcasts was people who have very, very wide areas; whether it be an entire state or several counties in the state. And it seems a huge net to cast if you will, for attorneys to travel to different courts. Suffolk County has is two courts, one in East, one Western, and I am in those courts every single day like I said. I’m very familiar with the players there. Every court officer knows my name, and every judge, and every legal aid attorney, and every law guardian, so when somebody comes into my office and say, “They’re before so-and-so.” It’s like; okay I’m going to be there that day, that’s no problem, we can do this.
It becomes so much more familiar, they get so much more confidence from the fact that they know that you’re, sort of … And again, without intimating there’s any special treatment, of course, there’s always that familiarity that gives people confidence; and I think that that has really helped me landing a lot of these leads, is that when they come in and they say, “I’m before so-and-so,” and I say, “Well, I’m familiar with how so-and-so thinks or deals with these types of problems, and I’ll tell you right now, what we can do with this, and that will start to right the ship.” And they’re like, “Oh, that’s great.” That gives them so much more peace or comfort, confidence, if you will, and that’s one of the benefits of working in a single county.
Now, I do travel to other counties for private cases, but for the Unbundled leads, they’re all within the same jurisdiction, and that’s something I really like about the service as well, is that I’m not spreading myself too thin; and I admire those attorneys who can do that, and they seem to get, obviously, way more leads than I do, because the population of people that are seeking them out is so great, whether it’s millions of people in a state or very populated counties. But I’m very, very satisfied with the way that it’s breaking down here in this little nook, a little area of the country.
Dave Aarons: Of Long Island.
Brian Picarello: Yeah. It’s a world unto itself.
Dave Aarons: All right. Well, thank you Brian so much for, again, your time today. This has been a great exploration, and I’m really excited to maybe connect with you again at a later point here and really dive deep. I really respect lawyers that are, like you said, number geeks, because numbers run the business, they do. The fact that you’ve taken the time to keep track of those numbers and make sure that they add up. And knowing the numbers helps you know where you can spend the time and have confidence. If you know the law of averages, then the law of averages tend to continue, and that knowledge gives a lot of confidence. It’s a testament to everything else we talked about, too. Thanks again for taking the time.
Brian Picarello: I appreciate it. Yeah, I appreciate you and appreciate Graham, and I appreciate your service, and I thank you for thinking of me to have a little chat today. Anything you need from me, you have a loyal customer, let’s put it that way.
Dave Aarons: Well, sure. I’ve mentioned it on a couple podcasts; we’re going to be putting together a retreat, probably for the spring of 2018, so we’d love to meet you and have you get to know some of the attorneys that are in the network, and start to get to know each other better, and see what we can create for the future.
Brian Picarello: Sounds fantastic.
Dave Aarons: All right, so to everyone else that’s listening, and all of our attorneys that tune into the podcasts, anyone else, thank you so much for being a part of this community, and learning, and applying these principles in your practice. It makes a difference, not only for the clients but for their future, too. Thank you so much for participating, we will certainly see you all in the next episode.
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Episode 36: Experienced Social Worker Turned Practicing Attorney: Active Listening, Cultivating and Communicating Empathy, and Understanding the Lifetime Value of Each Client
Brian Picarello spent the first years of his professional life working as a social worker. After graduating law school in 2010 at the age of 38, Brian brings the years of experience working with clients in crisis situations to the practice of law. He explains how to become an effective active listener, including how to cultivate and communicate empathy with your clients. Brian has also been working with Unbundled Attorney since the day we launched in January of 2015, and has tracked his metrics and revenue from every lead he has received. He shares what his numbers are, and how understanding the long term, “lifetime” value of each client can inform your practice decisions and impact how you price your services.
To read the complete transcript of this interview, click here.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- The fundamentals of active listening, and the difference between connecting with people versus trying the sell a product
- How to cultivate and communicate empathy for the emotional challenges your clients are facing
- Valuable lessons Brian has learned from other guests on the Unbundled Attorney Mastermind Podcast
- The importance of attorneys making the initial calls to their leads, and the only way to have staff make the call for you if you are unavailable to do so
- The two categories of leads (instant gratification vs. legitimate issues), how to identify each category and how Brian’s process differs for each type of lead
- Brian’s revenue, contact and conversion rate numbers from 2.5 years of fielding leads from Unbundled Attorney
- Why analyzing his numbers and the long term value of each lead was an influential factor in Brian's decision to shift away from an “hourly retainer” mentality and start to offering more affordable pricing options
- The real meaning behind “lifetime value” of each client, and how this understanding can impact the way you run your practice
- How Brian offers limited appearances, including how he sets appropriate expectations with his clients
- The percentage of Brian’s business that comes from referral income, and why so many lawyers fail to take this revenue into account when evaluating a lead generation service
- How Unbundled Attorney compares to other lead generation companies he has worked with
- The biggest complaint client’s have about lawyers, and how you can prevent this from happening in your practice
- The value of understanding your local courts, both in your ability to be an effective lawyer, and as a selling point to your clients
- And much more...
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For more information about Unbundled Attorney and how our Lead Generation services help grow your practice, visit: https://www.unbundledattorney.com