How Offering “Pay-As-You-Go” Options Can Dramatically Increase the Number of Clients You Can Profitably Serve

October 21st, 2016

As usual, I’m excited because we have another one of our veterans coming on the show today for this interview, Ms. Barbara Rogachevsky, who’s been an attorney with us as a provider for gosh, at least two and half years. She works out of Akron, Ohio. What’s wonderful about Barbara is the way she’s been able to cultivate a very flexible approach to the types of options that she offers. She does a lot of pay-as-you-go, all the way down to doing one hour at a time, two hours at a time, three hours at a time, combining that with docking preparation, connecting people to the forms online and walking people through those steps, figuring out how to file, what’s the next step when they go to court, and really just meeting people where they’re at and creating a plan, as she’ll talk about in this episode, to meet their legal needs in consideration for their financial budget as well.

She’s really good at communicating that to the clients so they know that she’s there to help them and find a way to help them, and that really is her guiding focus. How can she solve their problem, take into consideration where they’re at financial, and being flexible and working with people in any way that she can. She really goes into those options. We talk about how she has people be more transparent about what they can afford through her communication, how she uses the script, and some of the important components of the script that we provide to make sure that the client is in a position that they want to move forward now, to get an idea of what they think, they expect things are going to cost, find out what they can afford, which allows her to communicate to the client very clearly the types of options that she can offer, really informs how she works, how she’s going to work with the client.

So this is a really useful and informative conversation from an attorney that has a lot of experience working with leads for a long, long time. I hope you enjoy it, this interview with Barbara Rogachevsky, one of our provider attorneys out of Akron, Ohio.

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

Dave Aarons: Barbara, welcome to the show!

Barbara Rogachevsky: Thank you for having me.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, I’m really glad that we’re getting a chance to reconnect and catch up. It’s been a lot of good years working together. I think we were just talking before we started the recording that we’ve been, we’ve been at this for about two and a half years now, so you’re one of our long-term veterans.

Barbara Rogachevsky: Well it’s been a good two and a half years, and I appreciate all your help.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely. We certainly appreciate the work you’ve been doing for the clients we send you in the Akron area. So maybe what we could do, Barbara, is just share a little bit about your background, the region that you operate your practice in, maybe your practice areas, and just a bit about you so those that are listening can get to know you better.

Barbara Rogachevsky: Okay. Well, first of all, my office is located in Akron, Ohio, which is in Summit County. I service several counties in this area, specifically Summit, Portage County, Medina County. I do take some cases out of Stark County. I’ve also received some referrals out of some contiguous counties, and of course, as many attorneys, have to travel. If you’re willing to pay me to go there, I may very well consider doing it. I was originally licensed in Ohio in 1997, but I was actually a practicing public defender intern for a year prior, so I’m now in my 20th year of practice. My primary practice areas are domestic relations, family loss, criminal defense, and juvenile court, which here in my area consists of children’s service cases, relatives who want to get custody of children, legal custody cases, as well as juvenile delinquency cases, which are children charged with crimes or committing acts that would be crimes if they were adults. So that’s a little bit of my background.

Dave Aarons: Right, absolutely. And what I’d really love to dive right into on our chat today is just into the process you’ve developed for getting in touch with the clients and how quickly you’re able to do that. Obviously, more and more clients are starting to call you with some updates we’ve made to our process, and you know, how you go about that aspect of it. And then of course, once the clients come in, some of the flexible ways you’ve been offering to work with them, which has allowed so many more clients the ability to work with you and get services for their case.

So maybe we could start with, you know, how you’re currently receiving leads. I believe you get the emails and then you give them a call. Maybe you can walk us through those initial stages from when those leads come in, how you approach the initial conversation to getting them to come in to see you.

Barbara Rogachevsky: Well as you know, of course, I usually get the lead via email. I’m sure that’s the way most people get them. What’s interesting is because you have made some changes to the website with the call to action, sometimes I don’t even realize I had received the lead except that the client has called me. In fact, today, about 15 minutes before starting our podcast, I had someone call in here. She had just received my information because she’d filled out the application online. As she was calling me, I was receiving the email. So because we had about 15 minutes before we were going to start, I did a real quick interview with her on the phone, and we did a little bit of an abbreviated work through the script so that I could try to help her right away. We exchanged the necessary information, and I think she’s working on trying to figure out what she can afford, and she said she’s going to get back to me. So that’s one way, of course: people contacting me.

People also, because of the call to action, are texting me. I had that happen today as well. I had a lead earlier today, and I was actually just getting ready to contact him when he texted me. So we were actually in the process of trying to get a hold of each other at the same time. So I called him and we were able to talk right away. He actually said to me, “I didn’t realize you were going to call this fast,” which was kind of nice. I think he was pleasantly surprised. But as you know, I get the leads. If I’m available to call them, I do that immediately, of course. If I get the lead and I’m otherwise indisposed, if I can get to my phone, Graham was nice enough to put together a template for me where I can text the client, just touch base, let them know that I know that they’re out there looking for some help, and to reach our right away. That works out nicely, ’cause then they know there’s somebody there for them.

And I also then try to follow up with a phone call and an email. If I text them, then I also try to email the same similar information so that, because sometimes people really are calling from landlines and you don’t always know from the phone number, so I try to cover those bases. And I try to follow up with a phone call as soon as I’m available. That actually did work well for me today as well. Couple days ago, somebody, I got the referral. I texted them, they were in a meeting. They said they’d get back to me, and we did a little back and forth. I just was able to speak to him today and we set up an appointment for tomorrow. He didn’t even ask me how much it would be. I don’t think he’s technically looking for unbundled at all. I think he just wanted a lawyer one on one, and because the site’s so high on the search engine, that’s how he found me.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, that’s certainly our magic and mastery at work. You know, you mentioned the text messaging. It was interesting, ’cause we were just at the Clio Cloud conference and Gary Vaynerchuk, who a lot of people in the legal industry hasn’t heard of, did a keynote. One of the things that he talked very clearly about is the impact of mobile on the industry, and how much people use smartphones now. He even asked the question while you were in the audience, “How many of you have this mobile device within arm’s reach when you go to sleep?” And like, 95% of the room raised their hand. So text messaging has become a really impactful way to reach out to clients. Can you share how often it is or how much of the time when you send out those text messages people are actually engaging? ‘Cause you call, you email, you text. How often are they actually getting back to you via text message?

Barbara Rogachevsky: Pretty often. I think if I’m texting them at an actual mobile number, they’re texting me back pretty much right away. In fact, I texted someone and then I was in the process of emailing them, and they had, they already texted me back before I could finish sending out the email. So I scrapped the email because we already connected. We’re talking minutes.

Dave Aarons: Right. And in the text message if they’re texting you back, do you engage in a bit of a text message back-and-forth, or is it really just, “Okay, go ahead and call our office. Here’s our number.” Is it kind of just scheduling them to call you? What’s your strategy there?

Barbara Rogachevsky: I really, I leave it up to the referral. Sometimes, they’re just texting me back saying, “Okay, thanks, be in touch.” Or sometimes they want to set something up to talk, and I’ve done that. I kind of, I let them lead it where they want to go, or I’ve had them say, “I’ll call you when I’m free.” It just depends. I think they just really feel like it’s great that somebody reached out to them when they’re obviously in the middle of thinking about their problem, so that’s good for them. And then I, you know, I do whatever they need me to do.

Dave Aarons: Right, absolutely. Okay, so then you have that chat with them. What, how long are you spending on those calls? Maybe walk us through the stages of each call. Obviously the first part, you listen, you find out their case, their goals. What are you, what is your process you’ve developed over the years in doing so many of these calls to help them take that next, and maybe what’s some of the things you’ve learned not to do in that process as well?

Barbara Rogachevsky: You know, I recently did some followup work with Graham, because I really wanted to streamline this and really focus it more towards getting people, I guess it’s the sales aspect of it. I’m a lawyer and I’m not necessarily a salesperson. My natural default is, “I want to find out about your case. I want to figure out how to help you.” And I also need to be focusing on, “Let’s get you to the point where you’re retaining me,” ’cause I can’t help you if you’re not retaining me. So you know, I’ve refocused on not only just getting some information about the case but also bringing them to the point where they’re in a position to decide, “Is this something I want to pursue?” And doing it a little more quickly. So not just getting them into the office and then having them decide, “Maybe I don’t want to do this,” and now I’ve invested some time. Now I’m trying to really streamline the process on the phone with getting them to the point where if they’re coming into my office, they’re ready to bring me the money and actually sign paperwork, and get started immediately. Not just for their benefit, not just for my benefit, but also for theirs, because if they’re coming in within the next couple days and they’re ready to get started, I can just start helping them that much faster.

So I’m working the script that you provided. Obviously, it doesn’t cover everything, so you know, you have to be a little flexible. Everybody’s situation anymore is so unique. It’s not just divorce, or it’s not just custody because we used to be married and now we’re divorced and we’re changing things. So there are all sorts of strange things going on out there, and you need to be prepared for whatever’s dropped in your lap and be prepared to be flexible with the script itself. But trying to follow it as a general guideline, ask them questions, find out the situation, figure out if they’re just, are they just researching and they don’t really want to do anything yet? Or they really need a lawyer and they need one now?

And if that’s the case, then let’s start talking about what we can do now to help you. What’s your situation? These are your options. What’s going to work best for you? And then let’s try to tailor. I really try to focus on, I’m asking these questions because I want to make a plan to help you. I’m always focusing on, let’s make a plan to help you. I think that makes people feel better because [crosstalk 00:13:16]

Dave Aarons: That’s what you, that’s what you share with them? That’s what you say to them?

Barbara Rogachevsky: Absolutely, absolutely. I want to make a plan to help you. Because if people are searching for a lawyer, they got a big problem. Somehow, they have a big problem and they need somebody to help them to fix it. It’s obviously causing them distress, or there wouldn’t even be researching the concept of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on someone. There’s a lot of emotion involved, and if you can reassure them, “I’m here to help you. We’re going to make a plan.” All of a sudden, people will say, “Oh God, I feel so much better. I’m just so glad I talked to you.” And that’s, I mean, isn’t that why attorneys do what we do? ‘Cause we want to help people? So if you convey that immediately, “I’m here to help you. Let’s figure something out to help you, and to make a plan to make this situation better,” you’re going to make them feel better, you’re helping them. But of course, then they’re also going to want to work with you.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely. And that plan usually has a two-fold approach. You know, one is the legal steps that need to be taken, the petition or the documents or whatever is the legal pathway. But then the second piece is the financial plan to figure out how you can meld the two, get things, get what needs to be done and do it within a, within a financial component that within their budget as well.

Barbara Rogachevsky: Exactly, exactly.

Dave Aarons: So how do you, how do you explain, or what kind of questions do you ask once you’ve determined what they want to see happen? Once you have a good understanding of the case and you say, “Okay, let’s put together a plan so we can help you,” what kind of questions do you ask? I mean, it sounds like you may give some feedback on, “These are some of the things we need to do legally.” What kind of questions do you ask to find out where they’re at financially, and then how do you start to tailor, or what do you share with them about what things will likely cost to give them an idea of what that will look like financially?

Barbara Rogachevsky: Well, and again, I’ve been going back to the script. Making sure that I’m asking them, first of all, if this is something they need to do now. Are they just researching and dabbling, or is this high priority? Because I think, I think it makes a difference. If they’re just dabbling and you’re throwing numbers out to them, they may scare away because it’s not a priority. Once you’ve determined that this is something that they have to jump all over, and oftentimes it’s because now there are court dates pending, somebody has taken them to court. There’s something looming and it’s coming soon. If you know that, now you can start talking about, “Alright, what can we accomplish now? You have to do something right away.”

So the next question is, and it’s right on the script, “Have you done any research about finding an attorney and what it’s going to cost you?” Some people, this is the first thing they’ve done. Some people have done some research and they’ve found out, “Oh God, this could be really expensive, and that’s why I’m still searching.” And so, once you’ve figured that part of it out, then there’s that next question [crosstalk 00:16:11]

Dave Aarons: Before we jump forward then, so let’s run through those two scenarios. There’s the person that has done the research and they say 1500, 2500, 5000. You know, they’ve been quoted. Maybe we could, you know, you could handle that one way, which is obviously, there’s the person that’s been quoted something really high. Then there’s maybe someone that’s been quoted something pretty low. But usually, it’s something much higher ’cause you know, you’re one of the few attorneys that will offer unbundled and flexible options and so forth. That’s the idea of what we’re doing here. Then there’s the option of people saying, “You know, I really have no idea. How do you handle those two different scenarios based on that feedback?”

Barbara Rogachevsky: Well certainly, if they have been quoted and they’re still looking, they’ve been quoted something they can’t afford.

Dave Aarons: Yeah.

Barbara Rogachevsky: So I’m finding out what they’ve been quoted, and you know, people are amazingly open most of the time. I mean, they’re talking to a complete stranger. We’ve been on the phone ten minutes, and they’re telling me what people have been charging them. Very often, frankly, sometimes it’s more than I would have quoted them for full representation. I mean, I’m getting people doubling my fee and I’m not even sure why just to get started based on what they’re telling me. But nevertheless, whatever they’ve been quoted isn’t doable for them. So I will, you know, I’ll get into, first of all, if I think I can just undercut it, I may just go ahead and do that. You know, right away, you’re already winning that discussion, because if you’re undercutting, then they’re already happy with you. I’m not shorting myself. I mean, I’ll quote what I quote.

If it’s something where they just don’t know. Like, they’re just starting their research, then I think you do need to start having that discussion about what do they have available because that’s going to frame the discussion of what I can do to help them. Sometimes they say, “Well I don’t really know what I have available,” and sometimes they do know. If they know and they tell you, well now you know what you’re dealing with. Are you really dealing with somebody who can afford full representation and now you can start trying to work that situation? Or are you really looking at somebody that has to do an unbundled? But then you talk to them and say, “Well okay, now that I know what you have available, now we can make a plan for how I can help you.” And again, we’re back to that plan. Now we can make a plan. Now I know how I can help you. It’s always about, “We’re trying to find a way to help you within your budget. Now that I know your budget, I know what I can do to help you within your budget.” And as soon as you start saying that, their ears open. Oh great, they can’t wait.

Dave Aarons: Is that the component that, I’m sorry to break in there, but is that the component that helps them feel comfortable with being transparent about their finances? ‘Cause I can only imagine some people are thinking, “Oh, well they’re asking me how much I can afford to figure out what to charge me,” as opposed to asking me what I can afford to figure out how you can tailor a solution to that budget. How do you get around that initial maybe resistance that people might have to be transparent about where they’re at financially?

Barbara Rogachevsky: Well and that’s exactly it. I do think some people don’t want to tell you what they have available because they think, “Oh. Well if I tell you that I have $2000, then you’re going to charge me that much when I could have got it for $1500.” It’s, you know, it’s that old used car salesman concept. You know, don’t show your hand too much. I do think that the script deals with that so that you do have, if they seem to be skeptical of why you’re asking the question, I am explaining. “I want to know what you have available because we have options in my office for how to help people depending on their budget. So if I know how much you have to work with and I know how to help you, I can make a plan to help you that way, and I can help you to get what you want within your budget.”

And if they still won’t tell you, I haven’t had that happen yet, actually, that they won’t tell me at that point. That might be the point where people say, “I actually don’t have any money.” I’ve had that happen. Or I’ve had people say, “I don’t have any money, but I might have to ask my parents, or my uncle,” or whatever, “and I’m not sure what they can do for me yet.” That sort of thing. And then that’s when you launch into the definitions of unbundled version full representation and just tell them. “These are the options we offer, and I’m going to let you decide how best to handle it.”

Dave Aarons: Can you break down how you would convey that to … Well I mean, obviously if you have the person that has just no money, do you give them kind of just a broad snapshot to give them a general idea of where they could start? Do you talk about maybe just come in for one hour, give them a really clear just first step price point? Or how do you handle someone that has very, very limited means, no money, or even just a couple hundred to start?

Barbara Rogachevsky: What I first do is I always make sure that I explain full representation. I start with that because I don’t really care what kind of case you have, that’s always ideal. Not just ’cause I make more money, but because they get more services. The reality is with unbundled, they’re representing themselves. There aren’t, I don’t think there are any laypeople who are as good as representing themselves in court as an attorney is at representing them. So I want them to understand what they’re getting for that full service. Even if they decide they can’t afford it and they can’t come up with the money, I want them to know that that’s the ideal and this is why it costs what it costs, so that they don’t just think everybody’s trying to fleece them or make as much as they possibly can. I want them to understand how much, how much service an attorney provides for that $2000 and how much we really do.

And then from there, say for those clients who cannot afford that level of service, we do offer unbundled options, and then I go through what those options are. Specifically, I think I like to tell them what kind of services we offer for that unbundled: the document preparation and filing, the coaching them about what kind of hearings they’re going to expect and what kind of procedures are going to happen in their kind of case, and what they can expect from this particular local court. Because every court is different, and if they’re talking to a local attorney, presumably that local attorney has experience in that local court. We know our judges, we know our magistrates, we know all the unwritten procedures that nobody can know going in unless they’ve been there before numerous times. I try to convey how important it is to know what this court does, and how they do it and when they do it, so that I can teach them those things ahead of time so that even if they’re representing themselves, they know what to expect and how to be prepared. That’s probably the most valuable thing that I can offer as an unbundled attorney.

And I tell them, “You’re representing yourself, but you have help.” It’s not as good as full representation, but it’s a whole lot better than not having anybody to help you at all. And then I can tailor the cost of that to whatever you can afford. It’s best to have this much money to start so that I’m setting them up for that, but at the end of the day, you’re the one that decides how much you spend because you’re basically buying by the hour. And I will never go over your budget because you’re deciding how much and how many hours you’re going to retain an attorney for. I think that makes them feel much more comfortable, that, “Oh my God, I’m not going to get in over my head, but I’m going to have some help.”

Dave Aarons: Right. So those are the pay-as-you-go options that you’ve been just amazing at offering over the years here, and cultivated these, doing them in a really approachable manner, especially in your communication. I mean, it’s just, it’s really wonderful to hear you share how you step them through that. Would you, can you talk about some of the options that you might share depending on where they’re at financially? Obviously, every case is a little different so it’s always going to be tailored to the person and maybe some certain factors about what needs to be done and in the time frame, it needs to be done. So given that, what are some of the things that you might do? I know you have the hour by hour, maybe there’s the document prep, then maybe there’s the next step might be preparation and appearance. I mean, maybe you can step through what some of those options might look like and cost for various different situations.

Barbara Rogachevsky: Sure. What I like to do is I like to make sure that the client understands that we’re here to help them with whatever they need help with. If they can prepare the documents on their own, then they can do that and they don’t need to pay me to do that. But if they want to go hour by hour and they want to spend $200 having me draft their documents and make sure they’re done really well and filed properly, we can do that. For each hour they need me, they can just bring in $200, ’cause that’s what I charge, and then they buy an hour. If they want to buy two hours, they can buy two hours.

I’ve actually had clients who had pretty complicated cases who could not afford full representation, but every few weeks, they’d call up, they’d make an appointment for an hour, they’d bring $200, and they would bring a list of things they wanted to get done in that hour, and we’d do that for them. When the hour was up, we would be done, and then they would call me in a couple more weeks and we’d do another hour. That worked for that person, ’cause that was what they were able to afford. That was how often they could come up with money. And it worked well for me too, because that is a client I never would have had otherwise. So it was really a win-win situation.

I recently took on an unbundled that was able to put down about $800. Well that’s going to buy him about four hours of time, so what we’ve done is we have drafted all of the paperwork for him. We are mailing everything with him to his home with a complete list of instructions, all of the copies already made. What he’s going to do is he’s just going to walk into the courthouse and slap it down on the counter and file it. We’ve even prepared the documents so that he can ask the court to waive his filing fee, so he’s going to save about $300.

Dave Aarons: Hm, okay.

Barbara Rogachevsky: And then once that stuff gets filed, he’s going to send us copies of everything and then we’re going to say, “Okay. You’ve gone through the first step. Now here’s what’s going to happen. Let’s talk about getting you through the next step.” And see what he feels he needs us to do for him. We’re just, we’re going to leave it up to him to decide how he uses his time. And meanwhile, he’s not using a lot of my time or my assistant’s time. This is going to take him a lot further and he’s going to have a chance to save up a little more money so that when the money he’s paid me has run out, now he’s got a little bit more to bring in and we can get him through the next couple of steps. So that’s, those are two different ways we can use these unbundled services to help people depending on their needs and the complexity of their case.

Dave Aarons: Right, exactly. And so once you’ve outlined the various different options as you’re describing here for them, what’s the next step for the client and how do they book the appointment? Do you take a deposit for that? What’s that next step if they want to move forward with going ahead and meeting with you? Or are there some, are there ever cases where you do these things over the phone? I assume since you’re local and most people are local in the area, they mostly come in the office. But if so, what’s that next step for them?

Barbara Rogachevsky: At that point, I tell people it’s, I’d like to have them come into the office and meet with me, because when we do these unbundled discussions, they’ve gotten to the point where now they’re ready to move forward anyway. I tell them, and the other thing, of course, is many people already have cases that are either pending or being reopened. If that’s the case, I need to see some paperwork. And I tell people, you know, “I can do my most effective work for you if I can look at the paperwork that you have in your case and get a better feel for what’s going on.”

And that’s another reason to get them in the office because the discussion we’re having on the phone is really all theoretical until I can look at the court orders. Once I have those orders, and I hate to rely on the client to tell me everything I need to know from the paperwork, because very often, people have not even looked at their paperwork in a long time, or they’re just getting these things and they’re very emotional and they’re not really sure what they say. So I try to convey the importance of my being able to review the paperwork that’s governing their case. That helps to get them into the office.

And then I tell them, you know, “We’re at the point where I’d like to see your paperwork. It sounds like you’re interested in moving forward, so let’s set you an appointment and let’s start to finalize this discussion and get you on board so we can start to help you right away.” I really stress, “Let’s try to help you right away.” ‘Cause obviously, people want, if they’re at this point, they want help right away.

Dave Aarons: Right. Okay, and do you-

Barbara Rogachevsky: There are clients that, there are clients that just want to say that they are out of town. I had one call me today who lives in, I think, Kansas, but she’s got a case pending here. So for her, we’ll set her a phone appointment, and I’ll ask her to send me paperwork that’s relevant and I’ll tell her what I need. The clients can scan them and email them to me or fax them over here, and that is like having an in-person appointment. But I will do it for them on the phone if they can’t travel to the office, and we’ll do the same thing. Whatever it takes to help the client, and we can do it all remotely if necessary.

Dave Aarons: Right. Okay, so then that next step. Do they pay a fee to come into the office? Do they put a deposit on file in case they don’t show up? Or is it just, they come in and it’s a free consultation from there too?

Barbara Rogachevsky: The initial consultation is not exactly free. The way I’ve been doing it for the first how many years I’ve been doing this is that first consultation, there’s no upfront charge, but if I take your case, I’m going to charge for the time I spent for that initial consult. Because when they’re coming in, now I’m spending a half hour and an hour gathering detailed information, reading their paperwork, digesting all the information I need to have, and often now giving them some insight about procedure and law. I’m using that time to help them. If they decide ultimately that they’re going to walk out the door and not work with me, they’re not taking any risk by coming in, but at the same time, if they do decide to work with me, I’m not going to use all of that information to help them. Very often, the information I gather in that first meeting is information I use throughout the course of the case. So I do, I guess you call back charge for it because I think that is appropriate and fair.

Dave Aarons: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay, so if they then came into the office and spent an hour with you and decided they, you know, wanted you to draft the documents for them, the fee to do that would be the amount of time you need to draft the documents plus the time that you spent with you already in the office, right?

Barbara Rogachevsky: That’s correct.

Dave Aarons: Okay, fair enough. And then if the person decides that they don’t want to hire you, then you know, they spent that time with you, elected not to move forward for whatever reason, and didn’t have to pay a fee or even put a credit card down to be able to come in the office and meet with you.

Barbara Rogachevsky: That’s correct.

Dave Aarons: And you found that most people very, feel pretty, do you explain that to them in that initial consultation over the phone that that’s kind of how that first meeting works? And do they feel pretty comfortable with that?

Barbara Rogachevsky: The people, there are some people. Well, let’s put it this way. We have historically gotten calls from people that, the first thing they ask is, “Do you do a free consultation?” That’s not always a good sign, but I explain it in that way. What I tell them is the initial consultation, there is no upfront fee. After we conclude our meeting, if we decide to work together, I will take the time spent in that consultation out of the retainer when it’s paid. If we decide not to work together, then it doesn’t cost you anything. I think people then understand that yes, if I’m spending that time to help you, then they’re going to have to pay for it. But I think people don’t want to pay upfront to meet with an attorney for the first meeting, ’cause what if they decide they don’t like you or they don’t want to work with you? Now they’ve been charged. It seems to make people feel better that they’re not handing over money to a stranger the minute they walk in the door. But I think at the end of the day, it also weeds out some of the people who are just shopping around for free legal advice.

Dave Aarons: Right.

Barbara Rogachevsky: So I hope it does what it’s intended to do. I guess no system’s perfect, but I think the unbundled when they’re looking for someone, I think they do understand that that’s appropriate. I’ve had people come in after I’ve explained that to them and they say, “Oh, well that seems fair. Sure, that sounds good, let’s do that.” I suppose anybody who I explain that too and now they don’t want to come in, well I’ve just saved myself an hour meeting with someone. Because if you’re not even willing to meet with me at no upfront charge, then I can’t even imagine why I’d want to meet with you.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. I mean, that’s a good, that’s a good check on making sure that your time is, you know, it’s recognizing your time as valuable as well, and if they don’t even want to come in with the thought that if they had to hire you, they’d have to pay for that. I mean, it’s like, well then you’re not really valuing my time, are you?

Barbara Rogachevsky: That’s not the client I’m looking for.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, exactly.

Barbara Rogachevsky: I don’t care how many hours they’re buying. That’s somebody who doesn’t value your time and your service. However, they came to me, even if it was an unbundled, perhaps I’m not the attorney for them.

Dave Aarons: Then I don’t know who is! I think that’s a very fair, fair check and balance there. It makes a lot of sense to me. You know, if I heard someone tell me that, “If you don’t hire me, you don’t pay me anything. If you hire me, then you pay for that the time that we used together,” that seems fair enough. It’s a no-risk offer. It’s like a no-risk trial offer.

Barbara Rogachevsky: Pretty much. I mean, I take all the risk, and if that’s not a good enough deal for the client, then I guess you probably ought to go somewhere else, I guess.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. Well from, you know, we’re hearing a lot of folks are taking you up on that and then also pulling the trigger when they come in the office. So maybe you could share a bit about, you know, especially for those attorneys that haven’t done very much of the pay-as-you-go hour by hour, can you talk a little bit about the logistics of how you deliver that, those services, and how it’s different from the way you would think about when you’re working with someone and doing everything for them as opposed to doing one step at a time and advising them, and how that has to shift the way you approach and communicate with the client? You know, empowering them as opposed to doing it for them.

Barbara Rogachevsky: Well the first thing that I think is really, really important is with any services, whether it’s full representation, unbundled, and especially pay-as-you-go, you have to have a really clear fee agreement. I do know that there are a lot of attorneys out there that don’t necessarily do fee or retainer agreements, or they do a very abbreviated retainer agreement. I think it’s really important that you put in writing exactly the level of service that you’re providing because people don’t understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it. It’s really easy to have people misunderstand that you’re not representing them. You’re not coming to their hearings, you’re not putting your name on their pleadings. So you have to be really clear about that in your retainer agreement.

What I do is I put in there that we are providing services to the client for document preparation and you know, legal advice only. We stress the only. Then we put in there that they will be billed hourly for the time that we spend on their case. We also specifically put in that fee agreement that if the client requires an additional level of service or full representation appearance at hearings, there will be a separate fee agreement provided and they will have to pay a new additional retainer. So they’re re-retaining me if I have to go to court and anybody on the planet has to know I actually represent them. It’s a whole different level of service with a whole new set of rules. I make sure they sign that before I take them on because we all know that at the end of the day when there’s a misunderstanding, the attorney is the one in the hot seat, so we have to be clear about what we’re providing to the client.

And I explain all of that to them. I explain to them, I put it in the fee agreement, and then I make sure they read it before they sign it. I sit there and watch them do it, and I ask them if they have any questions, because you never want to have somebody say, “You were supposed to go to court with me,” and you don’t go. And I make sure the client understands, and that I understand, what level of service they’re looking for. How much money they have to get you started, really, is going to be the catalyst for what you’re doing. If they’re coming in and bringing you $100, $200, or $300, you know you’re going pay-as-you-go realistically, because that’s all they’ve got. If they’re bringing you a thousand, now you got something to work with and you can provide an additional level of service. But I think I make it clear to the client that I’m going to advise them on what I think we need to work on together based upon the kind of case they have, the complexities, and my knowledge of what needs to be done at any given time.

At the end of the day, if they think that they need help with something, then I’m here to help them with that. And then we get started whenever they’re ready, and then we go from there. But I want to take the lead from the client, definitely, because they know what they can handle the best.

Dave Aarons: Right. And when they are handling some things themselves, what kind of systems or instruction sheets, or what have you put together to help facilitate, you know, people that are going to be handling some of these things on their own? Like you talked about earlier a little bit, like filing. They have the instructions. What kind of things have you put together for steps like that that the client is going to be taking on themselves to give them some of that guidance, some of that coaching that might be different from when you’re doing things yourself for them?

Barbara Rogachevsky: First of all, I want the clients to understand too that, and I don’t think a lot of people know this, there’s actually a lot of help on the court websites. So I make sure that I direct them to find forms on the court’s website, instructions that are available on the court, as well as the things that we can put together. Very often, we’ll just draft up something that’s very specifically detailed to the client: where they’re filing, what they’re filing, what the steps are that they need to take specifically with their case. And then make sure that we are staying on top of what’s going on next and inviting them to come back and say, “Okay, now you’ve gotten through this phase. Let’s talk about what needs to be done next, and then you decide for yourself what you want me to help you with.”

But I take a very individualized approach to these things because family law is so unique to each client. I think it’s very hard to have one template that deals with everybody. I’d rather take a few minutes and type up something that is specifically tailored to an individual client and their specific court with their specific circumstances. Then, I know that I’m communicating directly with them and dealing with their specific issues.

Dave Aarons: Right, exactly. And once people proceed with handling some parts on their own, do you find, or how often do you find that folks will maybe file that paperwork, take the next step, and then maybe realize they’re a little bit over their head or things got more complex than they thought, or it got contested and the other person had an attorney? How often do they then come back and either decide to pay for additional service or go ahead and just retain for full representation? Just find the money somehow.

Barbara Rogachevsky: I’d say, I’m thinking probably about half the time.

Dave Aarons: Yeah.

Barbara Rogachevsky: Yeah, yeah. I think people are comfortable with the concept of self-representation to a point. Very often, there’s a point, and I think that point comes the first time they go to court. If it’s going to happen, I think it’s going to, it’s going to be when they first go to court and they’re staring at a judge or a magistrate, and things are happening in the courtroom that they don’t understand. Even though you may have prepared them, it happens faster than they realize. There’s a language they don’t understand. It’s just intimidating, in general, to be in court and have it not be your profession, so even if they did okay, a lot of times, they’re just scared to go back all by themselves and they decide they need to find a way to retain an attorney to go with them. They don’t want to talk in front of people in the courtroom. It’s just a very intimidating experience for a lot of people.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. And then of course, if they get into that situation where they’re feeling uncomfortable, it seems like it’s only natural for them to want to go back to you because you were the one that helped them with those initial steps. And so you had an opportunity to bring in a client that maybe not, might not have had the opportunity to pay you if it was all up front and from start to finish, but given that you were able to start with something small, something that they could afford, you’re obviously going to be the person that they’re going to then turn to if they want more service from there. I mean, I would assume most of them they would come back to you and retain you, ’cause you were the one that did their paperwork, right?

Barbara Rogachevsky: Well not only am I the one that did their paperwork, but I’m the one that now knows their case, because, in order to do their paperwork properly, I have to become informed about what their case consists of and what are the appropriate steps, who are the parties, what court they’re in. So absolutely. They’ve already paid me for the time to come up to speed on that, so if they decide they want an attorney to represent them, now they’re just going to come back to me because they don’t now have to pay another person to learn all of that information all over again.

Dave Aarons: Right, exactly. I think that’s where I would say some attorneys, especially when they’re looking at cases that might have more time, when they turn away clients because they don’t, aren’t getting a big upfront amount, they’re making, they may not, they’re losing the opportunity to work with that client on the starting basis and then get the person that will then take that first step and then come back and retain for full representation ’cause they just got the money, because they’re thinking that they, unless the person has all of it up front right now, they’re not going to come. Do you find it interesting that some people once they have an experience of what that court practice looks like, that somehow they’re then motivated to find the additional resources financially to bring you into the case on a more of a full representation basis?

Barbara Rogachevsky: That’s absolutely the case. In fact, I have a hearing tomorrow morning in which the client started out as an unbundled. I drafted her initial paperwork, we talked procedure, I helped her get started. She came back a number of times for followup work. Then they started in on the hearings and she was in over her head. So she came up with a very sizeable retainer to get me involved. This was, we started the case at the end of 2014. We’re still going. So you can imagine how much money this has cost her to keep me on board, starting with an unbundled and now for full representation. We’re not almost at the two-year mark consistently going. We never stopped. So we never stopped in all this time. And yeah, she’s found ways over the course of time.

There have been sometimes when I’ve had to let her make payments. Other times, she’s come up with larger sums of money. At all times, she’s thanked me for being flexible on my payments. Obviously, there has to be a limit to some of that. We have forged a very good relationship, because now we’ve worked together so long that it’s the kind of thing where I think she just wants to stay with me, and if there’s any way she can make that happen, then that’s what she’s going to do. Because we’ve worked together a long time and because I have gone out of my way to try to make it possible for her to continue to have representation, even at times when she couldn’t afford it.

Dave Aarons: And you, and really, that resonates, forging a relationship. Do you see working with some of these clients, especially beginning and in a very affordable first step manner, that you are in fact, that’s what you’re doing? You’re forging a relationship, you’re building trust, you’re building some goodwill by offering these options and helping these folks? And then people then find the way once they feel like you’re bringing that to the table, to make sure that they can continue in the process?

Barbara Rogachevsky: Absolutely. And I think, I think when you’re dealing with any relationship, whether it’s any type of business relationship, whether it’s your accountant or it’s your barber or it’s with your clients. It’s all about relationships. You know, there’s an old cliché that says, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” I certainly didn’t make that up, but whoever said it, and I don’t know who did, they’re absolutely right. When you’re starting with that initial phone call and you’re talking about, “I want to try to find options to help you. We’re going to make a plan to help you.” You’re forging that relationship from the minute you get on the phone, because nobody, I don’t care how much they think you know about the law. If you’re not going to make them feel comfortable and taken care of, you’re never going to see them again.

They need to be, they want to be taken care of. They have a problem they want you to solve, and when you appeal to that emotion where they’re scared, they’re frustrated, and you soothe those emotions. They’re terrified about what it’s going to cost them. Then you work with them. All of the things you’re doing along the course of the representation: returning their phone calls, returning their emails, returning their text messages. Every bit of that is about forging the relationship and at all times making the client feel like you are going to help them and you’re taking care of them, including how you charge them and trying to find a way to provide them with a service that they can afford.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. I can only imagine. I mean, just, there might be the odd client that runs into a tough situation or doesn’t pay the bill or something like that, but I could only assume that the majority of the folks when you’re, when you’re bringing that intention to the table, find a way to make things work to the best of your ability, if you’re taking that standpoint and that perspective of serving them in any way you possibly can.

Barbara Rogachevsky: most of them do. Of course, there’s always somebody who, at the end of the day, if they decide they can’t afford it and you’ve let them slide a little bit, there are some people who give themselves permission not to pay your bill. Unfortunately, that’s something that every attorney has to deal with and find a way to manage. That’s never an easy situation, but I am finding that more often than not, people, they want to do the right thing. If you’ve treated them with respect and consideration and respect for their finances and their abilities, then I think they want to, they want to make sure that they’re treating you with the same level of respect.

Dave Aarons: Right. Well, Barbara, this has been just a really enjoyable conversation. I really appreciate the options you’re offering the clients, the ways in which you’re being creative, how you bring that relationship first and put that as your commitment, the quality of the communication, how clear you are with people, and the way you help them understand that you’re putting together that plan for them and walking them through it step by step, and giving them the ability to step in kind of one step at a time forward. I mean, it just, and clients, of course, is really happy to … You know, we’re getting a great response from that.

Given that you’ve been at this for two and a half years fielding leads or however, it’s probably coming up on three years now, is there anything else that over the years of fielding leads and working with these folks that you’ve had to change, or something that you’ve learned from experience? It could be anything, really, that you found has made a big difference in your ability to be successful, or work for these folks and make ends meet financially and so forth, that you’ve learned over this time.

Barbara Rogachevsky: Well something that I … There are things that I used to do before I did unbundled, and I used to be really married to the concept of, “This is my retainer. You need to bring that amount of money and you need to set an appointment. I don’t want to talk to you on the phone, that’s what my assistant is for.” I’ve had to be more flexible about taking those calls, talking to people for a few minutes up front, making them feel comfortable, starting to build that relationship. It does take time, and it’s not always easy to make the time to do that, but I’ve tried to do that as much as possible. I think it’s helping to forge that relationship and make people want to take the next step.

I’ve also, of course, embraced technology more. The text messaging, because I use a call forwarding VOIP system, and we recently over the last several months were able to text message straight to my office number so that I didn’t have to use my personal cell phone for that. It’s made the communication level go way up. So now I can text the clients, and I can keep in touch. I do have people that, you know, something pops into their head in the evening and they want to text me, and I can just get back with, “Great, thanks.” They know I’ve seen it, they feel better. I don’t even have to do anything, but it’s just making that client always feel comfortable that I’m on top of things, even if there’s not a lot I have to do. I’m not ignoring them.

That’s something I’ve had to really embrace, do more of, constantly making the clients feel like I am in touch with them. They can reach me, I’m taking care of them at all times. That seems to make a big difference in the way that the representation, well, whether it proceeds, and then the way it proceeds.

Dave Aarons: Yep, absolutely. So you said that you, I wanted to just hit that sort of back on that. So you have a text message to your office line, ’cause there are some attorneys that don’t, understandably just don’t feel comfortable texting from their cell phone perhaps. We’ve shown them how to send a text message through email using the default gateway. What is the tool or technology that you’re using to be able to receive text messages to your office line? And you text from your office line, right?

Barbara Rogachevsky: I do. I use a VOIP service called, and it’s my office number. It’s actually call forwarding so I can use the system to forward calls to any phone number I designate. So I’m out of the office on my cell phone, I just tell it to forward to my cell phone. It also rolls over to my assistant’s cell phone. So if I’m in the office, we can send it to the office landline. If I want to designate it to a completely separate number, I can do that. But it’s also my voicemail, it also sends all of my voicemails to my email, and it also serves as a text messaging function, so I can actually go on my cell phone and text message people, and the caller ID will show my business number. So people will text that number, and then it will send that text message to my cell phone. Not to my personal number, but it actually forwards to my cell phone. Then it will also save that text and send me a copy to my email, and it will notify me that I have a text message and an email.

It’s a technology that’s not expensive, but it’s allowed me to be able to communicate with clients using my business phone number, without having to give away my personal cell phone number, which I keep personal.

Dave Aarons: Exactly. So for text messaging outbound from your office line, is there an app on your phone that you use? You just click the app and text from that?

Barbara Rogachevsky: It’s actually technically not an office line, it’s a virtual number.

Dave Aarons: Uh-huh, right.

Barbara Rogachevsky: So I go into my cell phone, I bring up the app on my cell phone, and when I text out, it actually shows the business phone number that’s published on my website, on my business card, on the internet, that everybody knows is my business number even though I’m technically physically texting from my cell phone. The caller ID is my business number.

Dave Aarons: Very useful, that’s-

Barbara Rogachevsky: They know that’s where it’s coming from.

Dave Aarons: Yep. That’s awesome. You know, ’cause some attorneys have had to make that. They said, “Okay, well I’ll just give out my personal cell,” but certainly that’s your own private number. You like to keep that for your family, for your friends, and ideally not mix the business with your personal, so the fact that it’s created that opportunity where you can embrace text messaging but still do it within the office environment is wonderful, it’s a wonderful service. We will certainly look into the further, and anyone else that’s looking to find a way to do that, I certainly recommend it as well.

Barbara Rogachevsky: It’s been really helpful for me.

Dave Aarons: Great. Is there any other, do you use a law practice management software or anything like that? Or mainly, you just use these communication systems?

Barbara Rogachevsky: I use the communication systems and I use QuickBooks for accounting, but I don’t have a specific practice management software. I guess I’m the software. I keep a lot of it in my head, and I pretty much know what’s going on with everything. I suppose you can do that when you’re solo. If I get bigger, then I probably have to employ more technology. You know, I’ve been considering whether I need to get bigger, because we’ve been very busy, and part of that reason is we’re getting a lot of referrals.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, or leads. Absolutely. So yeah, we’ll be keeping ’em coming. Again, I just want to thank you again, Barbara,, for taking the time on this call and just sharing so openly how you’ve been working with the clients and communicating, and serving them the way that you have. We couldn’t be happier with the services you’re providing and the amount of folks that are very, very, very stoked on the service they’ve been able to receive from you. And so thank you so much for taking the time and sharing so openly about the way in which you’ve developed a process to do that.

Barbara Rogachevsky: Thank you for having me.

Dave Aarons: For everyone else that’s listening and taking part in the podcast, we certainly thank you for your participation. If you want to give us feedback, you can go to iTunes and leave a review; we read every single one of them. Share with anyone you might, that you think might benefit as well. So with that, we’ll go ahead and wrap up. Until next time, thanks again so much for listening.

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Episode 17: How Offering “Pay-As-You-Go” Options Can Dramatically Increase the Number of Clients You Can Profitably Serve

Barbara Rogachevsky has been an Unbundled provider attorney out of Akron, Ohio, for over two-and-a-half years now. Today Barbara shares the types of unbundled and “pay-as-you-go” options she offers that can fit into the budget of almost any client she works with. She explains how she uses the script to determine her client’s legal needs, financial budget, and how to formulate a “plan” to help them accomplish their goals. She also shares a unique “risk-free” offer for her clients to meet with her for the initial consultation that allows them to feel comfortable taking the next step; while at the same time she screens out clients that don’t value her time.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Barbara uses the script to identify the client’s legal needs and financial circumstances so she can create a tailored plan to help them
  • The impact of responding to leads via text messages, and some best practices on how to do so effectively
  • The types of “pay-as-you-go” options she offers, and how these options have helped her serve more clients and increase her income
  • The importance of having a clear fee agreement when offering unbundled and “pay-as-you-go” options, and some of the items to include
  • The importance of “playing the long game” and focusing on building relationships, instead of just trying to convert the client
  • Barbara’s “risk-free” initial in-office consultation, and how it has helped her increase her conversion rate, while screening out clients that could become time-wasters

And much more...

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