How Shifting Away from a “Big Retainer Mentality” Can Transform Your Firm

March 12th, 2017

I’m looking forward to sharing this episode with you. It’s an interview with Brian Winters who has been a long-term provider attorney with us out of New Jersey. In fact, he’s working with us for about 18 months now. What’s interesting about Brian is, he came from, let’s say, maybe a bigger firm mentality. He was used to charging traditional retainers and even shares on this episode how he used to look at the size of the retainer as the most important aspect of trying to make money. If it was a $5,000 retainer, could he get to be $7,500? If it was $7,500, could it be $10,000? He had a real shift.

As a result of our conversations and started working these leads and realizing that three clients have $3,000 is the same as $9,000 retainers. He’s going to be able to have an opportunity to work with a lot more clients by offering options that are at these lower price points and offering flat rates and unbundled services and payment plans and so forth. It’s been a real shift for him. He shares, that in this episode, how he was able to make that transition mentally and then start implementing it into his process. He also shares the types of flat rates options that he offers and the processes developed for fielding the leads, the amount of time he takes on each call, some of the challenges he had when he tried to delegate the fielding of the leads and how that affected his conversion rate. He really has been sticking to calling those leads. We also talk about an expansion he’s been working on to handling some other regions, balancing up travel time, how to source office space so that he can broaden his footprints and serve more clients.

It’s really interesting episode and lots to take away from here. Let’s get right into it. This interview with Brian Winters, one of our provider attorneys out of Bradley Beach, New Jersey.

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: Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian Winters: Thank you.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. Well, we got a chance to connect here. It’s been a fun ride so far hearing that the results have been pretty good since we first started and it’s been gradually ramping up. I know you’ve been working on experimenting with expanding into some other areas. I appreciate taking a little bit of time today to jump on and share how that journey has been for you.

Brian Winters: My pleasure.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. Maybe, just a good place to start, just give a little background on how it got you started in the practice of law, the region that you’re serving in New Jersey and the areas of law or focus area of your practice.

Brian Winters: Well, I’m from New Jersey. I grew up around here, on the Jersey Shore. I went to college in Boston. I went to Tufts University and then I went to law school in North Carolina. I went to Duke University. Through a number of choices of faith, I ended up back where I started, which is on the Jersey Shore. I remember when I was in law school and everyone wanted to work from one of these white-shoe Wall Street firms including myself. I remember saying to myself, “Well, the one thing I’m not going to do is family law.” Of course, as life would have it, that’s now the only thing that I do, but I like it. I’ve been practicing for about 25 years now. I’m a certified matrimonial law attorney.

Dave Aarons: Okay. Did you start working some other areas of law in the transition to family law? Well, how did you end up focusing your practice on family law?

Brian Winters: Yeah. I worked for a big firm in Newark. I was in their Litigation Department and did a number of different things. That firm’s bread and butter was matrimonial. Just through experience, I learned that I hated everything else. In the corporate law where the civil litigation and the matrimonial stuff was something that I enjoyed and I was good at, its common sense, its everyday experiences, and I find that it’s gratifying because you can really apply common sense solutions to vexatious problems.

Dave Aarons:  Right. I was just taking a look here. It looks like we’ve got about almost a-year-and-a-half under a belt of working together. Maybe you can just speak to a little bit about how the last-year-and-a-half has been for you as far as … I know we’ve been ramping up gradually and exploring different regions, especially recently, but how things have been going since we got started working almost 18 months ago?

Brian Winters: Well, it’s funny, Dave. What I usually tell people who I contact the least is the truth, which is that this unbundled service was not something that I invented. I had to be talked into it, but since I’ve been talked into it, now, I’m perhaps the biggest proponent. I’ve been very successful just in terms of my practice and of course, in terms of making money. You say we’ve been ramping up, which is true, but I’ll tell you right off that very first week, I think I had three clients. The next week, I think I had four clients. As luck would have it, one of the clients that I had in those first two weeks has been my most lucrative case. I was telling you before we spoke that I probably build and earned and was paid somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000 on that, Dave, and still not over.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. You brought something up there that, I think, I’d like to shine a light on. Initially, it was not something you were doing but you had to be talked into it. Now, it’s something that they were offering. Do you remember what that additional resistance is that you had to offer these options and what it was that you came to experience or why that shifted for you once you started offering these options in your practice? Because I think that might be relevant for other attorneys that are looking in at this and saying, “I’ve only done the $5,000 traditional retainer.” What is this whole unbundled thing? What are the economics of it? It wouldn’t be a very much money if you’re working with [inaudible 06:41]? What were the resistant points for you and how was it?

Brian Winters:  Yeah. I think, quite frankly, that it was a change in mindset. Initially, I think, to be blunt, I think it was snobbery. Some of my colleagues, I was always looking for the biggest retainer, whether it was high to $275. If it was $7,500 well, then it should get $10,000 retainer. It was always the size of the retainer that merit, that mattered to me. I guess I just didn’t realize that I can have three $3,000 cases or the same as one $9,000 case. In retrospect, to think silly, to say it out loud, but again, it was the change of mindset that I can do just as well, if not, better charging a reasonable rate, getting a result, and moving on.

Dave Aarons: Right. I’d like to really dive into that as far as how that has played itself out in practice. When you’re not working with clients that are dropping these high amounts of retainers and you’re working with smaller amounts and just working with a lot more people, then also, being a little more creative with the options you’re offering. Can you talk about how you had to shift the way which you were working with your clients and what the types of options you started to offer once you started to embrace that option?

Brian Winters: Well, I initially speak with the new lead. I offer them the unbundled service. I explain to them that I can be retained to do isolated tasks. I can write a letter or I can do the papers and not go to court or I can go to court and not do the papers. I can offer isolated services and that helps people from a budgetary perspective, but I have to tell you that I don’t have a lot of experience in doing that because my experience has been that most people say, “Can you just do everything for me?” I have to tell you that, I would say, easily 90% to 95% of the clients, the cases, and the baneful representation case.

Dave Aarons: Are there times when it starts out where you’re just doing one task for them and maybe, you’re meeting them with where they’re at, helping with one aspect and then they transition once they realize that it might be a little more complicated?

Brian Winters: That transition happens very, very quickly.

Dave Aarons: In the initial conversation, on the phone, or when you meet with them in the office or once you’ve some work or how does that evolve?

Brian Winters: Mostly, I meet with them in the office because I tell people it’s true. I say that you can pay this amount of money for this isolated task or this amount of money for this isolated task or,  I can do full representation and then when they say back to me, “Well, I would, of course, prefer full representation, but we have to start with the initial premise, which is that I don’t have $10,000 to spend.” I say to them, “Okay, I understand that. Let’s, now, think of a way that I can give you full representation for an amount or according to a payment regimen that you could afford and that should be a two-way street.” If it’s agreeable to me, that’s fine. If it’s agreeable to you, that’s fine. I like to work with this many flat fee arrangement as I can.

I find that when people know what they’re looking at even if it’s more than they wanted to spend initially. If they said, “Oh, I want to spend $1,200” and I say, “It’s going to be $3,000.” If I say, “Okay, well, let’s do the $1,200 now and we’ll spread out the rest over the next four months” or something along those lines, they understand and they appreciate it.

Dave Aarons: Okay. Can you shine a bit of-

Brian Winters: I was initially worried that people would consider being the bait-and-switch type of thing. Especially people who have spoken to other lawyers and they say, “Oh, I know it’s not cheap.” I always tell people that the idea of this is that its lower cost. I’m careful to say it’s not low cost. It’s not free and it’s not inexpensive. It’s expensive. All law is expensive. It’s just lower as compared to what you may experience outside of this model.

Dave Aarons: Right. Lower, also, in the sense that you end up doing … Well, maybe, can you talk about that as far as you’ve used to offer these big retainers? Would you end up doing more work, less work on these cases or is it about the same? Do you break it once piece at a time? The thing is, a lot of people assume unbundled means it has to be you against some cheap lawyer they’re doing at a discount and maybe, we have attorneys that have lower overhead. They don’t have to charge such a premium hourly rate. That’s probably true, but usually, what it means, it’s a little bit less time or it’s billing one section at a time rather than requiring the entire amount upfront. Can you talk about how that difference has been for your firm?

Brian Winters: My firm has been in business for a very long time or maybe in modest. I do excellent work and we do excellent work. To be broad, it’s inconceivable to me to do half a job or do something other than 100%. I’m never going to do a poor job. I just tell the clients at point blank. I find that if you’re honest with people, they tend to believe you. Now, we were saying that a lot of the people who end up retaining me pursuant to find me on unbundled or not necessarily divorce cases but more so cases where they actually have isolated issues, to begin with, it’s just custody or it’s just child sport.

In New Jersey, we have what’s called an FD Docket. FD means, the parties were never married but they have children together. SM is the divorce. They’re married and they need to get divorced but it’s a full-blown thing that could take months and months or even years and years. FD cases, by their very nature, are isolated. Usually, you file papers, you’d go to court one day, sometimes there’s mediation, sometimes it gets resolved just by way of negotiation in the hallways, but it’s very rare that you have to come back day after day after day. The nature of the work is amenable to having just an isolated task. I don’t have to spend all that much time working up the case especially since thanks to unbundled, to a large extent, I have a lot of volume.

My staff is now becoming trained to, okay, here’s a custody case, view the forms. We take down some basic information, and what’s the term, I just populate the form. I typically go through it and it did make it good, but as I said, the types of things that are being retained do lend themselves to just having it be almost written and you get this rhythm.

Dave Aarons: The streamline. Yeah.

Brian Winters: Streamline. Thank you.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. That’s what we’ve heard a lot as well especially when you have a higher volume of leads and you’re doing a lot of the similar cases is that you can start to develop systems and procedures for each different thing. Do you use any form of document automation, software or is it primarily, your paralegals are doing a lot of preparation than you’re overseeing it?

Brian Winters: Yeah, my paralegals do it and then I oversee it.

Dave Aarons: You find that by doing the same-

Brian Winters: I said everything and …

Dave Aarons: Yeah. Go ahead.

Brian Winters: I was just going to say that, yes, although the case is going to be similar, of course, every case is different and has its own nuances. We talk about it. Don’t forget that my paralegals have been practicing law. My primary paralegal has been with the firm longer than I have. She’s been doing this about 30 years.

Dave Aarons: Wow.

Brian Winters: She’s very good. She’s very good about making contacts with the clients and fielding phone calls and understanding what’s going on and taking it very seriously.

Dave Aarons: Right. Okay. Let’s talk a little bit about that. Given that you’re servicing a higher volume of clients and also receiving a higher volume of leads given the coverage area you’re handling, do you make all the lead calls you or if not, do you have a staff member do that and you dive into that a bit?

Brian Winters: Right. I’m glad you asked me that. I anticipated that you would and I have an answer for it, which is that I try to call everybody myself. If I don’t call them myself and if I have my staff call them whether it’s one of my paralegals or someone else in the office, they never ordain me.

Dave Aarons: Why do you think that is?

Brian Winters: I think it’s because people pick up on the fact that, “Okay, so it’s not important enough for you that you have to have your secretary call and make an appointment.” They’re much more impressed when I speak with them myself. Also, I’d spend 20 minutes, sometimes, with people on the phone. I also have the ability to be more flexible. If I have someone who’s 45 minutes away, my secretary is not going to tell them, “Oh, well, Mr. Winters can meet you closer to you” or in any way being as accommodating as I can be on the phone. Sometimes, I say to the person, “Oh, I’m going to be in court anyway that day, why don’t I meet you in the cafeteria?” They’re like that. I can assess each situation and be more flexible in what I say to the potential lead.

Dave Aarons: Right. I think-

Brian Winters: I don’t know, Dave. Maybe you could tell me, but I’m telling you that it turns out to be that if my … If they thought it was a night that if it’s my staff member who’s calling, invariably, it’s a very poor rate of return. Whereas, if I call, it’s a much more realistic. It’s much more likely than the person will retain me.

Dave Aarons:   Yeah. I would agree with that 100%, especially with what attorneys have shared with us. A lot of times, there’s this transition point where, well, maybe they start off as a solo, they’re fielding all the leads themselves and then they start to get busy. They got all these cases and so they go, “Okay, staff member, you start making these calls and just book them in with me and we’ll retain it from there.” Almost invariably, the moment they do that, all of a sudden, their conversion rates just plummets completely. They-

Brian Winters: I’ve had the same experience. I’ll tell you something, also, which is good, which is that when the lead comes in, I try to call them as quickly as I can. Well, I can’t always call them right away because sometimes the lead comes in at 2:00 a.m., but if someone calls me and I get back to them right away, usually, it’s almost instantaneous. I’ve had so many cases where people say, “What do you mean? I just hit send.”

Dave Aarons:  Right.

Brian Winters: They’re shocked.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. They hit the send button and then their phone is ringing and they’re like, “How is that even possible?”

Brian Winters: “How is that even possible?” Right.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. Well, that’s the real time lead delivery. I think that that’s a really, really important point. In sales, they talk a lot about exceeding expectations. Also, when someone gets a call that quickly and they’re like, “Wow.” It happened so quick. You’re already ahead of the game from a credibility and a customer service standpoint. Second of all, most people’s typical experience of a law firm is that “Oh, they’re going to talk to the secretary and then they’re going to have to pay $300 to $500 to meet with the” … Richard Shannon who’s been practicing for 50 years and was just in our previous episode, he describes this as like and then you could just speak with the hoopla, a lawyer. That’s like so busy. They’re like, “He doesn’t have time.” Whereas, when they get that phone call from an attorney straight away like that, it’s just completely different experience. Really, I think it helps them feel a lot more comfortable and just confident that you’re the type of attorney for them.

Brian Winters: I have something funny when I told you I use to work for a big law firm where I first started out. They had a different philosophy, which was, they would have the client come in at 2:30. The client would come in at 2:30, and it’d be 2:30, it’d be 2:45, it’d be 3:30. I’d say to the partner, “The person waiting in the lobby would only have to get out there,” and he’d say, “No, no, make him wait. It makes you seem more important.” I disagreed with that approach. When I came to work with my family’s firm, that’s the one thing that I refuse to do is make people wait. As best I can, I try not to.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. Exactly. I can’t imagine you could ever perceive that. Maybe if it’s some Wall Street thing. I can’t even imagine the scenario in which that would be appreciated by the other party because the thing is, what a lot of salespeople tend to sometimes forget is, especially when they’re at leads is, they’re trying to go from contact to sale. They’re trying to figure out, “How can I sell this person all my service? How can I enroll them?” Really, it’s contact relationship sale.

Brian Winters: Right.

Dave Aarons: That’s the big difference between a referral client from a friend or a family member and lead is the referral who already has their relationship established through that other person. Now, they already trust you because you help them. Whereas, really, they haven’t ever met you before. There isn’t a relationship. There is not yet trust. That’s partly why it’s so key that you’re making those calls yourself and why there’s such a big difference there is without that trust or relationship established straight away, there really isn’t anything to keep that person really attracted to want to work with you specifically. In everything that we’ve seen as far as a strategy and the options, we’ve talked about unbundled options where you’re offering a lower cost starting point. It gives people an opportunity to start working with you so that they can get more comfortable and get a feel for who you are and meet you and all things.

These are all things that lend itself well to building that relationship, building that trust. Those are the fundamentals or at least the consistent things that we see that lead to really good results especially when filling the leads specifically. I’m glad you’ve embraced that.

Brian Winters: Well, that’s true. I didn’t realize that’s a-year-and-a-half but if you say so, it’s got so fast. I have already have repeat customers. I’ve resolved their matters months and months ago and they say, “Oh, something has risen again,” and they immediately call me back …

Dave Aarons: Yeah. Exactly.

Brian Winters: … at that same time.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. You also get the referrals and so forth, which happens quite often as well for many attorneys. Maybe we can talk a little bit more about the phone consultation versus the in-office consultation because your phone consultation, 20 minutes, we’ve got a lot of different strategies for doing that. Here’s your call, some people just really touch base and want to get in the office, others take 20, 30 minutes to really build that relationship, understand what’s really going on and then qualify them and decide if they’re really someone that you’re going to take the next step with them and so forth. Can you talk about what your phone consultation usually looks like? What’s your primary goal in that call? What’s the extent that you will have, you’ll discuss the different options and finances on that call versus having them come in the office first next?

Brian Winters: They’ll usually call right away as soon as I can. I just like to ask questions, initially, and let the person talk and tell me what’s going on. From what they say, usually, I can tell whether someone is just looking for free advice or whether it’s nothing I can help them with. In those cases, I keep the conversations relatively short, but if it’s a case where I think that someone is serious about moving forward or if it’s something that I think I can be helpful with, I spend more time. People, they’re not lawyers. They don’t know what’s important and what’s not. They just want to tell you the whole story. Usually, what I say to people is, “Look, I have time. I’m interested. We can talk for as long as you want, but let me ask you some fairly direct questions so I can frame the discussion.” That helps direct people away from starting six years ago just getting down to brass tacks.

Sometimes it does take 20 minutes to go through the whole story. Sometimes when you ask some pointing questions, it takes more like 10 minutes or less because when you frame it in those certain direct questions, they internalize the fact that certain things are important and that the whole sorted story is, perhaps, less important or less important for purposes of that initial conversation.

Dave Aarons: Right, and see if it balance them, letting them share their story and get out what it is they want to get out about the challenge that they’re having and at the same time, keep things focused in a direction that’s going to be productive and useful.

Brian Winters: Right. I tell people. At some point, I’d say, “Okay, well look, you found me on this unbundled thing and let me tell you what it’s all about.” I’m going to tell you, she-

Dave Aarons: Well, you said by the domain name, that because that’s what is common. It was that unbundled thing. Yes, anyway.

Brian Winters: Well, I don’t mean to diminish it. I’m just saying that that’s-

Dave Aarons: Well, it’s just people don’t recognize that they’re not going remember the domain names. You can just say unbundled and they’ll go, “Okay, yeah, yeah,” that unbundled legal help thing. Yeah.

Brian Winters: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Unbundled, I’m sure does excellent work with search engine optimization or whatever it is, just judging from the pure volume of the calls because I’ve had my website. I’ve dealt with people to mark it and spend money and all that stuff. It works to a much lesser degree than have your service.

Dave Aarons: Okay. I interrupted you. You’re saying, once they wound down with-

Brian Winters: Right. Then I say, “Okay, well, I introduced unbundled” and I tell them what it’s all about. As I said, I’m very honest about the fact that it’s not free and it’s not cheap. It’s less expensive than, perhaps, it could be. It’s lower cost than, perhaps, it could be but nothing in life is free and people, I think, appreciate that. I tell people that I try to work within their budget. People, I think, are honest with me also. They say, “Well, I spoke to a lawyer and he says or she says it can be $5,000. With the three people, they said $5,000.” Sometimes they say, “Look if it was three, I’d understand. $3,000 I can do.” I say, “Well, okay. Well, okay. At this point, why don’t you make an appointment with me because I think that, certainly, we can work within your budget.”

Dave Aarons: Right. Yeah. We talked a lot about with various different attorneys, the difference in approach from their phone calls so they should do an in-office, and that the phone call station tends to be a little bit less specific as far as exactly what it’s going to cost or just making sure the client knows that they felt heard, they understood and that you have an understanding of what needs to be done from a legal standpoint. Third, is that “Hey, you can work with me in my budget.” For you, has that been the main thing you’re trying to get across on that cold station?

Brian Winters: Yeah. I think it depends. I don’t like to be in charge of the conversation. Some people, they want to tell you what they could afford and what they can’t afford. Some people want to ask you point blank, “What is this going to cost?”

Dave Aarons: Right.

Brian Winters:  I find that if he says, “Oh, I don’t want to talk about it over the phone.” People, they think you’re being coy or they don’t trust you. I would, of course, prefer to have them come into my office and talk about everything and assess the situation before I start pinning numbers on what things are going to cost, but if they ask you point blank, then I’m happy to talk about it.

Dave Aarons:  Right. Right. Okay. You’ve mentioned and you explained how unbundled works. How do you articulate to them what that concept is? Obviously, you’re saying it’s lower cost, it’s more inexpensive. One of the things you talk about is a flat rate. It’s if an attorney offers flat rates. Did you explain a little bit more about why you operate in that fashion? How do you explain to them how that works?

Brian Winters: Yeah. Well, what I usually say is that the idea of unbundled is that you can pay for discrete tasks, whether that’s to do the papers but not appear in court or appear in court but don’t do the papers or adjusts or consults with me as to whether my property or some agreement is fair or just write this letter. What I say, which is true, is that however, most people ask me, “Well, just tell me what it would cost to do the whole thing for full representation.” To wit, I usually say, “Well, what I do is, for something of your type of case, I charge a flat fee and then I say the truth. With my flat fee, it’s usually $3,500 or $4,000 or something like that, but in order to make it more affordable to you, I can just do it for half price.” If it’s a $5,000 case, I say, “How about $2,500, flat fee.” People usually say, “Wow. Okay. Yeah. Everyone is telling me $5,000 so that sounds reasonable to me.”

Dave Aarons: Yeah. How do you balance the-

Brian Winters: I try [crosstalk 30:46].

Dave Aarons: You’re just the main, I don’t know, resistance or for attorneys that don’t offer flat rates is, they’re concerned that if they offer flat rate and they’re going to end up spending more time on a case and not getting paid for it, but then, of course, you have the ones that you spend last time on and get paid more. How has that balanced out for you and how you mitigate coding flat rates and not getting sucked too often in a position where you’re working on a case longer than you may be getting paid for if you’ve just done it on a no retainer?

Brian Winters: It’s just that. In most cases and 80%, 90% of the cases, it’s fine. It’s discrete, you do it, it’s done. Everyone gets a good result and you’re out. In 10% of the cases, you end up having more work than it’s worth because you have to come back on a different day or it doesn’t resolve that first day or it just go sideways in some way. That happens, but I could live with the 90/10 ratio.

Dave Aarons: Right. Other times when you may quote a flat rate and then you’re able to because of the streamlining we talked about, you were doing this over and over every day with so many clients that you’re able to get things done, really, in an expeditious fashion and maybe, it doesn’t take you … If your normal hours is $250 an hour and your flat rate is $2,000 or let’s say, $200, $2,000 that’s 10 hours. Maybe you can get it done in five because you’re just being really efficient. Does that also happen as well before you could balance that?

Brian Winters:  That’s true. Also, sometimes to the extent that I have, multiple cases, I can do three in one morning. No one suffers because well, as many of the lawyers know, there’s a lot of waiting around and things like that. I can do three or even four cases in a morning or an afternoon. Also, the one thing I mentioned is and sometimes I do, I guess, what I would call a mixed bag where I say, “Okay. It’s X amount of dollars to go to court and engage in mediation and maybe address the judge, have some oral argument,” but as sometimes happens, the judge says, “I can’t decide this case without having a trial, plenary hearing, hearing from witnesses,” I tell people, “That’s a different story. If it reaches that point, then we have to reassess our situation. Maybe at that point, we do have to go to an hourly rate type of thing.”

Dave Aarons: Right.

Brian Winters: That’s the way I’m able to hedge.

Dave Aarons: Do you put together an initial agreement that says, “Okay, it’s going to cover up until this point”?

Brian Winters: Yeah. It says-

Dave Aarons: That’s what that rate is for, right? These amount of task up to this stage and then a new agreement we’ll have to put together if it might be on that.

Brian Winters: That’s right. I put in the agreement in bold letters, “This is what it covers and by the way, this is what it doesn’t cover.” Meaning, if it has to go to trial, we have to negotiate a new retainer agreement.

Dave Aarons: Right. Exactly. Okay. What I’d like to do is just switch gears just a little bit because given that we can’t get it so long, one of the things I know that you’ve been starting to experiment with is serving some additional regions to, up the volume, even further. New Jersey is a compaction of the state that you have a little bit more of ability to travel around if you had the choice. Can you talk about how you’ve been going about the process of starting to serve other regions and how you’ve been able to find a space and just make that and balance that out so that you’re still able to make that pencil out for you?

Brian Winters: Yes. The counties where I’m primarily involved in are Monmouth County, which is my base and Ocean County. Recently, I’ve picked up other counties, other adjacent counties or outlying counties; Middlesex, Mercer, Burlington, even Atlantic County. My initial hesitancy in doing that was if you get a lead and they say, “Where’s Ralph?” I say, “He in Monmouth County,” they say, “It’s 45 minutes away. How is that ever going to work.” What I’ve ended up doing is saying, “Well, that’s fine because I have an office in Middlesex County” or “I have an office in Glenwood County, which is partially true because what I end up doing is calling lawyers who I know in different counties and saying, “Can I use your office?” Invariably, they say, “Of course, just tell me when you want, I’ll give you a conference room. Tell me how you like your coffee.” I’d be willing to drive to Mercer or wherever it is and meet a client in another lawyer’s office.

Dave Aarons: Right. Until now, has it always been that you’ve had attorneys that you knew of and those that you had relationships with in those counties or have you just … I guess, in the scenarios where you just call up an attorney’s office and that’s where you’d use it?

Brian Winters: I’ve used lawyer’s offices who I know, but recently, I had a case in Atlantic County. I didn’t know anymore there. I sent out a social media request. We have a chatroom or something like that and I said, “Can I use someone’s office in Atlantic County?” I got like, I don’t know, five or six different requests right away. “Yes, of course.” I just called the first one and it was perfectly accommodating.

Dave Aarons:  Okay. Obviously, some of these locations are 45 minutes to an hour. I’m not sure how far. How far is Atlantic County from your office?

Brian Winters: Atlantic County is a good hour away.

Dave Aarons: Okay. How have you canceled that out? You’ve just been charged in the same rate or do you add a little extra to the flat rate you quote or how do you balance out the travel time given that number one, you’re going there to meet with the client and then driving back and then also, you’re going to have to appear in that court date that adds in that travel time? Have you just written that off or is that something you build into that?

Brian Winters: Well, first of all, it really is in the one case where I have … I got one lead from Atlantic County. I’ve only been there this very, very recently. I did go to Atlantic County. I did meet the person and they did retain me. Well, it’s really two trips. It’s there to initially talk to the person. After that, everything else is email and phone and things like that. There would be one court appearance where I will also, again, have to go to Atlantic County. Truthfully, I’m experimenting with it because I do have to charge a little bit more for a case that I know I’m going to have to travel at least twice to Atlantic County. However, I really don’t mind, necessarily, the travel because I made phone calls. It’s not unproductive time.

Dave Aarons: Right. I don’t know if you had a Bluetooth or something but that could be time where you’re making lead calls or follow up with people that you haven’t talked. You make good use of that time longer or maybe listen to the unbundled attorney mass in my podcast, right?

Brian Winters: Yeah. Sometimes when I’m looking for entertainment, I do that. Yeah. Yeah. No, I do make phone calls. I speak to clients. I make a list. I return phone calls.

Dave Aarons: Right. Yeah. Exactly. Okay. It’s still in its experimental phase. I think for attorneys that have actually succeeded in expanding up the regions, it’s usually a two phase process where number one, they start doing the travel time themselves, but then we have had somewhat offices or attorneys that have crated contact relationships with attorneys in those cities where they’re actually acquiring an office space paying for the landline and phone line and then having an office that an attorney that works with them under their firm working on that space. Is that something you’ve been considering doing down the line? Are you experimenting and seeing if you can get some clients there or lend them to do that or you see yourself doing the travel time regardless long term as long as it pencils out for you?

Brian Winters: Yeah. I thought about that and I have listened to one or two of the podcast with lawyers in different states and regions. I have done that. I am considering it, but for now, I just do the travel. It’s not such a bad thing being away from my desk.

Dave Aarons: Right. Yeah. You have to actually get outside and see the sites in further Jersey shores and it isn’t that bad either.

Brian Winters: No. It’s nice.

Dave Aarons: Okay. Maybe the last one we could talk about is a little bit more about the streamlining and then maybe, we can ask one final question just from what you pulled from the year-and-a-half of filling leads and support, but is there anything else that you guys have developed as a system or within your team for streamlining the process from the time that you enroll a client to delivering and so forth, especially if you’re working with them remotely, for example? Let’s say, you enroll a client, you talk to them over the phone, you schedule them in. How do you interface that mobility with your team to make sure that that’s happening all in a cohesive and organized fashion? Is there anything that you develop to make that work seamlessly?

Brian Winters: Yes. The one thing that I’ve been doing, which has helped me a great deal is to try to do the work immediately. If the client retains me, as best I can, I like to do the work either that day or that week because I’m starting to have a lot of volume. My previous practice was to say, “Okay, I’m retained.” I say to my secretary, “All right, make an appointment two weeks from now and we’ll deal with it later,” or something like that, but then those cases get lost. If you don’t deal with it when it’s fresh and get it done and out, then there’s a tendency or at least in my practice, to have people get lost in the cracks and then its entirely difficult to try to fix it. It’s much better just to invest an hour or two hours or whatever it takes, do the work right away and file those papers right away, and then you have some time to take a deep breath and wait for the court date to come up and not the other way around.

Dave Aarons: Right. Just keeping ahead of the game and also, just getting to start right then and there as opposed to putting it off and then having everything start to pile up as it inevitably will.

Brian Winters: Right. Exactly. Yeah. Right. Exactly.

Dave Aarons: Okay. Maybe just final question and then we can go ahead and wrap it up.

Brian Winters: Sure.

Dave Aarons: Obviously, we’ve been doing this for a-year-and-a-half, which is, of course, surprising but things have been going well for you. I think what I’ve heard is, you’ve been talking to about eight out of 10 other clients and then about half of them are retaining you, four out of 10 clients or so or five out of 10, something in that range, each lead is retaining your service. Obviously, you develop a system that’s working really well. You’re seeing some great results. Is there anything that you’ve learned either through mistakes over this last year and a half or things that you’ve adopted and it could be just reiterations of things we’ve already talked about that really has made the difference for you over the past 18 months and making sure that you’re as efficient and effective as possible calling and converting into these leads?

Brian Winters: I think the mistake that I made, initially, was something we had touched on earlier was, it’s the same scenario that you were describing, which is, I’ve started to have a lot more volume and a lot more cases. At one point, I said, “Okay, now, I could sit back and rest on my laurels and allow either of my staff to make appointments and I’ll just sit there and wait for them to come in,” which variably does not happen. You still have to be diligent and you have to return phone calls and you have to do it yourself. The little extra effort that you do pays off in the end. That’s been my experience because again, I’m repeating myself but the same thing that you had said, which was, invariably the retention rate drops as soon as I delegated out to a secretary to make an appointment.

Dave Aarons: Right. Yeah. If there’s going to be a delegation, it really comes down to … At least what we found with attorneys we’ve talked to all throughout the country is, the delegation starts happening if you want to have the legal work done. Once the person is enrolled …

Brian Winters: Right.

Dave Aarons:  … that you have a paralegal doing the document preparation or like we said, hiring an associate or a contract lawyer where you’re assigning that client to that contract attorney to do the legal work but the sale … essentially, we call it the sale of the enrollment process is something we’ve had very, very few attorneys had any success at outsourcing because people want to talk to a lawyer. They want to create that relationship and want to build that trust. It’s such an essential component of calling in a lead that it’s not something that could be substituted.

Brian Winters: Exactly. I agree.

Dave Aarons: All right. Well, hey Brian, I want to thank you again for taking the time today for sharing so openly about how those last 18 months has been and the systems and strategies you developed over these years to offer these options. We’re grateful that you’re open and willing to do so and help more client as a result. Thank you so much for sharing and continue to keep sending those leads.

Brian Winters:  My pleasure. Have a happy holiday season.

Dave Aarons: Okay. Awesome. To everyone else listening to podcast, we certainly appreciate your participation. If there’s anyone else that you know that you think would benefit from somebody’s episodes, feel free to share it. Also, check us out on iTunes, leave us a review. We read every single one and we would appreciate your feedback. For those of you who haven’t heard our webinar, go to It’s a condensing of all some of these concepts into one, one hour webinar. It’s on our website, It’s free. With that, thank you so much for listening. We’ll see everyone on the next episode. Thank you so much.

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Episode 27: How Shifting Away from a “Big Retainer Mentality” Can Transform Your Firm

Brian Winters’ experience while working for a big law firm included what he calls a “big retainer mentality.” Success there was measured by how large the initial retainer would be. After some convincing, Brian started offering more affordable services including unbundled “isolated task” work to his clients, and this change in his mentality and approach helped transform his practice. Today, Brian shares how he went about making this important change, the kinds of options he offers now, and how he talks about them with his clients. He also talks about his expansion into other parts of his state, and how he manages his mobile practice from the road.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Brian overcame his self-described “snobbery” of wanting to charge a big retainer as a requirement to feel successful, and how this shift in mentality transformed his practice
  • How he explains unbundled options for clients by describing how he can help with “isolated tasks”
  • The value of quoting a flat fee in combination with a reasonable payment plan that is tailored to the client’s budget
  • The importance of using words like “lower cost” and “less expensive” versus “cheap” and “low cost,” plus the value of explaining these distinctions to your clients
  • How servicing a high volume of Unbundled leads helps Brian and his staff become more efficient and streamline workflows
  • Why Brian personally calls every lead himself, and why his conversion rate plummets every time his staff makes those calls
  • The WOW factor from calling leads in real time, and why you should position your firm to be ready to respond to leads immediately
  • What Contact -> Relationship -> Sale means, and how this shift in approach will result in more clients retaining your firm
  • How Brian uses the offices of attorneys in other counties as meeting places for his own clients, and how this has allowed him to expand his coverage area
  • How he avoids case overload or having work slip through the cracks by completing and filing each case immediately after he is retained
  • And much more...

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