How to Compete in the DIY Internet Age: A Practical, Step-by-Step Guide to Delivering Unbundled Legal Services Efficiently and Profitably in Your Practice

July 3rd, 2017

I’m really excited to share this episode with you, this interview with one of our provider attorneys out of Chicago, Illinois. His name is Brian Reidy. We’ve known Brian for some time. We got a chance to meet him at the Clio Cloud Conference and one of the things I’ve always appreciated about Brian is that he takes the time to quantify and really build systems in his practice to become more efficient at delivering all the various services he offers and has a suite of unbundled options that he’s been offering to his clients and delivers those services all the time.

We talked a lot about in this interview some of the changes in the marketplace and how so many poor people are trying to do things on their own, not only just in the legal industry but also on YouTube, learning how to fix their fence and do things or will work around the house and really are in not only in age of do-it-yourself but also the internet age where all the instructions and information and forms and everything is available.

Learning to understand that and be able to begin to offer options that embrace that trend is a core component of being on the cutting edge and staying competitive against companies like the LegalZoom and always on the document preparation companies. He really breaks down the exact types of options he offers, what he charges for them, how he explains it to his clients, and also some of the things that he’s done technologically to become more efficient at doing so. His document automation software, electronic intake, and all the pieces of the puzzle that an attorney that’s looking to differentiate his firm and offering more creative options to his clients. This is all the nuts and bolts and pieces you need to make that happen.

This is a great episode with a lot of really practical strategies you can apply immediately in your practice and a lot of great advice and some fun too. Let’s get right into with this interview with Brian Reidy, one of our provider attorneys out of Chicago, Illinois.

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: Hi Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian Reidy: Thanks, Dave. I appreciate you having me.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, man. I feel like it’s been a long time coming. We’ve hung out a couple of times. Originally, I think we met in person the first time was at the Clio Cloud Conference back in what have been 2015? The first year we were there, wasn’t it?

Brian Reidy: I believe so. Yeah, 2015 or …

Dave Aarons: Or was it ’16?

Brian Reidy: It might have been ’16, but yeah, not too long. Somewhere around there. Time flies when you’re having fun.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, no doubt. We certainly had some fun at the time and went and played some golf at Cog Hill. Maybe you can give a little bit of background on how you get to start your practice of law, Brian, the areas you serve and the lowest score you’ve ever shot at Cog Hill.

Brian Reidy: I guess I’ll take the last one first. It’s really not something worth discussing. I’d rather say we played basketball and go on your scorer. I had a lot of fun on the first 14 holes, we’ll say that and it’s always a work in progress.

Dave Aarons: Yeah.

Brian Reidy: As far as practice in law I had a weird journey, I guess, in many ways. Most people might be able to relate. I started off going to law school with the mindset of becoming a medical malpractice defense attorney. One of my mentors and idols was a prominent med mal defense attorney in the Chicago area. My dad is a medical doctor so it’s kind of a natural fit. Fast forward to law school, I found myself being pulled towards the prosecutor’s office and I got a job with Cook County State’s Attorney.

I started there in 2009 right at the peak of the recession there so I was fortunate to have a position coming out of law school, worked there. Over in that office, you get sent to where they need you. You don’t really have that much of a choice. I got eventually moved into abuse and neglect and a lot of people they shudder when they hear about abuse and neglect but I actually enjoyed the work. Obviously, the circumstances are not great about how people come in but you can really help people during a difficult time. I always felt that it was my job as a prosecutor to try and call it the way I saw it.

Whether it’s to reunite the parents or move in a different direction, and I like that but eventually, it came to the point where it’s either I was going to stay on the track like that or move into a private practice. I got a position working for a private firm. Did that for a couple of years, learned some things and then I opened my own shop right at the end of 2014, beginning part of 2015 and had been doing only divorce and paternity actions in the suburbs in Chicago.

Dave Aarons: I think it would be interesting to hear your perspective on abuse and neglect as we have many, many hundreds of lawyers doing family law across the country and there will be some cases coming through with CPS, DHS, whether it might be with varying different types of situations. Maybe you can share your perspective on … By the way, do you still handle those cases as a practicing family law defending the clients when they’re dealing with those types of issues? If so, how has your perspective on being on the other side of the table influenced your ability to serve those folks?

Brian Reidy: I’m answering the second part. I have not really come across it in my private practice. In many parts because again, I don’t advertise for that or state that I’m doing that and it is kind of a niche within the law because most of the time the DCFS cases, and I’ve had a couple handful here and there where people contact me and ask about it but most of the time they stay out of court, and at that point it’s just an administrative proceeding. Nine times out of ten, if you do what the DCFS worker said to do, they’re not going to take you to court.

DCFS only takes people to court when it’s pretty serious and they think that the kids are in a really bad spot. They’re usually going to give you somewhat of a chance to get out of it.

The other thing is, quite frankly, I don’t know if this is a cause and effect but in my experience when I was with the state attorney’s office it was usually lower income families that were involved with DCFS. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe they get more calls, maybe it’s just … I don’t know. I don’t really have the answer to that. It’s not often I get it but I’ve had a few here and there.

I don’t know that my perspective has changed because I’ve looked at it the same way even there. I will have a heart to heart with the client in any aspect. “Tell me what I need to hear” is what I say because I’m going to tell you what you need to hear. We never promise to tell clients what they want to hear and we encourage them to do the same with us. I’d say, “Look, if something bad happen, tell us because we can deal with the bad fact. We can’t deal with an unknown fact.” That’s, I guess, the approach I would take and ultimately say, “What do you want?” Hear what I have to say and see if we can outline a plan of action that would give them what they want.

Dave Aarons: Do you think if you’re not one that gets a lot of those leads, there are some jurisdictions, it seems like, where more CPS or DCFS types of cases come through inevitably? That’s not usually something that we work on attracting, but sometimes it just comes through because people search family lawyer then it turns out they have a CPS case.

Do you think that it’s realistic for lawyers to be able to provide services to those folks on an unbundled basis, giving them advice or coaching or does it always need to be full representation? Could you think of any ways in which attorneys could be more creative in serving those folks if they are of lower income or just be able to provide them guidance if the person doesn’t have the ability to hire for 3 to 5,000 up front? Or is it just there’s no way around it?

Brian Reidy: That’s a good question. I always feel like there is a way to do unbundled. It’s a matter of how much time can you put into it and really how much experience they have with it. In fact, recently, I was trying to break down all of the different steps of a divorce. Obviously, a divorce can go on a variety of different directions but at the end of the day even if you played out a lot of the different scenarios, there’s only so many different issues that can come up. Now they can spread out in a variety of ways and they can each be unique but at the end of the day, it’s still a child custody issue or a division of asset issue or something along those lines. That’s what it would fall under.

Same thing with child protected services. There’s only so many different things that can happen. I can speak to my experience with Cook County. In that situation, there was a variety of different steps that would have to be. I think unbundled, you could probably do well with at least explaining to somebody in straight English, not lawyer speak, “Here’s what’s going to happen” and trying to help them understand the process better because oftentimes a public defender will do the very best they can but you have to understand they have to take every single case and they don’t have the time to spend an hour, an hour and a half sitting down with somebody to explain here’s what’s going to happen and here’s what to expect.

I think in that sense unbundled would be helpful. It would be probably pretty difficult to do full representation on an unbundled kind of payment plan. I know in Cook County, they have or at least they did. They had a service provided by the Chicago Bar Association that would have attorneys available if there was, for example, a conflict of interest at the public defender’s office. These attorneys would take these cases at severely discounted rates so it was already there and it was paid for by the county. In that sense, they’re either going to get a public defender or a free attorney, so to say, free to the party, but it’s paid for by the county.

Dave Aarons: A more realistic option at least would be if you have a client that’s dealing with this type of issue is you could offer them an hour, an hour and a half of time, whatever might be, such that they can understand and have someone in their corner that can advise them and help them understand what it is they’re dealing with and the complexities of it.

Brian Reidy: Yeah, and in that way maybe you can provide that explanations the public defender or their private attorney could not, given what they’re getting paid. Then you get into that problem of I don’t like to second guess anybody else. I don’t like to … If they want a second opinion, I’ll give them opinion but then usually, you would say, “If you want to, then hire me.” The last thing you want to do is give some information or provide an explanation and they say “Boy, I really like you” and then they can’t afford you and now they feel like they’re stuck with whomever.

Really, I think where unbundled would come in is for the person that’s almost, if you will, they’re penalized because they earn too much but not enough to really afford an attorney. They didn’t qualify for the public defender’s office but maybe they got a mortgage and three kids; they’re not making a lot of money in reality, but they make too much to qualify for a free attorney. That’s probably the sweet spot that’s very difficult to come by.

In any of the cases that I’ve gotten from Unbundled that are related to child protective services, it’s the stuff that happens before the court, the issues that I’ve dealt with. Yeah, that can be helpful in terms of providing them some guidance and to listen, you need to cooperate and barring some crazy requests from DCFS. They just need to hear from somebody else to cooperate and go along with the process. Don’t be belligerent. They’re doing their job. You have to understand that they’re overworked. But if you cooperate, “Yes ma’am”, “No ma’am”, “Yes sir”, “No sir”, those sorts of things likely they’re going to be out of your hair and everything is going to be fine. Sometimes they just need to hear it from a perceived expert, so to say.

Dave Aarons: Yes. Someone that’s in their corner, not necessarily the people that are threatening to take their kids, for sure.

Brian Reidy: Exactly. That’s where I again come back to that honest phrase, “Tell me what I need to hear because I’m going to tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.” If they tell me the true facts of what’s going on because the reality is, DFCS does not start meddling in people’s lives for zero reason. They have enough cases. It’s not like they’re just making stuff up just to have fun, but they do have to investigate every call.

Yeah, if you get a ticked off neighbour or relative and they make a call, DCFS has to investigate. Cooperate, go along with it. If nothing happened, they’re going to see that. What if the kids got some marks or bruises that are not consistent with the explanation, you got a problem. At that point, tell me what’s going on so I can give you the proper advice on what you need to do next.

Dave Aarons: Exactly. Okay, great. One of the things, Brian, that I’ve always appreciated about you is you’re really good at understanding process and you’re certainly continually improving the ways which you look at each step of the process of each case in a quantified way and your understanding of unbundling.

Maybe what you could do and maybe working together for about a year, sending a lot of clients, maybe you could unpack your personal opinion of Unbundled services, share a little bit about the types of options you’ve developed and some of the systems that you’ve been working on to be able to offer those in a more streamlined fashion.

Brian Reidy: Sure. Well, one of the things that I appreciate with what Unbundled is trying to do is recognize and I think more attorneys will recognize sooner rather than later is that things are changing and that the days are just only getting a giant retainer and doing work that way. It may last for some people but the reality is it’s probably not going to last for everybody.

The other thing is that I guess it depends on the clientele you want to work with. If you want to work with people that have six-figure incomes and pretty much only six-figure incomes because there are a lot of firms that do that and they do a great job with that. They have a threshold and you’re not going to have to deal with unbundled kind of clients.

For me, I like the regular everyday kind of guy or gal that just needs help. They’re not the millionaires. They don’t have tons of money. Some have a good amount of money but they’re also realistic with their expectations. What I found with the Unbundled is it provides help to those that would not otherwise get it. I think it really does help the legal community as well as the clients. I think every attorney that’s either appeared in front of a judge with a pro se person on the other side can understand the frustrations of dealing with that because the pro se person has no background at all.

They don’t know the rules and they just say whatever they want. It can be frustrating in dealing with that. Maybe that pro se person, if they had talked to somebody outside of court and had some understanding, some expectations. Maybe they couldn’t afford an attorney but they now at least walk in the court with a little bit more [stability 00:17:27], they understand what to expect, they understand what’s realistic, what’s not realistic. I feel like if you’re helping and understanding that aspect of it, you’re going to be better off.

We also have way too many people now that want to do it themselves and quite frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. With YouTube out there now, with everything out there, people are building projects in their backyard. They’re building decks. They’re building whatever based upon videos that they’re watching online. We as attorneys sometimes get arrogant and say, that could never happen to us. Why not? Why couldn’t it happen to us? It absolutely can happen to us especially with the simplified divorces.

That means if we have all the simplified divorces that are streamlined, everyone is just going to be competing over all these big ones. What I have realized and what I’ve done is I’ve tried to explain to people, “Look, I’m not trying to …” when I do some of the unbundled offers.

In Illinois they have supreme court-approved forms. If someone wants to do their own divorce, there’re some pretty good forms that explain the whole process. I’ve recently started implementing a session where I’m calling it a case assessment with them and I’m offering it to them at $400 at what I’m calling a value guarantee. What I say with that is, “Look, I guarantee you’re going to find that this is valuable. I don’t guarantee you’re going to like what you hear, I don’t guarantee to tell you anything you want to hear, but I guarantee you will walk out of my office with these forms. You’re going to understand the process a lot better than when you came in. If you don’t like it or if you felt that it was a waste of time, I’m giving you your money back.” I’ve never had to give anyone their money back.

Dave Aarons: Wow.

Brian Reidy: Because I take these forms and I explain it to them. We as attorneys, we know legal terms of art, forwards and backwards, but we fail to recognize that most people don’t. If you can just sit down with someone, explain it to him as a person not in legally, they appreciate that.

I’ve had people come back for a second session at an hourly rate and they take care of the divorce on their own. I’ve had people come in one session and that’s all they need. Then you also say to people, “Look, if you can afford an attorney and you want that convenience of knowing, then I’m by your side the whole way. I’m going to do that because you know your spouse better than I do. If it’s going to be an argument, if we’re going to fight over the color of the sky, one spouse saying it’s red, one saying it’s green, well, it’s going to be a long process and you probably want someone by your side.”

The people that pretty much agree on everything, all they need to do is get it on paper. They need to know how to phrase it, where to go, and that’s really where I think the Unbundled stuff comes in.

Dave Aarons: Do you have some of those clients also, you sit down with them first and then they decide, “Hey, you know what,” either be the case becomes contested or maybe wasn’t as simple to start with and you’re initially helping them. Do they transition to full representation? Also, do you offer that as an initial step as a possibility when there is a contested case as well?

Brian Reidy: Yeah. I try and what I’ve done in terms of my systems and how you’re very accurate in getting to know me and how I’m always trying to tweak it, and my staff probably hates it, but I do want to make the process better for people all the time, both on our end and their end. I used to do free consultations for an hour, and no charge on that, just to build that rapport with someone and everything because I think that’s the best way. If you get somebody in your office, more than likely, they are going to hire you if they have the funds and the need.

I switched that from free consultations to a free phone call, and I do a 15-minute call because when you get internet leads, sometimes you get people that are calling because they had a question and they had an argument with so and so and they want to just speak to an attorney to get their question answered. They don’t have a case pending, they don’t intend to go to court, they just wanted a question answered.

Okay. I’d rather just answer the questions, cross them off my list and move on. You may have somebody that they just clearly … they’re not really interested at all, but during my 15-minute call, the whole purpose is I’m just trying to feel them out what’s their situation. Then I try to then, after that 15-minute call, move them into that case assessment more, “Hey, why don’t we come and talk about your case more in detail?” At that point, I will tell them, “Look, I will charge for that because as attorneys, that’s what we have to offer, is our time.” I say, “We respect your time and hopefully, you respect ours because that’s our gift that we can offer and that’s our service that we can offer, so we do have to be compensated for the time we spend with you.”

I do offer still even the value guaranteed on that. Again, I’ve never had anyone take me up on it because it’s value. If you didn’t think it was valuable, I’d rather give somebody their money back than have them go online and try and say that we stole money from them or something like that. If they felt that they didn’t get good service, well then, here’s your money back and it will probably save me a lot of money down the road dealing with the person.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. I think people could feel really comfortable with the fact that you stand behind the service and the advice and you know that it is valuable and you’re willing to put that on the table to say, “Hey, look, if this doesn’t work out for you, you don’t have to pay me a dime.” I can only imagine that gives you a lot of confidence in knowing that they’re going to come in there. They’re going to get some real guidance.

Brian Reidy: Yup.

Dave Aarons: Okay, cool. You switched that up a little bit on the free consultation to doing the phone call. That initial step that you’re having them come in to enroll for is not going to change. Do you sometimes, excuse me, get into what you can do as far as [inaudible 00:24:02] Unbundled or do you just say, “Okay …” depending on the scenario, will they come in and is it always that first step, that $400 couple of hours or $200 hour initial step they’re going to take? Is that always the same or is that going to change? Do you have some people that will just retain over the phone, for example?

Brian Reidy: Yeah. It’s kind of organic. I think that some people are ready to go right away. A lot of it will depend upon how they heard of you. The one thing is if it’s a word of mouth referral and they have a case pending, the chances are the meeting’s a formality. They want to make sure that they, “Okay, yup, I can trust you” or “I know you,” and they feel more comfortable. That comes back to that the whole purpose of marketing is people hire those that they know, like, and trust. If it’s a referral, you’ve already got that trust.

When you come from something like an unbundled, they don’t know you. They probably don’t like you and they really don’t trust you. You’re dealing with all three right away. The first thing we try and do is we try to reach out to them, either via text message, email, get on the phone so they at least start to know us. The purpose of the call is to develop that relationship a little bit. If you see if they like us, maybe they’ll start trusting us. It’s really organic to I guess answer the question of, “Does it have to go from here to here?” No. Depending on the person’s needs, sometimes a 15-minute call may be an hour. I never put a stopwatch on a call and say, “Sorry, times up” because I want to see where that conversation goes. I mean, the longer you’re talking with someone, the more you’re developing that rapport with them, that trust. You’re uncovering those needs and you can do it in a more less intrusive way, I guess.

For example, if we’re talking unbundled versus full representation, obviously, if they have some assets or income, full representation would be a better route for them. If they don’t, you can talk about the unbundled. For example, I talked to somebody today. They have four kids, non-married. During the conversation, she had called because the guy’s not paying child support, keeps getting laid off. I said, “Okay. What kind of work are you doing?” She says, “I’m laid off.” Well, that to me is like, “Hey, let’s talk unbundled stuff. Let’s not throw giant retainer numbers at her and make her heart skip a beat. Let’s talk unbundled first and then we can talk about the other stuff down the road.” That really worked out well. I think she’s coming in soon to do one of our coaching session case assessments.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. I think what you’re sharing here, Brian, is so important and I think a lot of attorneys miss that, is that if you can recognize that someone is of more limited means or you can identify where their means are at, it doesn’t really serve the client or the potential of your relationship to talk about an option or present an option that’s more than likely going to be outside of their ability to pay.

Brian Reidy: Correct.

Dave Aarons: What I found to be most effective, we’ve heard from attorneys, is being there a common theme of the highest converting lawyers when it comes to fielding our leads and getting them to being paying clients, is they tailor fit the option they speak to based on just some questions and some feeling out that every attorney does a little bit uniquely. We can maybe unpack that a bit. If they’re not working or you ask some, “Can you give me a general idea of what you have set aside to invest in your case? Can you give me the ideal budget?” Then you speak and like you said, you address that directly and you offer the option that seems like it would be more suitable because people can always retain and take more service from there, right?

Brian Reidy: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s important to recognize and end up the attorneys that are grasping this concept are the ones that recognize in order to not be replaced by a computer so to say is recognizing that each case is different and treating each case is different. Don’t go down just like a list of questions like you’re giving an oral exam in high school or something. You got to let the conversation flow and try and hit on some points. Make sure you cover some things that are necessary. Absolutely, treat them uniquely. Hopefully, you can find a result that works for them.

Dave Aarons: Absolutely. You’ve developed some creative options, unbundled services and various other ways on which you can work with folks. Would you mind going through some of the different options you would offer someone? I don’t know if you want to give context, let’s say this, we offer this. Let’s say this, we offer this, or it could be easier for you to just say, “Well, these are the various different things I do” and then how you offer them or when you offer them. Maybe you can shine some light on that. You might give someone more ideas in ways attorneys could be more creative with the way they work with their clients.

Brian Reidy: In many ways, I think I’ve either listened to some other people about it on the show or some of the information that yourself and Graham have shared where you can treat it like cross examination where you ask the question but you don’t care what the answer is. When it comes to unbundled or limited scope services, you say, when they ask how much it is, I’ll tell people, “We offer full representation and unbundled or limited scope services. Have you ever heard of that?” I don’t care if they say yes or no, I just go into the answer, what it means for us because they say, “Yeah, we have. I know it.”

Great. As you know what limited scope is and then you get into what it is. Or if they don’t know, you say, “Limited scope is where you can get the assistance of an attorney and this is more appropriate for someone that either has limited means, they want the help but they really can’t afford it.” Or if it’s for someone that’s more of a do-it-yourselfer, they want to do it on their own but they also don’t want to take on the responsibility without knowing exactly what they’re doing and they feel like if they get some guidance from an attorney, they’ll be able to take it from there.

Depending upon what the person’s case is, I would give him an example. I would tell him, for example, “If it’s a divorce case and you want to do it on your own, I’ll do that case assessment. With the case assessment, you’re going to walk out of my office. You’re going to know the documents that you need to finish the case. Also, you’ll need a petition for dissolution. You’ll need a judgment. You’ll need a summons. You’ll need a financial affidavit.” I’ll make sure that they have a checklist of all the things they need.

We’re going to talk about what the documents need to have, what items you’re going to need and go through that option. If they come in and maybe they have a situation that’s like the call I had today where it was a back child support issue, I’d say, “Well, in that situation, you need to file a petition to rule to show cause because he’s behind in support. Then you also need to address the issue with the new child.” I would assess the situation and get their goals. It’s really important, I guess, to confirm that that’s what they want because sometimes we might hear something and then say the wrong solution.

You say, “Just to make sure, you want to make sure you get that new child included on this and then you want to hold him accountable, is that right?” She said, “Yes.” Okay, great. For a petition to rule to show cause, we can prepare that document. We have to review your case.” Quite frankly, it may take like a half hour to prepare the actual petition, but probably, maybe another half hour to an hour and a half to get the previous court orders just to make sure that you’ve crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s. Then I call the flat rate of $500 to prepare that petition.

For the other one, I said, “We could probably do a flat rate between 300 and 500, depending upon the details.” Usually, I like to try and leave a little wiggle room and say, “We would like to know a little bit more before we give you the final quote,” especially during that 15-minute call. If it’s in an hour session, I’ll really try and nail down what is it that they want to do, and then I can ballpark in my head how much time I think that’s going to take me to do. Then I try and bill in maybe some buffer time, probably about an hour or so, give them a flat rate.

They like that because it’s less of a surprise bill. If we do our job and we take advantage of technology, it should work out well for us because we’re being a little bit more efficient with our time, a win-win data and go to court and represent themselves. That’s a document preparation, I guess, that short answer on that. I’ve never done an unbundled court representation. Probably in part because I may be “too high” on that, but I do know that going to court takes up a lot of your time.

You don’t want to show up and be unprepared, so I do want to make sure that I’m providing a realistic quote on that so it’s profitable for us as a firm as well because sometimes you go to court and you could be stuck there for three hours. That I can’t really be billing for somebody else. I’ll usually quote something higher and it really depends on what’s going on.

Dave Aarons: Okay. That’s a great breakdown. Usually, if it’s a case assessment … Is a case assessment different than a document preparation case assessment as you’re going through with them, preparing it or that’s pretty much a similar thing is that where they’re coming in, they’re reviewing and you’re drafting, that’s usually now $300 to $500 range because you’re adding a bit of buffer there, right?

Brian Reidy: The case assessment is more I’m not going to prepare the documents. I’m going to go over your case, make sure I understand it better, so I understand what retirement accounts do you have. Do you have kids? Have you discussed this? Have you discussed the parenting plan? Really go through more of the detailed steps of what’s included in a parenting plan, what’s included in a marital settlement agreement, but I don’t fill anything out during that case assessment.

I will walk them through what’s in there and tell them what to do. Make sure they understand like, where did I need to go because quite frankly, that’s one of the most … The things that we attorneys take for granted are, obviously, how scary it is to go into court. They don’t know where to go.

I practiced in Cook County, Will County. If you tell the person, you’re going to go, “If you’re in Will County, you’re going to go in, you’re going to go to the second floor, you’re going to turn left.” It makes them feel a little bit more at ease. “Okay, the second floor, turn left.” Then they know what they’re looking for as opposed to just walking into a strange building, trying to figure out where they’re going to go, and literally, trying to give them step by step, “Now, here are the documents. You’re going to fill these out. Make three copies. You’re then going to go here. You’re then going to go here.”

Then they really get that sense of, “Okay, I can do this.” That’s the case assessment, so I’m not filling out the forms there. The document preparation would be more of calling in or either meeting in person. I’ve got the information I need. They say, “Prepare the documents for me.” We’ll prepare them, email it to them for review, and then they will say, “Yup, this is exactly what I wanted.” We build in at least one revision within there.

Dave Aarons: Okay. What is the case assessment? What do you typically charge for that for just doing that piece and-

Brian Reidy: Four hundred is what I’ve been charging for that. My hourly rate is 325. There’s a little bit extra in there. Quite frankly, it probably should be a little bit higher in terms of the case assessment because we do like to have the forms prepared ahead of time, or at least ready to go to hand to the client so they can have it ready and then they walk out with something in their hands as far as they know what they need to do now.

Dave Aarons: How do you ascertain whether you’re going to do a case assessment or a document preparation? Because it sounds like they can go either direction at that point. It sounds like it’s a similar cost, right? Like doc prep is usually around 500, case assessment 400. How do you ascertain which direction to push them in at that point?

Brian Reidy: Usually, I’ll …

Dave Aarons: You ask them off of it.

Brian Reidy: Correct. I give them once I’m in but I will usually go with a doc or the case assessment. I think that really quite frankly, that’s the best value they’re going to get. Even though they’re not having the documents prepared, you’re getting the time, which is more valuable. You’re getting the time of an attorney. I’m getting my associate attorney caught up on how we’re doing these so we can have more of these done and are more available as I can only be available at one time or at one place.

The case assessment usually could then lead to the document preparation, because really, you can uncover it. The document preparation, in terms of your target audience, is really for the person that’s, maybe they make enough money but they just don’t want to do it or they’re too nervous about it or for whatever reason.

Really, your best client for that is the person that makes enough money. They know they could do it on their own, but they want that convenience of an attorney to do it. That’s for your document preparation as far as the best result that I’ve seen. Because otherwise, if they have lower income, they’re usually understanding that, “Hey, I got to do this on my own, but I would like that help.” They just need that time with an attorney, more so, in my experience with it.

Dave Aarons: You mentioned something that would be more efficient with your time. I want to cover that just a second, but I don’t know how to get at this. It seems to me that there’s a wide variety of what attorneys will offer when it comes to these options. There are a lot more attorneys that will do unbundled here and there if clients asked for it. They’ll usually say, “Well, we do this unbundled thing but if you get forward, we go at this full representation.”

Then what they do is they just get really creative and flexible with the initial retainer on four-hour representation and don’t necessarily do the unbundled where they break it up into a case assessment, then they do the doc prep, and then maybe it transitions to full representation where they really … and what I’m hearing is that you do take a supportive role in making sure that client said, “Okay, so you’re going to handle all these things on your own. You have limited means so I’m going to help you one step at a time” as opposed to, “Okay, you have limited means, let’s figure out how we can make it so that you can afford full representation.”

You tend to go for the former approach and then sometimes, people, as you mentioned before, will transition to the full later on, perhaps, but you don’t necessarily go straight to figuring out the full representation. You will offer this task by task type of approaches. Why have you felt like that’s a better approach and why do you think some attorneys, if you were to put your opinion or guess on it, don’t think to offer these initial phases, these initial unbundled services for folks that have more limited means and just try to figure out a way to do the full representation right off the bat?

Brian Reidy: The latter question, it’s probably more of a force of habit. They’ve always done it that way. I was talking with a colleague the other day about they’re a little bit more seasoned in the sense of they have certain ways they like to do things. I said, “Why do you do that?” The response is, “Well, that’s how I’ve always done it.” That is often a part of why people [inaudible 00:40:46].

It reminded me of the Zig Ziglar story about the husband and wife that got a brand new ham and they just bought a new house. The wife cuts off the ends of the ham to put in the over. The husband says, “What are you doing? Why are you doing that?” Her wife says, “That’s how my mother did it. We always do it that way.” They called the mom. The mom says, “Yeah, that’s what we do. We cut off the ends of the ham because my mom always did it, your grandmother.” Then the couple calls the grandmother and says, “Grandma, you cut off the ends of the ham, why do you do that?” She says, “Because my oven was too small.”

That’s the response that sometimes people have. “Well, you always get a large retainer? Well, why?” “Because that’s what we do.” If their answer is just because, well, I don’t know. I don’t know how you change that mind. Sometimes they have to look at themselves and say, “What is it that I want?” Some people feel like they need to have that giant retainer account really high. They don’t realize … I think that’s on another episode.

Your hourly rate is your hourly rate whether you’re doing work that’s got a retainer on account or someone’s writing a check or paying for the services right then and there. I think a lot of it’s just the lack of education on it. Not that they’re not smart, obviously, they’re smart enough to pass a bar exam. It’s really just becoming educated on your options and what you can offer people. I think I forgot the first part of your question.

Dave Aarons: No, no. I basically just grouped the giant question to really a complicated way of phrasing it, so I think you’re really getting at it. That is just there are education components to learning how to offer these options and thinking a little bit differently about, “Okay, well, maybe we just take this phase at a time” and I empower that client to handle these things on their own because 80% of people are going to handle it on their own themselves. Those are the statistics as they stand right now. Inevitably, that’s going to be going on. Either, like you said earlier, they’re going to get help in finance from an attorney or they’re not.

That’s how this can serve the legal community, of course, attorneys being willing to offer these options and take people that would otherwise represent themselves and give them the help they need to do so as opposed to trying to figure out a way to fit in their budget, which works well too. I mean attorneys that are being flexible and trying to fit a payment plan and people’s budget and provide that full-representation. That’s a great service too.

That’s really helping a lot of folks as well. This unbundled option and the way that you can work with folks one step at a time and allow them to consider the possibility of doing some things on their own can be just as lucrative. Also, depending on your levels of efficiency, it can even lead to a higher effective hourly rate.

Brian Reidy: Sure. One of the other things that I do is I do offer a flat rate uncontested divorce. What I try and do, it depends on the parenting plan or kids or no kids in terms of the cost. I think as an attorney, sometimes we often believe that our systems cannot be documented simply. That we cannot break down what we do into a simplified process, and that it’s just too complex for people to understand. Reality is, there are only so many problems that you can address in a family law court. With kids, there are only so many issues that you can have. Illinois, we only have four major decisions that the courts really get involved in. We don’t really get involved in what time did Johnny go to bed last night or did he have ice cream for breakfast.

That’s a parenting issue and it’s unfortunate but the courts really don’t micromanage that stuff. When it comes to property distributions, there’re only so many issues you can have. We like to believe that there’s an infinite amount of issues and it’s just too complex to put down, but it’s not. You can build in a flat rate, a ballpark number to say, “Hey, look, if it’s uncontested or we don’t really have a lot of issues, here’s about the time it’s going to put together.” A marital settlement agreement, a judgment, whatever each individual attorney, whatever time it takes for them to do it, take that time as your hourly rate, maybe double it.

Then that way you’ve got a little buffer built in, if something comes up, you can say, “Look, we’ll have one revision session.” Now, if someone charges 300 bucks an hour, say $2,000 is the cost to put something together, that way, you’ve got the time put together for three hours and then some profit on top of it that the client gets the fixed cost in their head for a marital settlement agreement.

Now, you have to make sure they understand there are more documents beyond that. If it becomes contested, there will be more work. This is just preparation of it. Stuff like that. I think sometimes, people just need the steps. How would I go about creating a flat rate? Well, how long does it take you to do it? You charge hourly. Then build in some profit there. Then if you build in a little bit of profit, now you can train yourself to become more efficient, because the more efficient you are now, the more profit you get because you’re taking less time.

It’s just a different way of thinking, I think.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. This is so, so important especially when you’re talking about being efficient. We’re going to go back to that in just a second. I know there’s some technology behind that you can start to leverage. One thing I wanted to just add here is that it’s not necessarily thinking about just how long it takes you because like you said, you can become very efficient, and what usually take you three hours could potentially now take you one or one and a half if you leverage technology in a way that we can just talk about in just a minute. It’s also thinking about it in terms of the value you’re bringing to the client, especially relative to what every other attorney offer them.

Inevitably, when you’re calling leads as you can attest to, Brian, is you call the client and you say, “Have you spoken to any other attorneys?” They said, “Yeah. They wanted $3500 upfront and I can’t afford that.”

It’s a lot easier to do the flat rates even on a task-by-task basis just like the document preparation like you’re quoting 500, which is very generous and very fair. We’ve had other attorneys that have quoted for 750. I mean there’s that room in there. It’s not necessarily if you’re thinking about, “Well, that’s going to take me two hours and my hourly rate is 325, so I need to charge 650.” Well, to the client, the opportunity to work with an attorney and have them give them guidance, draft their documents and get them everything they need to do to file it themselves relative to someone who’s basically, they can’t afford that $3500, it now gives them the ability to work with that person. That’s a huge value to them at $650, $700 or $500 or whatever it might be.

In and of itself, it doesn’t mean that that has to take you two hours. You can charge accordingly. Let’s say you quote 500, the issue maybe now, it normally takes you two hours, or let’s say it takes you an hour and a half. If you can start to bring some efficiency into that process and get it done in an hour, that doesn’t mean you have to charge less because it’s taking you less time. You can still charge the same amount, but now all of a sudden, your effective hourly rate goes up as you continue to increase the efficiency because the value is still there.

Brian Reidy: Right, the larger firms are still married to the hourly rate, which really, it punishes efficiency. Redundancy is amazing and people love it because everybody can get that hourly rate in their hours and so to say, but does that help a client? I don’t think so.

Our number one goal, you know what I tell, you could call both of my employees and they would say, “Our number one goal is client satisfaction first and foremost before I say profits,” and I tell them my second goal is employee satisfaction. The profits and all that stuff will follow. If you do a good job, people will know your name. They will appreciate your help. I think that if you recognize client satisfaction as being number one, well, how can you get that client satisfied?

They’re not satisfied if they feel like you’re jerking them around, delaying something that should take you one hour for five hours and then sending them a bill for five hours. They would appreciate a flat rate, no surprise billing. Yeah, that’s where that unbundled can really help.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. You’re not in the situation where you have to figure out a flat rate for an entire case and then building all kinds of contingency as well, but if it goes over here, it’s going to be more that kind of thing. Bundled is a lot easier to quantify because you know what that task is going to take, and there isn’t a lot of other contingencies around that, right?

Brian Reidy: No. There are some people that do flat rate divorces and stuff and they do a great job and they’re very profitable. In my head, the thing that I struggle with is inevitable, if you quote a flat rate, it’s like insurance. You’re hoping that some people use all the money, some don’t. Some cases are going to be contested, some are going to be uncontested. Those uncontested cases end up paying a lot more than what the contested cases where if you broke it down by hourly rate. In a sense, it seems unbalanced and fair.

Obviously, if the clients are satisfied, it doesn’t matter. In my head, I have that hard time justifying charging a $10,000 divorce to the same two people when one was a super easy uncontested matter, whereas the other one was contested and you’re in court the whole time. Both could charge the same amount. It doesn’t feel right but maybe that’s, in my head, some of the old thinking too.

Dave Aarons: Sure. Yeah. Okay. Let’s try to unpack this. This answer to this question could probably make up an entire episode, but we’ll do our best to unpack it. Let’s say if an attorney said, “Okay. I’m going to start offering unbundled services. I’m going to do document preparation for 500.” Maybe when they first start doing this, that takes them two hours. Let’s say just for numbers’ sake, their hourly rate is 250 an hour, they charge $500 for that two hours of time, $500, right?

If they were able to get it to the point where they could do that in one hour, now all of a sudden, their effective hourly rate would now be $500 per hour, right? What are some of the things that attorneys can do to start getting these things done so that instead of taking two hours, you can start taking one?

Brian Reidy: The first and foremost is you’ve got to be thinking all the time of how can I make this better and easier for myself. Then you got to know yourself. If you enjoy learning new technology and playing around with new software and trying to implement it, there are tons of things out there now that can help you along this process. The very first thing has got to be some sort of electronic intake, whether it’s through … I know some colleagues and people and other mastermind groups that I belong to that use Google Forms or there are different things all over the place.

Dave Aarons: Clio, Lexicata, I mean there’s a lot of the forms.

Brian Reidy: Absolutely. You can use this stuff online. You can have clients fill it in online. Then you got to figure out, “Okay. Now that I’ve got this information, how can I then use it to really automate my process?” Whether you take advantage of the document preparations … I do use Clio. I use Smokeball. I had used Lexicata for a while and was very happy with that service.

There are definitely ways that you can take advantage of technology. For example, you get the information into a Clio from Lexicata or from a different source. You get it into Clio. Clio has a document preparation within there. It’s not my favorite. I started using Smokeball. Smokeball is a little cleaner. It’s a little faster in terms of getting stuff in and out.

In that sense, when you start taking advantage of technology, you’re really leveraging your ability to offer these services. You cannot possibly offer document preparation if you have no way of getting basic information into a pleading or into just a document that would need to be filed with the court. It’s got to be automated. Otherwise, that’s your first step. You got to take advantage of some technology.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, because it’s more realistic that if they were to actually try to do this on an hourly, it probably would take them four hours if they didn’t have any of the systems. It would be like they’d have to charge a thousand, so then now all of a sudden, they’re getting into the cost of a full retainer, initial down payment. To get it down to something they could to it in one hour for 500 or two hours for 750, where they’re saying that 3 to 500 effective hourly rate, they’re going to need these systems regardless.

Brian Reidy: Right. I think that the key is really to know yourself. If you are very good at learning this stuff and figuring out how to implement your different software, there’s not one software that will fix everything. If you’re looking for that, stop because it doesn’t exist, but you can find different softwares and get what you need from them. Take advantage of something like Zapier, which will connect and communicate different softwares together.

If you don’t know how to use it, find someone that does. There’s a website, the It’s great. You can put something on there. “I need a little bit of help with X, Y, and Z.” You can set out an hourly rate on that, you can set out a contract rate, and you can have somebody set up a form for you.

Let’s just say you needed a Google form to get basic stuff in there and you had no idea, you could go on Upwork and you say, “I need someone to help me set up a Google form.” Great. You could set it up. If you don’t mind using someone international, you can do that. If you want someone only in the U.S., you can limit to that. Obviously, here in the States, you’ll probably pay a little bit more, but that’s really up to you. If you don’t know how to do it, learn it. If you don’t want to learn it, find someone that knows how to do it and pay for it.

If you think about it, you got to think for the long term on your business. If you paid someone 1,000 bucks to figure out a system that would be able to allow you to create $500 documents for an hour of the time, it sounds like a terrible algebra problem, but how many documents would you have to create before it pays for itself? It will make sense over time if you put in either your physical time or your monetary efforts into improving your systems. It will pay off for you down the road.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. I mean, it’s really just the importance of being willing to make an investment into the refinement and development of your systems of efficiency.

Brian Reidy: I mean, never settle with it. It’s going to have to always improve. Things will change. We’ll have to constantly make it better.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. It’s something that we’ve put a lot of time and energy into as of, probably, by the time this episode is being heard. We already will have launched the Lexicata integration, so now we can just deliver leads directly into Lexicata real time and the intake can then be processed in Lexicata, auto-responding emails. You can put into a drip campaign. Automate yourselves here and then that can automatically with the click a button, drop in the Clio, then you can draft things up with Clio. You can have merged files and arrange the documents.

This may sound like some techno jumbo-jumbo, but we’ll just start to see the streamline and the way this can all happen. Things become a lot faster, a lot more efficient, and then you can start to build in more margin in your flat rate quotes, or you can start to offer more affordable service options, again, with that Buffer like you said. It’s serving more clients, but still seeing that really, that hourly rate or even a higher effective hourly rate as a result.

Brian Reidy: Absolutely.

Dave Aarons: Then I guess, I’ll ask maybe the final question here and then we’ll just go and wrap up for today. I really appreciate your insights on all these things. You’re definitely someone that’s continuously updating and improving your systems and finding more creative ways to do that. You’re one of the first people to start tearing apart every podcast that goes out there. I really appreciate how much you’re willing to learn constantly and improve your systems, and I think that’s in today’s age, Internet-based age, and also the way that marketplace is shifted where so many people are going alone now and doing things on their own, that’s really a critical component of continuing to grow a thriving business in these times.

I guess the final thing would just be we’ve been working together for over a year now. You’ve taken 2 to 300 leads from us. Over this year and a half or so, you’ve worked in different counties and so forth, but is there anything else that you would look back and felt like was a big learning lesson or something that you took away that made a big difference for you in either being effective with these leads or just overall working with clients?

Brian Reidy: With the leads, I think the importance is if someone is starting out with it, start small and constantly be asking yourself like, “What is my process for this? What do I expect to do?” If it’s going to be a phone call if it’s going to be an email. Keep track of it. If John Doe comes in, if you plan to call John Doe first, then call. If you email, email, but make sure you run through like a checklist. The whole purpose of … In our office, our goal when we get a lead is to get them on the phone to ultimately either get a yes or a no. Do they want to be a client or not? It’s that simple. You don’t have to make it overly complex. You don’t have to force people to do what they don’t want to do, but just creating a system follow-up with it.

Start small because depending on your counties, if you don’t stay on top of the lead, they’ll stay on top of you. You have to start … Sorry, that’s my alarm … to not become a client. I have to check in with my wife there, but you got to stay on top of your leads to not let them slip through the cracks. I’ve definitely made the mistake of that at times, that many attorneys make, in that we get real busy and we come up with every excuse not to make the call or to not follow up.

People will eventually move on again with the know, like and trust. They don’t know you, they don’t really like you or trust you. The second they reach out, you’ve got to try and reach out to them as soon as possible. I’ve been trying to have my team members reach out, at least get them on the phone, get them to talk. If I’m not available, get them on the phone. Talk to them and then try and schedule a call. That’s the best thing you do. Get them on the phone as fast as you can. See what’s going on. If they got a pain point that you can help with, figure out the best solution and give them a couple of options. Don’t give them too many options; option A, option B, which would you like and then let them decide.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. I think we really covered some of the real core fundamentals of making this whole business model work. I think your comments there about the mindset of building a system, starting small and then starting to think about what are all the things that happen in selves or in business. We think of standard operating procedure, like the SOPs. What are the SOPs of your business? This is where I think lawyers start to think more as a business owner building a system as opposed to being self-employed where they’re just working by the hour.

They’re starting to build a system and a business model that can serve a specific marketplace and the needs of those clients, and start to think in that way where you’re starting to create systems for each process. You’ve got templates, you’ve got documents, you’ve got software that makes those things more efficiently. Automatically sends emails. Makes it really easy for people to sign and pay. Does it all online. It makes it easier for the client. It makes it easier for you.

I mean, these are the things that are going to enable most lawyers to be competitive in a LegalZoom age or an age when you have all these other software companies out there. YouTube and all these things are really dialling in those systems, becoming as sufficient as possible and offering a service offering that people can fit in their budget and are really going to be happy with and really has that value within it. These are the cores. These are the fundamentals, man. I appreciate you breaking them all down. This is great.

Brian Reidy: Yeah. I mean, we have to recognize we’re not going to be able to compete head to head with the document that automates, the LegalZoom. We won’t be able to be able to beat them on price because they also have the scale on the market, but you can beat them on value.

Dave Aarons: That’s right.

Brian Reidy: I may charge a little bit more than that but you’re actually going to talk to me. You’ll see a picture of one of the attorneys you’re talking to so you know who you’re talking to. It’s not going to be somebody in a cubicle hundreds of miles away from you. I mean, that person might be efficient and good but you may not speak to that same person the next time. You got to just remember that, you compete on value.

Dave Aarons: Yes. It’s in my opinion personally, and I agree with you 100%, Brian. Attorneys can always compete against the legal zooms on value. There are a lot of attorneys that are afraid. Is my job going to get replaced by AI? Some kind of legal software technology that’s just going to answer questions of people and then get things done and get them out the door. The answer most likely is no because people always want that relationship. They want to work with someone.

Like you said, they know, they like and they trust, and they know has their back and has experience and can deal with their emotions and everything else that goes into being an attorney and counselor of law. That’s our second component that is always going to be there. There’s a lot the software companies cannot compete with that. Like you said, they can compete on price, but they can’t compete on value when it comes to the relationship that’s always there between a client and an attorney.

Brian Reidy: Right. Absolutely.

Dave Aarons: Brian, again, I appreciate you so much for coming on and sharing your insights on this and all the nudges you’ve given me along the way. We wouldn’t have completed this integration with Lexicata if it wasn’t for your initial suggestions, “Hey, man, check these guys out. Everything is going to work well.” I thank you for being at the cutting edge of all this stuff and making great suggestions and coming on here and sharing a lot of ideas and strategies to develop.

Brian Reidy: If I remember, it’s where you said I got a percentage of the growth after that, but maybe we’ll talk about that later.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, yeah. We have to figure out. Maybe we’ll throw in some … I think it’s percentage of lowering your golf score with golf lessons the next time you’re in Chicago because on that forethought, that Cog Hill, we got to figure out a way to get that 300 on the board there.

Brian Reidy: That’s right, that’s right.

Dave Aarons: All right, with that, we’ll go and wrap up. To everyone that’s listening, we certainly appreciate as always your participation to the show, sharing with others. That could be a benefit. Nudging attorneys to maybe think about doing things a new way, not necessarily the old way that’s always been done, and figuring out ways to adapt and embrace the changes in the market, changes in technology, and finding ways to work with the average working folks that are out there in a way that they’re going to be happy with. Thank you so much for your participation to share the episodes and we will see you all on the next one. Thanks so much.

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Episode 35: How to Compete in the DIY Internet Age: A Practical, Step-by-Step Guide to Delivering Unbundled Legal Services Efficiently and Profitably in Your Practice

There is no question that YouTube and the availability of “Do It Yourself” information online continues to have a significant impact on the legal profession. There are a lot more people nowadays who are handling their cases pro se, and this trend is likely to continue for years to come. Today, Brian Reidy joins us to talk about how attorneys can adapt to this shift in the marketplace by providing unbundled legal services. He provides examples of the types of unbundled options he offers, typical price points, as well as great advice on how to convey the value of these services to your clients. We also discuss ways to leverage technology and develop a “systems mindset” that builds a more efficient and cost-effective practice.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • What Brian learned while working for DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services), and different ways lawyers can offer unbundled services to clients who are dealing with child abuse and neglect issues
  • The importance of telling clients what they need to hear, and conveying to clients how important it is that they do the same with you
  • Brian’s perspective on the changing legal marketplace, the impact of YouTube, and the increase in the number of pro se litigants nationwide
  • Why the courts and legal community benefit from lawyers who provide unbundled legal services
  • Why Brian switched from offering a free one-hour in-person consultation, to offering a free phone consultation and charging for the initial in-office case assessment
  • The value of being flexible with the length of time you invest in the initial phone consultation to ensure you develop good rapport and trust with each client
  • How to explain what unbundled legal services are and how they work to your clients’ advantage
  • The typical unbundled services Brian provides, how much he charges, and how he determines when to offer them
  • The importance of identifying the steps involved with each type of case you handle, and then developing systems that allow you to make each step easier and simpler
  • How to build an efficient and cost-effective practice using technology such as electronic intake and document automation
  • How quoting flat rates and the proper use of technology increases your effective hourly rate
  • The value of being open to making investments in systems of efficiency that carry long term benefits for your practice
  • The importance of calling leads in real time, and how Brian trains his staff to make the calls when he is unavailable
  • And much more...

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