How to Relocate a Law Practice to a New Region: Creating Relationships with Local Courts, Bartering with Clients, and Building an Efficient Firm
Today’s show is an interview I had with Charles Skinner, who’s been one of our provider attorneys for a long time now, at least a couple of years, and was originally working out of El Paso, Texas, but has recently made a transition from El Paso to Dallas and now serves a couple counties just outside of the City of Dallas. That’s where we focus a lot of discussion in this episode is how he’s been able to make that move from, number one, closing down his practice. The reason he moved was his wife got a job in Dallas. He hasn’t much time to make the transition. As a result, has moved to Dallas and has had to go back and forth between the two cities, El Paso and Dallas, in order to make this transition and to continue to close up and address all the clients that he had in El Paso.
We also talked about some things that have evolved him having to go back and forth like the air miles programs that he’s been working and how he’s built up a huge amount of air miles as a result and how to work that system, but how to wrap up a practice and also how to start a practice from scratch in an entirely new city. He gives a lot of practical suggestions as he’s going through it right now on how to get to know the judge, the local rules, and really get acclimated to a new environment. At the same time, we also talked about a lot of other practical strategies such as for example being creative with the way you work with your clients. Not only with the options that you offer, unbundled and payment plans and so forth, but also with the ways in which you accept payments.
He gives some examples of how he’s bartered with clients in the sense that they didn’t have cash on hand. He’s acquired guns from clients. He’s had clients perform services for him such as … He’s going to tell a great story about how he built a structure in a zoo as part of the payment for his services. There’s a lot of out of the box examples of thinking through how not only can he work with people more affordably, but also how to give people more options than just cash to pay him. Really a unique and interesting episode. Tons of things to learn from. Let’s get right into it, this interview with Charles Skinner, one of our provider attorneys now out of Dallas, Texas. All right, Charles. Welcome to the show.
Below is the transcription of this episode from our Unbundled Attorney Mastermind Podcast. You can listen to the entire episode by clicking here.
Charles Skinner: Hi, Dave. Thanks a lot for having me.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Really looking forward to this, Charles. It’s been quite an evolution over the … Gosh, it’s been … Shoot. Over a couple years, we’ve been working together. I mean even since back in the early days. You’ve made some transitions during that period. Really looking forward to exploring this relationship we’ve had over this long period of time and how it’s evolved. I thank you again for taking the time to share the story and what’s been working well for you.
Charles Skinner: I’m really glad to be here with you. A Little bit about my practice and a little bit about me just to start off with, I’m actually not originally just an attorney. I also was a third generation machinist for 10 years before I went to law school. It’s given me a little bit of a different perspective on practicing law than most of my colleagues who just went directly from college to law school and never were out doing something else before they became lawyers. I’ve actually had a couple of different careers before I went into law. As I said, I was a machinist for 10 years. My father was a machinist. My grandfather was a tool and die guy who actually owns the factory that I worked at for 10 years and I started at the bottom.
Basically, my father was really big about saying, “Listen, if you’re not in the right seat on the bus, you don’t belong here at the business.” They brought me in and I learned basically everything you could learn from a machining standpoint first before I went into quality control and then doing contracts and then doing sales and then doing all sorts of other things before I went to law school. It gave me a certain amount of perspective, for lack of better word, as to how things should run and how to do things efficiently across the board. After I left the machining business though, I actually went and got a financial advisor’s license before I went to law school as well.
I have the efficiency side of it from the business review, the financial side of it from financial and estate planning, and then I went to law school and learned all of the other fun stuff that they teach us between criminal law, family law, estate planning, and just the general things that you have to deal with day to day.
Dave Aarons: Right. That’s really interesting. You mentioned how it’s given you a broader perspective. I think you were alluding to how you understand how a business works and from an efficiency standpoint. Maybe you can expand a little bit on how that experience helped you with running a firm and so forth and also if it helped better understand your clients a little better because a lot of the people that you’re working with are working families, working folks that have worked in a specific job. You might even talk to some machinists. Can you share a little bit more about how that perspective and that experience working as a machinist and then all the way up in the ranks informs your practice today?
Charles Skinner: Well from an efficiency standpoint, you have to learn … It’s given me a perspective to look at it and say, “Okay. What is going to be the most straightforward route from point A to point B, which is going to have the least waste in it and the most, for lack of better word, profit potential?” Because you’re looking at it to say, “Okay. What’s the minimum number of steps I have to get from let’s say a divorce from the filing to that final hearing where my clients are going to basically have their case closed out and finally have that divorce in hand that they’re champing at the bit to get.” Sometimes it means you have to have a tough conversation with a client to say, “Okay. Here’s the skinny on this. You can get what you want.
I think I can win if you tell me what you want, but it’s going to cost you ten times what you’re going to be able to afford in order to do it.” Sometimes being able to work those numbers and talk to your client very, very frankly to say, “Listen, yeah, I think you’ve got a good case here. The question is do you have enough money to fight it,” and being able to figure out where all of those points are that going to be expensive to them. Here in Texas, we require pretty well the filing upfront and usually, that takes a couple hours to write. Then you have the filing fees, which vary $260 to $380 depending on which county you’re in. Then you have the service of process fees. That’s another 100 to 125 bucks depending on where they’re going.
Then you’ve got the initial appearance in front of the judge for temporary orders. That can go anywhere from 45 minutes to four hours depending on what they’re fighting about and if there are children if there’s property. Then you’ve got discovery, which even in a small case can take four or five hours and a big case where you’ve got a lot of property or a lot of different property can take 25, 30, 40, 50 hours of the shot depending on who you’re representing. Then here pretty much all of the counties require that you go to some form of separate mediation or alternative dispute resolution because of the state legislature having pretty much mandated it. That takes between four and eight hours.
If you have one where the parties are real contentious, but you think you might be able to do it, it might go 12, it might go 16. Then if you can’t come to an agreement in the mediation or you can’t come to an agreement on everything, then you have your trial setting at the very end, which might go four hours, it might go two days, it might go a week depending on how long it goes. It really behooves you to be able to look at the case that you’re getting upfront to say, “Okay. Here’s what I think it’s going to cost,” and have that frank discussion with your client to say, “This is my best guess based on what you’ve told me, but it could be less or it could be more,” depending on the decisions that the client wants to make in the meantime.
Now from an efficiency standpoint, it lets you set certain mile markers in the case to say, “Okay. We’re at the discovery. What do you really want to know? What’s important to you to know and what can be just kind of ignored because you’re not going to be fighting about it?” If one party says, “Yeah. I don’t think I’m the appropriate party to raise the kids because I’m on the road 48 weeks out of the year,” that’s not a big deal. That means you say, “Okay. We’re going to make you the possessor/conservator. You can pick your weekend that you’re going to be doing your possession and access, but you got to give the other party notice.”
However, if you’ve got two parties that are going to want to fight about who has the kids in their possession, then you’re going to have a bigger issue because you may have a home study. You may have some sort of psychological or psychiatric examination of both parties and children. You might have a domestic relations office report that’s involved and all these things start adding up. You need to have a real good feel for where those funds are going to come from and how much your clients can afford to pay outside of you. Not just your fees in representing them, but all of these other tertiary subcontractors that need to be dealt with. That’s from the efficiency standpoint to look at to be able to go, “Okay.”
Have mile markers to say, “This is where we are,” and make sure you’re really aware of your client’s finances and how much money they could bring to bear on the suit, to begin with, because that’s going to inform that decisions that you make in order to make it efficient for them long-term.
Dave Aarons: Right.
Charles Skinner: What was the second thing you asked me? You asked me to elaborate on something else.
Dave Aarons: Well yeah. You’ve got that business acumen that comes from okay, how do we make this as efficient as possible, least amount of steps involved, to make it straight line so it gets operable and streamlined. Then the second thing is obviously being a machinist and being out in the world working I don’t want to say a real job, but just a standard blue-collar position as opposed to just going straight to law school and then becoming a lawyer gives you a unique perspective I think from understanding the working class and being able to communicate from a standpoint of knowing the situation they’re in from a finance perspective, knowing what it’s like to live cheque to cheque and being able to communicate on that level. That was the other piece there.
Charles Skinner: It really has. I mean there’s a certain amount of rapport building that you have to do with each client, but I found that having a blue-collar background actually has served me very well. It’s actually, strangely enough, served me well with a lot of other attorneys because a lot of them have told me, “Oh yeah. My father was a machinist. My mother was …” For some of the greatest generation people, it’s like, “My mother was a riveter in World War II. My mother did bomb building, for motors for the army when they went over into Vietnam or when they went into Korea.” You run into those sorts of people. It’s also given me a certain perspective of being able to talk to some of the people who come in in the office because they come in and they think, “Well wait a minute.
This guy is an attorney. He’s a big powerful person. He’s not going to listen to me. He’s not going to talk to me.” Maybe this is a slightly different perspective than probably most of your listeners are going to have. I do it all myself. I don’t have a staff. I don’t have an assistant. I don’t have a legal assistant. I don’t even have a secretary. Basically, I practice what one of my professors lovingly called “law out of my back pocket.” My clients have my cell phone number. If something goes wrong, they can call me pretty well 24/7, and I will largely pick up. The only time I don’t is if I’m out generally to dinner with my family because I have a wife and a three-year-old now.
For the most part, the number of clients that I have, if something goes wrong, I want to know about it as soon as possible because that lets me make decisions as to what will serve my clients best. Whether I need to file a motion to enforce a possession and access schedule and have it dropped 8:00 AM the Monday after a weekend or if one of the parties gets into a domestic dispute with the other party. Great story. One of the ones that I’m in the process of doing is a divorce right now, which actually came from Unbundled Attorney. Captain in the US Military married to a Greek-Cypriot in El Paso basically was attacked by the Greek-Cypriot with a knife. He fled the house, called me up, and he said, “What do I do?” I said, “You’re going to come in.
You’re going to park your butt in my chair. We’re going to sit for four hours. We’re going to draft a protective order right now.” He’s like, “Really? We can do that?” I said, “Yes. Come now. Don’t stop. Drive directly to my office. Come now. We’ll have it written before you walk out my door.” He did. He came in. We sat in. We did it. He had a protective order three days later, which honestly gave him possession of the kids, possession of the house, and kicked the wife out to the curb until she did anger management classes. Your clients, they’re not always the most sophisticated people in the world, but if you can talk to them on their level, it makes them comfortable, and they are more likely to open up to you.
The better they open up to you, the more information you’re going to get, the better decisions you can make. As you mentioned, having that paycheck to paycheck perspective sometimes means that you’re willing to look at things that you otherwise wouldn’t. Here’s a good example of that one. I’m in the process of doing a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship in Kaufman County, which is one of the new counties I took on. I originally started in El Paso. Closed my practice there because my wife took a new job in Dallas. Closed my El Paso practice and then opening a practice in Ellis County and Kaufman County south of Dallas. One of the clients that came in needed a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship answer.
They had been served by the other party who is the mother of the child, and the father came in and said, “The hearing is set for the day after tomorrow. What do I do?” I said, “Well you need to file an answer.” “Okay. Can that be done in that period of time?” “Yes.” “What’s it going to cost me?” “Well my best guess is probably between $2,500 and $3,000 from the get-go for the whole thing, but it kind of depends on how much you want to fight about it.” He said, “I don’t have a way to come up with that. I’ve got a whole bunch of things to sell, but I’m in the process of trying to sell. I’m trying to sell a storage. Basically a boxcar storage container. I’m trying to sell a motorcycle. I’m trying to sell a car.” Then he said, “Well I’m also trying to sell some firearms.”
At that particular time, I happen to be in the market looking for a pistol and a rifle. I said, “Well what have you got?” He said, “Well I’ve got an AR-7 and I’ve got a Cobra of Utah semiautomatic pistol.” I said, “Okay. Let’s take a look at them and see what they’re valued at.” We did and this particular client actually paid me initially 280 bucks in cash and two firearms basically for the cost of his initial representation.
Dave Aarons: Continue.
Charles Skinner: Pardon me?
Dave Aarons: Continue your point there. I’m sorry.
Charles Skinner: Oh yeah. I guess the advice I would have to listeners is be flexible in what you might consider as payment. Don’t turn your nose up when a client whose cash poor might be willing to barter. Now here’s the other thing. That particular client I was willing to extend a certain amount of credit to because his parents walked in with him with the paid off the deed to their house and was willing to hand me that as collateral. I said, “No.” I’m like, “That’s a bad plan.” I told them, “Listen, you’ve got that. Hold onto it. We’ll talk about a payment plan because I know you’re good for it,” because people don’t just walk in with a paid off deed to a $100,000 house and say, “We want you to take this as collateral for payments.” I said, “No. Let’s not do that.
That’s a bit much in terms of what I think this representation is going to be worth, but we’ll take a look at it as we go along.” That maybe the thing. You may have a client who’s willing to come in and give you a … Lets you hold onto a deed for a car. Lets you hold onto a deed for a house. Lets you hold onto a deed for a business or stock or bonds or some other form of collateral. I guess this is the thing. As family law practitioners, we sometimes turn our nose up at the fact that well that’s transactional practice. It’s something else outside of what our normal wheelhouse is. It really doesn’t make sense to do that when a client maybe will come in and be like I said cash poor, but asset rich.
They may have something that they just can’t convert into cash quickly, but they’re willing to put up as collateral. I know for some of the family law practitioners it’ll be reaching all the way back to law school, but remember your secured transactions and your mortgages and deeds of trust work because sometimes that may become important for making it available for a client to be able to pay you long-term or depending on what the client has, be able to pay you short-term as a barter transaction rather than just straight cash.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Absolutely. We talk about in the podcast helping attorneys come up with more creative, more affordable options for serving more clients. Bartering hasn’t come up yet on the podcast and I’m surprised because that’s what a lot of people have is … I’ve got a good friend of mine and his father is a construction worker and has built tons of houses. The guy has more tools than God. I mean the guy has so many tools. Anytime he gets an extra dime, he’s buying another tool. These are things that depending on what you do and so forth, but they have value.
Could you give maybe a couple other examples of different clients that you’ve bartered with and different types of things you’ve accepted whether it be gold or silver or things that you hold as collateral for a payment plan to find a way to work with someone that maybe doesn’t have the cash right now, but has some things that they can secure with?
Charles Skinner: Well here’s one that it’s not one of the family ones, but here’s actually one. I have a very, very small corporate practice where I represent a couple of very small family corporations. One of them actually happens to be a builder. I’ve done hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work for this company. I mean it’s one of my staple companies in the background, but at one point he was very, very cash poor. I mean he was just running right up to the margins. He had nothing to pay me and he said, “Can I build you something?” I said to him, “Let me think about it.” At that time I mentioned my wife took a different job here from Dallas. She was working for the zoo in El Paso. I happened to be reasonably civic-minded and I said, “Okay.
What does the zoo need in terms of something that can be built for the zoo?” Basically, my wife said, “The Africa division needs an employee bathroom on the back side of the zoo.” I said, “Okay. Let’s take a look and see what that’s going to do and what that’s going to cost.” This particular builder came in, gave us a proposal. We sat down. We worked it out. $50,000 proposal. Took it to the city government council. Got it approved as a donation to the city zoo for him to build it on site in exchange for basically a donation gift from me.
It will show up in the El Paso Zoo as being a building gifted by my law practice to the City of El Paso for the benefit of the zoo in exchange for the work I did for my client, representing him before a whole bunch of different contractors and a whole bunch of different lawsuits that some were valid and some were just spurious. What it did was it was a public relations benefit because I got to go in. I have a proclamation basically thanking me for a donation to the zoo from my law practice on behalf of the City of El Paso. I got a real nice picture. I was put in the zoo newsletter with the blueprints for the building. The picture of me and my wife and my son. We used it as a bit of basically free advertising because it’s not something that people normally do.
People don’t just normally give a building to a city function, right? It’s one of those things that doesn’t come up very often, but got me interviewed by the press. It got me interviewed by the paper. There’s a proclamation basically on file forever in the city. If anyone looks me up in relation to the City of El Paso, it pops up. “Oh. Law Office of Charles Wesley Skinner donated the building to the zoo. Hmm. Okay.” It brings people in the door and they go, “Are you the one who donated the building to the zoo?” “Yes, I am.”
Dave Aarons: Yes, I am. Yes.
Charles Skinner: Yes, I am. There’s the letter thanking me for it on the wall.
Dave Aarons: That is so awesome. Now that you’re in Kaufman County in Dallas, I mean do you still get a call here and there of people like, “Yeah. I saw your advertisement on the zoo and I need some family law assistance.”
Charles Skinner: Every so often yeah, I do. I mean that’s the thing. I’m still actually sometimes getting calls from El Paso for people saying, “Hey, I need family law assistance.” Largely I have given them other individuals to call, which I know Graham has asked me a couple of times who can I recommend in El Paso to take over the Unbundled Attorney. Unfortunately, none of them have the capability to take it on directly. It’s more of a referral as things come up sort of deal. People will call up and say, “Oh yeah. I saw that your law office donated the building. What was that all about?” It’s kind of a nice icebreaker to be able to talk to people about it and say, “Well it’s X, Y, and Z and I do a little bit of extra work. I do other work than family law.”
Let me talk about that for a minute as well. A lot of lawyers that I’ve spoken to who do family law are, for lack of a better word, myopic. They just focus on the family law. They focus on the divorce. They focus on the Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. They focus on the adoption. They focus on change of child support. I think that’s a mistake just from a law practitioner standpoint. Part of it is the law school I went to and part of it is the teachers that I had. I had a fantastic professor who taught contracts, mortgages, secured transactions, equity, estate and future interest planning, and what was the last one? Oh, he was the advisor to the medical law journal on campus. Now what he taught us is to take a holistic approach to law always.
The client who maybe coming in may say, “I need a divorce.” “Okay. Well, tell me about your assets.” “I have a construction business. I have a car. I have a truck. I have three kids. I have a grown child from another marriage who occasionally gets into a little bit of trouble.” “Okay. Guess what? You don’t just need a family law attorney. You need someone who can look at the criminal thing from the other child. You need someone who can understand and evaluate what’s going on in the business to determine whether or not they’re properly leveraged, whether or not they need to do their own secured transactions. They need to do some sort of pledge or some sort of debt service.” Do they have any sort of contract disputes with their clients?
Do they have sort of contract disputes with their subcontractors? Are they as I said properly leveraged and are they paying their taxes, their fees, their things with the city and county governments and the state government? Are they an LLC? Are they a C corp? Are they a sole proprietorship? Are they a partnership? Sometimes you ask your clients these questions and their eyes kind of glaze over a little bit and they go, “Is that really important,” and you go, “Yes.” The answer to the question is that important is almost always yes because you need to understand what is going on in your client’s life to be able to give them the proper advice regarding what they’re asking you to do. The great example of that is one of my other corporate clients has a trucking business.
He got into a business relationship with his nephew and his nephew’s wife about 10 years ago. Came into my office because he needed some family law done for his will, but as we were digging into it found out that the nephew’s wife was embezzling from the company and that created a whole new set of issues that we had to deal with from basically saving the company from her malfeasants. Now it’s one of those things where you hate to see it, but he would never have found out if he hadn’t told me this is what I’m doing and this is what I want to happen to the assets that are involved.
Dave Aarons: Right.
Charles Skinner: Be willing to look at that criminal case that your client may have. Be willing to look at the estate planning. Now you may need a specialist to do it. You may need to say, “Okay. I can’t-do this myself. I need to have somebody come in as a third party and either give me advice how to do it or determine how to split a fee based on what that new piece of information is.”
Dave Aarons: Open up relationships with attorneys that do specialize in that area of law and now you have a reciprocal referral relationship.
Charles Skinner: Great example of that is my new office in Waxahachie, Texas, which is like I said just south of Dallas. The building that I’m in, the other two attorneys that are in that building don’t do any family law. They don’t do any criminal law. They don’t do any estate planning. They just do business transactional law. They were thrilled the day I walked in the door and said, “I do criminal, I do family, and I do CPS law.” They said, “We can finally refer someone,” because they get walk-in traffic all the time because the courthouse is literally right across the street, “Where do I find a criminal attorney? Where do a find a family law attorney? I’ve been served with a divorce. Where do I go talk to somebody?”
Before they just said, “Yeah. We’re sorry. We don’t do that.” Now it’s, “Walk down the hall. Speak to Mr. Skinner. Make an appointment. He will be more than happy to assist you.” For their own clients who would get into criminal issues or get into family law issues, they’ll be able to say, “Hey, yeah, we don’t do that, but we have this guy down the hallway.” I guess that also opens up another topic to talk about is it does make sense to make a whole lot of relationships with other professionals. In the building that I’m moving into, I have the two other attorneys who do the transactional practice. We’re trying to get a CPA to move in and we’re getting a contracting firm that deals with basically building, but a different type of builder.
It’s basically a home builder rather than just a general contractor. Now it makes sense if you can start to develop relationships because eventually, you’re going to need one of those people. You’re going to need somebody to explain the finer points of accounting. I happen to have a concentration in tax law from when I went to law school. I don’t use it. Largely I got it because I wanted to be able to look at what my clients were doing and know whether or not I needed a specialist. It’s come up before. I basically looked at things and gone, “Yeah. We need a CPA to look at this because while I understand what’s going on, I don’t understand it well enough to be able to explain it to a jury.
This is going to come up in front of a jury when we do this divorce because they’re going to want to know how to divide these assets and what’s fair based on the valuation of the assets versus the valuation of the company.”
Dave Aarons: Right. This has been really good. Just to summarize, when you’re looking at creative ways … I think we should talk a little bit more about some of the options you offer, but as far as the services and the ways you kind of break up how you serve your clients, but certainly the points you’re making about it’s not just necessarily cash. You’ve got services the client could provide. I know of an attorney that had one of their clients cleaning their office. I mean there are creative ways to look at services, possessions, assets, collateral. It’s not about taking people’s stuff. I mean it’s really just about figuring out okay, well we need to help this person accomplish this goal. It’s going to cost a certain amount of money to get it done.
There’s a lot of creative ways that we can work within the budget of the client by offering payment plants and unbundled, limited scope, breaking things up task by task, offering payment plans, and everything we can do within a structure of the way you with the client on the actual case, but there’s also a lot of creativity around helping the client realize ways in which they can pay you to do the things that they want you to do. I think that’s a really valid point. It’s something that I think a lot of attorneys don’t necessarily think about or look at is how they can start to figure out … Taking that person from step A to step B not just in adapting in their practice, but also ways in which they can help the client to finance that beyond just the cash.
That was really, really helpful to share that. Can you talk a little bit more about the legal aspects of ways in which you work with clients either retainer or if you’ve done payment plans or if you’ve done unbundled options and what’s that look like up until now from the way you’ve structured the options you offer?
Charles Skinner: Okay. Sure. Here’s pretty much the way I structure what I need to do and it somewhat depends on what the client wants to do. There are some clients who come into my office who say, “I just need something written and I want somebody to write it for me because I’m not good at writing.” Those are the clients who are usually fast representations in terms of not actually appearing, but just drafting a document. Something like a Suit Affecting a Parent-Child Relationship, asking for a modification of their child support. Basically, they need documents so that they can get in front of the judge, tell the judge, “Hey, I’m making X rather than Y. I need to adjust my child support.”
There are some that say, “Okay. We’ve got a pretty decent agreement as to what we want to do for a divorce, but we want somebody to draft it for us.” Those you have to be real careful about. That’s I think the 12th Commandment of attorneys, “Thous shall not represent adverse parties in a preceding.” You have to be really clear with your client to say, “Okay husband, I’m representing you,” and the wife is sitting right there. You turn to the wife and say, “Wife, you have to understand I represent him. I’m giving him advice as to what is in his best interest. You need to understand that and you need to understand if you want to proceed, you’re preceding by yourself without an attorney.”
You make sure that you put that right in your letter of representation that says, “I represent husband. I am not representing wife even though she may be present for some negotiations, she may be present for some speeches, she may be present even for mediation by herself, or she may be present at some settlement conference, but I am representing husband and the husband understands and agrees that I am only representing him in this action.” If the parties can’t agree to that, you say, “Okay listen, I’m not going to represent either of you. I will write a document, but I will not sign it. It’s not my place to sign it because I’m not actually entering a representation.
I’m literally just writing the document between the two of you and I’m not giving you any legal advice as to how it has to happen.”
Dave Aarons: Have there been times when you’ve worked as an objective third party where you’re mediating the two or you don’t typically do that in your practice?
Charles Skinner: I don’t do that in my law practice. I actually have a meditation practice separate from my law practice. Strangely enough, I have done that, but not as a lawyer. I’ve done it as the mediator because I have my certificate to do mediation and arbitration in Texas. That’s one of the reasons why I pay attention to it especially when the clients come in and say, “Well we’ve agreed on everything.” I say, “Okay. Which one of you is going to be my client?” Usually, they give me an off look and I go, “Listen, I can’t represent both of you. I need to represent one of you. Which one is it going to be?” Because the other one I’m going to say, “Okay. Let me go talk …” Let’s say I’m representing the husband.
I’m going to go talk to the husband out in the hallway for 15 minutes and get the real rundown on what’s going on and ask the hard questions. Have you determined what you’re going to do with the kids? Have you determined what you’re going to do with the house? Is there any property? Is there any real property? Is there any retirement accounts? If they tell me, “You know what? There’s no house. There are no cars. There’s no jewelry. We’ve divided everything. It’s already in separate houses. We just want the divorce.” At that point then I’ll be happy to go, “Yeah. I’ll draft it,” because there’s literally no assets. I will be happy to say to them, “I will draft this. It will not be that expensive because literally, we’re going to draft it right here and now.
We’re going to draft the decision. We’re going to draft the decree. You guys have agreed on everything. Basically here’s your divorce petition. Go file it. 60 days later, take this in front of the judge and say, “I want a divorce.” They’ll ask you, “Has it been 60 days?” You say, “Yes.” “Have you divided your property?” “Yes.” “Are there any kids?” “No.” “You’re divorced.” Poof. You’re done. Largely those are the ones that walk out of my office with all the documents in hand and had paid me 600, 800 bucks for my afternoon and that’s it. I never see them again because they’ve dealt with everything that they need to do. Now sometimes you come in and you have that conversation. You take the husband out in the hallway to go, “Okay. Is there a house?”
“No.” “Is there a car that you purchased during the marriage?” “Yes.” “When was it purchased?” “Well, it was purchased about a year ago.” “How much is owed on it?” “Well, there’s some debt on it.” “Okay. What are you going to do with it?” “Well, we haven’t really talked about it.” Okay. There’s some issue. That’s got to be addressed. “Are there kids?” “Yes.” “Who’s going to get them?” “I am.” “Okay. We’re going to ask her about that when we walk in.” Sometimes you’ll walk in and he’ll say, “I want them,” and she sits now say she wants them and now you’ve got a contested divorce at which point you go, “Okay. You need to understand I represent him. You now raised a contested issue. It is in your interest to go talk to a lawyer. You need to go talk to somebody else.”
In El Paso, what was nice was there were five family attorneys in my building that were all solo practitioners. I could sometimes go to the office next door, knock on my next door neighbor’s office and say, “Claudia, I’ve got somebody in my office that needs an attorney short-term because they want to do a divorce. They said it was agreed. It’s not agreed anymore because there’s an issue. If we’re going to continue with any sort of negotiations today, she needs somebody to represent her at least today to make sure she doesn’t get into any sort of trouble. If you want to work out a fee with her, that’s between you and her.” Sometimes that turned into something. My next door neighbor would pick up 200 bucks because I had two parties walk into my door and I’d end up with a client.
He’d end up with 200 bucks in his pocket for doing a fastback of the hand little representation right then and there while they worked out terms. If they could work out terms, great. If they couldn’t work out terms, then it became a contested divorce and other things came up. Now in terms of what I do for billing, the straightforward stuff is just cash on demand. If they’re walking out with a document, I expect them to pay for it right then and there. If it’s going to be a longer-term representation, Texas largely requires you to do what’s called an Interest on Lawyers Trust Account. It’s effectively a holding vehicle for client monies. The way you deal with it is you say to the client, “Okay. I expect this is going to cost $4,000 total.
I’m willing to take payment plans for the second half, but I want half upfront.” The client says, “Okay. Do you accept credit cards?” “Yes.” I have to accept them through Square, so I have a little credit card reader that I just plug into my phone and they swipe it and deal with that. If a client says, “Well I want to make out a cheque. Who do I make it out to?” I say, “Okay. You make it out to Law Office of Charles Wesley Skinner IOLTA.” They say, “What’s that stand for?” It stands for Interest on Lawyers Trust Account. Basically what happens is you pay me a cheque. It goes into a separate account. It’s not part of my law practice. It is an entirely separate holding vehicle for monies that clients pay me that I have not yet earned.
I then bill against that amount that they’ve put in and send them an invoice every month. Let’s say client puts up $2,000. Day one they spend 600 because we’re drafting the documents together. Then it costs $100 for the service of process and $15 for the citation. Then there is a temporary order hearing a month later because of the other party files like a short general denial answer. You bill that 600 bucks upfront. The service process fees, the citation fee and the one-hour appearance later on and let’s call $250 an hour. $650, $700, $800, $900, $1,000, $1,015. What I do is I go to my bank. I take $1,015 out of my IOLTA account and put it in my law practice account.
Make a notation in my billing software that says, “This client has now paid me $1,015.00 out of the $2,000 that they’ve put upfront and then send them an invoice for the $1,015, so that they bring the Interest On Lawyers Trust Account from the $985 of that back up to the $2,000. As you proceed through the representation, you bill and then you send them an invoice to replenish the fee. Then the last piece of the representation you do whether that be trial whether that be an agreed order, whether that be the parties reconciling and saying, “Hey yeah, we don’t want to get divorced actually. We decided we want to live together,” you say, “Okay. Here’s my final bill.” You bill out whatever that final bill is and the client gets back anything that’s left over.
Let’s say you end up with $600 leftover at the end of the representation that you haven’t earned. You actually send the client back a cheque for that $600 to say, “This is the extra money that you paid me in advance as a prepaid evergreen fee, but I have not earned. Here it is back.” I’ve had to explain this to a whole bunch of clients and almost to a one they’re flabbergasted that they’re not just paying a flat fee. I’ve had to tell clients, “I don’t do a flat fee.” Well, I have done flat fee three times. One time it burned me badly, one time it worked out okay, and one time we broke even because invariably the clients fail to tell you something. I have just said to them, “Listen, there’s something coming up that I’m sure you’re not telling me.
I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what it may mean. It may mean nothing. It may mean something, but my standard practice is just this is my hourly rate. You’re paying for my time. The more you call and the more I have to handle, the more it’s going to cost. If you got your act together and I don’t have to handle you and you’re not calling me every other week for an hour, this is going to be pretty straightforward. If you need a lot of handholding, you need a lot of reassurance, this gets more expensive.” That is a discussion that most attorneys fail to have with their clients and end up getting high maintenance clients that they haven’t properly billed for or properly set up because then they’re having to deal with …
Great example. One of my divorce clients in El Paso right now is a retired superheavy truck driver who’s disabled, but he’s really upset with his soon to be ex-wife because she basically sent a whole bunch of money to the Philippines to buy a piece of property there that he didn’t know about. Between the two of them, they have a house, a couple cars, and some assets, but he’s really upset about this piece of property that she’s buying in the Philippines that he never knew anything about and she’s basically shunted the better part of probably $25,000 too in the last year and a half, two years. He’s constantly going through the documents saying, “Well I want to bring up this piece of property in the Philippines and I want to do this in the divorce.”
About once a week, he wants to talk about it for the better part of 20 minutes. I’ve had to tell him, “You’re burning money. Every time you talk to me about this when I’ve told you we’re already going to deal with it in the divorce, we’re going to ask questions about it, we’re doing a followup on it, we’re going to do discovery on it,” but because of his personality, he wants to talk about it. I’ve told him, “You’re burning cash every time you do this, every time you want to bring it up,” but he’s okay with that. He wants to bring it up because he wants to talk about it. He needs to feel heard about that particular piece of evidence.
Dave Aarons: I’m sure every attorney listening has been like, “Yup. We’ve got clients like that. Yup.”
Charles Skinner: Yup. Well, that’s the advantage of billing hourly because I send him an invoice every month. This is how much time you spent on the phone with me. These are the topics we talked about on these telephone calls. These are the days you called. These are the times you called. I bill them in one-tenth of hour increments. Because he’s an El Paso client, I’m charging him $200 an hour. Every six minutes cost him 20 bucks. If he wants to talk about the house in the Philippines that the ex-wife is buying, for 20 minutes every phone call that’s 80 bucks right there for something that is of no benefit to him, but is emotionally satisfying to him because that’s what he needs to talk about to get it off his chest.
Dave Aarons: Right. If it’s okay, I like to switch gears a little bit. You mentioned El Paso early on in the interview, the podcast episode, you talked about how you’ve made the transition from El Paso to Kaufman and Ellis County. Can you just talk about how you made that? A lot of attorneys feel like, “I’ve got this big practice in this one city,” and they kind of feel rooted down to that city because that’s their living, that’s their livelihood. Can you talk about how you made that transition, what you had to do to wind down that practice and obviously you were able to come back onboard with us and get leads right away?
Maybe that was helpful for you, but maybe you can talk about how that transition was for you and what you learned from it to do it effectively and efficiently as you talked about earlier.
Charles Skinner: There’s going to be some cases that you’re going to have which are just going to be dogs and they’re going to follow you no matter where you go. When my wife decided to take the job in Dallas, I had 178 cases open in El Paso between my criminal practice, my family practice, my corporate practice, and my child protection services representation of children. That was six months ago. In that time, I’ve closed 135 cases. The criminal cases basically I went and looked at and said, “Okay. Which one of these cases are going to result in themselves of pleas? Which one of these are cases that going to resolve themselves by plea bargains or by being dismissed? Which one of these can I ethically lean on my clients to accept some sort of pretrial diversion?
Which one of these are going to trial?” I put them into nice neat piles to say, “These are the ones I can reasonably say are going to be plea bargains. These are the ones that are going to be trials. These are the ones that are going to be PTD.” Then I had a small pile leftover where I didn’t know what was going to happen to those. I took all the ones that I knew were going to do one thing or the other and scheduled them out as quickly as possible. Same thing with the family law cases. I took a look at the ones that said, “Okay. These are ones that are going to resolve themselves because the parties are actually able to talk to each other. They’re going to get to a deal.
These are the ones that are not going to get to a deal because the parties can never talk to each other and they’re constantly fighting with each other. They’re constantly withholding the children from each other. This one just has to be a trial and the third party has to make the decision as to what these two are going to give.” Then you have your third pile of these are the ones that I don’t know what’s going to happen with or that I can no longer reach my client. Those ones basically what you do is you try to reach your client, you send them a certified letter. If they don’t respond, you file a motion to withdraw and you just get out of the way.
You say you bill it out and you set the money in your Interest On Lawyers Trust Account and do the best you can with trying to get it back for them. Some of the money I’ve been sitting on for a while. Same thing with some of my other cases that I do just on the side. There’s some of them that have paid me who basically I’ve called up and said, “I’m moving to Dallas. I’m sorry. You’re going to need to find another attorney. Here are all your files. Here are all your documents. Here’s where we are procedural.
I need you to make a decision on what you want to do either you’re going to work with me and we’re going to settle this or else you’re not going to work with me and I’m going to withdraw and I will give you a list of attorney’s names for you to go contact to either basically file in an entry of appearance or to file a motion to substitute because I’m getting out.” Those are the ones who you tell, “Listen, I’m just getting out of the way. I can’t take this on because I don’t live here anymore.” The Child Protective Services case has been the hardest ones to get rid of strangely enough because I thought all of them were going to resolve themselves in a reasonable period of time and strangely just weird things have happened in them to keep three of them on.
I’ve and spoke to the judge and said, “Your honor, what do you want me to do?” She said, “You don’t live here anymore?” “No.” “File a motion to withdraw. I will grant it. You will be out of the case. Just submit your final bill and off you go.” I said, “Thank you, your honor.” From the standpoint of that, I have 36 cases left that I’m still tying up. 12 of them are divorces and all of them are going to trial. I have four Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship that are in different stages of being done. Those are going to tie themself up in one form or another. They’re all going to be agreements. It’s just a matter of hammering out the details. I have the three TPF cases because I just spoke to the judge last week.
She said, “File your motions to withdraw.” I said, “You honor, thank you.” The criminal cases that I have left are all going to be pretrial diversions. It’s just is what it is. I’ve spoken to the client. I’ve spoken to the district attorney. They said, “Yeah. We’re going to do this. We’re just not willing to do it yet.” I said, “Should I have someone else come in?” They’re like, “No. We give you our word. We will do this. We’ll put a note in the system that you have access to and that all the other defense attorneys have access to that says you’re getting X, Y and Z. Just basically give us a call in another month and we’ll do it because it will be after the Christmas season and we want to see if your clients can behave through Christmas and New Year’s.”
In terms of opening a new practice between Unbundled Attorneys and possibly family law leads and some of the judges here in Ellis County and Kaufman County being willing to give me criminal appointments as soon as I get an office, getting a new office open has not been as painful as I expected it to be. Now as I said, this has taken me six months to get this done, which means I have spent an enormous amount of money on flying back and forth because I’ve been flying from Dallas Love Field to El Paso generally every other week for the better part of six months now, which has been tough on the wallet, but great for my number of frequent flyer miles.
Dave Aarons: Right.
Charles Skinner: Well here’s the thing, I have earned 120,000 airline miles since August. It behooves you to take a look at which airlines fly where because I’ve been flying Southwest back and forth. Southwest has this great program for A-List and A-List preferred flyers where if you fly over a certain number of miles or you earn a certain number of airline miles in a certain period of time, you get certain benefits. As soon as I knew I was going to do this, I applied for a Southwest credit card with airline miles as a benefit. Just signing up got me 50,000 airline miles. On top of that, the 120,000 I’ve earned from flying back and forth from buying the ticket, one way is about 3,000 airline miles, plus I’m putting it on my Southwest Airline Miles credit cards.
That’s another 750 airlines miles. Plus, whenever I have to rent a car, that goes on there. That’s extra airline miles. Plus, I’m running all of my filings through the credit card. Basically anytime I need to file a document, 100, 200, 300 airline miles a shot. Once you get over a certain threshold, you get what’s called A-List Membership, which means you get certain benefits. You get preferred business upgrades. When you get I think it’s like 35 or 40,000 miles past that, you get what’s called a companion pass, which means for the calendar year you’re in, plus the next calendar year, you can designate an individual to fly with you for free anytime you travel.
Dave Aarons: Right. I’ve heard about that.
Charles Skinner: Yeah. For Southwest purposes, I have a three-year-old. He needs to have his own adult ticket to travel with me. Anytime I travel, he can travel with me for free for the rest of this year and all of next year.
Dave Aarons: Right.
Charles Skinner: If I earn 6,000 more airline miles between now and December 31st, I qualify for what’s called A-List Preferred status, which means I get double airlines. Basically, I get free what’s called flyby pass, which allows me to … For airports that offer it, basically, it means I don’t have to go through the normal security line anymore. It’s kind of like pre-check for TFA, but it’s a separate line basically that you bypass all of the waiting that people normally have to do with the metal detectors and the millimeter scanners now. Basically, they have a separate one in certain airports you can just go through.
Dave Aarons: I mean looking back on it, Charles, do you … I mean obviously, you made the move because your wife got a new job in Dallas. If that didn’t happen and obviously you’ve wanted to follow there, let’s say you were just like, “You know what? I want to move somewhere,” and you didn’t necessarily have the time factor where she’s moving and then you had to go back and forth, would you have done the winding first before you would make the move, yes? You’re going to have to have the back and forth?
Charles Skinner: ]Yeah. If I had had the opportunity, I probably would have attempted to do the winding down first. Unfortunately, that just wasn, t possible with the way that my wife’s job worked out. It ended up being a very fast offer and acceptance. Well she found out the job was available in March. She applied for it I think March 30th. Had an interview on April 10th via phone. Had the interview in person April 21st. Was offered the job on April 23rd and had to start May 9th. Unfortunately if time had allowed for it, I would have preferred to be able to do a more gradual wind down and do a more gradual open to be able to kind of have more of a clean break because the travel has been expensive.
I mean even though there have been lots of benefits that have been earned from it, the travel itself is taking a real big bite out of my profit margin for this coming year. For the tax year 2016, I’m probably going to have an extra $30,000 of expenses that I didn’t plan on at the beginning of the year and that’s just in airline travel and expenses related to that.
Dave Aarons: Yup. Would you also …
Charles Skinner: Go ahead.
Dave Aarons: The other one I was going to ask you about is starting a new practice from scratch in a new city, I can only imagine attorneys who might be considering moving and certainly what ties them to a specific city maybe they don’t want to live there, maybe they lived there longer than they maybe would have is because they need to make a living and they’ve got their practice and they’ve all these people they’re working with. You’ve made the jump of starting a practice from scratch in a new city. First of all, did you get the office right away? I mean obviously, you’ve worked with us.
I mean maybe you can talk about working with lead generation programs or maybe there’s been a lot of attorneys that didn’t have leads coming in their practice or maybe they’ve relied on that to a certain degree, but then obviously you’ve been able to just turn on leads from us in a different city. That’s I’m assuming helping you jumpstart things, but is there anything else that has been really helpful for you or maybe can you talk about how that’s helped for you to make that transition into an entirely new city and entirely new environment and also getting familiar with the courts and so forth?
Charles Skinner: Biggest piece advice I can give you is as soon as you can, go find the district judges who are doing the stuff you want to do. Here’s the other thing to talk. Start with the district judges. Go to the courthouse and either go and sit in the gallery for a day or jump court to court to court so that you actually get the see the judge’s practice. Believe me, they will notice. Go. Wear your proper attorney suit. Wear something that makes you look like you’re supposed to be there because the judges will … Once they’re done with their normal stuff, they will look at the bench and look in the gallery and they will ask, “What is your business here?” At that point, go up and introduce yourself. You go. You talk to the judges. You say, “Your honor, I’m new here.
I’m in the process of moving my practice from wherever I am to wherever you’re going. I’m trying to get a feel for your court. I’m trying to get a feel for how things run. I want to know basically how things are done here so that I don’t put my foot in my mouth on day one when I show up thinking I know what I’m doing when I really don’t.” I little bit of humility and humbleness goes an incredibly long way with the judges. The judges in Ellis County have been incredibly gracious to me, both the district court judges and the county court judges. They said, “Basically anything you need, come see us.” The judges in Kaufman County, same thing. Basically, you walk in the door, you say, “Your honor, I’m new. I’ve been practicing in El Paso, but this is not El Paso.
This is your house. What do I need to do to be welcomed?” The judges they not only respect that, they appreciate it in ways that are hard to describe because they realize that you’re not just walking in thinking you know everything. They realize that you’re coming in and you’re asking what is the appropriate thing to do here versus anywhere else I happen to be. The second thing would be after talking to the judges, go to the Council of Judges Administration, whoever the administrator is who’s handling the court dockets, appointments, the division of cases, criminal appointments, any sort of background stuff. I mean just the kind of mechanical stuff that happens in the background that normally people don’t pay attention to.
It’s always good to know what that is even if you don’t pay attention to it after you get settled and get started again. Knowing how the system works and knowing who to talk to when there’s a problem will save you an immense amount of grief later on when something goes wrong because something invariably will go wrong eventually. Either a filing will get lost or a deadline will get missed or the dog will eat a filing that you needed to take with you to the courthouse to be filed with the county clerk in person because they don’t happen to accept terminations and adoptions via online. They just accept them in the paper because of the sense of nature of the document. Being able to know that before you try to file it online and have it rejected is an incredible benefit.
The other side of that is similarly true. El Paso does not allow you to file a termination and adoption paperwork online. They just don’t. If you want to file something of that nature, you have to go … Well, you could file the first document online, but after that, your answer has to be in paper format. All of your motion has to be in paper format. All of your discovery, all of your Child Protective Services or child review from third-party individuals from the domestic relations office have to be in paper format. You can’t file anything through the eFile system anymore for El Paso. I got to Kaufman County, the first thing I did was go and speak to the district clerk and said, “What can I file online and what do I have to file on paper?”
They looked at me and said, “You file everything online.” I said, “Okay.” That’s a change. That’s something different than what I’m used to and I’m glad I know that because now it means I’m not just walking up with a stack of papers three reams of paper tall. Not try to file 1,500 pages of documents and saying, “Well yeah, I need a certified copy now.” Nope. You walk in. You do it all online and you deliver it and they deliver it to the judges themselves. In Kaufman County, you can do a proposed order online. You can do a home study in adoption to termination online and they’re fine with that versus like I said, El Paso, which requires those things to be in paper format rather than digital format. Like I said, the second thing is going and talking to the staff.
I mean the council of judges staff, the individuals who do the appointments, the individuals who determine, which judge gets the case because of there may be a judge that for some reason you’re moving into a county that you’ve done business with before. I mean that’s the other thing to find out is find out who is the judges or who are the judges that are in that county because strange things happen. It might be some distant relative that you now need to pay attention to make sure that there isn’t a conflict of interest in your practice. Go sit down. Talk to the judges. Talk to them about office space. Talk to them about their history. Talk to them about what is important to them, what is not important to them. Pay attention to what the other attorneys who practice before them do or don’t do.
Just as an example, one of the judges in one of the county courts in El Paso is a real stickler about where the parties sit. The petitioner always sits on the right. The defendant always sits on the left. They always sit on the right from the judge. The defendant always sits on the left because that happens to be the way the courtroom is laid out is the jury box is to the right of the judge. The judge always says, “Okay. The prosecution is supposed to sit next to the jury box. The plaintiff in a civil action is always nearest to the jury’s box because they’re the ones who have the burden.”
Dave Aarons: Right. There are all these local rules and nuances and procedures and things that you need to really get familiar with so you’re not looking … First of all, you know how to proceed and how to do things properly, but also to make sure you’re not perturbing any of the judges or anyone in there that is used to doing things a certain way and then you’re doing something different.
Charles Skinner: Right. That was going to be my third thing is to find a copy of the local rules for the county. Every county in Texas has one. Basically, you go in, you find local rules, and they’ll have stuff like standing orders and divorces. Don’t disturb the other party. Don’t take the kids out of school. Don’t change their residence without permission of the court. Don’t harass or threaten the other party. Those are the general ones, but each county has their own tweaks on it. What supervised visitation looks like. What visitation will be granted between the parties if there’s not some reason not to do it?. How long temporary orders will be. The Kaufman County standing orders say that temporary order hearings are a half hour.
That’s it. Total. You get 15 minutes, the other part gets 15 minutes for temporary orders while you’re getting stuff prepped. If you need to go longer than that, you need to play “mother, may I” with the judge. You have to go and say, “Your honor, there’s X, Y and Z circumstance which requires more time.” That’s an important thing to know so you don’t prep an hour long or two hour long temporary orders hearing and then have the judge tell you, “You have 15 minutes,” and then you’ll have to scramble through one-tenth of what you’ve prepared.
Dave Aarons: Right. Exactly. Okay. I really appreciate you shining a light on all these different strategies, but also how to move to a new city, get familiar with the courts, the judge. I mean these are all really applicable tips especially for someone that’s new to a local court or maybe just starting a practice of law, a new county. I mean these are the pitfalls that you’re helping people avoid here so that’s really key. I do want to be respectful of your time. I would remiss if I didn’t ask you this final question and maybe we can wrap up is over the years we’ve been working together, you’ve always been one of the highest converting attorneys in our network.
Is there anything specific about calling, responding to, and consulting with leads that you’ve learned over the years or just strategies that you can shine a light one even for just a couple of minutes about just the initial process, you get the lead, how do you respond to it, what’s the goal in the initial call, just those best practices that you’ve developed and even refined maybe over the years to really be as effective as possible at calling and converting that lead?
Charles Skinner: As I started out with this one, this actually kind of wraps around to where I started. The fact that I don’t have a staff, it’s just me, allows me a certain amount of freedom and a certain amount of responsibility to look at what I’ve got directly. I have actually a separate email account. I have my own email domain. I would suggest to any attorney don’t use a Google address, don’t use a Yahoo address, don’t do a Hotmail address. Go to GoDaddy. Buy a domain. It’s cheap. It’s like 300 bucks for five years and you get an email address with it. You get like five email addresses with it in fact. Set up one of those emails for Unbundled Attorney to drop in. I actually have one of my email address is information@CharlesSkinnerLaw.com.
Any case that comes in as a referral from Unbundled Attorney drops into that email box. In addition, basically I practice law via my cellphone, that’s my online phone line, I also get all of my emails through my smartphone. I have an Apple iPhone 5. It reads all my email and when I get an email from Unbundled Attorney, it gives me the option basically to pop up and say, “You’ve received a lead,” and the phone number is right on it. I can look at it and go, “I have a lead.” Click the phone number and call them back immediately. If I’m in the middle of doing something, you could sometimes send them a text. You may attempt to send them a text message saying, “Thank you for contacting Unbundled Attorney. I’ve received your email.
May I call you at X time,” if you can’t speak immediately. Also, what I’ve noticed is because of the particular counties that I’ve practiced in, about maybe a quarter of my clients actually call me. As soon as they click the send button asking for an attorney referral, I get their email, but they also get the separate email and what they’ve been doing is they’ve been picking up the phone and calling me and saying, “Okay. I need a consultation. What’s involved in this? What do I need to do? Who do I need to talk to? Are you the attorney?” “Yes, I am he. How may I help you?” Then what I’ll do is if I’m close enough to my computer, I’ll sit down.
I’ll pull up my email and look at the little blurb they’ve sent me as to what their legal issue is or at least what they think their legal issue is and be able to talk to them intelligently about it. If I don’t happen to be there, then I’ll say, “Okay. Your name is X.” Write it down. If I’m not in the middle of doing something else right then, do the phone consultation right then and there. That’s incredibly valuable to people believe it or not. Being able to give them a bit of peace of mind right then and there will often turn a potential client into a retained client. Not just somebody who wants to say, “I need a divorce. What do I do to write it myself?” No. You need a divorce.
Let’s talk about what those issues are and what they look like and this is roughly what I think it’s going to cost,” because that will give them a certain level of security. It’s kind of like a warm security blanket at that point. Hey, wait a minute. I am talking to somebody. I’m making progress. Not just, “Hey, I’ve got to have a call in a couple of days. That person may or may not call you back. There’s an attorney. They maybe booked.” Who knows?
Being able to take even if it’s 10 minutes a time to address two or three of their big issues right then and there goes an incredibly long way toward giving the potential client a little bit of peace of mind and means that even if they don’t hire you right then and there, they’re at least going to call you back because they’re going to say, “Okay. I spoke to this person. They gave me some peace of mind,” and they may say, “Well listen, go. Get a second opinion. Talk to a couple of other attorneys. See what they’re going to quote you. See what they’re going to talk to you about, but make sure that if you do talk to them, you talk to them about X, Y and Z because that’s going to be important to your case.”
The minute you give a piece of information or a piece of advice like that to a potential client, they will call you back almost guaranteed because they feel you’re looking out for them even when they are not your client yet.
Dave Aarons: We had a lot of attorneys that talk about just wherever the client is at, whatever their circumstances are financial or otherwise, just making sure that that client is in a better position no matter what happens on that call whether they’re going to be retaining you or not, whether they have a pathway or not, but giving them some guidance and making sure that that’s a commitment that they’re bringing to that call, so that that person’s going to be in a position to make a better decision and move forward, make progress like you said as a result of that contact they had with you. All right. Well hey, I think that’s a great place to wrap it up, Charles. I just want to first thank you for taking the time and sharing so many great tips and strategies.
I mean I was taking notes all throughout. We’ve got a couple strong pages a lot of which that’s the first time we’ve heard some of these strategies and tips and suggestions. I really just appreciate your willingness to share and give strategies and ideas that attorneys can apply into their practice right away. Thanks so much for your time and for your generosity. We certainly appreciate all the work you’re doing for the clients and looking forward to continue to support you with getting your practice ramped up in the Dallas area and the new area you’re living in. Thanks again.
Charles Skinner: Glad to be of help. Glad to do work with you guys and I look forward to a continued long and preposterous relationship.
Dave Aarons: Indeed. Okay. With that, we’ll go and wrap up. Thanks for everyone that’s listening to the podcast. We certainly appreciate your participation. Hope you enjoyed the show. If you know anyone else that maybe benefiting from this show, feel free to share the episodes. We certainly appreciate that and furthers the mission of helping more attorneys work with more clients, grow their practice, and also make a difference in offering affordable and unbundled options in their practice. Thanks again for listening and we’ll see you all on the next episode.
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Episode 24: How to Relocate a Law Practice to a New Region: Creating Relationships with Local Courts, Bartering with Clients, and Building an Efficient Firm
Before Charles Skinner became an attorney, he worked as a machinist for over 10 years. That experience taught him a lot about how to streamline processes and build an efficient business model. Today, Charles shares how he transferred this approach to his law practice by building systems that streamline workflows. We also explore how he was able to successfully relocate his law practice from El Paso to Dallas, TX. He examines some of the mistakes he made and shares valuable lessons learned along the way. He also talks about the alternative fee arrangements he has implemented with his clients, such as bartering his services for assets or property, as well as some strategies he has developed in his mediation practice.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How to evaluate the essentials of every process and task in your practice and build systems to automate and streamline them
- How to offer services to clients with limited cash by bartering for assets and property, including some examples of arrangements he has created with his clients
- The value of being able to provide services in multiple areas of the law, and how this “holistic” approach can allow you to offer more billable services to each client
- The importance of creating relationships with other lawyers and professionals as a great source of referrals
- How Charles was able to transition his law practice from El Paso to Dallas, TX on short notice
- How to ethically wind up your existing practice, including how to communicate with and wrap up relationships with those clients
- How to start a practice in a new county, including strategies for creating relationships with local judges and clerks
- How to maximize your air miles if you need to fly when you are moving your practice
- The mediation services Charles offers, and how he effectively communicates the value and requirements of mediation to his clients
- The vital importance of responding to leads immediately and then consult with them about their case right then and there
- And much more...
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For more information about Unbundled Attorney and how our Lead Generation services help grow your practice, visit: https://www.unbundledattorney.com