Launching a New Solo Practice: From Law School Graduate to 65 New Paying Clients in 3 Months

January 13th, 2017

Today we interview provider attorney Andrew Burgess out of Cincinnati, Ohio. The story of success that he has been able to achieve as pretty much a brand new attorney. We’ve had a few attorneys that have had almost brand new practices coming on board with Unbundled Attorney to help them launch their practice and get more clients going early on. This is a great story as well, just another example of that. He started in September. This podcast was recorded at the very beginning of December and he’s been able to acquire almost 60-65 clients in this three to four-month period. New, paying clients. So, just a fantastic amount of clients coming on board, great conversion rate.

One of the things that we’ll really get into in this episode and I think sets it apart is the economics, the true economics, of Unbundled and offering payment plans and pay as you go options to the clients. I think the reason they offer $5,000 retainers and that’s it is because they believe they’re not going to be able to make much money on clients that don’t have a lot of money. There’s this myth that if you work with low-income people you have to make low income. That’s something I think in this podcast episode with the examples that Andrew gives and the transparency and the detail on each of the options he provides.

We’ve got a lot of podcast episodes and tons and tons of attorneys, hundreds of lawyers across the United States, that in our network that has proven that to be the case but this is a real detailed analysis of each of these options and the finances of each one. Also, the strategies you need to implement in order to make sure that you aren’t overstepping the boundaries. You’re finding a way to fit your services into the budget of these clients and at the same time still getting paid well for your time and not getting in a position where you’re not.

So, there is a lot of great examples here from Unbundled, to pay as you go, to payment plans. I think this is really going to be helpful for those, especially, of you that are starting to consider offering these options if you’ve just started and got more creative about the way you can go about doing stuff.

So, with that let’s get right into this episode, this interview with Andrew Burgess. One of our provider attorneys out of Cincinnati, Ohio.

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

Dave Aarons: Andrew, welcome to the show.

Andrew Burgess: Thank you.

Dave Aarons: I really appreciate you coming on to share your story about how these last three months of coming on board and filling these leads to work with us have gone. From what I’ve heard it’s been a pretty successful launch and startup and I thank you for taking the time to share the strategies you’ve developed over the last three months working with our team to have such a good start.

Andrew Burgess: Yeah, absolutely. I think at this point I don’t know how it could be going any better. It’s been way beyond any of my expectations.

Dave Aarons: Great. So before we kind of dive into what those results have been and how you’ve been able to accomplish that, maybe just the first step is giving a bit of background on how you got your start in a practice of law, the area you service and the areas of law you’re providing services in.

Andrew Burgess: Sure. So, I went to the University of Cincinnati for law school and stayed in town. I worked at a couple different firms while in school. Then kind of looked around afterward and made the decision that I wanted to go off on my own and just jumped right in there. Which is pretty scary and for the most part and didn’t know much about solo practice, I just kind of went for it.

Dave Aarons: How long after you graduated did you start going solo?. When you graduated from law school where you clerking throughout law school and then pretty much ran a solo practice or did you do the clerking and got some experience and then went into solo practice after you’ve done that for a while?

Andrew Burgess: So the clerking carried over after law school. So, it was probably nine months after I was licensed that I sort of just went off on my own.

Dave Aarons: Wow, okay. Was that your plan throughout law school? You were thinking or you weren’t quite sure if you were going to get a job with a law firm or were you always thinking through your law practice that yeah, I want to run my own solo practice? I want to start my own business, and pretty shortly after graduating from law school is that something you want to get into once you felt a little more comfortable and experienced?

Andrew Burgess: You know I had not considered it very seriously at all during school. It wasn’t a goal I had or anything like that. It’s kind of funny what actually led me to ultimately doing it is, I was clerking and one of my friends got into a bit of trouble and needed some help and I was like, yep, sure I’ll help you out through this case. I got in the courtroom and got hooked on that. I was like, wow, I love this way better than what I’m doing at this law firm that I’m at and I think I can make a go of this on my own. You don’t need that many clients over the course of a month to really make ends meet, so I figured I would just jump in and see what I can do on my own. So I just went for it.

Dave Aarons: We’ve got a number of attorneys on the podcast that made that jump straight out of law school. They’ve talked about how challenging and intimidating that can be for many, with how many lawyers are practicing, how competitive it is, how the internet has changed the industry. Is there anything looking back on it that was really helpful for you to make that transition in such a short period of time from graduation law school? I always see the clerking being really helpful for you to get some experience about the procedures of the court and so forth. Maybe that was one of the major components, but in addition to that or maybe you can expand on that, what really helped you make that transition to starting your own practice pretty much almost straight out of law school?

Andrew Burgess: Sure, so as far as like courtroom and all that kind of stuff, you just figure it out on your own as I went. That wasn’t too difficult. You can read the local rules. I had a couple friend’s parents who were prosecutors in the county so I talked to them a lot. Just made myself available and did the whole networking thing and went out to a lot of lunches, that kind of thing. But, when it comes down to starting your practice on your own, the biggest thing is finding clients. That is the toughest thing to do. You don’t just open up an office and hope the phone rings because it’s not going to unless you do something more than that. That was the biggest struggle starting out, getting clients. What really kicked off the practice is Unbundled. As soon as Graham called and gave the sales pitch over the course of a few phone calls, that’s really what did it. I didn’t have a stream of clients by any means really until I started with Unbundled.

Dave Aarons: Walk us through the timeline. When did you graduate law school and when did you start your practice and then when did we come into the fray to help with solving that lack of clients challenge that any new solo is going to have when they first get their practice going?

Andrew Burgess: Sure. You graduate May. You take the bar in July, then get the results in October, sworn in, in November. I clerked for a while, then decided to go on my own. I did that maybe for three months or so before I started with Unbundled. It had not been a long time at all by any means, but it has really jumped off immediately. But, just having a stream of clients make all the difference in the world. Really the actual legal work is the easiest part about doing your own practice. You have the expertise if you don’t know the answer you know how to figure it out. That’s kind of what law school teaches you, they don’t really anything about practicing law, they teach you how to problem solve and that kind of thing. The law part’s easy, getting the clients was the difficult part and Unbundled really solved that starting out. So, that’s the timeline of how it really went. It was very quick [crosstalk 00:09:20]

Dave Aarons: So, November 2015 was basically when you got sworn in and officially became a practicing attorney. Then you started on your own, sounds like around June of 2016, earlier this year about six months ago and then we started working together at the beginning of September right?

Andrew Burgess: Yes. So it would’ve been like the end of May. Yeah, that sounds about right. Yeah, so it’s been very quick. Like I said, it couldn’t have gone much better. Once the leads start coming in the sales pitch is pretty easy. Graham walks you through that and gives you an example and you role play a little bit and go from there. We’ve all been through that with Unbundled, you know kind of process. But, these people, the clients are coming to you because they have some sort of problem in their life that they don’t really know how to fix. That’s what they need help with. So it’s not that hard to actually sell them on hiring you. A lot of it is education the client on actually what they need done and pretty much educating them how they can afford to reach the goal of solving whatever problem it is that they have.

Then I guess I should say the area of law that I’m mainly practicing in is Family Law. That’s pretty much the Unbundled leads that I get. I also do criminal law as well.

Dave Aarons: Okay, awesome. Let’s give a quick snapshot of what those first three or four months, May through September, look like for you as far as how that went, what were some of the challenges you were facing and then the beginning of September and how the last maybe three months have gone. Maybe talk a little bit about that transformation that’s happened or how many clients you’ve brought on so far. Then some contexts on what you’ve been able to accomplish these last three months, then we can start to dive into how it is you’ve been able to do so with the clients that we’ve been sending you and the types of options you’ve been offering and all that kind of stuff as well.

Andrew Burgess: Sure. So starting off, like I said, the biggest issue is finding clients. When I first started it’s like an embarrassingly low number of clients you would have a month. A couple, a few. It’s just difficult to find. So, in terms of revenue, it’s very minimal from the start until I started with Unbundled.

I started with Unbundled September 1st. That’s the first day of leads that I got. I think I got something like five that day, which blew my mind. You know these people are out there that need help, you just have no idea how to get in contact with them and they don’t know how to contact you. So this is like the link between. I think I got five that day and signed all five. I was like, wow, this is amazing. This is totally going to pay off. I can’t even believe … I was all skeptical about it, Graham called and you get so many sales calls when you open your own practice it’s just unbelievable. The phone rings and you’re like oh great a client, nope another sales pitch of someone wanting to sell you an advertisement or something like that.

My first phone call with Graham I was like, this has got to be another one of those things. I thought about it and thought about it and I talked to Graham more and gave it a shot. From day one it just paid off immediately, which was really awesome. So that kind of-

Dave Aarons: It makes me curious when you’re getting so many phone calls and so forth, what was it about the conversation with Graham or what you heard about us? I don’t know if you’d listened to a couple of podcast episodes, but what was it for you that set it apart or made it something that was like, hey maybe there is something here that could be a fit for what I do or how I want to work.

Andrew Burgess: Sure. I think one of the main things that tipped me off that it wasn’t the typical sales pitch from an advertiser it’s just that there’s no obligation for any sort of length of time, no subscription fees, nothing like that. That’s the hallmark of all these marketing companies for law firms. They say, oh we have a spot available on this website for you to advertise you just need to pay us for six months up front, you know something like that. That’s not at all what this was. The other thing is my specific area that I have, Graham was explaining to me how the area came to be available. He mentioned the guy that had done it before, so I called that guy. He had moved on for whatever reason and I thought, well if he’s not doing it anymore I want to know why. It just made sense. So I called him and he had nothing but great things to say and he moved on for family reasons or something, I’m not really sure why he gave it up. I don’t know that I would ever give it up, now that I’ve been doing it. So it’s kind of that.

Graham explained it pretty well. I talked to the guy who was doing it before. Then I thought I would give it a shot, I’m really glad that I did.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, to us, it seems like the only reason you would require some kind of contract or commitment is because you aren’t 100% confident in the fact that you can deliver for the person you’re going to be working with, the attorney.

Andrew Burgess: Right.

Dave Aarons: It seems like any kind of relationship, especially when it comes to marketing, needs to be a win-win relationship. We add the third win because we are also really committed to the success of the clients, the people that we are sending to you.

Andrew Burgess: Sure.

Dave Aarons: As much of our commitment that it is to your success as an attorney because when we align our perspectives and our principles for the same purpose, which is how do we help that client, we all win. Ultimately it’s making sure that this is going to pencil out for you long term and be something that’s going to be a great fit for the types of services you want to offer and your goals and so forth.

That’s the real hallmark of companies that really do have their heart in the right space and a service that I think … it’s something you can have confidence in is whether they’re willing to offer terms where you can be able to try it for as long as you need it and pull the plug for whatever reason it doesn’t work. The last thing we would want it to try to force a lawyer to keep working with us if for whatever reason it’s not working and just take their money. That’s not the kind of relationship you want to create, it’s not a long-term strategy. That’s something attorneys want to look out for when they’re considering using advertising services, or any service for that matter that is supposedly supposed to help them grow their practice.

Andrew Burgess: Yeah, absolutely. That is the biggest clue right off the bat that if it was actually a valuable service since they don’t have … if you require a commitment there is a reason for that and it’s because whatever service they’re trying to sell you may not actually work. So, you’re actually right about that.

Dave Aarons: Yep. So, let’s dive in. What have these last three months looked like? Maybe flush out whatever you can, doesn’t matter, how many clients you’ve brought on and so forth. Then set some contacts, then we can dive into what your processes look like. Signing the first five clients is awesome. We want to get into the meat of what it is you do to help you with such a strong conversion rate.

Andrew Burgess: Sure. So, I think right now as far as conversion rate for clients rather than … I’ve gotten every single lead that I’ve gotten on the phone, which has been big. Well, I should say there has been maybe one or two where the contact information wasn’t any good for whatever reason they didn’t put their number wrong or something but you know that’ll happen from time to time. For the most part 100% of the people that had the correct contact and everything I’ve gotten on the phone and spoke to them briefly about whatever it is that their problem is that they needed help with. Of all of the leads, I’ve gotten in-person meetings at my office with probably six to seven out of 10. Every single person that has actually come into my office and I’ve met with, I’ve signed to some sort of service. That’s how it’s kind of broken down and ended up with the leads. So that’s been fantastic.

Dave Aarons: Do you have a rough idea of how many clients have come on then in the last three or four months from square one, roughly?

Andrew Burgess: Yes. From September, I think I’ve gotten somewhere around 90 total leads.

Dave Aarons: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andrew Burgess: So, I mean it’s got to be, it’s getting up there probably close to 60-65 clients out of that, that have signed. It can’t get much better than that. It’s been really great so far because there is always going to be, some of the clients for whatever reason they might not actually be at the stage where they’re ready to commit to solving their problem. As far as family law goes, I’ve had a couple leads where the dad called worried about getting custody but then you find out the child isn’t born yet. Stuff like that. So we just put everything on hold, wait, see how this pans out and after the time period, once the kids born if you still have the same problem then we’ll go from there.

There’s been several people where it’s a wait and see type deal. They want to commit but there’s really nothing to commit to yet. There are others where they just might not have any money, which I talked to Graham about this. Recently we’ve talked about strategies to vet that claim out. There is a lot of people who say, I really don’t have any money but it’s never really true. They might not have a lot of money, they might be on SSI or something like that. We talked about a strategy that I’m going to start trying to help them save up for whatever the fee is for whatever service they need. So we talked about, explain to them how a trust account works and setting up kind of a payment plan, whatever they can afford. I would put whatever money is they can afford into the trust account, then once it gets to however much it is that they need for the service then we can go ahead and meet, go over everything and get it done for them.

That might take six months to save up dependent on their financial situation but it gives them the option so that they can actually get the help that they need instead of just leaving discouraged. So both parties win, they get their problem solved, we’re able to get another client.

Dave Aarons: I recognize that’s something you’re still experimenting with. We found a number of attorneys that have offered that as an option, and it really has been helping a lot of clients. I think that without that structure, without having a specific amount that they’re setting aside and having it deposited into the attorney’s trust account. There are even ways to do that in an automated fashion using an automated processing system like law pay where it’s a recurring billing or something like that. When they get paid that money goes towards their trust account. Without that structure, a lot of people might spend the money or they might lose track. So by having taken the time to go you’ve really [inaudible 00:21:46] okay well if it’s going to take this much to get the papers drawn and get it filed and you give them a target they can see, then you set them a structure where they can start making payments towards that. Most attorneys would say, once you have the $1,500 give me a call and we’ll get started, right? Or once you have $1,000. A lot of folks will go and have trouble bringing that together then that person kind of falls by the waist side.

But if you continue to maintain that relationship and build that structure for them so they can start making payments towards that balance, you help them with that, they are so much more likely to not only stay in contact with you and keep working with you but also it gives them the structure a lot of people need to put that money aside and get moving in the right direction and getting things done with their case. From what we’ve heard a lot of clients really actually appreciate attorneys that are willing … when the attorneys offer that option to them so that they know they’re moving in the right direction even if it’s going to take some time to take that first step and actually file their case.

Andrew Burgess: Yeah, definitely. I think the education in training on basically just how to save is beneficial to them. It might not be something that they’ve ever done and that’s why they show up with this problem, and they don’t have, they think they don’t have, the money to do it. It just takes a little bit of structure and encouragement. You can show them the path to get their problem solved via some sort of savings plan for them so they can get it paid for.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely. So, we really need to dive into the kinds of questions you ask, and some of the plans that you’ve put together that have kind of worked well for folks. But, before we do that we … accomplishing 60 to 65 clients in three or four months is an awesome start. One of the things you mentioned is that you’ve been able to reach almost 100% of clients on the phone. We’ve talked about all that on the podcast but briefly can you touch on your process, how you’ve been receiving leads, have you been getting the text messages and if so, when the moment that lead comes in what’s been your process for the most part to get in touch with those clients right off the bat?

Andrew Burgess: Sure. So, I don’t do the text messaging. It comes from my email, my email comes to my phone, so it’s pretty instantaneous anyway. Once a lead comes in, you know a lot of time I’m in court or something else when it comes in, so I try to get in touch with that person within the hour whenever that lead comes in. Sometimes you can’t, if it’s 9 o’clock at night I’m not going to try to get in touch with them until the next day. For the most part that’s kind of the goal I have. Within the hour, try to call them. A lot of times people don’t answer the first call because they don’t recognize the number for whatever reason. If they don’t answer right away I just call right back, immediately. A lot of times you’ll get that person on the phone that second phone call because you know a bill collector’s not calling twice in a row to hassle you. I think that’s probably what the people think, well maybe this is actually somebody I need to talk to.

That’s one of the ways, if they don’t answer again I’ll leave them a message and a lot of times people will call me back pretty quickly once they connect that number to the attorney they just tried to contact.

Dave Aarons: Just to touch on that real quick because I think it’s important. When you call them and they don’t answer, you don’t leave a message right then, you just hang up and call them again right then and there.

Andrew Burgess: Yeah.

Dave Aarons: You find a lot of people will then answer that second time?

Andrew Burgess: Yes. Definitely. Yeah. I don’t do it now, but previously there are not many people that would call me that I don’t have their number saved in my phone. Before I started my own practice if I get a call from an unknown number I’m not very likely to answer it because I don’t know who it is. I figure they can leave a message or whatever. Most of the time it’s just some sort of spam. I think people think that way, so if you call back right away then you’re like, huh, it can’t be spam or whatever it is because they’re calling back. They’ll answer just to see, maybe this is actually important. That has been very successful. It’s a little tweak in the strategy that helps to get people on the phone quicker, which really I think helps that conversion rate.

The biggest thing is talking to people in person over the phone as quickly as you can, I think that really helps the success of conversions just overall.

Dave Aarons: Okay. So yeah, so you get a few more people that’ll actually answer on that second call. If they don’t answer you leave a voice message, some people are going to call you back for sure. Do you also follow up with a text message and an email? How does it go from there?

Andrew Burgess: I actually don’t. I have not done the text message or email follow-up. I really haven’t needed to. That is something that they talk about as an initial strategy when I came on with Unbundled and you’re going through the process on how to talk to leads and all that. That’s something that’s explained and they give you an example and that kind of thing. I think there’s value in that, I just really haven’t needed to do it because I’ve been able to reach everybody. I guess that’s the main reason why.

Dave Aarons: I also, I try to stay away from texting as much as I can because what I found happens is there are no boundaries of time for clients once I’ve started that, that precedent of texting. Then you get the text at two in the morning. So I try to avoid that for the most part. I really haven’t needed to do it anyway, so it’s been fine.

Andrew Burgess: Okay. Great. Okay, so that’s been working well as far as getting a lot of folks on the phone. Then once you’re chatting with them … we’ve talked a couple of times about how to overcome that financial barrier. That’s something that’ll come up a lot, the attorneys will say the clients are looking for pro bono, or they don’t have any money, or they’ll say they don’t have any money. Normally that means, well that’s a dead lead I’m going to get off the phone. Maybe even in the lead, I don’t know if you’ve had some of these before, where it says in the lead I don’t have much money, or I don’t have much money right now, so some attorneys just won’t even call the lead because they’re going to pre-judge that the person isn’t going to be a qualified person they’re going to be able to help.

Dave Aarons: Yeah.

Andrew Burgess: How do you look at that, obviously you look at that very differently. How have you been able to work with folks that initially it seems it’s going to be a deal breaker or barrier but turns out to not necessarily the case, how do you flush that out?

Dave Aarons: Sure. There has been a couple leads like you described where they put in the description of whatever their problem is that they don’t have a lot of money, or they’re looking for a pro bono attorney, something like that. I just don’t really take that to heart. I don’t factor that in whether I’m going to call somebody or not. Of course, I’m going to call them to find out exactly what their problem is and how I can help. You find that most people who have some sort of financial constraint, you can work on some sort of payment plan or give them some sort of option that they can actually afford that helps them move forward.

Just to give an example, I had a specific client that called, and she had tried to do most of the work herself. This was a custody case, and it had already been to the process, the magistrate issued an order, and it didn’t go her way and she wasn’t represented. So she already thought she had no money, tried to do it herself, didn’t work. She made a lot of mistakes because she wasn’t represented. That was part of the problem. So, I talked to her for a while and then we came up with a plan that worked for her financially. She is head over heels thankful that she was able to find help. She contacted a few other attorneys before she ended up finding my information through Unbundled and they basically were not helpful at all. As soon as she says she doesn’t have enough money they pretty much dismiss her and that was it. They’d quote her some outrageous price or just dismiss her off the bat because she said she had a financial constraint.

I think you need to look past that just initial thought and really dive down into what the actual issue is, how their finances work and what you can do to accomplish their goal of solving their problem. In this case, she was one of the clients that started off just paying a flat fee for having some paperwork drafted. She wanted to object to the magistrates’ order so I said okay. She had x number of dollars up front. I gave her a couple weeks to come up with the rest of the money. Drafted the document, went ahead and filed it once she came up with the rest of the money, and it wasn’t a lot. From there kind of processes, you have to get a transcript of the hearing, so that was another expense and it also buys you some time. I said we’ll do this first. Here’s the plan of what you need to save in order to get this transcript and here’s how much work it’s going to be for me once I get the transcript to review and to amend the objection. Then here’s how much it’s going to be when we have that hearing for that objection, and you know it goes from there.

So, start off with the Unbundled service and it’s kind of transitioning to more traditional representation but just on a pay as you go payment plan for the estimated amount of work. It really helped her out, solved that problem instead of saying, hey I need $3,000 up front for all these things that we’re going to have to do like most attorneys would do. You break in down into manageable pieces so that someone who thinks they don’t have enough money for representation actually can get the help they need.

Andrew Burgess: I really want to get into the economics of this because this is really what it comes down to. These other attorneys that they talk to, that this person talked to obviously had the thought in their mind, oh I can’t make much money on this person, or I can’t make any money on this person, so I’m not. I’m just going to dismiss them, which is what’s happening all the time. I’m sure you’re talking to clients all the time that says, I talked to his attorney he said it’d be $5,000, I talked to this one he said $3,000, they need it all up front and I can’t afford that so they just dismiss me. The thought in that attorney’s mind is, oh I can’t make money on this person. Right?

Dave Aarons: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Andrew Burgess: Which we found over the years of doing this and working with hundreds of attorneys across the United States is that is just isn’t true. You can absolutely, you just have to be creative about the way in which you structure moving one step at a time. You’re offering these Unbundled options and doing these payment plans so that the person can afford it and also at the same time you’re able to still make your hourly rate or get the flat rates makes sense so can you talk about how you have been able to make money? Maybe you can use that client as an example. What were you charging for the flat rate for the document services? How much time did that take you so we can kind of flush out what’s the effective hourly rate of that? Then when you look at it’s progressing forward as a full representation, she’s doing a payment plan, are you putting in more hours than she’s paying? Are you getting in a position where you’re getting behind or is she keeping up? How do we look at this from a standpoint … what are the economics here of helping someone that many other attorneys would just turn away?

Dave Aarons: Sure. So, to start let’s just think of the traditional retainer, the way you know attorneys work. If someone comes up and says, okay I need $5,000 up front to do this work and fix this problem. The only reason that it’s done this way is to try to ensure you get paid. You’re not doing all that work up front, it’s going to take many months for you to bill against that retainer for the most part. So, if you charge them five grand up front you’re not even earning that money for three, four, five, six months down the road when you’ve billed all the hours against that retainer.

I just think of it kind of the opposite way. Come up with a figure I need to get started on whatever it is their issue is. In this case, I think I charged her $500 to draft and file the objection to the magistrates’ order. Then discuss, okay if you want me to go from here, here is the hourly rate that it’s going to be. Then we talked about the very next step in the process. Here’s about how much time this is going to take for me to do this so you have whatever it was, I think it was like three weeks actually I think it ended up being about a month, to get the initial money. She got two weeks to do that because the timing of when you need to object and everything.

Andrew Burgess: To come up with [crosstalk 00:35:54]?

Dave Aarons: Yes. So she came up and she said, I think she had like $300 initially, so I was like fine. We did our first meeting, gave me $300, two weeks later gave me another $200. The objection was filed and then-

Andrew Burgess: Was that $500, did that cover that objection, it covered the objection, right?

Dave Aarons: Oh easily, yeah.

Andrew Burgess: Easily, okay. So how long did it take you to do that task and what did you pay, you got paid $500 for that. Was there something else that was included or was that just for that one task there?

Dave Aarons: That was just for that one task because she wasn’t sure if she was going to actually retain me for the rest of it. It was kind of one of those things, okay I’ll go ahead and draft this because she doesn’t know how and file it for you. Then she wanted to see if she could take it from there. After discussions with her, we talked more and she realized this really isn’t, a courtroom is not something she can do. You’ll find that with almost every client. There, not attorneys so the courtroom’s scary and they don’t really know what to do. So, yeah, it more than covered it. To actually draft and file the objection did not take very much time at all if an hour. So, that was-

Andrew Burgess: So your effective hourly rate on that task was maybe, including talking to the client to explain it to her maybe an hour and a half total for the drafting and conversations and so forth?

Dave Aarons: Yeah, that’s probably pretty close to what it was. Yeah.

Andrew Burgess: Most attorneys might go oh that’s $500, that’s not much, I’m used to getting $5,000 but $500 for an hour and a half worth of discussion and work, which is going to evolve is something like $375 an hour or something like that. My math isn’t good but that-

Dave Aarons: Yep.

Andrew Burgess: Right? So that’s a pretty good rate.

Dave Aarons: You’re exactly right. It goes to kind of traditional backward thinking. They wouldn’t even consider that and that’s why they’re missing out.

So the other aspect to this too is I thought okay after she came up with the money and we filed this there’s a cost to getting the transcript of the hearing. She had to come up with that cost. That is set by the court. It’s probably specific to each county or area, whatever the cost is. So, I thought this could go two ways. She could either not be able to come up with the money and miss out on getting that transcript within the time frame required by the court rules and this is over with. Or if she does, it tells me she’s committed and is able to save money to be able to afford the next step. So she was. She got the transcript of the court hearing at whatever cost that was. From there we have two weeks to amend the objection based on the specifics of the transcript, based on whatever the magistrate’s findings were.

Andrew Burgess: Real quick. Given that the transcript was going to be an important aspect of her proceeding in this case, before you filed it and she paid the $500 I’m assuming you guys talked about that transcript cost coming and the time frame she had to do that and making sure that she knew she couldn’t really afford that otherwise you almost have to wait or not do it at all if you can’t see that whole piece right there to fruition, right?

Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely. You are right. We talked about that right up front. We got out the calendar and I showed her the specific days for when everything is due when she has to have it in by, requested by, paid for, all this kind of stuff within the specific court rules. So, yeah we talked about that right up front. She knew from the initial meeting when she signed with me as a client, the time frame and the amount of money that she was going to be required to come up with to get this transcript.

But again, my thought is, it’ll tell me if she’s going to be a good client or not if she’s able to meet that deadline. Now she’s had two financial obligation deadlines to meet and she’s two for two. It just sets me at ease as far as a risk of not getting paid.

Andrew Burgess: For going forward and continuing to work with her beyond that point, right?

Dave Aarons: Yes, correct. So it comes down to she gets the transcript and the next step is reviewing that and amending the objection based on that. So we talked about how much time that was going to take and then ultimately how much money that was going to cost. She had two weeks to come up with the next payment. So that only took a couple hours, read through that, amended it and then filed. Then I just told her the date of the filing, I’ll file on the last date possible that’s when I’ll need the next payment.

From there you know the court schedules the actual hearing for the objection so that’s a couple of weeks out. That’s when she’ll need the next payment for the time that it’s going to take for the actual in court hearing.

Andrew Burgess: Yeah, exactly. I think it’s amazing just going, breaking down the practice of law and just everything that needs to be done in a case to individual components and dealing with them one at a time. This is commonly referred to as pay as you go but this a really … we’re really getting into the detailed description of what does pay as you go mean? It means like you said, you’re not paying four months in advance, $5,000. You’re paying one week at a time, one week after another, after another as the client can afford it one step at a time. That requires, what I’m hearing, is real clear communication like let’s look at the calendar. Here’s what needs to be done legally, here’s where we need to be at financially by these dates-

Dave Aarons: Yep.

Andrew Burgess: And making sure everyone is on the same page and things are going to be feasible at the beginning. Then as you go along step by step continuing to have that conversation around, okay when’s the next thing, when’s the next payment so you’re working within people’s budget but also communicating what those deadlines are. It’s a constant aspect of working with folks on these basis’ making sure you’re meeting each of these deadlines as you go along.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. From the lawyer’s perspective, it’s really no difference between this and the retainer as far as our pay goes because the retainer goes in a trust account and you bill against it as you actually do your work. So I’m not getting paid on any different timeline than a traditional retainer would be, it’s just the client pays on a different timeline. And so-

Andrew Burgess: I almost want to ask you to repeat that and yell it. (laughs)

Dave Aarons: (laughs) Yeah, right. Yeah. You’re putting a constraint on the client that is inhibiting your success and their goal of solving their problem by forcing this retainer. Which, the only thing the retainer gets you is security and peace of mind that you’re going to get paid but you can do it the way I did it with this client and I’m not doing any work in advance, so it’s not like I’m out any kind of work if she doesn’t come up with the money because I’m not doing it until I get paid for that segment. So, it’s not really different. You can’t bill against the retainer until you actually complete the work, and in this case, I didn’t actually do any work until I got paid. So, it works out the same from my perspective and it helps out the client from their perspective. It helps this person get the help that they need or otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to do it.

Andrew Burgess: Yeah, and furthermore, when you start to break up each phase of the case into tasks then it also gives you the ability to bring in an effective hourly rate for a flat rate task. Right?

Dave Aarons: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Andrew Burgess: If you’re going to do a ticket billed by hourly rate of $5,000 and it’s 20 hours at $250 an hour, regardless of all the tasks that are in there, you’re just going to be billing $250 an hour. Whereas, if you’re doing documents and getting that delivered to the client and you worked out a flat rate for each of these tasks, all of sudden you can start to leverage, and right now I think you’re still working as a sole practitioner, but down the road what a lot of our attorneys have done they hire a paralegal. They get some document automation software and will still quote the $500 but the question then becomes is, you know it’s going to take me two hours to do that at $250 an hour or could I do it in an hour and a half or maybe even an hour because I have a paralegal that’s going to draft up those documents or automate some of the document preparation with technology.

So now you can actually increase the amount you would earn from all the phases of a case by getting creative and offering flat rates for each solution because obviously, you’re delivering added value to the client by offering options in which they can pay as they go. Other attorneys wouldn’t even touch their case for them. That’s a huge relief because as you said, she’s over the moon happy because she’s able to work with you on a basis that she can afford. So she’s really happy. So you’re bringing that value to the client and so at the same time, you can extract additional value by offering flat rates and being efficient with your time.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew Burgess: I think that’s where a lot of attorneys don’t factor that in, is getting creative with offering these options and starting to become more efficient. So that they can see an even higher effective hourly rate than if they got everything all up front and just billed everything in just one hourly rate. Okay so, from there you’ve had some of the clients, maybe we can talk about the different options you offer. We’ve given kind of one hypothetical example where you started at a flat rate task. Then you’re doing one step at a time. So maybe that’s one approach. Have there been some other options or maybe you can do more of an overview of the different kinds of options that you’ve been putting together? Some people paying a bigger retainer up front, others doing just Unbundled then being done and proceeding themselves from there, maybe you can start to give an overview of some other options you’ve found that you’ve been offering as well besides that?

Dave Aarons: Sure. It’s really come down to … I mean you could call it three options, but it’s really just two. So when I meet with the clients I literally have three different plan engagement letters drawn up. Based on what we had talked about. They have an option to choose from, quite literally in front of them. The cheapest one obviously is the Unbundled service so a lot of times it’s just drafting and filing whatever documents that they need to be done. So, that’s pretty easy.

Then the middle option would be something similar to that. Here’s what it’ll be to draft the documents and here’s kind of an hourly rate going from there. If you just want me at this specific hearing or whatever it is, here’s how much it’s going to be. So, kind of the hybrid.

Then the traditional option of here’s the retainer and hourly rate and everything. And again, try to keep the retainers low compared to other attorneys and firms and really just depending on the client’s needs and depending on the complexity of the case and that kind of thing. We can always transition the situation where it’s more of a pay as you go once that runs out. So, pretty much by far, the majority of the clients end up choosing the traditional representation.

The biggest factor in their decision-making is going to be financial. A lot of them have already talked to other lawyers, other firms, they’ve been quoted this big retainer, they just don’t think they can afford traditional representation and all this kind of stuff. So, it’s really just kind of educating them on how they can afford the service that they need and what’s specifically the service that they need it.

They’ll initially want to gravitate to the Unbundled document production, and filing and that kind of thing. But, that’s really not what they need. They need actual representation. The courtroom is unfamiliar to everybody. That’s what people are uneasy about. That’s where the questions come in that they don’t know the answers to. A courtroom is a scary place if you don’t know what to expect and you’ve nobody to ask while you’re there. That’s really why they need representation. So, we just work out a way to educate them on how they can afford that. The option is always going to be, you can do this Unbundled option and I will draft the necessary documents and get those filed and get the case started or whatever it may be. Then later, once it comes time to go to court if you are not comfortable going by yourself and want me to represent you, call me and I’ll be there. Here’s how that will work going forward.

I’ve had a handful of clients where that has been exactly how it’s gone. They wanted to do just the cheaper option and then they ended up realizing they wanted somebody there with them in court to represent them in a more traditional sense. They’ve called back and hired me on that basis. So that’s happened a few times. But for the most part during that meeting that conversation steers them to the traditional representation service. It’s just a matter of coming up with terms that they can meet and are comfortable with financially so that they can be successful in whatever plan we set for them as far as payments go and they can get their problem solved.

Andrew Burgess: Right, exactly. Maybe what we can do is flush out … we’ve talked about having them get started with the Unbundled option where you’ve got the documents drafted, you’re offering a fixed flat rate like the $500 rate we talked about, then going one phase at a time from there. Maybe you could talk a little bit further about how that limited appearance works, at least in your local jurisdiction. What’s interesting is every state is different about how they deal with a limited appearance or how you’re representing someone for just one hearing. How does Cincinnati, the local courts, work around you as far as being able to offer one appearance. Is there some kind of form you file where you notify the court that you’re going to be doing that? If so, have you had any challenge getting off the record once you’ve done an appearance for a client in your local court?

Dave Aarons: So, in every case, I haven’t been able to do that. What happens is even if they decide they want a limited appearance they switch. So it ends up not being a limited appearance because they realize once … the day before court or the day of court they realize that they can not do this on their own and they need you there the whole time. The closest thing that I’ve had to a limited appearance was a client who already filed, this is like a motion of contempt for a divorce decree. This specific person had a debt that was supposed to be paid by the other party, it wasn’t. She had everything filed, had all the documentation, everything there, she was just like hey, I don’t really know what’s going to happen in court and I just feel like I need somebody there. Can you look over this and represent me? Sure. I’m not even sure that would be a limited basis because it’s just one contempt hearing and that was it.

It ends of being that people, nobody wants just a limited attorney, a limited basis representation. Everybody wants a full-service representation. The only problem, and the only reason they consider any other option is financial. So, you just have to work with them and educate them on how they can afford to get the representation that they want, which is full rep.

Andrew Burgess: Right.

Dave Aarons: That’s been the process. That’s been the whole idea of steering them into some sort of situation where we can all get what we need. I can get paid what I need to work with them, and they can afford to have a representation that they need and deserve.

Andrew Burgess: Yeah. Let’s take a closer look at that as far as how you’ve been able to work with clients on offering full representation under a basis they can afford because I would assume most attorneys that don’t offer that option is because they’re afraid they aren’t going to get paid. That they’re going to get stuck representing someone being on the record.

Dave Aarons: Yeah.

Andrew Burgess: I’m sure that happens to every attorney. It’ll eventually happen to you in certain cases as well. How have you been able to, I don’t want to say prevent that, but how do you work around that fear. How do you address that concern that you’re going to put together a lower retainer then make sure that … how do you ensure that it’s a plan that’s going to work and you’re not going to get in a position where you’re providing a ton of services and getting way ahead of what they’ve paid you?

Dave Aarons: Sure. So, a lot of that starts with the initial conversation with the client. Once you are kind of vetting the complexity and merits of the case, you can determine how much time this is actually going to take you. Once you determine that you can figure out okay, what are the financial constraints of this client? How much can they afford initially as far as a retainer goes? From my impressions and talking with these people. Do I think that they’re going to follow through?, do they have stable enough income to where I’m comfortable with them saying I can make this payment and them actually being able to follow through?

That all comes into play when determining the kind of initial retainer. I try to keep it as low as I can because I understand they have a problem that they need to be solved and they don’t know how to do that. It can be a scary place. Especially when it’s something like your children being taken away from you or something like that. You don’t have many options. You don’t know where to turn if you did you’d do it yourself but you just can’t. So I try to work with them the best I can because you’ve got to empathize with their position too. So, it comes down to a couple … you know a lot of clients where it’s just we talk about where they work, how much they get paid, specifically when they get paid, that’s very important and then talk about the time constraints of the case so a lot of times there just aren’t any. Especially if it’s somebody wanting visitation and there to file for custody or joint custody, they might not have any sort of specific time constraint where they have to file the initial complaint then.

We’ll come up with a number of whatever that retainer is, so say it’s $1,500 and they only have $800 today. Okay, fine. Let’s go ahead and meet. A lot of times what I’ll do is ask them when they get paid next and then ask if we can meet on that day. So if they get paid every two weeks, if they get paid on a Friday or whatever it is, then we meet on Friday. Their next payday. Then they can make the first payment. Okay, we’ll hold this and then two weeks from now when you get paid again, we need the rest of the initial retainer then I will file the paperwork and get started. Then we can go from there.

We’ll have a discussion up front saying okay, the retainer covers x number of hours, I think the total case is going to be these many hours, which a lot of time will be right in that ballpark. We’ll say, when I file this, this is kind of the timeline of how this case is going to play out. From the initial filing to the conclusion could be x number of months. So once we get that first retainer I think it might be five more additional hours of work more than this retainer so by the end of this case we’re going to need to get x number of dollars. So we’ll set up some sort of payment plan to go for, to figure out that cost.

It’s different with each client and each case. There are so many variables to it, but it just comes down to working out a plan that will work for the client and work for you and make sure it’s reasonable that they can stick to it. If you try to set up a payment plan and the person can’t meet that obligation it’s really not their fault. You’ve got to figure out a plan that works for them, that they can stick to. If you make the payments too high and they can’t meet them, then they’re not going to. They want to get the problem solved. I don’t think anybody is out there to try to stiff you on purpose, you just have to come up with some sort of plan that actually works for everybody so that you can get it done.

Andrew Burgess: Have you gotten any experience so far of what plans have worked well, what plans haven’t worked well? It seems like the main consideration is the time factor of the court, and the rate at which you have to get the work done by is the main limiting factor I would say of how you can put that plan together. Do you have any feedback on what’s worked well, what hasn’t worked well and how to work around those time factors?

Dave Aarons: Well, if there are some pretty big time constraints it’s going to have to be a higher retainer up front. It just depends on how many hours of work that are needed and that kind of thing. I had another client that we talked about the financial constraints and he wanted to make sure any task that he could get done, he would do so that it kept the cost down. The best thing that you can do in all these situations is to make sure that you have a really good line of communication. It can cause an issue because of course, you want to bill your time when you’re on the phone with your clients or whatever solving their problem but I mean you need to be able to communicate precisely what needs to get done and when so everybody is on the same page as far as schedule and timing and everything like that. Especially when there are time constraints like there can be often times.

Andrew Burgess: Is there a way, I’m sorry, is there a way where you are able to have, like something you give to the client where they have a clear schedule or do you put it in their calendar or is there a way when you communicate they know, I don’t know, just to keep them organized. Is there something that you’ve developed to make sure that happens?

Dave Aarons: Well, yeah. I’ll put together a payment schedule if it’s something like that. It pretty much corresponds with however they get paid. If it’s weekly or bi-weekly I’ll send an email, actually write up a letter that we sign during a meeting when we come up with a plan. So the plan is written down here, the dates of the payments that need to be made, here’s the amount and all that kind of stuff. They sign it and I scan it and email it over to them so they have it. We stick to it. So you have that tool and then if it comes to Friday payday and the payment isn’t there you call them up, everybody hates chasing the clients for money, but at some point, you’re going to have to do that.

When you have it this structured it really helps everybody to stay on the same page. They have a goal that they can see visually that they know what they have to do to accomplish in order to get the help that they need. So, that’s worked pretty well for me and at the end of the day, they need to have their problem solved. That is their goal. They came for help and that’s what they need. They’re going to try to do everything they can to get that problem solved and this is just part of it. So, yeah, writing down that structure has been pretty helpful.

I haven’t, Graham and I talked about this, I really haven’t taken too many credit card payments, for whatever reason. For the most part, have cash or certified check or something of that sort. So I know we talked about how you can automate payments and things like that but it really hasn’t come down to that for the most part for me.

Andrew Burgess: Right, yeah. There is a way when you start to get a higher volume of clients where you can put that together into a software and just have it process automatically, which in some cases can take off some administrative burden. Also, that can make it easier for the client because they just know that thing is going to go out automatically and only in the events that the software ends up, the payment not processing successfully do you have to have that conversation as opposed to having a conversation each time you need to make a payment.

Dave Aarons: Well, again I appreciate it. Thanks for sharing the results you guys have had and the strategies you developed to do that. There really is like you said, there’s validity here folks. It’s just the matter of restructuring how you think about how to work with those clients. Thank you for being so transparent about the way that you’ve been able to do that. We’re real excited about our future relationship and continuing to send you as many clients as we can that are in need of services in the Cincinnati area, so thanks again for taking the time to jump on the call.

Andrew Burgess: Thank you.

Dave Aarons: Alright, with that we’ll go ahead and wrap up for everyone else that’s been listening. We certainly appreciate your participation and dropping in on these podcasts every single week. If you’re enjoying the podcast feel free to share with anyone else that might benefit that maybe has been charging these [inaudible 01:03:06] up front and give them an opportunity to reconsidering offering these options and really start to look at the economics of helping more folks. Certainly, if you’re enjoying the podcast go on iTunes and leave us a review or rating because we certainly appreciate and read every one of those reviews, it certainly helps promote the show so other lawyers can hear about it and learn more about these options. We appreciate that, support as well. With that we’ll go ahead and wrap up and we will see you all on the next episode.

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Episode 23: Launching a New Solo Practice: From Law School Graduate to 65 New Paying Clients in 3 Months

Andrew Burgess is 9 months out of law school and has already built a thriving and successful solo practice. This growth is largely fueled by a high volume of Unbundled Attorney leads, his effectiveness in fielding those leads, and the affordable unbundled options he offers his clients. Today, Andrew shares the strategies he has implemented to make contact with almost every lead he talks to, and he provides a specific, detailed analysis of the economics of unbundling. He makes a very strong case to attorneys that by offering unbundled options they can provide valuable services to lower income families and still make a ton of money in the process.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The strategies Andrew has implemented that allow him to make contact with almost every lead he receives
  • How he handles the initial phone consultation that enables him to meet with 6 to 7 out of every 10 leads in his office
  • How to respond to clients when they say they don’t have a lot of money
  • How to represent clients on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, one step at a time
  • The importance of never pre-judging a lead, even if it states they have little or no money
  • How Andrew earns an effective hourly rate of $400 to $500 per hour with his unbundled options
  • An analysis of the three types of engagement letters he uses based on the types of unbundled or full representation options he is providing
  • How he helps keep clients that are on payment plans organized and paying on time
  • The best practices for offering payment plans, including how to evaluate the client’s ability to pay and scheduling payments, meetings and services accordingly
  • And much more...

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