Scaling Up Your Practice: How to Expand From Solo Practitioner to Small Law Firm in Under 3 Months
Welcome everyone. I am, as always, really excited about this episode. It is an interview with Rhonda and Jayshree Naidu, one of our provider attorneys out of Oklahoma, and they have gone through ha very significant transformation over the past three months we’ve been working together. They went from a solo practitioner, Rhonda being the solo practitioner attorney, to a small firm of now three practicing attorneys, going on four. They’ve been in the process of expanding to from Oklahoma City to include Tulsa, Oklahoma, as well as the greater central region of Oklahoma, and their goal is to expand to the rest of the city of Oklahoma, potentially by the end of the year.
In the process, have gone from nine active clients as of July 21st to 51 active clients as of the recording of this episode in just three months. This is a rapid scaling of a firm from again, sole practitioner to a small firm covering multiple cities and they walk us right through it. I mean from hiring the contract lawyers and how to do so ethically, to make sure that they are in fact contract lawyers or not, there’s not a fee split or rainmaking, and also how to build a staff that can support the volume and how to manage lead calls when Rhonda’s not in the office. It’s just incredibly valuable episode for any attorney that’s been considering expanding their firms, scaling it up either because of an increase in volume of clients or because you want to handle other regions of your state. This is the nuts and bolts, the how-tos, and the breakdown on exactly how to do that from a firm that is literally in the process and has just gone through this type of growth.
It’s just a really informative episode. We certainly hope you enjoy it, this interview with Rhonda and Jayshree Naidu, one of our provider attorneys out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Dave Aarons: All right Rhonda, Jayshree, welcome to the show.
Rhonda Naidu: Thank you.
Jayshree Naidu: Thank you.
Dave Aarons: I’m really excited about this opportunity for us to chat based on the feedback I’ve gotten in this incredible expansion you guys have been in the process of developing and the growth you guys have seen in your firm so I really appreciate you guys taking the time to come on and share how it’s been going for you.
Rhonda Naidu: We appreciate you being interested. We’ve been very excited to be a part of this program.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely. Maybe a great place to start is, Rhonda, you guys maybe give a quick, just background on as you’re starting the practice of law, the focus area of your practice and the region you guys are currently serving.
Rhonda Naidu: Okay, well I went back to school a little bit later in life and I got my undergrad degree and then went on and got my law degree, first at UCO with my undergrad, University of Central Oklahoma, and then I went on to OCU which is Oklahoma City University School of Law and got my law degree. I graduated in 2005. When I graduated, I was actually already filed and was running for state senate in Oklahoma and that was primary focus when I first graduated law school.
We ran all the way through to the primary and didn’t win, which at this time, didn’t make me real happy but now I’m very thrilled to be doing what I do. After about two weeks of shutting that down, I opened up my practice and have been going ever since. Jayshree, she was a part of my practice from about December of that year, which would’ve been 2006 forward, being the office manager of my practice and we basically have been running this together ever since.
I’ve always been a solo practitioner. It’s either been me and Jayshree and then we brought in my niece, Julia, who also has helped run the office as well and done reception work and is now our financial manager doing billing and invoicing and collecting of the finances. We started with Unbundled at the end of July?
Jayshree Naidu: July 21st.
Rhonda Naidu: July 21st, and have been going gangbusters ever since.
Dave Aarons: Right.
Rhonda Naidu: Literally.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, maybe a good place to start would just be an overview snapshot of where things were at up to July as far as, I don’t know, maybe the amount of clients or amount of staff or just snapshot of where things were and then there’s been quite a significant transition over the last three months of the way you guys have grown things out. Maybe you can take us through an overview of what has happened over these last three months and then maybe we can start diving into the processes and the things you guys have had to go through in order to make that transition.
Rhonda Naidu: Right, well up until July 21st, we had nine clients. We’ve got a spreadsheet here of all the clients that we have, that’s nine clients for 2016. We signed on with Unbundled on July 21st and we now have 50 clients for 2016, so that’s 41 clients since July 21st that we’ve taken on.
Jayshree Naidu: We just signed. Another client did a retainer today as well.
Rhonda Naidu: We now have 51 clients instead of 50 clients. We started out originally when I was contacted and we started out with just Oklahoma County. Oklahoma County and Tulsa County are the two probably most populated counties in Oklahoma and we did start it out with Oklahoma County and worked that for a couple of weeks or so. Then, we expanded to include Canadian County. Well and then we decided to go ahead and just do all the surrounding Oklahoma County.
Eventually, we ventured into Tulsa County and we have quite a few clients out of Tulsa County but we have looked for an attorney in Tulsa County to contract with and haven’t been successful in getting that taken care of. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve put that on hiatus for now and have just expanded our reach into the surrounding counties around Oklahoma County, which primarily just takes in the whole middle part of the state, and that’s what we’re focused on right now.
Like I said I’ve always been a solo practitioner with Jayshree as my office manager and then my niece coming in and helping as well and I’ve done that for years, basically, for almost 9, 10 years. Then, once we started Unbundled Attorney, within a couple of weeks, I realized that there was no way in the world I could keep up with all the clients that we were dealing with, whether we were just talking to them or getting them into talk about them hiring me. I realized very quickly that we needed to do something else and so, not only have we taken in two new attorneys, we’ve also expanded the actual office space that we were in because it was really set up for one attorney.
We talked with our building manager and we tore down a couple of walls so that we could expand into the office space next to us. We have hired two new attorneys to work with us and have hired other clerical staff to help and this is all done fairly quick. It was all done right on top of each other really because it was all happening so fast that we just had to make all these kinds of moves fairly quickly to make sure that we were actually representing the clients well and not letting anything fall through the crack.
Dave Aarons: Right, so I guess the first step is, “Okay, we’ve got a lot more clients coming in,” so there’s a need to immediately bring us. Maybe you can go one step at a time as far as once you guys, obviously, are getting the leads coming in, people are hiring you, you start to realize, “Okay, I don’t know if we can continue to sustain this amount of work. We need to bring on new attorneys.” What were the phases of growth that you guys had to? What’s that? Did you need to have some support staff first or was it we bringing up on attorneys? Maybe you can walk through how that’s evolved.
Rhonda Naidu: What we did first is we got … There was two attorneys that I was aware of, one that I had worked with in a different area of law quite a lot and I knew her work ethic. I also knew how she was in court and so I contacted her and she came in. She basically came on working even though we had the limited space. She was meeting with clients in my office or doing something. She was working that way until we were able to expand the actual office space itself.
We also brought in an attorney who was fairly new in the practice of law that we felt like she wanted to be mentored. We felt like we needed to mentor her more and so she came on as well. The first stage was really bringing in these attorneys because that to me was of utmost importance as making sure we were representing the clients well and making sure nothing was falling through the cracks in that respect. As it so happen, the people who leased the office right next to us recently moved out and so we contacted the building owner and manager and said, “Hey, we’re interested. We need more space now, not in the future but we need it like right now.” We looked around in the building itself to see if there was space that we could move into and we also considered just knocking down walls and venturing into this other space and that’s what we did.
We ended up knocking down a couple of walls so that we could just incorporate the entire unit as our unit. That was the next step was doing that, getting that done and providing office space for these new attorneys and our clerical staff as well. We ended up hiring someone on a part-time basis to do reception work and create files and help out somewhat with our financial manager. We’ve also-
Dave Aarons: I can only imagine when you guys were knocking down these walls and trying to do this expansion. It must’ve been a-
Jayshree Naidu: It was absolute chaos.
Rhonda Naidu: It was chaos. Yeah, because not only did we have new attorneys trying to bring in their furniture and trying to create their space, we’ve got walls that are being created and carpet needing to be put down and doors being made.
Dave Aarons: Just a sign on the door says, “Please excuse the transition here.”
Rhonda Naidu: Pretty much, I’ve had my former clients coming in going, “What in the world is going on in here?” “Oh, it’s just the new now,” all of a sudden, “All these is going on.” We had people that hired us through this transition. They were like coming in and looking at everything. We’re like, “Please, just excuse the mess. We’re just expanding.” It’s all happening. It felt like it was happening right on top of itself.
Everything had to happen in order for us to get where we needed to be because I couldn’t let one thing slide. We can have the attorneys in and basically what happens now is when a lead is called, they’re filtered either to one of those attorneys and occasionally, I’m taking one but I’m so booked up with what I had previously. I’ve told Jayshree that within the next month or two, we’re probably going to need to bring in another attorney just for the Oklahoma City area just because everyone’s getting saturated with how many clients we have. It’s just not stopping, which is a good problem to have.
Dave Aarons: Yeah and maybe you could talk a little bit more about this. We’ve a lot of attorneys that are dealing with the same challenges as far as how do we expand, how do we grow the practice with the new influx of leads. Can you share a little bit about how you forged the relationship with these attorneys, whatever you can share about how you structure when you bring in the client and they paid you? Do you pay the attorneys as contract lawyers within your own service or do you pay them specific hourly rate? Can you talk a little bit about that so that attorneys have a bit of a framework to use when they’re looking to bring in on other attorney or contracting with attorney in a different office, what that starts to look like?
Jayshree Naidu: Well I would say first off, for the attorneys that are listening, you need to be very methodical because this has the potential to get out of hand really quickly. Rhonda and I make a good team because she’s more big picture and I’m more detailed. Even when we were expanding the office, she was like, “Just sign the contract,” and I’m like, “No, we need to negotiate the lease.” We don’t just need to rush into this although we did rush into it, we got out of it what we wanted.
You just need to take it a step at a time and you need to be pretty methodical. As far as the attorneys that we hired, they’re contract attorneys so they’re 1099. In Oklahoma, you can’t fee split and you can’t rainmake, so to speak, and so what we do is we cover the overhead. They don’t pay us rent. We’re not subletting our office. We cover the lease, they office out of here, we pay their malpractice insurance. We pay their phones as far as the phones in the office. I don’t know if that answered your question but-
Rhonda Naidu: Then they get paid a certain percentage of what they work and we get a certain percentage and they get a certain percentage. That’s how we have structured it with them and that’s what we would like to do for attorneys that are out of county, that are out of this particular area, if we could get someone in Tulsa or other areas of the state. That’s how we would like to structure as well. We know of a space in the Tulsa County area that we could rent and we’re prepared to do that once we have an attorney there. We would do the same thing that we’re doing here, only as a satellite office in Tulsa.
We would cover the rent, we would cover their malpractice insurance and all their supplies and things like that but we would get a percentage of the hours they work on the clients they get from us and we would get a percentage as well. That’s how we’ve structured it and that’s what seems to have worked best. The two attorneys that we have right now are so busy right now that they … One of my attorneys is in Tulsa, she was there for a hearing yesterday and has stayed over. She’s got family there so she stayed over and is dealing with another client or two there today and she’ll be back in the office tomorrow.
The other attorney I have that works with me is going to be heading down to Norman and then over to Shawnee to deal with two clients. That’s all she’s doing, is working on clients that we’re giving her.
Dave Aarons: Right, I’m not sure if you’ll be open to share or not, it’s totally up to you but is there any specifics you guys can share as far as what you think is maybe a fair split on … I’m not sure what your standard hourly rate is, maybe 225 or 250 or whatever you’re billing by the hour, what that split might look like. That might change for you as this evolves but is it like one attorney gets 150 an hour, you get 100 or how does that usually pencil out or is it done on the hour, is it done on the case, is it on the rate? If it’s a flat rate, does that change or have you guys thought that through so far?
Jayshree Naidu: The hourly rate of the firm is $240. We bill all our clients at the $240 rate and then when it comes time to pay the attorneys, they get 55% and we get 45%.
Dave Aarons: Okay. The one thing also I wanted … Thank you for sharing that, appreciate it, Jayshree, so they have an idea of how to think about, how to create their relationship, what that financially could look like, it’s really helpful to share the specifics so thank you. You mentioned before, it was really important to be very methodical in the way you explore this, be very meticulous about the selection of the attorneys you guys work with, the leasing relationships and these types of things. How have you guys been able to balance that?
I’m sure it’s been a challenge mentally maybe and even emotionally to make such a quick and [inaudible 00:17:23]. I mean for three months, you guys have gone from a small office and just solo practice to three, going on four attorneys and multiple office and so forth. What has helped for you, guys, to keep centered and to make this transition intelligently from, say, to present and do so effectively as well?
Rhonda Naidu: I will say it was a little bit of a struggle for me as an attorney emotionally because I don’t know how … I don’t want to generalize all attorneys on how they think or personality wise, but I know that for me, I have pretty much been in control of my office, my clients. I knew every client that came through my office because they were mine. It’s been a little bit of an emotional adjustment for me to have to deal with that feeling of a loss of control, so to speak because there’s people coming in to my office now, names on my list of clients this firm are representing that I’ve never met and I don’t know these names and wouldn’t know these people on the street if I saw them.
That’s been a little bit of an adjustment for me but I know my staff well and I know the attorneys well enough to know that things are working well and are under control so I don’t have to deal with that. It’s just a personal issue more than anything. One of the things that we implemented almost immediately once we got this staff in was to have weekly staff meetings just to center ourselves and for me to be able to look at everyone’s face and say, “Okay, what’s going on with you? What’s going on with you? Do you have any questions?”
The attorneys will come and bounce issues off or questions off with me and that’s helped to have that staff meeting once a week. If we can’t meet once a week then I’ll send out a memo of the issues I have and they can send back a memo addressing any issues that they have as well. Something to think about that was something that we had to deal with is when you’re a solo practitioner, you have a certain amount of phone, you have a certain number of computers, you have a certain number of all sorts of things and that’s one of the things that we had to address fairly quickly was a phone system, trying to make sure we had phones in offices and phones for everyone and a system that would actually work. We do use our cellphone some when we’re not in the office but we wanted to have some kind of a system in place while we were in the office.
Computers, that’s another issue. We’re still in the process of acquiring enough computers for everyone. Those are things that when Jayshree says methodical, we’re extremely methodical and really not the kind of people that jump in and just start incurring a ton of expense without knowing for sure that we can sustain that expense financially and so we just take it a step at a time when it comes to all those kinds of things.
Those are things that every attorney needs to kind of think about, just because we extended our floor space and then also increased our rent to some degree, we had to think about phones and we had to think about computers and we had to think about all these other issues as well, and billing system and a working system for calendaring and docketing of things. We’ve had to deal with those issues as well and we have and we feel like we’ve been successful with that as well but it’s definitely issues that had to be thought about and discussed and decided on in how we were going to handle those things.
Dave Aarons: Yeah and Rhonda, you mentioned, I want to circle back a little bit, that you’re transitioning from being solo practitioner where … you mentioned the control and I think that’s something that I can only imagine that making that transition, I mean I have in business as well where we have to hire people to take over some of the tasks that initially, you start off doing everything yourself. Most attorneys start there as a solo answering the phones, handling every aspect of the case, dealing with email, just soup to nuts. Everything that you’re doing and so what has been helpful for you or was there a realization or something that you had to go through for yourself to be able to let go of the reins with certain things and just allow that because I remember, you’ve been bringing on someone on our team, it’s like those are things that you’re now paying them to do.
There’s an aspect in yourself that goes, “Well, if I could do it, I could be making that,” but when you really take a step back, you realize, “Well, there’s so much more I can accomplish if we’re all working together,” even if on individual task, you may not make so much on each one thing or something. How have you been able to reconcile that so that you can make that shift to the next level to grow?
Rhonda Naidu: It wasn’t easy, I will say. Even just the way that this system, the Unbundled Attorney system works was a transition for me because I didn’t deal with my clients the way that Unbundled like for attorneys to deal with their clients in such a way. I’ve never talked to my clients on this. If someone called in needing legal advice, they needed to come in and meet with me as opposed to just me talking to them on the phone. That was a transition for me and I adapted to that and was willing to at least entertain to see how effective the Unbundled Attorney program was.
It was highly effective in bringing in new clients and being able to service the Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County area. That took a little bit of an adjustment but I was open to it. Jayshree was somewhat forceful in saying, “You know, hey, just give it a shot, let’s see how this works. It won’t hurt to at least try it their way and see how that goes.” I did that and we’ve done that ever since and it’s really been very productive for us.
I think the key thing for me for dealing with this loss of control and knowing that I’ve got all these clients that are coming in I don’t know and I don’t have any dealings with. Just having the competent attorneys and having the competent staff that I have, knowing that they are very competent in dealing with the issues. I’ve got a financial manager that is trained on billing and she basically, what we do in our office is when someone comes in to meet with an attorney, they deal with the attorney. Initially, the client does and talks to the attorney and gets all the legal advice, gets basically what we call a blueprint of what can happen in their case and what we can do for them.
Then my financial manager takes over from there and discusses the contract, the payment arrangements, all of that and if there’s any question, whatsoever, they’ll bring that issue to me and get my okay. If it’s something a little bit out of the norm of what we do, before they will … and get my approval. Having competent staff, having competent attorneys, also having those staff meetings once a week, has really helped to make me feel like I’ve, even though I’m not in control of everything, at least I’ve got my finger on everyone, knowing what’s going on and how things are. If the things are moving the way they need to and not letting cases drag or not letting clients not get communicated with, things like that because that’s extremely important for me that we stay in contact with our clients as needed and things like that.
It’s taken a little bit of an emotional adjustment for me but I’ve got some really good people around me that support me and support this office and I think that really helped.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely, and you mentioned you’ve made some transitions from the way in which you used to work with your clients, so some of the strategies or processes that you guys had. Now you’re doing the initial calls with the leads and so forth. Can you talk about what those transitions were as far as the different ways in which you are now calling the clients and getting them in the office and taking a deposit or whatever was that you guys have implemented in order to be effective or were changes that we share with you that were suggested that you’ve now implemented that have positive impact you’re talking about.
Rhonda Naidu: Initially, for pretty much my whole career, I’ve had someone who’s been somewhat of a gatekeeper between me and the clients and so when anyone would call the office and we didn’t do a lot of advertising. The only advertising we’ve ever done primarily has been either through social or the phonebook and we did that for quite a while, the phonebook and we are no longer doing that either. My business was built primarily on word of mouth from people, either who had hired me previously or friends or people in the community, and so that’s how my business was primarily created over time.
If anyone called to want to talk to me and get legal advice, they would set them up an appointment. They would have an initial consultation fee whenever they would make an appointment. If they came in and they had paid that, if they hired me, that would go towards their retainer, if they hired me. If they didn’t hire me, then they some legal advice for, and we usually charge half of my hourly rate.
For right now, it would be $120. Before Unbundled Attorneys, they never got to really talk to me over the phone. Once we started with Unbundled, we did start using the script that you all have provided in regards to how to talk to the clients. I started doing that using that script of letting the clients basically do their initial consultation over the phone, that’s kind of how I looked at it, was that their doing their initial consultation over the phone. I’m getting all their information. I’m discerning whether it’s something our office can handle or not and if it is something that our office can handle, I give them an idea of yes, we can do that, yes, we do have a case, yes, there is some … You probably do need to get with an attorney. If that’s what you want to do, we ask them the questions like, “Have you talked to other attorneys? Have you considered using someone else?” It’s not unusual to hear the same stories that we hear through different other podcasts of people saying, “Yeah, I’ve called an attorney and they won’t see me for less than $3,000.”
If someone wants to meet with an attorney, we do ask that they pay that $120 to come in and meet with an attorney, and what we continue to tell them is that you’ve had an initial consultation over the phone, this gives you an opportunity to meet with an attorney face to face. If you hire us, if you hire this firm then that $120 will be moved towards your retainer. If you choose not to hire us, then you basically got to meet with an attorney face to face for $120 and get all the legal advice you could get for an hour for $120. I try to help them understand, “You just told me that you can talk to an attorney for less than 3,000. You’re actually getting the talk to an attorney for $120, whether you hire us or not.” That seems to go over well with our clients.
I initially was doing all the calling back of leads and my, Jayshree, my office manager was doing it occasionally when I was in court, because I am in court every Monday and Thursday doing a different type of docket and just family law. I was not necessarily available on Monday and Thursday to make those calls and so she transition to calling those leads on Mondays and Thursdays and she’s extremely effective. Her degree, her undergrad degree is a public relations degree and so she’s very well versed in talking to people and selling, in selling this office and helping the clients to understand what we can offer.
She started doing that initially or somewhat during the week and then I had to take a weeklong trip out of the city and she basically just stepped in and started doing all of the calling from that point forward for that week dealing with clients and nothing really fell to through the cracks. Everyone that would call, they were either setting appointments or saying they’d call back and making appointments later. She was able to get everyone on the phone and what we do is once when we get someone — if we don’t get someone on the phone, if we have to leave a message, then, we follow up with a text and/or an email letting them know that we have tried to contact them and that we’d be more than happy to visit with them and see what we can do to help them.
If we don’t get a response, what we have been doing is going back in some of the clients that we haven’t been able to reach and following up with another email or another text or another phone call, and just reaching out again. We do that about two to three times and if we don’t get any results from that, then we move on from that person. We have a lot of people that we’ll call, we’ll give the spiel, we’ll go through the script and tell everything and they may say that they can’t come up with $120 right now. It’s not unusual for that same person to call back next that afternoon or the next day or even the next week and say, “Hey, I came up with it now. I want to make my appointment. Can we do this?”
We are also open to doing and we have done a few phone consultation. We would implement Facetime or Skype consultations as well. We just don’t have very many people take us up on that but that’s primarily how it works and for my office with as many leads that are coming in, having someone competent who can actually follow up and call the leads as well, to take that off my shoulders. Some has been a huge benefit and I’m still very blessed that I have that.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, initially, you had been calling all the leads yourself. Can you talk a little bit about there’s been some attorneys that have shared that they tried to have someone else who are doing the call and usually, it was a secretary or maybe a paralegal or someone that maybe doesn’t have the background and skillset that Jayshree has. I’m sure that’s been a major factor, that she’s just a really good communicator. She’s going to be, you mentioned, sell the firm.
We had a previous podcast episode, maybe two with Tera where we were talking about sales and sales techniques and that’s a word a lot of attorneys, they will say, “Well, I’m not a sales person,” but in reality, the only way a client is going to enroll in your service is to sell as many. Convince some and share with them the benefits and the values of working with your firm versus anyone else so that is, in an essence, a sales call. You were doing that initially obviously have some success.
Was there a transition period where Jayshree was listening to you do those calls or how were you able to set her up to be able to take that over and be able to still be effective at doing those lead calls? Were you guys doing some of them together? Did you listen to her and make sure she was okay or was she just great right out of the gate following a script? What did that look like? What would you be looking for if Jayshree all of a sudden wasn’t able to do the calls or something, and you need to bring someone in, what would you make sure that that person understood how to do so that you don’t have what other attorneys have experienced where all of a sudden, they’re not having the same type of conversion rate from those initial calls?
Rhonda Naidu: Right. Well, I agree that Jayshree is set up in a way that she could take that on initially but what we did do, she did listen to me take some of these calls. She also has read the script that was provided to us through Unbundled Attorney and she read-through that and she bought in to that script and pretty much made it her own. She uses that script pretty much with every client that she calls.
I’ve got other people in my office that I don’t know that I would loosen the reins on as far as allowing them to be the ones to call. I would want to make sure that someone has read the script, knows the script and invested in the firm to the point that they know that they do have to make those, it is a sales call. It’s not just a call, “Hey, I see you reached out. You want an attorney or not?” You’ve got to actually sell your firm because they don’t know you from Adam.
Most of the people that we had, that came to us prior to the Unbundled Attorney, were people that had been referred to us that had either used our services before, know me from this Oklahoma City area, know me in some way, shape or form. People that are calling or reaching out to us, through Unbundled Attorney don’t have any idea who Rhonda Telford Naidu is. They just know that they need an attorney. They know that they’re reaching out to some random person out there hoping someone’s going to reach back.
You do have to sell yourself. You have to sell your firm, you have to sell what you can do and help them to feel confident that they are going to get good service and that they are going to be represented well. It’s going to be done at a pay scale that they can afford. I do emphasize to the people that we talk to that we aren’t free, we aren’t legal aide. We do expect to be paid by our clients and that we do offer payment arrangements and we offer it according to their schedule of payment and things like that. We try to offer it at a reasonable enough rate.
If someone retains us for full representation, their contract is initially a contract for 10 hours of work and that’s what they’re paying off. That’s their payment arrangement. If we go over that 10 hours, then that’s up to them if they want us to continue and we tell them upfront that a lot of, especially family law cases, divorces, custody proceedings can go over 10 hours fairly quickly. They know that upfront but they know that the contract itself is for 10 hours’ worth of work. If we go over that, the payments will just continue. If they have $240 payment arrangement each month, then they’ll just keep paying that $240 each month until their bill is paid in full.
Someone has to be very well versed in that language and like I said, they need to buy into that script that the Unbundled Attorney offers because that’s really what’s been effective in regards to reaching out to these people in selling the firm. I don’t know if Jayshree has anything she wants to add because she’s been doing the majority of the calls because literally for the last two and a half weeks, really. I have been out of the office in some way, shape or form, and have not been in a place to be able to make the call.
Jayshree Naidu: Well, I would say a lot of the ease of us calling or me calling the leads is we do have a payment plan to offer them. I know that’s scary for attorneys to not get your money upfront but payment plans are great. Just to give you an idea, just through Unbundled Attorney, and I just went through this list and it may not be completely accurate. I may be missing a couple of clients but through Unbundled Attorney clients, we have received in our hands $30,709 to date.
This is not including the $6,385 that clients are continuing to pay monthly through their credit card. On top of new clients, we’re still getting the $6,000 plus coming in monthly that we’re not having to chase the client for. Out of all these, we maybe have two clients that their card will decline. When we offer a payment arrangement, that’s residual money that’s coming in and they may not even have a hearing until February of next year but that money is still coming in. When we do have the hearing, we just pull that out of their trust to cover that hearing.
Rhonda Naidu: One of the things that I’ve been really amazed at is that I know what it’s like to be a solo practitioner and to live month to month not knowing if you’re going to have money to pay rent or if you’re going to have money to pay your staff or if you’re going to have money to eat on. I’ve been there and we’ve had really great years and we’ve had some really dry years depending on the economy and depending on just circumstances in general. One of the things that I’ve noticed after going with Unbundled Attorney is that almost without fail, if I go and I look at my bank account where the money is being funneled into, almost without fail, every day of the week, there has been a deposit made, which has been made I don’t know.
For any other solo practitioner out there, that wasn’t the case prior to Unbundled Attorney. I knew when money should be coming in. I knew what weeks were going to be better because of how we’ve structured our payment arrangements and I knew what weeks are going to be a little bit more dry and some a little bit more flushed. Literally, since we’ve started with Unbundled Attorney, there’s probably a handful of days besides the weekend, which there is no deposit made on the weekend, but Monday through Friday, almost, there’s probably just a handful of days since we’ve started that I can literally go into my bank account and see that the deposit has been made.
It may not be a huge deposit, but it’s something and every day, almost inevitably, in the morning when I go to check the bank account, there is money there. There is money that’s been deposited through either LawPay or something. We made the deposit the day before or something with a money order or whatever. That’s a nice thing to happen because when you’re a solo practitioner, you live according to how your clients pay you and if they don’t pay you, then you may not eat that day.
We know what that’s like and so to be able to have that money, that we know that every day because of the payment arrangements we’ve made or because of someone coming in and paying that 120 or someone hiring as full retainer. We know that if almost every day, there’s going to be at least something deposited into the account to cover these expenses, these extra expenses we’ve taken on or the payroll that we’ve taken on or things like that. That’s been a huge blessing by going ahead and going with this program.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, this is something that … I can envision this with a lot of attorneys and when we share these … recommend that they offer these options, I think some attorneys feel like what if they don’t make their payments or they see it as they’re setting themselves up to be in a position where they may not get paid and that’s a place of uncertainty that a lot of attorneys want to know I’ve got the money in hand, which is why I think the majority of attorneys out there require 3 to 5,000 upfront, because they’re understandably concerned that they don’t want to be in a position where they’re representing a client where they’re not getting paid anymore because they’re tied to their honor and records so they make sure that they continue to represent that client irperspective of their financial budget.
I think that’s really helpful, Jayshree, for you to share what the actual numbers are but there’s also the other side where now all of a sudden, because you’re offering these types of more flexible retainers, more affordable payment options and so forth, you have so many more clients coming on and so few that are declining on their bills as Jayshree shared that the upside of the amount of people you now get to work with and that are referring and the cash flow, like you said, the comfort and security of knowing that you guys have 6,500 plus and it’s growing every single month of money coming in no matter what, that’s already been secured by the firm.
Can you share how that’s been for you and what those number really look like for any attorneys that are reluctant about offering a lower retainer and doing the payment plans and so forth and how that’s transformed your firm and how that feels for you guys as well.
Rhonda Naidu: I can speak initially that before we started with Unbundled Attorney, we’ve always offered a payment arrangement of some sort. Maybe not quite like we’re doing it right now but we’ve always offered a payment arrangement because I’ve always been in the position and I couldn’t hire an attorney for $3,000 walk in with $3,000 upfront, so I know that that would be difficult for just about the majority of Americans these days. We’ve always offered something like that. It’s never been quite to the extent it is and it’s never been where it’s, to quote it, about $6,500 a month. We’ve never had it quite that high.
I will say though that, and I can understand an attorney being a little bit fearful of that if they’ve never worked with that kind of a payment arrangement or that kind of program but I will tell you, because we’ve always pretty much done it this way, there was an entire year that I was unable to practice law. For the most part, I was just surviving because I was going through cancer treatment for an entire year. Because we had set up these payment arrangements and because we had done our system the way we have, that’s basically how we survived. We had all those payments arrangements that were being paid monthly as well a little bit of savings that we were working off of. That’s what paid our mortgage and what paid our rent and paid our basic utility needs and got us through that year.
Had it not been for that, if we had done just come in with 3,000 or we don’t talk to you, I don’t know how we would’ve survived that year. That was prior to Unbundled Attorney but it still, with Unbundled Attorney, just in three months, we’ve seen that system that we’ve been doing and it’s been working, just be magnified tenfold because of continuing with this system in place.
Dave Aarons: I appreciate that and can you share a little bit more, maybe we can dive into for attorneys that are considering offering payment plans are but now, that they may be considering it, perhaps when they start to see the economics of it and also how good that can feel knowing that the basics are covered and you can then just go about the practice of law and working with these client, not having to worry about how you’re going to pay the rent at the end of the month.
Can you talk about the types of payment arrangements you offer? Maybe start with how you … do you communicate that specifics as far as what that retainer may look like on the initial call or do you really just talk about them coming in, putting together a strategy and just paying that initial 120 for that hour of time and then in that meeting, then you figure out where the person’s at financially, what needs to be done, how quickly does it need to be done and let that dictate how much they need to pay upfront, and what they’re going to be paying month and so forth. Maybe can you shine a little bit light on what those options will look like and how you convey that to the clients through this process?
Jayshree Naidu: Yeah, when we call a lead, we basically tell them to come in for a face to face. It’s going to be $120. Of course, by this point, we’ve already gauged whether they are price shopping or whether this is something where they’ve got a court date pending and they have to do this.
Dave Aarons: Yeah because that’s covered in the script, right, yeah.
Jayshree Naidu: Right, and so we’re able to gauge how desperate they are, for lack of a better word. Depending on what we hear, we do or do not say if you decide to hire our office, we just move that towards your retainer. There are some clients we don’t say that to. From there, some of them will ask, “What is your retainer?” What I always say is, “Our retainer is $2,400, it covers you for 10 hours’ worth of work. Now, in the event that you don’t have that upfront, we will certainly sit down and do a payment arrangement with you.” Some of them would ask, “What does that look like?” What I tell them is, “If you’re seriously interested in hiring an attorney, you need to have at least $600 with you.” That would be the 120 for the consult and 480 down.
I know a lot of marketing people say, “That’s a bad idea to tell them upfront,” but we’ve had tremendous success with just being upfront and honest and if nothing else, no one’s wasting each other’s time. If they don’t have the 600, and there’s been people that have told me, “I don’t have that,” but they will call me like the very next week and go, “My mom lent me $600, can I make the appointment?” I’ll take the $120 payment over the phone and they will walk in with the 480.
We structured the very lowest we will go is, on top of the 120, the 480 down. We won’t go below 480 because that kind of covers us for two and a half hours’ worth of work, which is what it usually takes to prepare the documents and file them. Then as far as our payment arrangements, after the down payment, we won’t go lower than $240. They can either make once a month payment in the amount of 240 or biweekly payments in the amount of 120 or even weekly payments in the amount of $60, which 70% of Americans can afford $60 a week.
They appreciate the fact that we don’t try and set them up to fail and we make it very affordable for them. By this point, we’re talking volume. We’ve got so much work and we’re getting, we’re obviously seeing a huge return on the way we do things. We do tell our clients upfront, “The minute you default on your payment, we’re not going to chase you for payment. We will call you once or twice, and then we suspend all work on your case.”
When Julia calls them and says, “Hey, I ran your card and it declined, we’re going to suspend work on your case,” they immediately will call her back and either give her another card over the phone or they’ll come in with cash. They’ll find somebody to call in with the payment because they know they’re not going to get a better deal than $60 a week.
Rhonda Naidu: Well and one other thing that Jhay has always done whenever she’s talked to clients prior to us using Unbundled Attorney services or even now, is she’s helped them to understand that if you’re not invested in your case, you can’t expect someone else to be. That’s one of the reasons why I have, over the years, when I very first started into practice, I didn’t charge an initial consultation fee. I was very busy doing a lot of work and being in court a whole lot of time without getting paid a dime.
That unfortunately by not charging an initial consultation fee, that’s the kind of clients we were getting were people that weren’t invested in their case and they wanted the attorney and they wanted the attorney to do the work, but they didn’t want to pay for that work. For the majority of my career, I have charged at least something. Whenever I’ve talked to a client or when before I talk to the client initially and someone else did, if they were really balking at paying that $120 or whatever that initial was, which is really, it’s half of an hourly rate. If they were really balking at it, we would say, “You need to be invested as much as anyone else does, so if it’s not worth $120 to either talk to an attorney, then you can’t really expect an attorney to want to sit down and talk to you either, if you’re not willing to at least put that forth, that little bit of money just to talk to the attorney.”
That a lot of times will resonate with an individual because like we’ve said, we’ve already vetted that they’ve probably talked to several attorneys that won’t even talk to them for $3,000. I had an individual tell me that an attorney told him without 10 grand they weren’t going to talk to him and I was like, “Wow, wow! Who’s that? I’d like to know who that is.” Doing it this way, we are able to represent more people and help more people. I know the perception of attorneys is they’re extremely, outrageously expensive. If I have to go hire one and we can be very expensive. I don’t disagree with that but I don’t think that we have to make it to where it’s out of reach for the general population because the people that do reach out to us, they have real needs and they have real issues that are going on and they do need help. If we can help them and I have very effective, strong, capable attorneys to help them, I want to be able to do that if they’re willing to invest the time and the money in it as well.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely.
Jayshree Naidu: We have clients from 2012 that still pay us, $120 every two weeks and they’ll probably continue to do that for another two or three years.
Rhonda Naidu: One of the effective things about my office and I, prior to becoming an attorney, I had had to use an attorney. I went through my own divorce years ago. I determined at that time that if I was ever sitting on the other side of the table, that I would make sure that one, that I responded to any calls or emails in a timely fashion within 12 to 24 hours of receiving the call and the email, because I had attorneys that didn’t. I would have to call numerous times to get any kind of a response and second, I always wanted to make sure that anyone that did retain us, that we were very diligent in sending out invoices and billing so that everyone will always know how much has been worked on their case, what has been paid, what is owed, and they’re never left in the dark.
Both the attorneys that I worked with, when I was going through the issues that I went through on a personal level, I never received an invoice until the case was over. Then it was like, “Here, you owe this much money,” and it was a huge amount. It was something that we hadn’t been prepared for. I think that’s important too, to be accountable to the clients that they know where their money is going by invoicing them. They know how their money is being spent and they’re also being held accountable for making those payments. That’s one of the reasons why I do have someone in my office that her primary focus is billing clients and invoicing them and making sure that the clients are paying and that the clients are being invoiced and that they’re getting their bill at each month.
Dave Aarons: I want to just clarify a couple of small pieces there to tie the knots because I think again, when attorneys very seriously considering all of these options, the details I think are very important for them to make that transition and not have to make any mistakes in the process. Jayshree, I think you mentioned, when you talk to them on the phone on the initial call, and you talk about them coming in, and again, $120 for an entire hour, that’s just very generous. I don’t know if you can clarify that they need to make an investment. I love how truth and honest you are about that. You mentioned if they asked what does the retainer fee cost, what is that. If they don’t ask that, will you leave that to the initial appointment and then deal with that in person?
Jayshree Naidu: Yes.
Dave Aarons: Okay, so only if they’re giving specifics, you’ll be very honest and I don’t know what marketing person would ever say, “If someone asks you, what’s your retainer?” You say, “Oh, we’ll deal with that later.” I agree with you 100% that you need to be transparent and honest and set a very clear expectation. I love that you’re keeping them accountable to the fact that they need to be invested, just as you are as well.
At the same time, if they’re not coming up with those questions and saying, “What specifically is the retainer going to be?” They don’t need to know that right then, that being able to sit down with them, have to meet you, go over their strategy, put together a good plan, and then understand the full details of what needs to be done on the timeframe, that would give you, I would assume, a lot more information and also, more comfort level on the client to be able to put that payment arrangement together and then communicate that in person, right?
Jayshree Naidu: Yes. Once they come in to the office, we don’t deal with the money side of it because the minute the consultation is over, they meet with Julia, who’s our financial manager, and all details are discussed with Julia. She’s the one that basically tells them what the retainer is, what the payment arrangement will look like. Of course, she doesn’t start out with, “It’s 480 down.” She will start out with, “This is what the retainer is,” and then she gauges their response and if they say, “Well, I don’t have that,” then she’ll ask them, “Do you have half of it?” If they say no then she’ll be like, “Okay, so why don’t you tell me what you can afford and I can work around that.” More often than not, they come up with more than $480.
Rhonda Naidu: One of the reasons that we started doing that was when I was dealing with billing or if I was dealing with invoicing and billing or trying to collect money from a client, that puts me in an adversarial position with my client. I’m supposed to be representing them and advocating for them and so putting me in an adversarial position with them isn’t in the relationship’s best interest to be able to represent them. That’s what I will … I make sure that the attorneys that work for me as well as myself, that we convey that to the clients that we’re here to represent you as your attorney, that is our job. We will deal with the legal issues. Everything on the legal end of your case will be dealt with, with the attorney.
When it comes to the financial end of the contract, the payment arrangements, the billing and all of that, you will deal with Julia on that and she deals with the collecting. She deals with the, “Hey, your billed that your credit card didn’t run this month, what are we going to do?” Things like that and that way, it takes the attorneys out of that adversarial position and is just able to work for them. Julia also keeps us informed if a client’s not paying to let us know, “Hey, you need to be working on these other cases because this client’s not paying,” and so we need to stop work on that case.
That’s her responsibility to make sure that the attorneys know the financial place of each of the clients. That’s worked for this office to help keep those roles in place and basically, those boundaries more defined and helps the client. I know that I’ve had clients say to me how they really appreciate that because that way they know they can contact me and deal with me, and they know that ultimately and I would make sure they know that ultimately, everything.
The fact stops here with my name on this firm. Whenever Julia is meeting with the client, she has authority to go ahead and do their contract and make sure it’s in place up to a certain way. If it’s going to be deviated very much, she has to get my approval or she has to get someone’s approval in order to go forward with it. It’s not like she’s doing everything blind or without accountability either but this way, it just helps everyone to be able to either be an advocate for the client or whatever that is needed is taken care of.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, that’s a position that I haven’t heard as often is having a financial manager in the firm. Seems to me that that would really help when you’re meeting with that client to really just stay focused in on what do we need to do legally to help you. You don’t have to switch roles somewhere in that conversation and go, “Okay, well let’s talk about what it’s going to cost you to get this done.”
It’s just like you can just really focus in on, “Okay, well this is the legal aspects of the case, what needs to be filed, what is [petition 00:59:08] advising, helping the client feel more comfortable, just really focusing on the relationship between you and that human being and then that next step is handling someone else and really like you said, preserves that relationship doesn’t make it adversarial so that the quality of the relationship that focuses where you are best and then someone else can handle that for you.
Has that felt a lot better for you to be able to stay within just that one, just the focus of the legal case itself and not the finances?
Rhonda Naidu: It does and don’t get me wrong, I mean I’ve had to file motions to withdraw for not making their payment arrangements and I have to do that. I have to be the one in court. I have to deal with that adversarial situation. As attorneys, we all have to deal with that but as a general day-to-day practice, it’s really nice to not have to do that. When I meet with a client initially, eventually, they’ll get around to, “Well, so how much is it going to cost me?” or, “What am I looking at here?” I’ll tell them, “If you’re ready to proceed and looking at hiring me, I need you to speak with Julia and go over the contract and what that’s going to look like and I can’t start working until the contract is signed until all of that has been formulated.”
I walk them in to Julia’s office and she takes care of that. That’s a real load off of an attorney’s back of knowing that I’m going to handle the legal issues, I don’t have to deal with the billing issues. I don’t have to deal with all of that. Yes, it’s definitely a … It’s nice to have that.
Dave Aarons: And you don’t quote this so if I ask you at that point, you say that Julia can work with you specifically on what our fee structures are, we do offer payment plans but you don’t really get in the specifics because that’s not your role. Your role is just to help them with their case and then Julia will share what the different fee arrangement options there are and how they can go about proceeding from there.
Rhonda Naidu: Right, I mean I have. At some points, I have gone ahead and gotten into it a little bit but I really try to keep that with them talking that out with Julia because Julia does negotiate with them and talk to them about all that. I really prefer her to be able to do that. If someone’s like, “No, I just really want to know what is your retainer? What does it look like?” I’ll tell him, “Our retainer is $2,400 upfront but if you can’t do that, we can make payment arrangements and work with you on that and then I’ll continue.” I push them towards, and Julia can talk to you about that and then you can work all that out with her and they normally will go ahead and go forward with that.
Dave Aarons: Right, exactly.
Rhonda Naidu: Then I will say, if we can get these people, if we can talk to them over the phone and we get them into the office, I would say about 80, 85% of the people that actually make it into the office hire us in some way, shape or form. We know it’s key to get them into the office.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, because as you said before, they don’t know Rhonda Telford Naidu yet so the opportunity for them to come in, meet with you, sit down, and also develop a relationship with rapport and trust and confidence is really, really important.
Rhonda Naidu: Right.
Dave Aarons: And you guys obviously have a great process in order to get them to that next step. I’ll spend just a brief moment as I know you guys offer unbundled services where you do just docking preparation then let the client file themselves and so forth. I know most of the clients because of the flexibility for payment options have been using the payment plan approach but can you maybe just spend a minute or something on the unbundled options you offer as well because you have had a few clients take you up on that too.
Rhonda Naidu: We offer unlimited scope as far as we’ve had a client hire us to just do some research. We’ve had a client hire us to just prepare documents. We had a client who he wanted, he’s basically hired us to retain full representation but he took the paperwork, he made his own copies. He didn’t want us to do that. He didn’t want to be charged for his copy, things like that but we have maybe a handful of people that will hire us to do just one thing or just a couple of things. It’s a little difficult in Oklahoma to enter a case on a limited basis. If you enter a case, if you file an entry of appearance, you can file it as a limited appearance but once you’re entered into that case, most judges, it doesn’t matter what your entry says, they’re expecting you to be there.
It’s a little difficult to enter a case just for one hearing or just for show cause hearing or just for a temporary order hearing, if you’ve entered for that reason, more likely than not, the next hearing that comes up, if you’re not there, even though you’re entry may say it was only for that one hearing, a judge is going to expect you there. That makes it a little difficult as far as doing that kind of representation but we can definitely create just the documents and let the clients file those themselves or do research or write a letter, we’ve offered that.
There’re certain situations that it just requires writing a letter to an individual to maybe get them to start complying with their original order, things like that. I’ve done that over the years as well through Unbundled. Like I said, probably a handful of people have hired us on a limited basis.
For the most part, people that come in and hire us, they want an attorney to be with them start to finish because it’s really scary to walk into a courtroom and represent themselves. I always tell the story how my daughter ended up in a courtroom one time, not too long ago and she came and talked to me later and said, “They just speak a whole different language.” “I know that and that’s why you need to have an attorney with you.” That’s how a lot of our clients feel. They’re entering into a forum that they just don’t know the language that’s being spoken and so they absolutely want someone in there with them.
It’s only a handful but we definitely offer it and I know in every call that I’ve ever made to any of the leads, I make sure that they know that we offer that plan and if that’s what they want, we’re more than happy to accommodate them and I would say 95% of them say, “Oh no, if I hire you, I want you for full representation.” That’s the reason they’re looking for an attorney is someone to basically hold their hand through the whole process.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, exactly, the fact you guys are making it so affordable, it gives them that opportunity and usually, the Unbundled option comes into play if there isn’t another option where they could afford a full presentation, the Unbundled is a dropdown because I think most people would want to have a lawyer representing them in court if they have that option. It’s not something they do every day whereas lawyers are. The fact that you guys have made that so accessible, it’s no wonder they’re choosing that but even for some folks that want to cut down the cost further or even maybe can’t even afford that aspect, that option is there so that’s great.
The final thing I want to cover on the payment plans and then I want to ask you guys about the expansion and maybe a couple of steps on that and then we’ll go ahead and wrap up the call, is the payment plans, sometimes you guys are doing maybe one hour of payment per month, have you found that that has been lockstep with the amount of work done? Sometimes when you have someone that’s filing a response or in these specific timeframes, there’s more work and more hours need to be put in that case than maybe would be covered within the payment plan you just described?
If you have a situation where you have to do more work on a specific case, do you require more upfront or do you stay within this framework on good faith that they’ll be [inaudible 01:06:29] you when you make those payments even if there may not be more work to be done. How have you managed that or is it usually, most of the time, it’s one hour a month as what we found we have to invest in the case so we’re pretty lockstep with what they’re paying versus what we’re delivering as far as services.
Jayshree Naidu: There are cases where we’ve invested three or four hours in a month and the client has only paid for one hour, and we just go on good faith because their hearing may not be … We may do all this work upfront but their hearing may not be for another three months. That’s not unusual at all and so within that three months, they’re still continuing to make those payments.
Dave Aarons: Right, so it would be unusual overall for you guys to fall too far behind or too many hours behind as far as what they’re paying you versus what you’re providing as services.
Jayshree Naidu: Correct.
Rhonda Naidu: If they stop paying, like I think right now, it’s the first of the month, Julia’s doing billing right now and so she knows exactly who’s been paying and who hasn’t. I think right now we only have two clients that have not followed through with their commitment. I know she’s already gone to the two attorneys and said, “We haven’t gotten payments in the last month from these people so don’t work on their case right now.” That’s really the only time we stop working on a case. We won’t put any more energy into it is if they stop making their payments.
If they’re making their payments diligently then we’re doing the work that’s needed as much as we can. Now we may not … If there’s someone else that’s needing more work ahead of them, we might take that into account but for the most part, if they need work done, we’re doing it unless they stop paying.
Dave Aarons: Right. Two clients out of what, 51? A clarification on that so …
Rhonda Naidu: Right.
Dave Aarons: I’m not a quick math but that’s like 2 or 3%, I think.
Rhonda Naidu: Yeah, right.
Jayshree Naidu: I mean it’s going to take a leap of faith for any attorney to do this.
Dave Aarons: Yeah.
Jayshree Naidu: To offer the payment arrangements and we do it because we’ve seen that it works. Now, have we gotten burned a couple of times? Yeah, absolutely we have. Compared to the times that we’ve not worked on a case for months and we still get that income, merely because they’re paying off what they’ve owed us, that’s not money that’s just sitting in our trust. That’s money that’s been earned.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, and I would say even more importantly, you mentioned 70% of Americans can afford that so the amount of times you’ve been able to open the door for these families and these individuals to be able to have access and get the assistance of an attorney when they otherwise could not, and in many cases had been turned down by one, sometimes multiple attorneys requiring 3,000, I think above and beyond any of the financial benefits, which are obvious and clear with the numbers you guys have shared. You’ve been able to open that door for someone that otherwise, the assistance they needed to pursue custody or visitation rights or get the time they needed or justice for, whatever it is that they’re need help to do, now all of a sudden they can do it when otherwise, they would’ve been left on their own.
Interestingly enough, 70% Americans, that’s about how many people right now are filing pro se in the family courts. It’s about 60 to 70%, depending on the court, sometimes higher, are people that are being forced to go it alone. That’s what you guys are making possible is that those folks no longer have to go alone because if it was 3,000 upfront, they couldn’t afford it but with the options you’re offering now, they can.
Jayshree Naidu: I think a lot of it is we always … Yes, we are here to make money. This is our livelihood and the more profit the better but I think what we really try to do is keep in mind that at the end of the day, we are a public service. To be accessible and for everyone to feel like they have access to our legal system is very important to us.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It’s really important to us too and I really appreciate you sharing that. I appreciate that commitment you guys are bringing to your clients and it’s threaded through everything that you guys offer and the way that you communicate, the way you’re responsive, the types of options you’re offering so I really commend you guys and appreciate the fact that you take that as a core philosophy in the way that you do your work.
Jayshree Naidu: Thank you.
Dave Aarons: You’re welcome and the final thing I think we should cover real briefly here and then we’ll go ahead and wrap up. I appreciate all of your time today to share this transition and the options you guys have implemented in order to serve clients we’re sending in such an unbelievable way, is how you guys … I know you’ve been working on Tulsa, you’re still looking for that contract lawyer that’s going to work with and be able to handle those cases but for attorneys that are looking at, okay, well right now, I cover this small region, if I were able to, say, expand to that other large town in my state or let’s say, it’s Illinois and they’re in Chicago and they want to say, “Okay, well, maybe we could do Rockford, Illinois. Maybe we could get to Springfield.”
Individually, it doesn’t make sense for them to be able to drive two, three, four hours to another part of the state to provide service to that client. It’s not feasible financially, it doesn’t make sense, and maybe initially to get this going, you have to hassle a bit to make that work. How have you guys been able to bridge that gap to where you can start considering how could we go about implementing this statewide and stair stepping that bridge of distance by working with these contract lawyers and creating these relationships so that you can start to branch out your firm to serve other areas of the state as well?
Rhonda Naidu: Like what we said, we did initially start with … We did open up Tulsa and we’ve put that a little bit on hiatus for right now but we have literally, what we’ve done is taken Oklahoma County and then just every county that touched Oklahoma County, we expanded into those counties and then we’ve eventually, we’ve literally taken over pretty much the entire middle part of Oklahoma.
One of the attorneys that I have that is working with me, she lives in Logan County, which is the county just north of Oklahoma County. She basically is going to, from this point forward, any clients that come in that are in the northern part of the state, we’re going to let her pretty much primarily take care of those clients. The other attorney and I will take the southern part of that region that we’re taking care of. In regards to getting other attorneys, we’ve advertised with the law schools and we’ve just put out fillers, I’ve put it out through Facebook on a couple of different pages.
We’ve talked to a couple of attorneys but we because of the issues of fee splitting and rainmaking and things like that that we can’t do here in Oklahoma, we really need someone that is contracted with us. Until we get that good fit we’re not willing to expand to that person just yet but it is a challenge that we’re hoping to overcome because I do want to take over the whole state and right now, we’re just … like Jhay said early on, that we’re pretty methodical about it and until we get the right fit, we’ll just keep centering on what we can do and keep putting fillers out till we find someone that’s going to be able to work with us the way we need them to.
Dave Aarons: Are there any specifics that you guys are very methodical about, whether it be a philosophical match to making sure that they are willing and comfortable and open to offer these payment arrangements that you’ve shared and these options, the way they communicate with their clients or the types of contracts they’re willing to work with. What are some of those things that you really want to be most methodical about?
Rhonda Naidu: Exactly what you said, I want them to basically be comfortable with the way we do things, the payment arrangements and things like that. We did initially talk to an attorney that she’s got a lot of experience and I thought that the relationship might work out. She was willing to contract with us but she was going to continue with her own practice and basically, what we felt like, she would, and this may not have been what she intended but it felt like she would be utilizing the office space that we would rent for her and the resources that we were going to give her to not only be contracted with us but to do her own thing as well, and that appears to be more like a fee splitting arrangement and we can’t do that.
We need someone that’s willing to contract with us and basically work in an office that’s paid for and start getting clients that will do the payment arrangements, if that’s what they need and just have that same philosophy that we do. II have an attorney that’s very new working out of my office and I’m comfortable with that right now because I can mentor her and basically, she can shadow me and I can overshadow her and make sure she’s doing everything correctly. If I get a contract attorney in Tulsa or in Southeast Oklahoma or any of the other farther counties in Oklahoma, that is brand new out of law school, I’m going to need to mentor them as well. I’m not going to feel comfortable if they don’t know what they’re doing.
I’m going to need an attorney that has at least a little bit of experience under their belt that can be a self-starter and can be someone that can ask questions if needed but also knows family law pretty well and know the procedures pretty well that can work on their own if they’re going to be contracted with us.
Jayshree Naidu: One of the things too is we know our system works. I mean in three months, we’ve seen it work and so we would need an attorney that would buy into our system.
Dave Aarons: Absolutely, so you have a philosophical match, what you guys are sharing on the front and the lead calls. Just briefly on that, so you guys would continue to have the lead calls come through your firm and then once you’ve talked to the client and then you’re … essentially at that point, you’re then assigning them to come meet with that contract attorney, which is I’m assuming the same things you guys do within your current firm. Okay, you’re going to be working with attorney so and so, she’s going to be helping you with your case, we’re going to get you scheduling to meet with her, would be the same thing where you’re basically just doing [inaudible 01:17:11] lead calls within your own office and then just doing a handoff where they’re then coming in to meet with that contract lawyer in that city.
Rhonda Naidu: Correct, that’s exactly what it would look like.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, great. Okay, so in that-
Rhonda Naidu: That comes from a place of either I’m comfortable calling the leads or I’m comfortable with Jayshree calling the leads. I’m not comfortable with anyone else doing that because I want to make sure that what is being conveyed to the potential client is what needs to be conveyed and not just take him in and meet with us and here’s our fees type thing but actually spending that time selling the firm, following the script of knowing where these clients are coming from, their case, what they’re looking for and all that. I have confidence in our system and how it works here and who is actually fielding those calls as opposed to just passing that off to someone else in a difference county.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely and that’s really critical. I’m glad you guys embraced that, that initial call. If anyone’s listened to any other episodes, the repeated thing is how important it is to make sure that that call is handled properly, handled in real time, they get the text, they get the email, they have someone that’s doing the talk and sell the firm and share the idea and build that relationship over the phone. Keeping that in-house, something as you guys focus on.
From there, they can make a transition to an attorney that, like you said, has the same philosophical approach, who’s willing to buy into and is, believes in what you guys are doing as far as making services more affordable to folks and opening that door and still offering these payment options. Really, at this point, it sounds like you guys, it’s just the hiring challenge from this point on is just finding that good fit that’s going to be able to deliver services in that way and do it as a contractor in the way you described.
Jayshree Naidu: Well I would like to say something. Your company is absolutely fantastic in that when we signed up for this, we didn’t know how to do this but the resources that you all gave us, the script and just the mentoring that we got from [Graham 01:19:21], that’s invaluable. Most companies just give you the leads and they move on and you all actually took the time and then we would listen to these podcasts and we actually reached out through Graham to another attorney that basically sent us a blueprint of how he did things. That was invaluable.
I don’t want everybody to think that we just got this and we took it and ran with it. We had a lot of help along the way, whether it was from Unbundled Attorney itself or from an attorney from a different state that helped us. He sent us all his contracts and everything that he used and even how he hired attorneys. That was invaluable to us because we were reinventing the wheel. That to me is invaluable.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, I really appreciate you saying that. It really speaks to our commitment. I think we share a similar commitment to the clients and to the leads. These aren’t just leads to us, these are real people. We really do want to make a difference in the affordability and accessibility of legal services in this country and the only way we’re going to do that is we have to work together on that goal and find those strategies that are going to work best with the changing marketplace that’s happened here, going to two-thirds of people pro se. We all have to work together in order to solve this problem of injustice in this country. That’s our commitment, we really do want to see that happen for legal services and so the only way we’re going to do that is to be of support to you guys in any way we can.
I’m glad that that has made the difference for you and you recognize that has been helpful in as far as connecting you to another provider, attorney or network. I really appreciate that that attorney was willing to step up and share what it is that he’s doing. We’re in the midst of planning. This would be the first time we share this but we’re going to put on a retreat in a location, what may evolve into something that’s yearly where you can get to know the other hundreds of lawyers we have on our network. Anyone that wants to participate and share ideas and get to know each other in person because there’s so much more we can all accomplish if we’re all working together for the same goal.
Jayshree Naidu: Yeah, that’ll be great.
Rhonda Naidu: Yeah, that’s an awesome idea.
Dave Aarons: We’ll be looking forward to putting that together probably for summer of next year. I will keep everyone posted on that.
Rhonda Naidu: Perfect.
Dave Aarons: With that, I really also want to thank you both for taking the time to come on today and again, just like everyone else has shared so openly about the way in which you’ve been working with your clients and finding more affordable ways to meet their needs and we couldn’t be happier with your results and the amount of folks that you guys have been able to serve. It’s been a real pleasure to work with you, to be of support, and just really excited and thrilled of our relationship going forward as you continue to expand out to Oklahoma and continue to refine the way in which you continue to serve your clients. I really thank you guys.
Jayshree Naidu: Thank you so much.
Rhonda Naidu: Thank you.
Dave Aarons: All right, with that, we’ll go ahead and wrap up for today. For everyone else that’s listening to the show, if there’s anyone that you feel like could benefit from these episodes and could start implementing some of these practices, if you guys know any attorneys in Tulsa, Oklahoma that happen who might want to work with this firm, feel free to reach out to them directly as well. If you are an attorney that handles Tulsa or you know someone that might want to that might share this philosophy then they may be happy to hear from you.
For us, as far as the podcast as well, feel free to jump online, share review on iTunes or give feedback to us as we read every review and would love the feedback. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll see you all on the next episode and thanks to our guests today. Thanks to everyone else for participating.
Rhonda Naidu: Thank you.
Jayshree Naidu: Thank you.
Dave Aarons: For more information about how our lead generation services can help you grow your practice, visit our website at www.unbundledattorney.com. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please be sure to subscribe so you get each new episode as soon as it’s available and leave us a rating and review on iTunes. Once again, thanks for listening.
Episode 18: Scaling Up Your Practice: How to Expand From Solo Practitioner to Small Law Firm in Under 3 Months
Rhonda Telford Naidu has been an Unbundled provider attorney out of Oklahoma City, OK for about 3 months. During this time her client base has grown from 9 active clients to 51 which has required her to hire two new attorneys. She is also working on opening new offices that will allow her firm to expand to serve the entire state of Oklahoma. Today, she and her partner/office manager, Jayshree, walk us through how they have scaled their practice so quickly. They also give us a very convincing argument for why it makes both moral and financial sense for attorneys to offer payment plans for their clients.
To read the complete transcript of this interview, click here
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- The main phases for scaling a law firm, and the how to execute them in the proper order
- How Rhonda and Jayshree were able to leverage internet leads and acquire 41 new clients in only three months
- How to source, hire, and pay contract attorneys to work in your office or open satellite offices in other cities
- Some of the emotional challenges and personal barriers that come with transitioning from solo practitioner to a small firm, and how to overcome them
- The value of hiring a financial manager to communicate your fees, work out payment arrangements, and handle billing issues, so you can focus solely on serving your clients
- Why attorneys should make the “leap of faith” and start offering payment plans to their clients, and how the monthly cash flow can significantly impact the health of the business
- Why they charge a fee for clients who meet with them in their office, and the strategies used to sell their consultation and services on the initial phone call
- How to transition someone else in the firm to field the lead calls for when you are unavailable
- And much more...
To read the full transcription from this interview, or to ask a question or make a comment, click here
If you enjoy this podcast, please head over to iTunes, subscribe to the show and leave us a review. We love hearing from our listeners and look forward to reading your feedback!
For more information about Unbundled Attorney and how our Lead Generation services help grow your practice, visit: https://www.unbundledattorney.com