Streamlining Your Enrollment Process: Electronic Payments, Online Client Intake, and Creative Unbundling

September 23rd, 2016

I’m quite excited for this next episode. We interviewed Obreziah Bullard whose one of our provider attorneys out of Atlanta. We cover a range of things in this conversation, but we also added a number of very creative options as she’s developed in addition to the standard unbundled, drafting limited appearance, and counseling. She offers things like writing a letter, negotiations like alternative dispute resolution, and really has developed a creative suite of options that can fit into almost anyone’s budget.

We talk about the types of cases that may not be a fit for unbundled, which is a lot fewer clients than maybe most attorneys would think, and also dive into the process she’s been developing that has allowed her to convert about three-quarters of the leads we send her into paying clients. 15 out of 20 clients we send her to end up hiring her for some level of service and even more importantly and more impressively in my mind, about 98% of the clients that she enrolls enroll with her right over the phone. In other words, they never even come into the office.

She has a law practice management cloud-based practice management software she uses where she electronically sends the retainer agreements, the documentation, and everything they need to make the payment right there electronically and delivers the services electronically. Clients can then download the documents and really has developed a streamlined process where she can get documents out the door in as little as an hour to an hour and a half, including the time of her paralegal. It’s a great example and a great window into the modern practice of law, embracing and leveraging technology to be able to streamline the practice, deliver the task and deliver these services much more efficiently, much more quickly.

As a result, delivering great value to the client and also at the same time having a very, very generous effective hourly rate. It’s close to $500 per hour when she does the drafting. Really excited to dive in today and we certainly hope you enjoy the episode. With that, let’s get right into it, this interview with Obreziah Bullard, one of our provider attorneys out of Atlanta, Georgia.

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: Obreziah. Welcome to the show.

Obreziah Bullard: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. Really appreciate coming on to share how you’ve been doing and the process you developed and the excellent results you’ve been creating the clients we’ve been sending you to the Atlanta, Georgia area. Really appreciate jumping on and take the time and looking forward to diving in.

Obreziah Bullard: Wonderful.

Dave Aarons: All right. Maybe a good place to start today would just be to get to know you a little better. Maybe you could share a bit about your background, where you went to school, and the focus of your practice in the Atlanta region.

Obreziah Bullard: I attended school at Atlanta’s John Marshall. I’ve been practicing law for only three years, but I’ve definitely had my feet flat. I do primarily family law. I do a little estate planning and probate as well, but I would say about 80% of my practice tends to focus in on family law.

Dave Aarons: You’ve been servicing a few different counties in the Atlanta region. Maybe you can share a bit about roughly how many leads or so, how many clients we’ve been sending you, roughly how you’ve been doing from a conversion rate standpoint and then we can start to dive in because obviously, these are pretty good numbers. I already know what they are, but maybe you can share that and then we can start to dive in a little bit more on how you’ve been able to accomplish this.

Obreziah Bullard: Certainly. I service about I believe three different regions. I did on a good week about four to five leads per day. It tends to average to be about 20 leads per week sometimes. It gets lower sometimes, which causes it to be a little less, but in hypothetically a 20 lead week, I will convert approximately 15 in some type of service.

Dave Aarons: Right. Over two-thirds of the leads, three-quarters of leads you’ve been converting into some form of a paying client. We can kind of dive into what those options are on what the different levels. That’s an excellent conversion rate. From day one I think you really had some great results as Graham was sharing with me. Really happy to hear that things have been going so well so far.

Obreziah Bullard: Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative). They have.

Dave Aarons: All right. Great. Maybe what we can do is just dive right into from point A to point Z as much as we can just to identify what’s been working so well for you. One of the things that I’ve learned is that a lot of the clients you’ve been able to actually enroll right over the phone, which we have another interview coming out here at the same time with another attorney that’s been able to do that. We love to learn a bit more about how it is you’ve been able to do that. Maybe a good place to start is how do you currently receive the lead? Do you usually get it through the app, through your email or do you get the text message? What’s the way you receive the lead and then get notified you have one?

Obreziah Bullard: Primarily is through my email. I typically check my email quite frequently because it’s on my phone. I will receive the lead through my email and make initial contact almost immediately through two different forms and a phone call. Immediately try to send a text message. I would then try to send an email and then I would subsequently try to call them. I have a template that I use and that template is the same template that I use for emails and text messages. That way I don’t get overburdened with trying to come up with a phraseology that I’m going to use to send them an email. If I’m in court or if I’m in meditation, something where I could send something really quick via text or email. I already have a template.

I can copy it, paste it, simply change their name to making it more personable. Usually, I get a response if not immediately, then a couple of minutes to hours later. If I’m still occupied at that time, I just let them know, “Hey, I am in court right now, but I would love to talk to you once I get out of court. Can I call you at 4:00,” or subsequent to the court adjourning. They’re more than happy to just wait one or two hours for me to contact them because I did make that initial contact so quickly.

Dave Aarons: Right. In other words, even if you’re not able to speak with that person right then and there, you’re still sending them a text, sending them an email letting them know, “Hey, we received your request. Currently in a meeting. We’re going to talk to you soon.”

Obreziah Bullard: Correct. They’re always super excited just to know that one, someone is acknowledging the fact that they need help and two, someone is willing to give them a call upon their availability.

Dave Aarons: Right. I can’t really emphasize this point enough that even if it’s … As attorneys, you’re in and out of the office all the time. You’re in court. You’re in trial. I mean you can’t always respond in real time unless you have an assistant that that’s their dedicated duty. It’s understandable that you wouldn’t be able to always call leads in real time, but if you can’t, just sending that quick text message, quick email, something that reaches out to the client and notifies them, “Hey, we received it. We’re ready to assist you. We’ll be in touch with you soon,” has them stop … In many cases, will stop the search.

Because if they don’t hear back, they’re going to keep looking, keep trying to find the assistance that they’re actively looking for because most of the clients that are coming through have a real need they needed to be resolved immediately. Just putting out some form of a contact like that really helps them to know that they have someone they’re going to be able to talk to and makes it so they don’t feel like they have to keep searching for someone to talk to.

Obreziah Bullard: Exactly. Even if I’m not in court or mediation or if I’m not occupied, I do call. I don’t just exclusively email, exclusively send a text message. If I’m available, the first voice they hear is my voice. It’s not my assistant’s voice saying, “Can we schedule a call with Attorney Bullard or schedule a meeting with Attorney Bullard?” It’s my voice, so they know you’re speaking to the attorney.

Dave Aarons: Why do you feel like that’s been so important for you to be the one to reach out to the clients and speak with them?

Obreziah Bullard: Because I have so many …

Dave Aarons: I agree with that by the way 100%, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that.

Obreziah Bullard: I have so many people complain that they never get a chance to speak with the attorney. That the attorney is too busy. I can only get the secretary. I can only get the assistant. They feel like they’re important when you take out the time on your busy schedule to speak with them personally.

Dave Aarons: Some of the clients are surprised, right, that they’re actually are able to just immediately get access to an attorney?

Obreziah Bullard: I’m surprised at the number of clients that are surprised because that’s typically what I do for first initiations is I like to do it myself and I’m amazed at the number of attorneys that don’t do that.

Dave Aarons: Right. It surprises us too. It’s one of the first things we talk about anytime we’re working with a new attorney is that “This might be a little different the way you currently do, but it’s very important,” because people feel like you said, they feel important. They feel cared about when it’s the attorney that’s able to reach out.

Obreziah Bullard: I agree.

Dave Aarons: Now let’s say you’ve gotten them on the phone. You set up a time to speak with them or you’ve just reached them right then and there and they’re available to chat. Maybe you can talk a bit about what you cover on the initial consultation. I know your strategy is a little bit different because you’re going to give them some options, later on, to allow them to either come in the office or just get started with you over the phone. What’s your initial goal on the consultation and maybe you can talk about how you take them through that initial call and then we can start diving into some of the options you offer?

Obreziah Bullard: Initially when I get them on the phone, I introduce myself. I let them know that I’m here to assist them and I leave it as an open dialogue. I ask them, “How can I help you? What issue do you have that I may be able to assist you?” I begin to give me a background of what their legal issue is. Once they begin to give me a background, I can pretty much sense whether or not they’re going to need or what type of service they’re going to need. What I try not to do for at least the first couple of minutes is not interrupt them because I want them to feel as though someone is listening to their problem.

A lot of the clients that we convert, one of the things that they end up commending us for is taking the time to listen to them and not trying to force them into office to pay a consultation fee, not trying to rush them off of the phone because we’re too busy and we don’t want to deal with them. We get commended for just taking the time to hear their problem. Now I can’t take 10 minutes to hear their problem because I am busy as well. They don’t know that, but I can’t stay 10 minutes. Essentially I allow them to give me their issues in about two minutes. Then once they begin giving me their issue, I prompt them with a question because now I need to know what is the legal options that are available to you.

That cuts their story in half so they won’t keep me on the phone for 10 minutes, but we can get to the crust of the issue of the case. By the time we get to the crust and I prompted them with certain questions to inquire where we need to go with their issue, at that point I can discern from them and I can ask them what are you trying to do? What is your solution? If this was a best case, worse case scenario, what would your best case look like? They would tell me what their best case looks like and then I would tell them, “This is what you can do in order to get that best case,” and I’m able to give them what I can offer them as an attorney.

Dave Aarons: Right. Maybe we should jump to that point there. Now that you’ve listened to them for a couple of minutes, which is really key because really number one, they’re really happy to hear from you as an attorney, but secondly, they’re actually hearing from an attorney that’s willing to take the time to listen to their situation. That obviously develops a rapport of course. Certainly, it feels like again their issue is important to you and that you care enough to listen to hear it out and really hear what’s going on with their situation. I’m sure it really makes them feel comfortable right off the bat.

Obreziah Bullard: I think you actually used the key phrase, which is building that rapport because by building that rapport over the phone without them even having to see you in the person, they already trust you.

Dave Aarons: Right. Exactly. You’ve listened. You’ve asked some questions to really get down to your custody orders in place, what are the kid’s names, children, that kind of stuff. Then you’ve asked them if you could have your situation turned out exactly the way you want, what would you like to see happen? In a perfect scenario, what would you like? Now they’ve kind of painted the picture of this is what I want to do. This is what I want to see happen. From there, maybe you can walk us through the next step as far as giving them an idea of what needs to be done and then of course, how you can go about assisting them with making that happen for them.

Obreziah Bullard: After they tell me their best case scenario, what that will look like, I inquire and I say, “Well if that’s your best case scenario, what’s your budget? What are you able to afford into a plan in order to get that goal accomplished?” You have some individuals that say, “Well, I never thought about that. I don’t know what my budget should be. I don’t know what attorneys cost. I don’t know anything about the legal realm. I just know I need help.” If that is the response, then I try to give them a range and I give them an option of, “Well, if this is your best case scenario and this is your goal, this is what is going to encompass.”

If this is something that we can do a motion hearing, then I advise them that we can accompany you to that motion hearing or to mediation to help resolve the case without it having to go to litigation. I also tell them the cost associated with that. I tell them that attorney’s fees tend to be very expensive. Litigation is expensive. If you can break it down into elements, you can probably get your goal accomplished a lot quicker or quicker than you thought just by having an attorney on your side to navigate you through the preceding. If their response is, “Well, I think that I can’t-do anything. I can’t represent myself. I’m not good in front of the courtroom. I’m scared to go in the courtroom,” at that time I offer them what we call full representation.

I allow them to know this is the cost associated with the full representation. However, if you can’t-do that, I advise you to break it down into increments and elements as I mentioned before where maybe you retain us just to do your pleadings. Once we do the pleadings, you may have mandatory mediations that you can go to by yourself. You don’t have to go in front of the court. It’s a very informal setting. You can do that by yourself and then maybe you want to come back to us for your final hearing where you have to go into the court. Usually, they typically go for that. Breaking it down to give them what their options are, what the stages of litigation are because that’s very important as well to explain to them that litigation has different stages.

Then you have some people as well that just want to become to be counseled. They’re confident. They want to go through the process. They think they can do it, but they want an attorney in the background to assist them to make sure they’re going down the right road.

Dave Aarons: How do you determine which clients … I’m sure they kind of feedback to you, but what kind of questions do you ask or how do you kind of start to determine? Obviously, there’s the budget. Let’s say they have maybe it’s $500, maybe it’s $1,000, maybe it’s $2,000. That’s going to be a determining factor in what options are available to them, but how do you begin to determine what the client feels like they can accomplish themselves if anything at all or their comfort level with handling parts of the case on their own?

Obreziah Bullard: Honestly I don’t determine it. I let them tell me because I can’t determine how they feel. I can’t determine how they think they may feel before a courtroom. I really can’t discern that. I let them tell me what is your comfort level. Do you think this is something that if you do not want full representation, you can handle in this part of a litigation? If they say no, then we talk about other options. We talk about the full representation. We talk about the cost associated with that and I have leads and clients that I convert that want full representation. I’m actually surprised that the number of clients I have that want full representation …

Instead of having the unbundled services or they start with unbundled services and they come back later and want full representation after starting themselves. Even though they may tell me, “I’m comfortable in going to the temporary hearing because I know it’s a temporary basis.” I advise them on what the ramifications could be on a temporary basis. I let them know, “Call me. Let me know how it goes.” I always follow up with them. If I know that a client has retained me for client counseling on a case, they want me to prep them for temporary hearing. After that temporary hearing, I follow up with them because I want to know how did it go. If at that time they tell me, “Oh, you know, I’m not as comfortable as I thought.

The courtroom is totally different. Can you represent me?” Well now again it goes back to building that rapport. They trust me because we’ve already had some form of relationship throughout this time where they’re willing to retain me for the remainder of the case.

Dave Aarons: Right. That’s another really important point if you start off ringing unbundled legal services and you’re helping them to a certain point and then they’re handling some things on their own like for example an appearance or hearing. Now you’ve actually scheduled a follow-up for yourself to check in with them to see how that went or how they’re feeling about it and see how they want to proceed with the next step from there and if they want to come back and retain you for more limited service or maybe have you take over the case from there. It sounds like that happens quite often.

Obreziah Bullard: I know that follow-up is very important because it goes back to making them feel as though the attorney has time to listen to them and that they’re important and their situation is important.

Dave Aarons: Right. Absolutely. I’m sure they appreciate that aspect of it. From the business standpoint, if you’ve delivered unbundled legal services and then they’ve gone to court, I mean if they’re feeling uncomfortable and they’re stuck, then there’s a pretty good chance and it sounds like on quite a number of occasions those clients have then come back in for more service or even have retained you to handle the entire case from there going forward.

Obreziah Bullard: I’ve had a client call me in court. Actually called me in court and wanted me to come to the court, which just so happens I did not have any hearings that day. I was available to pick up the rest of the case because they thought they could be able to do it, but once they got there, they weren’t able to.

Dave Aarons: It’s a little different experience when you actually get there and you realize that what you say and what you do in front of that judge is going to ultimately have a significant determining factor in what you ultimately … The amount of time you could have with your kids. When the pressure’s on and that situation arises, I’m assuming a lot of people get … You may question their level of confidence in making sure that they can handle that aspect effectively.

Obreziah Bullard: Absolutely.

Dave Aarons: I’ve heard a few different options, there’s kind of breaking things up. Then you have the unbundled and you have the full representation. Could you give kind of a snapshot look at what those options look like? Maybe some example price points of each option and then maybe we can dive into kind of how you share with the client these different options with a couple of different examples perhaps.

Obreziah Bullard: Well, we have several more options. The first option obviously is full representation where they want our firm to represent them in its totality of the case. Depending on the type of case, that retainer varies, but typically it’s about $2,500. That’s the full representation. Now we have several things thereafter. If they just want us to do some drafting and some pleading, then that typically runs about $550 depending on what needs to be done. The average is about $550 to about I will say no more than $700. If there’s one court hearing that they want us to attend, then there’s a price of $1,000. If it’s just one temporary hearing or if there is a mediation, then that retainer would typically be about $1,000. I think those are the main things that we do.

Now we do a couple of letters as well. We have people who contact us who want a letter to its spouse because they’re in a contempt of a final divorce decree and they’re not ready to start litigation, but they just want to show this individual that they’re serious about enforcing their right. We had that same option with visitations. Sometimes fathers want to show the mother of their children that they’re serious about having their visitation. We offer that at $200 where we compose a letter and we mail it to the opposing party saying that we represent them for that purpose and all of the enforceable language that needs to be in there. Those are the main things that we offer. We also offer what we call client counseling.

With client counseling, most people do that with an add-on with the pleading. They’ll have us draft a pleading and add-on client counseling so we can actually walk them through how to get the other party served, how to request a temporary hearing before the court. We actually have them come into the office and they’re allowed one hour of time to sit down with an attorney and typically that’s about $200 as well.

Dave Aarons: The letter actually I haven’t heard too often as well. How often do you have folks taking you up on the offer to do the letter as an initial step and has that been effective or not? Maybe you can share a bit about that option.

Obreziah Bullard: It’s been very effective. Most people if they’re tight on money or they want to save money in order to be able to retain, they start with the letter to give the person a good faith … To make a good faith effort to give the person the opportunity to correct the issue. That also serves as evidence in the court because you can show the court that you really attempted to resolve the issue before you had to result to litigation. That’s exactly what I tell the client.

If bare minimum you can’t-do retainer, you can’t at this time afford to start the case, some people can’t even afford the filing fees, then let’s send a letter on your behalf and that letter has all of the languages to let them know that you’re trying to make a good faith effort to resolve the issue before or without going to litigation.

Dave Aarons: Right.

Obreziah Bullard: I have several people, probably I would say five a month, that takes me up on the letter.

Dave Aarons: Right. That’s that first step, right? That’s a great breakdown of the various different options. We can dive into a couple of these here. Of the 15 out of 20 clients that are retaining you on that first step, what’s kind of the breakdown? Obviously, people are at different points in their case. Some of them have already petitioned. Some are just starting the case. Some are going back to court. There are various different levels. What’s the most common option that people will start with you out of those 15? Would they typically start with unbundled and do kind of drafting with some advice on how to file and so forth? Do they go to the full rep route right away? Do they do a letter?

I mean it seems like obviously the lower cost, the more likely people will take that as a first step, but what have you found for yourself has been the option that’s been most popular with your clients as a starting point?

Obreziah Bullard: Typically, people start in the middle. Out of the 15, about 8 of those 15 will want us to just address the pleadings. They’re going to go for that middle level, about $550 to $750 level, for us to draft the pleading. Then give it to them so they can move forward. Outside of that, I would have … If I had to guess on the 15 because I’m horrible at math and percentages, that’s why I went to law school, but I would say eight would do the mid-level with the drafting. About two would do a full retainer and about five will do some type of informal whether it’s a letter. I’ve done, and I didn’t mention this earlier, I didn’t think about it, I’ve been retained just for negotiation. Just to contact opposing counsel and try to work it out so it doesn’t have to go further into litigation.

That’s typically around the $400, $550 range because they’re allotted about two hours of time. I charge $200 per hour. Most people, the five will do those direct letters or negotiations and then again about eight will do the mid-level and two will do full retainers.

Dave Aarons: What is the negotiation option look like for you? How has that worked? That’s also kind of a unique approach as well. Have you found that to be successful or not and how has that worked for the client generally speaking?

Obreziah Bullard: The negotiation option is something we just recently implemented and started offering to the clients. What I started realizing is with some of these clients, they have issues where they just need an advocate on their behalf to speak with the opposing counsel. What we offer them is to make contact with the opposing counsel on your behalf, present to them your settlement agreement or the terms of what you want to settle, get their settlement agreement or the terms they want to settle and try to work it out before it has to go any further in litigation. Typically, that seems to be fairly easy. When a party files a case, they already typically know what they want. It’s just a matter of trying to meet in the middle.

If an informal ATR process essentially, instead of having a formal mediation, you have the two parties trying to work it out prior to being forced into any other part of litigation.

Dave Aarons: Right. The effectiveness of that, does that depend a lot upon the opposing counsel and how open they are willing to negotiate or come up with a resolution?

Obreziah Bullard: Absolutely. It’s 100% contingent on the type of opposing party that you have. If you have someone that’s very litigious, you’re not going to get too far. You don’t know that unfortunately until you get in the negotiation process. Sometimes the client will say, “Well, I know my spouse. They’re not going to want to negotiate.” If they know their spouse and they know they’re not going to negotiate, they typically don’t go for the negotiation package. If you have a spouse where they’re just ready for it to be over just like the client is, then they’re more willing to be able to try to reach some type of compromise.

Dave Aarons: Also, what I’m really getting here is that … You have used the word packages a couple times and I do see that as these are essentially packages of services that provide a certain amount of benefits or services contained within these packages. You have packages for almost every price point. I mean obviously certain cases they need to have the full representation to make the impact and you have to kind of balance that out to make sure that you’re providing them the option that is most suited to their case.

Obreziah Bullard: Honestly I never thought about it that way until you just mentioned it because I even say packages with my clients, but essentially that’s what it is. It’s a menu of options as if you were going to go to a restaurant that you can combine to make your own entrée of what you want to have done. It’s no different than going to a photographer and picking out a package of pictures of how much you want to pay. You already have that price point in your head and then you see what you get for that price point.

Dave Aarons: Right. How much of the clients when you talk to them do you feel like their case would not be a fit to be unbundled to this type of an option? Obviously, I’m hearing only 2 out of 15 initially go full rep. Obviously, a lot of clients later on once you perform some services may need the full rep because it’s clearly going to be litigated and they need someone in court and they can’t handle it on their own. Certainly more than those two will evolve into full representation, but one of the things I hear from a lot of the lawyers will say, “You know, I’m getting a lot of leads, but these don’t seem like the kind of cases that can be unbundled,” but they’re the same leads.

How do you think about that and how many of the clients do you look kind of go, “Yeah. This really can’t be unbundled,” or do you feel like they all can be to a certain degree because you’re only handling specific tasks and then the transition? Can you share your thoughts on that?

Obreziah Bullard: There are not too many cases that cannot be unbundled. I believe I have been with you all a short amount of time. Maybe a couple of months. I’ve only had about three clients that I had to say, “You really need full rep and I cannot offer you any type of unbundled service,” and that’s more of an ethical issue. It has more so to do with their specific special situation. If I was to provide them an unbundled service, I would be doing them in their case more harm than I would be in helping them. I would definitely say it’s only been about three in about four to five months.

Dave Aarons: Can you give us some examples from your perspective in a characteristic of specific cases that would lend them to be not suitable for unbundled, for unbundling?

Obreziah Bullard: I was just trying to think of an example while I was speaking because I just had one recently. I remember what it was. This specific case was a third party guardianship essentially. This individual, she was very connected to a minor child that she was not related to the minor child. Because she was not related to the minor child, she did not have any custody right and she did not have rights to guardianship because unfortunately, her ex-husband had the guardianship. Her case requires more research to even see if she has rights to the child, what she can do. In Georgia, we have a third party custody on a statute, but that only involves immediate family members such as a father, mother, sister, brother, where she was neither of those.

She was actually an in-law. She was the aunt that was an in-law to a child, but she had raised the child since the child was about two. Now the child is six years old. Out of nowhere, the child gets stripped away from her and you can only imagine even though the child is not hers and there’s no relation, she felt as though her child was being taken away. That type of situation I really could not offer her any unbundled services because one, it was such a convoluted situation given the law and given that she really legally didn’t have any rights to the child.

That it would have required tons of research for me to be able to be in the case to argue her point and possibly it could have set precedent, but if I was to advise her if I can do a pleading, I wouldn’t even know what pleading to do at that point because technically she didn’t have any rights under the law. That is one of the cases where I could not really do anything for her without full representation because the case was so convoluted.

Dave Aarons: Right. Exactly. Do you feel like some cases involving … I’m not sure what it’s called in Georgia, but CPS or DCSF, DCF, or when you have the third party … another organization that’s gotten involved in trying to remove the child or something like that. Do you feel like there’s still some aspects of those types of cases that you can unbundle either by giving some counseling or drafting or responses and so forth or will that be another example of something where they really need some full representation to have an impact?

Obreziah Bullard: That will be an example. Here we call it DCS, Department of Child Services. That will be a perfect example because at that point, because of the way the law is set up and you have to have these hearings within so many days, there has to be a case plan, you have a third party, which is the department having to do certain statutory things. A client cannot represent themselves in that case. I believe that’s why the statute is written where certain individuals in those case they’re automatically appointed an attorney because they know people cannot represent themselves in that type of case.

Dave Aarons: Okay. Great. I appreciate your thoughts on that. We’ve got drafting. We’ve got hearing or basically an appearance. Letters. Counseling, which is advice and guidance. You’ve got conflict resolution or basically negotiation, alternative dispute resolution, which is great. Then in full representation, you said the retainer’s usually around $2,500. Do you typically require that all upfront or are there circumstances where you might take a little bit less and then put together some form of a payment plan that suits their budget?

Obreziah Bullard: There are circumstances that I will take less and come up with a payment plan, but surprisingly, and this is surprising to me, most people are able to pay the full retainer. If there are people who are unable to pay the full retainer, I do accept payment plans. I do have very strict conditions as to those payment plans just because to me that’s a courtesy to you to be able to break those payments up. I will require at least half down to get started and then the remaining half we can take it out. You have to put a credit card on file or some type of card and is taken out according to your pay period.

If hypothetically they’re pressed to put down a $1,000 and break the second $1,000 up if it’s a $2,000 retainer into two months, on the tenth of each month we run your card for $500 and then the subsequent month we’ll run it again for $500. We offer those plans. We just have very strict conditions if you default on your payment plan before retainer is due within so many days. Again I’m surprised at the number of people who just actually they’re able to pay the full retainer.

Dave Aarons: Right. Absolutely. I think when it comes down to it and they really need a full representation, people either individually or through the help of family can often find the money when it comes to their rights of their kids. It’s not surprising.

Obreziah Bullard: I’ve had people that actually go title their … Funds titled to their vehicles because their kids are more important than their vehicle.

Dave Aarons: Yup. They absolutely are. By the way, for those payments, do use something like LawPay or payment processing solutions that automates those payments for you or you run them manually once you have the card?

Obreziah Bullard: No, I use MyCase. Mm-hmm (affirmative).  MyCase has that system where you’re able to accept payment through their online portal. I have my secretary run them manually.

Dave Aarons: The other thing I wanted to cover here is out of the 15, out of 20 or so clients that are retaining you for services, what percentage of the clients would you say retain you over the phone without meeting you in person versus what percentage of them come in the office, you meet with them, and then they retain you from there?

Obreziah Bullard: 98% retain me over the phone.

Dave Aarons: Over the phone?

Obreziah Bullard: Yes.

Dave Aarons: Okay. Wow. Basically, almost every single one of them just retains you over the phone. When they retain you over the phone, is there also a meeting that’s later scheduled to come in and do the work or do you perform the services with them over the phone as well and use Skype? I mean how has that worked out? What does it look like?

Obreziah Bullard: The only time they have to come in is if they do the package that involves client counseling. Then they come in and obviously, we need to sit down so I can start you on what you need to do going forward. Most of the time I don’t ever see them face to face. I just had a case where it was a lead that I converted into a client and our first time meeting was last Wednesday when we had mediation. That was a full retainer. We’ve already started discovery and drafted pleadings and I had never even seen the client. People tend to like convenient and with MyCase we upload all of the retainer agreement. We upload the intake forms. They fill it out. They scan it. Send it back to us. Upload it. We get the information we need.

We begin drafting. We upload it for them to review. If they’re somebody that just got a packaged where we draft the pleadings, they tell us any corrections that need to be made. We make those corrections. Then we upload the final draft and then they can download it and file it. About 98% of the people I don’t have to meet at all.

Dave Aarons: That’s amazing. Can you share just how that’s impacted your business as far as your ability to work from either your office or from home? I mean how has that really put you in a position where you can be a mobile attorney? I mean work on any device anywhere, has it not?

Obreziah Bullard: It really helped. Before joining Unbundled Attorney, I was a mobile attorney anyway. I wanted something that was going to be just as flexible as I am. That has really helped, which is why that rapport building, in the beginning, is so important because if they’re doing client drafting, the only thing I really have to do after my paralegal composed the document reviews it. I don’t have to take time, much time out of my day to sit down in front of the computer with the person for so many hours or so many minutes within a day. I’m able to keep a high volume of people that are coming in and going back out just because we’re able to streamline the work to our associates. Well, not associates, but our paralegal. She’s able to compose the documents.

I review them and then we can upload them. It definitely has helped keep me mobile as I already was.

Dave Aarons: Right. There’s the location freedom as far as your ability to get the work done. Can you also talk about the drafting work? We’ve had a number of lawyers that do it on kind of a flat rate as opposed to hourly. Usually, it works out to a certain amount of time. If it’s a flat rate when you’re doing unbundled tasks, how much do you end up putting, two, three hours of your own personal into each draft or are you able to leverage that somewhat by the use of your paralegal and then you’re reviewing and able cut down some of the personal time you have to invest into drafting that unbundled, that flat rate work by leveraging the technology and also your paralegal’s time?

Obreziah Bullard: That’s exactly what I do. All of our draftings are done on a flat rate basis. We don’t do any of our draftings on an hourly basis. We also do those on what we call a limited scope retainer, meaning we don’t go above and beyond just the drafting of that document. Because I’m able to utilize my paralegal who can also crank out the document and my only task at that point is to review to make it’s what the client wanted, is able to cut down on cost tremendously. You’re actually benefiting from doing it at a flat rate rather than hourly.

Dave Aarons: Absolutely. I mean this is so key. I really want to cover this to make sure we fully extract this because I think there’s a myth among many attorneys, we’ve talked about this before, where they assume that if you’re working with people that are spending less money or have less income that therefore that means you’re going to make less money. I think it’s quite clear from all the examples of all the different attorneys we’ve had in this podcast, including yourself, that that is just really isn’t the case because when you really look at the economics of it, you’ve got the phone call, which probably takes you … Let’s be very not conservative but just liberal.

Probably maybe 30 minutes, 40 minutes, 20 minutes, how long does that initial call take to get the client on the phone, do the initial consultation, get them enrolled. We’ll talk maybe more specifics about how you do that enrollment process and so forth. I think that’s very interesting for attorneys to think about and hear how to do an enrollment over the phone. How long does that initial call take and then I guess the next step from there is all that information gets passed to the paralegal. They draft and then you review. How much time do you put into that initial call and then that backend review?

Obreziah Bullard: The initial call I would say on the high end for me is probably about 15 minutes on a high end. If you recall, I dial it then give me about two to three minutes to talk it out and then I interrupt and I prompt them with questions. I would say about 15 minutes on the high end. As far as drafting, I totally agree with you. Although you’re working with or you maybe be working with clients that have less means, the volume makes up for it. You’re able to produce so many documents in a short amount of time whereas if I can do five drafting of documents and just because I’m horrible on math, I’m going to do $500. How much is that? $500 times 5? $2,500?

Dave Aarons: Yeah. It’s $2,500. Yes.

Obreziah Bullard: Well, that’s one full retainer. If you’re able just to do five of those in one week, that’s equivalent to you just getting one full retainer. The volume is really important. Because you’re not doing, it doesn’t cost for a huge amount of time to do this drafting. Most of the pleadings are standard. A complaint is standard. A legitimation, a petition, answers, those things are standard that most paralegals can crank out in honestly about 30 minutes.

Dave Aarons: Right. Is there a system you’ve developed to be able to basically get the facts of the case from the client? Do they fill out a questionnaire? When you do the consultation, do you ask the questions and then write it into there? How do you get the information from the client to the paralegal to then do the drafting of the written argument?

Obreziah Bullard: I do two things. One is our intake form gives me the barebone of what I need, date, address, names, all of that. That’s going to be on my intake form. As it relates to fact, I have my clients write out a narrative. I tell them that you know your case better than I do. Give me a narrative of why we’re bringing this case, what were the facts that brought this case to my office. I give that narrative to the paralegal and she’s able to pull out the facts that needs to go into the complaint. When you tell a client to give you a narrative, they’re going to give you their life story, but their life story is not relevant as it relates to that particular case. She’s able to discern and pull out just the facts that’s needed for that particular pleading.

That’s essentially how I get the facts. I don’t really get them over the phone because again I’m very busy. For attorneys, time is money. When you pass them with homework to create that narrative, then one, it makes them think about their facts, to think about if this was the best route, and then two, you have on paper something that they gave you so they cannot later come back and say that we did something wrong because this is what you provided to us.

Dave Aarons: Right. Exactly. I want to kind of piece this whole enrollment to intake to the preparation and then back to the client to file together and then we can kind of look at the extra economics to that because I think there’s so much opportunity in offering these unbundled options from a financial standpoint as well if it’s just … If you’re able to properly leverage the technology to do the intake, get the narrative like you’re describing, have the paralegal draft it, or even you, even if you were drafting, it all still pencils out, but have the paralegal draft it, review it, get it back to the client, give the instructions.

I mean a lot of these things like you said can be so streamlined where the client’s giving you the information, the paralegal’s drafting, and then you’re delivering it, making sure that it’s all clean and done well, but the technology enables you to do these things so quickly and efficiently. Offering these flat rate models can really start to pay off from literally just an effective hourly rate. Can you talk just a bit about so you’re on the phone with them, you talk about, “Okay. Here’s the things we need to do.” Let’s say just maybe do a hypothetical example. I’m not sure if a hypothetical example will help here, but let’s say it’s a father that hasn’t been able to see his child for a period of time because the mother has been preventing him from allowing to do that.

He doesn’t have a court order established. He needs to establish something to the courts. Let’s say he’s got about $500 to $1,000 available. You kind of explained to him, “This is kind of what needs to be done.” Maybe you can share how you would kind of explain to them what those options are and then from there, how do you complete the enrollment process over the phone to get that person signed up and started?

Obreziah Bullard: Initially if they’ve already told me, “This is the best that I have, that I’m working with. I might have $550 to $1,000 to essentially spend on attorney fees,” I’ll let them know, “Well look, for $1,000 I can offer a hearing and drafting of the pleadings.” They’ve already told me that this is the maximum I can do. I’ll go separately. I may have charged $550 for the drafting of the pleading and a $1,000 for a hearing. Because his budget is very close to that frame, I will combine them for him. I’ll let him know that. “This is typically what I would charge, but if you want to do them together, I will essentially kind of discount it for you and I will do a hearing, one hearing, and the drafting of the pleading to get you started.”

I will explain to him what pleading will need to be drafted. That will be a petition for legitimation. I will explain to him what all that encompasses, the visitation, the child support, the custody arrangement, all of that good things. If he says, “Well, you know, I really didn’t want to use my thousand. I’d rather do the $550,” I’ll say. “Well, wonderful. We can help you with that as well. If you later want to come back to do the thousand, we’ll give you a discount for coming back as a returning client. With $550, if you want to proceed, we’d be glad to draft you a pleading for you. We’ll upload them so you can print them out yourself and you can take it to the courthouse.” If he was to say, “Okay. Wonderful.

Well, how do I get started? What do I do,” I’ll get his information? I’ll get his name. I’ll get his email address and his number, which typically I already have because that came in the lead, but just to verify everything is correct. I tell them that I’m going to put you in our client portal. You’ll get an email within 24 hours. You go sign up for the client portal. By the time that you sign up, everything that you need will be uploaded. They do just that. We put them in the client portal. By the time that they log in, they already have a domestic relation affidavit. Not domestic relation affidavit, a domestic relations intake form, and a retainer agreement, and an invoice all waiting for them.

If I don’t see that they have logged in within 24 hours, I’ll call them back and say, “Hey, the information is waiting on you. When will you be logging in?” Usually immediately they go log in. Sometimes they honestly just forget. They log in. They download the intake form. They download the retainer and they pay the invoice online. Once we get those documents back, I call them and I confirm we received the retainer. We see that a payment has been made. Can you please produce me a narrative of the facts in this case? Once we get that narrative back, we start drafting and it’ll be ready for them to download after they review it and approve it.

Dave Aarons: Right.

Obreziah Bullard: That’s typically the life cycle if they want us to draft just the pleading.

Dave Aarons: Right. You get off the phone. “Okay. You’re going to be getting this. You’re going to be getting this.” Then you basically upload the documents that are necessary for their case. Create the invoice. Construct the limited scope retainer agreement. Do you modify that to a certain degree or do you have something that’s templated that applies for this drafting of these specific types of services for each package?

Obreziah Bullard: I have something that’s templated, but I modify it according to the client. Some clients want different things. Of course, if they’re adding on something else, then I modify it for what they need.

Dave Aarons: Right. After you get off the phone with the client, you basically put that together. That’s why you say within 24 hours because it gives you that little bit of buffer time to upload the appropriate documents and get the invoice done correctly and then obviously modify the agreement if necessary. Right?

Obreziah Bullard: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup.

Dave Aarons: Okay. Yup. Then they get that. The payment actually isn’t taken over the phone. You just upload them, send them that, and then they take care of it themselves from there?

Obreziah Bullard: Right. Now some people depending on the client, some my older client whose not technologically savvy, they do prefer the pay over the phone and we do take the payment over the phone. It just depends on the client.

Dave Aarons: Right. What works best for them.

Obreziah Bullard: Right.

Dave Aarons: Is there ever a scenario when you do unbundled where you would break it up like, “Okay. They can make maybe pay half that down or something and then pay the rest once the documents are done,” or is it always they just needed the full $550 if they’re going to do drafting?

Obreziah Bullard: Typically, it’s the full $550. Now I know some of my colleagues they do allow you to make payments until they’re paid in full, then begin drafting. The problem I foresee with that is that sometimes they will begin making payments on such a small amount. In the middle of payment they may have a hardship and they want a refund on everything they’ve paid to that point. We actually just require the full $550 because I tell my clients, “Anything over $1,000 I typically allow clients to do payment plans. Anything under we require in full for the simple fact that we do the work almost immediately we begin working.” If I was to allow them to start paying on it without starting work, then I’m essentially a savings account for you.

I don’t want to put myself in that position where I’m just saving this money for you in trust just not knowing whether or not I’m going to begin work. I like to get clients in the door and I like to get them out of the door.

Dave Aarons: Right. As opposed to having a long relationship where they’re making payments before you even start working with them. I think different attorneys would be comfortable with that. Others wouldn’t, but I certainly understand where you’re coming from. For the most part, $550 is still going to be probably about a tenth of what most attorneys are going to be quoting them to get started on a case because most firms say $5,000 upfront. For them they’re happy to be able to work with an attorney usually for hundreds instead of thousands upfront.

Obreziah Bullard: That’s what I remind them as well is the reason we’re able to offer these unbundled services at such a reasonable rate is because of things of not having to hold money for clients. It just works better because we are more reasonable than your average attorney.

Dave Aarons: Yup. Yeah. I get that. Once they get those documents, then they will complete their narration. Just to picture it for those that haven’t seen this technology work, there’s a place where the client can log into a portal where they can then type in in a field online their narration, which is their story. When they submit that, that gets delivered right into your matter section of MyCase?

Obreziah Bullard: Correct. They can actually send messages back and forth through this portal with myself. It kind of reminds me of Instant Messaging or email per se. They can actually type in that message, send it to me in MyCase, and that’s typically how most people tend to do it.

Dave Aarons: Yup. That appends right to that person’s record or that person’s file and then all that information is available for your paralegal to access to then draft up the written argument.

Obreziah Bullard: Exactly.

Dave Aarons: Okay. All right. You take about 15 minutes to kind of get them set up. Set out the portal. Maybe you can share, I don’t know, but I’m assuming maybe 10, 15 minutes to make sure the agreements and documents are uploaded. Once they complete that, you might have a bit of follow up. Let’s just say on the front end it’s maybe 30 minutes to 45 minutes to get them set up. Once they get their narration in, the paralegal drafts it all or do you also oversee the preparation part or do they pretty much once they have that information they have everything they need to do?

Obreziah Bullard: Now typically my paralegal does it. If she was a new paralegal, I will probably be more hands-on, but my particular paralegal is seasoned. She’s built a rapport with me where I can trust her to go ahead and do the initial drafting and then I always review it before I upload it for the clients to see.

Dave Aarons: Then you take a little bit of time once they’ve drafted up, you kind of review things from there. Make sure everything looks good. Make corrections where necessary. Then that gets delivered back to the client through the client portal. Is that right? Where they can download and then print them out and bring them to the court?

Obreziah Bullard: Yup.

Dave Aarons: I guess where I’m getting at is roughly how long given you have these streamlined technologies in place and you have the paralegal’s help, for a $550 drafting of a document, how much of your own personal time usually is necessary to get that done? You can give a range because every case is a little bit different. Sometimes you have to remind people to call you back and so forth, but roughly about how long does that take you personally to do that?

Obreziah Bullard: I would say on the low end just me, not my paralegal, probably on a high end to be honest about 30 minutes in the totality of it because 15 minutes on the high end for just the consultation. After that it goes back to my paralegal for her to do the drafting and it does not come back to me until final review. It takes me about 15 minutes to final review it.

Dave Aarons: Right.

Obreziah Bullard: Now if it’s a very detailed pleading, if it’s something such as discovery, it may take me about 30 to 45 minutes to review it.

Dave Aarons: Right. Probably 30 minutes to an hour depending on the complexity of the case. For attorneys that haven’t used a paralegal before, do you pay your paralegal by the hour or do you flat rate per job or is it just kind of vary? How does that typically work?

Obreziah Bullard: No. I pay her by the hour.

Dave Aarons: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Obreziah Bullard: Mm-hmm (affirmative). She’s paid by the hour.

Dave Aarons: Do you mind sharing what you pay the paralegal by hour?

Obreziah Bullard: Mm-hmm (affirmative). She’s paid $35 an hour.

Dave Aarons: Mm-hmm (affirmative). $35 an hour. I’m not sure how many cases are being done, but let’s say it’s $50 or so per case getting it done because it takes you about 30 minutes to an hour. 30 minutes of time plus you pay the paralegal, that leaves about $500. In about 30 minutes to an hour, you’re generating about a $500 in revenue. The effective hourly rate and I guess that’s why I’m capturing this is to cement the point that your effective hourly rate in offering this unbundled service something that most attorneys will never provide to them is a tenth of what they be charged by a typical upfront retainer. The client is ecstatic to be working with an attorney and getting help for $500. Your effective hourly rate should deliver that service is as much as $500 per hour.

Obreziah Bullard: Yup. Sounds about right.

Dave Aarons: That’s amazing. To me that’s incredible because not only you’re delivering amazing service the client’s really happy with, can make a difference for them in their ability to get through the process, get the proper facts presented to the judge. You’ve got the options available to give them guidance and advice from there. You’ve got options if they want an appearance. You’ve got options for full representation from there. Anyone that needs additional assistance can get it, but for many folks, that might be enough to get the job done. They’re out the door for something they can afford and at the same time you’re able to make a very, very promising … I mean there’s not a whole lot of lawyers out there that can say that they make $500 an hour in family law effectively.

Obreziah Bullard: Right. Exactly.

Dave Aarons: That’s awesome.

Obreziah Bullard: I agree.

Dave Aarons: Right. Okay. Cool. I really appreciate you kind of getting into the details on how this all breaks down. Once I think attorneys start to really think about this model and how they can start to reach folks, it really gets the sense that it’s a win-win. You’ve got the client really happy. You’re happy because you’re making additional income. You have the leads coming in. I mean this is a very different way of thinking about it and when you have two-thirds of the marketplace in a position where they can’t represent themself, I’m not surprised that the courts have been overwhelmingly approving attorneys offering unbundled legal services because it really is suiting the needs of the market and so many folks nationwide.

What for you has been the main reason that you feel this has been a fit in the types of service you want to offer to your clients?

Obreziah Bullard: Because it allows them to get quality representation at an affordable price. Everybody should be afforded the right to have some type of representation even if it’s someone in the background, even if it’s someone just counseling you to tell you how to work through the system. The legal system is very complicated.  If you don’t know the process, if you don’t know the lingo that’s associated with it, it can become very frustrating. It’s equivalent to trying to perform surgery on yourself. The fact that you’re able to give those clients some guidance in an area that most people don’t know how to navigate at a very reasonable price, that’s what motivates me in taking these cases for these clients. It’s a great way to be able to offer them help and generate revenue.

Dave Aarons: At the same time. Right. There are so many folks that …

Obreziah Bullard: At the same time.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. So many folks that otherwise probably wouldn’t be getting any help if it wasn’t for you offering these types of options.

Obreziah Bullard: Correct.

Dave Aarons: There’s no telling the impact that have on their ability to get a fair custody order or your visitation and being involved with their kids if they’re left to their own devices to try to handle things 100% on their own.

Obreziah Bullard: Right. As I tell people, some legal advice is better than no legal advice.

Dave Aarons: Exactly. All right. Obreziah, I really appreciate you taking the time to come on and share so openly with the process you developed to work with the clients. We couldn’t be happier with the services you’ve been offering, the feedback we’ve been getting from the clients we’ve been sending you. Pretty excited about your results financially as well and the returns and the model you’ve worked out to work with folks. Thanks so much for sharing and for the work you’re doing with the clients we’re sending out in the Atlanta area.

Obreziah Bullard: Thank you for this opportunity. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been a short amount of time, but it’s definitely been beneficial.

Dave Aarons: Great. Glad to hear that. All right. With that, I will go ahead and wrap up. To everyone else that’s been listening, thanks so much for your participation. If you’re enjoying the show, feel free to share it of course with any other attorneys you think might benefit from the suggestions that we made or any of the ideas that have been shared. With that, we will see you guys all on the next episode. Thanks so much.

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Episode 15: Streamlining Your Enrollment Process: Electronic Payments, Online Client Intake, and Creative Unbundling

Obreziah Bullard is an unbundled provider attorney out of Atlanta, GA that converts about 75% of the leads she receives into paying clients. That’s an impressive conversion rate, but even more impressive is the fact that 98% of these converted leads retained her services over the phone, without ever meeting her in person. Today, she shares how she has used technology to develop a streamlined electronic enrollment process, and walks us through some very unique and creative unbundled options that have never been divulged on the show before.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The step-by-step process Obreziah uses to enroll leads over the phone, without ever meeting her in person
  • The importance of taking time to build rapport with your leads on their initial call
  • Why the majority of her clients elect to retain her for unbundled legal services instead of full representation
  • The ROI from following up with your clients once you have delivered them your unbundled services
  • The suite of unbundled service options she offers, including a couple new options you may not have considered before, with price points for each
  • How to increase your “effective hourly rate” to as high as $500 per hour by streamlining your unbundled services and charging a flat rate
  • How being a “mobile attorney” has impacted her firm’s success and benefited her clients
  • And much more...

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