On this week’s episode of the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast, we speak with Attorney Amber James, founder of New Beginnings Family Law. New Beginnings Family Law is a family law firm in Huntsville, Alabama, serving clients with matters including divorce, child custody and support issues, mediation, adoption, and estate planning.
“Family law was my calling, that was what I was meant to do. The pain and agony of family law, and the opportunity we have as lawyers, to speak into their lives and help them find a way to start over became my calling, and became what I knew my vision has been now for the last 13 years,” says Amber.
We chat with Amber about how she’s grown her firm so successfully, why her clients clamor to refer her, plus…
- Marketing growth secrets
- How being relatable and authentic makes practicing much more rewarding
- The importance of diversity and equal representation in marketing
- How the firm obtained client video testimonials for its website
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast. Our mission is to provide thought-provoking, powerful and practical information to help you in creating your own sustainable wealth-generating law firm without overwork or overwhelm so you can live your best life. I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m here today with attorney Amber James, founder of New Beginnings Family Law.
New Beginnings Family Law is a family law firm in Huntsville, Alabama, serving clients with matters including divorce, child custody and support issues, mediation, adoption and estate planning. Amber, I’m so happy to have you here today. Welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast.
Amber James: Well, thank you so much, Davina. I really appreciate you asking me to be on the podcast today.
Davina: Well, I’ve been excited about meeting you. I’ve heard you have another podcast and got to check out your website and review some different about you online. So I have so many questions. And I want to start with, you have a really interesting story in your journey to becoming an attorney, and I would love it if you could share that with us.
Amber’s Attorney Journey
Amber: Sure, I will try to make it as brief as I can. I started out as a little girl wanting to be a lawyer. I thought I would grow up and be Perry Mason or Matlock, or someone like that. And along the way, I just kind of lost my way. I let other people influence kind of what I thought about myself and how I viewed myself and what I thought I could accomplish. But law had always kind of pervaded my life.
You know, I had a, my father had a social security disability issue when I was in college. My mom had been in a horrible 18 wheeler accident when I was in high school. And there were some other things, obviously, that touched in concern my family and so every time those things would happen, you know, I would get the itch to be a lawyer again, but I would not necessarily kind of follow along that path.
So I ended up majoring in music and became a band director and taught music for several years. Got my MBA, because I really didn’t know what, you know, kind of floating through life. I was married to my ex-husband at the time and still believed, you know, that I really wasn’t capable of going to law school. And then I was just trying to feel my way around. I was taking some government classes and at UAB, where I had gone to undergraduate and graduate school.
And just one night when my professor said something to me about, you know, Amber, you really should go to law school. And I’m like, Are you kidding me? I can’t go to law school. You’re nuts. You know, who’s got time for that? I’ve got a little boy, you know, I’m married. And I’m just not smart enough. I don’t think I could balance all of that. And he encouraged me to really give that some more thought. And so at the time, I was teaching gymnastics to little kids at preschools, along with a variety of other things.
And just knew that I was not doing what I was meant to do because I always had that feeling that if I was doing what I was called to do, or what I was meant to do, it would be successful. And so, that night in my car on the way home, I was praying, very fervently asking God to tell me, you know, what it is I’m supposed to do with my life because I just felt very lost. My marriage was starting to fall apart. I’ve had some job opportunities in a different kind of field. And just anyway, the whole thing was falling apart.
So I prayed very fervently that night for guidance and felt it as clear as, you know, our conversation we’re having today that I was called to go to law school and help hurting people. And I thought that, you know, for a hot minute, just because I’m like, really, you know, how am I going to do that? I can’t afford it. You know, my marriage, like I said, is falling apart. I’ve got a little boy, there’s just no way this is going to happen. And I, but I was grateful. And I followed along, and I applied for law school. And I got in, and I applied for jobs at law firms.
I was hired in a very short period of time in a personal injury law firm because I thought, Hey, I’m supposed to help hurting people. This is where I’m headed. And ultimately, that’s not what I was called to do. Not help people who are hurting physically, but people who are hurting emotionally. And so I went through my own divorce. I met my current husband, who had also been through a divorce much uglier than my own. And I had found a job working for one of the family court judges in Jefferson County, Alabama. And we very quickly realized that family law was indeed my calling.
That was what I was meant to do, because people hurt more in family law cases and they’re both the parties and their children and their families, then any person in a personal injury lawsuit. I mean, obviously, other than when you have like a wrongful death kind of action. But just the pain and agony of family law and the opportunity we have then as lawyers to speak into their lives and help them find a way to start over just became, you know, my calling and became what my vision has been now for the last 13 years.
Davina: Wow. Wow. So what made you decide then to open your own practice? Because you did that pretty quickly after you graduated from law school, right?
Amber: Sure. Yeah. No, absolutely right. Almost immediately after graduating law school and passing the bar exam, I opened my own practice. That was not initially my plan. I thought, you know, having worked for one of the judges in the family court that one of the law firms in Birmingham would want to naturally pick up somebody who’d worked for one of the judges. You know, you want that influence But that was not, I was not able to find a firm that was a good fit. I was a mom of a kindergartener.
And, a one-year-old at the time, that I passed the bar exam. And I knew it was going to be important to me to have really great work-life balance and to be able to take time off when I needed to, to raise my family. I mean, every time I would interview with a firm and talk about, you know, what is the work-life balance here, or what are the kind of hours I’m expected to bill? I would always be told, you know, we’re going to need you, you know, 60, 70 hours a week, probably to get in your 2000 to 2200 hours a year. And I started doing the math. You know, if you do 40 times 52, that’s 20, 80 I believe.
And you know, that told me I was never going to be able to achieve the number of hours I needed to bill and still have any kind of work-life balance. So started out with a laptop and a cell phone in a friend’s insurance agency and have grown my firm from there. You know, so I just worked really hard, developed a good reputation with the court and the community and thought at the time that I was just going to be the very best solo lawyer I could be. And so that’s kind of how I got started.
Davina: Right, right. So it was just you and a laptop and a back office, then you got started that way. How quickly did you hire your first staff person? Do you remember?
Amber: So, when, I do, when I first started practicing, I remember telling the gentleman I was renting space from, but I couldn’t imagine that I would need more space than what I had for at least five years. But I ended up hiring my first staff person within a year. I needed someone who could answer the phone.
And, you know, because I was in court all the time. But once I got on the appointed list for serving as guardian or serving as the representation for parents and families I was busy all the time. And so the first person I had to hire was somebody just to answer the phone, process the mail, you know, make sure those kind of administrative things were getting done. And so I hired that person within that first year.
Davina: Wow. And so what was that experience like for you emotionally? Did you, were you concerned about your ability to pay them? And did you have fear around that? Or did you just think, you know, I got this?
Amber: I think there’s always fear around whether or not you think something sustainable. And so I did have that fear of, you know, I wasn’t afraid for myself that I would not be able to get paid even though that’s really what our first concern as a business owner should be is making sure you make money. And I was blessed that my current husband had a very wonderful stable job that he’d had for years. And so we weren’t relying on the firm income at the time, but I wanted to make sure that I could always meet my expenses, that I wasn’t asking him to pour his own money into the firm, or, you know, to secure, you know, the employment of my staff person.
So I was always nervous about that, you know, trying to make sure that she was always getting paid. But, you know, Davina, I’ve been truly blessed in my, you know, my practice, but that’s not something I’ve ever, I’ve never gotten a pay period where I’m sitting there wondering, am I going to have enough income to pay my staff this month? So, I’ve been really blessed in that regard. But I think there’s always kind of that fear surrounding, especially hiring that first staff person.
Davina: Right, right. I mean, I know I’ve talked with many women law firm owners who have a lot of fear around hiring their first staff person, and then fear around when it comes time to hire that first associate because hiring another attorney is, you know, another layer of complexity and, how is that for you? How long before you started hiring other attorneys?
Amber: The first associate we hired was in 2012. So that was six years in, I finally realized I own the business. I know that sounds kind of crazy, but I think as lawyers, we’re not taught necessarily, that we’re business owners. We’re taught we’re in this professional practice, that’s kind of a, you know, above and beyond what a business is. And you can’t be, you know, worrying yourself as such, you know, minute things as payroll, and, you know, hiring and all those things.
And so it was about six years in when I realized that I owned a business and if I was going to grow that business, I had hit the limit of what I knew myself and a paralegal could accomplish on our own. And that particular year, our business just all of a sudden grew. We went from, you know, getting an average number, you know, normal number of new intakes to just more work than I could bear in a new set time frame. So it was time to hire our first associate. And so we did that in 2012.
Davina: And how many attorneys do you have now?
Amber: Including myself, there are now five attorneys in our firm.
Davina: Okay, and how many staff people?
Amber: We have a total of 13 people in the office. So that’s an additional eight staff people.
Davina: Okay, so you’ve got a pretty good-sized firm. And tell me what do you think that you’ve done with regard to your marketing and getting clients and growing the firm? What are some things that, you know, are there certain marketing techniques that you’ve used? Or, you know, is there a philosophy you have around that?
Amber: That’s a great question. So I was a very early adopter in our marketplace to having a website. I was probably the first family law attorney that had an actual website in our local kind of practice area. And so I have a long history of Google because I’ve been out there for a long time. And so I was always dedicated to having something online, based more, you know, more around educating the consumer or the client, then showing off what a great, you know, here’s my resume of all the things I’ve done. I think clients are out there looking for answers.
And they’re looking for someone who is going to be authentic and who is going to be willing to kind of give them some of the free information that they need in order to make good decisions. I think most consumers today can really care less where you went to law school or whether or not you’re on Law Review or not, at least not in family law. Now, if you’re talking about, you know, a larger firm, what I call big law, that might be, you know, a deeper concern. But when you’re dealing with a family law client, they just want to know do you care about your clients?
Do you know what you’re doing? And are you going to be there to hold their hand along the way? And so I think our marketing has always been focused around authenticity and education. And then when we added in video marketing a few years ago in a real, strategic and intentional way, I think that really made a huge difference because now clients when, even if they’re not my particular client in the firm and if they’re being represented by one of the other attorneys, you know, if I walk in the door, they’re like, Oh, Miss James, it’s nice to see you, or Amber. Hey, how have you been? And so they feel like they know me when they walk in the door.
Whether, like I said, I’m the lawyer that works with them or not. And so I truly believe that, you know, if you own your own firm that you really need to, you know, have that aspect of authenticity with your audience or your client base as well as, you know, giving them enough information that’s free that, you know, will get them on the right path that maybe obviously not, you know, not a do it yourself kind of option. Enough that they come in with some level of education and know what questions you know, they really need to ask.
Davina: Right, right. I, there’s, I was looking at your website, there were a couple of things that really caught my eye and I wanted to ask you about them. One is, you know, just like you shared at the beginning of our conversation today, your journey to becoming an attorney, and, you know, having your own firm. You share that story right there on the homepage of your website. There’s a video of you talking about and sharing this really deeply personal story, you know? And what was that like for you? And what has been the response to that?
Amber: Sure. When my, you know, we have a firm that we use that helps us with video marketing and when Martinez she suggested that I do this, I thought, Well, I don’t know about all that. Like, I share a lot of other things, but you’re asking me to share a very personal and deep story. And I wanted to make sure that too, you know, because I talk about my former husband in the video to some degree, and he’s still living and local. And, you know, I had to talk to him about it before I just kind of added him on the internet in a certain way.
So, it was, I mean, it was difficult. It wasn’t something I ever thought I would get that deep and that public because it’s out there for everybody. It’s out there for clients, it’s out there for opposing counsel. It’s out there for judges to see. But ultimately, when I really thought through it, I feel like it’s a story that a lot of other people, it may not be the exact story, it’s not the story of, you know, everybody wanted to become a lawyer.
But I think most people can relate to somebody who says, Hey, you know, I went through this really rough period of not knowing who I was or what I wanted and I kept on the path until, you know, it was very clear to me who I should be and what I should do. And I think it speaks to clients. Like I said, When clients walk in, they feel like they already know who I am even if I’ve never met them. You know, like they’re working with someone else in our firm.
The response from other lawyers is kind of mixed. You know, those who are your champions are your cheerleaders and your friends, they think it’s great. Those who are always going to be your naysayers are going to say you shouldn’t have done it, you know, that kind of thing. And ultimately, what I truly believe is that has been one of the best things I have done for my practice because it’s not the, you know, lawyer in the suit at the courthouse talking about all their accomplishments. It’s hey, this is the real me. This is who I am.
This is how I got here. You don’t need to look at me as being some, you know, great and all-powerful lawyer person. I’m here to help you. You know, I’m a human being just like you are. I’ve suffered some things just like you have. And together, we’re going to walk through this and help you get to the other side, help you find your new beginning, you know?
Davina: Yeah, that’s very relatable. It’s very relatable and it makes you very relatable in the firm. That, it’s that when people talk about authenticity, that’s really what we’re talking about is you sharing, you know, how you feel like you came to this that you were guided, you know? That it’s a calling for you. So I thought that was really powerful and interesting. And also, your testimonials.
You have several video testimonials that are really good video testimonials from clients. And tell me about that. Tell me about that process. Because I know a lot of attorneys, a lot of women law firm owners really struggle with the idea of, you know, how can I ask my client to come on video and talk about their story and give a testimonial for me. But I think you’ve done that and you’ve done that really well. What was that like when you were going through that process? Like, what are some of the ways that you handled that?
Amber: Sure. And thank you for all the great comments about my videos for sure. And the testimonial videos are a little more difficult to ask for, obviously. In family law in particular, because you’re asking them to talk about a very personal story where the other side may very well see what they’re saying. And so we want to keep it as positive and as focused on the experience with the firm versus, you know, kind of the outcome of their case or their opinion of the other side.
And so when we were sitting down and talking about it as a firm of who we would select and ask to do that, he talks about, you know, people who have really great kind of comeback stories or who, their case started in one direction and, you know, where things were not necessarily so positive in their direction. And it ended up that we were able to accomplish great things for them. And we wanted people who would focus on, you know, that positive turning point in their lives as well as kind of just positives in general working with the firm.
So anyone who when we worked with them was more of a scorched earth kind of policy client who really just wanted to see the other side burn, you know, that person was not going to be a good fit for our testimonials. They were looking for just the people that we selected. And those people were very positive people and people who are willing to keep the testimonial to talking about positive experiences and not focusing on the negatives of family law or the negatives of what went on with their former spouse or the other parties in the case. You know, we would allow them to talk about that on video, but then we’d have to edit some of that out.
You know, if they had a negative experience with their spouse we would take that out and just let them know that that’s exactly what we were doing and that we appreciated they wanted to vent, you know, a little bit, but this was not the forum for that. But what we found is that the clients that we’ve selected and that we asked for all 100% on board with getting it done. I mean, they were, I’m excited to have the opportunity to share, they are some of our biggest cheerleaders and champions in the community.
They’re the people that when we get a phone call from somebody saying hey, so and so referred me to you. It’s those people who are on the videos. They’ve had a positive experience with our firm, they’ve told other people about it. And, you know, they’ve done us, the biggest favor they could have done which is, you know, put their face and their, you know, their thoughts on video for us so that we can share those with the world. So, and that’s been a really neat experience.
I love the way we actually saved those, you know, where we come in and they give their testimonial and then I come in and see them or the lawyer they worked with comes in and sees them near the end of that testimonial and they record some of that as well because it’s fun to see our clients when the case is over and they’ve got this new life that we’ve helped them, you know, work toward and getting to see the positive results of that at the end, are really great for us. It’s a mood booster for us as much as it is a marketing piece.
Davina: Right. Right. And what was striking too is the wide range of, and diversity of your clients. And not only, you know, their, you know, typical things we sort of think of when we think of diversity or race or ethnicity or gender or whatever, but you also, you work with same-sex couples, you work on surrogacy or adoption. You do, so there’s a real variety there of the kind of testimonials that you have.
And, you know, you had some grandparents or great aunt, you know, telling a story, and all kinds of different stories from all kinds of different kinds of people in your community. I’m assuming that was intentional when you set out to do that. Did you say, you know, we really want to show, you know, just not people in their 40s and 50s getting divorced, you know, we want to show a variety of different matters and different kinds of people from different walks of life. Was that an intentional thing?
Amber: Sure. Yeah, we, you know, first we wanted to, just like I said, look for people who had really positive experiences and stories that we wanted to share. But, you know, we’re not apologetic about our, you know, our faith background in our firm. And so we felt like it was important that we show that we reached out to all segments of the population in all segments of our community, whether that’s same-sex couples,
African American couples, didn’t matter. Didn’t matter what your race, sex, gender, or your preferences from a religious standpoint or from a same-sex or, you know, different-sex coupling, you know, it doesn’t matter. We’re here to help all people. And so we wanted to make sure that we, you know, we did that. We got some pushback from some people in the community about having a same-sex couple on our testimonial videos, but the positive that comes from that versus a few negative naysayers out there.
Just the positive outweighs the negative in that regard, because that particular couple is one of my very favorite stories of adoption that we’ve had the opportunity to do because it came kind of on the heels, well, it actually came right before Alabama actually recognized same-sex marriages, and same-sex, you know, adoption. So when they started the process, I don’t even think their marriage was going to be recognized, much less, you know, they get the second parent kind of adoption process.
So somewhere along the way, you know, the law changed and it was just this, because we were thinking how are we gonna tie this up in a bow at the end because we’re kind of held back by what our law says. And then ultimately, we were able to make all of that happen, you know, for them as a couple. And so that was really great. So, you know, as much as it’s intentional that choosing different times of law necessarily, it’s was also intentional in trying to choose those stories that would kind of reach out to a broad segment of our community.
Davina: Right. Shifting gears a little bit, you also, but still talking about marketing, you also have a podcast. So what made you decide to do a podcast? Tell us a little bit about it
New Beginnings Family Law Podcast
Amber: Sure. So when we started the podcast, it started based on our radio shows. So we were on the radio with a local talk radio station in our area. And so we started with just doing those as regular radio shows. We record them but we really didn’t do anything with them. And then Tommy decided to take the content and translate it into a podcast. And then we did the same thing with our videos that they translate that content into podcast material.
So that was, the idea was that some people like to listen and some people like to watch. You know, I’m personally a listener. I love podcasts. I will listen to them all day long. I’m not a huge fan of watching videos. You know, I want to listen to my podcast while I’m on the elliptical or while I’m driving down the road, but I may not always have time to sit and watch a video. The same holds true, I think for clients and family law.
They may be able to, you know, put those headphones on and, you know, go for a walk and listen to a podcast but they really don’t want to pull up that video on their phone or on their computer and have their spouse realize that they’re looking at that kind of material. So it’s a little easier to slip in as a podcast in family law than it is to hide what you’re watching on YouTube or on the internet in general. So it allows us to reach both sides. Those who like to watch videos and those who like to listen to the audio side of things.
Davina: Right, right. And have you noticed that you’ve kind of, you know, you said it’s been a few years since you’re doing the videos, and then you do podcasts. Have you noticed an impact on the bottom line since you started doing more of that kind of thing?
Amber: I think so. I mean, I don’t just think so, I know so. We’ve doubled the size of our firm from 2016 to the end of 2019. And obviously, 2020 is gonna be at phone. We’ll see what happens with that. It’s been, we’ve been very busy. So we’ve been blessed in that regard too. We only really saw slow down for a few weeks, but we’ve doubled the size of the firm. And 2017 was not our best year. You know, so 2016 was okay, 2017 was kind of, you know, not so great. And we started doing, you know, the videos in 2018, I believe. And from that point till today is really where that growth has come from.
And we saw some growth with the radio shows being translated into podcasts, but really more from the video content being translated into podcasts. And so I think that comes from, the radio show had a different purpose and a different reasoning behind why we were doing it, versus the videos. The videos being more, you know, frequently asked questions kind of videos that clients can go in there and get an answer to, you know, how is child custody generally determined in Alabama.
And so versus, you know, us talking about visitation schedules during the holidays and talking with a real estate agent about how to sell your house during a divorce. They’re just different kinds of information in a different format. And so I think the, you know, once we started doing these shorter podcasts that are more around our video content, that has been more successful for us. So 2018, the beginning of 2018, the end of 2019 has really been our biggest growth period in that regard.
Davina: Right. Right. And, you know, I think, you know, some law firm owners may have fear around creating content for a couple of reasons. One is that they’re worried that they’re going to give away the farm. You know, that they’re going to, by sharing all of their, you know, the knowledge about how to get a divorce, or, you know, whatever, that people are going to say well, I’ll just do this myself. Have you found that to be the case?
Amber: No, that is not at all the case. I feel like it, you know, there’s a certain degree of what you think you can do on your own. And then there’s what’s real life, you know? And really walking into a courtroom is an intimidating experience. Like, I’ve had to testify in cases and when my husband’s case went back to court with his ex-wife I was prepared by his lawyer to testify on the witness stand.
And that’s a terrifying experience even, you know, I like being in control of the questions I’m asking, not being asked questions. And so, you know, I think clients listen to the information and it gives them some background. So when they come in, they do sometimes look at me and go, well, Amber, in your video, you talked about such and such. And that’s really where I’m going to start the conversation today.
So I do have those kind of clients who have gathered that information and they’ve written their questions, but not one of them have ever said, You know what, I listened to that video and I thought I was ready to just go and battle this out on my own. I think if anything, it teaches them there’s way more to this than what you might think. You know, so we’re talking about child support, it’s not simply Hey, give me your W2 and let’s go calculate some child support.
There’s so many other things that go into that. So I think we give enough information to help them have some background, but it’s clearly not enough for them to go and battle it out in the courtroom on their own. So I don’t, you know, I just, I think most people that have that fear, I mean, I get it. I’ve had that fear in the past too. It’s just not, it doesn’t translate into real life.
Davina: Right, right. I think it’s kind of like when, you know, the spring with a fire hose. You know, like, be careful what you ask for. You want information on how to get a divorce? Here you go. Here’s all of it, right? And then people look at it and go, Whoa, that was way too much for me. Can you just handle it for me, right?
Amber: Right. Exactly.
Davina: You’re, the, I think the other kind of fear that comes up for a lot of women law firm owners I talked to is, or, it’s like an intimidation kind of feeling. It’s like, how am I going to create this content? And then, technically, how does it all sort of get published and whatnot? I’m assuming you have a team. You have some marketers who are helping you design the website, make sure the podcast, you know, the videos get edited and the podcast gets distributed and things like that, correct? I mean, they come in, yeah. And they come in and film you or do you ever do any yourself just with your camera flipped on?
Amber: I am, I’ve done a few of just, you know, with my camera. Now what I’ve done a lot with just my own camera is like case updates. You know, I’ll sit there with my case datasheet and I’ll set, you know, my husband helps me push the button. I’m not super tech-savvy, believe it or not. So he sets up my, you know, ring light in my phone and I’ll do quick case updates and video and send them out to clients because they tend to like that.
Just like Hey, I just had a few minutes I want to talk to you guys real quick about what’s been going on with your case this month because a lot of times cases can drag. So when I do my own videos, it’s more that kind of thing where I’m recording just quick case updates. When it’s time to make professional-looking video, I bring in a team to do that.
Davina: Right, right. We want to make sure we’re looking our best on those videos that are going to be living out there forever, right? I love what you said about the case updates for clients with video because I think, you know, especially we’re recording this at the time of the pandemic, and a lot of people have been quarantined.
A lot of people had to work virtually for a while with social distancing. And so I think more and more attorneys are starting to see, you know, hey, look how easy it is to use video and what else can I do with it? And that example you gave, I think it’s just a great example of a way to communicate much more quickly without getting kind of stuck on the phone with somebody, right?
Personalized Videos as a Customer Service Feature
Amber: Right. Right. To me, it’s a customer service feature, you know, because we could do quick five-minute phone calls but you and I both know those phone calls are never five minutes. But you want clients to know that you care about them, especially in those months when there’s nothing going In their case and you know deep down they’re at home wondering what the heck is my lawyer doing?
You know, because my case has been hanging out here for three or four months, when it’s really nothing you can do. You’re waiting on the court or you’re waiting on mediation to come up or whatever. And just having that opportunity to talk to your client almost face to face, you know, they’re seeing you in the video and you’re just telling them, everything’s okay. You know, right now, I know you haven’t seen, you know, the mediator yet, or we haven’t been to court yet.
But this is what we’re doing on your case right now. There’s nothing huge that we need you to be worried about. And we just want you to focus on you and your self-care and your plans for after this case is over, whatever that may be. And so the first time we did that, it’s after I’d had jaw surgery and had been at the office for six weeks and none of my clients could talk to me.
They had talked to my staff members and such but they hadn’t seen me or talked to me and so it was important for me to get on that video camera and let them see that I was okay, that I didn’t look like, you know, a huge pumpkin anymore. You know that I was alright and that, you know, I was back in the office and things were, you know, trucking right along with their cases. And so we had a lot of positive reaction to that. And that was something we’ve decided to keep doing for clients, just these quick little video updates.
Davina: Right, right. So what are some other systems that you think that you’ve used in your firm that you’ve grown into over the years that really may have changed your firm and elevated it and allows you to double it in just a few years?
Amber: Yeah. So we’ve hung on to the idea of having CRM software, customer relations management software. That was introduced to me, probably back around 2014. And we originally used an outside firm to do that for us. And it’s just a follow-up system, really. It’s a drip campaign kind of thing. So when a client calls in or potential client calls in, if they don’t schedule a consult, they still get a series of emails after just letting them know that we’re thinking about them and giving them some more free information about whatever area of the law they called about, whether it’s adoption or a custody modification or divorce.
And then, you know, if they do come in but they don’t hire right away, that system follows up with them for some time. So I think that kind of system, because it’s hard as lawyers if you’re trying to balance a caseload and managing your firm and being a parent and doing all these other roles that you have in your life for you to continually follow up with the people you’ve met with over the last six weeks.
This just becomes an automated thing, you know, when we, like I said, we used and outside firm to do that for a period of time, and then we brought that in house this year, and have started, actually brought it in in 2019 and started building out our own drip campaigns within a program called Ball Ruler.
And so we use that. And when a potential becomes a client, that information gets moved over to our practice management software and so that allows us to continue on that path. I’m big on newsletters. I know some people say that that’s kind of, you know, dead and gone, but I still think a newsletter every, you know, month or six weeks has been really helpful for us.
Davina: Are you talking about one you mail or one you email?
Amber: One that I email now. We were doing email and paper and found that the ROI on the paper version was not necessarily as good as just getting people to open up their email. Particularly during this time we’ve had, you know, social distancing, and we’re not really able to see each other or see clients in the office. We’ve been doing them more often and, you know, Alabama COVID-19 updates.
You know, what’s open, what’s not open. When courts are going to be back open and just, you know, how we’re handling it, how our firm has pivoted, the ways that clients can still reach us. And for those who’ve been open more during this time than any other time in our history. So it’s been interesting to watch the statistics. more people right now are online more. They’re actually reading the newsletters you send them, they’re looking for content online.
So anything you can do now to be online and to be as in as much in front of your clients as you can, I think is super helpful. So to me, that, others, I need to talk about other systems. So having the CRM software that follows up with clients, having a newsletter that kind of follows up with clients and keeps you top of mind even after their case is over. Those things have been super helpful for us.
Davina: Mm-hmm. What do you think some of your biggest challenges have been through the years in growing your firm? And how did you overcome them?
Love, Hate, Delegate
Amber: So there have been several, I think, along the way. I think, you know, losing my parents, you know, as part of, in the last 13 years. I’ve lost two brothers in the last 13 years. So it’s kind of the losses in your family that you struggle with. Or health issues like when I had to have surgery, kind of balancing my health and my family life with my law firm has been a challenge at times.
It’s one of those things that I wish, you know, when I started my law firm, the idea was that I would have all this extra time on my hands and I’d, you know, then what it turns out is when you’re running a business, you’re doing a lot of, you know, you’re wearing a lot of different hats. And so some of my challenges have been in trying to figure out how to kind of carve out time to really be a good business owner, to be a good leader, to be a good lawyer, to be a good, you know, wearing all those hats and doing a really good job at it.
So how I handled a lot of that was realizing what my strengths were and what my weaknesses were and being willing to hire people to fill in my weaknesses. So I don’t need to answer my own phone. I don’t need to build my own CRM, I don’t need to record my own videos. You know, I need to have team behind me and then being able to lead that team well.
And so I had to learn how to delegate. I had to learn, you know, what I call, not my words, it’s somebody else’s that gave them to me somewhere along the way, which was, you know, love, hate and delegate. You know, what do I love to do, what did I hate doing, and what could I delegate doing? And, you know, trying to figure out how to balance life. So, most recently, what I did is we hired our kind of our newest associate. I hate calling her an associate. She’s been practicing law longer than I have, but I don’t have partners in my firm. I’m the only owner.
So I just call her our senior attorney or senior litigation attorney. I hired probably gave in and hired someone who I felt like, in the courtroom, was better than I was, and handed off my caseload and said right now, you know, at the beginning of this year when we saw that COVID-19 may very well impact our firm in a negative way. And we could possibly need to pivot in a very serious way.
I handed off my caseload and did that in a way that clients knew they were being taken care of. And I have been focusing almost 100% on running the law firm for the past two months. And so that, you know, ultimately, we didn’t need to pivot nearly as hard as I was anticipating we would need to but I think as a business owner, one of the biggest challenges you have to overcome is being willing to hire people that are better than you at things, whether it be administrative or practicing law, sometimes whether it be, you know, being a trial lawyer.
You know, sometimes you need to hire somebody who’s an even better trial lawyer than you are so you know, that you can do the things in your firm you need to. One of the other challenges, like I said earlier, is about leadership. I grew the firm from the time I realized the business in 2012 to 2016 in a fairly exponential way.
I think we more than doubled between 16, and between 12 and 16 and then 16 to 19, we doubled again. But in 2016, my firm split. So we had four lawyers at that time and three of them, you know, wanted to be partners in the firm. And I said, I don’t need and or want partners. That’s not kind of the model that I’m going on. I will do a lot of other things for you but that’s just not, you know, I have this plan and I intend to execute it. And so they left and so I was left by myself, again, starting over. And so the challenge was, well, where did I go wrong in that conversation?
You know, where did, in those relationships, where did I not lead well? Where did I not communicate well? And so at that time, I was working with a particular coach and I decided to leave that coaching program to work with someone who is more focused on leadership culture and building teams. And so I got that input, you know, saw where I was making my mistakes and where I could do better. And so from 2016 to today, you know, we’ve added four lawyers to the firm and grew the staff a lot and brought my husband in off his, you know, full-time job he’d had for 26 years and brought him into the firm as our CEO and CFO.
So we went from having kind of a safety net to now not having one, which is fine. We’ve been blessed, like I said. But, you know, it’s given me that opportunity to, you know, in that time in that growth, while still growing really fast, to be able to really focus on culture and really focus on leadership. And so, you know, one of my, If you ask me what is the greatest accolade you’ve ever received, I’m going to tell you that it’s, that we’ve been on the Best Places to Work list for the last, I think it’s three years.
So two years we won bronze one year and silver one year and the award ceremony is coming up virtually in June this year, but we’re again a finalist for the Best Places to Work. So we went from having a culture that, although successful, was not as, you know, healthy and holistic and happy as it could be, to being a place where my employees, my team have said that we’re one of the best places to work. And to me, that’s like, there’s no higher accolade than that, that your team thinks that you lead them well. And so the challenge is, you know, losing, you know, three quarters of lawyers in your firm to rebuilding and being where you are.
The only way that I could do that is through, you know, really diligently working on our leadership in our culture in our firm and just having very radically honest conversations about my goals and expectations for the firm. And so that just, there was a shift. You know, and all of that though, comes from, you know, having been involved with a coach all the way through. You know, so that’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for my firm is made sure I’ve had a coach since 2012.
Davina: Right, right. I was gonna ask you about that because a lot of, usually when I’m doing these interviews, I can always tell who’s worked with coaches and who hasn’t worked with coaches because of their journey. And being, you know, being a coach myself, I’m able to see that, right? So, I look at the journey, and I can tell there’s a moment when you make a decision to reach out for help and say, Look, I’ve been trained as a lawyer, but I haven’t been trained as a business owner. And what, you know, I really need support here and to be able to say, it’s important to make that investment.
It’s important to be curious and ask these questions and get somebody to help me figure these things out. And also, your experience, like mine, is I’ve worked with more than one coach because you may work for a while with one coach and then say, you know, now I’m facing this challenge. And while this coach has been great, I want to learn something from somebody else in a different way, right? And so I find that really interesting. And I could tell that’s really been reflected in your law firm success. You know, it shows that you’ve been putting that work in, working on your business, not just in your business.
Amber: Exactly. No, it’s been, you know, like you said, there’s different coaches for different seasons of life. When I first started working with a coach, it was, Oh, my gosh, I have all this work and I don’t know really how to hire somebody, and I don’t have any systems in place, you know? So it was starting to see my firm as a business and hiring a coach who could help me with policy systems, procedures, you know, and understanding the different parts of a law firm.
And then over time, that changed to Okay, I understand the parts of a law firm and I understand how systems need to grow and change and develop over time, but I’m a really crappy leader at the moment and I need to be a better human, you know, and I need to be a better leader of my team. So I got the mechanics down, but now I need to be a good leader.
And so then I worked with a coach who helped me with culture and leadership. And then most recently, it’s been, you know, I’m now getting older, don’t really want to say how old but I’ve got kids in college, you know? My sense is shifting and changing and you start trying, you start losing some of yourself and who you are and that kind of high performing person that you felt like you have been for years now you need something interjected there.
And so that’s been my most recent journey is working with someone on my own performance as a person and my own happiness and kind of my goals of, you know, what is it maybe that I want to build outside of the law firm? You know, getting my health in order and those kind of things. So that’s been my most recent focus in coaching is on, you know, what they call high-performance coaching. So, that’s been my more recent journey. But, you know, over time, that could change again. It could, you know, it just depends on what you need at a given point in time.
And so I think working with the coaches is vitally important, particularly for women entrepreneurs, who, and lawyers, business owners. And that’s, you know, how we have to see ourselves as entrepreneurs and business owners because we don’t necessarily always take time for ourselves. We don’t invest in ourselves like we should. And so I think that coaching is an incredibly important part of being successful as a woman entrepreneur.
Davina: Right, right. And, you know, you brought up something you said about how there are different coaches for just different seasons. And one of the things that I’ve witnessed is that you, and experienced myself, is that you have, you’re on a journey as an entrepreneur just like you’re on your journey as a lawyer and a journey in your life, right? And at some point at the beginning, when you’re first trying to sort of sort out business skills that you needed, like systems and how to hire people, stuff like that. At that point, you weren’t the leader.
You weren’t, that wasn’t the place for you to learn leadership yet because there was foundational work that needed to be done, right? So like you evolved and you grew to as far as you could go in something. And then there was a catalyst that made you look at yourself. And so I think that’s a very brave thing to do. I think it’s a lot, it’s something that a lot of people are loath to do and struggle to do is stop and say, Hey, you know, there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.
I mean, like, what can I do here? What is it that I’m doing that I can change? Because really, that’s the only person we can change is ourselves. So this has been a wonderful, wonderful story for you to share with me today. And before we wrap up here, could you tell me like, what do you think if you were to, you know, talk with a woman law firm owner who’s coming up behind you on the path and maybe in a different place than you are on the path aspiring to what you created, what advice would you have for her?
Recognize and Celebrate Your Wins
Amber: Sure. So, you know, that’s a great question. I think it’s an important question to ask. And, you know, I think there’s a few things. I would tell her to make sure that you think about balance initially, because it’s really easy as, you know, like I said, a woman entrepreneur, which is what you are as a law firm owner. You are indeed an entrepreneur.
You may not see yourself that way, but you are, and you have to balance all the different hats you’re trying to wear. And you really need to understand what your strengths and what your weaknesses are, and what it is that you want from life. You know, what is life? What do you want it to look like? What size firm do you really want? You know, how much income do you really need? And really think about those facets of it. You know, look at your calendar and see where you’re spending your time.
Are there things that, you know, like when I had to hire my first staff person that you’re doing that, you know, is really a, you know, say a $15 an hour job, but you’re a $250 an hour lawyer, you know? Where are you not making wise decisions, you know, as far as that goes? So think about balance and think about the different hats you wear. I would also tell her to, you know, think about, you know, think about your own accomplishments.
You know, look, when you feel like things have really stuck because they’re gonna be days that they do, you know, look back and see what you have accomplished. You know, you have indeed finished law school. That’s not an easy task. You’ve passed the bar exam, you’ve opened your own business and you’ve gotten to this point. Now what are we going to do to get over this hump? You know, take some time to give yourself credit for what you have accomplished and always focus on the next thing that needs to be done. You know, along the journey, take the time to look back and say, Wow, I really did something cool there.
You know, our accountant told us a few weeks ago that, hey, you doubled the size of your law firm in, you know, in three years, I’m like, for four years, I’m like, I think it was three years, obviously, yeah, three years. And I’m like, huh, that’s pretty cool. But I kind of blew past that. You know, I didn’t in the moment when it was happening, I didn’t see it or take time to recognize it. So, you know, as you’re going on the journey, take time, probably at least once a year would be great, to just sit back and think about what you’ve accomplished and pat yourself on the back for a second, you know, because you deserve it. You’ve worked very hard.
Davina: Yeah, that’s great advice. That is great advice because too often, we’re so busy moving on to next, that we don’t stop and celebrate n the moment, you know, what we’re, what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve done. And, you know, we’re always putting that pressure on ourselves to, especially high achieving women always putting pressure on themselves to do more, be more, create more, you know, whatever it is, right? And to stop and just say, hey, look, I’ve already done these amazing things in my life. Yeah. So
Amber: Celebrate your wins, for sure.
Davina: Yeah. Oh, yeah. So tell us how we can find out more about you. I know everybody’s getting, now that we’ve mentioned this website, I know everybody’s gonna be going to your website. So tell us where we can find it.
Amber: Sure. We are, if you look for me on the internet, you’re gonna look for newbeginningsfamilylaw.com. And we have a Facebook page, we have an Instagram. And so those are the best places. There’s YouTube videos, obviously. We have the podcast that I believe you can find on iTunes and Stitcher and those kind of places.
So, you know, basically, if you just put in New Beginning Family Law in Alabama, you’re gonna find us all over the place. And so, you know, it’s easy to find. I’m with you. If I can do anything to help, any of you who are listening, please feel free to reach out to me and I will do my very best to talk and give you you know, whatever bits of wisdom that I can.
Davina: Great. Thank you so much for that offer. And I really enjoyed our conversation today. So I appreciate it so much for being here, Amber.
Amber: Thank you so much, Davina. I really, really appreciate having this opportunity to talk to you today.