Our guest on this week’s episode of the Wealthy Woman Lawyer® Podcast is Billie Tarascio. She is the founder and owner of Modern Law and Access Legal. As a family law and divorce attorney, Billie sought to develop a certified legal document preparation and technology company dedicated to increasing access to justice. She is also a national speaker and author of the books Decode Your Divorce and Tiger Tactics: Winning Strategies for Building Law Firms.
Billie says, “I wanted to be able to offer low-cost legal services and forward-facing legal documents that could be automated and customized. So, the sister company, I Do Over, is run by certified legal document preparers, which are paralegals that help people do their documents and get everything filed. It was a workaround, I had to open up two companies and set up walls and have the right contracts in order to offer this business model (in addition to the more traditional law practice).”
We chat about Billie’s experience in opening a law firm in Arizona almost as soon as she moved there, the challenges she’s faced in growing her practice and starting its sister company, plus:
- The mistakes and lessons she’s learned hiring and managing a team of employees
- How delegating tasks and empowering others was the best decision in her growth journey
- Why her “law firm constitution” has been such a powerful tool
- How learning and adopting the Net Promoter Score catapulted her firm to success (and provided tremendous insight into her clients)
- And much more
Mentioned in this episode:
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer podcast. We believe all women lawyers deserve to be wealthy women lawyers. 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 overwhelmed so you can live your best life. I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m so excited for you to meet our guest today. So let’s get started. Hi, and welcome, everybody, we’re so happy to have Billie Tarascio. Here today, Billie is the Founder and Owner of Modern Law and Access Legal. And I’ve invited Billie to speak with us today, because she has such a wonderful and interesting business model, she began experimenting through modern law with the traditional legal mode, and sort of offering limited scope and pay as you go services of flat fees, as well as traditional choices. And that eventually led to from what I understand the creation of a sister company called I do over, which I love that name, I do over. This tells us she’s a divorce attorney, right? Which is entirely devoted to help being self rip representing clients with divorce issues, as well as still running modern law. So I want to talk about the differences between those and just some of your discoveries along the journey to creating this law firm. So welcome, Billie, we’re so happy that you’re here. Um, what do you start out? Just tell us a little bit about yourself?
Billie Tarascio: Well, thank you so much for, for inviting me on the show. And for that wonderful introduction, you make me sound so cool.
Davina: You are cool, you are cool.
Billie: It has been a journey like your description was so good, because Modern Law is 11 years old now. And it’s been 11 years of experimenting. And many, many, many things have worked. And many, many, many things have not worked. But every experiment has made us more successful. And we have just culturally kind of leaned in to this model of curiosity and experimentation and adaptation. And that has really paid off, especially this year.
Davina: Yeah. Oh, I imagine. I imagine it’s really paid off this year for you. Because you really, I found that those who were not poised for working remotely and distributed workers and taking full advantage of technology really struggled. But so many of my clients who, and people in our community, who already were, you know, using their technology to work in different ways. Actually, some of them did better than ever and had a better year than ever, right. So I want to get into all of that. But before we get to that, I would love it if you would tell me where you know, how you started your journey as a lawyer, and got here and what led you to open your own law firm?
Billie: Mm hmm. Yeah. So I kind of always knew I wanted to be a lawyer. And I went into college, like with that decision made. So, um, but then my parents went through divorce during that time period. And so all of a sudden, the idea of being a divorce attorney was very relevant to me. And I saw just how much like I never, you know, I didn’t go to I didn’t go into college thinking I’m going to be a divorce attorney. But after kind of watching and experiencing as a young adult, my parents divorce and realized just how relevant it is to people’s lives, and the impact that the attorneys can have on people’s real lives. The human component, I was like, Yes, I want to do that. And so I have, you know, I think I made the decision when I was 20. I’m 40. Now I just turned 40.
So I’ve been a practicing divorce attorney since 2005. Now why did I open my own firm, I was kind of an easy decision. My oldest son was born my third year in law school. And I always knew that I, you know, the system of you know, plugging into the system of big law was not going to be in my best interest or the fastest way to get where I wanted to go. So that that was always at the forefront of my mind. Like when I entered college, I knew I was going to law school. So I did college very quickly, but not by working super hard or being super smart just by creating a system that got me the credits, I needed to graduate early and then get myself to law school. So I think I’ve always been built to kind of look at the way things are and figure out is there a better way to do this? And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Davina: Yeah, that back pacity to be able to handle what other people call failure or what you may call failure and be resilient and rise above it and keep going. I think it’s the huge difference between people who find success early and people who, you know, struggle over and over, because, you know, we can so quickly get into our head, that, okay, I tried this thing and it didn’t work. So I’m never going to take another risk again. And one of the things that comes to mind is hiring a team. I hear this, I have this conversation all the time with women, law firm owners, who Well, I hired somebody, and you know, maybe they hire two or three. And I’ve had a couple of attempts to hire an associate or I hired a bookkeeper once and that bookkeeper screwed them over.
And so they’re never doing it, you know, they’re always going to take control of that again. And hiring attorneys is a huge issue, because some people will say, Well, I haven’t tried that. And it didn’t work. And I always say to them, well, so you’ve only had one romantic relationship then? Right? Because how ridiculous that is, like, I had one date when I was in high school, and it just didn’t work out. So therefore, I am never dating again. You know, it’s just ludicrous. But somehow we lock ourselves into that. I think it’s because of fear of failure. If you have that experience, I know you have a team that you work with you to help grow your firm. And you couldn’t have done that without that. So tell us about that. And do you remember, like your first hire?
Billie: I mean, let’s be clear, my biggest failures have been with regards to hiring and training and my biggest heartaches have come from, you know, people leaving, and it is the hardest part of the job. But I think in order to build something that really does create wealth, that really does offer you freedom, that gives you the flexibility to do what you love. You have to be audacious, and unknown, undying, highly optimistic, and just refuse to see things. You know, there are setbacks, there are absolutely setbacks, but that’s life. And we can either live in the setback, or we can move on as quickly as possible. And learn something from it. And I think having employees, I have four kids now. And I think having employees is like parenting, where you screw up over and over and over again, as a parent with each kid who’s different. And you realize that, you know, there is no one size fits all model. And that is the same thing with employees, like you just have to get better.
Davina: Right, right. I do not have children. And I am always gonna be so amazed when somebody tells me Yeah, I, you know, I gave birth to my first child the first year, and I was pregnant with my, you know, second by the second year. And I’m always amazed when women do that as they’re going through law school, and to have four kids, and then grow, grow, not just one business, but two businesses, I don’t know if you have others, but growing that and hiring people and hiring a team, I would think you would have to be really organized, and be really a master of time management.
Billie: I think that’s true. I mean, I’m not, I’m not a super organized person, but I am a very focused person. And I think I have a high tolerance for things not working, I probably so there’s a lot of different types of delegators there’s the delegators, who really hate delegating, because they think they can do better than everybody else. And I or there’s the other end of the spectrum where you’re just like here, figure it out. And I tend to be like that person. Which of course can be messy, but I have a high tolerance for mess like it’s okay if it’s not perfect, I don’t expect it to be perfect, I can live with mistakes. So and then that’s probably just a personality thing. But I have really encouraged everybody around me to push themselves to their absolute limit and to accept their mistakes and turn them into learning experiences. And so it’s been really fun to be able to build up people around me
Davina: That is that you said a mouthful there because I mean I encounter so many women who are you know high achieving women. We grow up sort of working for the A and the gold star and after the external affirmation, and, and this feeling that we need to be perfect or not show up at all like there’s that and when you go into business for yourself. That thing that was your biggest strength becomes your biggest weakness. Because perfection keeps you from experimenting, it keeps you from publishing, it keeps you from growing trusted relationships, it keeps you from delegating, like he talked about. Have you always been this way? Or was there? Or did this? Did you evolve in your growth journey? As an entrepreneur? Because I’m curious about when you started out? Are you? What differences? Do you see from who you were then to who you are now?
Billie: That’s a good question. Um, I do think part of, I do think a huge part of who we are, is who we are, what we came with. And I see this in, in my, my children, especially my little girl, like, I’ve always been a little bit audacious and a little bit like, you know, somebody who would come in and just kind of break things and be like, what, I was a terrible teenager, my parents really get out of my house. So I’m a little obstinate. And so those things have always been there, I was never the perfect child who was like, give me the gold stars and A’s, I was like, Okay, how can I get a 90%. So I’m not working any harder than I need to, to get the GPA I want. So that’s always been there. But humility like that comes with its own consequences, my tendency, my natural tendency is just to kind of, to not be as sensitive to other people’s feelings into details and to nuances and understanding that other people can’t function this way. And if you go in, and you throw this at people, and you expect them to, to think like you they don’t. And so how do I, how do I take a step back and create a structure that other people can succeed with it? Because this is not normal?
Davina: Yeah, yeah. That’s great. I, I, it is interesting, too, we actually start building a team, it’s so critical to really have an understanding of your strengths and your weaknesses and hire for those strengths and weaknesses are people who can compensate for you know, what’s not your wheelhouse? What’s not your, you know, highest and best use of your time. Do you find it challenging? One of the things I know that, for me is, I have someone who helps me hire because when I interview people, I gravitate to people who are like me, you know, and I want to I want the men because I’m like, Oh, you know, we think alike, right? But to balance out my weaknesses, I need people who bring something to the table, I don’t have. And I so I found it helpful to have, you know, an outside person to help me with that process? Um, how have you? Have you ever struggled with that, and some of the people that you’ve hired, that weren’t a good fit, maybe personality or culture or whatever, but you need the skill that they offer? And sort of how did you overcome that?
Billie: Yes, yes, yes. And yes.
Davina: I’ve actually been having very challenging questions today.
Billie: Yeah, well, I’m hiring. I have, yeah, my biggest mistakes have been in hiring and in management. And they’re the most heartbreaking because you pour into people and you depend on these people in order for your business to run. And I’ve hired the wrong people, and only afterwards figured out why they were the wrong people. So in my law firm at this point, you know, we’ve gone through so much, we’ve evolved so much in the 10 years, but one of the things that we did that was most important was figuring out our values. And you hear this thrown around all the time. But figuring out your values is not figuring out who you want to be. It’s figuring out at your core, fundamentally, who you are, and those things that are unchangeable about you that like even if you wanted to change them, you couldn’t even if it wasn’t in your best interest to act this way, this is who you are. Because when people when that clash is there, it’s never going to work out.
So I have a high risk tolerance, I’m always going to push us to be evolving and to be different and to embrace change, and to be client centered and to look for different ways of doing things. And so when I’ve hired people in the past, who are who are not comfortable with that, just really, really uncomfortable with the fact that, like I’m saying things that are different and this must be unethical and like, why are we Why are we asking clients for their feedback, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Like when I’ve hired people who have fundamentally clash with those values. It never works, even when they’re qualified attorneys, qualified individuals who have a lot of skills. So at this point, we have written down a law firm constitution. The Constitution of the United States is so amazing because it sets out a couple of things, it sets out why you exist, you know, what the values are, that will guide all of the decisions that are made. And some of the structural components that are never changing, like the constitution that I’d say it says we have three branches of government, the law firm constitution says, we’re a single owner law firm, I’m never going to be a law firm that has a partnership track. But I do want your input. And here’s how that works. So, it talks about our values. And that has helped a lot.
Davina: I love that. I love that you’ve Well, first of all, I love that you call it the law firm constitution. But I love that you have really sat down and done that core value work to know really who you are, and what you want. So you have such clarity on that, that I imagine if people come in to interview with you, you can immediately tell if they’re aligned with your, your purpose and your goals. And that is so critical. Because I think you can trade skill, but you can’t, you can’t train passion for what you do. I remember one time I was in my own firm, and I sold out to my partner. And for a while there, I was kind of just trying to decide what to do. And a friend of mine invited me to interview with her law firm. And she was sort of practicing on my own kind of estate planning. And I had done Family Law before but she had a family law firm. And it was a crap.
It was just like, she’s a family lawyer, like from the beginning. And that’s all I’m doing. I’m so passionate about it. It’s my thing. And I interviewed her. And I still was, you know, what, can I still practice, you know, estate planning? And how would that work look like? And I had a personality test. And she got that. And it just wasn’t a good fit. It wasn’t a good fit. And she was just like, Nope, not gonna work. And looking at which was fine with me. Because I was like, Yeah, really? No, I want to do this. At buffet her clarity on who she wanted to be and who she was, and where she was going with her business made it so easy for her to make that decision. Even though she liked me, even though we were friends, even though, you know, we would probably go out and have drinks together and have a great time. It didn’t work and I think that doing that homework and getting really clear on who you are, is so critical. Um, I want to shift a little bit because you brought up something. I’ve seen your I’ve seen a video that you did, you probably did more than one on this. But on the net promoter score. Hmm. And I know you are a fan of the net promoter score. So I would love it if you could tell. I have also talked with people about the net promoter score, but I would love it if you would talk about that and the impact that’s had on your business, because I think it had a pretty big impact on your business when you started doing that work.
Billie: Yes, absolutely. So to even take a step back from that, um, one of our core principles is that we will make decisions based on data, that we will collect data and make decisions based on data, data informed decisions, it’s not that data will guide decisions that it won’t, it’s not like a crystal ball, but it gives you more information. And Net Promoter Score is a data tracking tool. But it’s a customer service measurement that is used in industries, all sorts of industries. And the way that it works is you’ve probably been asked this question, you know, on a scale of zero to 10, how likely are you to refer us to your family and friends? And the reason people ask that question is because if the answer is a nine or 10, then they are evaluating the quality of service and the value and the results all in that one question.
And the way that the formula works, it’s more than just asking the question and collecting feedback, which is awesome and amazing and great in and of itself. But there’s a formula to create a score where nines and 10s are promoters, anything under sixes is attractor, sevens and eights or neutrals, and then you do some division and you get a score and you can look at your score over time and know Are we going to grow or are we going to shrink? Like that’s how powerful this tool is.
Davina: Very powerful, very powerful. I imagine. First of all, I want to know, well tell me this, how did you decide how you find out about net promoter score and decide that this is something you want to do? Why did you decide that that was, you know, so important, as opposed to just like, you know, I just we just need to get reviews, right, which is where a lot of people just go, can we just just ask every client for review? Do we just get reviews a Google review? Yes. Why business? Promoter Score to you what caught what called you to that? Why did you sign into it?
Billie: One of the most influential people, for me, and my firm has been Lee Rosen. And he was just so valuable. And he is the person who exposed me to the concept of net promoter score. And he shared a Harvard Business Review article that explained why this is the one metric you need to predict the growth or the shrinking of your firm. So he was paying attention to what was going on in the broader business community and how to apply to his law firm. And that is something that I do that I try to pay attention to, because we can learn from businesses and industries outside of law.
Davina: Right, right. Yeah, I love that. That is, that is. I think that’s so important. Because I tend to think that a lot of attorneys will know, because of conversations, a lot of attorneys who are, who think we’re different from the average bear, like, Huh, we’re different with the law, firm business is different. My practice area is different. And that will work for my practice area, or I’m different, and therefore none of this will work for me. All the different tools and strategies that have worked for thousands of other businesses right at it. That’s an open mind That is to say, Well, I don’t know, because I don’t have all the facts. So let me learn. Let me learn more about this before I decide if it will work for me or not work for me. After you started? Well, first of all, how were you able to select data from clients with ease? How did you go about collecting that data from clients?
Billie: Yeah, so we’ve done it in a couple ways. So specifically, on the Net Promoter Score, I think the way we’re doing it now is the best way. There’s a difference between collecting client feedback and getting a net promoter score. And that’s really important because we only collect a net promoter score at the end of each case. And it’s part of our closing process. And it is essential to close your cases. But it’s something that’s really easy to not do. And it can create a real mess with your data and your metrics, you have no idea how many open cases you have, or you don’t close things out nicely. And it’s as important to close things out nicely as it is to onboard nicely.
And so we asked for a net promoter score at the end of every single case as part of the closing process. And we do that by a phone call. So our customer service team calls and says, Hi, this is Kaylee, I’m calling from modern law, please give me a call back. People call back when you leave that message. And then you ask a question and you go through the process. You collect the feedback? Yes, the question and not everybody gives us a score. But we ask every single person, and we’ll try to collect that feedback by reaching out at least three times. And I would say 90% of our clients do respond.
Davina: Mm hmm. That’s awesome. I love that tip. And I love that people always call back if they get a call from an attorney’s office. Right, you know, your relationship with them. It’s not like you’re not a cold call kind of situation. So you already have a relationship. So they’re expecting, you know that it’s something important to do.
Billie: Right. And you’re not leaving a message that says, I just have one quick question for you better service don’t do that. They won’t call you back. They’re busy.
Davina: Yeah, right. Yeah. It’s like they’re too busy. And they, they may even think to themselves, I’ll call her back later, even if they like you, you know. So there was something interesting that you said about the Net Promoter Score promoters and the neutral ones and then detractors. Mm hmm. So when you find out that you’ve got detractors, what do you then do with that information? you dealt with it?
Billie: Well, one of the things that we’ve done is we’ve added a customer service specialist to the roster, that’s a part time position. And their job is to reach out throughout the duration of the case to just collect feedback and make sure everything’s going okay. So my goal is never to get to the end of the case and have a detractor that I’m not fully aware of sometimes we’re going to have detractors we end up having to withdraw because the clients not you know, following directions or they’re just unhappy with the system and like there’s nothing we can there’s going to be detractors. But we should never have detractors because we fail to communicate or we’ve failed to listen and failed to respond to their needs like that we can control so and when we do get detractors, I then you know, the customer service specialist is trained to say, Well, let me get you. Let me get you in a point with Billy, I’m sure she’d love to hear more about this. And that usually helps as well, like we want to, reviews are important, really important. And so we do want to get great reviews. And we do want to minimize poor reviews. But the way to do that is only by being very careful and offering excellent customer service.
Davina: Right? So you’re not getting those surprise reviews that are like a bomb dropped on you and you’re like, you know, I got this review, can you guys go in and leave me a bunch of great reviews so that that would get pushed down? I see that I see women attorneys doing that a lot getting other women attorneys to go and get I’m like, That’s terrible. To me, that’s terrible. Because it’s a terrible practice, because it’s inauthentic. It’s misleading, to have a bunch of women attorneys that you know, go and leave you reviews, just to push down your bad review, rather, really should take a look at it and say where’s this coming from? And what can I learn from it? And how can and then I love that you’ve implemented a system to deal with that kind of thing. So there are no, these surprises aren’t gonna pop up as frequently for you.
Billie: Right? It’s not that we are in no way perfect. And so things absolutely happen. But the other thing that this the system of closing cases and collecting Net Promoter Score does is it also offers a way to systematically gain reviews. Because when people are very happy, the customer service specialist says thank you so much for this feedback. It’s really fantastic. And it would mean so much to us, if you wouldn’t mind leaving a review online. And we appreciate so much that you even took the time to call us back today, you’re going to be getting a $25 gift card to Amazon. Just because we have loved working with you. And I know your time is valuable. And thank you so much, then they get an email that has a link to where they can post it online. And they’re exactly what they said. So all they have to do is copy and paste it with the link. So how easy can we make it for people to leave positive reviews for us online?
Davina: Right. That is awesome. And I love that you are your customer care specialist, your customer service specialist gets that and writes it down. Because you know, so, so many times people will, you know, they’ll just overflow with praise when you’re talking to them. Thank you so much, but then you ask them to write a review and they go, Billy was really great. I liked her. And I would recommend her you know, and then you’re like, but you just said I saved your life. And how come you didn’t write that. So I love what you’re doing because people just aren’t writers, you know, a lot of people, a lot of people still communicate that way. Mm hmm. And it’s that’s a great way to capture that passion that somebody has, when they’re on the phone with you. You’re so I think a lot of attorneys will find it interesting that you have a customer service person, you may have more than one I don’t know. So tell us a little bit about your team and kind of the size of your team. And at what stage in your growth did you start adding that person?
Billie: Sure. So we could make this person part of your intake team. That would be that would be a very appropriate use of your intake team’s time. We have this as a separate person, partly because she’s my stepdaughter. And she’s a college student and needed a part time job and this is perfect for her.
Davina: Yeah, yeah.
Billie: So um, my team, I’ve essentially got buckets of people like on your sales, Every business has to have a sales arm, a production arm and finance arm. So I’ve got an intake team, and the sales arm ends when they’ve hired us. So for me, I have designated people that do the phones that do the consultations. And then when the people hire us, then they’re handed off to the production team, which is a combination of lawyers and paralegals. were experimenting with the concept of legal assistance, adding those to the pods of attorneys and paralegals. I don’t yet know if that’s going to be something that we keep or not, we’re just going to try. And then on the finance side, we’ve got billing people that collect and one office manager who handles all of the HR, the tech, which is for us as Mac’s and cloud based software and, and office management supplies and things like that.
Davina: Right, right. So when you started your firm, um, you started what year 2010 2010 Okay, so your 10 year mark. Yay. Congratulations, Happy anniversary. So when you started your firm, how did you start it? Like was it you and a paralegal? Was it just you were your true solo? out? What was your approach when you initially started your firm? And then how quickly Did you grow?
Billie: So my start was unusual. I had moved here with my ex husband, from Oregon, and Arizona and Oregon had just, we’re just talking about reciprocity. The rules weren’t even finalized yet, but it was gonna be a thing. And so I opened the firm in Arizona without being licensed here and being unable to practice here. It was in 2009 – 2010, right at the beginning of 2010. And so I was immediately hiring contract attorneys to provide limited scope legal services. So is it a completely different model that I was trying, and it was a total experiment. And I spent all of my time marketing. And so it grew very, very quickly. And that wouldn’t work today. Like that wasn’t, that was an odd time. There were all these attorneys available, because of the financial situation in Arizona in 2010, they were still really hurting from the 2008 Fallout. So there were all these attorneys who were available to work for next to no money. And that was not going to be a good long term model to provide what I wanted to provide, which was a fantastic place to work where people stayed for a long time and had great benefits and made a lot of money to pay their loans and had work life balance. I wanted all of those things. And you can’t do that with a low cost limited scope model.
Davina: Right. Right. Right. And I and you point out something that I think is very important for people to catch. One of the things when I start working with my clients, women law firm owners, is we go through a SWOT analysis, we look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. And one of the ways I interpret opportunities, opportunities or advantages is I think that everyone has something unique to them and their circumstance that creates an advantage for them. I started buying law firms in 2007, November 2007. And so you know, you’re right on, there’s 2008 coming up, right. And I had a friend Tell me, I mean, this is like, in the first two or three weeks of my practice, I was doing family law, and I was doing estate planning, I was doing door law because I didn’t know yet what I wanted to do. I was trying to figure it out. And I had a friend Tell me, you know, I was at the courthouse today and the Chief Judge of Orange County Courthouse in Florida in Orlando came out and he was mad. He’s like these, you know, attorneys coming up here from South Florida, they’re called they’re phoning in, on these foreclosure matters, and starting to really happen a lot. And he said, I’m going to go write an administrative order right now and require local counsel, because I’m tired of them, you know, disrespecting, because they’re, you know, calling and then they’re not there at the time set, all this kind of stuff. And she told me a friend of mine told me that night, we were out for a walk. And I was like, Oh, that’s great information.
And so I called the J and I found out the names of the law firms, you know, the top six or so of those foreclosure law firms that were representing lenders down in South Florida, and I caught them, I cold called them and I said, speak to your foreclosure attorney. And I said, you know, I’d like to, I just found out today about this administrative order, and you’re gonna be finding out about it soon. If you haven’t already. I’d like to be your local counsel. And I’ve got clients doing so now. And so that became bread, butter, money, my nut, that amount of money. And also I’ve learned how to practice emotion, you know, I learned how to report and, you know, argue and argue motions and things like that. And while I learned how to be a family lawyer and an estate planning lawyer, and, you know, whatever I wanted to be, and that was, but that was something that was unique to the time and place, right?
You can’t tell people although we may, at some point. You can’t tell people to follow that same model. But everybody has a story like that. Everybody has something where this is the way I know, this is the unique circumstance to me. So it’s really important. I think a lot of people would have moved from Oregon to Arizona and said, Well, I can’t practice until we find out. If I can get it, I can’t do a law firm business. You know, I can’t do that. I’ve gotta wait. Right? But you didn’t do that. You said, There’s got to be a way. It’s got to be something I could do here. Because I need to make money and I need to grow by you know, I got mouths to feed and whatnot, right. I’m sure you felt some fear in doing that. How do you cope with that fear?
Billie: I think that’s a tough, tough thing, like, different. Anxiety is real. And it’s kind of a warning. And I think I don’t, I think my tolerance is much higher than most people. And it wasn’t without risk. The bar contacted me, though, what are you doing? Like? Well, I wrote all the rules. And I’m a multi jurisdictional firm, because I left mine open in Oregon, and like, I read all the rules, and I’m within the rules. Now, what I should have done is touched on ethics training, but they probably would have told me no, right, right.
Davina: And by doing that you were probably just able to proceed.
Billie: Prior to contacting me, it wasn’t an issue, like it went away. But it didn’t go away without me ending up hiring a local ethics attorney who liked talking to the bar on my behalf. And they were like, what are you doing? Not because it violated any specific rule, but just because it was different. It was different. And they were like, I don’t know about this. So, um, I don’t know that I can advocate that.
Davina: Did you think what’s the worst that can happen?
Billie: What’s the worst that can happen? Could you be disbarred? Probably not, you need to think about that every time you make a decision, you need to think about, could I be disbarred? And how do I find a creative ethics council that will work with me if you want to do a creative model? So I want to talk for a minute about if it’s okay, about idle over and modern law. So because this is a great example of a workaround, I wanted to be able to offer low cost legal services, even when I was moving from my limited scope model to my more expensive model, because, you know, there was something fundamentally about starting a firm under a premise and then just being like, Nah, this didn’t work. I’m moving on, you know, I couldn’t do that in good conscience. So I wanted to be able to offer forward facing legal documents that could be automated and customized. And so I spent a lot of money and time creating that software. And that didn’t really work.
But at the time, Arizona, about 20 years ago, licensed certified legal document repairs. And in order to offer forms online, I needed to become a certified legal document repair company. So Fine, found a legal document to prepare, became a Certified Legal company. And right now, but the Certified Legal document viewers are not allowed to work under the supervision of a lawyer. And law firms are not allowed to offer certified legal document prep services through law firms. So the sister company I do over is certified legal document for us, which is paralegals that help people do their documents and get everything filed, and we charge for uncontested divorces and things like that. And so it was a workaround, I had to open up to companies and set up walls and have the right contracts in order to offer this business model. But the really cool thing is starting January one, Arizona has massive regulatory reform. And one of the things they’re doing First of all, they got rid of rule 5.4. So non lawyers are allowed to invest in law firms in Arizona, the first state in the country.
Davina: Big deal. Wow. Very, very big deal.
Billie: The other thing is that they are licensing a new tear of practitioners called legal practitioners who will be allowed to practice law without a law license. Which is amazing.
Davina: Yeah, so many attorneys are really up in arms about both of these. Oh, yeah. Yeah, you know, if you think about, like, all we’ve invested in all these student loans, we have to become this. And now you’re just gonna open up and say, Now any schmo can come out and start giving legal advice, you know?
Billie: Right, right. Lawyers are angry, I get it, even though I was on the task force that helped create these recommendations. And even lawyers in my firm are like, Oh, really, but yes, that’s what’s happening. And modern law is going to offer LP services. So our pods will be a lawyer, an LP, and apparently a goal. And this means that lawyers have to really elevate what they’re doing. They have to become neurosurgeons not, not, you know, urgent care doctors. And it’s an opportunity for lawyers. It’s an opportunity for business owners as well.
Davina: Yeah, it’s very interesting to me that you like it, what comes to my mind are physicians, you know, physician assistants. Mm hmm. Right. And, and I’m sure so many doctors felt very threatened by that, when that idea first came, and now there’s their practices now that you go to and you don’t see the doctor, you see the PA, right, and you’re like, you gotta, you gotta really have something bad wrong to get to see the doctor or make that specific request. So if we can could look at that model and and say, Well, if they can do it, then how can we do it? Any good is very scary for it’s very scary for attorneys because you have a lot of solo practitioners that are coming out. They’re kind of small potatoes and that they’re going to feel that this is my competition. Now, it’s already bad enough with people in their minds with Legal Zoom, you know, we have Legal Zoom in how do I compete against that a lot.
Of course, there are ways to differentiate yourself. And that is, you know, we always look at value, and what how what we provide is different, and what the way that we provide is different. Um, but I can see where that’s really the whole non lawyer thing practicing. Mm hmm. Are there in Arizona? What are the requirements for being able to give legal advice? Can you just, you know, can uncle Fred just start giving legal advice to people and everybody takes it? I mean, he goes on and creates an Instagram channel and a Facebook page, and he’s a business?
Billie: Yeah, no, you have to have certain educational requirements, and they’re not little. Or you have to have practiced 700 hours with Family Law Attorneys full time the last seven of the 10 years, then you have an exam that is not unlike the bar exam, then you become subject to the rules of Professional Conduct under the same disciplinary regulations. So it is going to be similar to the bar exam similar to becoming a lawyer. You have to pass character and fitness.
Davina: Yeah, wonderful. Yeah, that’s that that is so critically important. Um, what So I do want to talk about both your businesses and one of the things I’ve brought up, and we discussed that I mentioned in the intro, I want to make sure we cover very quickly, before we need to end. I want to talk about your fee options and your fee structures. Now it is modern law. Now that we split off I do over what modern law looks like? And how do you function? Do you offer bundled services? Are you offering no work doing under the traditional billing model? Are you doing a combination of traditional billing and flat fees? How does that work?
Billie: Yeah, so we are mostly the traditional model, although as I told you, I mentioned that I invested a lot of money in creating software, and creating document automation. So we do charge flat fees for certain items that we’ve automated, so like, you know, the drafting of a petition or the drafting of response or, you know, simple motions, our flat fee, but everything else is billed hourly.
Davina: Mm hmm. And why did you decide after kind of doing all your experimenting that that would work for you.
Billie: So this is such a good example of like, something that I’ve learned, I was sure that flat fees were better than the billable hour, I was sure. I fundamentally believed and had a belief that flat fees would be better for everyone. And so we did it. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t better for everyone. My clients weren’t as happy. My lawyers weren’t as happy and we made less money. And had I gone into that with my, you know, evolved experimental mind, I would have set up parameters for a good experiment, but I didn’t. This was before I knew that. And it was just a mistake. And I lost a lot of money. And I and I, my clients were just happy. And it wasn’t as clear and it was more difficult. There’s more to fight about. It just didn’t work.
Davina: Yeah, so interesting to hear you say that, because you and I had a little conversation before we started about that. And I’m a huge advocate of billing. And I think the reason that a lot of women law firm owners when they start their practice, and you know, to say I’m going to do flat fees is because they don’t want to take the time and effort to learn how to build properly, and to track their time and to teach other people how to track time. And they have a negative association with it, of big law and working yourself to death and all that kind of stuff that come You know, is baggage that we carry about. And but the ones that I see who truly are making million dollars and more, you know, they’re they’re builders, or they have built to the point and they’re so narrow in their niche that they are able to take that data and say I can tell you definitively what it’s going to cost to do this type of case it’s going to be a B or C. And you know, that’s it right.
So if it’s a family I’ve seen, I’ve seen a couple of Family Law Attorneys who’ve done flat fee, but they’re doing it phase phase spot fees, and their big fees, because one of the big mistakes I see people make is they don’t take into account. They don’t track time so they don’t have data. So they tend to pick fees. Are feel good fees, you know, like, this feels good to me. So I’m going to do this as my fee. And it’s not nearly covering their time plus all their overhead and other costs or time of hiring a person, and then they wonder why I can’t grow. So I think there’s a place for flat fees, you know, estate planning, you know, there’s estate planning, you can assign flat fees, I’m gonna do a simple we’ll package. But you also have to have, you know, outs that are like, okay, when this becomes a complex case, and you’re now doing two revocable trusts for our joint, right, you know, like, now we have to have something.
So if I committed, this is how you’re going to pay. So we have to make other alternative arrangements for people that meet their needs. But I’m a huge advocate of building. And I think that once you learn how to do it, and you learn how that your team can do it, that it will make a huge difference for you and allow you to expand, you know, and be able to pay people. Right? Yeah. Because your attorneys are not only covering themselves, but making you a lot of profit. Yes, yeah. Yeah. So, all right. Well, I think I could talk with you another hour, but we need to, and I’m so glad that you were here today and shared with us, because I think a lot of people are gonna listen to this, and walk away with some great information, a lot of gold nuggets. And hopefully, maybe one day we can have you back and talk and go into more detail. But thanks so much, really, for being here.
Billie: Thank you. It was a great time. Thank you so much.
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