On this week’s episode of the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast, we speak with Genny Castellanos, the Founder and CEO of De Novo Review. De Novo Review is a dynamic legal staffing company dedicated to providing high-caliber, experienced attorneys and paralegals for complex litigation and appellate research, drafting, and courtroom work. 

Genny says, “I worked at a firm handling litigation, and I was always the go-to attorney for complex litigation and writing, and I also brought something unique to the firm; I was an out of the box thinker. That was the birthplace of De Novo Review, in that, during that work experience, I looked at it and thought: How sustainable is this billable hours structure of 2000 hours? Is this the most effective way for law firms to be using their people resources? Are we really strategically placing people to do what they’re best at?” 

We chat about Genny’s journey to founding De Novo Review, as well as:

  • Rethinking the work-life balance in the legal industry
  • How De Novo recruits and curates its team to ensure client satisfaction
  • The advantages of “white labelling” legal operations
  • How law firms can benefit from the use of a staffing service
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:

Transcript

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 Genny Castellanos, founder and CEO of De Novo Review. 

De Novo Review is a legal staffing company dedicated to providing high caliber experienced attorneys and paralegals for complex litigation, appellate research, drafting and courtroom work. So Genny, I’m so happy to have you here today on the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast. Thanks for being here.

Genny Castellanos: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a true pleasure.

Davina: Great. So before we get into talking about De Novo Review, I’d like to, I’d like everybody to learn more about you and your journey to becoming an attorney and then eventually becoming the founder of this company.

Genny: You know, everybody has their story. And I think a lot of people in the legal community decided to be attorneys when they were very young. My story’s a little different. So I have an identical twin sister. And in college, she was going to be a doctor and all of her friends were in the medical field. And I thought, Oh, no, what am I going to do? And so we went on to the internet and found out that I could take this test called the LSAT and there you go. 12 years later, I’ve been an attorney since. So that’s pretty much how I became an attorney. And I really enjoy it.

Davina:  Wow, wow. So that is interesting. And I have, I usually ask people that question on here, you know, how they became an attorney. And there are some who just knew from the time they were little and then there were others of us who, like you and I, who, you know, came to being an attorney in a different route. You said before you got into being an attorney, you were doing marketing. You have a marketing degree, right?

Genny: I do my undergrad degree is in Business Administration and I focused in marketing, just like you. And you said, I know that you were focused in journalism. And so I thought I was going to be a salesperson, to be quite honest. And I went into, I wanted to become a real estate attorney and started law school. And it was really, it was a great start to a wonderful career.

Davina: Yeah. And so tell me about being an attorney. Like, did you work for a while as an attorney and decide that it, you know, wasn’t really a good fit for you or where you wanted to go? Or are you still practicing? Tell me about kind of your career as an attorney.

Genny’s Career as an Attorney

Genny: During law school, I was very much into researching and Law Review. And so naturally, my first job as an attorney was a judicial clerk for the Fourth District Court of Appeal here in Florida. And it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to really learn to be a lawyer and give recommendations to judges. I mean, I feel very, very fortunate, especially during, it was during the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009. After that, I worked at a firm handling litigation defense work. And I was always that go-to attorney for complex litigation and writing. And also, I brought something unique to the firm. I was an out of the box thinker. 

And pretty much that was the birthplace in that, during that work experience, I looked at it and thought, you know, oh, this billable hour structure of 2000 hours, how sustainable is this? And is this the most effective way for law firms to be using their people resources, right? Are we really allocating and strategically placing people to do what they’re best at? And so, yeah, I realized that it definitely needed some improvements for sure in the workforce model.

Davina: Right, right. Yeah. You know, that is, I used to work, When I was in marketing, I used to work for a large law firm. And their requirement for associates for hours was between, it was, I think it was 2500, at one point. 2500 to 2000. And that is, you know, having worked with lawyers and law firms now in helping them grow their practices every last year, small firms. That’s one of the challenges that small firms have is that oftentimes, women law firm owners in particular start firms because they want to have more flexibility and control over their time. 

And so a 2000-hour standard for them and for people who go and work for small firms seems really harsh. Seems really aggressive, you know? Like, and it doesn’t leave a lot of room for a life. Yeah, so tell me more about that. Like, how, you came up with the idea for De Novo Review kind of born out of this idea that there’s got to be a better way.

Genny: Well, I’m sitting in the office, and let’s face it, the traditional workforce model, especially in the legal community, but that hasn’t really leveraged technology is outdated and not conducive. So I’m sitting at the office putting in 2300 hours, easily, right? And I’m seeing the parents and partners that want to have families or a balanced lifestyle are really struggling with doing both. I had a coworker, she had a newborn, right? 

How do you go to court and make sure that you balance everything that you’re struggling with? And so I thought there, why do we have to be in an office to do our work? We’re all professionals, we can self-govern. And we can work at times that we are the most productive. I love from him at night. I am a night owl. And so I pitched my idea to the co-founder of Subway, Fred DeLuca, and I said, You know, I want to, I think I could start this research and writing company. 

Essentially a network of curated and qualified attorneys and make sure that they’re strategically placed with the right firm to do the right work at the right time. Essentially, almost an Uber model, but more managed. And he said, You should do that. You know how to do it. And pretty much I started the company three months after I left the job in 2012. Back then, Uber was, you know, I think that nobody was really thinking that this was a possible model.

Davina: Right. But it’s not only turned out to be a possible model, but a successful model, right?

Genny: It is. I’m actually one of the first I think, De Novo’s the first and most trusted network of attorneys and we started over eight years ago. There’s been a lot of new companies entering the market, which is, it’s wonderful, it’s more resources for law firms and a better work-life environment, I believe for attorneys. And some of our attorneys use both of our services. So they might have a small law firm and they’ll be candidates and do the work and then other times they refer out work to add an additional revenue stream to their firm.

Davina: Right, right. That model of, you know, making your career in a law firm your priority over family, over your personal interest and all that, that’s a very, it’s a model of the patriarchy, you know? It was something that’s developed by men at a time when men were the breadwinners and women, you know, took care of families, right? 

And the law industry, the legal industry has been, is always very slow to sort of move to new models. We’re very traditional, we’re grounded a lot in tradition, we’re taught tradition, you know, throughout our last little career. And it’s a very exciting time, certainly over the past few years, but then, even more so recently because of all that’s happened with this pandemic and people being sort of forced to think differently about how they’re going to run their businesses, including law firms and large law firms, not just solos, you know? 

And we’re seeing more and more. I know you’ve probably been seeing a lot of women starting their own law firms and working in a different way and wanting to work in a different way because that model of the patriarchy doesn’t really work for women who most of the research will show are the ones that are primarily in charge of families, you know? They’re still in charge of hearth and home and they still have to have this career, right?

Genny: Yeah. And to be quite frank with you, I personally wanted to have a family. And I looked at myself and I thought, how am I going to have a family and a significant other and be this litigator when I’m required to come to the office? And so I just didn’t want to make those type of sacrifices. I have a belief that you can have it all and I think it’s, I’ve been looking at following your philosophies and, you know, what you do with other lawyers and law firms is amazing in providing them that messaging and the resources to help them create that in their lives. I think that’s wonderful.

Davina: Yeah, I mean, I think that we, there are so many resources and tools available now that make it possible for attorneys and law firm owners, and particularly women law firm owners. to create whatever it is they desire and to have it all, if they want to have it all. There’s a way to do it. And even back when I started my firm in 2007, a lot of these, you know, tools that we have now were not available. 

Certainly the marketing tools, you know, the social media scene was still brand new. There were some, you know, Instagram hadn’t even been created yet in 2007. So, there are so many tools that are available now and resources that are available, like De Novo that didn’t exist at that time, you know? And so it’s really, really exciting. That was only, you know, 13 years or so ago. So it’s really, really exciting to be able to have this. So talk to me about how you, how De Novo works. How do you guys work with your clients? What is the model?

Genny: So, the model is always changing and evolving because we want to grow and learn from our customer experience. And so we have essentially two main models, and it’s called De Novo Launchpad, is one division and that division, we have, we provide consulting and staffing to firms. So what that means is, essentially, a firm will contact us and say, I need assistance either per project, so a motion drafting or a hearing coverage, or I need assistance managing this aspect of my firm. 

So we’re a little bit different than other staffing networks in that we don’t just surface a project, we will help the firm in their initiatives. So we will stop them with one team, a team or one attorney to help them on that project. We also have a project advisor that will come in and supervise or assist in making sure that the project is successful, depending on the attorney’s needs.

Davina: That’s great. And so how do you recruit your team? I mean, I don’t need you to, I don’t want you to give me your like secret sauce or anything, but there’s a process or there’s certain quality that you’re looking for, for your team? Because I imagine the other part of this is you create opportunity for attorneys who don’t want to have the full-blown law firm, but they still want to work as a lawyer.

A Team That Works Towards Focus

Genny: Exactly. You know, and I get this question a lot. People are like Genny, why do people work with you? I don’t understand. They’re federal judicial clerks or they’re very successful attorneys. And the attorneys that work for me are very much overachievers, they work towards focus. And so the way that we get them is they really find us. They know about our reputation, they know the type of culture that we provide in the work field. 

And we also don’t just have an open network, we don’t let just anybody come in and work for our clients. We review their resumes, we review their work products and then we actually test them out and try them and see who actually provides the quality of work that’s aligned with our brand. And so we have a curated bench and we use them most of the time, unless the project is outside of an area of expertise of that bench.

Davina: Hmm, is all of the work that you guys, what you help people with is project work, which is a temporary kind of thing. Like maybe we have this big trial and our firm isn’t big enough, we really need more resources and staff. So I, you know, I can see where you provide. Here we go. Here’s a team of experienced attorneys to work with you on this trial, right? Do you have any, do you do any sort of permanent placement or anything like that? Or is it contract attorneys?

Genny: We have different structures. So we started off with ghostwriters and legal writers and contract attorneys behind the scenes. Now we offer of counsel relationships, and even co-counsel. So if you need a second chair at a trial, we have fulfilled requests for permanent placement, usually for our clients. So just to give you three basic examples that have come in this week alone, this week, we have an attorney that asked for trial coverage in Indian River. 

They’re going to have a trial on August, which is surprising to me in person and we’ll see if it actually occurs. We’ve had a class-action motion come in related to class actions. And then we’ve also had a firm that’s having us help him set up a whole new Department of criminal law and help him with the content. So these are just three of the many examples that come in on a daily basis.

Davina: So this can, so talking about some of the different ways, you’ve given us those examples, but talk to me about some of the many different ways that your clients have used your services. You mentioned research, you mentioned litigation. Give me some examples of those.

Genny: In litigation, we’re seeing that there’s real estate firms as well as personal injury firms that possibly, for example, their real estate firm might only do transactional work, and they want to bring a litigation department to service their clients. We know how important your law firm brand is. And so do you really want to dilute the brand’s by referring out the matters? So with De Novo, you can insource a staffer and keep the work and have that litigation department run. So we have a real estate attorney that started to do that. 

We also have a personal injury attorney that had 150 pre-litigation cases, single events, and he decided, you know what, I want to have a litigation department. So we have three coverage attorneys and three drafting attorneys, as well as an attorney advisor. And they essentially manage his entire docket of 150 cases of litigation.

Davina: Wow. So it’s kind of like white labeling, you know? White labeling and it appears to the outside world that you, this is the size of your firm. But you’re securing that without having to go through the hiring process and go hire a bunch of people and have them permanently on his payroll.

Genny: Davina, I’m going to coin that term. That’s a really great way of saying it. It’s definitely white labeling your legal operations, whether you want just a small task or the whole entire operations.

Davina: Right, right. So you mentioned managing. You’re helping firms manage. Talk to me about that a little bit more because you said the De Novo Launchpad, that there’s project work and then there’s kind of this managing aspect. What is that about?

Genny: What happens in the small firms, and I see this also in the large firms, but let’s focus on the small firms for a moment. What happens in a small law firm is that you have the rainmaker attorney that’s trying to run the law firm and bring in the business. And so what they essentially sometimes need is is somebody to step into their operational role, and manage a team of attorneys. So we’ve had requests to ask us to staff that attorney manager. Also, we have a project and operation manager that will come in and look at the processes set up by the firm. 

One of the most common mistakes that I see in firms, and they’re like, you know, we didn’t cover this hearing, or there’s this document that wasn’t drafted on time. And they think it’s the staff’s fault but they don’t have the proper procedure in place. So they don’t have an email, one email where everything gets channeled. And it seems like a very simple solution but so many firms are not looking at the legal process and operations of their services. So we come in and help with that. That’s a little bit different than a contract attorney services but it’s really instrumental to making sure that your team is successful.

Davina: Right. So give me an idea of who the profile maybe of your ideal client. Like, who is it that you’d like to work with the most?

De Novo Review’s Ideal Client Profile

Genny: Well, I love to work with very entrepreneurial tech-savvy law firms. And I find that that exists in small firms and large firms. We actually have two or three national firms that we’re working with at any given time. And what we find is that they’re risk-takers, they’re expanding and they’re growing very quickly. So we love to work with those. Obviously, litigation is definitely an area of focus for us that we have a lot of attorneys that are great to work with. 

Davina: Talk to me about your, what happens if there’s a problem? Because I can see, you know, let’s say you send in a group, and when you mentioned earlier, we’ve got three coverage attorneys and three drafters, right? So what if there’s an issue with one of those people? How do you guys, you know, how do you handle that? And what does the law firm client do in that case? 

Genny: You know, and I’m always revising this protocol because I want to make it the most effective for both the attorney rendering the work and the client receiving the work. So currently, what we have in place is, if for whatever reason, it’s a new attorney, that you haven’t worked with before, and you’re not happy with their work, we typically essentially put another attorney to do the same work and get it delivered to the client. 

That’s essentially what we do. And then we look at, was there a problem in the intake? So everybody’s all about let’s delegate. Finally, we’re getting into worlds of accepting the remote work and accepting the fact that delegation is a required component to be successful. So did this firm properly, did it delegate the work and can our project advisor work with them and help them figure out what kind of quality of work they want? So we also set up guidelines for every staff attorney. 

So if, for example, Davina, now, let’s say you had a firm and you wanted to send us five appellate briefs. Our project advisor gets to know the quality and the type of formatting and your stylistic choices and we create guidelines for every single attorney that works on your, with your law firm so that when they plug in, they know exactly what you’re looking for. Are you looking for a very extensive law review type appellate brief? Are you looking for a few cases of very concise type of work?

Davina: Yeah, I mean, I can imagine that that was something that you probably, you guys probably realized that you needed to develop these kinds of guidelines early on because I think one of the challenges of attorneys who, when they start a business, grow a business, they might not have some of the business skills that they need, or this systematic thinking, or whatever. And one of the biggest challenges I know of solos starting firms is being able to communicate, you know, set those clear expectations and communicate exactly what they want. 

They have such a clear picture in their head. And, but often, they don’t really know how to communicate that to other people to have other people help them. Yeah, I imagine this is something that you guys really put a lot of work into sort of developing this system, probably because you had some experiences early on that said, oh, gosh, we have a communication issue, right?

Genny: Definitely. The guidelines for each attorney that we work with helps, and also making sure that we try to give them the same staff. So if they like working with a particular staff member, that staff is always first in line to get the work that comes in.

Davina: So, if you have attorneys who want to, you, I noticed what was kind of different, I had interviewed another company who does something similar but I noticed something a little bit different with yours is you have not only experienced attorneys, but you also have paralegals.

Genny: We do have paralegals And also, one of our little secrets that we don’t really say a lot is sometimes we’ll staff a junior attorney at a paralegal rate because ultimately what we want is the best quality work product for the attorney. And so it really just depends who’s going into the best job at the right price. So I also have paralegals and attorneys. And we get projects as something like, can you transcribe this really quick? Or can you put this on a letterhead? And you think, Wow, attorneys really need a second hand.

Davina: Right, right. So you guys are really providing a lot of different services, not just to an attorney coming in and doing research or attorney going in and showing up at court, there’s a lot of different aspects of it that you, where you’re providing that extra resource so they can expand their small firms. Are you having a lot of solo attorneys kind of coming to you and saying, I’d like to do some contract work. Is that, do you kind of have that model or is it more like you’re hiring and recruiting certain people?

Genny: Both. I would say both. We have some attorneys that have their small law firm, or they started a law firm and they’re looking for an additional revenue stream. But in hiring these attorneys, we want to make sure that they have the time to prioritize the client’s projects that come in. So there’s a very in-depth vetting process to make sure that they can really prioritize this work. And so we also have other attorneys that wants to work part-time, full time, or just not have to run a law firm on their own, and they come in to work with us.

Davina: Gotcha. So tell me, what do you think the biggest benefits to a law firm are in using a service like this.

Genny: You know, I actually use this service for my law firm too. So I have a law firm and anytime I get an appeal or a property insurance claim, I staff one of the attorneys on my team to take the case from start to finish. I think the biggest benefit is one, you’re able to run a firm instead of work and own your job in a firm. And two, you’re also able to expand into areas of law that might be outside of your court.

 So we see family law firms that add in appellate work, we see real estate transactional firms add a litigations department, we see single event personal injury firms that use the consulting division to investigate different mass torts to invest into and represent. So it allows you to really diversify your law firm, and also focus your time on developing those relationships that are really key to the success of the firm. 

Davina: Are there certain areas of practice that you typically, I mean, do you define certain areas of practice that you support? And are there some that you’re, you know, that’s just not there yet or you don’t want to expand into? 

Genny: And that’s a really good question. And yes, we do because we focus on areas of law that we have already tested and tried by attorneys. And so we’ve been at this for over eight years. And obviously, there’s certain areas of law that lends itself to delegation more so than others.

Davina: So tell me what those are.

Delegation-Ready Legal Work

Genny: Definitely. So we find that, for example, appellate work, and that’s why the company’s name is called De Novo Review. Obviously, I have an appellate background. And De Novo appellate briefs really lends itself to delegation. Also, single event and mass tort, personal injury. In family law, we find that family law has a lot of moving pieces, and it can really be organized in a way with in-house staff. Family law, I always recommend that you only outsource for now complex motions for summary judgment, alimony research and appellate work. 

And we’ll tell the client if we don’t think a project is really conducive to delegation, we’ll advise against the delegation. Immigration is one of the fields that we rarely take on for that reason, as well. It’s very process-oriented and the attorney creates templates and processes in place. I don’t know that they necessarily need to outsource work

Davina: What about like, state planning or probate or any of that kind of,

Genny: Probate litigation, possibly, but the actual transactional work, we don’t really see a high demand for that dnd it’s because they think law firms get organized in-house with that type of work.

Davina:  Right, right. And is this a profitable approach long-term for a law firm?

Genny: It is in that we structure different deals with every law firm. So it’s profitable in that the more, for us, we have different packages. So we have pay as you go prepaid blocks of time and subscription. And so what that means is, the more services you outsource to us, the lower the rate gets. And it’s pretty much very equivalent to having an in-house attorney. We actually have a sheet that shows that the costs of having somebody on-site and managed in-house versus off-site, and there’s actually tremendous amounts of savings. 

Davina: Oh, really? 

Genny: Mm-hmm. Definitely. People don’t, like for example, personal injury law firms single event, they don’t really track the time that the attorney spent. How much of the time that they’re paying on their salary actually goes to workup. With a company like De Novo, you only pay for the work that’s actually delivered and the time that’s put in.

Davina: Yeah, yeah. So you guys, are you in all 50 states? Are you, do you have clients around the world?

Genny: We have clients nationally. We find a lot of clients and in, we have clients in the East Coast, West Coast, small states, big states. We have staff that’s mostly here in the US. I have had a few attorneys that, you know, live in Canada or Columbia, but they’re back in US territory right now, considering everything that’s happening.

Davina: Mm-hmm. So with this kind of model, is this, are these distributed workers? I mean, is everything remote that they’re providing, unless maybe they’re going to be doing coverage or something like that? Or do you have some cases where you’re working in-house with a firm for a period of time? 

Planning for the New Remote Age

Genny: The majority of our staff is off-site and rarely has to go on site. When we work with a client, we really engage with clients on a long term relationship. And so we ask them if they in the future, they’re going to want the attorney to come on-site and we take that into consideration. So some of our staff attorneys actually do office visits. You can call them directly, which is a big difference. You want to be able to talk to the person that’s doing the work, you can do that with our company. So we do have off-site mostly, but we can afford on site staffing as well.

Davina: Right, right. Yeah, and I imagine especially now, you’re probably seeing a lot less of on-site just because of the pandemic. And so many people are not even working in their offices themselves. So I would imagine, people are really wrapping their minds around that even more these days.

Genny: Oh, definitely. And our clients were very relieved when the pandemic occurred. I had already back in February, I kind of saw that where this was going. And so I had all the staff to equipment checks, check their internet. And so when we had shut down orders and face, our clients really didn’t feel an interruption in their workups because we were ready to go, we had already had the system in place. So it was really great for our clients. 

One of the things that we do and just to, just because we’re in a remote world right now, I think it’s important, I think law firms are trying to figure this out, you know, equipment checks, it’s we do this naturally whenever we onboard an attorney to work with our clients and we check their laptops, we check to make sure that they have a phone, or the apps that we use. And just make sure, just like Uber, right? Uber cars go through a check and we do that because it’s really important when you’re working from home to have the right environment.

Davina: Right, right. So that’s another saving, I guess. If you’re hiring out the staffing, you’re not needing to provide equipment for these, for the people helping you do the work, right? You guys provide that and make sure that they have that. So it’s not like, so that’s an additional savings. They’re not, as opposed to hiring people and bringing them in and having to buy equipment and have desks.

Genny: That’s correct. Yeah. And we even provide our staff CME credits, one credit a month. And we also provide it for our clients. So that’s another savings that attorneys receive when they work with us.

Davina: Oh, wow, wow. Well, this has all been really interesting. And I think that a lot of our listeners are going to be rethinking maybe how they grow and expand their businesses and take on bigger projects that they’ve been wanting to take on but maybe haven’t had the staff to do. So, or staff, or maybe the depth of knowledge in some areas of practice. So thanks for sharing all that. Tell us how we can find you and find out more about De Novo Review and reach out to the company if we want to access your services.

Genny: Sure. So our website is www.denovoreview.com. And that’s like the appellate standard review, De Novo. My phone, the company line, I should say, is 305-925-0229. And right before I sign off, I wanted to just mention one more thing. De Novo has a new division that they’ve launched called De Novo Learning. 

And it’s a free resource center where we get the information, obviously, the non-confidential information that we acquired through our staffing and consulting division and we share that on De Novo Learning. So that’s the department that’s bringing the 3COBs and content right now we’re covering bankruptcy and business interruption litigation and providing mastermind sessions with law firms regarding those two topics. A lot of law firms are expanding in that area.

Davina: So, people want to participate in that, where do they need to go?

Genny: I would have them send me an email because it’s by invitation only. So it’d be Genny with a G. That’s [email protected]. And they’ll receive an invitation to the Facebook group as well as the website. 

Davina: Oh, wonderful. Genny, thanks so much for being here. This has really been informative and fun. And I’m so happy you’re here today.

Genny: Thank you so much for having me. It’s really a true pleasure. Thank you.