On this week’s Wealthy Woman Lawyer ® Podcast, we speak with Melissa Emery, Owner of Emery Law Office in Louisville, Kentucky. Melissa was an atypical law student, attending school two states away every weekend as a mother of four, yet still finishing in the top 10% of her class in just over two years. She opened her practice in 2017 and focuses on helping people who have been injured in motor vehicle collisions.
Melissa says, “I think when you’ve got people in your life that help you, you want to give back and help other people. That’s the thread that I feel runs through my life and through my business: I want to help other people. Not just clients, but other lawyers and their staff. And, the more I can expand my business, the more people we can help.”
We discuss business development practices to reclaim your time, as well as:
- Overcoming hiring fears
- Aiding staff with personal goals to empower employees and your business
- Building a comprehensive referral network with other trusted attorneys
- Approachable and personal marketing to connect with clients
- The mindset needed to attract aligned and ideal clients
- And 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 overwhelm 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.
Let’s welcome Melissa Emery of Emery Law Office in Louisville, Kentucky. I know a lot of you will really resonate with Melissa’s story because Melissa wasn’t your typical law student, when she went to law school, she was a mother of four. And she commuted through two states every weekend to attend her law school classes. She finished in the top 10% of her class in just over two years, and in 2017, she opened her law office, Emery Law Office, which focuses on helping people who’ve been injured in collisions. So Melissa, it’s so good to have you here today. And I can’t wait to get know to know more about you.
Melissa Emery: Davina. Thank you. I’m really grateful for this opportunity.
Davina: Oh, great. So you have so much to unpack here and talk about but you first of all, just tell us what services Emery Law Office provides. What is your area of practice?
Melissa: We are only a personal injury firm and we’ve actually niched down to we were we mostly do motor vehicle accidents with an occasional slip and fall.
Davina: Okay. Okay. So I want to talk about that in more detail and kind of what made you decide that but before we do that, I want people to get to know a little bit about you and who you are, and kind of your journey to becoming an attorney. It sounds like you had a lot of miles on your journey.
Melissa: I did, I kind of took the long way to law school and in the long way to becoming a business owner. I already had an MBA and four kids, like you said before I started law school. And I applied to law school right after 9/11 when a lot of people were applying to law school, and they weren’t opening up additional seats. So I ended up finding, actually my ex husband found it a law school up in Michigan, it had a weekend program. So we made the decision that I would commute every weekend.
And, and I did and I loved it. I absolutely loved law school. When I got done with law school, though, we went through a divorce. And he is an attorney. So finding a legal job when all of your connections, suddenly poof, was a challenge. So instead of going straight into law, I actually worked as a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch, for about 18 months, until the best boss I’ve ever had sat me down and very lovingly pushed me out of the nest. And he said, You know, I could find a position for you here. I could make sure that you stayed even in Louisville for your kids. But he said, I think I’d be doing you a disservice. I think you need to go practice law.
And I cried and I I pitched a fit. But he was absolutely right. And I got to tell him that two years later that this was absolutely the right decision. As far as the area of law I went into though, I always wanted to help people. And I felt like criminal defense wasn’t quite my my thing. Having gone through a divorce. I couldn’t stomach that either. But personal injury law, personal injury law was a real passion of mine. And I was forced to and that was the first job that I got.
Davina: Oh, I love that. I love that. So I I can’t even imagine what that must have been like to have four kids. And then you’re you’re traveling every weekend across two states to get to to get to law school because law school I mean, law school is tough.
Melissa: When you’re used to listening to Barney and The Wiggles all day long and eating your food at the wrong temperature. I gotta tell you, I actually enjoyed my weekend. I mean, I listened to my subjects on tape back then it was on tape, going to law school. I got, you know, brain interaction and adult interaction and my food was at the right temperature when I ate it. And then I got to, you know, call my husband call my kids call my mom on my commute back. So I looked forward to my weekend actually.
Davina: Yeah, I can imagine so you enjoyed that time alone in the car.
Melissa: I did. And I have felt like it set up for the kids. Now that was not the ideal way to do law school. I don’t think I don’t think having a bunch of kids and then trying this is perhaps the smartest way to do it. But I hoped it sent the message to my kids that whatever they want to do, there’s a way to do it.
Davina: Right, right. They are. I have known I have known women who have started law school pregnant and finished pregnant with another child. I’m always I’m always you know, just so full of admiration for moms who go to law school and, and raise young children while they’re doing it because I, you know, when I was in law school it was it was just me. And it was hard enough because it was just me and my husband, it was hard enough as it was. So it is a, it is a challenge really on top of that, but I love your message. And it’s it’s a theme that you carry throughout your your work, this idea that you can, you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to tell me how that sort of plays out in your law practice?
Melissa: Well, I mean, when we hire staff, we may hire them for one position. But we also want to make sure that they have opportunities to grow. So if somebody comes in, let’s say, as the receptionist, we don’t want them to stay as the receptionist, we want them to grow into whatever they want to grow into. And so we tell them, you may be starting at this job. But if you want more, we’ll give you every opportunity to get more.
We sit down and have meetings with them annually to go over their personal, professional and financial goals. And like, for example, we had an employee at one point that wanted to learn Spanish. And I thought, you know, okay, you want to learn Spanish, this is what we’ll do, I’ll buy your Rosetta Stone. And when you reach these different milestones, you’ll get raises. And you know, in the end, when you’re fluent in Spanish, that helps our business. But we’ve also helped you with a personal goal.
Davina: I love that. So that’s come, it’s come through as part of your management philosophy that So tell us about, here’s an idea of kind of the size of your firm, and how you started out and and how you’ve grown, how much you you’ve grown. So we’ll have sort of an idea.
Melissa: Sure, we started out in May of 2017 with three people. I was one of those three, and we very quickly went down to two. Right now we’re at nine people, one of whom is an attorney in the Philippines, who works for us as a litigation paralegal. So we’ve expanded quite a lot in three and a half years, we plan to hire a slew more people in 2021. Because one of my goals is to go and spend a month away from my office in the Philippines. And in order to do that, I’ve got to get out of the practice of law and just be working on my business.
Davina: Right? Right. That’s, that’s really so critical that’s for, for law, firm growth, is to be able to devote time to be the CEO of your law firm and growing your business. And you know, making a whole lot of money is fabulous. And it’s even better when you can do it and reclaim some of your time.
Melissa: And to me, time has always been more important to money than money. I can use money to buy a lot of things, but we all wake up with the same 24 hours every day. So, you know, we really value our time. One of the ways that that we do that here is like today, for example, this is our quarterly meeting day. So I take the time away from my office, I schedule our financial meetings, I schedule meetings with our C suite, my husband takes a day off work. And together we kind of go through inventory, the firm, the staff, our finances, our personal professional and financial goals. And that’s really helped us a lot.
Davina: Mm hmm. That’s, that’s great. When did you start doing that? When did you so like, what was it like when you first started your firm? Was it just you by yourself? Or did you immediately hire a paralegal. Receptionist? Give us an idea.
Melissa: I actually brought two paralegals with me from my former firm, one of them very quickly did not make cut. But the other one stayed on for two more years. And I had already had her for three. So I’ve worked with her for quite a while. And then we tried to hire in advance of needing to hire, I would rather hire too soon than to wait too late.
And, you know, just over time we just kept adding, one of the trends that I saw, at least in in my area in Louisville, is that a lot of personal injury attorneys that go out on their own, try to delay hiring people try to delay bringing staff on. And I just that was not the way I wanted to do it. I wanted to have time for me. I want to have time for my family. And so I knew I needed help. And by bringing in help, I’m helping that person take care of their family as well.
Davina: Right. So what what do you think? I mean, I know a lot of women law firm owners with whom I speak, have fear around hiring because they had this fear of Am I going to be able to pay this person is the work going to come? What do you think gave you the confidence to sort of make that leap because I agree with you, I think there’s a, there’s a certain point where you have to sort of step out on faith a little bit and start bringing in a team and maybe before you even feel like you’re ready for it. What do you think the difference was for you? And like, what kind of thoughts went through your head with regard to that?
Melissa: I really buy into the whole field of dreams concept, if you will come. Yeah. And I mean, if it’s fair, you, you have to do it. I mean, it’s really scary as a personal injury lawyer, I don’t get paid till the end of the case.
Melissa: But my staff doesn’t wait that long to get paid, they get paid every week. So I did some inventory. Before I moved, I kind of figured out, okay, what percentage of my case file do I think will come with me, I was conservative in my estimate, I set some money aside, so that basically, I could pay staff for three months, even if I couldn’t pay me. And, you know, we made it. But also staff knew that, in order for them to make more money, in order for me to be able to give raises, which I want to give, the money has to be there.
So they have to perform. You know, we set up benchmarks for them. This is these are your KPIs. These are the numbers you need to watch, and what you need to do. And if you do these things, it will happen. And so yeah, it’s scary, it can be scary hiring staff, but we have never, we have never missed a payroll. In the entire three and a half years, we’ve been in business.
Davina: That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. So let’s, let’s talk about since you are a contingency firm. You know, I work with a lot of clients who are there, they are billable, and some who are flat fees. And it always comes up with content, it’s much, you know, easier in people’s minds to think about how they can plan to hire somebody, if they’re going to bring them on, and they’re going to start being billable, right, then they go by they’re gonna be billable. So they’ll be making me money. But within a contingency situation, what do you think? How, how has that been a model? How have you structured your business so that that model works for you to hire people?
Melissa: Well, I’ll tell you, it’s a business model, I don’t think I could have done as a single person. I waited until I was married, and my husband had a very stable, steady paycheck coming in before we made this leap. And then we set aside all of our tax money one year, and we said, okay, we’re gonna give this a go. And we’re gonna do our best.
But I also had to kind of take inventory of what did I have in place? In terms of cases, in my last firm? What percentage of those did I think would come with me? And if they came with me, how long would I need to, you got to do budgeting. I mean, you have to sit down and do budgeting and planning. And it is scary. But but that’s, I mean, that’s how I did it. I don’t know that I could have done it any sooner. I needed to know that I had cases that would come with me.
Davina: Right. And you have you have, you know, a real confidence in your, in yourself and, and your abilities to you know, make that happen. And I, you know, the doing the math part is huge. You have to do the math. And then there’s something else. That’s kind of an internal thing that allows you to be able to say I could I could step out and take this risk. What do you think? Where do you think that comes from for you?
Melissa: From my mom. My mom did not finish college because she started having children. And back in that day, you know, you were pregnant, you didn’t stay in college, I guess. And after we both got in school, my sister and I both got in school, she said I I want to go get a job. And so she applied to work at McDonald Douglas aircraft carrier, and she was going to be a floor sweeper, and those just weren’t opening up.
So she went back to school and, and learn sheetmetal and riveting and built airplanes. And I mean, this is a house, a housewife, that went from being a housewife to physically building airplanes. And I know it was a really hard journey for her. But she did it. And she always told me if you want something bad enough, you can achieve it, but you’re gonna have to put in the work to do it. And so she was a real inspiration for me to know that okay, if this is what I want, I can do it.
Davina: That’s wonderful. That’s so it’s so important to have those people in your life who are who were such inspirations? And I see that as a as kind of a kind of a theme in your branding and what you talk about because you actually mentioned your mom in your, on your website, you talked about that. You don’t go into that kind of detail about it, but you talk about That and, and really all of all of this. You’re the inspiration from your mom, it sounds like really led you down this path of sort of helping people.
Melissa: Right. Right. She She helps others, she’s helped me get through stuff, my goodness, going through a divorce, even just having four children. And I think when you’ve got people in your life that helped you, you want to give back and help other people. And that’s kind of the thread that I feel runs through my life and through my business. I want to help other people, not just clients, but help other people who are lawyers, help other people who are staff, the more I can expand my business, the more people we can help. And in turn, the more people they can help. So she definitely set that up as a theme for me.
Davina: So let’s talk about why you chose, you talked a little bit about why you chose personal injury and particularly collision injury. So go into that a little bit more. And just just tell us a little bit more about why that is so important to you, and why you chose to niche down the way you did.
Melissa: I’ve always enjoyed personal injury law, I think you’re helping people that may have not ever had any interactions with lawyers before. I mean, I know that for me growing up, my family wasn’t a wealthy family, they didn’t go through a divorce, they weren’t into crime, you never needed a lawyer. But when you get in a crash, I mean, this is something that’s not your fault, this isn’t something you’ve created.
And sometimes you need a lawyer, and you don’t even know where to start. And so I have always wanted to help people. And I just felt that that was the best way to help people is to help people that may not have any interactions with lawyers otherwise in their lifetime. And unlike most lawyers, you know, we don’t pay by we don’t charge by the hour. It’s contingency fee. So somebody doesn’t have to have money to come into my firm and become a client. You know, that’s, that’s us helping them get money.
Davina: Right. Why do you think you for personal injury? Why don’t you Why have you sort of honed in on collisions, because it looks like you do truck and motor vehicle and motorcycle. And that’s really kind of your area that you focus on? Why is that important to you?
Melissa: Well, in personal injury, I enjoy helping people directly. In as far as like, why I didn’t do worker’s comp, or med mal or something like that, honestly, the first job I got out of law school, that was a law job, only did car accidents, and only did slip and fall cases. So that’s what I learned. Yeah, I just I just didn’t learn the others law. So it just became a simplified system of who do car crashes, we do truck crashes, motorcycles, and, you know, anything automobile related, unless it’s a worker’s comp case.
And then we refer the rest out. And by referring the rest out, we’re able to make those connections with other attorneys. So I was encouraged my clients, current and former call me with any legal needs, you have, you know, consider me your lawyer. I don’t do Family Law. But let me let me listen to what you’ve got going on and put you in touch with a person or person who I feel would best be able to meet that need for you. Let me become like your concierge of lawyers.
Davina: Right. So I thought, you know, I think there’s, there’s sometimes there’s fear around a lot of people questioning, should I be shy niche down? how tightly Should I niche down? Will there be enough work for me? If that’s the case? And I think you you got to see any an example, with the firm you worked with, you got to see an example of a firm that had done that, and it was a lucrative business model. And and then you just said, Hey, if they can do it, I can do it sounds like, right.
Melissa: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. You know, and again, I didn’t want to rule out the ability to, you know, pass referrals to other attorneys. If I can just become really good at my field, and let them be really good at their field. You know, there’s plenty of work for everybody. But that gives me the opportunity to then interact without somebody feeling like I’m a competitor necessarily.
Davina: Right. Right. And that that’s one of the best ways to build those sort of referral connections is by being a referrer. And being a connector, you know, absolutely setting people up. And I think that I think what you’ve mentioned, what you’ve touched on, there is a terrific sort of marketing idea, which is to communicate to your clients that, you know, I even if I don’t practice this area, call me first and I will hook you up with, you know, somebody that I know is good, who will be there to help.
Melissa: Right, right. Because if you’re not used to dealing with lawyers, like I said, I grew up we didn’t have a family lawyer. We didn’t. We didn’t And so it can be scary and daunting. What do you do? You know, pick up the yellow pages or Google? I mean, how do you know if that person is any good. But if you’ve already got a relationship with a lawyer, even if it’s not their area of law, you can call them and say, Hey, I’m sure you know, a lot of lawyers, who do you know, who would you trust? You know, me, as a person, you know, me as a client, who would you trust. And it really helps build rapport with clients, with other lawyers. And again, it helps clients who may be a little scared or nervous about the legal system.
Davina: Right, right. And you make a very valid point there that, you know, we we, as attorneys, we tend to think that, you know, once we get through law school, we get kind of jaded, you start getting into day to day practice. And we sort of think everybody knows these things, right?
That, and we forget how many years it took us to learn what we know. And, and, and it’s important to remember and realize that a lot of our clients coming to us there’s, you know, they have fear, and rightly so, and a lot of cases around the legal system. And that feeling that feeling that, you know, not only now have I got a fear of the insurance company, but am I going to, you know, is the lawyer going to take care of me? I don’t know anything about the insurance company. I don’t know anything about the legal system. And what am I supposed to do here? And that’s particularly difficult when somebody is dealing with severe injuries and injuries that really affect their quality of life, right?
Melissa: Well, absolutely. Because I mean, imagine, it’s challenging enough to try to research and attorney try to research the law, figure out what you’re going to do, what decisions need to be made on a good day. But now imagine trying to do it, when you feel really awful, you’ve got a migraine, your next bottle, your backs bothering you, you don’t know who you can trust, I mean, talk about scary.
And, and that’s why, you know, when we deal with our clients, we do get kind of personal, I mean, we, we have a newsletter that goes out, it’s a hardcopy newsletter. And it doesn’t talk a lot about personal injury law, it talks mostly about my kid, my dog, my staff, because I want them to know, I’m approachable. You can call me and tell me your personal stuff, Tell me your story. And let us get the help for you that you need. But you do, you’ve got to have that personal relationship so that they can trust you with their with their case, especially personal injury.
I mean, it gets into a lot of personal stuff, sometimes, you know, they may have intimacy issues, they may have issues with their doctor, and they don’t know how to bring that up with their doctor. So there’s a lot of personal information that’s shared. And I think that one of the ways that we can connect with clients and help them with that transition, is by sharing a little bit of ourselves as well.
Davina: Right, right. That’s, that’s so true. So absolutely true. Let me ask you this, how? I think many times whatever area of practice, but I know personal injury is so referral driven. And a lot of attorneys feel sort of intimidated by the big players in their area, those guys who are kind of personal injury mills, and they’re taking, you know, they’re trying to get all the cases and they’re running commercials all during our dinner. And first, you know, in the morning, we were having breakfast, and they have billboards everywhere. What What do you think you’ve done to sort of set yourself apart from these type of attorneys to differentiate yourself so that you’re growing your practice?
Melissa: Well, first of all, I think that comes from a from a mindset of lack. And I think that there is plenty to go around for everybody. So, and we all have different personality types. I mean, I’ve had people call me before, specifically because I’m not on TV. And I’m not saying I’ll never be on TV, right?
Those people were specifically not wanting a TV lawyer. And I’m sure there’s just as many people who also call those places because they’re a TV lawyer. So you know, when you hire a lawyer or a doctor or anything like that, it’s a very personal decision. And you’ve got to find somebody you connect with. And so I just work on my connections, I work on connecting with doctors, lawyers, connecting with my staff connecting with a client.
And it’s a different approach for sure. I know, we don’t have the volume of some of the TV lawyers. But there’s plenty out there. There’s plenty out there. And we all have different personalities and different skills we’re bringing to the table. We just need to go find our people and help them.
Davina: Right. Right. That’s great advice. Let me ask you this. Speaking of advice, let’s let’s touch on maybe some of the you’ve had your practice since 2017. So about three years now. And tell me what do you think some of the challenges you’ve had in growing your firm and how you’ve overcome them or or maybe what you’ve learned along the way.
Melissa: Oh, staffing is is always a challenge. I’ve gotten better at it, I think over the years, but you know, when I first started, it was like, who can you find for the least amount of money. And I realized, you know, now, the better way of hiring is find the right person, pay them what they’re worth, and then look for ways to pay them more over time. So instead of hiring the least expensive, we hire the best person. And that’s really helped us that’s helped us grow a lot. It’s it’s helped our mindset.
Davina: So how many people do you have on staff now?
Melissa: Right, now we are up to nine.
Davina: Okay, wow. So it’s a good size firm?
Melissa: We’re getting there. We’re getting there.
Davina: And how have you sort of navigated COVID-19 and the pandemic? Are you guys working remotely? Are you doing you have distributed workers? Are you all still sort of working shifts? Or how’s that? How’s that working?
Melissa: We’ve done a little bit of both. And, and I’ll be honest, that was a very scary moment for me, because I was actually in Cancun, with my daughter, when kind of this hit. And when my staff called me up and said, we think we need to shut the office down, everybody go home. I mean, they were kind of panicked. And I said, well, let’s talk through this, let’s think about what we can do.
And, and I had never worked remotely, and I’m not good at working remotely. And so it really, it really scared me. Fortunately, though, I worked with how to manage a small law firm, I hired them as my C suite. And so I was able to get on a call with him right away. And they put out a lot of information right away to help us in how to set up workers to work remotely. So then at that point, I told my staff, okay, it’s a personal decision, you can decide to work from home, or you can decide to work in the office, we will stay spread out.
But again, they have key performance indicators that they need to achieve. So that even if they’re working at home, I know that works getting done. And if that makes them feel safer and healthier and happier. Well, that’s what we want. We want happy, happy staff. Happy staff keep clients happy. But it was it was a challenge. To be honest, it was a real challenge for me, because I never thought of myself as someone who worked well from home.
Davina: Right. And so now has your has your belief about that changed?
Melissa: Somewhat somewhat, it has I mean, certainly, we’re getting stuff done, and we’re accomplishing stuff. And I’ve learned to set them up appropriately so that they have all the equipment they need. They’ve got the regular full handset phone at their house, if they’re working remotely. You know, my my operations manager, Libby has been absolutely key to helping us do this.
She was a very new hire at the beginning of COVID. And she was also one of the first people that came to me and said, I really want to work from home. And I took a deep breath. And I said, Okay, you show me how we can make that happen. And we’ll do it. And she did. I mean, she said about making it happen, and setting up policies and procedures for reporting and for checking in.
But if I’m being completely honest, I really look forward to the day, well, we can all be back in the office. Because culture suffers just a little bit. When you’re remote. I feel we still did our Halloween costume this year. Costume contest. We still have, you know, monthly staff meetings via zoom. But it’s just not the same as that ongoing camaraderie that you hear in the office.
Davina: Right. Right. I do think that there is. People have different sorts of, you know, we’re all different, we like different. We have a different vision for our law firm. You know, some attorneys really love working remote, and they’d love to have their whole team remote and never have an office. And then others have a vision of, you know, having a large office and having a large team and being able to impact and serve more people that way and love going to a place of work.
I mean, even just, you know, and not everybody has a setup in life where you could work from home and feel good about it. You know, some people don’t have that personality and some people don’t have a good setup that way. I know. I know. In interviewing assistants, one of the things that came up for me when I was interviewing for a new assistant recently was it’s a remote position and interviewing people, you could tell that people didn’t have a setup, you know, right. You’d hear their kids in the background and they’re in a corner in their bedroom and it’s like, so we you know, it doesn’t work for everybody.
It really doesn’t work for everybody and then certainly Like you said, culture is impacted, if that’s what you’re trying to create is that you know, and I and people are having to really work around and try to stay connected with their team, in a way, that’s different than just, you know, going down the hall and talking to somebody.
Melissa: Right. And it was a big challenge for me, because I, I mean, I commute personally from my house to my office is nearly an hour. But I enjoy my commute time, I enjoy my time with my, with my team. And that camaraderie, I mean, I just, to me, that was so important that I had a really hard time envisioning how that would look to work remotely.
And and what we found is when we gave people the option of working from home or working in the office, people that kind of think like I do, and, hey, I don’t have the setup at home, or I don’t think I would stay as on task at home, or I would miss coming in here, chose to stay in the office, and in the other ones work from home, but would check in and we set up video conferences just to check in with our remote workers. Not in a Are you getting this done?
Because we can see that in the in the computer system, but more in a How are you doing? You know, because I part of my firm, a big part of my firm is our culture. And I really did not want that to suffer, especially through COVID. You know, that’s, that’s when we all need to be there for each other more than any time.
Davina: Right. And, and hopefully, we’re see we’re kind of turning corner, and we’ll be seeing some changes, you know, in the next few months with this vaccine, that they’re promising, maybe maybe that will make a difference? I sure hope so.
Melissa: I sincerely hope so.
Davina: Yeah, as we’re recording this, we’re recording this in December. So you know, heading into the holidays. And it’s a little scary, because heading into the holidays, a lot of people you know, will be kind of ignoring the advice of experts and gathering with their family and stuff. And you know, it’s hard. It’s definitely hard.
Melissa: And we had, we had that experience, actually, just this past month, my husband was exposed to COVID. With his family, I hadn’t been at that gathering, but he got exposed. And I was out of town for a business trip. And had tested negative they had very rigid, making sure you tested negative before you went into the program, and you distanced and didn’t eat with anybody and everything else.
But because of that, I made a very split second decision not to come back home, just in case, he had it. And said, instead, I flew to New York, I worked from a hotel room in New York and quarantined there until I could test again in New York and meet my brand new granddaughter, so yeah, I think we’re gonna be living with these fears for a little while now. But you there’s always workarounds. There’s always work around.
Davina: Yeah, yeah, we mean, life has to go on, especially something that lasts as long life has to go on and we have to make, just make the best decisions we can make in the moment. Sounds like you’ve been doing a lot of, you know, just pivoting and, and, and finding solutions. And I loved it. You know, when you said you, when your staff member came to you and said she wanted to work from home, and you said, you know, bring me a solution, right? Is that kind of your philosophy and in managing your team?
Melissa: It is because I make a lot of decisions. I mean, I think, you know, my husband works a manual labor job, and mine’s more of a brain job. And it’s draining to make decision after decision after decision. But also making decisions is using a muscle. And a lot of times employees don’t get that as much as bosses do. But if they’re going to grow personally, professionally, financially, it’s an exercise they need the muscle they need to exercise.
So by giving it to them and saying, Okay, what is your proposed solutions? One, I’m not the one having to make the decision necessarily, to it allows them to exercise a brain function that they don’t always have as much opportunity as me to exercise in three, honestly, they know their job better than I know their job. So a lot of times they come to me with better solutions than I would have come up with and that’s a great way to get better ideas. You know, you ask a bunch of people and you brainstorm it.
Davina: Right, right. Now, do you have you do you have mainly a team of paralegals and staffers or do you have attorneys on your team?
Melissa: I have a litigation attorney and then I still have a caseload myself. And then we’ve got two paralegals a legal assistant. We’ve got like I told you, the remote worker in the Philippines. She’s a an attorney in the Philippines, but of course, working for our law firm. She works as a litigation paralegal. And we also have an operation manager that kind of helps hold us all together. In addition to that, you know, I know I mentioned how to manage before, through how to manage in their program, I have a fractionalized CEO, COO and CFO. And they kind of help manage me and, and help hold me accountable because I think everybody needs a little bit of accountability.
Davina: Mm hmm. For sure, definitely. What was it like for you when you hired your first attorney? Because I think people have a little bit different experience hiring staffers and hiring attorneys.
Melissa: That is for sure. And certain, I’ll be honest, attorneys intimidate me a little bit. They always have. And I know that’s funny, because I am one, but I’ve always just been a little intimidated by them. And so hiring an attorney was a very different experience for me, and, and honestly was a little scary. Again, though, I had my CEO, COO and CFO, and they helped guide me through the process. They, they helped me vet the attorneys. They gave me procedures to follow.
And, and so it’s worked out really well. I mean, we we had another one that didn’t work out so well. But the one we’ve got now is absolutely fantastic. It was a great interviewing process onboarding process. And, you know, when I was out of the office, unexpectedly for two weeks instead of one, just this past month, I mean, the way he held the office together and held the team together, absolutely impressive. Absolutely.
Davina: Wonderful. And he probably really took a load off you and started helping you make more money as well.
Melissa: Oh, absolutely. Because I am not a litigator. And he came in right away. And he said, Look, these cases need to be litigated. Let’s get them in. And it’s been really important to me to have someone of his caliber to bounce ideas off of even from my own caseload. So yeah, he’s he’s done amazing. We’re very, very happy to have him.
Davina: Right. I you know, I think it’s, I think it’s a common, you know, I don’t think you’re alone in that sort of fear of hiring. That’s why I asked you that question. Because I know so many women, law firm owners who, you know, I’ve gotten comfortable sort of hiring paralegals and hiring receptionist and assistance. But then when it’s time to hire an attorney, they sort of put that off. And, and, you know, the fear for a lot of people is, are they good? Am I really as good of attorney? I think I am, are they going to come in and sort of show me up? Are they? Are they going to be difficult to manage? I mean, there’s all kinds of fears that come along with that, above and beyond just like I have to pay this person and they make more than other people?
Melissa: Well, the one, one fear that you mentioned that I did not have was, are they going to be better than me? I absolutely did my best to hire better than me. I want to be the best owner and manager of my firm, and not the best attorney. I can I can bring in attorneys. So that did not bother me as much as some of the other fears, but I was I know he’s better than me. He’s a much better attorney than me. And I’m so happy to have him on board.
Davina: And see that that’s a wonderful decision. That’s not ego driven. You know, that’s, that’s not ego driven. And this concern that, you know, because we have to have, if we want to grow, we have to have, we want to bring in people with strengths, and why we’re hiring and, and generally we’re hiring, we want to hire for our weaknesses, you know, want to have people in there that are compensating that are that are helping balance out what we bring to the table, because we have our extremely terrific advice there.
Well, so thank you so much for being here today and sharing with me, I really enjoyed talking with you. What are there any sort of final piece of advice or lesson that you would share to a woman law firm owner who may be a little behind you on the journey? In the growth process? What would you say would be your number one piece of advice?
Melissa: I would say prioritize things. I use a Michael Hyatt full focus planner. It’s a paper planner. And of course, I still have my digital calendar for my team to see. But so many days you find as an owner, in particular, you get to the end of the day, and you feel like, Oh, did I really accomplish anything?
You know, I was putting out fires all day long. So I have my list of stuff that I want to get done every day, but I picked three. And those daily, three things or if I got those done and nothing else happened, I would feel accomplished. And I do that for the week. I do that daily. I even do that for the quarter because as a law firm owner, you know, you can get into these programs and then think oh my gosh, I’ve got 20 things to do. And that’s not useful.
So I picked three, pick three tasks and get them done. And they don’t all have to be business related. I mean, a lot of times my big three for the One or one or more of them is not a business related thing. It’s a personal thing. But just pick three work in threes. It helps, it helps prevent overwhelm, it helps your focus. And it leaves you at the end of the day saying, okay, I accomplished something.
Davina: Right? Right. And I love that and especially picking, picking those picking those three things and making sure that they’re the things that are really going to move you forward and advance your growth of your business. You know, it can be so easy to pick three things that are just, oh, I can cross these off my list quickly. And I tend to have a lot of us right, but we have to pick those things that really are going to move is like what is what is the one thing I can do today that’s really gonna move my business forward. So I’m a huge believer in that. Um, tell us how we can connect with you or find out more about your firm.
Melissa: Sure, the website is emerylawoffice.com. That’s e m e r y law office .com. And you can reach me by email at Melissa@emerylawoffice.com.
Davina: Wonderful, wonderful. Thanks so much, Melissa for being here and talking with us today. I know that the information that you shared here today, sharing your story is going to resonate with a lot of people and I’m sure they’re really gonna enjoy this episode. I know I have.
Melissa: Again, I really appreciate the opportunity.
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