On this week’s Wealthy Woman Lawyer® Podcast, we speak with Michelle Dellino. Michelle is the Managing Attorney of Dellino Law Group. Seattle-based Dellino Law Group focuses on family law matters, including intimate relationships, asset dissolution, domestic violence, and prenuptial and postnuptial agreements; criminal defense; and estate planning.

Michelle, who was forced to face her own mortality when she was diagnosed with cancer at the tender age of 24, fears little now. That fearlessness and knowing that life can be cut short in an instant, has led her to take risks with much greater ease than she might have otherwise. Leaving job security to start her own law firm. Check. Taking her paralegal with her. Check. Quickly expanding and growing her firm to include a team of 10. Check. Check.

We chat with Michelle about not only her life experiences that led her down this path, but also her growth secrets including:

  • Her decision to hire and grow a team quickly so she could impact more people in need of legal services
  • Finding confidence and battling imposter syndrome as a woman in the law field
  • The qualities of a strong and successful leader
  • Incorporating wellness into professional spaces (and offering a one-of-a-kind employee benefit)
  • Advice for cultivating a team of shared core values
  • And more.

Mentioned in this episode:

Transcript

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.

Michelle Dellino is the managing attorney of Dellino Law Group. The firm was founded by Michelle and on her belief that there is very simply a solution to every problem. Her personal practice focuses on complex family law matters including high conflict cases, committed intimate relationships, high asset dissolution, cases involving business owners IT and medical professionals, domestic violence, family law and preparing cohabitation prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. Both a trained mediator and formal criminal trial attorney, she has the skills and experience to take the case wherever it needs to go. Whether that is a creative settlement, or an intensive courtroom litigation. As managing attorney of law firm she also oversees the firm’s case management. So we’re super excited to welcome Michelle to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast. Hi, Michelle. Welcome. 

Michelle Dellino: Hi. Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here today.

Davina: Oh, great. I’m super excited to have you here. Because I first I have to start out with telling you that I love your website content. I read. I was reading through it in preparation for this. And I love the way that you guys all sort of tell your stories and and how you frame it. Your philosophy around you know, wanting to hear your clients stories, so tell me a little bit more about why that is an important thing for you.

Michelle: Definitely. Yeah, you know, family law, what we are a family law firm and family law is about stories. It’s about people’s lives. And it’s more than any other area of law, who you are and what you do matters. So we want our clients to realize that we’re real people, we understand that they are coming to us often in their toughest times. And we want people to know that, you know, we’ve been there too. And that’s why we do this work.

Davina: Right. I absolutely love that. And tell us about you, you’re such an interesting story. And I really love how you kind of start off talking about this seminal moment as an attorney, when you were talking to a mom, about her daughter, and she really needed the courthouse. Can you share that story?

Michelle: Yeah, definitely. You know, my path to becoming an attorney was just pretty non traditional compared to a lot of other people. And in my, in my practice early on, I did criminal and family. And, you know, part of the reason I’ve done both of that is because I’ve seen, you know parallels in my own life. And I’ve seen people really start over and starting over and having another chance means a lot to me. And so one day I was we all probably about 10 years ago, now I was with a mom and a daughter and the daughter had been in some trouble. And the mom kind of came up and talking to me after the hearing, and we’re walking out and the daughter sort of walked away from mom, and it’s just irritated. 

And the mom is saying to me, you know, I’ve done everything I can for her just basically kind of saying, I don’t know what to do now her life’s gonna be a disaster and, and I told her and she just said, you know, I’m sure your mom’s really proud of you. And I told her, yeah, my mom is really proud of me. But, you know, my mom and dad did everything, right. And I still managed to drop out of high school. And I was arrested when I was in my youth and all kinds of things happened for me and I I turned out just fine. And you know, my mom’s one of my best friends now. And I talked to her on this every day. 

And I told her, you know, your daughter’s going to be okay, too. I’ve talked to your daughter, I know she’s going to be okay. And the mother was just kind of like shocked and taken aback with what I said, but it was true. And I think it really boosted her spirits to think okay, this isn’t. This isn’t a defining moment for my daughter that her life’s going nowhere. And so she went over and took her daughter’s hand and for the first time all day since I’ve been watching them that morning, really said, you know, I’m here and I support you and I believe in you. And a moment like that it meant that means everything to me. That’s really why I do this work.

Davina: Right, right. I love that story. When did you decide that you wanted to become an attorney?

Michelle: That’s a great question. And I decided, well, first I didn’t go right to getting the right to college. I was working. I was a manager at a Starbucks store. And I kind of felt like, gosh, my life had gotten derailed and I really liked working at Starbucks and it was great. And I worked in a downtown Seattle office building where a bunch of attorneys worked. They would come in every morning, get their coffee and go upstairs and so we’d make their coffee. And I’d chat with them. And I was there for a few years. And a lot of them said to me, you know, why are you working here? And I was like, well, I’m manager, it’s great, you know, and I was pretty young at the time. 

And some of them said, you know, you’re capable of more, and I kind of saw these people. And I thought, they’re not any different than me, so, why am I still here. And so I decided, then I was going to go back to school and go to undergrad and law school. And I actually, this is, you know, back in the day when people still wrote things in physical planners. So I had a Franklin planner that I loved, and I wrote down, all right, this is going to take me seven years. And this is what’s going to happen. And so every year I wrote, you know, where I was going to be in the process. And that’s when I started, I decided, after working at Starbucks, I could be just like everybody else, if I wanted to be I could become an attorney, if that’s what I wanted to do. And I kind of made a seven year plan to go to undergrad and law school and get it done. And that’s what I did.

Davina: Yeah, I love that, that it goes to show you that and those attorneys probably never really realized the impact that they had on you, some of their friends with them, but the impact they had on you just by coming in and talking to you and encouraging you and think about the impact that we all can have that way. I mean, 

Michelle: Absolutely. 

Davina: So many people look up to attorneys, as you know, problem solvers and solution providers and, you know, wise counsel, and things like that. So that’s a great story. You were a philosophy major before you became, which is probably why we’re working at Starbucks, right? Yeah, because that goes perfectly together. But you really love philosophy and considered at one point teaching philosophy, what made you sort of change your mind about that? 

Michelle: Yeah, I thought at one point, gosh, maybe, you know, I love philosophy, I love the idea of really looking at yourself, and all these different great theories that kind of defines who we are, where we’re going, what we’re doing here. And I liked it, because it kind of goes beyond it stretches your mind, it makes you really think about everything and see things through a different lens and gives you belief structures that maybe you didn’t know existed. And so I was thinking, you know, maybe I should do that. 

Maybe that’s what I should do. And both my parents were educators and I thought, oh, they’d like that if I became a teacher. They wanted one of us to be and none of us were. But I really, then I realized, you know, that’s not, that’s kind of more what my parents did. And that’s more of their thing. And I can still continue to read and do all the things I want to do. But I started this journey to go to law school. And that’s what I’m going to do. So yeah.

Davina: How has that been for I, I would imagine, though, having a philosophy degree, has really informed how you run your practice and how you run your law firm and sort of informs your life and how you deal with other people. In what ways do you think it shows up? 

Michelle: Yeah, that’s a great, that’s a great question. And it definitely, it definitely does. I think, you know, for me, too, I think especially because when I went to undergrad, I was a little older than I wasn’t just right out of high school, it meant something to me. So when I picked a philosophy major, I really got into looking at different approaches to management and different approaches to thinking about things and problem solving. And one thing I realized just like studying, you know, some of the great philosophers everybody, you can’t use the same approach and the same style in every situation. 

Everybody has a different approach. And different audiences basically need, you know, a different philosophy. So when I look at my management approach now, or dealing with clients, some people need high support and high direction, some people need low support and high direction, everybody needs a different style. So I sort of take my philosophy background, which really meant a lot to me. And I think, gosh, what’s the approach? And what’s the style? And what maybe the belief system that’s going to work here to make this person successful, whether that’s somebody that works for me, or whether that’s a client.

Davina: That’s great. I love that and tell me, let’s, let’s talk a little bit about your life. And when did you decide to go out on your own and start your own firm?

Michelle: Yeah, I started, I was working for another firm, and I realized this, this isn’t really cutting it. And I don’t know why I’m doing this. So I decided in 2013, that I was going to start my own firm. I didn’t really know at the time, like what that was gonna look like, I had some ideas, but I really didn’t know. And I kind of had, you know, background from running Starbucks before and doing things like that. And I worked in sales and I thought, hey, I could do this. So in 2013, I decided I was going to leave my current law firm job and start a practice and I didn’t have a lot, you know, saved up or anything when I wanted to start my practice. But I gave my notice and I left my other law firm job in the summer early summer of 2013 and started my practice couple months later

Davina: And how many attorneys and staff do you have working with you now in your law firm?

Michelle: Yeah. Now I have, there’s me. And then there’s six other attorneys. And there are four paralegals. We have an intake person. We have a COO. So I think we’re at about 13 people right now. And we’re still growing.

Davina: So how was that for you? Did you when you came out, when you decided to start your own law firm? Did you immediately sort of have this vision for a certain size law firm, a certain? 

Michelle: No. 

Davina: Did it happen inorganically? When was your first hire?

Michelle: Yeah, that’s great. A lot of people ask me that, because I sort of started building pretty quickly. And that was not my plan. I’ll be honest with you, Davina, I thought at the time, well, it’s probably going to be me just sort of sitting there and on Facebook, or whatever, hoping people call me, you know. And so I realized pretty quickly, though, you know, I know a lot of people I like to talk to people and network. And you know, I’ve been practicing for a couple years, few years at that point. And I started realizing that I was going to be busy. And so I hired my first associate, I hired him, I think, two months after I started my practice, and that was way sooner than that’s way sooner. 

I think if I’d read a lot of the conventional stuff that I read now, you know, now I know there’s a law firm owner culture, which I didn’t know that at the time, either probably should have, but I probably wouldn’t have hired anybody, because I would have read, oh, you need to do this, this and this before you hire and I was just kind of like, gosh, you know, I can be one to one, or I can hire somebody else. And I can be one to more of that people through him. And it just made sense to me. So I hired really early, and then I kept doing it. And you know, I realized pretty quickly, I didn’t want to be a solo practitioner. I didn’t really realize that when I started, but I realized it really quickly. And that building a team was what I wanted to do. I didn’t have that plan going in, though.

Davina: Right? Right. And see, that’s a great, that’s a great story, because so many women law firm owners wait far too long to hire. And I think it’s kind of you had to have some confidence, really in yourself, and believe in your ability to do the thing, you know, to like, this is what we’re doing. And where do you think that comes from for you? That sort of, the confidence.

Michelle: Yeah, that’s, that’s probably probably twofold. I mean, I think one is just by nature, I am more I’ve realized compared to other other law firm owners or other people I know, I’m more of a risk taker. So if I see there’s a risk, and I feel like there could be a good reward. I’ll take it. I just, I don’t hesitate. You know, I mean, I’ll think about it first. But I definitely am not scared to take a risk in any aspect of my life. And that’s worked out really well, for me. And I also too, yeah, I also too think that it’s important to sort of in the beginning, I just sort of realized that just because someone’s been doing something longer doesn’t mean they’re doing it better. 

And that is really important to me, because you know, you can have people practicing for many years. And sometimes they’ll talk to newer lawyers, like, you don’t know what you’re doing. And it doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is the right thing. So I think, for me, my parents also just kind of always taught me growing up their loved one was always, if you do your best, that’s good enough. And your best is go, they just were always like your best is going to be good. Like, we’re not worried about that. And it always worked out for me that way, if I did my best, it was always more than enough. 

So I just sort of felt like with it. So if I do my best, it’s, it’s going to be enough. And I’m going to be fine, too. I don’t ever I don’t ever I guess too, I’m unfortunate cuz I don’t really ever feel nervous very often about things because I prepare. And so just like growing a practice, I figured I’m gonna be prepared for this. I’m going to bring people on and I’m not if it doesn’t work out, well, I’ll pivot and deal with it, then.

Davina: What is the things that I read in your story is that you actually had some health issues. And yeah, part of that has really sort of made in addition to your already confident nature, but part of that has kind of made you a little fearless, too.

Michelle: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I need to talk about that. Yeah, yeah. When I when I went, I told you before, you know, I went back to college. And when I decided to do that, I moved to actually I moved to New York and I went to NYU and I thought if I’m going to do this, this is somewhere I always want to go. And pretty much, I don’t know, within six months of getting there, I was diagnosed with ovarian germ cell cancer, and it kind of came out of nowhere. You know, no, I just totally came out of nowhere. I was a really healthy 24, almost 25 year old and all of a sudden this happened and so, I, at that point in time thought, gosh, you know, I have the seven year plan. 

I don’t want this to derail it. And I never, I was dealing with, you know, going through treatment and doing all kinds of things. And I thought, I’m not going to let this derail me, I can keep going. And so I did. And I had multiple recurrences, and a lot of things happen. But for me, you know, it was scary at the time, that was one of probably the only times I really ever ever really been scared. I was scared about what if this doesn’t go away? What if it keeps coming back? And then eventually, you know, it didn’t. And it’s, it’s been in remission for quite a long time now. But is that when I feel like compared to other things, you know, compared to compared to facing your own mortality when you’re in your 20s other things just aren’t that scary.

Davina: Right. Definitely puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

Michelle: Yeah it does, and so in a way, it’s one of the best things that could have happened cuz I feel like, hey, if I can get through that, anything else that comes up is probably not going to rattle me too much.

Davina: And you’re like, universe, I think there’s probably an easier way to teach me that lesson, don’t you think?

Michelle: Yeah, I think they probably work.

Davina: That that so I can see how that really puts things. So to growing a law firm is like, if you know nothing, man, that’s that doesn’t scare you at all.

Michelle: No, not really.

Davina: Yeah, I know that a lot of women law firm owners have fear around hiring, and hiring staff being different even than hiring associate attorneys other attorneys because, you know, staff, you kind of think, okay, I need staff, you finally get around to making that decision, hiring staff. But bringing in other attorneys, there’s this, you know, I think there’s some people have some, you know, insecurity about, oh, my gosh, am I gonna bring somebody in here gonna be better than me? I don’t really know. I know, many of us have imposter syndrome. And we wonder, you know, are we really do we really know what we’re doing? 

I once had a great a 30, year 30 plus year attorney say, you know, you don’t people expect you to be a walking talking Black’s Law Dictionary. But you can say, I don’t know, like you can’t possibly know every aspect of the law. But I think when we graduate from law school, we think that’s kind of the expectation that we should be able to answer any legal question on the fly. Your brother is working with you. Tell me. So I have two sisters? And I really couldn’t imagine it. I don’t think they could either. Tell me how that works for you.

Michelle: Yeah, yeah. It’s it’s actually been the greatest thing. My brother is my brother, Tony is five years younger than me. And, you know, we’ve always had a good relationship. But we certainly never worked together before. And it’s interesting, because a few years ago, talking about hiring associates, my brother has a background in marketing. And at the time, I thought, gosh, you know, Tony’s really smart, what if he, what if I could get him to go to law school in the evening program and work with me during the day and become an attorney. And so I took them out to dinner one day, and I sat down with them, and I said, hey, let’s get you into law school. And you come and work with me. 

And he sort of kind of laughed at me and, and said, hey, you know, I appreciate the offer. But no, that’s just not what I want to do. I don’t want what your doing. Yeah. And so I thought, okay, and then a little more time passed, and my brother went through an extremely difficult divorce, that really changed his life. And he became a single parent of his four boys. And he, you know, and I didn’t represent him, because that would have been a conflict. But another attorney in my firm did and worked with him. And so he Tony really got a taste firsthand of what we do. And then I had another conversation with him, you know, after his divorce was over. And I said, why don’t you come and work with me? Why don’t you? 

You know, I tried to get an attorney before but why don’t you come and work with me on the marketing side, and he was already in a successful marketing role. And so took a little bit of talking with him to make him think this would be a good idea. But he ended up leaving his job coming in, started out working on our marketing, and then his role that was in 2019. And his role then has now evolved into a COO role role where he really handles a lot of the day to day, things that I don’t have time to handle and that are operational. So he’s, he’s great. And it’s really unique, because, you know, he’s my brother, and we don’t argue or really fight about anything.

Davina: Does he, you know, I’m assuming you’re, you’re the boss, but you haven’t had those occasions where you’ve had to flex and say, I’m the boss.

Michelle: Yeah.

Davina: I can imagine that being the challenge for family, you know?

Michelle: Yeah, definitely. But he’s my younger brother. You know, so he’s used to that. 

Davina: So he’s used to be used to being bossy. Basically how that reads.

Michelle: A little bit yeah. Yeah.

Davina: So tell me what, what do you think are some of the challenges that you faced in growing the firm to the size it is today?

Michelle: Yeah, well, the biggest one is what we’ve been talking about this morning is staffing. You know, I have not done everything, right. There’s no doubt about it. And so I think that’s something for anybody listening to know is you can make mistakes, and you can recover from them as you hire and grow, and you’ll be fine. I mean, I have a great team right now. I really love the team that I have, I love the people that work for me. And I feel like everybody really is bought into our mission. And it’s a great fit. 

That hasn’t always been the case. I mean, I’ve made mistakes before with hiring people who probably weren’t a good fit for our culture, or hiring because I felt like, gosh, we’ve got a lot of work, I need to get somebody else in here, and maybe not being as deliberate as I should have been. And you know, that can lead to issues with people not getting along, or just all kinds of things like that. So getting to a place to have a team that really gels together. And really, I feel good about has been a difficult long road, I think that’s probably the hardest thing about having multiple people working for you. It’s not just you, and one or two other people, you’ve got a lot of people you need to make sure that they fit with I think your your values.

Davina: Right, right. That I think that is one of the biggest challenges of that women law firm owners face, especially when they’re, when they’re first kind of starting to hire, and they don’t really, oftentimes, so many people, you know, will say, oh, I have a friend who needs a job. And then you’re like, well, I need a warm body. So but then after, right, because there’s no process, and we think so much about, you see women law firm owners talking so much about systems and stuff like that, but didn’t really think about, you know, you need a system for hiring as well. You need a process, you need a way of doing it, that really helps you get those people that are aligned, like you said, we get a culture and your core values do you have? So now you have are you hiring? They’re all associate attorneys working for you, right?

Michelle: Yeah, they’re all associates. And we have another associate coming on in May. And the way I have learned, like you said, you need a system around hiring. And so we’ve really establish that over the last couple of years. Because before I wasn’t, I was focused on other systems, but I really didn’t have a hiring system. And so now, you know, we do and part of one thing, I think that’s really important, if you want good people is to always be hiring. I mean, always be interviewing, even if you might not have a spot immediately. 

Always be looking out for people, you know, and talking to people because you never know. And it’s just one of those things. You don’t want to be in a situation, I think, where you need somebody and now someone says got a friend. And it seems like you need somebody, you want to have people that kind of you’re keeping top of mind. So you if you have a need, you’ve got people to go to, and you’re not hiring out of desperation.

Davina: Right. Right. I was just having that conversation with a client yesterday. And she’s she’s like, on a big hiring kick right now. Because she’s just tired. She’s tired of these, you know, of people sort of coming and going, and she’s like, okay, I’m gonna do this in a different way. Yeah. And so she’s just going it’s go big or go home concept time, you know. How would you describe yourself as a leader?

Michelle: Mm hmm. I think that I it is important to lead with a team rather than in front of them. So I try to lead by example, I try to not ask people to do things that I wouldn’t do or having done at some point. And I think that is extremely, extremely important. So I lead, I think, from within the team rather than, you know, at them. And I think that’s just from taking examples of other people that I have worked for in the past, that is what I find to be, you know, most effective. And those are the kinds of leaders that I’ve respected people that I’ve seen, do the work people that I know, you know, relate to what’s going on. 

I also think it’s important with team members that you need to recognize their successes, and not just always point out opportunities for improvement. So that way, if I tell someone when they’re doing something, well, if I come back and say something later, like, Hey, we could work on this, then don’t feel like you know, we’re always beating them down. So yeah.

Davina: I think one of the challenges a lot of women business owners have is that line between when you’re leading with the team, right? There’s be that line where people try to cross over that line and say, right, oh, we’re friends now. And so I can say certain things in or behave in certain ways. Have you had any of that happen?

Michelle: Oh, yeah, definitely. You know, when I said before, I haven’t done everything right. I mean, I think in the beginning to you know, not that I don’t care what my staff thinks now, but beginning I wanted my staff to like me, I’m a human being like anybody else. And so, you know, that line I think sometimes definitely get blurred and you know, it took me a while to realize that’s not going to build a good culture because you know, people, you know, will tell you something, it can create a lot of drama within a firm if you don’t draw clear boundaries with people. And so I think in the beginning, I definitely wasn’t as good about drawing boundaries between, okay, I’m your boss, and I like you. And we can chat, but I’m not your friend. So, you know, don’t talk to me about what’s going on.

Davina: How do you find. How you do that? Like, what what do you have an example that you use to give you an example without out outing any body?

Michelle: Well, I think first of all, I got rid of the toxic people in my law firm. And that was really important. And now I think I can maintain boundaries with people and have healthy relationships with people by being clear about what they should come to me about and what they shouldn’t. And I think, before I was kind of the only person so everybody came to me about everything. And now that I have, you know, my brother in a role, people can go to him about things, or we have somebody that comes in and does kind of wellness check ins with our staff, and that’s something that we do, and they can go to her about things. 

So I’ve sort of taken myself out of the role of being the come to me about every question and every drama that you have. And then I can just deal with you about what’s going on in your, you know, in your practice, and what’s going on with you as a person, but I don’t get brought into kind of the law firm, you know, drama, if anything happens between staff members. And before I definitely wasn’t drawing that line, that was a problem.

Davina: Yeah, that that is that is the challenge, you know, because you’re especially the smaller you are, I mean, when you start to get, when the firm gets bigger, it becomes easier to sort of have those separations. Yeah, I love so basically, your brother is he does marketing, but he from what I understand, he’s the COO, so he’s really more operational stuff, all the way around.

Michelle: Yeah, we’ve outsourced our marketing. I mean, he works with a marketing person now where somebody else does most of our like social media, and all of those things, he works with them. And you know, is kind of runs that show, so I don’t have to worry about it. But he really deals with the operations, he deals with a lot of the personnel issues. I mean, I do too, we talk about them, he and I talked about them a lot. And people can come to me, but he’s really the operations guy. And if we have a new system that we’re rolling out, Tony is really the one that’s training everybody on it, talking to them about it. 

If somebody is having an issue, he’s really the one that’s talking to them, he leads our support team meeting every week that they have and checks in with all of them. So I really I think, like you said, the bigger that you get kind of the easier it is to put people into those roles before I was in all of those roles. And that was not good for me. And it wasn’t I don’t think it was good for the firm, I think and I think was women law firm owners a lot of the time. because like you said, before people have this imposter syndrome, you feel like you have to be doing everything or somehow you lack credibility. 

Davina: Exactly, you have to be expert in all things. 

Michelle: Yeah, exactly.

Davina: And of course, you know, we’re not I mean, the thing about it is even even if we’re really good at a lot of things, which most of us are, it doesn’t mean that that’s the highest and best use of our time, right? You know, to do that, right? I think it takes a while to sort of come to that realization and growth and really, especially rapid growth or steady growth to really, you know, make that very clear for you. Real quick. You mentioned bringing in somebody for wellness, I’m really intrigued by that. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Michelle: Yeah, what we do is we have I, we have a relationship with a therapist who actually subleases space on one of our offices. And so she is an important part of our team in a way, because she will check in, you know, the staff knows her, she’ll check in with the staff will kind of monitor what’s going on with people their stress level, they know, they can always go talk to her. She helps us coordinate well before COVID. I mean, we would do things as a team, you know, in the real world. 

And now, we haven’t been able to do that as much, but she helped us coordinate, you know, staff get together, things like that, and really just kind of checked in with people. Because in family law, especially, you know, not only for the clients, but for the staff and the attorney, if it’s a stressful practice area, you’re taking on people’s stress. And so I think it’s really important to have somebody who’s in that space, checking in with people, and the people just know, is a resource that they can go to, because that’s something I never had in anywhere that I worked before. And it’s probably something that I think maybe I would have appreciated or if not, it would have been nice to know it was there. And so that’s something we tried to do.

Davina: Secondary trauma is, you know, in family law is a big thing. And criminal law, right can be that can be a very real thing. When you’re dealing with that high level of stress and other people’s stress. You’re absorbing that energy all day, and then you’re being traumatized for it. But what was it that precipitated this? Like when did you have this kind of aha moment that this would be a good thing? Was there something in particular? Or was it just sort of she was a friend that she needed a place to rent and you’re like, hmm, you know what?

Michelle: Well, I think actually, you know, I talked to her about, I just I talked to her, but I like to talk to people that have different perspectives than me. And I definitely don’t have a mental health background. I mean, I’m an attorney, and kind of more of a business person before that. So I don’t have a mental health background. So I like to talk to her, you know about different things, or what do you think about this or that, and she comes from a management background too, before before doing private practice sheets to manage it, a mental health clinic. And so we’ve talked about different things. 

And I started to realize her perspective, is very different than mine, when, you know, talking about what people are going through when approaching issues with staff, and just different things. And so I started to think, gosh, this is a whole other perspective and someone that I really respect that sees things completely differently than I do. And I think, you know, bringing some of that approach in is better for my team, I can check in with you and kind of be like, hey, how you doing what’s going on and, and evaluate someone’s stress level that way. But number one, they might not always feel like they can talk to me, because I’m also their boss. 

And number two, I might not approach things from the same way that she does. In fact, they know I don’t. So she’s really challenged me to look at things and challenges that people have, or maybe reactions that staff members have had over the last couple of years since we started this. And think about maybe a better way to support people and help people. So I realized, gosh, I think this is something that we need to make available to the team. I can’t do it all.

Davina: Can I ask you how you how you handle that financially. She’s not a she’s not a staff member, she’s more of a are you paying for anytime something nice with her, you’re just sort of picking that up? Or a monthly arrangement or something?

Michelle: Yeah, pretty much if anybody needs something, I mean, she just she kind of checks in, I just basically give her you know, she she’s kind of on a like a 1099 contract if she a basic amount every month, because she’s not an employee, so not a staff member. But she does certain things for us. She checks in on we have a wellness channel use slack for internal in office communication. And so she’ll check in there with people and just say, hey, it’s wellness Wednesday, tell us this so that she kind of does like little things like that. So that are part of what she does, all month for us. And then when people go and talk with her, that’s just included. And if it goes beyond that, you know, I pick up the tab for that.

Davina: Yeah, I think that’s wonderful, because it’s a real quick outside of the box benefit. But yeah, oftentimes we were coming up with that as we grow as we’re growing firm, we may not be able to offer benefits large companies do. But there are a lot of benefits for smaller businesses that we can offer if we kind of get creative with how we do it. And I think that’s a fantastic benefit for a law firm. For your staff. That’s a great idea.

Michelle: I’ve tried to go outside of the box when thinking about different benefits. I mean, that’s one of them. Another one that I’ve done that I think is kind of cool that someone gave me an idea on is we we provide a domestic plane ticket every year somebody can, they want to go somewhere to encourage people to use their time off. Because that’s such a thing in law firm culture where no one takes time off is we will pick up the tab for a plane ticket if you want to go somewhere, once a year. And I think that’s something that a lot somebody gave me that idea. And I thought, wow, that’s really cool. And it kind of promotes, you know, work life balance. So that’s something else. Yeah, outside the box benefits. Maybe when you can’t, especially when you’re starting out and you can’t offer everything, there’s little things you can do. So I’ve tried to come up with like a unique benefits package.

Davina: Yeah, I love that. Those are some great, you know, especially, I do think that generationally, one of the research will bear out that millennials tend to like, more days off, time off, you know, yeah, so things like things that you can think of that would be more appealing to the people who are part of your team, as opposed to just kind of traditional, you know, benefits. You’re what do you think are some of the if you were advising some women law firm owner about the best way to go about sort of cultivating a team that shares your core values. And how do you identify that kind of through the hiring process?

Michelle: Yeah, that’s great question because it’s not easy. People. But yeah, people will know your I hear you what you say and people and people will try to put forward their best foot hiring but I think two ways if I was telling somebody how to really get people that reflect your values. Number one is to spend a decent amount of time with people before you hire them. You know, before COVID I would want to take somebody to lunch. I’d want to have them talk with my staff, I still do that now. But we’ve had to do some via zoom. Spend time with them and be open about what your values are, and tell them, this is the kind of team we have, this is how it is here. 

Be open and transparent about what your firm is, like, don’t, don’t just tell them everything you think they want to hear. And also don’t, you know, don’t stick to the corporate in the box. Just quit, you know, don’t just talk about the work you do, talk about who you are. Because if you’re running a firm, if your firm and you know, how you want it to be, and what it’s about and what your team is about. And so spend time with people be open about what the culture is, like, I think it’s really important to have other staff meet somebody before they join our team, because I want our team to feel number one, like they’re invested. And number two, I do value their feedback. So, you know, I always have in my interview process, since it’s a paralegal coming on, I’ll have the support team meet with them. 

And I won’t be there. Tony might be, but I won’t be there. And then we have a feedback form when we get feedback from the team members or same thing with an attorney, you know, have, have the associates meet with somebody and just talk with them, and find out if they think they fit into who we are. But you know, I think rushing to hire like saying, okay, I’ve met you, I like you, I’m going to hire you, after one or even two interviews is too soon. And it takes a risk. It’s a risk that you don’t want to take. And I know because I’ve done it. And I’ve made that way in the past. You know.

Davina: We learn things the hard way. 

Michelle: Yeah, we do. 

Davina: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think that’s terrific advice. Because I, I do think that why people often wind up with people who aren’t a good fit is because they don’t, they don’t really think about who is going to be a good fit with us. And not just a skill level. But you know, you know, personality, and they share our values. And, you know, I know that for me, one of my top values is showing up and being fully present and engaged, fully engaged. And so I prepared, I’m engaged anytime I’m dealing with anyone in relation to my business, or my personal life, for that matter. 

So it’s a core value of mine. And I do not like it when people are physically present, but they’re not mentally emotionally present. In my team, you’re just not gonna last very long. If you’re that kind of person, you know, it’s not, it’s not gonna work. You’ve got to be I’m what you’re looking me in the eyes. And I think that’s probably just because I grew up with a dad, who was always said, don’t trust somebody who doesn’t look you in the eye. Right, right. So are you guys working out of an office? Or are you working remotely? Or that is your team distributed? How’s it been? You know, it hasn’t been that way from the start, or just started an office? Did you? You know, spread apart COVID or what?

Michelle: Yeah, so we, I like to work. I like to be anywhere. And I like to be flexible with what I did. We’ve always had an office. And so we always started with, we always had an office and we went to two offices. Because before COVID, we went to two offices, I don’t think I would have during COVID. But we went to two offices before COVID kind of one on either side of the city. And then we have a satellite office on the east side and Seattle area. So we kind of were like, We wanted to make it easy for people to come in the staff and clients. But then we always have been what I would call a hybrid model, where everything that we do when we when I set up the firm, everything that we do is in the cloud. 

So there’s no reason that you really have to physically be in the office. So we’ve always given people the option to work wherever work from home, because it’s kind of like I said before, different styles, different people, not everybody works the same. And I believe that like I might work better, you know, sitting on a beach somewhere. Sometimes I work better in my office, or some people that work better at home, everybody’s different. So we’ve always been a hybrid model, even before COVID. So then when COVID happened, and people weren’t really coming in, we just sort of went to completely remote. And now as things have changed and sort of open back up, we allow people to come into the office if they want and I find it pretty, it’s pretty evenly distributed. Some people really like to come in. 

Usually those are people with kids that want to get away from there for a while and have a quieter place to work. You know, they like to come in. And then some of the attorneys like to come in and you know, have that closed door, I have a place to do my work. And other people haven’t come in all year. So it’s really, I like to do what works best for people. So we’re really set up to do that. And we were before COVID. So COVID was an easy transition for us. But now I’m finding more people want to come back to the office. They miss seeing each other so

Davina: Right I’m sure I’m sure they do. That’s one of the things and you’re in a big city. So I’m sure traveling to and from can be a real time suck for a lot of people, so it makes a lot of sense. I know Seattle is just, it’s crazy out there. Yeah, you’re with having them distributed like that, how are you doing? How are you doing? Keeping that culture and connectedness?

Michelle: Yeah, well, one thing is we really we use Slack. And for anybody that doesn’t know Slack’s an inter office communication tool, we have a bunch of different channels. And really our business runs on there, everyone’s on there all day, you can, you know, chat with someone, you can talk about a case, you can have a task channel to ask your paralegal to do something for you, or they can ask you to do something for them. And so everyone is connected, no matter where they are all day, you know, you can put it on Do Not Disturb if you’re busy. 

But it’s a way to reach people in real time, all day beyond just email, we don’t really have any inter office email at all. So it’s kind of taken that completely out, which is great, because that was a time suck before. And people really, you know, we have a daily check in everybody checks in says where they are, where they are today, what they’re doing for the day. So we really stay connected that way, we also do weekly team meetings, they used to be in person and we get paid or something. But now they’re on zoom. 

So we do you know, weekly, all hands meetings, everybody clocked on from wherever they are talks about what they’re doing, you know, a few times, we’ve had a few socially distance, happy hours, over the last, you know, several months now that things are opening back up more, but we try to we try to do what we can to stay connected through technology. And I think that’s so important. Because more and more now I think, in you know, this era people, your clients are going to need to stay connected to you and they’re not necessarily going to want to make that drive to come in. So your team needs to stay connected to each other. Just as well. You both do.

Davina: Right, right. Do you ever have any worries about people not working when they say they’re working? And kind of you know, have you had any issues with that. I know a lot of women law firm owners express concern when people are working out some, some just think the virtual lifestyles wonderful. Others express concern, particularly maybe with staff or sometimes with associates too about if they’re, you know, working from home, I’m worried that they’re telling me they’re working, and they’re not going to be working and, you know.

Michelle: Yeah, that’s a great question, too. I’ve actually seen, you know, online, a lot of different forums, I’ve seen people, I think you’re totally spot on with saying that people worry about this, because I think they worry about it more than I thought, I see people saying, should I get screen monitoring software? Should I do this? Or that? How do I tell if they’re working? And I think it’s twofold. For me. Well, I don’t have those concerns. Part of it is because I have people that I trust, and I don’t trust them, they shouldn’t be working for me whether they’re at home, or in the office. And that’s part of it. 

And then the other part of it is, we have really clear deliverables about what you’re supposed to be doing. I mean, you’ve got to, you know, if you’re an associate, you’ve got to work on your cases, you’ve got to build a certain number of hours. And you got to tell me every week what you did on your cases. So I mean, if you’re not doing anything we’re gonna know or if it’s very quickly, right, yeah, right, really fast. It’s not, it’s not really margin for error there. And same thing with, like, support staff, I mean, they, if they’re working at home, and we do have support staff that works at home, and it’s completely fine. I mean, they are still expected to be connected and doing things and billing their time and taking care of clients. 

And if they’re not, it becomes readily available apparent. It’s just, it’s like it’s glaring, if somebody’s not responding, we know that and we have requirements that you’d be responsive during certain hours. So I mean, it becomes very obvious, I don’t, I’ve never worried about it. Because I feel like, even if I haven’t always had the right people I’ve at least always had for the most part, people that work hard. So I think if you have people that have a sense of accountability, and actually care about the work they’re doing, you shouldn’t really have to worry about that. And I do find that other law firm owners sometimes really get into the weeds on that, and they worry about it. 

And they think they have to really micromanage everything. And my advice, there is trust, set up clear expectations for what needs to happen, trust them, and if they don’t do it, you’ll know and then you can address it, but give them a chance, you know, give them a chance and give them trust, because I think people are loyal to you and like working for you. If they know that you trust them and you’re not micromanaging them.

Davina: Right, right. I think, I think setting up you know, your intentions for the relationship right at the very beginning. And just, you know, being very clear that I’m excited about you working here. And I have every expectation that you will live up to, you know, what you have, what you’ve said you’re going to do and and and then you know, if they don’t then like you said you address it at that point. I think that’s wonderful. All right, before we wrap up any any words of wisdom that you would share that might help somebody who’s not as far along in the journey as you are but they’re headed in that direction?

Michelle: I think number one is, don’t stay inside your own bubble. Talk to other people. My practice started to grow exponentially when I started to connect with other law firm owners and other people in my network. You know don’t, I mean, yes sometimes you get really bogged down and doing the work. Don’t be scared to take away from doing the work and being in the business to start working on the business. Spend time working on the business, even if right in the beginning, you don’t have a lot of that time because you’re doing most of the work. Dedicate an hour every day that you’re going to work on the business and you’re going to do things during that time to build your business, not necessarily do the legal work and do that and connect with other people allocate time for though treat it like it’s, you know, treat it like it is work because it is if you don’t put the time in on your business, it’s not going to grow.

Davina: Right. Right. That is that is very wise. Great advice. I really appreciate you being here today. And I really was excited about talking with you. And of course this has turned out to be even more fabulous than I knew it would be. So tell us. Tell us how we can find out more about you and connect with you if we want to.

Michelle: Sure yeah, if anybody wants to reach out to me, I’m always happy to chat. You can contact me via email, that’s great. It’s Michelle with two L’s m i c h e l l e @dellinolaw.com And that’s  d e l l i n o l a w.com. You can always shoot me an email. We’re also on social media at Dellino Law Group on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you name it, and those were probably there. So love to hear from people. It was great to chat with you today. I really appreciate you having me on.

Davina: Thanks. It’s great to have you on.

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