Each time Tara Brown’s husband transferred to a new state with his job, she pushed the restart button on her law practice. And she did so successfully, despite being a self-described “introvert.”
She shares her networking secrets, as well as how to spot clients you should never work with. We also talk about…
- Providing personalized service for each client – and how it leads to repeat business
- How to avoid the most difficult – and least appreciative – clients
- The two biggest benefits of hiring an associate attorney as soon as you can
- The secret to overcoming your fear of growing your practice
- And much more
Mentioned in This Episode: www.thelawofficeoftarabrown.com
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Solo to CEO Podcast where we provide a mix of powerful, thought provoking and practical information to assist you in your transformation from solo to CEO of a high impact, high revenue generating business. I’m your host Davina Frederick and I’m here with Tara Brown, founder and CEO of The Law Office of Tara Brown. The Law Office of Tara Brown focuses on providing family and estate planning legal services to clients throughout the state of Virginia. Welcome, Tara, I’m so happy to have you as my guest today on the Solo to CEO Podcast.
Tara Brown: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Davina Frederick: So, tell me about the Law Office of Tara Brown. Tell me a little bit more. I said family and estate planning services, but for those who might not know exactly what family means, family and estate planning services, tell us a little bit more about what that covers.
Tara Brown: Okay. So, in my family part of my practice, we do divorces, custody, we do adoptions, we help with guardian ad litem of special needs children. So, that’s if you have a child with special needs that might be coming of age and now you need to assume a guardianship role to that child, more than a power of attorney, which we also do. But a more serious role in the planning of their financial affairs and just helping them manage their life. We do a ton of custody work, a ton of visitation work and it’s a real specialty area for us. We’re focused on helping families put together parenting plans that work, that are bespoke and tailored for their family and their specific needs. So we want something that’s going to last for that family long term.
We don’t want to see our clients back, we’re not looking for repeat business. We’re looking to do a great job so those clients can refer us to their family and friends. For that, or if they have trust and estate work. Maybe they need a will. Maybe they need a power of attorney. Maybe they need a healthcare directive or a trust. We do a lot of trust work for people with special needs children. Especially when you’re planning so they don’t have income and to try to keep them eligible for other services. We help families a lot with that.
Davina Frederick: So when you say family law, you really are well rounded in helping families. So it’s not just about, a lot of times people, when they hear family law, they just think divorce. But you’re really trying to be a lawyer for a lot of needs for a family.
Tara Brown: We are. We really want to be a counselor for them. One of the reasons I do this, what gets me out of bed is knowing that I provided a family with a service that’s going to help them maintain that relationship and it’s a sustainable business model. Our slogan, or my tag line is, we help families in the conference room and the court room. We’re happy to help them come up with a solution and we’re also happy to go to court and advocate for them.
Davina Frederick: Right. So how did you get in, have you always been passionate about doing this type of work? I’ve had this conversation with other attorneys and it’s always an interesting question for me, and an interesting conversation to have, to find out how people wound up in the particular area of practice they did. If it’s something that they came into because, through their career and maybe through internships and after going to law school they discovered that this is what they liked to do, or if they had a particular drive to become a certain type of attorney and went to law school to become that type of attorney. Is there something that led you to this area of practice outside of law school and your career?
Tara Brown: Well, no. It was, I don’t know. My life is like a big happy accident. It’s just where I was led. When I was in law school I was thinking I’m not going to court. I’m not setting foot in court. Certainly I can get a job at a corporation and I can do something transactional or maybe I can do real estate. But, in the back of my mind, I knew estate planning would be part of my practice or something I wanted to do just because as a child, like many people, I had a lot of death in the family and so there was a lot of fighting about things and money and property and so I wanted to avoid, help families avoid some of that. Hurt people hurt people and they’re grieving, they’re hurting, their loved one is gone and now comes a territorial fight. So I wanted to do that.
Then when I opened, that business was not as easy to get as the family law business. So I don’t do it because it’s easy to get, I do it because once I started doing it, I went to a CLE and it was like upstate from the law and so it covered a bunch of stuff and I was a little bit fascinated about the family law piece. I was like, okay, I’m going to give this a try and make this part of my practice. But then it was really rewarding. When I helped the first wife who was a victim of domestic violence, gave her a voice in the courtroom, she felt like finally she had a voice and she was being heard. Now, someone had her back and would help her. It was really rewarding.
I just felt like, with my attitude, I really try to see both sides of every story even if it is my client, I try to help them see it. I’m like, look, everyone’s getting less time with the kids. This is hard, this is hard for everyone. So let’s keep our wits about us and make sure coming to the table in earnest and trying to really come up with a solution and sometimes they hear me, and sometimes they don’t. But I’m really interested, go ahead.
Davina Frederick: I find it very, sorry to interrupt, but I find it really interesting, something that you said earlier about how, I know you and I’ve known you for a few years now and I know you to be an introverted person. You’re very gregarious and affable and just delightful to be around, but you like your intellectual and you like your book work and all of that sort of stuff. So when you were talking about that you were first looking at your career as a lawyer as thinking you were going to be a transactional lawyer, I can see that with you. I really see that with you. I’m like, that makes a lot of sense that you probably were thinking, I’m going to be a transactional lawyer, I’ll probably be a corporate lawyer or maybe do some estate planning and that kind of thing.
It’s interesting to me that you’ve chosen an area of practice where you are a litigator. Family law is a litigation practice. You really spend a lot of time in the courtroom. Yeah, you do a lot of negotiation and settlement stuff and all that, but you’ve always got to be prepared to go to court because that, with family law, it’s likely that a lot of your cases are going to wind up litigating some sort of issue. You’re certainly going to be arguing about things, right. Making arguments. I love you sharing this, your story and how you got there and how you found that you really enjoy it, because I think oftentimes a lot of attorneys, particularly women attorneys will stop themselves from practicing in a certain area out of this fear that, or how they pigeon hole themselves into, I’m an introvert and I can’t do this or that. They let fear stop them from doing something that could be incredibly rewarding if they just open themselves up to the possibility they could do it.
You’re an awesome and very effective litigator now that you’ve let yourself do that. How do you feel about that?
Tara Brown: Right. Well, you and I have had conversations about me being an introvert and going into rooms and seas of stranger and it’s exhausting and it’s not part of my personality naturally. Yes, that part of it is hard, but anything in life worth having is hard. If I want to be a CEO, if I want the things on my wish list, to get them, I can’t be in a safe place. I’ve got to do scary. I’ve got to do things that scare me, otherwise I can’t grow. I can’t move. I can just keep doing what I’m doing every day and be satisfied at this level and that is not a CEO mindset. That is not who I want to be. I don’t think that’s who many lawyers want to be. I think you have to be a little driven and want a little more to even make it through law school. It’s not easy.
Davina Frederick: That’s not a litigator mindset either. You’ve already become, I’m not saying that transactional lawyers aren’t also driven, because transactional lawyers also deal with challenges and you can be introverted and be driven and rise to challenges and all that kind of stuff. I don’t want to get a bunch of emails from transactional lawyers saying, we work every bit as hard as litigators do, it’s not that at all. But just talking about this is something for you personally that was a challenge to go against what you thought you could do. Now you do it every day and do it well.
Tara Brown: Thank you.
Davina Frederick: So let’s talk about the CEO piece of it. What caused you to, well I think it’s interesting first to talk about your journey into starting your own practice. Because you’ve had a literal journey from one state to another. Why don’t you share that story. What caused you to go into your own practice and what was that journey like? How did you wind up in Virginia? You can share that story, I think that’s interesting.
Tara Brown: Sure. I went to school in New Jersey. I went to law school in New Jersey, grew up in New Jersey, went to Rutgers and my husband got offered a job in Virginia the summer I took the bar. So, okay we’re going to Virginia. So let’s pick Virginia’s bar the February administration. Took Virginia’s bar and then he got offered a job in Colorado. At the time, throughout this, I’m working for a corporation where I can essentially work from home. I’m making six figures, I’ve got what I call the golden handcuffs on me, the money is comfortable, the work is not that challenging, I can do this. Nice bonus package, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to practice. Going to Colorado I didn’t know a soul.
So I would interview, but it’s not as big of a legal community as where I am now in Virginia and New Jersey, so there weren’t that many opportunities. In the back of my mind, a professor planted a seed, you all will have a license that you can hang and you can open your own practice and basically be self-determined. Do it the way you want to do it. Run it the way you want to run it. That idea just hadn’t occurred to me before. It was, when I grew up, it was get a good job, get some benefits and put away some money for retirement. Get a home, make a good life for your family. That is success. That is success so it wasn’t part of my plan, but I said I want to do it.
I was for Verizon at the time, they said you know what, you guys have to move back to the east coast or we’re eliminating these virtual positions and I said, this is it, this is my chance. I’m going to do it right now. I opened my law practice, I put together a business plan. I opened the door and I got out there. I went to every single networking event I could. I tried many, many ways to bring in business from buying leads to fine law to getting on all the Facebook pages, seeing what works, what doesn’t. And I started it and I had a great, luckily I had a great mentor who practiced family law in my same building that I could bump ideas off of and it just took off from there.
She was shocked. She was like, there are people in town who have been here who do not have as much business as you and they’ve grown here. So I don’t understand what.
Davina Frederick: What town were you in?
Tara Brown: I was in Colorado Springs. South of Denver, about an hour south of Denver. It was a little big town.
Davina Frederick: So then what happened?
Tara Brown: They had a military base nearby and I just networked my tail off and I joined every club I was interested in. I got some business and then my husband got offered a job in Florida. So I’m like, okay, let’s go to Florida. Florida was another story. I love Florida by the way. I love it to vacation, but we lived in Homestead and it was far from mom and it was just a little far and my husband was not happy in his job. So his unhappiness, I just didn’t want to keep him there. He said, let’s go back to Virginia, which is where we initially, I already had a license to practice law in Virginia and we came back.
Davina Frederick: What is the timeframe for this?
Tara Brown: I graduated law school in 2012. I opened my law firm initially in Colorado in 2015. Even when I left Colorado I would still fly back for hearings. I still had a practice that I was winding down, finishing up cases. Then in 2016 we moved to Virginia and I met you.
Davina Frederick: And I met you. So here you are. It wasn’t very long. So the stop in Florida was basically a layover.
Tara Brown: Right.
Davina Frederick: That didn’t last long. Homestead didn’t last long. So you’re in Virginia. Do you want to talk about how you met me? You want to talk about what life was like in Virginia when you got there? It was about a month after you had been in Virginia when you and I met.
Tara Brown: Yes, it was a month or two. Maybe we met in early 2017. I was licensed, but I was in retirement. So I had to take some CLEs to get me out of retirement and get me back to active. I’m working while I’m doing this and I’m on these Facebook pages and I’m seeing all the things and I saw you talking about being a CEO and I saw that you were a business coach and I was looking for a business coach and I wanted a business coach that was a lawyer or could really identify with me, specifically as a client, trying to run my own law firm. I’m sure all of them are fine, but it’s what I was looking for. So yeah, I reached out and you called and we had a video chat and I was in a dark room on my laptop all sad like, I want to do this.
Davina Frederick: I remember it as I think, I just remember you feeling at the time, it seemed to me that you were just feeling very, like starting over again. Like the starting over again was just a little disheartening and tough because you had done this great thing in Colorado and then you went to Florida and you’re thinking I’m going to start this over again in Florida and then you moved to Virginia and you’re starting over in Virginia and you were just feeling really down about it, about having to start over again in a place where you just didn’t have the network built up that you had spent so much time and energy building up in Colorado. Is that how you remember it?
Tara Brown: Yeah. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to have as successful of a practice that I had in Colorado that I had spent time trying to grow and figure out what worked. I was so afraid. And then I had to go back into those rooms. Those rooms full of people and faces that I didn’t know, I’d never met and in addition to be an introvert, I’m a little socially awkward. So I’m like, do I joke or do I not joke? Will they understand it or not?
Davina Frederick: I think too there was also the, you had already, you had little bit of seed capital that you had spent in Colorado. So here, your seed capital had dwindled. So you were sitting there with just a very little bit of seed capital too. So you had even less seed capital and you were also faced with that as well and then, so you had to come up with the mental energy, the money, all of that. So it was natural. I think it was very natural to have those feelings of, I don’t know it if was depression, but just sadness and fear and all of that around starting over again. But, we had talks about you starting over again, and also I think your husband was encouraging you to get a job because you were kind of, you were on the couch a lot. There was some fear there and he was going, okay, maybe you should just get a job honey.
Tara Brown: Yeah. I tried it. I had a job when we started working together I think.
Davina Frederick: You did, that’s right.
Tara Brown: Maybe I got it after.
Davina Frederick: You got it after. Because just to kick start and get a little bit of feel better money.
Tara Brown: Yeah, so there I was and I had my little goal. I’m like, this is my goal. If I can make this much money Davina, I am going to leave this place. So let’s see if I can make this much money in three months. I don’t know if I said three or four months. The first month I had to quit the job. The first month I had to quit. I had met my goal and I couldn’t do both.
Davina Frederick: You blew it away. You blew it out of the water.
Tara Brown: It was.
Davina Frederick: I remember you calling me and going, I think I have to increase my goal.
Tara Brown: I had never taken a paycheck. Before I started working with you, I was paying myself out of savings just to grow the business and when we started working together, shortly after that, I think I started taking a paycheck. Now, I’m like, I need a raise.
Davina Frederick: Check, check. Let’s fast forward. We’re going to talk about some of the other things you’ve accomplished, but let’s just fast forward to now and give everybody an idea of. So that was 2017, we’re in 2019. You have moved offices twice? Upgraded your office twice I think since then?
Tara Brown: Yes.
Davina Frederick: You have grown your staff. You’ve had a couple different, I think three different staff people and at one point you had a staff, you had two or three people working for you staff wise, two people I think at one point and then you’ve just hired your first associate.
Tara Brown: Loving it.
Davina Frederick: How did that feel? Loving it.
Tara Brown: Loving it. It was, hiring staff was another challenge I had to overcome mentally. Now I’m taking this paycheck, am I going to be able to make enough money, generate enough to guarantee somebody else’s salary? Once I got that person, I realized yes, you are. Because that person is going to help you do that and free up your time to do business generating things and just working on the business in general. I went into the bank the other day, since I got my associate and the guy said to me, “How are you?” I said, “I’m fine.” He said, “You know you look so much less stressed.” I’m like yes, I feel less stressed. Yes, you’re right.
The quality of the work of the associate is just great. It’s not that legal assistants or paralegals don’t have great quality work, but an attorney to attorney is just different. The way they think about tasks and the way they don’t need as much direction. Or they’re trying to figure out, well if you get a good associate, they’re trying to figure out how to get things done and that’s what you want. When I got my first job, it wasn’t as a lawyer, but some things I just had to figure out. It was this is the task, go be. You can do this.
Davina Frederick: And it was a process. For other people who are on the Solo to CEO journey behind you, just so they, other attorneys who might be listening to this, just so they know, this was not, you’re not popping off making decisions with total ease. I can attest to that. You really think about these things and analyze this and I remember we had to have a conversation because you really interviewed a lot of people, I mean you interviewed people and you really went through a process, and then even after you had made a decision and you knew, you still struggled to make that offer because of what?
Tara Brown: The same fear with hiring an assistant. I’m like this is an even bigger, this is a salaried individual. This is not somebody who’s working hourly or, can I do this? Do I have enough business? All this doubt creeps in your mind. Are the clients still going to come in? Are you going to have enough work to keep that person busy? Some of that was creeping in. It was the best decision I made, I think, to do that. I think it’s going to, in terms of growth and being able to grow my business, it can’t be of one. I cannot do it all. I can’t.
Davina Frederick: One of the conversations you and I have all the time is, what is the alternative? You can always choose, I can stay small and keep it all. I can make just me and I can do all of the work, but if I want to grow then this is, the choice is clear.
Tara Brown: There are only so many hours. Even if I increased my billable, it’s a cap on how many hours I can put it. Then it’s a quality of life thing. How many hours do, and you and I talk about this a lot. About creating a life you want to live and do I want that? Do I want to be stressed? It’s all on me. Or do I want to be able to delegate some things? And do some other things that are also important to the business? Maybe when I retire and I don’t want to manage people, maybe, it might be just me. But for now, yeah, because I’m not a spring chicken. I’m 45, I’m saying this out loud, oh my gosh.
Davina Frederick: And it’s recorded too.
Tara Brown: And I’m, 20 years, maybe 20 years I’ve got to do this. That’s all I want to do this for, right. The next 20 years. So I’m trying to make the most of them.
Davina Frederick: Right, and you also have some, we’ve talked about your daughter, your baby girl and some of the things that being able to spend a little bit more time with her. So you leaving the office a little bit early to be able to go and spend time with her and you’ve been able to do that a little bit more by hiring an associate, which was a big thing for you. Instead of getting home so late that all you have time to do is basically eat and tuck her in bed.
Tara Brown: Dinner and bed. Before I was seven to 5:45. I was President of the Last Mom Club because I had to be there at six. So seven to 5:45, which I never really calculated how many hours that is, or how much time I was spending at work plus every weekend at least one day. Now I still work early, I probably work at seven, so I’m leaving by 4:45. Which is, some people are like that’s only an hour less. No, that is an hour less. I get to get my daughter from track, I get to get my six year old. I get to be outside and I’m not going home in the dark and it’s just, I’m no longer the first one in and last one out. I’m able to get out. I’m able sometimes to take off a whole weekend. It’s nice and go to trainings and just do different business generating things that I just couldn’t do before because I was just running out of time.
Davina Frederick: So, lots of good things happening for the Law Offices of Tara Brown and it is, it’s just the beginning because you’re only two years into this. A couple years into this and you’ve already grown this much. So, lots of good things ahead. I can’t wait to see what else you’ve got on your plate and ahead of you. Give us an idea of where you are in Virginia, so people can visualize where you are in Virginia and they don’t think you’re up in DC or something.
Tara Brown: I’m in Richmond, like central Virginia and I’m a couple hours from the coast. I’m near Richmond, Virginia. I’m in a suburb of Virginia called Chesterfield, which is a little south of Richmond, but that’s the hub near us and I practice in Chesterfield. I practice within a 15 mile radius unless it’s a really good client who sent me a referral or someone just really wants me, I might go a little bit further. That’s typically where I am, central Virginia. I had an office down in Norfolk, but it was a lot opening two offices. The idea of reopening it is not foreclosed. We’ll see.
Davina Frederick: Tell me some, let’s give some gold nuggets to some people who might be listening to this who are on the Solo to CEO journey, might be a little bit behind you on the journey listening to this, wanting some tips or advice on what you’ve learned so far that could be helpful to them. You got any thoughts on?
Tara Brown: Yes. So starting out in this business, the reason I wanted to be doing what I’m doing, to help people, that is both, it’s a good thing and a bad thing. I want to help people, but if you’re trying to do something in family law, the business has to come first. If you are not getting an appropriate retainer for your services, you’re going to end up doing a lot of work for free, or chasing money later. So, I can’t help people if I’m not getting paid because I’m just going to be resentful, I’m not going to want to do the work. It’s going to take the joy out of it. I’d say get your money up front if you’re practicing family law. Get enough money, and it’s hard to figure out what enough money is initially, so get with someone in your community that practices law in that area, what is a typical retainer? I know we don’t like to talk money, and I feel like that’s a thing that sometimes women have, it’s not appropriate right? We don’t want to talk about those things.
Davina Frederick: Right.
Tara Brown: No, we need to talk about money. We need to talk about how much it takes to do this case, so you know how much to get. That, I feel like if I knew that in the beginning it would have saved me some heartache. Yes, get the money up front because you and your client will be much happier. You can serve them. You won’t have to get out of the case, and you can focus on doing what you do best. Which is practice, not be a business owner so get your money.
Davina Frederick: Right. I was just having this conversation with somebody else and we were talking about what happens when we don’t think about, we don’t think about the business as a separate entity from you. So there’s you and there’s business and oftentimes we collapse the two. We think we are the business, particularly when we start out and we are a “true solo” or we’re solo, one staffer working for us. We tend to think of ourselves as the business. When we get into that mindset, whatever self-esteem issues we have come up and we, if we’re self-sacrificing people, we feel like we’re doing a favor by undercharging. We’re trying to help people, we buy into other people’s money stories and we don’t charge enough because we’re trying to help somebody. There sitting there telling us a story and we go, we feel sorry for them and we’re trying to help them. So we don’t charge enough.
But the reality of it is, we are really stewards of a business and the business is a separate entity and once we create a business, we make a promise to a lot of people who are dependent on that business and the health of that business. The business is, the health of that business, a lot of people come to depend on it. All the other clients that we make commitments to, the vendors who rely on the health of that business, the employees or independent contractors who rely on the health of that business, your family members, their family members rely on the health of that business. So, the longer that business is healthy and sustainable, the more people are going to come to depend on that business and we, as the CEO of that business are stewards of that business and it is our job to make it healthy and profitable and the more we do that, the more people are going to benefit from that.
It’s not about us and whatever martyrdom we have going on or whatever issue we have going on where we feel like we’re helping other people, we’re really helping other people when we make that a healthy sustainable company. For you, you were able to hire a couple of staff people and an associate. Now you’ve just given three other people pay checks and you’re supporting their families, in addition to your own family, in addition to all the clients that you’re now able to help because you’re charging appropriately for your services. Think of the impact of that.
Tara Brown: Right.
Davina Frederick: It makes a huge difference.
Tara Brown: One of the things you said to me was, when the client comes to you with a sob story about, and some of them, they’re not just sob stories, they’re true stories about their life and their financial situation. You say, would you loan that person your retainer? Or give it to them.
Davina Frederick: Would you write a check for them? If you can’t write a check to them, then why would you give them the time? Why would you discount your services and give them that extra time?
Tara Brown: We provide a service, it is not free. Some clients are going to think it’s high or they’re going to say, well the guy down the street charges this. Okay, that’s fine. I had to get really comfortable in that scenario where they’re saying, “That’s really high.” Yes, that is my fee. I won’t even say that. I’ll just let them talk and then, if it’s a fit, they will hire me. If it’s not, they won’t. I’m not going to play the whole I’m going to cut my fee until you’re happy, because neither of us, well I’m not going to be happy at the end of the day with that and I think I’m worth it. I don’t think it, I know it.
Davina Frederick: They’ll probably be a difficult client that you have if you cut your fee and take them on as a client anyway. They’ll be the most difficult, not probably, they’ll be the most difficult client you have.
Tara Brown: They will and the least appreciative of it. Yeah.
Davina Frederick: Yeah. The long and short of it is, price your services appropriately would be a number one gold nugget. Price your services appropriately. Talk about money. Get comfortable talking about money and asking for what your services are worth. That’s great advice. Anything else?
Tara Brown: About money, one other thing. No CEO is going to go explaining the reason their price is their price. You’re not going to go to the CEO of Sprint and say, $200? No, you’re not doing that. Don’t have those conversations. I’m not exchanging with them about, I’m not going to justify my rate. My rate is my rate.
The only other thing is, face your fear and really think about that thing, whatever it is that you think you can’t do. Really challenge yourself and ask yourself is it that I can’t do it? Or is it that I’m afraid that I can’t do it? And why. Am I not going to make enough money? Clients are going to come. Money is going to come. It will come. Those people that you hire are going to help you earn that money. Everybody here is billable.
Davina Frederick: Yeah. I love that. Well, thanks so much. I think you’ve shared some really, I love your story. I’ve been so proud of your success, for you for your success and I think you’re a real go getter. Of course, I love spending time with you and talking with you and being a part of your journey. Tell us where people can find out more about the Law Office of Tara Brown and follow you on the interwebs.
Tara Brown: So, my website is www.thelawofficeoftarabrown.com and you can find me on Instagram at lawofficetarabrown and also on Facebook at lawofficetarabrown
Davina Frederick: Wonderful. Thank you so much, and I really appreciate you being here and having this conversation. I think there are a lot of people that will enjoy listening to your story and I appreciate you sharing it today on my show.
Tara Brown: Thank you for having me. Thank you.
Davina Frederick: All right.