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#108: Incubating a Socially Conscious Law Firm, with Mindy Yocum
Mindy Yocum is one year into building a socially conscious law firm. In this episode Mindy explains how she envisions her role as a lawyer, what it’s like for a law firm to go through a startup incubator program, and just what she means by socially conscious law firm. Plus, how she hopes to reform the entire legal system from the ground up.
Mindy is the founder of Yocum Law Office, a socially conscious law firm where she provided legal education and accessible legal services to individuals and businesses.View transcript
Speaker 1: Welcome to the Lawyerist Podcast with Sam Glover and Aaron Street: Each week Lawyerist brings you advice and interviews to help you build a more successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Now, here are Sam and Aaron.
Sam Glover: Hi. I’m Sam Glover.
Aaron Street: And I’m Aaron Street, and this is Episode 108 of the Lawyerist Podcast — part of the Legal Talk Network. Today we’re talking with Mindy Yocum about starting a socially conscious law firm. We’re going to be seeing Mindy at TBD Law next week in St. Louis which will be cool.
Sam Glover: If you have comments about today’s show — or any show — send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love to hear from you, and if we get a chance, we’ll discuss your comment or question on the show.
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Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is also sponsored by Ruby Receptionists, and it’s smart, charming receptionists who are perfect for small firms. Visit callruby.com/lawyerist to get a risk-free trial with Ruby.
Aaron Street: What if we told you that having a new website designed for your law firm doesn’t have to suck? Spotlight Branding prides itself on great communication on meeting deadlines and on getting results for their clients. Learn more at spotlightbranding.com/lawyerist.
Sam Glover: Aaron, I recently came across an article by Clive Thompson, who writes about technology, culture, and kind of hacky things like he’s one of the people who wrote about why it’s so important to be able to touch type to remove the bottleneck between your brain and the page. He recently published an article about overclocking your audio and video to learn faster, and it seems to me this could apply to things like deposition audio — or video if you’re watching it — and maybe even CLE webinars and things like that. Basically, the idea is we can absorb information a lot faster than people can speak it at us.
If you’re sitting there listening to a podcast and feeling like it’s just sort of droning on, well, that’s because your brain can actually take in information at like 300 to 400 or 500 words per minute, while most podcasts are not spoken that quickly. The spoken word doesn’t come in that fast, so the idea is go ahead and turn it up. There’s some data that suggests that a significant portion of people who take courses on Khan Academy, for example, listen faster than normal, and there’s studies showing that people who are absorbing scientific information can get it at one and a half times normal speed just as well as they can at one times normal speed. So, I feel like maybe if people don’t know that — look for that dial on your podcast app or consider listening to your CLE webinars a little faster.
Aaron Street: I guess I have mixed feelings about this. I will first concede that my podcast app is set at 1.25X, so I guess I do a little bit of overclocking. There are certainly some forms of content … like if I’m listening to a deposition that it’s all about getting through the information, in which case doing that as fast as I can comprehend it maybe makes sense. On the podcast side, though — and again even though I’m guilty of it — I feel like this is just more of our society trying to do more with less, and trying to consume as much as possible rather than like, “Sit back and enjoy the podcast that someone created for you.”
Sam Glover: Well, then that’s interesting because in here nobody overclocks classic novels, for example. There’s some various pieces of data in here, and basically nobody who’s listening on Audible cranks up the speed on the classics because they want to enjoy them, but if what you’re doing is just taking in information — taking it like download it to your brain, and my podcast app has a real nice rewind 30 seconds’ button which I use all the time because I’m like, “Wait. Did I just hear what I think I did?” and I want to sit and focus or try to think about it and absorb it. So, I use that all the time, and maybe even slow it down to 1x speed if you really need to absorb it. So, I get that, but I think that most people will slow it down and stop and enjoy it if they want to.
Aaron Street: Okay, so if we’re downloading stuff to our brains we can overclock. If we’re trying to slow down and enjoy then just do that, please. I want to get back to something else you said.
Sam Glover: Go for it.
Aaron Street: CLE.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Aaron Street: I think this is actually a really fascinating ethical question which maybe has different issues and implications, and different jurisdictions, but certainly more if not all mandatory CLE jurisdictions track your CLE credit based on time not-
Sam Glover: Is it the time that I listen, or the time of the webinar?
Aaron Street: I think time has never been flexible before, and therefore I think it is an open question that probably would be answered differently in different jurisdictions especially now that we are in an age of on-demand CLE. It’s obviously different if it’s a live CLE program which is how CLE has traditionally been provided for the last 40 years, where if you’re in an auditorium or even listening to a live webcast there’s no ability for you to overclock that, but now that we on-demand videos your ability to set that at 1.25, or 1.5, or 3X begs the question of if we judge CLE based on time is it time in or time out?
Sam Glover: I really want to say that if I listen to a one hour CLE at 1.5X then I get to report a one hour CLE, but then what if I listen to a deposition transcript, or a deposition — I listen to the recording for 30 minutes — do I get to bill 45 minutes?
Aaron Street: Or what if you listened to your CLE at 9X where you aren’t comprehending it? You did listen to it. It was on. There was no test at the end of CLE’s to see whether you listened to it at … Even if you’re in the auditorium to see whether you were paying attention. It’s all about were you in the room while it happened. Do you have to ethically not crank it up beyond your particular level of comprehension?
Sam Glover: Assuming good faith I want to say that you can get an hour credit for an hour-long CLE even if you crank up the speed.
Aaron Street: But if you’re deliberately gaming the system by using a phrase like overclock, then is that good faith in any sense?
Sam Glover: I think if you use buzzwords you’re automatically … you recieve demerits no matter what.
Aaron Street: You are gaming the system at that point which is not good faith.
Sam Glover: Yeah, but then I do think that it raises the interesting question of do you get to bill an hour or 45 minutes for listening to a deposition for 30 minutes if you’ve overclocked it? I really don’t want that to be the case.
Aaron Street: On the flip side, though, is if you don’t get to then-
Sam Glover: Then why would you?
Aaron Street: … then maybe you want to listen to it at .8 speed in order to have even more comprehension.
Sam Glover: Yeah. Well, maybe some people will email us and let us know their thoughts, and we can touch base on it again next week or something, or in a future podcast.
Aaron Street: Also, email us if you are listening to this at more than 2X speed right now because I want to see whether you comprehended me asking you to do that.
Sam Glover: I guess if nobody emails us we can assume that either nobody is listening that fast, or nobody who does comprehends us.
Aaron Street: Correct.
Sam Glover: On that bombshell, here is my interview with Mindy.
Mindy Yocum: Hello. I am Mindy Yocum, and I am in Dublin, Ohio. I operate a socially conscious law firm that provides proactive legal education and accessible legal services to individuals and like-minded businesses. We do have a specific focus on those dealing with reentry, and people who need a second chance. Reentry is individuals that are rejoining the community from incarceration — jail, prison — so with a previous record.
Sam Glover: Got you. Okay. That’s cool. You threw a couple of terms in there that I want to explore today, and the first one I think is interesting. You started out by saying your firm provides legal education. I’m hearing that more, and I’m wondering if that’s a bit of an attempt to show, “Hey, lawyers, do more than just create documents,” and I also think it’s kind of funny because it came up in my conversation with a Texas law hawk. He talked about his advertising, and efforts are built around education which is not necessarily the first impression people take away from him, but in your case, it seems very earnest and upfront. So, I wanted to talk about how you … Say more about how you envision your role with respect to your clients, and how education plays a role there.
Mindy Yocum: One of the main goals and main reasons that I started or became an attorney is my own experience with the legal system. My husband was a victim of violent crime, and we had to deal with social security disability, and worker’s comp, and it was very overwhelming, very confusing. We didn’t know how any of it worked. That really hurt us. It put us at a disadvantage. Same for when I first started practicing law. The first few times I went to court my clients didn’t know what was going on. The people in the courtroom, they don’t understand their rights. They don’t understand what they’re agreeing to if they take a plea deal. There’s a lot of bad situations or future repercussions that can be avoided if people just understand, first of all, what they’re doing and their rights.
Sam Glover: I’ve always said that … I think like watching daytime court TV — like Judge Judy — is really educational for lawyers because it really puts on display this is how normal people think court works.
Mindy Yocum: Right. That’s a good point. Yeah.
Sam Glover: Especially those interviews that they always do after the verdict. Like what’s his name — Harvey or whatever — is out in the hall and he asks them what they thought about the verdict. They always think it’s either fair or unfair for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with justice.
Mindy Yocum: You’re exactly right.
Sam Glover: Or everything to do with justice, but not in the way that courts dole it out. I always told my clients that the court system is kind of like visiting China, and when you don’t speak Chinese. The lawyer is sort of in the position of interpreter and tour guide.
Mindy Yocum: Hopefully. Yes. Yeah.
Sam Glover: What you were saying was totally resonating with me. Yeah. You are basically the educator and tour guide for your clients to get through the court system comfortably.
Mindy Yocum: You’re exactly right. It’s a huge issue, and like you said a lot of people, they are only looking at what they think is fair. That’s just not how the system works.
Sam Glover: Yeah, so when it comes to education I assume that’s more of a selling point than people are actually coming to you for training, or do you reach out to the community and try and do trainings in addition to your actual one on one representation?
Mindy Yocum: Yes, I do. Hopefully, as I continue to grow that’ll be a bigger part of the firm, but that is the goal. I go to employers, and non-profits, and agencies, and I say, “Hey, can I put on a legal clinic. You know, people can come ask me quick questions. Can I do a workshop on landmark tenant issues, or expungements, or child support?” My goal is to hit as many people as possible so that that many more people understand what’s going on and how to protect their rights.
Sam Glover: And know who you are and what you do.
Mindy Yocum: Right. Well, that does help. Yeah, but part of that is is nobody’s just going to walk into my office and say, “Hey, let’s talk about eviction,” so I try and go out in the community and do those things. Yeah.
Sam Glover: Maybe this is a useful point to stop and back up to the beginning. Tell me about starting your firm because you’ve been at this for two, three years now?
Mindy Yocum: Well, I graduated from law school in 2015. Took the bar in November, and so opened the firm in 2016.
Sam Glover: Wow. Okay.
Mindy Yocum: Well, I guess almost a year exactly now. It’s February, so I’ve been doing it for about a year. Initially, I started out just offering fees based on income. I developed a sort of a sliding scale, but again that was only hitting the people that were walking in the door or giving me a call. I saw something on the Facebook as I call it or the Twitter about social enterprise incubator, and I never heard of social enterprise, and I’ve never partaken in any incubator, but I sent in an application to see if maybe I could use it as a catalyst to come up with a better way to affect more people.
Sam Glover: What was the name of this one?
Mindy Yocum: The one that I took part in is called CEA Change Ohio. It’s C-E-A. It’s based out of Cleveland, but they do a cohort here in Columbus as well. I was the only law firm.
Sam Glover: Tell me what that was like.
Mindy Yocum: How I ever, ever thought about doing that.
Sam Glover: Yeah. I mean, what’s an incubator like? We hear about Y Combinator as the big one and lots of other incubators for startups, but what is it actually like going through one especially as a law firm?
Mindy Yocum: Right. It was, as I alluded to before we started the interview, I’m an older lady but a newer attorney, and there’s a lot of younger people which is great. There’s a lot of information just about the basics that anybody can use: how to build a business, how to market, what’s your mission statement, elevator pitches, things like that. At the end, we did have to do a pitch with a PowerPoint presentation which is not my strongest suit — the PowerPoint — but it was really great because it gave me the opportunity to step out of legal world where we spend most of our time reading, researching, dealing with other attorneys, it was a great way to think about things from a different perspective. Because there’s all these great people doing all these great things, and you know it’s not just an incubator for business, it’s an incubator for social enterprise. So, they’re doing great things for the world. It was really a positive experience for me.
Sam Glover: Tell me about going in you conceived of your firm in one way, and then how did going through the incubator change the way you thought about how you wanted to approach law practice.
Mindy Yocum: My whole plan is just to change the entire legal system.
Sam Glover: Likewise. Awesome.
Mindy Yocum: Yeah. You have to have an effective approach, and I think that it made me sit down and focus on, “Okay. How is this going to really happen business model wise?” To your question, like I said earlier, I went in with essentially just the limited flat fee services and sliding scale fees based on your income. As I went through the incubator, which was probably — it was one night a week — we did it for maybe three or four months. It sort of evolved as I saw problems people were having, and I met other people who were doing great things in the community.
At the end of it, it had evolved into a traditional law firm that offers the educational piece — the clinics, the workshops — to partner employers to offer to their employees and agencies. Also, the goal, hopefully within the next year as I continue to expand, is to help the un and underemployed attorneys that are doing doc review by hiring them to take on cases so that they can gain experience and put that on their resumes. It’s a huge monster of an idea that all came from working through that incubator.
Sam Glover: Well, let’s take a short break to hear from our sponsors, and when we come back I’d like to explore more what your firm looks like now, and how you’re putting some of that stuff into practice.
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Sam Glover: Okay. We are back. Mindy, you’ve talked about starting your firm, you talked about your approach with education, and you’ve talked about coming out the incubator with a little bit of a different concept of how you want to build, and grow, and change things. So, what does that look like today? I mean, where are you physically located, how many people are you working with, and what kinds of things do you do day-to-day both with clients and otherwise?
Mindy Yocum: Sure. Well, my office is in downtown Columbus.
Sam Glover: You have an actual physical office?
Mindy Yocum: I do. I’m actually … Sound like an incubator junkie apparently, but I’m part of the local Bar Association’s incubator program as well. We are fortunate there to have a sweet office in a really nice place and get the support of mentors there. I’m part of that as well. That’s set to be over in the next month or so. So, I do have a physical office. I do see clients and take regular cases. I would say probably at this point 30% our traditional fees. The rest are sliding scale. I feel like that’s the nature of the beast at this point. I am working on developing some different programming. I have a partner employer that is fantastic and allows me to experiment and try different things. They are called Hot Chicken Takeover. A local business that hires individuals that may have previous convictions, people who need a second chance. They offer a lot of great resources: counseling, help with finding a home, apartments, things like that. I met with the owner of that business during the incubator, and they also offer legal now, so we do workshops and clinics there.
Sam Glover: So, you’re trying to take a more holistic approach to reentry counseling and education by working with other people?
Mindy Yocum: Correct.
Sam Glover: There are so many people who … A good friend of mine is a doctor, and he works with HIV patients and — this is years ago now — but we were having a conversation about how one of his biggest challenges is not keeping people alive because HIV isn’t a death sentence anymore, it’s getting people to take their medicine.
Mindy Yocum: Interesting.
Sam Glover: As we talked more about it he was explaining — and he works at the public downtown city hospital — and in the grand scheme of his patients lives remembering to take their pills, and coming in for something that seems kind of far off is really low priority. Even though he can save their life, they have so much other shit going on in their day-to-day lives that seems more urgent like keeping the heat on in the winter, or figuring out where they’re going to stay tomorrow night. So, there’s so much other stuff going on that he can’t address by giving them a pill, and the hospital was absolutely trying to do more social services around those patients to help them stay alive, but also get to the point where they can take the time to stay alive. I think lawyers face similar things where we tend to address one really small, narrow thing, and it’s awesome that you’re trying to extend your impact beyond just addressing the legal problem into the actual problem.
Mindy Yocum: Right. Well, if we want a successful community, and if we want people to do well it has to be like that, right?
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Mindy Yocum: It can’t just be like, “Hey, I’ll check in on you with this thing, but don’t ever talk to me again. It can’t work like that. That’s part of building these relationships with these people. Personally, and I don’t know if you feel this way, but I feel that attorneys can be intimidating, and people hate us, and-
Sam Glover: Sure.
Mindy Yocum: … all they see when they look at us is dollar signs. I feel like going out into the community more and creating these relationships make us less intimidating, makes people more likely to ask questions, and, again, saves them some heartache down the road.
Sam Glover: Maybe even gives people a chance to see that you don’t drive a Mercedes or live in a mansion? You know?
Mindy Yocum: You’re exactly right. One day, yes, I’ll ride my boat in to work, but you’re exactly right. Right now, half of my time is just hustling and keeping the lights on, and the other half of my time is building these programs with my nonprofit agencies and employers that I can replicate and take all over the state of Ohio. That’s what I hope for.
Sam Glover: You obviously have a for-profit law firm.
Mindy Yocum: Correct.
Sam Glover: I assume you’re trying to make a profit so you can make a living.
Mindy Yocum: Correct.
Sam Glover: How do you juggle … Because it sounds a little bit like you’re kind of like me where you want to say yes to everything that can make a difference in other people’s lives, so how do you juggle that like, “But I still have to make money on these things”? How do you make sure that when — especially when you’re working with nonprofits that have very different business models — that you’re actually keeping the lights on and able to grow which is your objective?
Mindy Yocum: You hit it on the head. That’s the place I’m at now because I’ve really seen — through my work with these nonprofits — that this is the place that needs the help, right? This is where I can be the biggest impact, but it’s finding money for them to pay me that I struggle with. At this point, my hope is that — or the business model that I have — is that the traditional cases, and even the sliding scale fees, and to some extent the employer relationships that I have will sort of balance out any nonprofit work that I do, so I can charge them less.
Sam Glover: Which in a way the nonprofit work becomes sort of a way to feed referrals back to you?
Mindy Yocum: You’re exactly right. With each of these employers and these nonprofits, I developed a flat fee menu of services specific to the needs that I see common with them so that they know coming in if we need to unbundle, or limit scope, or, “I just need you to look over these forms. This is how much it’s going to cost,” and that is helpful. At this point, as a newer attorney, as a newer firm, I probably do way more free work than I should.
Sam Glover: Tell me, how is it going as a business? Are you — and a year in is too soon to tell whether you’re successful or not for just about anybody — but how are you feeling about it now, and what’s the rest of your support network look like? Are you the sole breadwinner, and this is kind of a live or die thing for you, or what kind of flexibility do you have?
Mindy Yocum: I’m fortunate that I have a spouse who does have an income, and, as I said, I maintain a traditional caseload. I do a lot of guardian work, appointed cases. I help other attorneys out. If that was all that I was doing, I would still be pleased with my law firm. Am I raking in millions of dollars? No, but I’m able to support the family, and still invest, and try to develop these programs without losing a ton.
Sam Glover: One more time. Draw the picture for me of where you see your firm in, say, five years. Do you have a clear picture of that right now, or are you still trying to figure that out?
Mindy Yocum: Well, it’s evolving a bit because, as I said earlier, I see the need is in the nonprofit world. My goal is to have between — I would say — 5 and 10 contract attorneys working on cases to have maybe 10 to 20 employers that I visit on a monthly basis, and maybe 5 to 10 nonprofit agencies that I visit on a weekly basis for clinics, workshops, one on one counseling. So, that’s the goal — is to expand. I believe that I could potentially tap into some law schools and some other bar associations. Specifically, maybe their incubator or their clinic programs to get them some experience, and grow the firm even further.
Sam Glover: Got you.
Mindy Yocum: The evolving part is — and I keep joking about it with everyone I see — but I feel like I may buy a Volkswagen bus and call it the Justice Mobile, and just drive around Ohio to the justice deserts — as I call it — where there’s not so many legal clinics, there’s not so many public defenders, and help out there. That’s something I’m still exploring.
Sam Glover: Well, it’s funny that you should mention that because I know you’re going to be joining us at TBD Law before this airs actually, and last year at the hackathon somebody came up with an idea for merging food trucks with law firms and-
Mindy Yocum: Brilliant. Did they do it?
Sam Glover: There are a couple of law firms that actually go around in trucks basically, and I love that idea. Maybe it’s not even crazy. Maybe it’s [inaudible 00:29:24]. I suppose maybe your business model will continue to evolve as a result of TBD Law. At least I hope so.
Mindy Yocum: I hope so. I’m super excited. Yeah.
Sam Glover: Well, good. One thing that just stands out on your bio, so I have to ask you about it on your website, is that you participated in an externship with the Justice League of Ohio which obviously conjures up an image of capes, and some pretty sweet sparkly boots, and superheroes. What is it really? Why is it the Justice League?
Mindy Yocum: That’s funny you say it like that because every time somebody would ask me like, “Where are you extern at?” You have to do like their whole hands on the hips and be like, “The Justice League.” They’re a great group. They’ve actually changed their name since then. I believe it’s the Ohio Victim’s Crime Center or something like that.
Sam Glover: Did DC Comics come after them for the name or something?
Mindy Yocum: It’s possible I think. Well, it was the Justice League of Ohio, so I think they probably could have kept it, but they are a great group. They do a lot of work for victims of violent crimes. Representing them in court on a pro bono basis. They are a nonprofit firm that has attorneys that go out there and educate people about victims’ rights and things like that. I mean, they really are kind of heroes if you think about it in that [inaudible 00:30:50] but not the ones that … I didn’t get to wear any sparkly outfits. No. I know.
Sam Glover: A while back Minnesota issued an ethics advisory that you should not use and Associates unless you have more than one associate working at your firm. I had one associate, so I had to change my name from Samuel J Glover and Associates. Randall, my associate, and I were talking about what to change it to. We really wanted to make our firm The Justice League, but we were afraid of getting sued, so we came up with not very interesting names, and just wound up being the Glover Law Firm or something.
Mindy Yocum: I love it. Well, at least you would have a lot of name recognition even if you were sued. Yeah.
Sam Glover: We’d have superhero images all over the office, and we would have been making them proud, but you know.
Mindy Yocum: Be like rip open your shirt at court, and there would be like Superman or the Incredible Hulk there. It would be amazing.
Sam Glover: Well, Mindy, thanks so much for being with us today and telling us about your socially conscious firm. That’s cool stuff you’re doing, and I wish you luck. I hope we’ll have you back. I know we’ll stay in touch through TBD Law and that community, but I hope we’ll have you back to talk about how you’ve launched it forward in two or three years.
Mindy Yocum: Awesome. I really appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
Aaron Street: Make sure to catch next week’s episode of the Lawyerist Podcast. If you’d like more information about today show, please visit lawyerist.com/podcast or legaltalknetwork.com. You can subscribe via iTunes or anywhere podcasts are found. Both Lawyerist and the Legal Talk Network can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and you can download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play or iTunes.
Sam Glover: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own, and do not represent the views of — nor are they endorsed by — Legal Talk Network. Nothing said during this podcast is legal advice.