Kelly Hayes is co-founder and an attorney at Burgeon Legal Group, Ltd. Co. where she manages the South Carolina office...
Betsy is co-owner and a managing partner at Burgeon Legal Group, Ltd. Co., a boutique law firm specializing in...
Betsy Stotler and Kelly Hayes started Burgeon Legal because they were two lawyer-moms who didn’t like the way their firm jobs took up so much of their time. In this episode, they explain how that led them to found an innovative, distributed law firm that balances work, life, and clients.
Betsy and Kelly represent health care facilities in collection and Medicaid eligibility matters, including assisting clients to avoid future problems.
Voiceover: 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, and now here are Sam and Aaron.
Sam Glover: Hi, I’m Sam Glover.
Aaron Street: And I’m Aaron Street and this is episode 102 of the Lawyerist podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today we’re talking with Betsy Stotler and Kelly Hayes about their innovative distributive business model for their law firm, Burgen Legal.
Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Fresh Books, which is ridiculously easy to use and packed with powerful features. Try it now at freshbooks.com/lawyerist and enter lawyerist in the how did you hear about us section?
Aaron Street: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Ruby Receptionists and its smart, charming receptionists who are perfect for small firms. Visit callruby.com/lawyerist to get a risk free trial with Ruby.
Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is also sponsored by Spotlight Branding, learn how they use the internet to make all of your law firm marketing and business development more profitable by visiting spotlightbranding.com/lawyerist.
Aaron, one thing you’ll hear today from Betsy and Kelly is how they’ve dealt with the challenge of managing a remote team and we’ve been remote for years now and we’ve run up against some of the same issues and I thought maybe it’d be interesting to talk about how we’ve dealt with trying to get about two dozen people on the same page, moving in the same direction, and then our smaller team that actually does the Lawyerist background stuff.
Aaron Street: Yeah, I’m excited to listen to this interview because my sense is that they’ve probably figured out a better solution than we have. Though we’ve tried any number of models for engaging dozens of writers over the years, always over the internet since people are all over the world using tools, we started with Google groups and instant messages and now we’re using Slack a lot. We’ve used different project management software to do it, e-mail, and even not just our writers but our actual staff team we have an office but many of them work from home or work remotely at least part of the time by choice and it’s something we allow and encourage, but it isn’t always the perfect solution for making sure that teams of people are on the same page and coordinated, and that’s of course completely setting aside the fact that there are plenty of business owners who care about Face time and making sure people are working hard and we’ve actually, we trust the people we work with so that’s not even on our radar, though it definitely would be on some small law firms radars as an additional struggle with remote workers.
Sam Glover: Yeah, and I think increasingly law firms are doing this, whether you’re outsourcing a receptionist or you’re just working with people in different places, you’ve decided to work at home. It’s a pretty normal thing. I mean, our technology stack right now is basically meetings, whether it’s in person or over video through Slack or Skype or something like that, but usually in person or over the phone, so we have the phone and that’s how we do a lot of our meetings. We do Slack for day to day communication about things that need to get done. We use Trello to keep everybody on the same page for what needs to get done to manage our workflows and we have e-mail but we don’t really use it internally very much.
Aaron Street: No, that’s definitely one of the advantages of project management software and tools like Slack is we very rarely send e-mails to each other within the organization. I certainly worked at places where 90% of an inbox was internal stuff and I love that my e-mail is mostly exclusively external communications so that it has a very clear function in my day. Have you, over the last seven or eight years that lawyerist has been doing this, are there any of the models that we used for managing remote team members that you thought were an utter failure?
Sam Glover: That’s a really good question because most of that time it would have been my failure. Yeah, I mean I think the hardest part about it is to make everybody feel like they’re on the same team, rowing in the same direction when you’re not seeing each other day to day and working together. My lezafaire attitude of checking in only when you have something to check in about, was a terrible idea. I think the way we’re moving now, which is where we actually have regular check in’s, we try to keep them really short because we don’t want to waste a ton of time in meetings, but you’ve pretty much implemented is much more effective. Having that weekly check in is really working much better I think and it’s starting to feel like we’re shedding that lezafaire attitude and starting to have a little bit more of an attitude of yeah, yeah, we’re doing this together and it’s working.
Aaron Street: Yeah, I think on the flip side for us is when we implemented Slack a year and a half ago or so, it definitely had the advantage of making sure people were part of the group and able to be in touch more rather than just occasional check ins when there was something due from them, but there were times when it had the opposite effect of way too much noise where people were just chatting all day long and the chatting was really fun and so you didn’t want to miss it so then everybody was just glued to their computer chatting with each other rather than doing work.
I think we’ve struck a better balance after that initial introductory period but I think there are also risks there were if you’re fully remote and therefore the only way to interact with colleagues is through some sort of chat portal, it can get too fun to just chat with people rather than using it to communicate about work and sometimes personal check in stuff to see how you’re team is doing because you care about them because you work with them, but to focus it on getting work done rather than just being fun and silly.
Sam Glover: You know stepping back from just the remote teams thing, there’s an additional element here that doesn’t just have to do with being remote that I also think is really important and I usually say that I’m a terrible representative of lawyers in general, but in this respect I think I’m really typical, which is that it took me a really long time to realize that I was a manager. When I started hiring people to work for my firm and then later when I started managing people at lawyerist, it took me a really long time to catch on and my attitude was basically like I’ve told you what I want done, read my mind for the details, and come back to me with the finished product and if I don’t get the finished product that I’m happy with, I’m going to be annoyed.
That is how a lot of lawyers seem to manage their people and it’s really ineffective, doesn’t motivate people, and doesn’t really help anything. I think once I started realizing oh management is an actual skill and discipline that I need to get serious about learning, I got better at it and it made the whole business run more smoothly and I think we are finally getting better at it. When you look at your own firm, I think a lot of lawyers aren’t doing management and aren’t taking it seriously and maybe for 2017 now that we’re a couple weeks in, that’s a good thing to do is pick up a book about managing people and just try and learn that craft and get better at it.
Aaron Street: Well and my sense that is in a few minutes we’ll hear a number of good tips from Betsy and Kelly on exactly how to be a good manager of lawyers and law firm staff.
Sam Glover: Yeah, I’m really impressed, and I think you’re going to learn a lot from this conversation so here it is. Here are Betsy and Kelly.
Betsy Stotler: Hi, I’m Betsy Stotler, co-owner and attorney for Burgen Legal Group.
Kelly Hayes: Hi, I’m Kelly Hayes, co-owner and attorney with Burgen Legal Group as well.
Sam Glover: Thanks so much for being with us today. There’s a little bit of background to this podcast. One is that Betsy and I actually went to law school together and I totally lost track of her and then met her again at the Clio Cloud Conference where Burgen Legal was blasted up onto the big screen and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s so cool,” but I’m also interested in kind of a back story to the firm, so tell me what Burgen Legal does and what makes it unique, because it is pretty unique.
Betsy Stotler: Okay, well we are a boutique firm and we specialize in complex collections for healthcare facilities, so longterm care, assisted living, anything related to that, and complex just means more than just go get a judgement and have 10 judgements in the basement of a courthouse, it’s kind of like think tank brainstorming about ways to get nursing homes paid when there are Medicaid issues rather than just dementia who don’t know much about their finances or can’t communicate and it’s another way I describe it is it’s when estate planning has gone wrong or didn’t exist and we need to fix it retroactively to make sure it doesn’t ruin the nursing homes chances of ever getting paid for a resident, and then it often usually helps the resident in the process.
Sam Glover: You’re not diving into bank accounts and wages, you’re actually trying to figure out how to make insurance and estate planning and all that kind of stuff work so that somebody can get the care they need?
Betsy Stotler: Basically, it’s usually too late for estate planning because they’re already in the facility and they usually have a bill by the time we get the case. Sometimes a pretty big one, and so when we’re looking at bank statements we’re, it’s kind of like well if anyone’s ever seen a Medicaid application, it’s a really really intense times 10 mortgage application process. Every bank account for the past five years, no stone unturned, any expenditure over $100 has to be verified, because we’re usually dealing with an elderly disabled population for them to obtain that stuff, and even for agents to obtain it is really onerous and so we usually are stepping in and doing that when it hasn’t happened.
Sam Glover: Gotcha. That’s what you do. Tell me about how the firm is constructed because that’s really where the difference is, and maybe before you even get there, why Burgen Legal?
Betsy Stotler: I think I would say first, our beginnings were we joked that we were two girls and a couch and we were just doing this kind of on the side freelance thing from our homes because each had babies and we were finding it very difficult to work in a typical law firm environment. For me the commute was just a killer. It was sometimes two hours a day, two hours each way in D.C. so we were kind of like, “How about we just do this? We love this area of law,” and then it just grew very fast and we got a brick and mortar office for support staff in South Carolina.
That’s where Kelly lives and Burgen kind of was the word in our head and that’s why we came up with that. We also didn’t just want to have our last names because we wanted it to show our thought process on being creative and fresh and not crusty and to show what we stood for, which was to not just do things the way they’ve always been done and maybe we’ll get there anyway, but we wanted to make decisions and make rules because we decided after a thought process that they had to be that way instead of because everybody does them that way.
Sam Glover: Love that. Where is everybody now? You’ve got Kelly, Kelly you’re in South Carolina and you’ve got support staff there, right?
Kelly Hayes: Correct, I work out of our South Carolina office and then all of our admin, operations, paralegals, tech people, finance people, all of the sort of “departments” that a traditional firm would have are housed in the South Carolina office.
Sam Glover: How many people is that?
Kelly Hayes: We’ve got, I want to say 15 or so people down here. Then the attorneys, we’ve got 25 or so attorneys and they all work either from home offices or rented office space, and they’re located across the country in California, Texas, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey.
Sam Glover: Betsy you started out in D.C., where are you now?
Betsy Stotler: Pierre, Illinois.
Sam Glover: Gotcha. This is a truly, it’s a distributed firm at least, if not a virtual firm.
Betsy Stotler: Yes, we reached the west coast maybe a year or two ago, so yeah it covers the whole United States. We don’t have somebody in every single state physically or barred quite in every state but we do cover the whole United States basically, every region.
Sam Glover: Where are your clients from?
Betsy Stotler: They are corporate clients, we have some small regional local clients so someone who might own a couple of facilities in Maryland or South Carolina, and then we also have big corporate clients who have facilities all over the United States, so we kind of, it’s a variety. Some of those corporations it just depends where they’re corporate office is, so some of them market in Kentucky, some Maryland, Texas, it just kind of varies.
Sam Glover: Tell me, as you’re setting this up, does the distributed nature of the firm come first? Is that how you intended to set it up or did you end up landing a big client that wanted you to be able to handle stuff in other states?
Kelly Hayes: It was definitely the latter. When we opened our doors back in 2012, it was just Betsy and I and it was distributed in the sense that she was in D.C. at the time and I was in South Carolina and so the decisions that we were making in terms of the back office needs of the firm, time keeping and file management and even faxing and telephones all had to be through systems that would work with having two people in two physically different locations, and it was sort of very much when people found out that we had opened our doors it just kind of exploded and existing clients grew and started referring in areas that we didn’t previously have clients, or cases, in and we would have to hire more people to staff those cases and the more people came with additional bars and then clients found out about those bars and then they gave us cases in those states and so it sort of has just grown. There’s been a continued and still continuing demand that we’ve tried to keep up with on the backend and fill with staff.
Sam Glover: How does a two person law firm start landing clients of that size that drive that kind of growth because I’m sure lots of people would like to know the secret to that.
Kelly Hayes: Unfortunately I don’t think there is a secret. Betsy may have a different opinion. Most of our clients, all of our clients right now are longterm care providers and that community is a very small community and there’s turnover among and within different facilities and corporate offices and so we have, and that industry has a lot of buying and selling constantly where one building is bought by a different client, is bought by a different … I mean we have one building that we’ve had cases in that I think has been through three clients in the four years that we represented the building, so with each one of those transitions comes the opportunity for additional networking and introduction to clients that we didn’t meet. Until very recently all of our clients came to us through word of mouth.
Sam Glover: Okay, did that start before you started the firm? Was one or both of you involved in this world a little bit or in depth? I don’t know.
Betsy Stotler: I did want to add, I think how we have grown or attracted clients is just by the most crazy, passionate way, throw everything we have into our cases and the work we do. I mean I know that sounds kind of corny but I think it was just, someone described me to myself one time, like they didn’t expect to see such a scrappy junkyard dog in court, and I feel like they knew that we would be creative and we wouldn’t just be like, “All right, here’s my file, throw it to the side, pick it up in a week, do what I do on every case I get,” that we would really put our heart in it and look at it and be like what can I do, what can I do differently? What should I have not done last time? What can I do today? Be really aggressive and thinking all the time and we try to instill that in everybody who comes here and not everybody thinks that way, so it was kind of like we tried to be really careful about who we hire because of that. I just wanted to add that part.
We were practicing in this area before this firm and we did really like the practice area and got to know people in the industry. It’s kind of a tight knit industry. We often see faces that we’ve seen in the past show up at new facilities, so it’s really just, it’s kind of a small niche industry and I guess because we liked it and we were really people and we are talking to people who eventually became clients, we would be talking to them about our kids. I mean not always about that but things, person human things and then it just kind of developed relationships with them.
Sam Glover: We need to take two minutes from our sponsors and when we come back, I want to talk about a theme that I keep hearing, sort of running through it, which is that you really are developing the practice and the firm and Betsy you described it to me as thinking of your firm as a living, breathing organism, which it really isn’t how many people would describe a law firm, so when we come back I want to talk about that.
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Okay and we’re back. I keep hearing you talk about how things have developed and you talk about strategy, or that you’ve been trying to design things in a certain way. It sounds like you, at some point, even if it didn’t start out this way, but it sounds like it may have, you really think about this as a business that you are trying to develop in a particular way and maybe even it goes back to the fact that it sounds like you both started out as moms who wanted to figure out a way to practice law that didn’t entirely eat up your family time. Does that sound about right?
Kelly Hayes: Yeah, and I’ve seen other people start companies over the years and they have a, I guess, the benefit in some ways maybe could hinder creativity but just to plan it all out, to have a business plan stapled together, follow it, to set up the staff and get the building and have it all ready to go and then open your doors and instead we were, the phrase drinking out of the fire hose is so overused, but that is what it felt like for a long time. Because we weren’t experts at running a business, we tried to just be really open minded and in some ways have trial and error. If something doesn’t work, we try to fix it, but then we also try to not constantly be changing and do try to, I guess, stay firm on some areas where we really feel like that’s the way it should be.
Sam Glover: Drinking from the fire hose is something that lots of lawyers do, or constantly running around like your hairs on fire, putting out fires, and they never stop to think okay how can I improve this, how can I make this better? Your firm is very not a lifestyle business, which is what some stay at home parents do. It’s a real, honest business that it sounds very successful and so, how do you work that business development in? Do you have regular meetings about where you evaluate the systems and processes and strategies and procedures, or do you just wait until something feels like it’s not working and then try and come up with ways to fix it? When you’re working on the business aspect of the firm, how does that look?
Betsy Stotler: when I called it a living, breathing organism, I was kind of referring to that. We’re always thinking about things like that and always asking for feedback and looking at everything and examining if it’s working right, and it’s a little bit because it has grown so much it’s not the same within, I mean year to year even more often. Our meetings have often been the two of us and we’re working on having it a little bit more formal so it’s not just us going back and forth. I mean it is a little bit more formal than that at this point. There are other people who help us with the management but we’re working on having more formal meetings so we’re not just always calling each other and being like, “What should we do about this giant problem?”
I used to joke that I, at first I would just say that I want to hide under my bed about problems, and then I was like, “No I’m going to dig a bunker under my bed and hide in that.” Then I was going to bring some whiskey in the bunker because some problems that seem like we just keep working and working but it is really refreshing. Sometimes it we resolve the problem and it just took a lot of time and diligence and perseverance and patience and sometimes that’s really hard when you want your problems to be solved tomorrow because running a firm is really really challenging and the employment aspects are more challenging than we realized. It’s no different than anywhere else except the virtual nature, we don’t have a model to just copy the way maybe an all brick and mortar place might.
Kelly Hayes: Yeah I think what Betsy says is, just to sort of add to that, it is a living growing organism and what worked for us when we had two people, some of those systems and policies and procedures work with 50, and some stopped working at 10. Everyday different states have different requirements, different clients have different requirements, different employees bring different, I don’t want to say problems to the table, but different employees located in different states may expose us to something that we hadn’t thought of before and so I hate to say that it’s reactive, but it is everyday because we are continually growing, everyday brings something that we hadn’t previously thought of and something different to tackle.
Sam Glover: How much time do each of you spend managing the business and running the business versus lawyering these days?
Betsy Stotler: I guess it depends what lawyering is but pretty much all the time managing but we still are involved in cases and case strategizing, we’re not the ones in court or drafting the letters. I think I can’t help myself when I see people posing questions or we’re each involved in everybody’s case. We split in half for the most part. Some cases we’re not if someone’s been here for a really long time, but so we’re still involved. I don’t know if it’d be exactly supervising but chiming in with our thoughts and sometimes diatribes of, “Oh no, no, you got to do this. This worked once,” or just stuff like that. More insight than during at this point.
Kelly Hayes: Yeah, I mean I think we try to keep a pulse on the majority of the cases, but we’re not involved in the day to day unless the day to day brings some sort of major strategy question or really outside the norm need for our involvement. I would say the overwhelming majority is management but we are still sort of aware and at a higher level involved in the cases.
Sam Glover: In listening to you talk about working on cases and working together as a firm, and all that kind of stuff, how normal it all sounds and then I reflect that you’ve got people scattered all over the country. What tools or procedures, how do you maintain that sense of working together?
Kelly Hayes: I think that’s, that’s definitely a challenge and having different people, 20 different attorneys in 20 different locations around the country and then adding that each of those people are supervised by somebody who’s also somewhere else and then supported by somebody who’s in South Carolina, does make it, it adds some complexity, and I think we’re continuing to learn as we grow and explore new options in terms of keeping people connected and feeling that they are part of a larger, the bigger team. We have weekly calls with all of the attorneys in the firm and we have a number of group e-mail distrob lists for attorneys and paralegals and the South Carolina office versus the entire firm.
I think people generally do feel very supported and as part of the bigger whole when they can rely on their colleagues and call and say, “Does somebody have a template for this?” Or, “Has anybody ever come across this problem?” On our weekly call we rotate and each of the attorneys take turns presenting either a big win, a great tip, a strategy, a question, and we also during that weekly call have somebody present, it may include a question, with respect to the back office stuff and if they have a billing tip or a work from home difficulty, or something so that we’re on a weekly basis touching base, the attorneys and having them share with each other. We let them sort of lead it and let them share with each other their experiences and then we also utilize obviously technology and we use Lync just for chatting between and among the different people in different locations.
Sam Glover: It’s called Lync?
Kelly Hayes: It’s called Lync, it’s Microsoft chat for Outlook.
Sam Glover: Yeah, so how long does that weekly call go on? Is it an hour or a couple of hours or is it 10 minutes?
Kelly Hayes: It’s normally under half an hour. We have two presenters on substance and one presenter on administrative, office stuff every week. Some are longer, some are shorter. It really … If Betsy or I see something we’ll chime in with, “Hey we’ve noticed people everywhere are doing this, can we not do that or can we do this differently or we’ve got questions from eight of the 20 of you individually so we figured we would just share with the larger group.” We use it too but like I said, e-mail is always out there and Lync. Lync is kind of fun because people put different away messages or not away messages in messages about killed it with three wins this morning or if I hear no one more time I’m going to explode. They sort of keep each other apprised of their status, mental, physical, whatever, through their Lync status and it’s kind of fun to see that.
Sam Glover: It sounds like both of you have taken to management naturally or are working hard at it. Where did you acquire those skills? I’m asking in part because as our company has grown I’ve had to take seriously the idea that I need to learn how to manage, which isn’t necessarily something that comes natural to me. I’m kind of curious as to how people have woken up to that and acquired those skills or learned how to exercise them.
Kelly Hayes: Somebody once told me that one of the best manager knows that there are different ways to manage and different people need to be managed differently and I personally try to keep that in mind and know that there’s not a single, well we need to have consistent policies, different people need to be, I hate to use the word handled, but different people need to be managed differently and some people need a lot of praise and some people need to just be left alone and some people need to get more constructive feedback and I think it’s just been by necessity and being open to, we tell employees all the time, we haven’t done this before, if you have a suggestion come tell us how to do it differently and hearing from them and being able to incorporate the opinion of the whole into what we do, or maybe it doesn’t feel like it always or seem like it always, but we are taking into account the opinions and feedback that we’ve gotten from 20 or 30 or 50 people sometimes.
Betsy Stotler: I’m sure nobody would think we are perfect at it or some of our staff would probably say we aren’t perfect but I think most of them would say we try really hard and are working at it and trying to do our best at that in the way we would a case.
Sam Glover: It sounds like you guys are pretty embedded in Microsoft Office and you know we love tech tools here, what are some of the other technology tools that you guys use to keep things going and to keep track of everything? Whether it’s communication or keeping track of cases or whatever?
Kelly Hayes: Well, from running into Betsy at the Clio conference we use Clio, that’s one of our big tools and time savers and lifesavers. We use Microsoft Office 365 and that brings with it Lync, Dropbox and then Acrobat, being able to use editable Acrobat. Our faxes come in, are sent via e-mail so we’re completely, with the exception of the South Carolina office and the support and administrative staff, we’re virtual and even the South Carolina office is actually paperless. Everybody has a scan snap on their desk and we use Apple products for computers, which I think are pretty awesome for lack of a better word. I mean really tech friendly. I can’t imagine not using Apple for things.
Sam Glover: I imagine that let’s you not have a big IT support department or anything.
Kelly Hayes: Correct. Our IT support department is a one person department.
Sam Glover: You have a scan snap on every desk, so everybody’s responsible for getting their own stuff into the filing system?
Kelly Hayes: No, our mail is centralized. All of the attorney’s mail from outside of the South Carolina office comes to the South Carolina office and we do have a mail person who scans it and sends it by e-mail to the attorney and the paralegal who’s working on the case but all of the paralegals have scan snaps on their desk. I don’t know. I don’t know how you can be paperless and not have a scan snap. That’s probably a huge big advertisement for scan snap and they don’t pay.
Sam Glover: That’s what I tell everybody too.
Kelly Hayes: We give them tons and tons of money because of the amount of scan snaps we have but when I travel, I actually bring mine with me to hotels and things and my husband looks at me like what are you doing? If I have my scan snap and my Apple laptop I can do anything, anywhere, and I don’t know. I don’t know how else to say it.
Sam Glover: If you had to take a look at your firm as a whole and I realize that it’s a living, breathing, changing thing and your answer in six months may be different from your answer now, but if you had to look at your firm as the whole, for each of you, what’s your favorite part of it?
Betsy Stotler: Mine is, I mean I love working from home. Some people don’t so I like that they have the option of not if they don’t want to, but in general most people I think like that aspect of it. That’s not to say, I mean you hit it on the head, it’s not a lifestyle firm in that it’s a place where you can come and not really work. Like we like the work we do and that’s a really big thing. If I was everyday clocking in and sitting at a desk, drafting extensive litigation pleadings about damage to property or something like that, I would probably be a lot less satisfied with my life so I like that I really like the practice area. I like the management part of it. I guess I like people for the most part and it has been kind of, aside from the hiding under your bed days, fun to tackle this.
Sam Glover: You have a pretty new baby at home right now too, so are you effectively on maternity leave and you’re just checking in periodically or are you able to be productive and get stuff done in between baby stuff?
Betsy Stotler: Yeah, I took … We kind of, not that I’m a proponent of this, I think maternity leaves are good but we kind of had some varied maternity experiences so with this firm, with my second baby I didn’t really do it at all. I remember having a hearing a day later. This time around I was like hell bent on taking some time for mental health purposes and so it was three weeks that was right and now I just try to be mindful of it. I’m definitely not on a leave, and am full time working but I hope it’s not [inaudible 00:38:22], but feed her when she needs to eat and go out and smell her hear and there. I feel like it’s kind of a give and take. I would much rather this and have her here so I can see her when I can and it’s a trade off. I get to work from home and have this job so I don’t get three months of staring at my baby, which I don’t know if I could really do anyway.
Sam Glover: Actually, speaking of everybody working at home, how do you make sure that everybody’s being productive? Do you have a gauge or requirements because I imagine you’re not asking people to clock in and out. How do you ensure that everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing?
Betsy Stotler: We have to trust them and we gauge it more by billable hour and that’s actually one of our struggles. We were always used to pretty high billable requirements and we first started saying we’re so small, just keep in mind you should hit this much to pay for yourself and we trust you, well that didn’t exactly work, so we have tried to firm up, like you got to hit this amount. We’re still working on how to make people accountable for entering their time. Sometimes it’s a matter of if you don’t make it firm, people just won’t enter their time. We’re actually really working on that right now. I mean we kind of tell people if you get your work done and you get your hours in, and you’re responding to things, professionally you should be able to do that, we don’t care if you leave for your kids soccer game or to go run to the mall or whatever a couple hours in the day, just get your work done and bust out and hour at night.
We’re not trying to parole people in that way but it does come with challenges because some people seem to need more structure and we try to figure out when interviewing, whether that person needs that because this might not be the place for them and some people don’t know that about themselves. I mean it’s actually a real challenge that we face and something we’re working on how to not feel like we’re big brother just breathing down everyone’s neck from afar but to also make sure that they have the structure they need and that they understand this isn’t a place where it’s a lifestyle surfboard firm. It really is a real job where you have to work hard to do well.
Sam Glover: What’s the current billable hours target?
Betsy Stotler: I’m embarrassed to say because it’s so low. It’s like 1200 to 1440 a year.
Sam Glover: That’s awesome. You know what if you’re going to have one, make it achievable at least. I like that. Kelly what’s your favorite part about the firm?
Kelly Hayes: I’m actually the opposite of Betsy, which I think is one of the things that makes us work really well together and makes the firm work is that we really really balance each other out. I don’t like working from home at all. I actually hate working from home.
Sam Glover: Aaron and I are actually the same way, like I love working from home, he hates it, so now we’re in an office.
Kelly Hayes: Yeah. I don’t know, it’s interesting because when we have employees that struggle with working from home or don’t like it and they come to us, I completely understand and I don’t want to say Betsy doesn’t understand but Betsy loves working from home so much. It’s different strokes for different folks so my favorite part is just that everyday is a challenge and it brings something new and something different and sort of keeps us on our toes and I’ve never ever been bored. It’s challenging and it’s hard and it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done professionally, but it’s also fun and I think what keeps it fun is the people and being able to work with Betsy and being able to work with people that are generally fun and not kind of stiffy law firm traditional types and having clients that we really enjoy as well.
Sam Glover: It’s really fun to build something the way you think it ought to be built and then have it succeed. It’s pretty gratifying, isn’t it?
Kelly Hayes: Yeah, for sure.
Sam Glover: Yeah. To both of you I guess, or either one of you, if you had to pick out one thing that, and you’ve been doing this for it sounds like about probably a little over four years, but if you had to point back to one thing that was like the biggest challenge you had to overcome, what was it and how did you overcome it?
Kelly Hayes: I think, for me, the biggest challenge was, is the risk, was the risk both at the outset when we started. We didn’t take out a loan, it wasn’t an if you build it, they will come type of thing. We had some perspective clients that had approached us and had identified a need and so we sort of went with it, but as it evolved and grew, we got to the point where we really had to make a decision whether or not we were going to stay small and to some people 50 is small and that’s fine, but for us 50 is not small, it’s gigantic, and it’s not what we had envisioned before we started so I think we had to make this decision whether to go big or go home and not necessarily go home but keep it at maybe six people.
I think when we looked at, at that point we had to sort of say, can we retain the values and the cultures and the reasons we started it and what we appreciated and still get big or get bigger and the risk that was involved from that standpoint and from just a financial standpoint and having to make that, it to me pushed us out of our comfort zone and sort of took us in a direction that we weren’t, I don’t want to say prepared for, but we weren’t necessarily looking for and sort of midway through the drive to have to say, “Hey there’s this whole other road trip over there, you want to go on that while you’re driving?” That to me has been the scariest, most challenging part.
Sam Glover: Choosing your direction basically?
Kelly Hayes: Choosing our direction midway through the trip, yes.
Sam Glover: At the beginning you said that the firm basically grew out of, I think you said two moms on couches or something like that. What do you think the women that you were then, when you were just starting to think about this, would think about what you built right now? Would they be surprised or is this basically what you wanted? What you think you wanted back then?
Betsy Stotler: I would have been, that version of me would have been surprised because of exactly what Kelly just said. Our reason for starting it was to have a very laid back lifestyle, with just a little bit of work and then a lot of life and it grew. I think we’re fine that it grew into this because we like it so much so it kind of blurs the line between work and hobby. I would have been very surprised and it reminds me when you were asking about the management part, something I always still do is I always put myself back into the seat of myself at varying times in my life. Like as an attorney working for somebody, when we first started what we thought and I channel that depending on what the situation is to always try to remember the seat we’re in now versus the seat we were in last year, what would me then. It’s funny you said that because I think of that a lot.
Sam Glover: I think this is kind of a nice place to end unless either of you has some parting thoughts?
Betsy Stotler: Not really but it’s been a great conversation and really appreciate having it.
Sam Glover: Thank you so much for being with us today Betsy and Kelly.
Kelly Hayes: Thank you.
Betsy Stotler: Thank you.
Aaron Street: Make sure to catch next week’s episode of the Lawyerist podcast. If you’d like more information about today’s 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.
The Lawyerist Podcast is a weekly show about lawyering and law practice hosted by Sam Glover and Aaron Street.iTunes Google Play
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