In this episode, Megan Zavieh explains what it takes to reinvent your law practice when you’re feeling stuck, and how TBD Law inspired her and gave her the confidence to reinvent her own practice with a new business model for helping self-represented litigants in ethics cases.
Your Opinion Matters
Help us make your favorite shows better by completing the 2022 Listener Survey.
Mentioned in This Episode
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 126 of the Lawyerist podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today we’re talking with Megan Zavieh about how TBD Law catalyzed the reinvention of her law practice and what it takes to reinvent yours.
Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Spotlight Branding, which wants you to know that having a new website designed for your law firm doesn’t have to suck. Spotlight Branding prides itself on great communication, meeting deadlines, and getting results. Text the word “website” to 66866 in order to receive a free website appraisal worksheet.
Aaron Street: Today’s podcast is sponsored by FreshBooks, 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.
Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is also 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.
Aaron Street: For the last few podcast episodes, we’ve talked about the fact that TBD Law number 3 in August is now open for application and we’ve talked a little bit about the logistics of applying. But we thought we’d take a little bit of a break from that and talk more about its purpose and why we built it, which is that in law practice and small firm law practice if you are a creative business person or an innovator or tech oriented or trying to think up ways to better serve clients that haven’t been tried before, we’ve found that that can be really isolating and that there can often be a lot of active resistance from other lawyers, from bar associations, from regulators, and that it can just be a really strange experience to be someone trying to make your business better, make the world better, and to feel alone or to feel like people are actively trying to stop you from doing that. One of the things we wanted to do was create a tribe of people who can come together and understand each other, work with each other, encourage each other, rather than it being something where you feel like you’re the only one who you know who gets it.
Sam Glover: Yeah. When I talked to Megan about doing this podcast about reinvention, she is the one who said, when I went to TBD Law the first time it felt like she had finally met her tribe. I’ve been explaining it in not-as-effective words because Matt Homan, who’s our business partner, is the first person that I really met where I was like, “Shit, yeah. There’s somebody else out there who gets it.” He was a speaker. He was recognized as being a thought leader or whatever and he was up at the solo small convention in Minnesota and I went up to him afterwards and just felt like I finally met a kindred spirit who really had some neat, cool ideas about law practice but really useful, effective ones for doing it differently and he was reassuring me that I’m not crazy for wanting to do things differently and that it could work.
It was so refreshing to have met just one person and then I met more and more. TBD Law is that tribe. It’s all of the people who we can find that get it and who, not only won’t get in your way, but will welcome you and be like, “Yeah, this is where you belong. Let’s blow each other’s minds for a couple of days by talking through the kinds of ideas that you’re having trouble talking about with anybody else and engage with them. Don’t just poo-poo them from the beginning, but actually try and figure out if there’s something there or not.”
Aaron Street: If your future orientation or business creativity or tech savviness have made you feel a little bit alone in your law practice or in your legal community or if you’ve actually seen roadblocks put in front of you by old school people who don’t get it, let us know. We would love to have you at TBD Law 3 in August and invite you into the tribe.
Sam Glover: We just want to know who you are anyway, but TBD Law sounds like it would be your natural home. I think you know where to find it. Go to lawyerist.com/tbdlaw, and I hope we’ll hear from you and maybe even see you in August. Here’s my conversation now with Megan.
Megan Zavieh: I’m Megan Zavieh, and I’m a lawyer for other lawyers. I primarily represent lawyers in California who are facing ethics investigations or law students having difficulty getting admitted to the bar. I also council lawyers on expanding their practices and running their practices ethically. Finally, I write and speak on topics of ethics.
Sam Glover: Very cool. Thanks for being with us, Megan.
Megan Zavieh: Thanks for having me.
Sam Glover: You’ve been on the podcast a couple of times before, in part to talk about how you maintain a California law practice while not living there. Where are you now?
Megan Zavieh: I live in Georgia, just north of Atlanta.
Sam Glover: If you’re interested in hearing more about how Megan landed in Georgia listen to her podcast on personal challenges, which you can find on our website. It’s a neat story. I know, Megan, you’ve been writing for Lawyerist for a long time, but I have learned so much more about you and your practice over the last year or so because you came to the first TBD Law just about a year ago.
Megan Zavieh: That’s right, and the second about six months ago.
Sam Glover: I know. You’ve now become a regular, which is awesome. Part of that is because I think it spurred you to reexamine the way that you do your law practice. I know you’ve done a ton of work on it since that first meeting. I’d like to hear more about that. You’ve been thinking about what it means to reinvent your law practice and you recently published a post on that. I thought today maybe we could talk about for lawyers who are sort of facing down the barrel of the future of law practice and are finally starting to realize that things are changing. How do they start thinking through doing something about that?
Megan Zavieh: Yeah, well I would love to talk about that because reinventing my practice has just been so pivotal in really my even continuing as a solo. I speak to other lawyers sometimes because they’ve come to me to ask questions about it and other times because I find them depressed about where their practice is going or stuck with ideas that they think are too crazy to implement. All of those sorts of discussions just spur me on to talking more and more about this reinvention of our practices. It’s not just the industry as a whole that’s changing, and we talk about that a lot, but really it’s the individual lawyers thinking outside the box, pushing the boundaries of what we’ve been taught in the traditional model, and just getting out there and delivering legal services in new ways that’s really forming what we call this future of law practice.
Sam Glover: I guess getting stuck is … Yeah, I tend to think so much about how the practice of law has changed over the last, I don’t know, eight, 10, 12 years and what that means for the future. But you’re right. It’s an old tale that lawyers just start feeling like they’re spinning their wheels and stuck at some point. That’s partly because lawyers really resist the idea of running their practice like a business, I think, and part of it is just the nature of law practice means churning hours unless you change something.
Megan Zavieh: It absolutely does. The resistance to treating our law practices as a business is I think part of why I hear from some of these people, because we’re taught in law school that we’re different as a profession. In some ways, I think, “Oh, we’re special. We have different obligations. We have different motivations than just earning money,” and, “Oh, capitalistic businesses. They’re just out to make money, but we’re a profession and we’re different.”
Sam Glover: You know, it’s super interesting about that. I’ve been reading Jordan Furlong’s book, and he points out that although we love to say corporations make money and we’re a profession, we’re somehow above that, what is it that lawyers are constantly thinking about all the time, is money, right? Hours and billing and receivables and realization rates. I think the professionals actually think about money as much or more than the businesses.
Megan Zavieh: Yeah, I think we do too, but we’re taught in law school that somehow we don’t. If you go back to, for some of us, whose parents are lawyers, we would hear about back in law school they were taught lawyers don’t advertise. Jacoby & Meyers challenged that in California and then other places also had their challenges. Then that changed. It was a gentleman’s profession where you didn’t ask for business. You didn’t put your name on the back of a bus. Well, look how far we’ve come from that. Similar to now, we are not really any different.
That’s part of this place where people get stuck, is, “Well, I’m not supposed to treat it this way. Oh, that book over there for entrepreneurs, that’s for businesses. I’m a law firm. I need a book for lawyers.” We act like we’re somehow different. Those people who are in that mindset but want to change, they call people like me on ethics questions. Am I allowed to do this? Is this okay? Because I was taught this stuff in law school. I was taught that I’m not supposed to do things differently. Don’t the ethics rules mean that I can’t do that? Honestly, sometimes they do. Sometimes the ethics rules do come into play and you say, “Well, actually, yeah. If you were an accountant or if you were a window washer you could do that. As a lawyer, you can’t.” We do have some of that, but those people are often looking at ethics questions and saying, “How far back do the ethics rules hold me?”
Sam Glover: Yeah. Sometimes that stuckness is that mindset of, well, just getting away from the idea that it’s always been done this way so anything else must be unethical or there must be some good reason why we don’t. What is it that broke you loose? What got you unstuck?
Megan Zavieh: Well, for me the big catalyst to my freedom of thought to continue down a path that’s totally different than a traditional law practice was the first time that TBD Law was held. That was last August, and I had already been working on some ideas and doing things differently than a lot of my colleagues and certainly differently than a traditional law firm. But it was with hesitance and uncertainty. I knew I was ethically okay. Hey, that’s what I do, so I knew I was okay on the ethics side of it. But I really wasn’t sure that what I was doing was going to be accepted, and I felt very alone.
I felt like I was the only person out there with some of my crazy ideas and trying to implement things like working virtually from at one point halfway around the world to now across the country from my jurisdiction trying to deliver services not only remotely but online. Several of the things I was doing, I felt so alone. I’m certainly working within a practice area that is not particularly forward thinking. Besides just the fact that ethics rules are always catching up with things like technology and other evolutions of the practice, I work in a state bar court that does not accept electronic filing and won’t even accept a fax signature, even though the California court rules allow it. So [inaudible 00:11:48] backwards …
Sam Glover: I always like how California is on the cutting edge of technology and somehow totally behind in significant ways.
Megan Zavieh: Oh, absolutely. The LA Superior Court is starting efiling. We’ll be trickling it out this year, and it came 20 years late. But yeah, absolutely. It’s stepping way back on some of these things. In my practice area it certainly is, and I was trying to do things differently but really uncertain that what I was doing was worth the effort. When certain things I was trying to do weren’t taking hold right away, my initial thought was, “This whole idea is wrong,” as opposed to how I was implementing it.
When I went to the first iteration of TBD Law, I felt like I found my tribe. I’m sitting in a room full of people who all have some of these ideas and they’re at different stages of development. Some of them have been wildly successful when doing things in a non-traditional way. Even though I wasn’t necessarily going to follow in the footsteps of everyone in that room because people went in lots of different directions, I felt overall that mentally it was really freeing to realize I wasn’t alone in thinking that some of these were good ideas.
Sam Glover: I’ve been talking to a lot of the people who’ve applied for the next meeting of TBD Law in August. For the listeners, it’s on August 27th. I’m sure by the time we publish this podcast Aaron and I will have added an intro where we give you the details, but if you’re listening and you’re curious go to lawyerist.com to find more information. I’ve been talking to everybody who applies for this next TBD Law, and a lot of the people who have applied, and especially those who are coming back, but even those who are for the first time are saying things like that. They are tired of everyone around them acting like they’re crazy to be considering doing anything innovative. Everybody’s telling them all kinds of reasons why they shouldn’t, or they keep getting stuck defending their decision to do something relatively simple and rudimentary like go paperless. They’re hoping that at TBD Law they can meet their tribe in the Seth Godin sense of tribe.
Megan Zavieh: Yeah, exactly. That’s what happened for me. I wasn’t without my setbacks prior to that in terms of trying to meet people and hoping that some of them would see things my way. For example, I had launched my practice about two years before I attended a state bar annual meeting in California where I manned a booth for a while in the exhibit hall with some colleagues who do the same exact work that I do, the small group of us that are part of a trade association in California, the Association of Discipline Defense Council.
We had a booth, and I had never met these people in person before. I had emails with some of them, I had called some of them as mentors in the past, and I was so excited to sit down in this booth where, yes, we were talking to people walking by, but I knew I’d get to collaborate and talk to these colleagues of mine who were much more experienced than me. I found myself in these conversations defending what I was doing way more than I thought I should have to. They said, “Oh, right. I remember you from the email list,” and, “So where do you live, and what are you doing?” I thought, “Oh, yeah. This is what I’m doing.”
I thought I’d get some great reaction, and instead I got, “Huh. Okay. All right. Yeah, that’s interesting.” Kind of eye rolls. Since then I’ve come to know some of these folks a lot better and they’re wonderful people who’ve been amazing resources for me. Those initial conversations I was being told I was nuts by people who knew more than I did about my practice area, who’ve been at it a lot longer, and who I viewed with great respect. That’s really a setback. That’s a huge mental setback to go to someone that you hope so much will think highly of you and what you’re trying to do and who you respect and then they say, “Oh, yeah. I think you’re kind of nuts.”
Sam Glover: It’s like you get reinforcement and some confidence by seeing that other people are also trying some innovative things. I assume you come away with a bunch of ideas as well. I mean, I came away with a bunch of ideas.
Megan Zavieh: And you put it together. Yeah, I came away from the first TBD Law with more ideas than I could possibly implement. I think that one of the challenges that I always tell people when they say they want to reinvent their practice is the challenge that I faced coming out of that meeting, which is you hear so many great ideas and they don’t all apply to you. They can be fantastic ideas, but they don’t necessarily work with what you want to do. So you have to sift through them.
Otherwise, I certainly was guilty of this and I think a lot of find it, you end up following a path longer than you should before you realize, “Ooh. This really doesn’t work for me.” You’ve got to learn that skill of sifting through the ideas that you come away with and picking a couple that really do work. Think them all the way through and figure out which ones are worth your time of your investment. Just because it’s a great idea doesn’t mean it applies in your practice or should be a top priority in your practice.
Sam Glover: Yeah. That goes both ways, and I think it’s worth highlighting. On the one hand, there’s this tendency to be like, “This is how we practice law and this is the way we do things.” Everybody wants this template that works for everything, and in reality, law practice is hundreds of different kinds of businesses. They’re all service businesses. Everybody’s serving clients, but clients have just wildly differing needs from one practice area to the next and one practice to the next. Every practice is different in its own way. I think what you’ve just said is super important, that you have to know where you’re coming from. What a criminal defense lawyer or a workers’ comp firm does that works for them may not work if you’re representing lawyers remotely, and it’s really, really important to know.
On the other hand, I think lawyers have this contradictory impulse which also goes the other way, which is, “Oh, no, no, no. That doesn’t apply to me,” and are very quick to say, “No, that doesn’t apply to me. I’m the exception to that. My practice is the exception to that. My clients are the exception to that.” That can be equally problematic because then you never do anything interesting. But I think you’re totally right, that it is, especially when you’re getting your head stuffed to overflowing with ideas as happens at TBD Law you have to let the glow wear off and then try and figure out which of those ideas that seemed great at the time really are going to mesh nicely with your practice.
Megan Zavieh: Exactly, and I think that’s part of the challenge, but it’s also a blessing of a place like TBD Law or any kind of online forum you can find where people are sharing new sorts of ideas, is that you do get more ideas than you need but it gives you an opportunity to sift through them. What I found in coming out of that and the lessons that I learned in those first couple of months of trying to really implement the ideas that I had was to focus really clearly on where you want your practice to go. You might not know that initially.
For example, when I stepped into TBD Law I didn’t know what I wanted to do for certain. I knew some broad goals, but I was so tired of being told that I was crazy that I didn’t really have a great focus on where I was trying to get to. I was just frustrated. I came out of it with a bit of a better idea, and there was a synergy between the sifting of ideas and the development of my goals that had to happen.
But when you have that clear goal eventually figured out you can better sift the ideas and go, “Okay, that one’s an awesome idea if I was a trust and estate lawyer, but document automation really doesn’t matter in what I’m doing right now. It’s not the most important thing. It’d be a nice little side benefit if somebody felt like setting it up, but let’s not spend too much of our resources on that.” But this other idea that somebody who is practicing a completely different area than me had, that worked for me. That helped get me to my goal. Those things have to happen where you define that goal in order to really make the idea easy to triage.
Sam Glover: Yeah, you’ve got to set your goal first and then you’ve got to figure out your strategy, how you’re going to get there, and that’s where you really have to sift through all of the potential things that you could do to get there. You’ve got to figure out which tactics you’re going to use to make your strategy work to bring your firm towards the goal, and obviously all of that really has to be customized to your practice. We need to take a short break to hear from our sponsors and when we come back I want to talk more specifically about what you’ve been doing since TBD 1 to reinvent your practice. Because I know a little bit about it, but I think our listeners will be interested too.
Aaron Street: Spotlight Branding is an internet marketing company that doesn’t suck. Most solo and small firm lawyers have had at least one truly miserable experience with a web designer or internet marketing company. So if the idea of launching a new website for your law firm makes you queasy, they get it. Spotlight Branding prides itself on excellent communication with its clients, being responsive, professional, respectful, and delivering what it tells you it’s going to deliver.
Spotlight Branding works exclusively with solo and small law firms. Services include law firm website design, email newsletter management, social media marketing, and more, all designed to make your law practice more profitable. And, Spotlight Branding is currently offering a free gift to our listeners. Simply text the word “website” to 66866 and receive their free website appraisal worksheet, an easy way to evaluate your web presence, identify what’s working, and spot opportunities to improve.
Sam Glover: So you’re racing against the clock to wrap up three client projects, prepping for a meeting later in the afternoon, all while trying to tackle a mountain of paperwork. Welcome to modern life as a small firm lawyer. The working world has changed. With the growth of the internet, there’s never been more opportunities for the self employed. To meet this need FreshBooks is excited to announce the launch of an all-new version of their cloud accounting software. It’s been redesigned from the ground up and custom built for exactly the way you work. Get ready for the simplest way to be more productive, organized, and most importantly, get paid quickly.
The all-new FreshBooks is not only ridiculously easy to use, it’s also packed full of powerful features. Create and send professional-looking invoices in less than 30 seconds, set up online payments with just a couple of clicks and get paid up to four days faster, see when your client has seen your invoice, and put an end to the guessing games. FreshBooks is offering a 30-day unrestricted free trial to our listeners. To claim it, just go to freshbooks.com/lawyerist and enter Lawyerist in the “How did you hear about us?” section.
This podcast is supported by Ruby Receptionists. As a matter of fact, Ruby answers our phones at Lawyerist and my firm was a paying Ruby customer before that. Here’s what I love about Ruby. When I’m in the middle of something, I hate to be interrupted so when the phone rings it annoys me and that often carries over into the conversation I have after I pick up the phone. Which is why I’m better off not answering my own phone.
Instead, Ruby answers the phone and if the person on the other end asks for me a friendly, cheerful receptionist from Ruby calls me and asks if I want them to put the call through. It’s a buffer that gives me a minute to let go of my annoyance and be a better human being during the call. If you want to be a better human being on the phone, give Ruby a try. Go to callruby.com/lawyerist to sign up and Ruby will waive the $95 setup fee. If you aren’t happy with Ruby for any reason you can get your money back during your first three weeks. I’m pretty sure you’ll stick around, but since there’s no risk you might as well try.
Okay, we’re back. Megan, talk us through that. When you came home from the first TBD Law meeting, what did you do and how did you go about doing it, and how has that changed over the last year?
Megan Zavieh: Well, initially, and it literally started on the plane ride home. I’m not kidding. [inaudible 00:24:00] yellow pad on the plane. I did this big brain dump because I had not taken a lot of notes because I was listening so much, which is completely different than my norm. I usually am writing constantly. I realized I had all this information in my head and I needed to get it down. I just wrote pages and pages of notes of all the different things I had heard and learned and whom I heard them from, if I could recall, because I did go back over the next two months and talk to people whose ideas I had written down.
That’s one thing about that community was so fantastic. I would call people and say, “Can I borrow you for five minutes and three hours of phone time later?” We finally [inaudible 00:24:38] learned even more. That was my first step. Then, I did waste some time going down roads where there were some cool tools out there I didn’t know about. I said document automation earlier because that’s one I spent more time on than I probably should have.
Sam Glover: I think maybe by like the fourth meeting of TBD Law I’ll have invented a little shocker so that every time somebody starts talking about what’s cool about practice management software I can zap them remotely. Stop talking about tools. Focus on strategy.
Megan Zavieh: Yeah, it’s easy to get sucked in. But the thing that’s most concrete coming out of it for me from the reinventing my practice angle is actually going back to my original goal when I first launched my practice. When I first launched, my goal was to reach lawyers who are self represented through the discipline process. Because I’ve always believed and I continue to believe that those folks really need some resources. It’s fine to be self represented. I differ with some of my colleagues on that. I don’t think-
Sam Glover: You don’t think that only a fool has himself for a lawyer?
Megan Zavieh: I do not. I really don’t.
Sam Glover: Especially when that person is actually a lawyer.
Megan Zavieh: Exactly, and doing lawyer stuff like defending themselves against legal ethics inquiries. I do think that a lot of us are capable of handling our own discipline cases, but I don’t think anyone should do it alone. I don’t think you should go in blind because it’s a different world in the discipline system. It’s just not the same as your general state court or even federal court litigations.
Sam Glover: Well, and I suppose there’s a lot of emotion tied up in it and you need a buffer for that.
Megan Zavieh: That’s part of it, definitely. When you are on the defensive it’s not even just like representing yourself in a civil action. This is your license on the line. It’s someone saying that you’ve done something unethical, which is very emotional. There’s so much tied up in it. But there’s also just a different process. Things don’t work the way you think they will. I talk to people all the time to people who say things like, “This is the bar. This is my [inaudible 00:26:38]. Aren’t they supposed to be looking out for my interests?” Well, no, they’re not, actually. That’s a misconception. No, that’s not the case. It’s hard to go through it completely alone, even if you are representing yourself.
I tried lots of different ways to reach that audience. I had said to everyone who was trying to help me from day one, my biggest challenge will be getting people to look up and look for me. Because if they’re representing themselves, they think they’ve got this. They’re not looking for help. As I grew my practice, I ended up shifting into a lot more of representing people through the process and not getting my target audience from the beginning because I couldn’t overcome that hurdle of getting them to even look for me.
Coming out of TBD Law 1, the first meeting last August, I came up with some different marketing strategies and I came up with the idea … I didn’t come up … Someone came up with it for me, or helped me see how creating a digital product to get to those people who are going self represented is a huge way to get my information and advice to them without doing the far more traditional model that I was trying to employ.
Sam Glover: Yeah, because they’re representing themselves so they’re looking for information in order to represent themselves, probably on the internet.
Megan Zavieh: Exactly.
Sam Glover: So there’s an opportunity.
Megan Zavieh: There isn’t a resource out there designed for them, so they’re looking online, they’re reading the state bar website, they’re reading the court rules, but there’s not a lawyer out there who’s giving them a playbook. They’re not given the road map to the system, and they’re not looking for lawyer to help self represented respondent because they’re not looking to hire a lawyer.
Sam Glover: So what are you doing, and how are you reaching them?
Megan Zavieh: Well, I am about to launch my digital product. I’ve been working on that pretty much since the first TBD Law, and now I have it almost ready to launch. That is going out and once it’s up there I’m really hoping to reach that segment that I’ve been missing. Honestly, if I hadn’t gone to TBD Law 1 and had this different view of delivering legal services I probably would have abandoned reaching the self represented litigants, because I was so frustrated that I wasn’t getting to them.
Sam Glover: I’m guessing you’re doing your own version of trying to profile what a self represented litigant in ethics complaint matter is doing on the internet, or potentially not on the internet, I guess. You’ve got a profile of here are the things that they’re doing, and so people who are doing this or searching for this are probably going to need a certain set of information. Then are you trying to reach them with ads or are you working on optimizing your own website so that they hopefully find it, or both, or all of the above, or is there something else you’re doing?
Megan Zavieh: Well, both of-
Sam Glover: Or is it a secret?
Megan Zavieh: No, it’s not a secret but it’s also stuff that comes from this whole reinventing angle of my law practice because I didn’t really know how to market before. Before I really sat down to look at my practice as a whole and think, “How can I redo all of this?” I had been “marketing” by my writing. That’s the biggest way that I get clients, and it still is, honestly, because when you are out there writing the information that the lawyers are looking for then they think of you when they have a question. So that still is a big part of how I market, but I hadn’t been doing any ads.
My website wasn’t particularly well optimized because I didn’t really think all that much about how lawyers were searching for someone like me to help. Now I realize the huge, huge number of resources for marketing. Again, like we were talking about earlier where we think that everything’s different for lawyers, I’ve come to realize it’s not and tapping into resources about marketing for non lawyers, just any business, I’ve learned a lot about things like Google AdWords and the marketing pixels on your website, things that I’m able to do that aren’t all implemented yet but they will be part of marketing of my digital product.
Sam Glover: Very cool. What does this look like for you? What are you building?
Megan Zavieh: Well, the actual digital product is an interactive PDF. It has embedded videos and it has infographics. It really walks a respondent through the entire process so that they know if they get to this point basically where do they jump to next, what are their options. It gets down into the nitty gritty for California state bar court, how many days you have on different parts of the process, what page limits are. It has everything all the way down to the most basic information.
If you’re self represented you should be able to pick up the playbook and read the first couple chapters and then jump to wherever you are in your process and have a road map of what to expect, what your options are, different plays you can make in court, what places you can settle, what you can expect in settling, resources for where to find information on what’s likely to happen in your case, the best case scenarios and worst case scenarios that any experienced state bar court defense lawyer is going to be able to construct. I’m giving them the tools to construct them themselves.
Sam Glover: Very cool. What’s the business model? Are you selling that, or are you hoping that people retain you to help, or what’s the plan?
Megan Zavieh: Well, my hope is that my target audience can use this to do what they need to do to defend themselves. I’m hoping that a lot of people who purchase the product won’t need more, but if they do, if people purchase it and realize that they’re overwhelmed and just don’t want to or can’t handle defending themselves after all, then I do hope that they would turn to me to be retained because here I’m the resource for the original information. I would hope that that-
Sam Glover: You’re selling it and you’re hoping that it generates referrals, or generates more business.
Megan Zavieh: I hope it does. I hope it does from a business perspective. I hope it doesn’t in that if I haven’t given enough information for the majority of the purchasers to not need me, then I think I’m missing something.
Sam Glover: Got you. That makes a lot of sense. I guess I should clarify. This is how you’ve chosen to reinvent your practice. This is not like the template that gets … There’s no template that we sell at TBD Law. We’re trying to help people do the kinds of things that you’re doing by going through the process you’ve gone through. But this is the way that you’ve chosen to do it, and it sounds really exciting. When does this launch? When will it go live?
Megan Zavieh: It should be live no later than early August.
Sam Glover: Got you. I know from our conversations in the TBD Law chatroom that you have adopted a few tools. Although earlier I said I want to zap people when they talk about tools, what are some of the … I think it’s always kind of fun to talk to people about what are some of their favorite tools. Since TBD Law, what are some of the neat tools that you’ve implemented to make your life easier?
Megan Zavieh: Well, I started small. I always tell people this too when they’re starting to change things in their practice, to start with one thing. I did, and then it snowballed because you get really excited if things work. I started by automating my scheduling. I had consultations that I had a small bit of it automated. I mean, people could select a time to meet with me or have me call them. That was automated, but that was it. I started taking that little tiny piece that I had automated and making little incremental changes.
First, I [inaudible 00:34:28] that there was a intake form, much more detailed intake form so that when I did call people I actually knew what they needed ahead of time, which is super useful because I could go pull the rules that we were going to talk about and any recent authorities that could be really informative as to their subject. Then I implemented payment with that. I’ve learned the lessons of not giving away too much free time, and I started charging for consultations. That was a huge shift, that part where you came out of the TBD Law community just getting the confidence that, yes, I really should be doing this. I’m not doing a disservice by charging. I’m actually doing a service because now I have enough time to devote to this because I do need to earn a living. Now I have the 45 minutes to talk to you. Because you’re paying me, I can afford to do this in a thorough way.
Sam Glover: They’re probably going to take you more seriously.
Megan Zavieh: You know, I’ve found that to be absolutely true. Absolutely. I implemented JotForm for my intake forms, and it integrates with Stripe, and so I have new schedules through Acuity Scheduling. We receive JotForm intake forms, and Stripe is integrated for the payment. That’s my little nest of tools for consultations, which has been a huge departure from how I was doing things before. That’s been definitely the start of my snowball.
Sam Glover: Have you had any moments where you realize that you were inadvertently turning people away or turning them off and you had to go make a change?
Megan Zavieh: Only with some of the forms that I had to edit and make sure that the language was appropriate. I didn’t want to have anything in there that made it sound like I was too inaccessible. That was a big thing for me, is even though I’m charging for consultations I always want to be accessible to people. As with a lot of other practice areas, I deal with a lot of really highly stressed people who are dealing with crises. I sometimes have had language in my consultation materials that I realized on second read, “Oh, somebody might think that I don’t care.”
Sam Glover: You’re being standoffish?
Megan Zavieh: Yeah, or that … That was the thing with changing from being free consultations where I would just pick up the phone and talk to somebody when they called any time to having the paid consultations, is that I felt like I had now made people think that you could never just pick up the phone and call me. That wasn’t true at all.
Sam Glover: Yeah, and the phone calls are so important to lawyers, but I have seen so many lawyers who proudly say, “Oh, I answer my own phone,” and then make all of their clients sit in the waiting room for 15 minutes. Just because you’re making people fill out forms doesn’t mean you’re any more or less welcoming. It’s all in how you do it.
Megan Zavieh: Right, and what I did with that particular thing where I thought I was turning people off was if you don’t want to schedule a consultation and pay for 45 minutes of my time because you’re not sure I can help you, I specifically say now, “Call or send an email or call my main office number and talk to the receptionist. See if I do what you need.” Because I do get a fair number of people that I don’t. I had a real estate broker call yesterday, and she thought that I would help with a real estate broker license issue. Well, no. I only handle lawyers. Okay, good. Done. She knew. I also get plaintiffs for legal malpractice things and that’s not something that I do. Those people should not schedule a consultation, pay online, all of that. So I had to change it so that it was clear you can always call and ask if I can help you.
Sam Glover: I wish I had figured out that workflow for myself when I was practicing full time because intake took up so much of my days. But I had not cleverly figured out how to connect all of it. I’m not even sure those tools were available.
Megan Zavieh: Well, that’s one thing. Tools change so much and there’s so many new things out there, which is part of what’s overwhelming, but it’s also what I love to say that if you’re doing something that’s taking too long there’s probably a tool to make it better.
Sam Glover: Will your new website and digital product be launched by TBD Law in August so that you can show it off?
Megan Zavieh: It had better be.
Sam Glover: Well, I look forward to seeing you and seeing it in St. Louis in August. Thanks for being with us today, Megan.
Megan Zavieh: Thank you, Sam.
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.