Lawyers, especially those newer to the industry, can often suffer from “imposter syndrome” or feeling like their experience doesn’t qualify them to serve their clients. In this Legal Toolkit, host Jared Correia talks to Jeremy W. Richter about how lawyers can build confidence both in their practice and business skills. Jeremy, author of Building a Better Law Practice, shares his best tips for staying organized with personalized systems and maintaining consistent communication with clients.
Jeremy Richter is an associate with Webster Henry in Birmingham, Alabama.
Special thanks to our sponsors Scorpion, Answer1, and Thomson Reuters Firm Central.
The Legal Toolkit
Building Confidence for a Better Practice
Intro: Welcome to Legal Toolkit, bringing you the latest legal trends and business initiatives to help you manage your law firm, with your host Jared Correia. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Jared Correia: Hey there, welcome to a new episode of The Legal Toolkit here on Legal Talk Network. If you are looking for a Kawhi Leonard San Antonio Spurs Jersey, I know where you can get one for cheap.
If you are a returning listener, welcome back. If you are a first-time listener, hopefully you will become a longtime listener. And if you are Dave, I know you have got the stuff man.
As always, I am your show host Jared Correia, and in addition to casting this pod, I am the CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law practice management consulting services for law firms, Bar Associations and legal vendors. Check us out at redcavelegal.com.
And if you are starting a law firm, we are hosting exclusive workshops in Boston and New York. You can find out more at buildyourownlawfirm.com and start your new law firm with confidence.
Lastly, you can listen to my other, other podcast, The Lobby List, which I do with my wife Jessica, that’s a family travel show on iTunes, where you can rate us and comment, and of course, listen, it’s really good.
Here on the Legal Talk Network however we provide you each month with a new tool to add to your own legal toolkit so your practices will become more and more like best practices.
And in this episode, we are going to talk about how to build a better law firm. Hey, that’s something I know a little bit about. But before I introduce today’s guest, let’s take a moment to thank our sponsors.
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Next, we would like to thank our sponsor, Thomson Reuters Firm Central, cloud-based legal practice management that streamlines your day and automates non-billable administrative tasks, so you can accomplish more with less.
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Okay, my guest today is Jeremy Richter. Jeremy is an attorney with Webster, Henry, Bradwell, Cohan & Speagle & DeShazo, P.C. in Birmingham, Alabama, where he practices civil defense litigation and focuses on commercial auto trucking litigation, premises liability, general business liability and various other aspects of insurance defense litigation.
He writes about law practice management at www.jeremywrichter.com, and has recently published a book, ‘Building a Better Law Practice’ through the American Bar Association.
So welcome to the show Jeremy Richter.
Jeremy Richter: Thanks. I’m excited to be here.
Jared Correia: And I’m happy that I pronounced your name correctly. I think I did because I forgot to ask it’s Richter right, like Andy Richter.
Jeremy Richter: We will go with it.
Jared Correia: Okay good. Now I’ve heard some people describe you as mild mannered, although I’m not sure if I believe it so are you Clark Kent mild mannered or a Peter Parker mild mannered?
Jeremy Richter: I’m probably more Peter Parker but definitely not the Tobey Maguire Peter Parker. I do not want to be associated with him and like anyway.
Jared Correia: So Tom Holland we’re talking about here?
Jeremy Richter: Any other iteration of Peter Parker, yes. Like but if I had my druthers I’d probably be Lex Luthor.
Jared Correia: Oh. Oh wow all right. This is getting deep. I wasn’t expecting that, why have you always wanted to be a supervillain?
Jeremy Richter: It just seems like more fun. They definitely have more fun. I mean until they’re —
Jared Correia: Yeah, their maintenance as well, which is good.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah. Yes, for sure. It’s go in that direction anyway. So —
Jared Correia: Tell me about it. I feel your pain.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah.
Jared Correia: All right. So let’s get to legal stuff. So you just published a new book with the ABA which came out very recently called ‘Building a Better Law Practice’, but it’s got a pretty interesting twist, I think. It’s designed as a daily reader for business lawyers.
So you can talk a little bit more about how the book was constructed and like why did you decide to design it in that way?
Jeremy Richter: I went with the daily reader format because lawyers are busy folks and we literally bill by the minute. And so, I know that most lawyers either don’t have the time or aren’t interested in taking the time to read large chunks of text because that’s what we spend our livelihood doing.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Jeremy Richter: So I thought if I could put out a book where you can take a point one of your day and read something that is both practical and easy to implement and it can help you be a better lawyer, manage your clients better, help with your caseload, then you might be more inclined to read it and there’s just over 40 days worth of reading that you can do most days in five minutes or less.
Jared Correia: I think that’s going to be really appealing to lawyers; that’s a smart idea.
Now let’s dive into like the practical aspects of the book. So here’s a preliminary question for you and I think this is important, this is something you talk about like how do lawyers, especially new lawyers, gain confidence in their practice skills and I think that I don’t know if you address this in the book exactly but lawyers often suffer from this impostor syndrome idea where they just feel like they’re faking it forever.
And this is not often spoken up but I think building confidence for lawyers which I think to the general public sounds like a weird thing, is a really important issue. I know you talk about this in the book but how do you think lawyers can build confidence in both their practice skills and their business management skills?
Jeremy Richter: I think with deliberate practice and intentionality in the things that you do on a daily basis and I know like the best way to be comfortable is to have experience, so it’s just one of those like double-edged sword is, and it’s really difficult. It just takes time but it also takes doing things with intention and purpose and taking advantage of even when you aren’t the person in a case. I mean mine is a litigation practice.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Jeremy Richter: So even when I’m not early on, when I wasn’t the person conducting the mediation or taking the deposition, it was important that I pay attention to the questions that are being asked, the answers that are being elicited, and not just be physically present and zoning out and doing my own thing, but to pay attention to what the people who have gone before me are doing.
Jared Correia: There is a little bit of mindfulness component here, it’s kind of what you’re guessing.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah, yeah, I think so. And as far as the impostor syndrome, it’s unavoidable. You come out of law school with all this knowledge but you don’t know how to be a lawyer yet. And if you go work for a good firm or a good employer or corporation, whoever you end up working for, they should be hiring you knowing that you don’t know how to practice law, and they shouldn’t expect you to know how to do that right away. Part of their job is to raise you up to be the lawyer they want you to be.
Jared Correia: I like that, raise up these lawyers right, but I think it’s true that like a lot of law firms expect people to like — I mean the law firm training manual right is like here’s your computer, go after it, which is don’t necessarily effective for a new lawyer.
Jeremy Richter: No, because like you know how to think analytically and do critical thinking but unless you’ve just had some really fortunate clerking experiences, you don’t know what to do.
When I started my first job, it’s insurance defense. I had car insurance and renter’s insurance but like that’s the most I knew about insurance. So there’s a lot to learn right out of the gate.
Jared Correia: No it’s true and it’s funny. I think you said unless you’ve had a bad experience, I think that’s what a lot of this is like.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah.
Jared Correia: Something goes wrong, you have to figure it out and then you kind of get this notion that oh I can actually do this and become like a real lawyer.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah, and that the thing to do is realize early on. I don’t have to draft every pleading and motion and discovery request from scratch, there’s troves of these things and you just got huge assets that are available to you and sometimes that’s documents that have already been drafted.
Jared Correia: Now it’s true, you’re not writing Finnegans Wake here, you’re doing something that somebody else has done before and someone will continue to do after.
So let’s shift gears slightly, and talk a little bit about what it’s like to build confidence in substantive skills like which is stuff you’re kind of more prepared for, because law school has trained you for that versus like business management skills.
In the last show I had, we talked about how it’s important to develop business management skills even when you’re working for somebody else. So can you talk a little bit about that dichotomy?
Jeremy Richter: Yes. So, on the business side I guess in both, it’s really important to know what you don’t know. Before I went to law school, I was a high school teacher, so I have no practical business experience, and I know that.
So when I’m looking at my future and whether for any lawyer, whether it’s becoming a partner in your law firm or starting your own solo practice, you need to set about and learn the things that you need to know and you can’t assume that just because you’re a good lawyer, it also means that you’re going to be a good business person because those things don’t go together just as a matter of course.
Jared Correia: Yeah, that’s a good point to make.
Jeremy Richter: So it’s just a matter of understanding the knowledge that you have versus the knowledge that you don’t have and need to acquire to be not only just a better lawyer but a better business person as well.
Jared Correia: Yes.
Jeremy Richter: So getting that knowledge and paying attention to the things that are going on around you will help you get that confidence because you’ll just have a greater understanding of what’s needed and what’s expected.
Jared Correia: So one thing that I’m really good at is making segues. So let’s segue into a break right now so I can tell you more about what you should buy.
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Jared Correia: Hey, thanks for not leaving to go listen to some other podcast. Why would you do that, right? I’m here with Jeremy Richter of Webster, Henry, Bradwell, Cohan, Speagle & DeShazo, P.C. damn that is a long name, Jeremy. So why isn’t Richter in there yet, can I help you with that.
Jeremy Richter: I don’t know that there’s anything you can do, there’s 15 other people ahead of me, so —
Jared Correia: Oh is that all?
Jeremy Richter: Aside from knocking off a few of them then we’re trying to — we’re stuck on the lower end of the totem pole for now.
Jared Correia: That’s my costliest service of all. So we’re talking to my friend Jeremy Richter, 16th in the pecking order about how to build a more better law practice. So you’re — one of the things you talk about is systems and I’m a big believer in systems as well.
So tell me about why systems are so important to law firms in particular?
Jeremy Richter: All right. So I have a large volume of cases, is the workload that I have. I don’t know how many cases exactly because I’m kind of scared to count but I can’t — if I don’t have systems and I’m a big believer in spreadsheets because I’m just really nerdy like that which probably takes us back to the Peter Parker thing.
Jared Correia: Yes, nice job.
Jeremy Richter: Yes thanks. I have spreadsheets for a couple of different things but one of mine is from the time a case gets assigned to me, all the way through the discovery phase of the case. I know what my deadlines are, where each case is, I’ve got it color-coded and that serves a couple of different purposes. It keeps me organized, but more importantly when a client calls about their case or a partner wants to know about a case, I have a really quick reference guide that I can look at and immediately have answers for the client or the partner or whoever needs the information; whereas, if I don’t stay organized and I don’t have systems and spreadsheets in place, I’m not going to have an answer because there’s just too many cases going on to be able to keep them all in my head all at the same time.
Jared Correia: Oh yeah, yeah, that’s great. I love the color coding, that’s smart. So in terms of your firm and other firms you’re aware of, like there’s kind of two levels of systemization, right, there’s like individual lawyers who can do it and then firm-wide systems that are in place. Could you talk a little bit about the differences there and how well you’ve seen law firms develop systems versus individual lawyers?
Jeremy Richter: So I for better or worse have been at the same — it’s been better for me, I guess that’s a really cool way to say it, have been at the same firm since I started. So as far as what other firms do, I know firms use practice management software and things like that, create a structure for them.
We don’t do that and we have, I think we have probably I’m trying to think maybe 20 lawyers in our firm and a bunch of different practice areas within insurance defense litigation. So some of our folks do construction defect, others do exclusively workers’ comp, a lot of my work is personal auto wrecks and some other stuff as well.
Jared Correia: Okay.
Jeremy Richter: So everybody has different needs as far as how they manage their caseload and for me, it’s a very highly personalized thing and so for firms where everybody is more on the same type of structure of cases that they work on, there may be a more universal solution for those guys, but for us and the type of firm that we have where it’s so diverse, everybody just kind of does their own things and manages their own cases in the way that just really works best for them.
Jared Correia: Got you. So if you’re a lawyer and you’re like hey, this thing sounds good maybe I should have some systems in place, like what would be the first system you would create as an attorney, who just wants to try it out.
Jeremy Richter: I think I would find a way first to organize my cases and keep up with everything because we are a client-driven business and if you can’t keep up with your cases, then you aren’t going to have clients.
Jared Correia: That’s fair.
Jeremy Richter: That’s probably where I would start.
Jared Correia: That is a very nice abridged answer. I like it. So do you think for most lawyers like there’s a mindset change involved in creating systems, because lawyers when they come up through law school and like you said, you’re a high school teacher like you have to be fairly structured being a high school teacher but not everybody comes out of that environment.
So do you think there’s a mindset change involved for a lot of lawyers in terms of like A, creating their own systems and B, adopting other people’s systems to use if they have to do that?
Jeremy Richter: Certainly. And I think most lawyers coming into a firm will have to adopt pre-existing systems and structures and as they go along and get their own caseload, they can do it how they want. But when you’re coming into a place and you’re answering to other people, it doesn’t really matter what I want because I need to do whatever it is the way that the partner I’m answering to wants it.
And so —
Jared Correia: Yes, that’s the system.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah. So early on, I was answering to five different partners who all did things very differently from one another and so from writing styles to managing cases and communicating with clients, everybody did their own thing differently. So I had to adapt because it really didn’t matter that regardless of how good of a writer I thought I was or my communication methods, it didn’t matter, because I needed to do what my partner wanted me to do because it’s their client and that’s really the important thing there.
So most new lawyers are probably going to be adopting existing systems and as they come into their own they can develop and modify and adapt what works best for them.
Jared Correia: That’s good. This is good stuff Jeremy. So we’re going to take another break. I’m going to look for my flip phone, it’s got to be here somewhere right, and you can listen to some more words from our sponsors.
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Jared Correia: Thanks for coming back. Have you ever had the Haribo Cola gummies, those are delicious. If not – I think — go ahead, go ahead Jeremy, you have an objection?
Jeremy Richter: No, well that I’d have no experience with the Cola once. I didn’t even know they existed.
Jared Correia: Oh man, you got to get some. They’re delicious.
Jeremy Richter: Okay, I am in.
Jared Correia: So everybody else, run out, grab some Cola gummies and let me know what you think. Hit me up on Twitter or wherever, my kids love these things.
Now, let’s get rolling again with Jeremy Richter of Webster, Henry, Bradwell, Cohan, Speagle & DeShazo, P.C. who’s talking with me about how to build a better law practice.
Now, I’m hungry believing gummy fruits and gummy bears aside for a moment. Let’s discuss client communications. So why’d a lawyer suck so very hard at client communications, do you have the answer?
Jeremy Richter: I have an answer.
Jared Correia: That’s good enough.
Jeremy Richter: Okay I alluded to this a few minutes ago, I think often we lose sight of the fact that we are a customer service business, and most new lawyers haven’t dealt with clients in this way before. And so it’s a completely new thing, especially like brand new grads who have only gone through undergrad in law school and never had a real professional setting before, it’s just a new and different thing.
So even for me with my teaching background, it’s not the same thing because I was answering to administration and parents and students but any of them could be unhappy at any given point and it really didn’t affect my day to day; whereas, if my now clients are unhappy, there are plenty of people who are willing to take my work away from me and do that in my place.
Jared Correia: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeremy Richter: And so yeah it’s just something that most lawyers haven’t done before. We can tend to be, I don’t want to speak for the whole profession here, but sometimes —
Jared Correia: Go ahead, speak for the whole profession.
Jeremy Richter: Okay.
Jared Correia: This is yourself boss.
Jeremy Richter: Lawyers can be a self-aggrandizing bunch.
Jared Correia: Yes, that’s true.
Jeremy Richter: And so we lose fact that clients have to come first, communicating with clients and doing reports and providing updates sometimes, it gets in the way of administering cases and doing the things that we might otherwise like to do better, but if you don’t keep your clients informed about what’s going on with their cases, and where you’re at on your budget that you proposed to them, and keeping up with providing them information because they’re answering to somebody too, then you’re going to put your clients in a really bad spot.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Jeremy Richter: And they’re not going to be your clients for very long.
Jared Correia: Yes, pretty good stuff. Okay, so let’s fix this then, like you can speak for the whole profession. What’s your best tip for improved client communications or improving client communications?
Jeremy Richter: All right. First and foremost, I very first started, the partner that I worked with the most at the beginning. Probably the most important thing that he taught me was if you get an email or a voicemail or get any form of communication from clients, you need to respond within 24 hours. Even if they need a whole bunch of information and your response is, let me get back to you and I can provide you a full evaluation of this because I have to analyze some data or whatever. You need to respond in some way within 24 hours to let them know that you’re there and you’ve seen their requests and you’re working on it and they’re on your mind. So that’s probably the very first thing is respond to clients.
Jared Correia: That’s good. I like that.
Jeremy Richter: For insurance defense and for people who have corporate clients, a lot of those guys have reporting guidelines built into their case management where they need a report from you 45 days after a case is assigned to you and then again after discovery is done and before mediation and before trial. And a lot of lawyers based on the meetings that I attend where the insurance companies bring in all their lawyers from around the country.
So I’ve been to a lot of these meetings and all the time they’re talking about guys we need your reports and they need to be substantive. And so if they’re telling you these are the things that are important to us, for you to communicate to us, then those are the things that you should probably focus on communicating to them.
And so reporting guidelines and providing useful information, evaluating cases early on so that they can make financial decisions about how they want to manage a case. Those are the types of things that are really important and will keep clients happy and keep them continuing to send work to you and your firm.
Jared Correia: Yeah and reporting guidelines is a great idea. Like in terms of a lot of case types that can languish, we don’t necessarily have to notify clients of things that are happening. It’s good to force yourself to do that.
So I’m a lawyer. I’m like Jeremy sounds like a dude who knows what he’s talking about, his book sounds good. I want to get moving on improving my practice and I literally have point one to do it. What’s my first step?
Jeremy Richter: Can I give a really self-serving answer?
Jared Correia: Yes.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah buy my book and read the first day’s reading.
Jared Correia: Buy the man’s book, come on. All right, so don’t tell us what the first day’s reading is.
Jeremy Richter: Okay, but as a practical matter, get organized. I’ve got a to-do list that I keep, I keep two notebooks like all the time they’re with me, everywhere I go. One is, there like these little 5×8 yellow and white notebook pads. Like a little miniature legal notebooks and one is where I write down all my time immediately because if you don’t write it down you’re going to lose time and lost time is lost money, and the other is my to-do list.
And so getting organized and staying on top of your caseload is the first thing you need to do, that’s the first point one is get organized and know what you need to do even though you’re not going to be able to bill for that time, you’re going to make it up in the long run by not sitting there trying to figure out what’s next.
Jared Correia: Yeah good. Okay great. Now last question I have for you. This is probably the most important questions I’ve asked you so far. Who is the best Birmingham Baron of all time not named Michael Jordan?
Jeremy Richter: And this is the question that I don’t have an answer for.
Jared Correia: Nor do I.
Jeremy Richter: I, yeah. If you wanted to talk about the Braves, I could probably do that for a kind of –
Jared Correia: Give me, give me your best Brave ever. I’m talking you can do Boston, Nowacki, Atlanta Best Brave.
Jeremy Richter: Well I mean it has to be, it has to be Hank.
Jared Correia: Yeah. Yeah I mean Henry the Hammer, like you got Warren Spahn though, yeah like you get potentially other options.
Jeremy Richter: But I love Chipper Jones.
Jared Correia: Oh yeah.
Jeremy Richter: Because I grew up from like — I was born in 82. So I grew up — even though I grew up in Texas, I was a lifelong Braves’ fan even today which has comes with its own sorrows and miseries.
Jared Correia: Oh I don’t know. They’re looking good man, like I’ve got some young Braves on my fantasy baseball team. I’m pleased.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah. They’ve got a good solid foundation right now but the last decade, has been rough.
Jared Correia: That’s true. Chipper Jones is a good choice. Can I give you like 30 seconds to wax poetic on Chipper Jones?
Jeremy Richter: I just think the ability to switch hit like he did keeps pitchers off guard and his knowledge of the game from just a fundamental level is just like really sound and then his willingness to coach up the young guys as they came through the system, was just really admirable.
Now, his personal life was kind of a mess but like the baseball side, it was good.
Jared Correia: I wasn’t touching that. He’s not Lenny Dykstra though. At least he’s got that going for him. All right, so that is going to do it. That’s a pretty good segue right. That’s going to do it for this episode of The Legal Toolkit.
We’ve been talking with Jeremy Richter of Webster, Henry, Bradwell, Cohan, Speagle & DeShazo, P.C. I can’t believe I haven’t screwed that up to this point, about improving your law firm practices.
Now, I will be back on future shows with further insights into My Soul, The Soul of America and the Legal Market.
If you are feeling nostalgic from my dulcet tones, you can check out our entire show archive anytime you want at legaltalknetwork.com.
So, thanks again to Jeremy Richter. Let’s do it one more time, of Webster, Henry, Bradwell, Cohan, Speagle & DeShazo, P.C. for being on the show today. Jeremy, tell the people out there how they can find out more information about you, your book, and your firm.
Jeremy Richter: Okay. So you can find out more about the book at betterlawpractice com; download sample chapters, see some reader testimonials, and get a discount code for the book which is available at shopaba.org. It’ll be available on Amazon, I think probably in October and then I have a law blog that I write at weekly on these topics that we’ve been talking about today and that is at jeremywrichter.com.
Jared Correia: Is it Richter? Now, I feel terrible.
Jeremy Richter: No, well I mean like we’re the only family that pronounces it that way. So never in my life have I corrected anybody.
Jared Correia: Okay, all right you should have started now. All right. Let’s do this ready. Thanks again to Jeremy Richter of Webster, Henry, Bradwell, Cohan, Speagle & DeShazo, P.C. because I am a masochist. I’m going to say that one more time. And finally, thanks to all of you out there for listening and please tell my kids to do the same when I talk to them.
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