Every bar association is unique, so there’s a whole lot we can learn from each other. Jared chats with Julie Armstrong, executive director at the Indianapolis Bar Association, about the importance of being a culturally aware and forward-thinking organization. Julie shares their approach to strategic planning and discusses how new programs are developed by talking with members and non-members alike to understand the needs of their legal community.
And, Jared monologues on law firm fees—every lawyer’s favorite topic! We know you hate talking about money, but, honestly, you really need to. Jared’s got plenty of tips on setting appropriate fees and sticking to ‘em like glue.
As always, Jared finishes things off with the Rump Roast. He and Julie play “Hoosier Hysteria,” an Indiana trivia game highlighting popcorn, baseball, the Jackson 5, and more.
Julie Armstrong is the executive director at the Indianapolis Bar Association & Foundation.
Since we talked about the unendingly interesting state of Indiana. So, let’s celebrate the Midwest . . . in song!
Our opening track is Two Cigarettes by Major Label Interest.
The music for the Legal Trends Report Minute is I See You by Sounds Like Sander.
Our closing track is Starfruit by PALA.
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Male: It’s The Legal Toolkit with Jared Correia with guest Julie Armstrong. We play a round of who’s your hysteria and then man, I got to tell you about this dream I had last night. You were in these things got weird. But first, your host Jared Correia.
Jared Correia: It’s time for the Legal Toolkit and the time is 4:20. NES(ph) is still called the Legal Toolkit podcast, even though I’ve never actually used a stubby nail eater but I’ve been called one before. I’m your host, Jared Correia. You’re stuck with me because Bill Curtis was unavailable. He’s providing some ominous voiceover work fora true crime documentary right now. I’m the CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, a business management consulting service for attorneys and bar associations. Find us online at redcavelegal.com. I’m the CEO of Gideon Software, Inc. We build chatbots so law firms can convert more leads and conversational document assembly tools so law firms can build documents faster and more accurately. You can find out more about Gideon at gideonlegal.com. Now, before we get to our interview today with Julie Armstrong of the Indianapolis Bar Association.
I’m going to take a break from talking about Donx(ph) for a while and instead we’re going to talk about law firm fees. Yes, law firm fees. Lawyers hate talking about money. They violently hate talking about money. And they’re super secretive about their fees because, I don’t know, the NSA, maybe? There’s also limited avenues for lawyers to talk about their fees with each other, even in public settings and through bar associations. Most bar associations don’t allow lawyers to talk about fees under their rubric because they’re worried about antitrust laws and collusion. But I don’t know if I’ve seen many prosecutions on price fixing for lawyers of recent vintage.
In any event, some lawyers are pretty open with their fees. Some post their prices online as more lawyers move to alternative fee arrangements. Some lawyers offer fee calculators, including for practice areas you might not expect like divorce. And there are lawyers out there who openly discuss their fees with other attorneys, although not everybody is into that as I mentioned. The biggest problem I think, though, is establishing a set of fees, establishing rates, and then sticking to them. The establishment part is tough and that’s probably a whole other monologue unto itself. A lot of new attorneys I talk to, they’re like, “yeah, I’m going to charge 150 bucks an hour” and I’m like, “Why?” And they’re like, “I don’t know. Seems like the right thing to do.” Somebody told me that people are also figuring out flat fees on an ad hoc basis without any historical data which is a tough thing to do. And there’s information out there about pricing, but I don’t want to talk about price setting so much as I want to talk about price keeping. So here’s the way I look at it. A lot of lawyers out there, especially solo and small firm attorneys, they get in front of somebody, they quote them a price. Sometimes there’s a flinch factor involved, and sometimes people just take the price at face value.
So just so you know, if everybody is like, “yeah, where do I sign?” that probably means that your prices are too low. It’s okay if somebody flinches, or some people flinch a little bit. You want to make sure that you’re trying to extract as much value out of your business as you can, getting paid fairly for the work that you do. But a lot of those attorneys will get into that situation. They’re guessing on the pricing anyway, and they’re like, “yeah, I’ll charge you this” and then the person says, “that sounds expensive” and then the numbers start to come down. You start discounting because you’re afraid to lose the client. The worst part is you’re discounting to some level that you have no idea where it’s going to go. It’s going to be 20% today. It’s going to be 50%. It’s a terrible recipe because that gets you into what I would call a low bono practice.
Pro bono, giving away legal services for free. But then there’s low bono, which is giving away legal services for less than they’re worth in the marketplace. And attorneys frequently get stuck with that. I think the problem is like attorneys especially like there’s nobody you can go back to get an answer on that fee question. The client’s sitting in front of you. They know the buck stops with you. You can’t be like, oh, hold on, let me check with my manager to see if I can add those white wall tires to your vehicle. They know you’re making the call. So what I tell people to do by people, by people I mean attorneys, obviously, in order to keep the fees where they need to be in order to stick with the fees, what you want to do is create a fee schedule, rate sheet, whatever you want to call it, just a list of your fees. You’ve seen NFL quarterbacks wearing wristbands. You’ve used spreadsheets. Salesmen have price sheets. No reason why you can’t have one as a lawyer as well. And the advantage to this is, even in a larger firm, everybody charges the same amount for the same stuff. It establishes a client expectation, and it makes sure that the value is retained throughout the firm for the work that gets done.
So this doesn’t have to be crazy type of document, doesn’t have to be shared with clients. Even if it’s a totally internal rate sheet that you’re using, stick to it. And don’t just put on the rate sheet which you charge for standard fees. If you are going to discount don’t discount haphazardly or in an ad hoc way. Discount using your fee sheet to the levels that you’ve already set out in advance. Like if you want to provide a discount of 10% to certain clients or if you want to have a standing discount of 10% if people complain about pricing. Sure, you can do that but make that part of your fee sheets so that you’re not discounting more significantly. Sounds like a simple thing. Sounds like an easy thing. But if you really want to make what you’re worth, you have to have some architecture behind your rate structure, and the easiest way to manage that is with the fee sheet.
Now, before we get to our discussion on how to run a modern bar association with the one and only Julie Armstrong of the Indianapolis Bar Association, let’s get some free advice from Joshua Lenon, who has you for this week’s Clio Legal Trends Report.
Joshua Lenon: What traits are clients looking for most in a lawyer? According to 86% of surveyed clients, it’s being responsive to questions. I’m Joshua Lenon, lawyer and residence at Clio and this was just one finding from our recent Legal Trends Report. Research shows that the quicker a lawyer is in providing information to clients, the more positive the client experience will be. It’s no surprise firms with growing revenue are 41% more likely to use client portals to quickly communicate with clients. These secure portals ensure clients always know the status of their case, resulting in a more transparent and client centered experience. To learn more about what today’s clients expect from their lawyers and how firms can meet those expectations, download Clio’s Legal Trends Report for free at clio.com/trends. That’s Clio spelled c-l-i-o-.coms/trends.
Jared Correia: Okay, now that the majority of my inane ramblings are complete, it’s time to interview our guest, my guests. We have a very special guest. That’s Julie Armstrong who’s the executive director of the Indianapolis Bar Association. Julie, how are you doing?
Julie Armstrong: I’m doing great. How are you doing?
Jared Correia: I’m doing all right. Can’t complain. We’re recording here at the end of the summer, but I guess the fall had to come eventually. So, I want to have you on to talk about a lot of the stuff you do at the Indiana Bar which I think is super interesting and also innovative. But let’s start here. To my knowledge, you’ve been working at the bar since 1991, and some of your members, I’ve heard, refer to you as a legend. I think that’s probably true. That’s true. There’s like articles online about it and everything. You’ve been in the position for a little while. It’s like how do you keep things fresh in that role? Because I could see how that could theoretically stagnate.
Julie Armstrong: Yeah, I don’t think it’s so much me as it is the environment that I’m in. That’s why I stated Indiana as long as I have is it’s just the culture of the bar and to some degree it’s the culture of the city. It’s very volunteer oriented. We’ve always been very member driven and they’ve been very open to change innovation with a bit of an entrepreneurial mindset. So it’s just created an environment to thrive and the work that I do, the things that I’ve been fortunate enough to get involved in nationally. I see what else is out there and I just have never seen anything beat the environment I was already in. So it’s been a great place to work and live and creat.
Jared Correia: Yeah. I want to talk about your national involvement in a little bit, but I have to tell you, so when COVID started, everybody was freaking out in the legal business, lawyers, bar associations, paralegals, everybody. And you and your members of the Indiana e Bar organized like a strategic web conference and you invited me to that. And I remember clearly, like, my wife was in the room with me and then as soon as I got out the meeting, she was like, wow, those people really seem to have their shit together. So you should know that she was very impressed. COVID — it’s a pandemic. Nothing like this has happened in the US in like 100 years. How do you react as a bar and how did you react as quickly as you did to make some changes and do some different things? Because that was hard to do?
Julie Armstrong: Well, I think that, again, it goes back to culture because we’ve always been open to change and the folks that I’ve worked for attract likeminded innovators. And so I think our immediate reaction was, this is just another opportunity to rethink and redirect so that we can thrive. And leading into it, you knew that something was going to happen, right? it was the depth of what happened and I think surprised us. So I can remember sitting in a board meeting, the 1st of March and submitting the proposal to the board to create a new policy for access to our in-person activities. And we were going to have a certain level of requirement for reporting where you’d been and what you’d been doing and so forth in order for you to be physically present. And I had a couple of board members, one in particular who works for an international law firm, who said, why do we need this? We don’t need this. We’re in Indianapolis, nobody goes anywhere. And I said, “well, if you look at your own letterhead, you have Chinese letters in your letterhead, your people are obviously going somewhere, right?” And so we were already sort of talking about how to transition into something else. And so it wasn’t a complete surprise, like I said, it’s just more of a surprise in the depth of how it affected us. The other thing that was a little different for us is that the month before the pandemic hit, we actually had gone 100% virtual because we were in the middle of a move to a new office. And so we didn’t have an office. They closed our access at the end of January of 2020. So we basically just went back to what we were doing. The thing that we had to address, which was turned out to be a blessing for us, is we just had to figure out how it affected our members because as an internal team, we already knew how to operate in a remote setting. So, tackling the next issue was really what we could focus on instead of trying to figure out all of it.
Jared Correia: That’s really cool that you had, I mean, what timing or what time not to have an office, but it’s really cool that you had that experience so you could empower to your members too. That’s amazing. And as it turns out, I believe we’ve interrupted you during a strategic meeting to record this podcast. So you continue to be planning. What do you see like not just for your bar, but for bar associations moving forward. Now that this looks like it’s in more of an endemic stage and things are starting to happen again, do you shift again? In what direction do you shift? Like, how does this work now? Is it a hybrid world? Is it back to being in-person? What does this look like?
Julie Armstrong: Yeah, I think from our standpoint, the way we’re viewing it is it’s the next shift, right? That then is going to require attention to the next shift. I mean, we’re not through it. It’s going to keep evolving from my perspective. And so the strategic session that we’re in right now is in preparation for a larger strategic plan. So, I’m right now looking at internal processes. How’s my team reacting, what changes did we make, what did we overlook, what did we abandon? Just trying to be more informed about internal operations so that we can figure out how to take what resources of time we have that I don’t even realize are available or not available and take that information into the next conversation, which will be about identity. And that’s with current and future leaders of the organization to say if this is the world we’re living in right now and these are the resources of time and money and so forth that are available to us, then what do we want to be as an organization?
And it’s more of a culture identity conversation than the actual task operations conversation. So once I get that conversation, find out from them what’s in their heads, what are they willing to do and be and hopes and dreams and so forth, then we’re taking that into a two day strategic planning session. And the way we do strategic planning is it’s not with our board. We do some board representatives.
Jared Correia: Just the staff, right?
Julie Armstrong: No, actually it’s really hybrid and we’ve done it like this for years, since probably like the late 90s. I don’t know how many organizations do it this way, but there will be about 35 people in the room, some board leadership, some people that are involved in other roles with the association. We’ll have members who just write the dues check and don’t do anything. We’ll have people who used to be members and aren’t members anymore. And then we’ll also have people who have never been a member. And when I tell different facilitators that this is the way that I like to do it, and we kind of cycle facilitators in and out. We don’t use the same one all the time. They’re usually surprised, like, what’s the value that you’re going to get out of people that really aren’t engaged or somebody that’s never wanted to be a member. And I will tell you, it really informs our group and I’ve never had anybody turn us down when I reach out and say, hey, would you be willing to do this? They’re actually pleased to have been asked and they really fully participate and we get some really good information so that we can create that overarching strategy, whether it’s governance program and services, finance, internal team, whatever the focus is and then we’ll take that information and take it into our board orientation and leadership orientation for all the various subgroup chairs going into 2023. So that we can have an overall plan that everybody’s aware of. The other COVID change we used to do three-year plan. We’re hoping to get two years out of this one.
Jared Correia: Right. Maybe at least one.
Julie Armstrong: At least one. And honestly, I know that sounds crazy, but we may have to abandon it and we think because the one thing you know is that you can’t count on anything, right? So you just try.
Jared Correia: You noted like involving members, non-members. How are your members dealing with all this stuff and bar participation? Do you find people becoming more involved? Are they reluctant to get involved? What does that look like for you?
Julie Armstrong: So our membership has been up over the pandemic. We gained members. Our financial position is really strong, but the volunteer leader engagement is down. The member usage is up. It’s making it harder for me to motivate and retain staff because my staff is exhausted because we historically have been so member driven and we’re less member driven now. And it’s not like I have more people and they have more time. So that’s been a challenge, which is really what’s driving a lot of the identity conversation that I want to have because if this is what we foresee in terms of member engagement and leadership, then we’re going to have to rethink how we deliver our services. Because I have been reliant on them to help supplement our services. And if they’re not going to have the time or interest and right now, I don’t know if it’s both or one of the other, because we haven’t just stopped to really think about it. We may have to rethink what we’re doing and how we’re doing, but it’s one of those things.
We just have been so busy like everybody else just getting through the day and just trying to adapt that we made decisions that were not even fully confident were necessary or are any longer the right decision. But we’re going to find out.
Jared Correia: Right. For sure. Now, that’s really super interesting. I got two more big questions to ask. One is the fact that you’ve been able to spin out, like, different programs and I would even call them different brands underneath the larger umbrella of the bar, you’ve got a practice builder program for example which I think is awesome, which is focused on practice management. We just talked about how it’s harder for staff to find time to do things. So I got to ask you, like, how do you find time and make decisions about what you build out, how you spin it off and how you maintain something like that in a bar association?
Julie Armstrong: So I will tell you, I think historically been really great about the creation phase of new programs and services. We’ve been really bad about the sustaining and growing and it’s because from my standpoint, at least for our organization, we have not dedicated enough resources to true product marketing and that’s honestly one of the 2023 goals and one of my hiring initiatives right now is to bring in a seasoned product marketer to takeover those areas that are true products. So, like practice builder as a tool for helping solos and smalls start, maintain and grow a practice, I need somebody who can market it just like for profit competitor would, right? All of those kinds of things. If it’s a publication organizations like ours, we’re really great with marketing events and we’re really great with PR and communications. We’re terrible with product marketing and so that’s something that we’re going to be spending a lot of time on. But in terms of trying to figure out what to offer and how to shape it and create it, it’s listening to the members and listening to your non-members. It’s simple questions we typically sit around and talk about with the market, what are the problems that you’re encountering and trying to figure out if we can be the solution provider for whatever their problem is. And sometimes it’s that we got to create the product, other times it’s that we just need to create a collaboration or partnership with someone that’s already the solution provider. But asking that question, asking them what’s the first thing you do when you start your day? Because that tells me something that’s important to you or some consistent activity that you’re engaging in that maybe there’s a role for us. Those are the kinds of things that we try and do when it’s thinking about products and services, being that partner in helping them be productive and relevant and profitable.
Jared Correia: Yeah, that’s super savvy, I think. All right, last question for you. This has been great, by the way. I’d say you’re a leader among bar association leaders. You’re very active nationally in a number of different groups. Question I have is like a lot of bar leaders are very reticent to take chances. It’s a lot of risk aversion. You’ve taken some swings, you’ve done some things, which is really cool. How would you tell other bar leaders to approach the work so they’d be more willing to try things and take chances?
Julie Armstrong: Yeah, I think a big part of it is having the support of your volunteer leaders in an association environment and knowing that they’ve got your back. I think that’s probably the biggest deterrent for a lot of people is what’s going to happen if I fail. And so, fortunately, I’ve been in an environment where they embrace the idea that we may not get it right, but we’re going to learn something, and we’re going to come back with that information and improve upon. So, the word pilot is a big bonus when you approach leadership with ideas.
You can pilot anything because pilot already gives you that safety net of, well, it’s just a pilot program. We knew it wasn’t going to be perfect, right? And so just trying to make certain that you’re all on the same page and that they know that it isn’t about you. It’s about trying to deliver for the association and help it meet its goals. And so if everybody understands that you got to spend money to make money, you just have to be thoughtful and informed and that you’re goal oriented. So, what’s the purpose? What is it that we’re trying to achieve? And if everybody can see that vision together, it’s a lot easier to get support and to have that safety net for when you fail, because you’re going to fail. You are but you can turn it into a success if you step back from it. You learn from it, you retool it, and you can put it back out there.
Jared Correia: Pilot program. Got it. That’s brilliant, Julie. This is great. Will you hang around for the last segment?
Julie Armstrong: Sure.
Jared Correia: Awesome. All right, so we’ll take one final sponsor break so you can hear more about what our sponsors can do for your law practice. Then stay tuned for the rump roast. It’s even more supple than the roast beast.
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Jared Correia: Welcome to the rear end of the Legal Toolkit. It’s the rump roast. It’s a grab bag of short form topics, all of my choosing. Why do I get to pick? Because I’m the host. Julie today we’re going to play a brand new trivia game. I just invented for you. It’s called Hoosier Hysteria. I feel like this is right up your alley. You know, I live on the east coast, but I’m kind of —
Julie Armstrong: I know you love Larry bird.
Jared Correia: I love Larry Bird. We should definitely talk about Larry Bird. I feel like a lot of people that live where I live think, like, the Midwest is just like one big state. Like Indiana, Illinois, Iowa. They’re all lumped together, but they’re all really different. And as you mentioned, I have a particular affinity for Indiana because of my love of Larry Bird and the Boston Celtic. Now, you’ve met Larry Bird before, haven’t you?
Julie Armstrong: Yeah, and I graduated from the same college that he graduated from.
Jared Correia: Sycamores. Indiana State Sycamores for those who don’t know.
Julie Armstrong: Yes. Go trees(ph).
Jared Correia: I don’t know if I ever told you, but I got a signed Larry Bird jersey in my office, Indiana State version. So the white home jersey, which he wore in the final four —
Julie Armstrong: Not the blue.
Jared Correia: I did that because I think he was wearing the white jersey when he had the triple double in the NCAA semi-final in ‘79. So I’m a real fan. He’s a nice guy. I’m assuming.
Julie Armstrong: He’s a very nice guy. Yes, very nice guy.
Jared Correia: One day I will get to meet Larry Bird. So I figured I’d try some Indiana trivia out on you. Which I think you’re going to crush. So, we got some questions. So, I’m going to ask you a question. I’m even going to give you multiple choice and then tell me what the answer is. All right, here we go. The first professional baseball game ever played actually took place in Indiana on May 4, 1871. In what town did that game take place? Your choices are Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, or Evanston.
Julie Armstrong: Fort Wayne.
Jared Correia: Yes. One for one. I knew you got this. There was a team called the Fort Wayne Kekiongas. They were like the first professional baseball team ever played in the N-one. The first professional baseball game. All right, we’re starting out pretty well here. Here’s another one that I think you might know. What percentage of the world’s popcorn comes from Indiana? Is it 50%, 75% or 90%? Regardless of what the answer is, it’s a lot.
Julie Armstrong: Yeah. Well, Orville Redenbacher is from Indiana.
Jared Correia: Correct. Brazil, Indiana.
Julie Armstrong: Brazil, Indiana. Near Indiana State University, I’ll guess and say 75%.
Jared Correia: Oh close, 90%.
Julie Armstrong: 90%? Really? Wow. I didn’t know that. There is a lot of corn in Indiana.
Jared Correia: Yes. I think that’s crazy. I had no idea. All right, here’s one I think you’re going to ace. The Jackson Five founded in from which Indiana town? Gary, Santa Claus or?
Julie Armstrong: Gary, Indiana.
Jared Correia: That’s right.
Julie Armstrong: You can visit their home. It’s a historical landmark.
Jared Correia: I did know that. One of my favorite Jackson Five signs is going back to Indiana. You’re crushing it so far. Two for three. I got two more for you. This one’s a little bit tougher. I didn’t know this one. The distinctive Coca Cola bottle was actually designed in Terre Haute, Indiana, by the Root Glass Company, which won a contest that Coca Cola launched the glass companies around the United States. What year did they win that competition? And the Coca Cola bottle was launched? 1915, 1930 or 1948. Like I said, I did not know this. This is totally new to me.
Julie Armstrong: I’ll say 1915.
Jared Correia: Correct. You’re crushing it. Only miss one. All right, last one, I think you’re going to know this one, too. But this was new information to me. I am from New England, as I mentioned, and most people probably think like, Covered Bridges, Vermont, New Hampshire but the place where there’s the most covered bridges in the United States is actually Indiana. And you’re nodding, so you may know this without even me giving you multiple choice, which Indiana county has the most covered bridges in the United States?
Julie Armstrong: Is it Parke County?
Jared Correia: Parke County. Parke County, 32 covered bridges in Parke County alone and Indiana is known as the covered bridge capital of the world.
Julie Armstrong: And you can attend the covered bridge festival in Parke County, Indiana.
Jared Correia: Amazing. All right. Look at you. You’re like the bar director, Indiana tourism board. I love it. So you want to get your covered bridge fixed? You know where to go.
Julie Armstrong: Yeah. And it’s in the fall. It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful time to go over there.
Jared Correia: If you’re somebody who’s never seen, like, a covered bridge in person, it’s actually pretty cool. Julie, you crushed the quiz as I knew you would. 80%, you know Indiana better than anybody I know. Thanks for coming on the show. This is a blast.
Julie Armstrong: Thanks for having me. I appreciate Jared, and I appreciate everything that you do. You’d even talk about the fact that I know that you provide a lot of services to a lot of our members, and they sing your praises.
Jared Correia: Your members are great. Love working with everybody over there. Thank you, Julie. Take it easy.
Julie Armstrong: Thank you. Take care.
Jared Correia: If you want to find out more aboutJulie Armstrong and the innovative things she’s doing at the Indianapolis Bar Association, visit indybar.org. That’s I-N-D-Y-B-A-R.org. indybar.org. Now, for those of you listening in Toad Hop, Indiana, yes, that’s a real place. I’ve got a superb Spotify playlist for you all. It’s songs of the American Midwest. Now, let me tell you about this weird dream I had about this monkey. So Peter Torque comes right up to me and actually, we’re probably going to run out of time. I’ll have to tell that story later because we’re out of time. On yet another episode of the Legal Toolkit podcast, this is Jared Correia reminding you that it’s okay to eat watermelon seeds. You won’t actually grow a watermelon in your stomach. You’ll just poop them out. So, I apologize to my kids for lying to them for years. Hopefully, they don’t listen to this.