Guest: Rachel Allums took a nontraditional path to law practice, first working as a receptionist and paralegal before reading for the California Bar. She benefited from years of firm management experience, leveraging these skills when she launched her estate planning practice one year ago.
- What it’s like being a legal unicorn
- Flipping the script by learning to be a lawyer before learning to think like a lawyer
- Battling inertia to make practice management changes that benefit clients
- Launching a firm during a pandemic
- Scaling and managing an influx of clients
- Cultivating relationships through preferred provider deals
- Managing client expectations with forthright, transparent communication
- Yes, print advertising still works!
The Tech Stack:
- Clio Grow/Clio Manage for client intake and management
- Quickbooks online for bookkeeping
- HotDocs document automation from AbacusNext
- Lawyaw for online legal forms
New Insights (brought to you by Nota):
- Veteran practitioner Starlett Massey answers litigation associate Melanie Kalmanson’s question:
- Question 1 of 4: “What made you decide to start your own firm?”
Special thanks to our sponsors, Lawclerk, Alert Communications, Abby Connect, and Clio.
Adriana Linares: Before we get started with today’s episode I want to make sure and thank our sponsors. Alert Communications, LAWCLERK Clio and Abby Connect. Your legal work requires your full attention so how can you answer all the phone calls from new or existing clients while juggling your caseload? Try Abby Connect. The friendly industry trained live receptionist who are well known for consistently providing high quality customer service, lead intake and appointment setting to firms just like yours. Visit abby.com/ltn or call 833-ABBY-WOW for your free 14-day trial and 95 dollars off your first bill.
Intro: New Approach. New Tools. New mindset. New solo.
Adriana Linares: It’s time for another episode of New Solo. I’m Adriana Linares. I am your hostess with the mostest and I’m pretty stoked about today’s episode because I’ve been looking to have Rachel Allums come on and talk to us about launching her solo practice and how she did it and some other very cool things about her and how she became a lawyer. Hey Rachel.
Rachel Allums: Hi Adriana.
Adriana Linares: Thank you so much. You know you’re one of my favorite humans.
Rachel Allums: Oh, you’re sweet. That feeling is mutual.
Adriana Linares: Well I appreciate that and we met because I work part-time for the San Diego County Bar Association as the Human Member Benefits so members of the bar can make appointments to come meet with me or now we just do everything remote. Meet with me and get technology consulting, practice management help. I do a lot of training. So you made an appointment with me when you had just — I think you had just gotten your law degree, right?
Rachel Allums: That’s correct. I had just passed the bar and was trying to decide how I was going to jump into lawyering. Whether it was on my own or with a firm and you were the first person that I sought out to figure out where am I going to start what do I need to do.
Adriana Linares: This leads to so many questions that I wasn’t ready for so I’m just going to ask this one. So I didn’t realize that you were thinking or maybe I just don’t remember because it was so long ago. I didn’t realize you were thinking about joining a firm or going solo. Great question then is you went solo obviously and why did you decide to go that way?
Rachel Allums: So basically where I got to this point was I had worked for a solo and small firm attorneys as a paralegal for over 20 years before becoming an attorney myself. So I really had the feeling that that was the way I wanted to go but I also have a family and two kids headed off to college and I thought, gosh that’s you know, that’s a lot of risk and am I going to be comfortable not having that necessarily steady paycheck and kind of really having to pound that pavement to build a business. So that was really the only thing that was kind of pulling me the other direction. I mean I love working with other attorneys and other folks in the legal field so I wouldn’t have any issue working in a larger organization but I definitely — I’m a self-starter go-getter and I love the freedom of kind of being able to do it my way. So I was really torn for a very short time and then I kind of settled into my decision.
Adriana Linares: If I know me which I think I do, I probably encouraged you to go out on your own.
Rachel Allums: Yeah, for sure.
Adriana Linares: You know, I seem to find that when attorneys decide to do that and they’ve got the right system and the right support system specifically from your family, you end up being a happier lawyer.
Rachel Allums: I agree.
Adriana Linares: Totally my opinion, but so I’m glad. So that was what? Two years ago?
Rachel Allums: Just about. Yeah, actually it’s been just over a year and a half. So I passed the bar in the summer of 2019 and I started my solo practice in March of 2020. I was in transition from my existing job still in a paralegal, now new attorney position with the firm where I was and then was kind of just — I was — I’m a planner so I was really trying to get my feet on the ground and get all of my systems in place so I could just go forward, you know not having to continually modify or sort of continue to reinvent the wheel. But of course the pandemic changed all of that for everybody. So I got to jump in the deep end right away sooner than I had planned.
Adriana Linares: And teaser for the next part of the conversation, you’re very busy and very successful so far. We’re going to talk about that in a second. I do want to make sure and mention one of the things that I find most interesting about you other than how smart and what a go-getter you are is you went through law school through a very unconventional way. You didn’t go to law school.
Rachel Allums: That’s right, so I am not a juris doctorate. I in fact do not even have a bachelor’s degree to my name believe it or not.
Adriana Linares: It’s amazing.
Rachel Allums: Yeah, my history, I was telling someone just a little while ago I think I’m like the Benjamin Button of law that I’ve kind of done it all backwards or inside out or however you want to look at it or I’ve told you before I’m the legal unicorn, right?
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Rachel Allums: Because there’s so few of me. So the way that I came to the law is I became a paralegal back in 1996. So I was you know, fresh-faced, had a basically an associate’s degree under my belt and moved forward in that world just diving in, working for a couple of different law firms. Again, mostly small and solo and my mom happened to be in the legal field as well. She had come to the law a little bit later in life as an attorney. So I ended up working with her for primarily while I was raising a family, had my two kids, while they were young and busy. So I was pretty happy with that. I had a lot of flexibility. I really loved the law. And again, I got the opportunity to run a firm from the administrative side along with working with clients. So that’s sort of where it began. Fast forward, you know, 20 plus years and I had always considered if I wanted to take that next step and really be able to serve the clients more. Serve them as an attorney and not simply as a paralegal. So I looked into a couple of options and of course as I mentioned to you before, I’ve got these two kids at the time who were in middle school and into high school. So I knew that I was getting ready to send them off to college in a few years. So it’s a perfect time to decide, what do I want to do next? And California offers a really unique program that I don’t think is offered in any other state at this point in time. It’s an opportunity to study in either a law office or judge’s chamber. So it’s the equivalent of a law school program. They require four years rather than three and you have to develop your own curriculum. You have to locate a mentor attorney that signs on to oversee this education. You have a specified number of hours every week to be studying and testing and submitting tests to the bar et cetera.
Adriana Linares: Wow!
Rachel Allums: It’s a huge commitment especially to get that mentor attorney on board which I was so fortunate to have a wonderful attorney named Jonathan Musgrove here in San Diego who agreed to walk with me on this wild journey.
Adriana Linares: Freaking awesome.
Rachel Allums: So we developed the curriculum, we submitted it. I was accepted to the study program. We pushed through for four years with lots and lots of work under my belt and I was eligible to sit for the bar then in 2019. Passed on my first try and here we are, so again, it’s kind of the inside out version as I was sort of that ground up you know, started initially as a receptionist, legal secretary, paralegal and then eventually took this wild route to become a licensed attorney.
Adriana Linares: It makes me want to cry and I swear, I am a little welled up because it’s such a great story.
Rachel Allums: I feel the same way when I think about it. I mean the accomplishment; I feel really proud of it obviously. It was a lot of hard work. I worked during the time that I studied. I was still dealing, you know, engage with my kids, making sure I was supportive there.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, you’re wonder woman.
Rachel Allums: Well, slightly above average I like to say but it was great fun having my daughter help me with my initial flash cards getting ready for the first-year law students exam and their excitement. My kids kind of watching the whole process. You know, they’re studying and I’m like “That’s great, I’ve got to go study too. I’ve got a big test tomorrow. So you study there, I’ll study here” so you know, it was kind of nice to be able to sort of experience that parallel with them and have them be a big part of it as well.
Adriana Linares: That’s amazing. It’s just so impressive to have had the commitment and obviously the attorney that was your guide.
Rachel Allums: My mentor.
Adriana Linares: Your mentor is really someone that I’m sure you will never stop thinking. Two things to back up on that I wanted to bring up. And the first one is I remember when we first met, you came in and said “I’ve been a paralegal and basically the office manager of this law firm and I know what I like, I know what I don’t like. I know what I want and I know what I don’t want.” And I think that was very powerful to start a conversation with me like that because oftentimes I’m saying “Well you should do this because you’re probably not going to like that” but you came in and you had your list of, “This is what I’m looking to build. Help me build it.” So the first question is basically just how valuable was that administrative management part of deciding to go to law school and then opening your own firm. How impactful was that? It’s a dumb question because we all know the obvious answer but I just want to hear you say it.
Rachel Allums: Sure. No, absolutely. And you’re right on point. It was enormous, and I think that is something that I was able to observe over 20 plus years in the field seeing new lawyers come straight out of law school or doing internships. They really didn’t get to see the inner workings of running a law firm, right? So they didn’t get to see the day-to-day business side of things from hiring to training to the administrative dailies you know, paying all the bills, getting the bookkeeping done, dealing with clients. Everything from the ground up, I think having that under my belt and having done the work at every level of the law firm really just set me up to be able to know not only what I wanted and didn’t want.
But really what it was going to take when I jumped out on my own. So I think I had that benefit of coming to it really eyes wide open and I think a lot of attorneys who go solo either they go solo right out of law school because you know, they’re not sure about what they want to do and they’re just trying to kind of gain some experience and get a paycheck going and maybe sort of figure out how they want to practice. Others go to it, they leave big law, they go to the firms, they do the internship, they go and they become an associate and they’re kind of on that hamster wheel so to speak, trying to kind of get ahead and figure out again where are they going in their career paths but they’re at the mercy of others. And I think a lot of them go to solo practice sort of just out of the sheer exhaustion of that process and they think they’ll have more control or it’ll be so much easier. And oh my gosh, it’s so not much easier. That’s definitely not the way to go about it or to think about it. So I think for me it was so helpful because I did have all of that experience on the other levels of what it takes to run a firm. So being able to come to you and say “Okay, I’ve researched, I have a plan and I know how hard I’m going to have to work to make this happen.” I think that’s the biggest misconception is you think you can go solo and as long as you get a few clients in the door you know; you’re going to be fine. You’ll be able to pay the bills and you know put food on the table. And that’s just not all there is to it and I don’t think that a lot of newer attorneys or new solos really know the scope of what it’s going to take at the beginning.
Adriana Linares: And that old adage of they didn’t teach me this in law school.
Rachel Allums: Right.
Adriana Linares: They didn’t but you had it all when you went to law school.
Rachel Allums: That’s right.
Adriana Linares: Right, again, this idea of sort of your Benjamin Button-ness in life. The other thing I wanted to ask you was how do you think going through law school the way you did is better, different, worse or the same in had you gone to good old-fashioned law school.
Rachel Allums: Yeah. I think that’s a good question and it’ll be a little bit hard for me to compare having not done both, right?
Adriana Linares: Right.
Rachel Allums: But having known people that have done both processes, specifically like talking with my mentor attorney. You know he went through traditional path of law school, went to some big firms, kind of some smaller and then ended up going solo himself. And so having his perspective compared to mine was really valuable. So I think that in several ways it was really beneficial for me because it caused me to really have to dive a little deeper into the material and into what I was doing. And I also at the same time got a benefit of I could structure it in a way that was constantly preparing me for the bar and beyond where those that go to traditional law school I think you know, you’re in the process, the path is set for you, the classes, the context of what you’re going to be studying and you know a lot of lawyers will complain you know, the biggest piece of law school is teaching you how to think like a lawyer not to actually be a lawyer. And then they take the bar, you’re preparing for that so you’ve got lots of law in your mind and how to think about it and how to solve those problems but not the day-to-day. You know I’ve seen so many lawyers come out and they pass the bar and they get a job and they have no idea how to file a form with the court, right?
Adriana Linares: That’s true.
Rachel Allums: What’s required? Where do I even find those? Like they could certainly research the case law and write a beautiful pleading about it but they’re not going to know what to do logistically. So I think the fact that I had that ability even you know, the fact that I was working in the field gave me some stretch as well but having that ability during the education process, to continue to sort of refine that and to hone that skill set not just thinking like a lawyer which I needed for the bar and you know, the same as everybody else. But how to be able to come out day one producing the work of a lawyer, right? I think that was definitely beneficial for me. Now on the other flip side, it was just as much of a struggle I think trying to get it all in. California’s bar notoriously is quite difficult. The numbers of subjects that we’re required to study is massive and so I think just the breadth of it, being in traditional law school, at least you’re on that path. It is laid out for you to get it all done. For me I really had to figure out how to do that with my mentor. How are we going to get it all done in a meaningful way while still holding a job and having a family which many attorneys even in law school traditional have to go through that as well. But I think that was really the biggest difference. So I honestly feel like for me personally it was a huge benefit. Again, I don’t know that it’s for everybody. You really have to be so dedicated and so self-motivated to get through this process because there isn’t anybody there to push you along or say “Okay, now you have to do the next thing.” It’s really up to you to get it done every time.
Adriana Linares: What are you talking about? You had your study group.
Rachel Allums: Yeah, right. Me, myself and I and my kids of course with the flashcards. That’s right.
Adriana Linares: Your study group was like, “Come on mom! You got this one. We did this one yesterday.”
Rachel Allums: Exactly.
Adriana Linares: That’s great. Hey, New Solo has some great sponsors. Let’s take a quick break to hear from Clio’s new recurring segment. The Legal Trends Report Minute. This month we’re talking about financial impacts of cloud migration.
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Adriana Linares: Okay. And we’re back. I’m talking to Rachel Allums. She came in to see me and said, “I’m going to launch my own law firm. I’ve got some questions.” So let’s talk about launching your practice. So you came in, you had your laundry list of do’s and don’ts. Give us an idea what were a couple of things that you definitely didn’t want to do.
Rachel Allums: So obviously being part of a small firm with a solo attorney, a couple of staff members for the majority of my career, we got very wrapped up in you know, some great software that initially served our needs and then later on really didn’t. It was either too big or too clunky or not really keeping up but it was what we knew and I think the biggest thing was sort of seeing that resistance to change when something isn’t really working for you anymore. It made me really focus on either products or resources that were going to help with my management of my practice that were going to be more flexible and that my thinking needed to be more flexible. That I had to be willing to change and adjust so that what I was using was still making sense and wasn’t just do this because we’ve always done it that way.
Adriana Linares: Right.
Rachel Allums: So I think one piece technology for sure we definitely tended to just stay with what we knew because that’s you know, you feel like you’re more efficient that way. It would take too long to learn something new or switch around. So we were back in the days of the big server room and the computer that had to be worked on all the time and if it went down then we were all down and you know there wasn’t really any flexibility. We all worked in the office. We had to meet clients in the office. So it was an interesting time for me obviously on the cusp of COVID because that changed so much of what we did. But even prior to that, I think I had been really looking for something that was again a little more nimble and that could better meet the needs of the clients. I think we just got in a rut of what worked for us and not so much what was going to be more beneficial to the clients. You know, how are we going to be offering them access to their documents or to us in a secure way other than just email. How can we meet with them in ways that are easier than them trying to get to an office during a nine to five office hours? You know, I’m not married to that kind of schedule in my life either. It’s sort of “Hey, you need to meet me at 5 30 or on a Saturday. Let’s do that.” That’s what real life is. I understand, you know. So I think just some of those things,. just making sure I was harnessing that and then obviously efficiency. I could see that there were new tools that were coming about that were going to make life easier but we had to adopt and adapt, right? And that’s where we were kind of stuck.
Adriana Linares: That’s such good advice and such a smart angle to start with thinking about the clients. Which like you said earlier, you know, a lot of lawyers launched and they think, “Oh, once I get three or four clients I’m good.” I did a consult today, had a gentleman today who’d had his firm for a year and he said, “I launched without even meaning to launch. I was at a big firm. I had an opportunity with one client to leave.” He’s like, “So I just started and now here I am a year later trying to sort of unravel the little bit of a mess”, I mean he didn’t have that big of a mess but he said, “I need to get ready for the next year because now I want to grow.” So he was calling me a year later. He should have called a year ago and we may have — but he was fine. I’m not saying he did a bad job, just saying you avoided all that. But that’s because of the experience that you had and understanding you know, again, what you needed to come in with. So what technology did you go with?
Rachel Allums: So I had done a lot of research obviously listening to your podcast, listening to the Lawyers Podcast. Just looking into people who were on that edge of you know, what is new? What is really going to be valuable to both practitioners and the clients. How are we going to adapt to these things?
So I’ve done a lot of research and kind of figuring out what was available to me as I started and what would give me those results of efficiency and making sure the clients had options. So I did end up going currently with Clio as my main CRM. So I use both portions, the full Clio growth suite. So Clio Grow and Clio Manage. So I use Clio Grow for my intake, right? So that’s my pipeline to manage where my clients are coming from and that’s been really helpful as a new solo to see what avenues of my time are giving the biggest dividend, right? What’s paying me back in client contact. So then I know which relationships to nurture and which things I can let go and I think for most new attorneys that’s really tough, right? It is really hard to turn down work and that’s one big piece I would say that was a huge help to me having come from the background I did. I was able to see attorneys, you know, taking cases that ended up being just nightmare headaches and they knew from the moment they met the client and they just couldn’t turn it away because you know, you still got to pay that stuff and you’ve got to keep the lights on and sometimes that is you know, that’s the driving force. And I didn’t want to end up in that position. I wanted to be able to take clients that I knew I could help and support and turn away work that would end up being toxic, right? That would end up being such a challenge that it took away from what I was doing. So that was helpful that I had that background. So the pipeline with Clio helps me kind of keep track of that and it helps me to actually have a better bigger picture of where I’m at so I can feel confident to say you know, that I could probably take this case but it just doesn’t feel like the right fit for me and I’m going to be okay if I say no. I think that’s a big piece. And then using Clio, I have a lot of different add-ins that I use so the Outlook is great with the add-ins. I’m using that for mail service. I’m using QuickBooks Online for my bookkeeping and I was a QuickBooks user before but again, the clunky desktop version that just wasn’t streamlined. So being able to move to a lot of cloud positioned software has been helpful. I am an estate planner, that’s my focus. So I am a wills, trust powers of attorney, trust administration probate. That’s sort of my lane and so I use HotDocs drafting software. So I think they are AbacusNext now is the main owner, yes.
Adriana Linares: Yep.
Rachel Allums: So I’m actually working right now on trying to determine what additional software I can use to keep adding efficiencies with the drafting software that I use for example with the HotDocs for my estate planning. So looking into a couple options there including HotDocs is developing their own client-facing intake and that’s the next piece where I’m really focused again for the client’s benefit as well as mine. The more I can engage the client in the process and I’m not sending them you know a 20-page worksheet and it’s repetitive information and it’s just a turn off to them and it’s hard to get what I need to help them. So being able to continue to be open to those options and just testing new materials, I just started using Lawyaw recently. I know you’ve been familiar with them.
Adriana Linares: I like them. Yeah.
Rachel Allums: They’re great. Yeah, and so it’s nice to just be able to try some of these new pieces and the beauty is there’s so much integration now. So again, where we didn’t have any of that before. Like your billing program wouldn’t talk to your case management system so you’re constantly having to forward information back and forth and you know, you’re paying people time to do this and it just takes away from the overall time they have to commit to client work versus all of this back-end stuff and then your own time right, right? You’re spending more than you should be on those resources. So I’m using the Microsoft Office 365 suite as well. I’m trying to think of all the software I know. When I came to you my list was really big.
Adriana Linares: Your list was long. But i think we shortened the stack. I said, “that tech stack” I love saying that because you know it’s so cool to say.
Rachel Allums: So fancy.
Adriana Linares: So fancy. I was like, “no, we can shorten that thing.” Let me ask you this. Give listeners a realistic expectation of how much time it takes to set up the workflow in Clio Grow, they’ll do so much for you but it can be pretty sophisticated if you sit there and figure out how to make it work. So give us a realistic expectation of how much time and dedication from the technology side it took for you to set up manage and HotDocs and Lawyaw because you are not outsourcing that work. You must be doing it yourself.
Rachel Allums: Yeah. The most help I get is from my fantastic 20-year-old daughter who’s a college sophomore and will jump in anywhere that I say “Okay, this isn’t making sense to me” and I’m pretty tech savvy I think but it’s nice to have what we call the tech natives, right? Not the tech immigrants like my age. So having her around is really helpful to jump in and try to manipulate things but Clio is really supportive. When I set up with them obviously they spend a lot of time getting you off the ground and I got to be honest, I’m probably not even using all of my software as efficiently as I can and that’s where you and I have continued meetings.
And said, “Okay, I’ve got all of this tech stack and I think they’re all talking to each other but am I talking too much here or am I not talking clearly enough here?” So really it’s continuing to make sure that I’m making those updates and tweaks and adding to what I already have available. I want to make sure I’m using it fully. So originally my plan was I was going to give myself about a month between the time that I officially left my firm and kind of stepped back to start my new solo practice. COVID changed that and I had about you know, a week to kind of transition, I need to take clients right away. So I would say can it be done in a week? Sure. Is it a crazy hurried week and I wasn’t totally ready? Probably. That’s probably accurate. But to set up Clio Grow was pretty quick and they do have a lot of the structure in place where you can kind of it’s almost an out of the box experience where you can just jump in and use what they’ve got for you. And again, their training is fantastic. They’re definitely super helpful in giving you that time walking you through. So what I like about it is it is pretty straightforward. The reporting components are great so again, when I want to run and look at how am I doing this month, how much do I have sitting in my pipeline and at what levels is it that I’m getting stuck because I’m not getting the initial consult set even if people are reaching out. Am I getting stuck because once they have the consult they’re just kind of sitting? Am I getting stuck because I’m not answering the phone fast enough and so someone will call and leave me a message, I reach out and too late they’ve already moved on, right? So it’s really helpful for me to see where can I improve as well. Again in the client service end of things. So yeah, I would say time wise, setting everything up, I would say I dedicated probably a couple of weeks to almost exclusively putting everything together, connecting it all up and getting it really running smoothly. It took a little while for sure. Nobody should think it’s just day one you can just fire up every program and it’ll all be good, but it really was not as labor intensive as I think I had originally expected because it wasn’t like all the old programs that we used, right? We didn’t need the tech guy in there running the server and connecting all of the different computers and all the stations together. Everything was already ready to go. And I can access it anywhere.
Adriana Linares: And how glad are you that you have gone through that and built it yourself rather than having gotten help and sort of somebody handed you this package.
Rachel Allums: For sure. I think that is one piece that I really love and I think that’s something I did want to be able to do is be more hands-on and in control of it so that I understood the flow of everything. And again, that’s going to help me down the road if there’s a modification I need to make. If something just isn’t working right, I’m going to know what it is and why and that’s going to allow me to fix it and move on instead of “Gosh, I don’t know where this log jam is. I’m going to have to call somebody in and sort it out and hopefully hope for the best” right?
Adriana Linares: I think it’s really valuable for you, the attorney, to have done that because if you listen to my show you hear me refer all the time to the Rube Goldberg machine of practice management that lawyers build. And when the golf ball doesn’t hit the domino, I mean the first domino, you’ve got to know where the breakdown happened so that you can fix it or improve it at that time. So I think that’s a really good tip to other new solos which is you really have to invest the time into building this system. It’s just critical.
Rachel Allums: And I think for scalability too, right? So I’m a solo and what will become of my firm in the future is I don’t know. Is that I’m going to be a solo with some support staff so that I can grow to meet more clients or is that I’m going to have additions to my firm with new lawyers. But at whatever point that that needs to occur, I want it to be really seamless and again, having my hand in the pot for everything that’s happened so far is going to be valuable so that I can set up the next individuals coming on board for my firm for success, right?
Adriana Linares: Right.
Rachel Allums: I want to be able to log them in, plug them in and the fact that I know the system from start to finish they can be trained and again, I have my hand on the pulse so I know exactly where things are going wrong or going right and what we can do more of to create even a better result.
Adriana Linares: Okay everyone. It’s time for our second series of new insights. I hope you enjoyed the first round with Eric Ganci and Robert Southwell. And I want to make sure and thank Nota powered by M&T Bank for their support of this segment. To learn more, please visit trustnota, N-O-T-A, so it’s trustnota.com. Terms and conditions may apply. We’ve got our second series starting now and I have two fabulous Florida attorneys. Melanie Kalmanson and Starlett Massey. Hey Melanie, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about yourself?
Melanie Kalmanson: My name is Melanie Kalmanson. I am an associate at Akerman in Jacksonville and I focus on civil commercial litigation.
I moved to Jacksonville in September from Tallahassee. I transferred offices within Akerman and before joining private practice I clerked at the Supreme Court of Florida with Justice Periente.
Adriana Linares: Hey Starlett. Thanks so much for joining us. Tell everyone a little bit about you.
Starlett Massey: Hi Adriana. Thank you so much for having me here. I am Starlett Massey, the owner of Massey Law Group. We’re a small boutique firm here in St. Petersburg, Florida. We specialize in all things real estate and business law. We focus on both litigation and transactions and we love to develop working relationships with our clients to bring them the best results.
Adriana Linares: Okay Melanie, what’s your first question?
Melanie Kalmanson: Hi Starlett. My first question is what made you decide to start your own firm?
Starlett Massey: You know funnily enough; I have to say it was a data-driven decision. I had always wanted to have my own firm but I stayed with the same mid-sized law firm for 11 years. About the last five years of those, I ran a set of books on my own and did financial projections and finally reached that critical mass where I felt like I could definitely be successful, take my whole team with me, take my clients. I had a strategy in place and I was personally ready to manage that kind of volume of files. In addition to the data supporting the numbers and me being confident that I could financially support myself and my child, I really wanted to have my own firm because I wanted to be able to control how we spent our marketing dollars. What kind of community activities that I could engage in. I had a wonderful boss when I first started but his opinion was that nonprofit work and volunteer work is something you do when you’re retired and that never felt quite right for me. I thought wouldn’t the world be a better place if lawyers could market through organic relationships built within the community through nonprofits and the arts and different organizations that had missions that aligned with my own personal goals? So I really built my law firm around the idea that I was becoming a part of the community of St. Pete, Florida and that I would have enough relationships to bring in work without a real advertising budget. I donate to different causes and different events but they’re all tied to my personal goals which revolve around diversity and inclusion, social justice and equity. And so having my own firm gave me the ability to make those decisions and therefore through the practice of law which I love live the life that I wanted to live for myself.
Adriana Linares: Okay. That was Melanie’s first out of four questions so stay tuned for upcoming episodes of New Solo to hear the rest of their exchange.
Adriana Linares: As the largest legal only call center in the U.S, Alert Communications helps law firms and legal marketing agencies with new client intake. Alert captures and responds to all leads 24/7, 365 as an extension of your firm in both English and Spanish. Alert uses proven intake methods customizing responses as needed which earns the trust of clients and improves client retention. To find out how Alert can help your law office, call 866-827-5568 or visit alertcommunications.com/ltn. Law clerk is where attorneys go to hire freelance lawyers. Whether you need a research memo or a complicated appellate brief, our network of freelance lawyers have every level of experience and expertise. Signing up is free and there are no monthly fees. Only pay the flat fee price you said. Use rebate code newsolo to get a 100-dollar Amazon gift card when you complete your next project. Learn more at lawclerk.legal. All right, we’re back with Rachel Allums. Did I get it right this time?
Rachel Allums: Allums. Yeah. It’s pretty easy.
Adriana Linares: I know. I don’t know why we make it so complicated. What I wanted to ask you about next is I alluded to the fact that you’re actually pretty busy, right? So you launched a year ago. Did we say a year? Yeah, hey happy anniversary!
Rachel Allums: Yeah, we’re right out a year. It started in March and here we are one year in.
Adriana Linares: With a freaking crazy pandemic.
Rachel Allums: I have to say and I think you and I have talked about this really could not have come at a better time which sounds bizarre. Any business owner going out on their own will say “What in the world is she talking about? What a nut.” But for me, one, I’m an estate planner. So unfortunately, this pandemic has really brought out the need for my particular area of expertise.
Adriana Linares: Sure.
Rachel Allums: So that has been a big focus that clients are needing what I have to provide.
That was huge. Secondly, they’re at home with lots of time on their hands. They’re moving through those honeydew lists and so I think estate planning is one of those things that’s really easy to back burner and it found its way to the front burner for a lot of clients. So I think that was sort of serendipitous for me. It wasn’t just, “Gosh, I’m the best estate planner in San Diego” so suddenly I’m just busier than ever. I think those were two really-really big pieces that occurred at the same time. And then for me personally getting the business started,. you and I had talked initially. My head was full of all these great ideas of how we were going to engage clients differently and I was going to offer all these services and when I was first starting out wanting to offer video conferencing or these different remote applications for clients. They really were not necessarily comfortable with that when I first started. Well, fast forward even just two months, three months into the pandemic last year, suddenly everybody had been thrown into this training like it or not in how to interact in this new digital age and how to use these tools. And so for me, it did me a favor because it taught all of my clients how we could communicate differently and how that would really actually benefit both of us. Both the client and myself. So for me, those three things I think helped kick start it. Definitely I worked very hard to give a great product to my clients and I’m very committed to this work. I mean I stayed with estate planning because I really love it. I really am passionate about this area of law, walking people through what can be really some challenging and difficult decision making and life experiences, right? And I think that that has helped also I think people that come to me to see that, that this is a passion for me and I really do make every effort to really support them as best I can. So all of those together, yeah, I served over 150 clients in my first year in business which blew my mind. It was wild because I really was — the first month, okay, I got four clients. I think I might be okay. If I could get four clients a month could I make it? That’s kind of how I was assessing things so then it was 10 and 15 and then there was one week where I was saying to my daughter, “I can’t do this fast enough. I can’t answer the phone fast enough. I signed up three clients today and two clients the day before and I can’t, how am I going to do this?” So that’s kind of where I’m at right now is I have to tell clients, “Okay, gosh, it’s going to take me three weeks. I do everything from answer the phone to run the software to do the bookkeeping and make the coffee and to do the lawyering on top of that.”
Adriana Linares: And by the way, the laundry and the kids and the husband and everyone.
Rachel Allums: No, the laundry, that’s over. Nope. Sorry. Not happening. I’m really at the point right now where the next piece of the puzzle for me is now expanding that technology stack or those services now that I feel confident that okay, I’m going to make it. I have a solo firm. It’s succeeding. I’ve got clients and most of my clients are referrals and that says a whole lot to me that what I’m doing is good work and that it’s valuable. So I think I’m confident that I’m moving forward so now it’s things like, “Okay, how can I make sure that phone is being answered” right? So I’m looking into Smith.ai, some of the great providers there. Just a couple of little things I can do there that will again help free up my time to really be focused on the client work but not so much that I can’t get the business side done. I think that’s the biggest juggle for any solo and I feel it even with all the experience I had doing it. I didn’t have the lawyering piece before I was running the firm and doing some client work but I wasn’t solely responsible, so being able to run the business and grow the business as well as be a lawyer, two very different things, right?
Adriana Linares: Yes, very.
Rachel Allums: Two very different time commitments but both necessary to make this thing work and that’s kind of where I’m at right now. Is being able to focus both in the business and on the business. And I think that’s the juggle.
Adriana Linares: The old e-myth, always comes out.
Rachel Allums: That’s right.
Adriana Linares: Quick question for you, I know there are new solos, potential new solos sitting in the car right now listening to the podcast going, “How the hell did she get 150 clients?” So you alluded to referrals and the truth is a lot of lawyers that’s it, that’s the key. And I think you also led to the key which is you deliver good service. So it’s easy to refer business to you. Is it all referrals? How did you start? Do you do any advertising? Are you on Facebook? Do you use groups?
Rachel Allums: Again, a little bit of this comes just from having been in the industry for so long, right? Part of it is relationships that I’ve built over time, networking overtime, being really involved in the community around me so I have been a PTA mom since my kids were in kindergarten. So I’ve built lots of relationships through all those levels of schooling, through my kids sports and activities and connections there.
So one, we talk about networking and you know everyone imagines everyone in a suit and kind of co-mingling around and you know, “Hello, my name’s so-and-so” with your little hello tag on. But really it’s just about cultivating relationships. And I think that’s what initially helped spur a lot of business is once people that I had had relationships with outside of the law field found out what I did and where I was at and had my firm, that really was the driving force to a good number of people.
Adriana Linares: Excellent.
Rachel Allums: Then secondarily to that, so the firm that I was with in my former capacity as a paralegal, I served a lot of clients, we served hundreds of clients there over the 20-year period. So when I moved on to my own, the attorney that I was with happens to be my mom. She is a family law specialist, so she decided to kind of put her firm kind of bring it down a little bit, getting closer to retirement so she focused on family law and I adopted those clients as well. So there was some cultivating of the client relationships we already had in that respect. So that brought in a few that we’re touching base with.
Adriana Linares: So great.
Rachel Allums: Then I also joined in a couple of programs, there’s several for estate planners at least and I know some of these companies handle lots of different areas of law. But there’s a couple of companies that provide insurance benefits to some of the bigger companies locally here in San Diego and some of those are legal service benefits. So getting connected with those companies I was able to become a preferred provider and become a resource for folks looking. So that’s been huge as well because that’s really — I don’t have to spend the advertising dollars. I’m working at a discounted rate but it’s the trade-off for not putting the money out in the marketing aspect of things. So that’s been one other really big feed. Yeah, and then it’s really just existing clients. As they come, they’re referring family, friends, neighbors on over to me. Yeah, very little actually paid advertising. Obviously I grabbed my Google, my business page and Clio has the connection with that now as well so again, that integration was helpful to me to make sure everything was connected. I do have a website. I do have a Twitter and a Facebook and an Instagram. We really aren’t utilizing those very well, so I can’t say that they’re really driving a lot of traffic to me. I just started print advertisement. I know that sounds so archaic and bizarre.
Adriana Linares: No, it still works.
Rachel Allums: I have one little niche area and San Diego’s an enormous county as you know, right? We have coastal, we have inland, we have the desert area, the mountains so it’s pretty enormous in size. And where I happen to be located in the north county inland area, we have a couple of pockets of communities that are very popular retiree communities and that’s a huge part of the clientele that I serve are my seniors. So they still like that print ad. They still want to open their orange book or their yellow pages and see a picture of me or see my name and call up. So I did invest a little bit there but only in that pocket where I know that’s going to pay dividends. Other than that, we’re trying to work on getting a little more active in the social media space. There are a few groups that I belong to on Facebook. We have particularly here in Poway where I’m centered, there’s the Moms of Poway Group and those are great because they do know me individually. They’ve known me in the community and so when they give a referral to another mom in the group, those moms know it’s legitimate. It can be counted on that I’m not just some person paying somebody to say my name in Facebook or something. So I’ve kind of just got a couple of different feeders out there and then the hope is really this is more for my existing clients and continuing. We really want to start adding to our website. I say ours. When I say our, I mostly mean me but my daughter as I said has been really my right-hand gal in some of this text, so I have to give her credit for developing the website and helping me keep that up to date. We like to do some video SAQs and just different spots there where my clients can come and get refresher information or refer people for basics and they can get my take on whatever it is that they’re looking to solve and hopefully hear that in my voice and then that will be impactful as well. So again, I’m right at that one-year mark where I’m like, “Okay, got the basics down right now. What can we add or where can we invest time that will actually be beneficial both to the clients and then to that referral stream coming back in?”
Adriana Linares: You said something earlier that I thought was interesting and I could hear attorneys listening to this and their heads going, “She tells them that?” My question is you mentioned you get a client and you say “You know, I’m basically chef, cook, bottle washer, it’s going to take me three weeks” and do you find that they don’t care? They have decided to hire you. They trust you and maybe they even find that endearing at some level which is I’m going to do everything and it’s going to take me a minute.
Rachel Allums: I think so. I think it really just being transparent with the client so that you know, my whole goal is to set up a realistic expectation for our interaction together.
I don’t want to over promise and under deliver as my husband likes to say. I want to make sure that what I’m providing to them is reasonable and that we’re both on the same page. Now of course I have clients that come in and there’s an emergency. There’s a medical issue, there’s something, we move mountains to get those done right away and I think that the clients who don’t need that mountain moved respect that and appreciate it as well. So I don’t know if it’s really just my particular area of law that lends itself to being able to be forthright about that, but I do think clients appreciate that. You know, I’ll let them know, “Hey, when you call, if you have to leave a message, I’m probably — and I’ll answer the phone if I’m available but I’m probably in a meeting. I’m with another client, I’m making sure that they’re getting my time as needed as well. I will get back to you” and I give them a reasonable time frame or you know, “Hey, I’m running about 10 days out to get this back to you” so they know that they can expect that and then I really do everything I can to make sure I deliver on that and if I can’t, I communicate with the client. That’s the biggest thing and that’s going to be one of the biggest complaints that I heard for all of my 20-plus years as a support staff in a law firm is the failure to communicate. Clients not knowing what was happening. Where they were in the pipeline. When to expect some kind of a response, that was the biggest complaint that we had and that’s where you get unhappy clients. You lose that referral source really quickly. And I will say, that’s one benefit I had to see how impactful that is, is that if you’re serving clients well, will they go out and tell somebody this is that like net promoter idea, right? Will they go out and tell somebody? Maybe if it comes up, if they really liked you they probably will. If they didn’t like you or something went wrong, they will not tell a soul about you, right? Not even to say, “Oh, don’t go to so and so.” Your name is just like gone out of their mind. So I think it’s important, that’s one thing I learned is keeping the clients happy, being honest, owning what’s going on. You know I’m human as well, so if I say, “Look, you know what? I promised that to you today. I didn’t deliver, whatever the reason was, not necessary but you need to know that was on me.” And I’ve had more clients appreciative of that and give a lot more leeway and flexibility than if you say, “Well, I was in court or I was here” whether that’s true or not, they just need to know that they’re paying for a valuable service which is your time. You’ve promised it to them and you’re going to deliver. So, yes. I think they really are appreciative of that level of honesty and the fact that when I do give them a timeline that I actually follow through with it I think. That’s the other piece you can’t just say, “Well, it’ll be a few weeks.” You got to be specific. It will be 10 days. I will have this to you by next day and then make sure you get it done. That’s what really keeps them happy.
Adriana Linares: Well Rachel, it’s just been wonderful talking with you. I’m so glad I finally got you on. I’ve been telling you for years. So I’m happy you come on New Solo after you launched because you used to listen to this show. I said, “You tell me when you’re ready to spread and share those pearls” and here you are. So tell everyone how they can find, friend or follow you.
Rachel Allums: Sure, so they can visit my website which is allums.law. So that’s A-L-L-U-M-S, M like Mary, S like Sam, dot law. For Twitter or Facebook, I’m at allumslawapc and for Instagram allumslawapc will get you there as well.
Adriana Linares: Thank you so much Rachel. You’re awesome.
Rachel Allums: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Adriana Linares: Well everyone, it’s the end of another episode of New Solo. If you like this episode, give us a five-star rating. Tell your friends. It’s very nice and rewarding when I get messages from listeners that the show is helpful. So I appreciate that you guys. Reach out to me on social media and let me know that you enjoy the show. I’m on lawtechpartners at Instagram. I realized somebody said to me the other day, “You never tell anyone how to contact you.” I’m sorry. I’m easy to Google. Yeah, reach out. I love hearing from listeners. So everyone, we’ll see you next time on New Solo.
Podcast transcription by Tech-Synergy.com