Guest attorney Ruth Carter is nothing if not transparent. A client’s failure to plan should not be a cause for crisis to an attorney!
Carter talks openly and honestly with host Adriana Linares about being clear with clients. Tell them your rates up front, even put them on your website. And set “rush rates” for any work that suddenly pops up, it sets expectations and encourages clients to think ahead and plan accordingly. Is your firm incorporating “rush rates” into client contracts?
Plus, we have a special upcoming mailbag edition on Office 365 and all things Microsoft. Got a question? Contact us at [email protected].
- Using simple, plain language to help clients understand what they are signing and what they are accomplishing.
- It’s OK to be transparent about your rates and that those rates increase when a matter is suddenly urgent!
- Being honest about what you do and what clients should expect.
In a brand-new series of New Insights, veteran attorney Jennifer Smith Thomas answers questions from new attorney Jennifer Townsend about the challenges of working with her father in her small family-owned firm.
- Question 1: “My dad has given me a lot of freedom to redesign all the firm’s systems. How do I present my ideas without having him reject all of my plans?”
Got a question or suggestion? [email protected]
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.
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 Spanish and English. 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.
Intro: So if I was starting today as a New Solo, I would do something – the entrepreneurial aspect would be – we’re going to have to change the way they’re practicing – by becoming a leader – analyzing one after another – to help young lawyers – starting a new small firm – what it means to be fulfilled – make it easy to work with your clients – bringing authenticity – new approach, new tools, new mindset, New Solo – and it’s making that leap.
Adriana Linares: Welcome to another episode of New Solo on the Legal Talk Network. I’m Adriana Linares. I am your host. I’m a legal technology trainer and consultant. Today we’re going to be talking to Ruth Carter, who wrote a great article on rush rates. We’re going to talk about that one because it really caught my eye, and then we’re just going to talk about Ruth, because Ruth is one cool lawyer. Hi, Ruth.
Ruth Carter: Hello. How are you?
Adriana Linares: I’m so good. Thanks so much for coming on New Solo. And I have been reading your articles on Attorney at Work for a really long time. They’re always timely and interesting. For some reason, this one caught my attention more than any but before we go there, tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice, and your recurring post for Attorney at Work, which is called “Nothing But The Ruth!”
Ruth Carter: Yes.
Adriana Linares: I love it.
Ruth Carter: Thank you. So, I’ve been practicing law since 2012. I’m based out of Phoenix, Arizona, with a practice that focuses on business, intellectual property, and internet law. I’ve been writing for Attorney at Work since the beginning of my practice, which was hilarious because they’re like, “We want to feature experts.” It was like, “You realize I just graduated from law school?” They’re like, “Yeah, but you know your stuff.” I’m like, “Oh, okay.”
Adriana Linares: Excellent.
Ruth Carter: So, yeah, I’ve had kind of a non-traditional legal career so far. I started out as a solo for three years, which was great. I wrote three best-selling books. I’ve done a whole bunch of public speaking, which I still do, and then when I was ready for a little bit more structure in my professional life I joined a firm as Of Counsel. So, that’s what I am for a firm called Venjuris, which is, you know, independent contractors. So, I’m still eat what you kill, I come and go as I please, I handpick my clients, I wear what I want, and I wrote my dog into my contract.
Adriana Linares: So, let’s talk for a second, not necessarily about all those roles but I want to reflect for a moment on your signature block because you mentioned all of these roles, you start off your signature block, has the Mx. Ruth B. Carter, Esq. (They/Them). We’re going to talk about that in just a second. Then it says Evil Genius – At Carter Law Firm, PLLC, which you just mentioned. Then you wrote – then it says Of Counsel at Venjuris, P.C. Underneath that, this is all in your signature block by the way, so I guess I’m sort of encouraging people to think about creative and cool ways to use their signature blocks. You have a link to My Blatantly Honest Bio Answers to Questions You Really Want To Know About Your Lawyer. Now, hold on.
Before I actually click on that I want to finish just going through your signature block. You have a quote from Zefram Cochrane that says, “Don’t try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgments.” Then underneath that, and this is one of my favorite things, this amazing notice underneath all that which I’ve got to say takes a lot of balls to put into a signature block and I love it, it says, “You are on notice of my correct honorific, Mx., and pronouns They/Them. If you willfully misgender me, your request will drop to the bottom of my to-do list.” Like no holds barred. “This is who I am and take it or leave it.” Right?
Ruth Carter: Exactly. I know that I am not everyone’s cup of tea, and if I am not the fit for you, the sooner you figure that out the better for the both of us. I am legally non-binary, birth certificate, driver’s license to prove it. I use the honorific Mx., they/them pronouns, and I have had people who purposefully use the wrong ones. They will use she/her or something like that when they know better.
Adriana Linares: I mean, why?
Just give a person what they want. Be respectful. Seems so easy. I make a mistake every once in a while too, but I really like that you purposefully say “willfully and intentionally just refuse to honor my honorific”.
Ruth Carter: Right, and that came from somebody who was trying to get me to do what they want. They want to change their bill, and so far I’m like, “No.” And I was like, “You know what? This is what I do anyway. You might as well know what you’re getting yourself into.” It’s like, “You want to act like a jerk, you are going to the bottom of my list.”
Adriana Linares: I love it. No, I think it’s great. So, then let me talk about your bio real quick because I think this is also just so creative and so cool that if you’re a new lawyer or a lawyer just looking to do something more interesting with your bio, go look at Ruth Carter’s bio. It’s at carterlawaz.com, but you’ve got a kind of something humorous in the beginning, which is a Venn diagram that Matt Holman did a million years ago, and it’s very funny and it talks about what lawyers put in their biographies versus what clients look for in a lawyer’s biography, and that’s a conversation we’ve all been having for years, is that a client doesn’t really care where he went to law school, that you were the editor of the journal, like, they don’t. They just want to know what you have on here, which is so funny, “Will you return my calls? Are you an a-hole? What do you think of your clients? Are you on Facebook or Twitter?” So, that in and of itself is interesting.
And then, you go down. Now, we’re going to go through your actual bio, which you just said this and it’s another thing that I think is so great. “Of Counsel, just legalese for independent contractor.” I like that, because what does the average legal consumer know of the words Of Counsel?
Ruth Carter: No, no one knows what that means. It’s part of that language that lawyers have that people outside our industry don’t know what they mean and it makes us look fancy.
Adriana Linares: And I love that you publish just outwardly your current hourly rate. What’s behind that?
Ruth Carter: I think I need to update that, because I just raised it, but yes.
Adriana Linares: Yes, update it.
Ruth Carter: Update it.
Adriana Linares: So, what’s behind that? Because a lot of lawyers don’t do that. Why did you feel it was important to list that?
Ruth Carter: If a potential client emails me and asks me what my rate is, I don’t hide it. I say, “This is my rate.” So, why wouldn’t I make that publicly available and so if somebody, they know they need a lot of work and they know they can’t afford me, then they know not to waste their time contacting me and unless they’re asking like, “Hey, I would love to hire you but I can’t afford you. Is there another like resource you recommend?” So, you know, we don’t go to the grocery store and, you know, not expect the price to be there. I mean, in our heads we’ve got to calculate tax, because Americans, but otherwise like, you know, we don’t hide that. So, why would we hide what our rates are from our clients?
Adriana Linares: I don’t know. I actually put it on my website too because if you see it and you call me, we’re going to talk. If you call me and ask me, you’re just wasting my time. So, plus, if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it anyway, so I totally agree. Okay.
Ruth Carter: Either that or they’re budgeting.
Adriana Linares: Or they’re budgeting, and look, I’m always willing to talk, right? Now you know where we’re going to start the conversation and if we want to negotiate a different rate, then I’m happy to talk about it, but you know where we’re going to start.
All right, then on your bio after that, and I love this too, it says, “What I’m really good at, persuasive writing, contracts, including terms of service, USPTO trademarks, and explaining how the law works in English.” So, again, give us sort of a little color on why you felt this was important to put on your bio and just make it so clear.
Ruth Carter: One thing I’ve run into when working with clients, they are oftentimes Joe Average people who didn’t go to law school, is they don’t understand the language of law because we went to law school for three years where we learned it and so – and I ran into this when I was editing blog posts for my colleagues who do patent work. I would read their stuff and I would think, “Okay, a normal person isn’t going to be able to understand what you’re saying, you know. Let me add in some verbiage that translates it,” and I’m just in general a straight shooter. I was not born with the diplomacy gene. I was born with the angry Irishman gene. So, speaking bluntly is my default. I have to work at speaking more eloquently. Thank goodness we write multiple drafts before, you know, we just give anything to a client, the court, whatever. And I tell my clients, like if I’m doing their contract or if I’m helping them with a contract I tell them, “Don’t sign anything that you don’t understand. Never feel bad about asking questions.” And I’ll even do that if I’m reviewing a contract for a client. If I see something that I don’t understand, I’ll just flag it and be like, “Hey, you know, opposing counsel,” like, “what does this mean? Because I don’t get it.” And I also tell my clients that, “I don’t know what the word wheretofore actually means,” so I don’t use it.
Adriana Linares: That’s one of my most hated words, wheretofore.
Ruth Carter: I mean, I occasionally use hereto and whereas, but wheretofore? I still don’t know what it means. I’m not going to use something that I don’t understand.
Adriana Linares: That’s awesome.
Ruth Carter: And really, if I can’t explain it to my client in plain language, do I really know what I’m talking about?
Adriana Linares: That’s such a good point and so refreshing to hear, I have to tell you. Okay, a couple more things on your bio that I just, I love, and I really hope everyone goes and visits this page because it’s so fresh and clever. “Have I worked on cases like yours lately?” It pretty much says, “I don’t know. Ask me.” And then you have on here, “Will I work my ass off for you? Yes. Do you take contingency cases? No, don’t even ask. What about partial ownership of your startup? No. Can I have a payment plan? Maybe,” and then you just have a few more questions. “What do I like about being a lawyer? How long do I take to respond to emails? Can you call me?” Basically, you’re addressing all the questions from the Venn diagram up above and I think this is amazing. I love it. Do you get clients or people who call you because of your bio and just say – give me some stories about people calling you because of your bio or for your bio.
Ruth Carter: Yeah, I’ll have people who they’ll call me or they’ll – actually, no, they know not to call me because they know that my outgoing message actually says, “Don’t leave me a voicemail. Send me an email,” but they’ll reach out and say, “I really liked your bio,” or, “I found you really refreshing.” And I’ve also written bios for other lawyers, and when my firm, when Venjuris redid its website, I was the one that came up with, “Okay, what are we going to put in? Like, what’s going to be our bio template and how are we going to do that?” So, I wrote like probably half the firm’s bios and there are people who, clients who contact them and they say, “Because I saw your bio, like, I knew that you were the right lawyer for me.”
Adriana Linares: I love it. It’s so smart. Well, is there anything else you feel that’s important for listeners to hear just about expressing yourself, what you’re putting on your website, what you’re putting on your bio and your signature blocks, that you want to share before we move on to our next segment?
Ruth Carter: I would say that whenever I tried to fit the mold of what I thought I was supposed to be as a lawyer, it didn’t work out, and when I did what I thought was best for me was when I made the connections that I wanted to make, that I met the prospective clients that I wanted to meet, and if you are lucky enough to be in a situation where you have editors, if you do push the envelope too far they will reign you back in. That’s one of the things I love about Attorney at Work, is they let me stand on my soapbox and I’ll just fly off the handle, “La, la, la, bla, bla, bla, bla, bla, ,bla, bla, bla.” Just whatever and I’ll be like, if it’s too much, they’ll edit it down.
I just had to write a special bio to be a judge for a marketing contest, because I’m involved in content marketing and they were like, “Oh, you can put on a bio.” The bio I drafted, which I don’t know if it’ll be accepted started with, “I don’t really know why they picked me.” So, if they’re going to say like, “No,” like, “We can’t put that on our website,” I’ll be like, “Okay.” You know, I’ll be like, “I’m the non-marketing agency person who’s,” you know, “I’m the Joe Average perspective in this field.
Adriana Linares: But it’s going to be a good one.
Ruth Carter: Well, I don’t think I know how to be boring. I had a friend once, like, that posted this thing to Facebook, was like, “You know, tell something that you’ve really done but sounds so weird that people wouldn’t think it was true.” And I responded with, “I’m so weird I don’t think anything sounds like it could be fake.”
Adriana Linares: It’s true. Well, you’re not weird. You’re very interesting, and I love it. Let’s take a quick break, listen to the messages from some sponsors and when we come back, I’m going to ask Ruth about writing and their books, and specifically my favorite book title, ‘Flash Mob Law’. We’ll be right back.
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Adriana Linares: All right. So, I’ve got Ruth Carter on the line here, a very just enthusiastic and engaging attorney, writer, blogger, author, speaker, and I want to ask you next, Ruth. You know, you’ve been blogging since 2009. I’m looking at it on your website. That’s a long time in the world of blogging, which means you like writing, you’ve always liked writing, and you’ve got three books. I’m looking at the titles. I’ll read them real quick, ‘The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed,’ don’t leave that one out, ‘The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,’ and then ‘Flash Mob Law’.
Let’s start with just your general writing career. Why do you love writing, so much? Why did you get into blogging? How do you find that it helps elevate your personality and your status as a legal technology and practice management consultant? Why has it been important to you?
Ruth Carter: I think I realized I was a good writer when I was like ten, when I first learned how to write an essay in school, and my classmates would laugh at the things I wrote, which I wasn’t trying to be funny, I was just being honest about what I thought about the topic. So, there was something there that kind of got the ball rolling and then through high school, a little bit in college, I had opportunities to continue to develop my writing skills, and I learned that sticking to what we think is a prescribed mold of anything, it doesn’t connect with the audience. When I listen to things that were written in a style that was like, “Oh, this is what I should do,” it’s boring versus people who are blunt, descriptive, they go, you know, to those, you know, those dark places, are a little over the line, or push the envelope, or you know you whatever that box is, they basically checked it a long time ago and they’re like, you know, as if in their mind they’re starting with, “Here’s the deal,” and then they present or they write.
That type of creating, those creative energies, activities, appeal to me and when I got involved in flash mobs actually, as a first-year law student, everybody that I was doing flash mobs with were also involved in social media and blogging and they said, “You should really have a blog, like you have a voice, you know, a perspective that’s worth sharing. And so, my friend set up my sight Undeniable Ruth, with the caveat that he wouldn’t do it unless I committed to publishing at least once a week every week, for at least two years. And so, that helped get me into the mode of like, “Okay, I have to do this every week. I have to dedicate time to write,” and I’ll admit the day he said, “You know, you’re at a point now in your writing that if you didn’t publish every week, it was okay. It’d be okay,” I stopped writing, and like I have been like off the writing – I’ve been off the blogging thing consistently for like two years and I’m like, “I have got to get back to this. So, I’m actually working on my new content marketing strategy. That includes my professional blog and Undeniable Ruth. So, but having that platform where it’s like you’ve got to say something, kept me in the mode of always looking for or being aware of what topics are around me that I have something worth saying about, whether it’s like responding to a news story or just talking about like what’s going on in my life, you know. I want to talk about my dog, I want to talk about minimalism, I want to talk about someone stole my work from my blog and I sent them a DMCA Takedown notice.
Adriana Linares: Of course you did.
Ruth Carter: Yeah, of course I did. Well, honestly, I did it mostly so that I could practice doing it for the first time because I’ve never done one.
Adriana Linares: Can we go back to one thing you said earlier, that I would appreciate if you would explain for our listeners. You mentioned your content marketing and strategy.
Ruth Carter: Yes.
Adriana Linares: Can you talk a little bit about what content marketing means, especially from a lawyer perspective, and why you’re going to do that and why there’s a strategy behind it, and how that helps you either get clients or get your name out there? Sort of talk a little bit about that because I know we hear the word content marketing a lot, but I don’t know that if I have had – maybe I have had, like a Gee, or a Conrad, or a Jason talk about it, but just remind us.
Ruth Carter: So content marketing strategy is a way to market your business that is very different from traditional advertising, whereas we think of advertising as like the billboards and the buses, and ads in newspapers or magazines, or whatever. Content marketing is all about providing value to your audience.
So, blog posts, videos, infographics, whatever makes sense for the topic, your audience, et cetera, even a podcast could be content marketing. So, if you’re going to use one of those modalities to market your business, it is about creating value for your audience, not about telling them how great you are of a practitioner and then you want to have a strategy about who are you writing for, what is the goal, how often are you going to be creating, what are you going to be creating, and it gets more complicated than that.
I actually attend Content Marketing World every year. I’ve been going since 2015. I’ve also been a speaker every year since 2015. That has been almost the only way, you know, primary, sometimes only way that I’ve marketed my business since the beginning. I will still get emails from people who saw a blog post I wrote five or six years ago and they’ll say, “I saw this blog about this topic. I’m in need of this legal service. Can I hire you?”
Adriana Linares: Amazing. And so, in that whole respect, books are another way of doing content marketing, you’ve got these three great books. Are they all ABA? I see the logo on two of them. Are they all ABA published books?
Ruth Carter: No. The eBook, ‘The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed,’ was a self-published eBook and after I published that, the ABA contacted me and said, “Would you be interested in writing for us,” and that turned into the double book deal where I learned the fun way that writing two books in one year and writing your second book while you’re going through edits of your first book, not the best idea in terms of having time to sleep, but it was a fun ride.
Adriana Linares: Seems stressful, but good. I do want to mention to everyone, there are several ways to become authors of course. Getting the ABA to call you is a great way to do it by publishing your eBook, but I will tell you that as an active member of the Law Practice Division of the ABA and having been a part of that division for a long time, they’re always looking for authors for good and relevant books. So, you can always apply to be a writer, and there’s this whole brief you send in about the book, and then there’s a whole team that helps you, you know, get the book published. So, if you do have dreams of being a book writer, it’s a little bit not that hard, maybe tedious. You can do it yourself or you can find an outlet, like the ABA or other publishers or magazines, that want your content by the way. A lot of organizations out there want your content. And having a recurring column like the one you have on Attorney at Work is I’m sure just another great outlet for your content marketing, and I want to take a minute to give Attorney at Work a plug because it’s one of my favorite publications and one of my favorite resources for law practice management and technology articles. So, if you all haven’t heard of it or just not signed up for their newsletter, make sure you look them up and you can have the publications delivered right to your inbox, which is how I found Ruth’s great article on rush rates, which we’re going to talk about in the next segment of today’s episode but before we end this one, I have to ask you, Ruth, about ‘Flash Mob Law’. Tell me about your first flash mob and how that got you addicted.
Ruth Carter: So, I did my first flash mob when I was a one-l, and it was during winter break. It was the international No Pants Subway Ride. So, improv everywhere out of New York had been doing their No Pants Subway Ride for a few years and they decided for 2009 that they were going to open it up to the planet, and said, “If you have a subway, a bus, a light rail, whatever public transportation you have, if you have that and you want to do a no pants ride the same day that we’re doing it,” you know, “let us know. We’ll add your event to our listing, and we’ll all do it and have fun.”
So, Phoenix, where I live, had just opened its new light rail, and there was a group of people who said like, “We’re doing it,” and they put up a Facebook event, and I saw that, and I’m like, “I’m in.” So, there was a lot 90 of us who did it the first year in Arizona. Worldwide, there were probably thousands.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Ruth Carter: And I purposely stood next to the main organizer of the event because I decided if you are organizing people to ride a light rail in their underpants in January, you must be cool. I must make you my new best friend. So, that’s what I did. All my friends who were supposed to do it with me chickened out. So, when the light rail took off, we all took off our pants. We’re there from the waist up totally normal, waist down underwear and shoes, and acting as if nothing weird is going on.
And then, after that event, it was a great time. A handful of us looked at each other and said, “We need to keep doing stuff like this.” So, we formed Improv Arizona and we started organizing other types of flash mobs. We’ve done a living Where’s Waldo game where people dressed up in red and white and we had one person in the official costume for Waldo. We’ve done a fake, we called it the Epic Superhero Battle, where we had people create their own villain or hero and we have like a fake fight like they had, like the classic Batman TV show. We do the no pants light rail ride every year that they had it. We haven’t done it for a couple of years because COVID. So, these are unexpected happenings designed to surprise and delight an unsuspecting audience. So, in total to date, I think I’ve done 22 flash mobs, and since I was the law student at that time, now lawyer, I was the one who had to figure out how can we do what we want to do without getting into trouble. And so, I was the one looking up laws. I was the one calling the police station’s non-emergency number to say things like, “How naked can we be in public before we’re, you know, illegal,” or like one time I had an idea of, “Let’s dress up like fairies and feed people’s expired parking meters.” This was back when we had to like put, “No, do quarters.” Now, we just do credit cards, and I found out in one city near where I live, it is legal. In one city where I live, it is, it’s legal. So, I was like, “Okay, we can do it in this city, but not this city.”
Adriana Linares: How interesting.
Ruth Carter: So, yeah, until I ended up—
Adriana Linares: Becoming the flash mob lawyer.
Ruth Carter: Yeah. And I did an independent study in law school about the legalities of being a flash mob organizer.
Adriana Linares: Cool.
Ruth Carter: Because we didn’t want to get in trouble for like solicitation or conspiracy, and then it just kind of developed organically into, “Let’s write a book about it.”
Adriana Linares: I love it. And I have to just say what I say all the time to all those listeners out there. If you’re going to pick a niche or have a niche as part of your overall practice, make it something you love and you’re passionate about, because you can hear the enthusiasm in Ruth’s voice talking, well about everything, which inside I’m laughing because my last guest last month was ‘The Introverted Lawyer’ Heidi Brown, and without even meaning to I’ve pretty much got the opposite of a guest on now, and I love it. You’re so enthusiastic and it’s inspirational. So, I hope that my listeners are as interested and excited to hear all these things from you as I am.
Before we go on, I’m going to take a quick break. We’re going to listen to some messages from some sponsors. Then when we come back, I’m going to finally get around to asking Ruth the story behind rush rates and the whole reason I invited them here at all, and I’m pretty excited to hear about that. We’ll be right back.
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All right, everyone. It’s time for a new series of new insights. This is a segment we started a couple of years ago where a young or less experienced attorney asks an experienced attorney some important questions about running your business, and in this series, it’s pretty cool. I had a listener reach out to me and just sort of ask some questions about dealing with the fact that when she graduated from law school she joined her father’s practice, so she went into the family business, is now working with her dad, loves it, has a great relationship with him, but does have a few questions about how to properly and professionally manage this family relationship in the middle of trying to help their clients and deliver superlative service.
So, I have Jennifer Townsend asking the question. She is an attorney in Birmingham. And then I have answering her questions, Jennifer Smith Thomas. So, I know it’s going to be a little confusing with two Jennifers but I think we can work through this. Jennifer Smith Thomas is someone that I know through my connections in Florida.
She works with her father at a bigger firm. Jennifer Townsend, our first guest, works in a small practice. Pretty much it’s her and her dad, and then Jennifer Smith Thomas works for pretty big firm in Central Florida. It’s called RumbergerKirk. I’ve done a lot of training and work there so it was pretty cool to connect with Jennifer on that.
So, Jennifer Smith Thomas will be answering questions for Jennifer Townsend about how to deal with working with a parent or, you know, I would assume that this conversation is going to be applicable to working with any family member, a husband, a wife, a cousin, and uncle. So, I hope you all find this useful and I’m going to start by asking Jennifer Townsend to introduce herself.
Jennifer Townsend: Well, thank you for having me on the podcast. My name is Jennifer Townsend. I’m a social worker turned lawyer in Alabama. I left my job at the Public Defender’s Office to go to law school because I felt like I could give a holistic approach to criminal defense and family law. I knew I wanted to go solo because my dad has been a solo attorney for more than 15 years, and I’ve been helping him in the office during that time.
I started my own law firm and I work on cases with my dad and his solo firm. In my free time, I’m an amateur woodworker and I spend my downtime with my silky terrier, Newton, and my 17-year-old aquatic turtle, Michael Jordan.
Adriana Linares: All right. Thanks so much, Jennifer Townsend. Now I’m going to ask Jennifer Thomas to introduce herself. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice.
Jennifer Smith Thomas: Thank you for having me today. I graduated in 2008 and I did a lot of commercial work. In 2013, I lost my job and at the same time, my dad’s midsize boutique firm was in the midst of a disastrous medical device discovery document review, and he needed help. And so, he hired me to come on as a contract attorney. So, we practiced together in a small firm for several years and then in 2020 when he decided he was going to slow down a little bit and move towards retirement, we joined a big firm where I’m at now, Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, where I practice products liability defense, premises defense, insurance defense, and still a little bit of commercial litigation.
Adriana Linares: Thanks so much, Jennifer, actually both Jennifers for doing this. I totally appreciate it. All right, let’s get started. Jennifer Townsend, what is your first question for Jennifer Thomas?
Jennifer Townsend: I am a process-driven person. That’s just how my brain works. My dad has given me a lot of freedom to redesign all the firm’s systems. How do I present my ideas without having him reject to all of my plans?
Jennifer Smith Thomas: I think one of the first things that I hear in your question is how your brain works. And so, it’s wonderful that your dad’s given you some freedom and authority to change the systems in the firm. My dad did as well. But as you optimize and update those firm systems, I think you need to be very cognizant of how his brain works, and respectful of his experience because however long he’s been doing it, it works for him. And so, changing a firm system needs to be done in a very accommodating way to him. You know, show him the utility of changing the firm’s systems or of the update. Does it save him time? Does it save him money? Does it comply with a client’s requirement? And then I think as we work with our parents, as they age, and whatever contacts, we have to be patient with him and acknowledged that they aren’t going to change all of their spots overnight.
Adriana Linares: All right, so that was question number one. Make sure you listen to the next three episodes to catch the rest of the conversation.
Okay, we’re back with Ruth Carter, one of the most interesting guests I think I’ve had on New Solo, and just fun as all could be to talk to. But, Ruth, the reason I reached out to you, and I’ve been a reader of your articles for many, many years, is because the title of this article caught my eye. This is again on attorneyatwork.com in Ruth’s recurring column, Nothing But The Ruth, totally love that, Adding Rush Rates for Legal Services Charging More to Drop-Everything-and-Fix-This. Okay. Can I just say this? I’ve been doing this a long time, 20-something years, nothing but lawyers and technology and law practice management, how have I not heard about rush rates? Shoulder shrugging happening.
Ruth Carter: I mean, it’s not something that we talk about and it’s something that a lot of lawyers don’t consider. Now, some lawyers are in a business where they are working on a rush situation, like they’re doing criminal work, someone just got arrested on Friday, it’s now Monday, you know. Yes, they’re in a section of our industry where having a rush rate doesn’t necessarily make sense for their day-to-day work.
Because they’re called on at a moment’s notice to jump in and help, but for those of us who aren’t, I do business and intellectual property law, even when I’m in litigation, where, yeah, you can’t predict when your opposing counsel is going to file something. That doesn’t mean that things are on fire on a regular basis, or they don’t have to be I should say, as part of the way we do business.
Adriana Linares: Look, I completely agree with you, and I don’t know why every lawyer doesn’t work this into their contract. I read your article. I turned to my live-in lawyer, and I said, “You need to put rush rates in your contract,” because I’m sick of him getting a rush from a client. And by the way, he does commercial real estate transactions. Is there ever really an emergency in a commercial real estate transaction? The client thinks there is, and of course he wants to accommodate that, but that means putting something else on hold.
Anyway, long story short he was like, “Oh, I don’t think I could ever do that.” Then I took the article and I forwarded it to four of my favorite attorneys and my best friend’s. One of them, and only one, replied and said, “I do this.” It’s written in my contract. Liz McCausland. Everyone else was like, “Huh? What an interesting concept.” And I’m thinking, no, really, what an interesting concept and where have we been all these years?
Okay. So, tell me. You have rush rates baked into your contract?
Ruth Carter: I do now.
Adriana Linares: Okay. And how has it gone over?
Ruth Carter: Fine. I told my clients at the end of November and the beginning of the year my rate is going up because I’ve been a lawyer for 10 years. I haven’t raised my rates in a while.
Adriana Linares: Excellent.
Ruth Carter: “And I’m adding in this rush rate. It’s not a way to bump your matter to the front of the line. It’s for situations where you set your life on fire and dump it in my lap.” I didn’t say it that way, but essentially.
Adriana Linares: I’m surprised.
Ruth Carter: I may have said something similar to that though. So, like, yeah, “You set your life on fire, dump it in my lap, and I have to drop everything and fix it, you’re going to pay the rush rate.”
Adriana Linares: I’m sorry. This makes total sense to me, and again, I just don’t understand why we all aren’t doing this, including me. Well, I think it’s brilliant and I have a feeling that, are you finding or that you think you’re going to find that all of a sudden, what was a rush last summer is not necessarily considered a rush in 2022 and it just becomes something a little more normal?
Ruth Carter: I don’t know because I have learned that a lot of clients do not actually read their engagement agreement very well. So, I did have one client who said, “Will you please make sure that you tell us like that this is going to be,” you know, “that the rush rate is going to apply?” And I said, “Fine. I do lots of work for them. I totally understand why for them I have to do it, or I’ve had clients who, even last month before the rate went into effect, they called me on a Saturday and they said, “We need this now,” and like, “We’re fine with the rush rate.”
Adriana Linares: Okay, great.
Ruth Carter: And it’s like, “Okay,” and so they are accepting I’ve chosen this and that’s what it’s going to be. So, so far, it’s been good. I’m sure I will encounter people who will get a rush rate, who will push back and be like, “Whoa, like what’s with this?” Like, “Hey, you knew it,” and I try to be more communicative with clients.
Adriana Linares: Sure.
Ruth Carter: I’m not as good as I wish I were, but I’d probably like, “Yeah, sure. I can do your contract, but it’s going to be the rush rate, so going to be 400 an hour versus 300, but that’s what you want. Okay, fine.”
Adriana Linares: And you know, you’re just going to find that clients are going to be willing to pay it, because they want it, they want it right away, and they understand and respect the rush. You just said it, but I was going to ask you about your rates. So, my first question is simply, again, helping listeners, especially other listeners who haven’t raised their rates in years. What finally made you decide to raise your rates? Were you nervous, like, “Oh, no, if I raise my rates, people are going to complain”? Did you keep your rates the same for existing clients, or did you bring everybody up to the same? Give us a little background on the decision to raise your rates and how you did it?
Ruth Carter: I think I just decided last year that it was time to raise my rates, looking at what my colleagues charge and when they started charging it. So, it just made sense for the work that I do. And I tell my clients if it’s an existing matter, you stay on the old. You stay on your old rate. And I even told, that’s why I told them in November, I said, “If you have your signed engagement agreement and your retainer paid before the end of the year, you’re on old rate. You’re at 275. If you don’t do it until after January 1st, you’re a 300.” And so, they got to decide where they fell, and I had one client reach out, who I do trademark work for, and he said, “Do I have any filings that are due next year? Like any renewals or something that I need to lock in, that I can lock in the lower rate now?”
So, it provided the opportunity for people to be proactive.
Adriana Linares: Very good.
Ruth Carter: And then everyone knows, you know, moving forward if it’s a new matter, it’s going to be a higher rate.
Adriana Linares: That’s great. And I just think setting expectations and communicating with clients is the best and easiest way to do that and just not have to deal with the repercussions later when you do that. And so, can we talk too then, so your average hourly rate is 300 and then the rush rate is 400?
Ruth Carter: Yes.
Adriana Linares: Great. I think that’s perfectly fair number and I know listeners will want to know these numbers, which is what I always try really hard to just give someone a place to start. I also want to remind everyone that the Clio Legal Trends Report that comes out every year has a study and they kind of show the average rate for the type of work that you do in your state. So, if you are a new solo or thinking about going out on your own and not really sure where to set your rates, that’s a great resource to look at. And then, to another place, I’ll give listeners to look for information from your peers.
I find that Listservs from bar associations are really active and really helpful. So, if you’re a member of a bar association and part of a Listserv, you can always, you know, post something in there. People, attorneys are so helpful to each other. Don’t ever be afraid to put a question like that out in public. You’ll all want to help each there. Wouldn’t you say, Ruth?
Ruth Carter: Absolutely, and I think that’s part of what our job is as practitioners, is that we continue to maintain our network of who we are connected with. And so, if maybe if there’s a question that you don’t want to put out to an entire Listserv, I hope that you would have people that you know, that you can say, “Hey, can I ask a question,” and get their input on if you know, for whether it’s rates, dealing with a challenging client, if you need a template for something. Even when I was a solo, I never felt like I didn’t have people who would help if I would ask.
Adriana Linares: I love it. Well, and I’m sure, and I hate to put you on the spotlight like this but I’m sure if someone would like to reach out to you and ask a question or two, I have a feeling you’re probably happy to respond.
Ruth Carter: Absolutely.
Adriana Linares: I love it. How can people find, friend, follow you, or get a hold of you, other than just googling Ruth Carter Flash Mob Lawyer? Tell everyone how are they going to get a hold of you?
Ruth Carter: Let’s see. Yeah, google me up. I’m the White lawyer, not the Black costume designer who did the costumes for Black Panther. She is amazing, but not me. See, I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Twitter @rbcarter. You can just reach out directly. You can find my website, undeniableruth.com, geeklawfirm.com, and carterlawaz.com. And then, for my client work, venjuris.com.
Adriana Linares: So if you google Adriana Linares, you might get me, but you might also get this beautiful and talented, amazing violist from Venezuela. So, get the right person when you google them.
Ruth, thank you so much for taking the time to come on and talk to us today. It’s been a lot of fun. You’re so energetic and just, what is a good word for you? Effervescent, just like a delicious club soda.
Ruth Carter: Well, thank you so much. I would love to come back again sometime.
Adriana Linares: I’m going to have you back. Next time a good article catches my eye and we can talk about it, I would love to keep picking your brain. You have a lot of great articles, a lot of great ideas, and I just love that you live out loud and you seem to really enjoy your life and who you are, and your practice, and your clients. I’m sure most adore you. Thanks so much for taking the time to hang out with us today.
Ruth Carter: My pleasure.
Adriana Linares: All right, everyone. We’ve reached the end of another great episode of New Solo on Legal Talk Network. Thanks so much for hanging in there with me. I want to remind you that if you have any questions about Microsoft 365, Microsoft Office, we’re going to have a whole episode dedicated to your questions about that. Make sure you send them in. You can either hit me up on social media or send it to [email protected]. I’ve got about four or five questions so far, not to mention my own four or five questions, and so I’d love to have a few more for our incoming expert. If you like what you’ve heard today, please share this episode with friends and colleagues, and give us a five-star rating on iTunes. Thanks so much for joining me and we’ll see you next time on New Solo.