Hosts Sally Pretorius and Baili Rhodes sit down with Judge Audrey Moorehead of Dallas County Criminal Court #3 to share the lessons she’s learned over her years of practice on how to ‘Get Paid and Have a Life’. They cover how juggling bar service, networking, and a career can lead not only to more clients but better paying clients; how young lawyers should value their work; and how to do a better job selling your services. All that and more from this year’s Annual Meeting of the State Bar of Texas.
Judge Audrey Moorehead presides over Dallas County Criminal Court #3.
Special thanks to our sponsor, LawPay.
State Bar of Texas Podcast
State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting 2019: ‘Get Paid and Have a Life’ with Judge Audrey Moorehead
Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice, with your host Rocky Dhir.
Sally Pretorius: Hello and welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast recorded from the Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. This is Sally Pretorius and Baili Rhodes and we are the host for today’s show, which is being sponsored by LawPay, trusted by more than 35,000 law firms to accept legal payments online. It’s the only payment solution offered as a member benefit by the State Bar of Texas.
So joining me now I have Baili Rhodes, who is co-hosting with me and we have Judge Audrey Moorehead. It’s hard when you are friends first and then your friends become big and important people.
So welcome to the show. Before we get started about our topic today, Judge Moorehead, can you start by telling us a little bit more about yourself?
Judge Audrey Moorehead: Absolutely. I am a judge and I am judge of Dallas County Criminal Court #3. It is a misdemeanor bench and I call it the make a difference bench, because maybe we can intervene in the life of an individual or a family and perhaps keep them from going up to what I call the advanced for, which is felony, and hopefully maybe curb some recidivism.
So it’s a good place to be for me. I really enjoy it and I have been — I had my own law firm for about 13, 14 years and it was a general practice and I did family — well, domestic relations, which is expensive family law and criminal, wills, trusts, and probate, child welfare and some civil litigation.
Sally Pretorius: Awesome. Well, today we are going to talk about I guess your former career and we are so glad that you are one of our judges as a Dallas resident, so happy to have you up there. So to talk about our topic today, which is ‘Get Paid and Have a Life’. So you presented about that yesterday here at the Annual Meeting, right?
Judge Audrey Moorehead: Actually I just presented today.
Sally Pretorius: Just presented.
Judge Audrey Moorehead: Yes, yesterday I presented for Texas Center for Legal Ethics, on implicit bias, that’s the next podcast we are going to do.
Baili Rhodes: And this is why you are one of our rock star favorite mentors.
So to get going with the topics, the first thing that I have is just talking about getting paid and having a life, I guess before you can even get paid, you have to get clients. So do you have a tip for juggling bar service, networking career, and then my follow-up question that I am going to let you answer it all at once is, do you find that the three go hand-in-hand with helping you get clients?
Judge Audrey Moorehead: Oh absolutely. When I got out of law school, I never planned to join a firm. So I was always going to have my own law practice and I opened my doors in the Turtle Creek area of Dallas, which is sort of a high rent district, so I started out with a little bit of a pressure to make the rent every month. So I knew that I had to go out there and get business.
But I also loved bar work. I had been involved with the Bar Associations in law school. I was involved with TYLA, I was also involved with the DAYL; I was a student on their board of directors. And so, because I was an older law student, I knew that there was a value of affiliating with people in my profession or my future profession as it was at the time.
So when I left law school I had already established a lot of relationships in the legal field through bar work, and what my plan was, was to have a lawyer referral-based law firm. And people say why, why not advertise in The Greensheet? Well, that’s not the kind of client I was trying to develop. I wanted clients that had money and paid their bills.
And what I found is that when lawyers make a referral to you with a client, they usually have some resources, because the lawyers I am talking to are working at firms, and what happens is you have friends that work at big firms and they are doing big firm transactional law and big firm litigation, but they don’t do divorces, they don’t do traffic tickets. Like I said, they are lawyers, but they are not the kind that help people.
And lawyers make referrals to people that they know, people that they trust, people who they believe are competent, and how does a lawyer know if you are competent, if they can trust you? One, when they see you, one, doing bar work, doing service in the community.
And then also they see you at the CLEs and the seminar, so they know that you are staying on top of your legal education and they feel that they can trust you to send their business.
And so that’s how I marry a lot of that bar work and get a return on the investment of my time in bar service, in making sure that my referrals were quality, and by quality I mean paying clients.
Sally Pretorius: What advice do you have for lawyers that hear what you are saying and that sounds fantastic, but they have no idea how to jump into bar work or community service or something that will help them market to other lawyers?
Judge Audrey Moorehead: Well, the first thing they have to do is join, just become a member, become a member of your local Bar Association, find an affinity group that speaks to you in terms of what your practice area is, regardless of what it is, that’s one thing.
So for example, if you are doing aviation law and you have an aviation law section, join that section. If they don’t have that section in your local community, they may have it at the State Bar level. So join a section also at the State Bar level, because you really never know, your referrals — my referrals come from everywhere. Everybody knows somebody in Dallas, they may not like them, but they know them. That’s a Dallas thing.
Sally Pretorius: Who doesn’t love Dallas people?
Judge Audrey Moorehead: Everybody, everybody, Sally, everybody in the world hates the United States and everybody in the United States hates Texas and everybody in Texas hates Dallas, everybody knows that.
Sally Pretorius: Except if you live in Dallas.
Judge Audrey Moorehead: Yeah, well, there is that, there is that. But I think — I will tell you one of the traps of bar service if you do it right is it’s extremely addictive and you can overextend yourself and you need to be very careful, especially if you are working at firms. While they will appreciate the relationships that you develop and your ability, because at some point even if you are in a big firm, you may be asked to do client development; we all have to do it in some form or fashion, but you don’t want to overextend. There are only so many hours in a day. There are 1,440 minutes in a day and you need to know exactly how you are spending each one of them and make them all matter.
And if you overextend yourself, you do yourself a disservice, you do your firm or your clients a disservice, because saying yes to something means saying no to something else.
And that was something that I really had a lot of difficulty in doing, and I can certainly — and I am still having a problem with that, again, it’s very addictive because I am in Bar None, the Bar None Show in Dallas which raises money for scholarships for law students throughout the Dallas area, North Texas area, and also, I am coming down here to speak everyday and flying back and forth to make sure that I am covering all those bases that people ask me to participate and I have a difficult time saying no. So it’s important to learn how to set boundaries on your time and make the appropriate investment.
But the first thing I would say do is join, find a section that speaks to your practice area and then find something that doesn’t, because if you do let’s say family law and you join the family law section, that’s great. But you would be doing better in terms of referral and also joining entertainment law, because they will be looking for resources, they will be looking for somebody who does something different than what they do.
Sally Pretorius: Let’s talk about getting paid. How do you turn that into money? I mean you dress fabulous and we talked about this offline a little bit, but I am only assuming that you can afford that fabulous clothes if your clients are actually paying their bill. So I know Baili is really involved in her firm and so she has a lot of experience managing clients and dealing with firm agreement. So I am going to turn it over to her and let her ask some of these questions.
Baili Rhodes: I mean I think my first question is you get the client in the door and I think a lot of lawyers, especially lawyers that are just going out on their own or younger lawyers in practice have to figure out, how do I keep the client, number one; and number two, how do I actually get them to pay that bill, and I would just love your advice for getting paid.
Judge Audrey Moorehead: Well, that’s important, because I will tell you what, people, especially new lawyers, they struggle in the area of setting fees, asking for money and knowing their value, assessing the cost of a matter upfront, and I will say that having a Master’s in Business Administration really helped me when I opened my practice. I know a lot of lawyers are not going to have that, but there are a lot of resources to help you.
TYLA has Law Practice in a Box. They have a toolkit that is so fantastic. You may have heard of it Sally.
Sally Pretorius: Yes, I have.
Judge Audrey Moorehead: But there are tools out there to help you, you need to avail yourself of those, so you know how to make a budget and how to know — know what you need to make on each case, how much you need to bring in the door to make your life work and to live comfortably and to support your lifestyle.
And once you know that, when you get a client, when you get a referral, they walk in the door, then you now become a business person, because if you think like a lawyer, you are not going to make any money, you have got to think like a business person. This is a business.
And I know they are out there saying I became a lawyer to help people. Yeah, okay, you went and got $100,000 worth of loans so you could what, not make money, a broke lawyer can’t help anybody and that is a fact. So you want to be comfortable and be okay with making money and being successful. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing to be ashamed of.
But you also don’t want to go just solely after the money without thinking of the ethical issues that come with, I am trying to go out just to make money. You still want to provide a valuable service and competent representation to your client. So when you get that client in the door, that client is going to want to know at least two things.
One, do you know what you are doing; and two, can you get me out of this mess I am in. If you can answer those two questions, you will probably have a client for life. And the way you communicate that to a client is not by talking, it’s by listening. Your client knows their business way more than you ever will and you would be able to develop a strategy a lot better if you listen.
You would be surprised how much you miss, because as law students we are trained to issue spot. So we are picking things out of a conversation and we have run way ahead to get to the conclusion, the resolution, the strategy of how we are going to resolve the matter and we are missing a lot of the story. What do they really, really want?
And when you are selling, because you are selling a service, you are selling yourself to your client and when you say I dress nice, I appreciate that you appreciate the investment I am making in my clothes, but my clothes are part of my marketing strategy. Nobody wants a broke looking lawyer. You have to look successful, people will assume you are successful and mentally say that’s the lawyer I want.
Many times I have been walking through the courthouse practicing law and people will say, are you a lawyer, I want you to be my lawyer, and that is simply because of the way I look. A good pair of fishnet pantyhose will take you a long way.
Sally Pretorius: Have you seen that meme that just came out that’s pretty funny, it’s like those old 2000 shoes that men wear and it says if your lawyer is wearing these shoes, you are guilty? If your lawyer shows up to court wearing these shoes, you are likely going to be found guilty.
Judge Audrey Moorehead: Yeah, and that’s probably a little accurate, quite frankly, but you do want — you want a successful lawyer, everybody wants a successful looking lawyer, so that’s part of your marketing strategy.
But when you get that client in there and as I said earlier that you are selling something, be clear, you are not selling competence, because competence is assumed. We all went to law school, we all got a JD, people come to you because they already know you practice a certain area in the law, what you want to sell is compassion. You want to sell the fact that you are interested in that client and in their being successful, and then you need to find out what does that look like to that client, not to you.
I know what intellectually I should expect from a divorce with two kids and a modest amount of property, I know what that looks like to me on paper, but that client has an emotional view of what the outcome of that case is going to look like.
A good example is in family law, you have a client that comes in and she wants a full custody. We know there is no such thing.
Sally Pretorius: No, only on TV.
Judge Audrey Moorehead: Only on TV really, and that’s not even done well. So we know in the end of the day that that is not going to be a reality, so then you are listening to sort of why does she want that, what does that mean, what is she trying to accomplish, and then when you are hearing that conversation, there has been some abuse of the child. Now you have a way to address that issue a little bit differently. Or is it parental alienation, there is some jealousy, there is some anger because of the breakup. Now you know how to address that issue and then you help that client come up with a new reality and a new expectation for the outcome of their case.
But at the end of the day getting that client in the door is only the first step, then you have to close the deal. You are going to build a rapport and then you are going to sell them the service and then you are going to close the deal and you are going to get that fee agreement signed in writing.
Sally Pretorius: What do you do whenever you have the problem client who all of a sudden things go downhill and they don’t want to pay the bill or you are too expensive or they are complaining, do you have any tips on dealing with those folks?
Judge Audrey Moorehead: Well, first of all, I remind them that they knew I was expensive when we met.
Sally Pretorius: I love it.
Judge Audrey Moorehead: I am not buy one get one free, that doesn’t happen. And so I don’t negotiate, as I said earlier in my CLE, I don’t negotiate with terrorists, and sometimes your clients can turn into terrorists because they are going to hold you hostage over their case and your fees and you are going to feel like you can’t escape, but trust me, you can.
You should have a fee agreement that explains to a client that if you are not paid, if that retainer agreement is not at a certain percentage at all times, you have the right to withdraw from that case and you will withdraw from that case, and you don’t threaten, you do it. You send them that letter, that 10-day letter saying you are going to withdraw, to give them opportunity to obtain counsel with whom they have a better rapport and maybe more affordable, and they will either pay you or they won’t, but if they don’t, you need to exit as soon as possible.
But you can see it, you can see the train wreck coming. If you have a problem client, just document, document, cover your, you know what, and communicate with the client, per our conversation this is what we said we were going to do and just make sure you are communicating.
Communication is one of the top areas of complaints with lawyers, and I find that the more you communicate with your client, the better you communicate with your client, you limit those times when you run into train wrecks.
Baili Rhodes: Thank you.
Sally Pretorius: Well, it looks like we have reached the end of our program today. So I want to thank you, Judge Moorehead, for joining us, for all of your tips that you have given.
Judge Audrey Moorehead: And I want to thank you, Baili and Sally, not just for today and for making this such a great experience, but for all your extraordinary leadership in the bar, really, you all have super bright futures and I can’t wait to see where it’s going.
Baili Rhodes: It’s only because we have role models like you to follow.
Sally Pretorius: Exactly. We get to soak up all the goodness.
Judge Audrey Moorehead: I am blushing. You can’t tell. Just take my word for it.
Sally Pretorius: So that’s all the time we have for this episode of the State Bar of Texas Podcast, brought to you by LawPay. Thank you again LawPay for your sponsorship.
Also, thank you to our listeners for tuning in.
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This is Baili Rhodes and Sally Pretorius. Until next time, thank you for listening.
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