The Un-Billable Hour
Christopher T. Anderson has authored numerous articles and speaks on a wide range of topics, including law...
This episode’s discussion around the Community Table:
Special thanks to our sponsors Lawyaw, Lawmatics, Belay, and Lawclerk.
Intro: The Un-Billable Hour Community Table where real lawyers from all around the country with real issues they are dealing with right now meet together virtually to present their questions to Christopher T. Anderson, lawyer and law firm management consultant. New questions every episode and none of it’s scripted. The real conversations happen here. The first two segments are a discussion between Christopher and a new solo attorney on how to choose a focus area for the attorney’s new practice.
Male 1: Hi, Christopher. It’s my first time. Longtime listener, first time signing up to attend this thing. Believe me, I have questions. I’m a new solo. I’m only six months in. So, I can — eight years of practice, but six months of being a new true solo.
Christopher T. Anderson: Well, fantastic. What is your geographical area and what kind of practice?
Male 1: I am in Illinois. I run a virtual law firm. So, I’m all about alternative fee arrangements. And so, because of that, a lot of the lessons and strategies that are out there just really don’t apply to my business model. And I know I sort of have been doing that intentionally and business is fine and I’m profitable, but not income replacement profitable. And so, I’d love to just get the whole room’s feedback on client development, marketing, things that have worked for them. So, I haven’t started outsourcing anything yet, though I plan to outsourcing things eventually, virtual assistants, freelance lawyers and whatnot. But, for now, I’m still a true solo.
Christopher T. Anderson: Alright. Well, if you have some questions, it will be a great time to ask them. Otherwise, I’ve got some questions for you.
Male 1: Okay, yeah, sure. And I guess to answer the practice area thing, it’s pretty broad-scoped right now. True general practice, but I tend to be doing more business transactions and estate planning, of all things. I have a very affordable, simple estate plan. So, just sort of run-of-the-mill business transactions, helping people understand and negotiate contracts and small business owners, that type of thing.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. What did you do — You said you’ve only been an attorney for six years, doing this for, was it five years or six years?
Male 1: Eight years.
Christopher T. Anderson: Eight years, sorry.
Male 1: Yeah.
Christopher T. Anderson: And you’ve been doing this for six months. What were you doing immediately prior to this?
Male 1: Yeah, I had a hard pivot from insurance defense litigation into only transactional work, but I’ve been building a small transactional practice that I wanted to grow and it’s just it’s hard to grow a practice within a practice. And so, that’s sort of why I decided to leave and I enjoyed the transactional side of things more. So, I was I was in court, well, Zoom court every day up until I left to start my own firm.
Christopher T. Anderson: Excellent. Okay. So, the question I would have then is why — so, you were in a very specific area, and I already know your answer, but I want everybody else to hear it. Why are you doing such a broad-based practice now?
Male 1: Because let me see what kind of clients I end up getting it and eventually, I will niche down. But as I start, I want to start as broad as possible to see where the needs are at the prices that I’m offering. Because I’m doing alternative fee arrangements, I’m doing a different business model, and because I’m running a virtual law firm, my costs to operate the business for the first year are under $5,000. I’m actually able to charge really good prices that clients like. It’s just the matter of sort of getting the word out. I want to see what works and what I enjoy the most. I ended up not liking litigation so much. I want to help other people avoid it. So, part of my pitch is litigation avoidance and problem avoidance instead of waiting until you have a big legal issue to hire a lawyer.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right. And how are you reaching out to prospective clients?
Male 1: Chamber of Commerce events. I did some advertising on Nextdoor. It’s only $3 a day, so it’s actually one of the more affordable options than trying to compete with Google. I have sponsored some of like local events, like fundraiser events. I’ve gotten my logo and contact information on some things. You know, it’s really hard to attend in-person stuff. I’m doing a lot of Zoom networking for, like, freelancer groups. Actually freelancers are kind of the sweet spot for me If I could get them as clients. I’d really just, you know, using the Meetup app and trying to attend some virtual and in-person meetups.
Christopher T. Anderson: So, your marketing is as focused as your practice.
Male 1: Yeah, you know, pretty much.
Christopher T. Anderson: Let’s work on this a little bit. Are you barred only in Illinois?
Male 1: Unfortunately, yes. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a multi-jurisdictional transactional practice to be allowed with the new hopeful re-regulation of the ABA model rules, but we’ll see.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. So, let me ask you then. If Illinois tomorrow pass a new regulation that said, it would be under Attorney Competence under Rule 1 that said we find that it is no longer possible in this day and age for an attorney to be competent in multiple practice areas. Therefore, it is the new rule of the Illinois State Bar that every attorney must practice in one practice area only. Which one would you choose?
Male 1: Yeah. I mean, it’s been hard to know how to define it. I have to go with business transactions because of — or just contracts law because it incorporates a lot. I also do real estate and actually, that is starting to slow up a little bit in light of the market conditions. But, if I could pick contract law, I would just pick contract law. I believe that I can still represent clients on whatever contract it might be, real estate, business related.
Christopher T. Anderson: Nice try. So, business transactions it is. Okay. And it’s an important exercise to do because I appreciate — listen. I still vividly remember the day I stopped my salary and hung out my shingle for the first time, and that temptation to like, well, let’s just see where the business is and like got to get referrals and we’ll just see what happens. And I wasted a good amount of time. Because when you put that message out into the universe, the universe will respond in kind, and it will respond with a disorganized smattering of different things, and you will not be known for anything. I love subscription business as a starting point. Like, I think it’s creative. I think it’s not enough but it’s a good start. You have attorney subscription general counsel subscription constabulary You know, there are ways to narrow down your focus. And it is counterintuitive, but I promise you, no matter what you narrow it down to, as long as there’s people out there that actually consume it, like cat contract law, maybe not, but the more you narrow it down and declare what you’re going to do, the more not less business that you’ll get. By training, I am a product marketer, so I know that it is it is important to do what you’re doing in the sense like to let the market tell you what it needs and what it wants. But when you, you know, you’re trying to be Procter & Gamble and going like, I’ve got household products, and the market won’t tell you anything. You’ve got to try this soap or vacuum cleaners, right? If you’re going to go out to the market and have the market talk back to you, you’ve got to give the market a clear question. And you’re not doing that right now. Your marketing efforts are all over the place. Your practice areas are all over the place, and you think you’re going to learn something, but what you’re going to do is you’re going to be learning from random events, from noise not signal. Does that make sense?
Male 1: Yeah, I think it does. And, like, what I’m trying to do is, I’m trying to attack a blue ocean of unserved market, though. And like my elevator pitch, maybe I should have started with that.
Christopher T. Anderson: That’s so less.
Male 1: Yeah. Well, like, when I’m in a room of people, I’ll be like I’m fractionalized in-house counsel for small business owners, freelancers and everyday people because the subscription thing. It’s like it’s fractionalized like you’re paying an employee, but not a full-time employee.
Christopher T. Anderson: And so, is fractional in-house counsel for?
Male 1: Small business owners, freelancers, and everyday people. My subscription started $20 a month.
Christopher T. Anderson: Why freelancers?
Male 1: With the growing gig economy, there’s more and more freelancers, people who are leaving their jobs to, whether it’s freelance or work for themselves, like a single member LLC. I see that as a growing market to potentially serve, and they simply can’t afford the billable hour. And so, my freelancer package starts at $299.99 or $300 a month and that includes unlimited communications and three contracts. And for freelancers, they tend to be using similar or the same contracts that they’re just customizing on their own from client to client. And with me, it’s affordable. They don’t have to just use a template that they got off the internet. And so, with that, I hope to keep them happy and it would be a volume-based business instead of a get-a-really-big-fish-type business.
Christopher T. Anderson: What is your upsell for them? Like, if a freelancer is doing well, how can they go up in your ecosphere?
Male 1: Yes. So, if they need a fourth contract, then it’s $50 a page, and that doesn’t include me negotiating on their behalf. So, that’s assuming their self-negotiating. So, I’m trying to do an ala carte thing to make it more affordable for them. But if they want me to negotiate for them, that’s going to be another $200 a month. So, I have subscription add-ons that they have access to and that’s that.
Christopher T. Anderson: Good. Get rid of that extra $50 a page. Think about it like if you subscribe to anything. QuickBooks doesn’t let you subscribe to QuickBooks Basic and then $10 a chart of accounts after that.
No. If you reach this level, then you have to go to the next level, right?
Male 1: Well, the next level is $1,000 a month and that’s assuming time contracts.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. That’s good. So, try to get away from the things that start to smell like billing by the hour, like another two contracts, right? You have your levels. Just have your levels. If they need your upper level, that means they’re doing well enough to afford the upper level to make it valuable enough for them.
Okay. Great answer on freelancers. We’re going to come back to freelancers in a minute.
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So, let me ask, why small business owners?
Male 1: In part because I have a client who is a small business owner and own some franchises and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been able to leave to start my own practice. That was the one client I needed to be able to afford for me to even launch my own practice. So, I had to develop a kind of around his needs and I’m just advertising on my website, make it available to other potential clients.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. That was a terrible answer. I get the answer and it did make sense. And listen, my practice also got kicked off by something I didn’t want to do, but it paid the bills for a few months and that was great. Why regular people? Would you say regular or everyday people?
Male 1: Yeah, everyday people. Everyday people. Because that’s the most massive market opportunity that there is. It’s all about the volume. The reason I picked $20 a month or $19.99 is because I want to compete, I want them to think about the opportunity cost of do I want to be able to watch another streaming service or be able to say when I’m in a dispute or potential dispute with someone, you know I’m going to call my lawyer. I’m going to contact my lawyer and get back to you. And it’s the people that sign up love it. But, the people that don’t get it just don’t get it. And because there’s never been anything like that that’s really been offered, I have to educate the market as I’m trying to serve it, which is very difficult and expensive, and I know probably what you’re going to say in response to it.
Christopher T. Anderson: What do you think I’m going to say?
Male 1: It’s probably financially not worth it, but somebody’s got to do it, and if I could make the firm float long enough —
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, but, dude, you said some magic words earlier. You said blue ocean? No, it ain’t. That’s a red, blood-red, thick, curdled stinky red ocean with like body parts floating in it. That is the opposite — Zooms just one of the one you know, but you could probably name three or four. I can. This is my radio show, so I’m not advertising free for anybody. But, yeah, that’s wanting to get in the restaurant business and saying I’m going to do burgers for a buck fifty. You can do it, and you’re right, it is a volume business, and can you do it? Yeah, I think there’s definitely an opportunity out there to do it, but it’s a completely different opportunity than the other two. You know, since you use the words blue ocean, I’m going to bring in shark tank to this, right? You’d get kicked out of the tank by bringing in the — it’s the largest market. Like the investor, they kill people who come and go, like it’s a huge market, so, I only need a small percent. Like, no, that’s not how it works. The one you’ve got passion behind is this freelancer stuff. In a sense, I mean, it dovetails with what you’re doing, right? You’re the gig lawyer for the gig economy. You can use that. You know what, you’ve got an hour to get that URL or I’m taking it or something like that, right?
Subscription attorney, like I said, it’s a good start, but it doesn’t tell any of the story. It tells a little bit of story. In fact, it perks my ear up because most people don’t think of attorneys that way. So, that’s cool. But how much cooler could it be if you could speak the language of the clients that you’re actually enticing? You can build a whole escalation program. You can really build an entire ecosystem for your gig freelancers, where you could probably can imagine having some ancillary services for them. You can become their go-to guy for everything they need, business and legal. I think there’s a huge opportunity for you to position yourself in that way because I haven’t seen anybody doing it. That’s a blue ocean and if you will narrow yourself to that the mark, I can’t promise you. I strongly feel the market will respond in kind. You know, get your marketing wrapped around that when you’re going to things, like you can focus now on what things you go to, where are gig people going. I don’t want to tell you things you already know, but, like, one of my Uber drivers became my driver, and I learned so much that I had no idea that goes on around. There’s a whole industry around Uber. There’s people who sell them cars. There’s people who sell them insurance. There’s people who sell them cleaning services. There’s people who sell them tire, I mean, everything. Like, there’s a whole world that revolves around Uber and Lyft, and these guys, and, like, I had no idea, but they all need lawyers because they all get into disputes with one another and they all get into disputes with the Uber and like, and having one guy who really gets to know the ins and outs of how these gig companies, whether it be Uber or whether it be —
Male 1: Doordash.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, great, Uber Eats. You have Doordash or Gus. I was trying to think of, like, Fiverr or all these. Getting to know how these companies work and how they abuse the people that work for them and how you can represent those people, or how the end users or disputes they get into with end users is more than contract review. You can be like the everything to this small niche market, which isn’t a niche. I mean, it’s not so small anymore, and I see explosive growth in that concept. But you have to commit to it or it won’t commit to you. It’s scary, but it’s true. And that doesn’t mean — by the way, people always hear like things they don’t say. And I’m not saying you’re hearing it, but people hear, like, oh, I have to turn her away. My small business work. I have to turn away. No, you don’t. You know, that guy that helped you start your business, you can keep doing stuff for him and he may refer you some business. You don’t have to turn a lick of it away. But your marketing message needs to be focused. And then, what will happen is the way you work, how you work and, like you say, you’re going to add people to your team eventually. What they do, having that streamlined so you’re doing similar things so you can systematize them is the key to you growing this into something that could actually be, to use your words again, an income replacer. Scattering across 20 practice areas, estate planning included, is making sure that every day will be exciting. That’s for sure. Because you’re doing something new every day, but you got to learn something new every day, which by the way, I’m not hiring you for my estate planning lawyer.
Male 1: Yeah, I know. These are people — I mean, my simple estate plan is $400. I do it in a half hour with them over the phone using document automation. So, I’m actually making more per hour. And these are people who they can’t afford to spend a thousand bucks on an estate plan.
Christopher T. Anderson: Two, three years from now, there’s going to be a firm, there’s going to be an H&R Block of estate planning that’s going after that.
Male 1: I’m working with them. There’s like, trustandwill.com. I’m in the process of working with FreeWill. I’m trying to get associated with them, too, and HelloPrenup. I do prenups, too, if you can believe it, probably you can, because I’m general practice.
Christopher T. Anderson: But, you know, so now you’re becoming a cog in somebody else’s machine. And I think if you want to do estate planning on that low consumer level, I think there’s a huge opportunity. You could be the next H&R Block. Don’t go work for them. But you can’t be the new H&R Block and the new gig economy lawyer and the new prenup lawyer and the new — like, you pick one. Listen, once you get one going, you could pick another one. Like, you can use the business you build to leverage and build the next one and the next one and the next one. No question. I’m not saying you have to do one thing the rest of your life. But, to get one of them really off the ground, you’ve got to give it the focus that you are asking it to give you, because that’s the way the universe works. Like, you focus, it will focus back. You focus your efforts, it will focus the results, and then you can leverage that.
But, you know, I hate to see you talk about, yeah, well there’s these other platforms under which I can operate. Yeah, you know what, you can. You can be on Zoom and Avvo refer people, too. But that’s not your business. That’s you working for somebody else. That’s what you just made a decision to not do that.
Male 1: Yeah, I know, and I did just sort of walked into being the moderator of a freelancer group on the Meetup app, and so, what you’re saying, actually the timing of it sort of makes a lot of sense for me to focus in on that and look at that and it’s mostly Chicago-area freelancers and the group is like 400-something people, so,
Christopher T. Anderson: That’s amazing, yeah.
Male 1: Yeah. I think I’ve got to just — I probably should just focus the marketing time that I’ve been spending using the shotgun approach on like that group.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. You become everywhere to them. You’re “The Guy” and they will bring you other stuff. You know what? Because freelancers, a lot of them are doing other things, that’s why they’re freelancers. So, if one of them starts their own small business, they’re going to come to you. And if one of them, you know, you can you can always offer other stuff inside the group. But to the world, you’re the gig lawyer for the gig economy. I’m telling you, you got 48 more minutes for that.
Male 1: Male 1: I have so many domains already.
Christopher T. Anderson: You have so many domains, yet you’re sitting here on a call with other lawyers who might refer you business. You are networking right now. Every lawyer on here could probably send you some business, but they have no idea, other than our conversation, what you do or what kind of business to send you. Your elevator pitch is actually not bad, it’s just still too scattered. You know, if you want — it should repel nine times the number of people that it attract. Your elevator pitch is to tell people who you’re not.
Female 1: So, what Chris speaks about is 100% true. So, I’m still a little confused at what subscription attorney means.
Male 1: All my prices are on transparent subscriptions, so you know what you’re paying and what you’re getting.
Female 1: Yeah, but that’s how I pay you. I don’t know what you do.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right, and that’s the problem.
Male 1: I know, I know. I do everything. I do everything, and yeah.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, you’re selling a feature, you’re talking about a feature and your firm name, and that’s not what people buy. People don’t buy features. They buy solutions. They buy, you know, everybody in the whole world, the only thing they actually ever by is a better life. I don’t care if you’re buying a hamburger or a Porsche or a ticket on the subway. You’re buying a better life because a ticket on a subway is better than walking. But they’re not buying, you know, Quiet Wheels LLC. It’s a great feature. I think it’s something you can lead within your marketing. It could even be part of your name. But, yeah, everything about you needs to tell people what you don’t do and a little bit about what you do. I know I’m beating this horse to death.
Male 1: No, no, no, it’s good. It’s good. And I think it tells people I don’t bill by the hour.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. That’s not very much, though.
Male 1: Yeah, I know. It’s still very broad and I am leaning into people thinking what they know in attorney does, which is something that might be a solution that they’re looking for, but it is pretty broad.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. And most people aren’t walking around going like, wow, if I could only find an attorney that doesn’t bill by the hour, because it’s just outside their conscience. You know, nobody wants to pay by the hour for anything, but people do, but it’s outside their conscience. But so, if you can make it part of the message, but the first part of message has to be I’m for you and not for anybody else. I’m for you. I’m the guy you should be talking to, freelancer, or you could narrow it down more, Uber driver, like, whatever. I think it’s fine to probably start with gig workers, but you know, I’m for you. I’m living this every day, and listen, I’m a gig worker, too, because I do this by prescription — or subscription, and, you know, I do it differently. You work differently. We both work differently. Ain’t that cool. Maybe we can work together. That’s sort of where I’m coming from. I think you’re really on the way. I’m going to definitely take out — I want to follow you. I hope you come back to the show and keep asking, like, come up with new questions because, like you’d said, you’re processing. I dumped a lot of shit on you. This is a podcast, so we can say shit. I want you — I’d love you to come back and let us all know how it’s going and what you’re stumbling on. Okay. I think this could be a really good thing.
Male 1: Yeah, I’ll definitely get it on my calendar to come back with some progress reports and some more questions, that’s for sure.
Christopher T. Anderson: Awesome. It’s hard to remember when. It’s the third Thursday at 3:00. However, for you, at 2:00, so that’s makes it tougher because if you’re in Chicago. It’s the third Thursday at 2:00. But, yeah, so thanks for your excellent question and thanks for being a sport. If you take at least one of these things and run with it, it will help, I hope.
Male 1: Thanks so much, Christopher. I really appreciate it. I externed in law school for a really tough judge that only showed you tough love. And so, I can take it.
Christopher T. Anderson: Good.
Male 1: So, thank you.
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Male 2: Our final segment addresses what steps need to occur after an employee has been fired.
Female 1: I just wanted to report I let an attorney go happily just like an hour ago, so, and now the fallout, right?
Christopher T. Anderson: Always.
Female 1: Always. So, the good news is that we had a plan in place prior to, everything was kind of locked and loaded. I call it push the red button, right? All the things that need to be done after you let someone of that importance go, someone who’s, you know, integrated with cases and clients. So, I don’t know if I actually really have a question other than, do you have a specific priority order in which to tackle the fallout? I mean, as an example, I already sent the letter out to the client. I’m scheduling one-on-one phone calls with everyone on that client list between today and Monday. Certain urgent clients, I have calls with them this evening.
Christopher T. Anderson: So, I think those are good things to do for client management. Obviously, there’s, you know, I have the entire checklist for off-boarding someone from the business, like getting them out of the systems.
Female 1: We already did all that. There’s one button we push, yeah.
Christopher T. Anderson: Perfect, yeah, so that’s the thing. Let me just ask you. I mean, so yeah, I think that, you know, hitting the clients, obviously, every State’s got a different take on what the communication with the client’s needs to be, so you just have to go by your State’s rules, but reaching out to them and making sure they’re managed, and you’re going to find even more reasons why this was a great move as you talk to the clients. You’re going to find out more stuff than you thought you knew. Let me just ask you, though, I think it’s really important for everybody to hear. What was your first emotion once you’ve finished terminating?
Female 1: Relief. I mean, it’s been a long time coming and for various stupid reasons, I postponed it. I shouldn’t say stupid. I had a health issue. I just couldn’t deal with the stress, and I needed a little more time to — I mean weeks, it wasn’t months, right, just to get everything in order in preparation for, but it was relief. And then, you know, I didn’t really give it a second thought after that except, in the back of my head, I’m like, okay, I’m going to wait for the other shoe to drop because the response, I’ve had all sorts of responses over the years after I terminate somebody, and this one was very underwhelming. I was all ready for, like, some outburst, some reaction, some something, and it was literally just okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Female 1: I was like, that’s it? That’s all I get?
Christopher T. Anderson: I think in many circumstances, particularly where you put it off a little bit for whatever reasons, they knew it was coming.
Female 1: Yeah, I don’t know. She sounded a little, like, shocked, which was shocking to me. Like the okay was like, okay. Like, o-kay. I don’t know. It was weird. So, listen, I don’t for one minute believe this is the end of it, but for now it is. For today, it is.
Christopher T. Anderson: I think when the primary emotion that comes out is relief, that’s a clear sign to me that it was a good move for the business and a good move for you, and probably a good move for the individual, because it wasn’t working. It wasn’t working for you, you wasn’t working for them and, and you both now can move forward to, you know, the next chapter where you can put someone in that seat that makes more sense for your business and they can go find a business that makes more sense for them.
Female 1: Yeah. And I told her it wasn’t personal. I even offered her off a recruiter that I know because everyone in my area is looking to hire and there’s just a better place for her than here.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yep, so yeah —
Female 1: But that leaves me with a handful of cases. So, in the meantime, I guess I’m just going to, you know, I still have some attorneys. They’re a little bit at capacity, but I’m going to try to push them off, and in the meantime, if I have to handle them, I handle them. What else is there to do?
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. I mean, I think you’re doing the right thing to talk to every single client. I think that’s so important. So many people just send the letter out and hope the clients come back to you. But, like, digging and finding out what you didn’t know will really help you to address all the clients’ needs. I’d also talk to your team. I guess that’s the one thing you didn’t mention.
Female 1: I posted in Teams and then said, well, I can’t say much, but I could at least listen to them if they have any questions.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right, and that’s why I would want to listen to them. And also, for two reasons, one to hear anything else that you need to hear, but also to listen for the team member who tells you, oh, I’m so glad you did that. It was so horrible, but who hadn’t talked to you before. To be able to coach them into like, listen, you know, it’s important for you to express concerns you have because otherwise, you’re really disrespecting the workplace that that you’re a part of. You’re disrespecting your own home by not raising an issue, and I think it’s a real opportunity to have that conversation as well.
Female 1: Now, the hard work begins.
Christopher T. Anderson: Indeed.
Outro: Thank you for listening. This has been the Un-Billable Hour Community Table on the Legal Talk Network.
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|Published:||January 10, 2023|
|Podcast:||The Un-Billable Hour|
The Un-Billable Hour
Best practices regarding your marketing, time management, and all the things outside of your client responsibilities.