There’s a certain comfort in being a solo attorney. You’re intimately involved in every aspect of your business… you have total control.
But, says Jaclyn Roberson, staying solo means you won’t be able to grow your practice beyond a certain point. Only when you start hiring can you boost revenue and expand your impact. And you can’t stop at support staff.
Jaclyn shares how she made her first hires, and then finally, her most challenging hires–other attorneys–and what she learned along the way, as well as…
- The best way to attract – and keep – your most valuable employees
- Two services you can use until you can find the right full-time employee
- What must be in your job listing – and the best place to post it
- The way many small businesses sabotage employee retention
- And more
Mentioned in This Episode: facebook.com/jyrlegal and www.Jyrlegal.com
Davina Frederick: Hello, and welcome to the Solo to CEO podcast, where we provide a mix of powerful, thought-provoking, and practical information to assist you in your transformation from solo to CEO of a high impact, high revenue-generating business. I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m here today with Jaclyn Roberson, founder and CEO of Law Office of Jaclyn Y. Roberson. The Law Office of Jaclyn Y. Roberson focuses on providing family law, estate planning, probate, and guardianship legal services to clients throughout Texas.
Welcome, Jaclyn. I’m so pleased you’re here with us on the Solo to CEO podcast.
Jaclyn Roberson: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Davina Frederick: Tell us about your law practice. I know I named your practice areas, but looking at your website and, of course, knowing you, I know that you offer a whole list of services. There’s a whole lot encompassed in family law, estate planning, probate, guardianship, so tell us more about your law practice and how you serve your clients.
Jaclyn Roberson: Okay. We basically handle family law, which you’re correct, that is definitely a very broad area of law. Typically, when people ask me, “What does family law mean?”, it includes divorce, child custody, child support, adoptions. Even something like a name change in Texas is considered family law. Anything that is going to affect your existing family or help you create a new one, that’s what family law entails.
Estate planning, we do basic, excuse me, basic estate planning. That’s basically we help people with preparing wills, powers of attorney, things that they’re going to need not just upon their passing, but before in case they are incapacitated and unable to make certain decisions for themselves. Then we also do probate, which here in Texas means that someone has passed away and we now need to go to court and handle their estate.
That’s really the focus of our practice. In every part of it, we are serving families in some way.
Davina Frederick: I know that you have a particular passion for helping families in dealing with child abuse cases and violence against children, prevention of violence against children and helping families through that process. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Jaclyn Roberson: Of course. I started handling child welfare cases pretty much as soon as I became licensed as an attorney, so back in 2003. I have represented children. I’ve represented parents, grandparents, foster parents. I even represented CPS, Child Protective Services, for about three and a half years. That is definitely a skill set that I have.
What we find a lot is that CPS cases are very personality-driven. We’re here to help our clients navigate that. Right now, our primary focus is helping grandparents or foster parents or other non-parent kinship to navigate the CPS process and to gain custody of children in CPS care. The reason that we focus on that particular group of people is because unfortunately, a lot of times, there is a very valid reason why these children have been taken from the parents. It’s always a goal, it should always be a goal, that these children remain with family or remain with people who have their best interest at heart, so that’s what we do, is we help people keep the children in the family or keep the family who are going to be with people who truly love and care for them and have been their support system this entire time.
We don’t want children to have to be raised by strangers. Even with foster parents, you have parents who have had the children for a year or more, and all of a sudden, CPS might be looking to remove the children. We help foster parents who have been these children’s caregivers keep these children.
Davina Frederick: Is this something that kind of evolved for you as … I know oftentimes, attorneys wind up in an area of practice because they start off with some sort of internship or something like that, and then they develop a passion for something because they experience it that way. Then others go to law school knowing that this is an area that they’re going to practice in. Is this how this developed for you, or did you just … Is it through your work that you developed a passion for this area, or was it something you always knew you wanted to do?
Jaclyn Roberson: It’s something that definitely developed through my work and throughout my practice. My first job out of law school as an attorney was working for an organization called The San Antonio Community Law Center. That company specifically serviced people who maybe were on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, but who could still pay something to attorneys. People who couldn’t qualify for legal aid, but people who couldn’t necessarily go and put down $5-10,000 to go and hire a lawyer. We were kind of in that middle ground. Through that, I started doing work on CPS cases, child welfare cases, and that’s where that passion developed.
Davina Frederick: Mm-hmm (affirmative). What made you decide to open your own law practice?
Jaclyn Roberson: In 2006, I just decided that it was time for me to go out on my own. I wanted to be able to offer more options and have more control over my business decisions. That’s what made me go out and open my own practice.
Davina Frederick: Tell me … 2006. You’ve had your own practice for quite a while now. Tell me about your business now. You have other attorneys working with you, other staff working with you? Give me an idea of the size of your practice now.
Jaclyn Roberson: Right. Right now, I have one associate. There’s me as the owner/managing attorney. Then I have one associate, and I also have an of counsel. Then we also have, I need to count, one … We have four other support staff, so non-attorneys. Right now, total about seven full-time and part-time employees.
Davina Frederick: Wow. You have really gone through quite a few growth phases since you started.
Jaclyn Roberson: Right.
Davina Frederick: When I talk to a lot of clients … I’ve worked with clients of all different phases of growth on this solo to CEO journey. I’ve worked with everybody from brand new true solos all the way through much bigger firms. I know that each level that you go through is a phase. When you first start out, the fear of even hiring your first person is a very real thing. You’ve definitely gone through a few phases, probably hiring your first staff person, and then hiring your first associate, all of that, right?
Jaclyn Roberson: Exactly. The first time I ever even had staff was I shared an assistant with two other attorneys. Then one of the attorneys dropped off, so then it was two of us. Then that assistant ended up leaving and I ended up hiring my own. From there … For a long time, even as recently as a couple years ago, I pretty much only had like one or two employees at the most. I just started to realize that you can’t grow if you don’t add staff because you as an attorney can only earn so much money. If you want to bring in more revenue to the firm, you’re going to have to have other people who can do that work as well.
Davina Frederick: Right, right. It’s a huge realization. It takes a while to come to that realization, I think, for most attorneys, well, for most business people, small business owners in general, but for most attorneys definitely, to get to that point. There’s a lot of fear around hiring other people and being responsible for other people. I’ve had that conversation with other attorneys. Did you go through that? Was that kind of what took you a while to hire people was the thought of being responsible for other people or not knowing you could do it? What kinds of things held you back from hiring sooner?
Jaclyn Roberson: Right. Definitely that fear of, “Can I provide for these people?” You always have that thought like, “Oh, if I hire someone, I’ve got to be able to pay them.” I definitely went through that process. Then I just realized, “Oh, I can pay this person. I can add another. I can add another.” At some point, you just realize, “I can do this.” But yeah, of course, at the beginning, I was just as fearful as anyone else.
Davina Frederick: What helped you overcome that? What helped you overcome it to the point where you were like, “You know, I’m just going to do this. I’m just going to do this thing. I’m going to do it scared”? You know?
Jaclyn Roberson: Yeah. Just basically realizing that I could only help so many people if it was me alone. Once I saw that I could help more people and reach out to more people and do more work and do better work on cases, then that was what motivated me to say, “Okay. I can add more people. This is okay. We’re going to be alright.”
Davina Frederick: I love that, I love that. I love that, coming from a place of having a greater impact and being able to serve more people. That’s wonderful. That’s a wonderful basis for doing. What challenges do you find now? Because I think a lot of people think, “Oh gosh. When I have more staff and I have more, then all my problems will be solved.” At every phase, there are new challenges. What kinds of things now are you finding are challenges for you that you’re working on to overcome now?
Jaclyn Roberson: I would say new challenges are being able to manage all the staff, making sure that everyone’s happy and happy with their job and taking care of themselves and being taken care of. I’m always looking for how can I keep my staff happy, what can I do for them, what benefits can I offer them. I think a lot of small firms do not offer their employees a lot of benefits. We’re businesses just like major corporations. We have to figure out a way to take care of our employees so they, in turn, can work and help take care of our business. That’s a big challenge, is trying to juggle all of that.
Of course, trying to make sure everybody’s comfortable in their space, making sure we have enough space, and just kind of managing the growth. We’ve had a lot of exponential growth. Sometimes it can be a little hard to keep up with, and so just making sure that we’re constantly reviewing our system and updating them to catch up with the growth.
Davina Frederick: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Talk to me about some of the … What would you say the biggest lesson that you’ve learned since 2006, 2006 to now, the biggest lesson you’ve learned or lessons you’ve learned that you might share with other people who are on this solo to CEO journey that might be a little behind where you are?
Jaclyn Roberson: I would say biggest lesson is to be smart when you’re hiring employees. I think a lot of people just want to hire someone they know, someone for a very low wage, not offer any benefits. Be smart about it because you want good talent, and you got to be able to take care of that talent so that they’ll take care of you. I feel like a couple of times maybe I settled for people in my office that I shouldn’t have and I ended up regretting it. Now I think I have a wonderful team. It took a while to get there. Just being very smart and deliberate about who you hire. Don’t ever feel pressure to hire someone because you need someone in the office. That’s what temp agencies are for. That’s what virtual assistants are for. There are ways to cover deficiencies in an office until you have the staff you want in place.
Davina Frederick: What are some of your tips for hiring and the hiring process and finding the right team, the right staff, the right people? Because I’m sure you’ve done it a few times now, so you probably got a good process for that.
Jaclyn Roberson: Right. First thing is that you have to think about what position you’re looking for. Say you’re looking for a receptionist. The next step is that you need to write out what every single one of that receptionist’s duties are going to be, and when you’re writing up your job listing, making sure that you are incorporating that into the job listing because the people applying need to know what’s going to be asked of them. Also, it helps gives you an idea of really what you need. If you wait and hire someone and then start figuring out what you want them to do, you may find that you hired someone who does not meet what you actually need. It helps you at the beginning to make sure you understand what your needs are.
I like to use a website Indeed. I like to use them to place my job listings because they offer things like you can automatically screen applicants before they ever get to you. You can also send applicant’s tests to handle, like a typing test or a spelling test, a grammar test. You’ve already kind of assessed them before you ever speak to them.
Then, of course, you want to have multiple conversations with candidates, both on the phone and in person, to really get a good idea of who you’re dealing with. I’ve had people where they were great on the phone, they were great on paper. As soon as they walked into my office, I said, “They are not going to be a good fit.” You have to do that. You have to go through those several steps before you decide to hire.
Don’t ever be attached to any particular applicant because you may extend an offer and they may turn it down because it’s not what they want at this time. You can never get your feelings hurt about it. You just have to say, “Okay. This wasn’t the person. Let me continue.”
Davina Frederick: Oh I love that. That’s great advice. That’s great advice about … I think a lot of times people tend to take things personally when they get … We think that no one’s going to reject us, that we’re awesome and nobody could possibly reject us, without thinking that they may have their own agenda or needs that have nothing to do with us personally.
Jaclyn Roberson: Right.
Davina Frederick: You also dodge a bullet. When somebody just lets you know right up front that they’re not going to accept the offer, that’s okay. That’s okay. That means that person really wasn’t for you and your business and you found out sooner rather than later.
Have you had a lot of experience in having to fire people, let people go?
Jaclyn Roberson: Not really, and that’s been a blessing. I haven’t really had to do that.
Davina Frederick: Or you’ve had some really good … You’ve been really good at going through hiring process if you haven’t had to do a lot of firing people then, I guess.
Jaclyn Roberson: I would say a little bit of that, but also I think maybe sometimes people recognizing that it was time for them to leave before they were asked to leave.
Davina Frederick: Right, right.
Jaclyn Roberson: It’s a little of both, I’d say.
Davina Frederick: That’s good. Tell me about what it is like to hire an associate because that’s a different sort of experience than staff. I think that tends to be a little more scary for attorneys than staff.
Jaclyn Roberson: Right. That was very scary. That was scarier than anything else I’d ever had to do.
Davina Frederick: Oh really?
Jaclyn Roberson: Just because you think of yourself, you’re like, “I’m an attorney. If I were to be hired by a firm, I would want a decent salary, I would want all these things.” You want to be respected and you want your associate to be respected, so you feel that pressure of, “Okay. Am I going to be able to give this associate what they want?” Also, having an associate means you are relinquishing control of cases, and that’s very hard because I’ll see cases that I want to jump in and say, “Oh I’ll just do all of it”, and I can’t. I have to let the associate take it because otherwise, how are they going to learn? How are they going to grow if I do everything?
Right now, my associate, she’s a young lawyer. She actually has been working on and off for our office for the past few years. She started working for us as a law clerk while she was still in school. Just through time, she would come back when she had free time, and then she sat for the bar and I said, “Hey, if you pass the bar, I’m happy to bring you on as an associate.” She did, and she’s an associate. She’s been great. It’s not nearly as scary as I thought it was going to be. She’s definitely helped me out a lot.
I would say with hiring an associate, if you want to bring in more revenue, you’re going to have to, at some point, bring on lawyers to do the work because you can hire all the support staff you want, if you have 10 paralegals and one attorney, that one attorney is doing all of the court appearances, all of the mediations, all of the attorney work. At some point, you just have to say, “Okay. It’s time”, and bring on that associate.
Davina Frederick: Right, right. If you want to free up your time to manage the firm, to do rainmaking, to do all of that, all of those things that we want to do to advance the business, to grow the business, you have to free that up, so you have to get other lawyers to do the work, right?
Jaclyn Roberson: Exactly.
Davina Frederick: But the fear comes around. I think where a lot of the fear comes into play is they drill into us in law school, and they’re not wrong, that everything we do, our law license is at stake. Any mistake any person who works for us makes, our law license is at stake, that we’re responsible for everybody else’s behavior. That’s just not the case with other types of businesses out there. That’s what adds to the fear of this. You know that every person who works for us, if they do something, ultimately we’re accountable. The buck really does stop with us.
That’s where I think so much comes from, that everybody thinks that attorneys are so controlling and all of that. That’s where part of that comes from is that yeah, we kind of are, but also, we sort of have to be. There’s a real high level of trust that you have to have for people who work with you, and especially other lawyers. That’s where your hiring process and procedures really come into play, and then also your training, training of them. You develop that trust. You work with them to train them in a way that you like things done.
Jaclyn Roberson: Exactly.
Davina Frederick: Talk to me about what do you find now … How do you manage your time now? How would you say you prioritize your time now that you are a larger practice? How is your time management different than it was when it was just you and one or two staff people?
Jaclyn Roberson: One thing that we’ve been doing now that I didn’t have to do when it was a much smaller office was we have weekly case review meetings where we sit down and, for like an hour and a half, just touch most of our active cases, discuss them, see what needs to be done next, and keep those moving forward. Whereas before, the business was smaller, so I was sitting there spending hours looking at each thing every day. That was not necessarily a good use of my time. Having more staff and being able to have that meeting once a week definitely frees everybody up to be able to actually work on cases, as opposed to trying to assess every case and figure out what needs to be done.
In terms of time management, I am like queen of the schedules and lists. I’ve reverted back to using paper because I feel like paper, there’s just something different, versus having your schedule completely on your phone. I go through and every day write out everything I need to do and fill in the open areas with things that need to be done. I have a lot of control over my schedule to make sure that I don’t miss anything.
Davina Frederick: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you find that you are … You have this associate, but you’re still active in a lot of cases yourself.
Jaclyn Roberson: Right.
Davina Frederick: Right. You’re doing that. You’re managing the practice. You’re doing the rainmaking as well, generating business for the practice.
Jaclyn Roberson: Exactly.
Davina Frederick: Yeah. You’re having to juggle all of those facets. Are you finding that you’re spending more time now working on the business than in the business though?
Jaclyn Roberson: I do definitely have more time to work on the business, but at the same time, I have more freedom to work “in the business” so that I’m able to give more attention to my caseload as well. It’s been a blessing that it’s allowed me to do both of those things.
Davina Frederick: But you get to be a little more selective about what cases you’re working on.
Jaclyn Roberson: Right, and I get to be more thoughtful about the cases I’m working on and look at what those cases really need so that if they need more work, if they need a court setting, something like that, I have the time to be able to do those things.
Davina Frederick: Right. That probably makes you feel a lot more relieved and in control because then you’re not worried about things falling through the cracks and all of that because you can slow down a little bit and actually be a little bit more strategic in what you’re doing in your own cases.
Jaclyn Roberson: Exactly.
Davina Frederick: Instead of having too many cases on your plate, where you’re always worried about that.
Jaclyn Roberson: Right, so-
Davina Frederick: Go ahead.
Jaclyn Roberson: Oh no. I was just going to say, right, I can be more focused on my own caseload.
Davina Frederick: Mm-hmm (affirmative). What is next for your law firm? Are we growing more?
Jaclyn Roberson: Yes, definitely more growth. I definitely am looking to hire more staff, more associates. I want a firm that is running itself. Then that way, we can offer even better service to our clients, be able to move our cases along in an efficient manner, but also providing excellent service, growing particular areas of our business. My goal is to move more towards the mediation aspect of things. Being able to help people resolve disputes and stay out of course, that’s one of my favorite things. Definitely being able to focus on that. Meanwhile, have my firm handle the litigation aspects of our cases.
Davina Frederick: I really, really appreciate all that you have shared today. I think you have really offered a lot of insight and wonderful information, particularly for those who are, like I said, a little bit behind you on the solo to CEO journey. I think if they listen to this podcast, they’re going to get a tremendous amount of information that’s going to be very helpful to them because you have definitely shared a wealth of insight and information.
If they want to find out more about your practice, tell us where you’re … You’re located in San Antonio, Texas. Tell us where they can find you on the interwebs, all the places they can find you.
Jaclyn Roberson: Right. We are definitely located in San Antonio, Texas. We serve the south central Texas area, so that’s going to include Bexar County and the surrounding counties. If you think about counties that touch Bexar county, we serve those counties. All the way west to Uvalde and even sometimes Del Rio.
Where you can find us. My Facebook page is Facebook.com/jyrlegal. Our website is jyrlegal.com. They can always call us at 210-224-4077, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Davina Frederick: Excellent. Okay. Thanks so much, Jaclyn. I really appreciate you being here. It was delightful to talk with you as always. I thank you so much.
Jaclyn Roberson: Thank you so much. You have a good day.