Pamela Martini became a lawyer later in life… but she’s approached her new career with gusto, applying many of the things she learned as a long-time entrepreneur to her practice.
A law firm is a business, after all. But, says Pamela, there are many ways it’s a different animal. We talk about how she grew her practice from a solo practice to the successful law firm it is today, as well as…
- The biggest challenges of being your own boss – and how to overcome them
- An unexpected resource for mentors you need
- How to leverage technology to serve more clients
- The key differences between part-time and full-time employees
- And more
Mentioned in This Episode: www.pamelamartinilaw.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 Pam Martini, founder and CEO of the Law Offices of Pamela G. Martini. The Law Office of Pamela G. Martini focuses on providing estate planning, probate, guardianship, and elder law legal services to clients throughout Central Florida. Welcome, Pam. I am so pleased that you’re here today with us on the Solo to CEO Podcast.
Pamela Martini: Hi, Davina. Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m very excited about this opportunity to talk to you.
Davina Frederick: Oh, great, so why don’t you start out by telling us how you serve your clients? Give us a little bit more information about your law practice. I gave the basic.
Pamela Martini: Yeah, definitely. Thank you so much. I started my practice back in 2014, and I focused a lot on areas of practice that really complement each other. I do estate planning, which can be drafting wills or trusts, living trusts, other documents that go along with their estate plans, like durable powers of attorney, living wills, healthcare surrogates. I do some funding of trusts with maybe something like an enhanced life estate deed for certain clients. I also do elder law services.
Elder law encompasses quite a few things. It can be estate planning. It can be planning for public benefits, for long-term care benefits. It can be handling a probate when one spouse passes. It can be … also encompass guardianship. Those are the other two things I do, which is probate and guardianship.
All of my practice areas really complement each other. I have some clients who hit almost every level of my practice at some point during our relationship. It’s a great area of practice where you can really get to know your clients and form those established relationships and come back to them at different times in their life, too, to assist the with whatever is needed.
Davina Frederick: It’s interesting. You and I have known each other for a long time, quite a while now. One of the things that we have in common is this is not a first career for either one of us, being lawyers.
Pamela Martini: Right.
Davina Frederick: Give me an idea of why you decided to change careers and go and become a lawyer.
Pamela Martini: Sure, well, so my original background, way back when, this is a long time ago now, was in the entertainment business. My degree in college at the University of Florida was actually in broadcast production. I was very involved in writing. I wrote a film script and did some other things. I worked on a TV show when I first got out of undergrad.
Then that transitioned into working for a publishing company. When my husband and I moved to Orlando, we thought there was going to be all kinds of production jobs here, and there really weren’t. We ended up starting our own business, back in 1996, so I’m a serial entrepreneur. I was always very involved in the business end of that business. He was more involved in the production end. I was involved in the business end. I retired from that when my third child was born. I thought that was a little bit of overkill to have to be working and having three kids at home.
Davina Frederick: Gosh.
Pamela Martini: I became a stay at home mom. Then, when my daughter started kindergarten, I was looking around going, okay, now what am I going to do? For some reason, I had never really thought about going to law school before that, but it just seemed like all the things that I enjoy, reading and writing, and I’m good in an argument, those kind of things, just led me to come up with the idea that maybe I would try to go to law school.
I also had been an advocate for my brother, who is intellectually disabled, for many years, and helping him get services and do all the different things that you do when you’re advocating for someone. I thought that going to law school would help me do that for other people, as well, and that was something that I was really passionate about.
Davina Frederick: That was going to be my next question for you is why this particular area of practice, because I know your brother was an inspiration for you in choosing this area of practice.
Pamela Martini: Yeah, absolutely.
Davina Frederick: Tell me a little bit about that.
Pamela Martini: Sure, so I work with a lot of special needs family. That might just be doing a special needs trust as part of their estate planning. It might also be a guardian advocate case, because people with intellectual disabilities, when they turn 18, they get the same rights that every other adult has. Sometimes they’re not able or capable of using those rights, and they still need their parents’ assistance after the age of 18.
That was where it started. When I worked for the state court system, right after I got out of school, I worked very closely with a guardianship judge there, and really learned a lot about the different aspects of guardianship cases, not only for disabled people, but for elderly people, who are in need of guardianships later in life, because they haven’t done the proper estate planning, or because there’s some other conflict in the family that leads to a guardianship case. It really grew organically from that, and just developed into those other different areas of practice that complemented my original passion.
Davina Frederick: What inspired you to start your own practice? You didn’t start your own practice right out of law school.
Pamela Martini: No, yeah, so I went to law school when I was 42 years old, after having been in business for myself for many years. When I came out of law school, it was very daunting to think about going to work for a big law firm or something like that, so I did go to work for the state court system, which, I mean, that was daunting in itself, going to work full-time, after being a stay at home mom and then a full-time law student for many years, but I did love my job with the court system, and I loved working with the judges. I got to see a lot of great attorneys in action. I got to see some not so great attorneys in action, so it was a real learning experience.
Davina Frederick: That is an eye opener.
Pamela Martini: Yeah, for sure. After a couple years, I was yearning to be what I was telling myself was a real lawyer. I’m like, I don’t have clients. I really want to get out there and serve people. Some days, I wake up and think, what was I thinking? It was so great when I just had that 8:00 to 5:00 and could go home and forget about things, but I really wanted to get out there and practice law, not just watch other people practice law. I thought, again, I really don’t want to work for somebody else, so the only option is that I start my own practice. That’s what I did.
Davina Frederick: Yeah, so you’ve been in practice now since… your own practice, for how long?
Pamela Martini: It’s going to be coming up on five years this year, so yeah, it was 2014 that I quit my job, gave up some great benefits working for the state, and hung out my shingle, and kind of like jumping off a cliff.
Davina Frederick: Just a little bit, huh?
Pamela Martini: Yeah.
Davina Frederick: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve experienced in being your own boss?
Pamela Martini: Yeah, well, some of the biggest challenges are just learning how to run a business that is a law practice. I had some experience with running a business before, with the business that my husband and I had. I really spent some time doing my homework before I quit my job, and I did different things, like setting up my documents for my corporation and figuring out what my name was going to be and figuring out where I was going to do all these different things.
I was pretty prepared when that first day came, didn’t have an actual office space, so I worked out of my house for probably the first four months until I got an actual office space, but I put a lot of things in place before I actually did that. Some of the biggest challenges were just logistics. When you do wills, where am I going to get witnesses? Where am I going to get a notary? I don’t want to hire all these employees right from the beginning. I had to be a little bit creative, and then just grew from there. There were a lot of different day-to-day challenges like that, figuring out how to put systems in place where I could serve my clients the best way that I knew how. It was a challenge, but it was really exciting, and I really enjoy it.
Davina Frederick: How do you stay calm under the pressure of that, or has it felt like pressure at all?
Pamela Martini: Well, I mean, it is pressure, because there’s pressure in when is the phone going to stop ringing? How do I meet the deadlines that I need to meet? How do I keep running my business? Do I hire employees? What kind of technology do I buy? How much risk do I want to take? Yeah, so there’s a lot of stress in being a solo, sorry, being a solo business owner day-to-day that you really have to manage. I mean, I’m a pretty laid back person, so I don’t let stress get to me too much, but in this type of job, it’s inevitable that you’re going to be under stress, and you have to learn how to manage that, as well as managing everything else that you have to do.
Davina Frederick: Now you have staff.
Pamela Martini: I do.
Davina Frederick: Now you have an office. You have a beautiful office space. You have staff. What was it like going from just being you to having staff working with you? How was that for you? Was it different? Did you learn how to manage… I mean, were you born sort of knowing how to manage people and does it come naturally for you?
Pamela Martini: Well, I’ve managed people before. Yeah, so I’ve managed people before. In my former job, before my husband and I started our own business, I was a manager. I had probably 10 to 20 people under me that I had managed before, so I felt like I was pretty good at that aspect of it, but just the pressure and the commitment to have an employee that you know you’re going to have to pay… When it’s just you, there’s going to be some weeks where you go, I’m probably not going to be able to pay myself this month. I need to pay this bill or pay that bill or invest in new technology or something else.
Certainly, when you bring people on, who are now depending on you for their livelihood and for your doors being open for business every day, it does create a pressure, but it also relieves pressure in a certain way, because it’s not just you anymore. You’re able to delegate to another person or to other people. It just makes everything so much easier, because it’s not all on you anymore. It’s definitely worth it, once you’re… Again, that was another jumping off a cliff point. For a long time, I had just had part-time people, and it was a big commitment for me to actually hire somebody on full-time and make that commitment to them, as an employer.
Davina Frederick: What was the catalyst for you? What went through your mind in that decision-making process that was the tipping point for you to say, you know what, it’s really time for me to have somebody full-time? Because I know a lot of attorneys really struggle with that transition and that fear of being responsible for somebody full-time, because that’s a big step.
Pamela Martini: Right, yeah, well it is a big step. I’ll just say to anybody out there who’s listening, it’s well worth it, because you can just double the production, the quality of work that you’re able to do, but making that decision… For me, it was just putting my big girl pants on and saying, okay, this is a real business. It’s not just about me. It’s about… I have all these clients who are depending on me, and I have to be able to provide this service to them. Yes, it’s just scary to think about having to pay somebody and having payroll and all these other things that you have to do, that comes along with having an employee or employees, but if I want to be a real business, if I want to grow my business beyond just myself, how do I do that? This is really the first step.
Davina Frederick: Right, right, yeah, I think that’s excellent advice, excellent. Also, the other kinds of things… When you commit to space, when you commit to office space, you’re signing leases for a certain period of time. You’re also making that commitment at that point, too. Once you’re signing a lease for office space, it’s not like… When you’re signing for commercial space, they want commitments for longer terms, as well, and things like that. Hey, if you’ve got to do that, you might as well go all in, right?
Pamela Martini: Right, right, yeah. I started out small. I had a smaller, just one room office, but in a space where I could share conference space, and where there were employees actually in the company next door, that I had already worked out that I would be able to use them when I needed witnesses and things like that. I started off small, and then I made a commitment, just because an opportunity came up for a bigger space in that same building, and I thought, I really have outgrown where I’m at now. It’s really getting awkward for me to sit here and have my assistant sitting here, and then when clients come in, we have to go into the conference space.
Then I made the jump to a bigger office. Then for the space I’m in now, I actually jumped down a little bit, as far as square footage, but found something that was just so much more convenient and worked better for me as a physical space, but even though I was downsizing, rent and space wise, it was a much bigger commitment, as far as the lease that I had to sign and the obligation that I undertook at that point, so every step it brings its challenges.
Davina Frederick: What do you think you’ve done really, really well?
Pamela Martini: The thing I think that I excel at is really making a connection with my clients and getting myself out there, because I talked about that fear of the phone not ringing anymore. Thank goodness, knock on wood, that hasn’t happened to me. I get new business every week, and I think it’s just because of the connections I’ve made with people, either with people that I know in my community or with people that I’ve met or other attorneys.
It’s crazy. I just got a call, not even 15 minutes ago, from a new client, who’s actually a judge in another state, who found me on the Florida Bar website, and wants me to set up a consultation for his parent, who lives here in Florida. It was crazy. I said, “How did you find me?” He said, “Oh, I found you on the Florida Bar website, and I looked up your background, and I read about you, and I just decided to call you.” There’s something, I think… I don’t know if it’s something about that wealth of life experience or just all the connections that I’ve made throughout my life that have brought me to this moment, but it just really seems to work, as far as bringing people to me as potential clients.
Davina Frederick: Yeah, I do say… Like I said, I’ve known you for quite a while now, and it is one of the things that I think has been a real advantage for you. One thing I’ve noticed, that’s a real gift that you have, is connecting with people very easily, and you have a lot of connections. I think that’s definitely worked to your advantage. It’s something that comes easily to you that you… When people say they’re a people person, I don’t think you’re particularly extroverted, you know?
Pamela Martini: No.
Davina Frederick: When people think of extroverted-
Pamela Martini: Nobody would say that I’m extroverted.
Davina Frederick: No, no, not at all, but you’re definitely very… You make people feel very comfortable and at ease around you, whether that’s clients or just anybody in conversation and stuff. I do think that people feel a certain calm around you, and I suspect through the years, as you’ve been out and about, talking to people, and gotten to know people, a lot of people have felt that around you, and so… Also, that is one of the things, when you’ve been in the community, in business, for a long time, this being a second career for you. You’ve met people through the years, and you carry those, probably, like me, you’ve carried those relationships with you. You have many relationships-
Pamela Martini: Right.
Davina Frederick: With you, through the years, that benefit you in your career now.
Pamela Martini: Yeah, it definitely has, in ways that I never could’ve predicted. When I first started practicing, I thought, “Oh, I know all these people in my community. Maybe they’ll come to me,” because I didn’t make that leap without people wanting to hire me, at that point. There was a certain number of people, who I’d spoken to, who said, “As soon as you go out on your own, let me know. I definitely want to hire you to do something.” I didn’t go with absolutely nothing out of the gate that I was ready to do.
There was a certain number of people, who I had already spoken to, who told me that they would want to hire me when the time was there, but then it was surprising that it was so much my personal connection, but just people finding me on my website, or people finding me online, or people just hearing of me, word of mouth, of other people that I would not have predicted would’ve recommended me, that started showing up. That was just a real surprise, but it was freeing to know.
Davina Frederick: It’s been amazing.
Pamela Martini: Yeah, it was amazing, and it just grew and grew and grew from there.
Davina Frederick: Yeah, how wonderful. What advice would you have for other attorneys who are starting out in practice. Maybe they’re starting out as a second career, or maybe you’re a mom, and the kids are grown, and they’re embracing this new career. I’m sure there was some fear around that, for your first… You were going, oh gosh, I’ve been a mom. I’ve been out of the workplace for a while. Now I’m going back, and I’m creating this new career for myself. Do I fit in? How do I fit in? Did you have those thoughts?
Pamela Martini: Oh, well, I definitely did. In fact, my husband, who drives me insane, my first day at law school… I’ve been married almost 30 years, so it’s a good insane.
Davina Frederick: Husbands do drive you insane. I read something-
Pamela Martini: It’s a good type of insanity. I’m sitting there, I think it was actually on acceptance day, and I’m sitting there in this huge auditorium with other law students. I’m looking around, going, yeah, there’s a bunch of kids in here with me. He actually texted me, and said, “So are you the oldest one there?” I texted him back, and I said, “No, there’s one other one that I think is a little big grayer than me,” but then she disappeared really quick, so then, yeah, it was just me, because I went to school full-time with all the youngsters during the day. There were a lot of second career people, but they tended to go to night school, so I didn’t get to connect with them, as much.
Davina Frederick: Yeah, I did the same thing, the same thing, though, so I think there were more of us than we realized.
Pamela Martini: Right, exactly, exactly.
Davina Frederick: Like five?
Pamela Martini: I mean it’s a good career if you’re comfortable going into a solo practice, because you’re not dependent on going out there and finding a job. I think, for young lawyers right now, the job market is certainly better than when I came out of law school almost seven years ago, but it’s still tough. I don’t really recommend that people start their own practice right from the beginning if they don’t have to, because you do need a little bit of experience in getting comfortable with being a lawyer, and just watching what other people do.
I got to really watch for those first couple years and gain that experience on how it worked, because they don’t teach you how to actually be a lawyer, when you’re in law school. They just teach you how to study the law, and then-
Davina Frederick: Think like a lawyer, yeah.
Pamela Martini: Yeah, they teach you how to think like a lawyer, and then you’ve got to learn how to pass the test. Then you’ve got to learn how to actually act like a lawyer, at that point, but it’s great if you do have some business experience, if you can get some legal experience, and then go out on your own. I think there’s a lot more women doing it, a lot more lawyers, in general, going into solo practice, but you really have to educate yourself first.
Davina Frederick: Right, and build a community of people supporting you, to look for those people. Look for those mentors and people who can support you and help contribute. I mean, I know I had a lot of… I was fortunate, because I had a lot of people who were willing to mentor me, and older women attorneys, who were kind enough to keep me from having a nervous breakdown when I… because I started on my own right out of law school.
Pamela Martini: Right.
Davina Frederick: I’m so grateful to those people who were there for me, and it made a huge difference, you know?
Pamela Martini: Yeah, I gather mentors, to this day, wherever I can, because you don’t want to wear out your one mentor with all the questions. I like to spread things around.
Davina Frederick: Exactly, exactly.
Pamela Martini: I had some great mentors. I joined the elder law section of the Florida Bar, and they had a mentorship program that I signed up for. I had a wonderful mentor, who I… We had a weekly call. This was back when I was first practicing. She was absolutely wonderful in giving me advice. I’ve joined different organizations, different voluntary bar associations, that have mentorship programs. The more mentors you can get in your corner, the better.
Davina Frederick: Absolutely, absolutely. Tell us a little bit more about your… I want to hear more about your practice and the kind of work you do, and the kind of work you like to do, of these different practice areas, what your preference is and why.
Pamela Martini: Mm-hmm (affirmative), sure, well, it’s evolved a little bit over the years. I started out heavily in guardianships and really wanting to work with the special needs families. Of course, I still have that passion and I still… Those kind of cases just show up. I don’t really have to go looking for them. Guardianships last for the rest of that person’s life, so once we get the guardianship established, then we still have to administer it. Those kind of cases, I really only have to touch base with my clients a couple times a year, just to make sure that everything’s still the same, and we file the annual reports with the court.
I like a little bit of litigation, so I do have some probates right now that are contested, and a couple… I’ve had some guardianships, over the years, that have been contested. Even though I’m mainly a transactional attorney, I do like to get in the courtroom and have just a taste of that litigation. I’m not the type that needs to be in trial all the time. I think it’s really interesting, and I learn so much with every one of those cases, that I do enjoy those.
I really enjoy my probate work, just because I’m providing a service for the family, where they’ve lost a loved one. I find that those are the types of cases where the clients really… I try to connect with them at the first appointment and let them know that I’ll be there for them throughout this whole process. I like… The way that my office functions, I don’t like to set up a barrier between myself and the client, so I want to be available to them, for whatever questions they have along the way. Sometimes they’ll ask questions in other areas that lead to me doing other work for them.
I’m really enjoying the probates right now. The estate planning, that’s very transactional. I’m putting my team in place, where I’m doing less of that actual work myself, hands on, more of a supervisory role. Lately we’ve been doing a lot of Medicaid planning cases, and I have a great staff person, who really knows that stuff inside and out, so I’m really relying on her heavily, but she helps get those things through quickly and efficiently, and she’s able to provide a lot of what we call client handholding, because in that situation, people really don’t know what is going on, and it’s very much a day-to-day of the client needing a lot of information, as we go through that process.
Davina Frederick: Tell us what’s next for the Law Office of Pamela G. Martini. What do you see on the horizon for your firm?
Pamela Martini: Well, I’m going to put these ideas out there, and other people can steal them, I guess.
Davina Frederick: Well, you don’t have to tell me the big secrets. You can just tell them like the big… if there’s something that you want to share. Let’s put it that way.
Pamela Martini: Well, one thing I’m excited about… I just went to this conference over the weekend. This was something that I did not have planned. It was a speaking engagement that a colleague of mine, who I refer a lot of business back and forth with… She had planned to be there and to speak. She had a last-minute family situation and asked me to step in, and I did. It was so inspirational.
It was a leadership conference for women. I was lucky enough to hear the entrepreneur panel, before the panel where I went on, and listening to different people speak. Some of the things that were just popping into my head, that I was writing notes as I’m sitting there listening to them, is I’m going to start offering videoconference consultations for my clients after hours, because I think it’s a huge problem for women, and for families who are busy and have to work all day, to take time off to go visit a lawyer. I think that’s one thing that probably puts people off from doing an estate plan is that they just think that they don’t have time for that.
We’re going to start scheduling people with video consultations after hours a couple days a week, maybe even on weekends, as we work into that. I just had a lunch with another attorney friend of mine, who was telling me that her office is open half a day on Saturday. I’m thinking, oh my God, I can’t imagine that, but that’s how you grow your business, by being there when people need you.
Davina Frederick: Right.
Pamela Martini: That’s one of the things I’m thinking about.
Davina Frederick: How you think about ways to offer your services, right?
Pamela Martini: Right, yeah. Yeah, so the next step for me is really to figure out how I can make my services more accessible to people, whether it’s online or just some type of using technology, leveraging technology in a way that makes it more convenient for my clients to get the services that they need.
Davina Frederick: Yeah, you know I’m a huge advocate of that.
Pamela Martini: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yes you are. You’re my guide.
Davina Frederick: That’s the way my business runs, so-
Pamela Martini: Right.
Davina Frederick: I have to say I love it. Well, that is wonderful. For those who don’t know, give us an idea of where your office is physically located. Give us a little geography lesson in… You’re in Central Florida, so-
Pamela Martini: Mm-hmm (affirmative), sure.
Davina Frederick: Give everybody an idea of where it is.
Pamela Martini: Okay, yeah, so my office is located in the heart of the Doctor Phillips/Bay Hill area, which is the southwest corner of Orlando. We’re very convenient to I-4 and the 408. We’re right between the I-4 and 408, to the point where, when I need to go to the courthouse, I’m like, okay, which way am I going, because we’re right there in the middle. It is convenient for people all over Orlando. We’ve got very accessible office space.
I know a lot of people are intimidated by having to go downtown and fight that traffic and find a place to park and things like that. We found a spot that’s really easy for our clients to get in and out, especially our older clients or our clients who may have disabilities. I serve clients all over, really all over, the state of Florida. I have cases in every county from coast to coast. I have cases down in Sarasota County, Hillsborough County. I’ve got a couple of cases down in South Florida, although I’m not really looking for more. A couple is plenty down there.
Davina Frederick: You might be able to come up with some other attorneys to help you cover some of those down there, right?
Pamela Martini: Exactly, yeah. Just especially with the probate area of practice, I have a lot of clients all over the country, because Florida is such a place where people go to retire, and then, unfortunately, after they retire, they pass away, and usually their family may live in another state, so I have clients all over the country. I have clients in other countries, who just needed some type of services, or lost a loved one that lived in the state of Florida. We have people all over. We take cases all over. It’s not necessarily something where I have to be able to go to the courthouse in order to be able to serve the clients.
Davina Frederick: Wonderful. Tell us how we can find you on the interwebs.
Pamela Martini: Sure, well, my website is www.pamelamartinilaw.com. If you just Google my name, Pamela Martini, attorney, it will pop up. My office number is 407-955-4955. You can also find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. My Twitter handle is @momtiniesq, and I think my Instagram is Elder Law Boss Lady. That’s my official lawyer Instagram. I have a personal one, as well. I try to get out there on all the different social media platforms and see what other attorneys are doing, and put out there what I’m doing, as well, just to, again, make those connections with as many people as possible.
Davina Frederick: That’s fantastic. Thank you so much for coming here and sharing and telling us all about what you’re doing with your law office, because I think it’s really interesting. It’s interesting how you’re incorporating technology into your growth. I’ve really enjoyed watching your journey and being a part of your journey. I love having a front row seat to continue watching.
Pamela Martini: Thank you, Davina. You are a huge part of my journey. You’re one of my trusted circle, who helps guide me. Couldn’t do it without the village, and you’re definitely a big part of my village, so thanks to you.
Davina Frederick: Hopefully we won’t be in The Villages anytime soon.
Pamela Martini: Yeah, we want to stay out of The Village. We’d love to have the clients in The Villages, but we don’t want to live in The Villages.
Davina Frederick: Not yet, not yet, although you know, it’s getting pretty fancy.
Pamela Martini: Yeah, yeah, satellite office in my future someday.
Davina Frederick: Yeah, exactly, so that’s on the map. All right, so thanks so much for being here and sharing. As always, I’ve really enjoyed talking with you, and we’ll be talking again soon, I’m sure.
Pamela Martini: All right, thanks so much, Davina. Have a great day.