What does success look like? Laura Arcaro, founder and CEO of The Arcaro Law Group, discovered her vision of success might look different than someone else’s and she’s more than okay with that. She’s in love with the life and business she’s created, practicing marital and family law while prioritizing her own family and personal passions.
Growing her business hasn’t always been easy, but putting certain elements in place has kept her moving forward at the pace she prefers. We talk about hiring, setting a schedule that works for you (and how to do it), the importance of preparing for the unknowable, and much more.
Listen in to learn about…
- Ways to control your schedule – and setting your priorities is just the first step
- Preparing for challenges you could never anticipate
- A specialty that has fulfilled her personally – and yielded heartwarming results
- Why risk is a necessary part of any business – and how to deal with it
- And that’s just the start…
Mentioned in This Episode: www.arcarolawgroup.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 with Laura Arcaro, founder and CEO of the Arcaro Law Group, based in sunny Fort Lauderdale Florida. Arcaro Law Group practices exclusively in the area of family and is known particularly for its experience handling international child abduction cases. Welcome Laura, I’m so happy to have you as my guest today on the Solo to CEO podcast.
Laura Arcaro: Thank you for having me Davina, I’m happy to be here.
Davina Frederick: Great. Tell me a little bit more about Arcaro Law Group and when I say, family law for lawyers, we know exactly what family law is but for laypeople, they may not know what family law is. Tell us exactly what that means, family law.
Laura Arcaro: That’s a great question because I think as lawyers we do assume that people understand that but there are lots of things that are important to families. In our firm, we practice in the areas of we call it marital and family law. We do divorce, paternity cases, establishing parental rights, child custody cases, alimony, property distribution. We also do prenuptial and postnuptial agreements and we also do practice in the area of international child abduction law and we have reunited parents with their children who were abducted from another country and brought here.
Davina Frederick: That is really particularly interesting and we’re going to get into that. I have lots of questions about that. But before we go down that path, let’s talk a little more generally about the firm. Give us an indication of the size of your firm. How many lawyers do you have? How long you’ve been in practice and that kind of thing.
Laura Arcaro: Sure. I’ve been in practice for 10 years this year. Graduated from Nova South Eastern University in 2009 and I started my firm in 2011, the end of 2011. But when I started, it was just myself with a desk and a computer and a printer. And that was it. At this point, we have two full-time attorneys. We have an associate, Shanttel Grullon who has been with us for going on three years now. She is also a Florida licensed attorney. Part time, my husband Timothy Arcaro also practices with us. Tim is a professor of law at Nova South Eastern University and so when the school year is ongoing, he has other obligations to the school but during the summer he comes in, helps out here at the firm with cases.
We also have a law clerk who just graduated from law school and has taken a leave of absence from our firm to study for the bar and we’re hoping that she’ll be able to rejoin us in September.
Davina Frederick: That’s fantastic. Tell me what motivated you to start your own practice?
Laura Arcaro: I have always had an entrepreneurial streak even as a child. My mom likes to tell the story about how I dug up the ferns out of her yard, replanted them in Styrofoam cups and sold them to the neighbors for 25 cents apiece.
Davina Frederick: That’s funny.
Laura Arcaro: I was really happy with that and she was not. I enjoy business. I have a master’s degree in health administration and a focus on financial management. That process was all about budgeting and profitability and revenue. And then when I went to law school, that was a very different path for me. I started law school with a goal of passing along the very good advice that I got when I was divorcing. I had two very young children and the advice that I received was that we were putting together a path to move forward and making a plan to get on that path for co-parenting, co-existing and financial security in the future. I wanted to be able to provide that to other families who were going through the same process.
Davina Frederick: That’s very interesting too because I know I’ve known you for quite a while now and you are one of those people who really love practicing family law and if anybody knows a lot of attorneys as you and I do, you’ll know that attorneys fall on one side of the fence or other when it comes to family law. They either love it or hate it. We’re usually not neutral about how we feel about practicing family law. It’s either I really love practicing family law or I hate practicing family law and I never want to practice it. Divorce law.
Laura Arcaro: That’s true.
Davina Frederick: We call it.
Laura Arcaro: That’s true.
Davina Frederick: And you fall on the side of the fence that I really love it. Tell us what it is that you love about practicing family law.
Laura Arcaro: Well I think for, I have noticed that people do fall into one of those two camps. I think it’s the difference in focus on the fight at hand, the here and now. We’re in the trenches of a divorce case and nobody agrees on anything. We can’t agree that the sun rises in the east. But I like to take a different focus toward the future. If we just focus on the here and now and focus on the fight, we really lose sight of what this process is supposed to be about which is, untangling the finances, taking people from one household into two, figuring out how they’re going to co-parent going forward, how they’re going to co-exist with each other, how this is going to affect their children and taking a longer range view.
As an attorney, I could add fuel to the fire and make this really difficult and bitter and implement a scorched earth tactic which is going to be very harmful, I think, to both of the parties and to their children if they have children. And that just doesn’t do anyone a service. I would like to focus on the path ahead and acknowledging that the marriage or the relationship may be over, what’s next? How do we take this couple and move them ahead to what’s next in their life?
It’s not often, when I was going through this, I realized that I was able to make a fresh start and I could make the most of that fresh start that I wasn’t expecting. But we all get a fresh start every day. It’s important to be able to realize that and to make use of the tools that are at our disposal to take advantage of that.
Davina Frederick: Right, right. And I love that. I love that perspective in the way that you, what you bring to the table when you talk about that. But you also are not one to shy away from the fight if it’s necessary. You definitely are a litigator. Oftentimes one of the challenges I think with people getting into with attorneys getting into family law and being family law attorneys is they don’t really like the litigation aspect. But that is one part for you. You don’t really shy away from the fight if it’s necessary.
Laura Arcaro: Sure. It’s a process. It’s a process and there are procedures that are set in place by our rules of civil procedure and by divorce law and sometimes having the fight is just part of that process. But, having the fight doesn’t mean it has to be nasty. It just means getting a judge to make a decision when parties disagree or having that prompt, having that judicial oversight to make sure that the case continues to move forward in a timely manner. I think that sometimes is where people misunderstand the nature of the fight.
We don’t have to be mean to each other or to the parties. It doesn’t have to be ugly. It can still be managed in a professional way even if we’re going to court over these issues. I try to do that with all of my cases.
Davina Frederick: Right. Shifting back to the international child abduction cases. That’s a really interesting nuance to a family law practice. Want to tell me a little bit more about, first of all about that area of practice and then how you came to get involved in it? And kind of develop that as a focus for or a significant part of your practice.
Laura Arcaro: The Hague convention on the civil aspect of international child abduction is an international treaty and the United States is a member of this treaty and is a treaty partner with about 80 countries around the world. Not every country is a member and the United States has not recognized every other country but it’s a mechanism to use civil courts to facilitate a speedy or prompt return of children to their home country where the custodial dispute should be. The purpose is to discourage parents from engaging in forum shopping where one parent might take a child to another country thinking that they will get a more favorable custodial result. And that’s not really fair. If all of the child’s activities, the child’s life, their contacts, their school record, their extended family, et cetera are in their home country, then that’s really the place that is most appropriate to decide a child custody action.
These cases are interesting because we have to be up to speed very quickly on the nature of custodial rights in other countries. Many countries have models of parental rights that are very similar to the US but some countries do things very differently and their right to do so. To have their own sovereign say over what parental rights should be and what that should look like for their country. And we just facilitate the return of the children to the most appropriate country.
There are also times when we represent the alleged abducting parent. For example you might have a parent who is fleeing persecution or fleeing political unrest in another country or fleeing domestic violence in a relationship and those may be very compelling reasons for the court not to return a child back to their home country. We do represent both the alleged taking parent and the left behind parent.
One of the ways that I got involved in this kind of work is that the US State Department has put together a network of attorneys so that parents in other countries can request assistance through the State Department and be given a short list of attorneys who would be interested in helping with their case. The theory is that if the United States makes attorneys available or at least has this referral service available, then it helps facilitate our citizens with the return of their children from abroad.
Davina Frederick: That is really fascinating. Tell me a little bit more about how you sort of got into it to begin with because I know that your husband was sort of instrumental in that as well. He sort of has an expertise in this area, doesn’t he?
Laura Arcaro: Right, Tim is an expert on Hague convention work and has testified as an expert in several cases. He’s been doing this kind of work for over 20 years involving many different countries. I had never heard of the Hague convention until he was telling me about his favorite part of practicing family law and I thought that that sounded interesting and intriguing and something that nobody else really does. As a brand new attorney, 10 years ago, I put my name on the State Department list. My first case, I took on a pro bono basis and returned a child to the Dominican Republic and from there immediately thereafter, I retained my next client which was a return of children to Denmark. Since then, the referrals keep coming. We’ve been able to establish our expertise here in Broward County in doing these cases in federal and in state court.
Davina Frederick: And you actually went to Hague, what was it? Couple years ago.
Laura Arcaro: We did. Yes. Tim is teaching and we’re headed there again this summer to the Netherlands. The Hague is a city in the Netherlands where the International Court of Justice is located. And that’s where the Hague convention was developed. We’ll be there. We’ll be able to tour the Hague and see where the magic happens, way back in the 80s when this treaty was developed.
Davina Frederick: I imagine this has been a very interesting journey and you’ve had some really interesting cases and probably some difficult cases because I can emotions run really high in this type of work.
Laura Arcaro: They do. I think in family law in general, it’s important to as the attorney especially, to be able to get control of those emotions and remember the legal issues that we are here to solve. I know that children’s best interests are important to the courts for example, and I trust that my clients are going to put their children’s interests first and foremost. I don’t worry about the children, I give the parents the tools that they need to make good decisions in court and afterwards to help their children.
When we’re talking about our abduction cases, most of these children are very, very young. Their parents have made decisions that impact, tremendously impact these children’s lives. It could mean that you have in one case, we had siblings being raised on different continents, one in Europe and one here in Florida. That just didn’t seem right to me but that’s a decision that arose out of their parents’ actions. We have other cases where it can be heartbreaking to see a child believe that if I go back to my parent, my left behind parent, I won’t see my other parent again. Frequently the taking parent can say things to the child that really creates this emotional distress for their child. The responsibility for that falls squarely on the parent for the decisions that they’ve made.
We’re just focusing on the legal issues to try and put the kids in the right jurisdiction to make these decisions. And then give the parents the tools that they need to go forward in court in that jurisdiction. For example, a parent who brings a child to Florida and refuses to return back to their home country, can always go back and ask that court to relocate. Just because they go back to their original country, doesn’t mean that they’ll never be back here. There are ways to do it. There are ways to do it legally and that’s the purpose of handling these cases under the Hague convention.
Davina Frederick: That’s fascinating. It sounds like a fascinating area to practice under.
Laura Arcaro: It really is. It’s something new every day.
Davina Frederick: I’m sure because you’re dealing with so many different jurisdictions. You never know. You’re probably always learning. You’re just always learning something new because every case you get, you’re learning about something, a new jurisdiction.
Laura Arcaro: It’s a new jurisdiction, it’s a new country. We need to learn about that country’s parental custody laws and even the way the law is changing here in the US and recognition of parental rights for children who are born in same sex marriages, for example. That’s not something that was widely recognized until fairly recently. There is still some dispute over the parentage of children born to same sex couples and making sure that both parents’ parental rights are recognized and respected is really important.
We also see a lot of parents where the children are born out of wedlock and their parental rights, the status of their parental rights continues to change as the law evolves as well. It’s not just learning about other countries, which we have to get up to speed on pretty quickly, but even our own changing domestic laws.
Davina Frederick: Right, right. Wow, I bet that really keeps it very interesting for you. It keeps your career very interesting and ever evolving.
Laura Arcaro: And it is something different every week. Every family that goes through a divorce or a relationship breakdown or an abduction case, they have similar issues but each family is unhappy in its own very unique way. It’s important to not just apply a blanket approach to each of these. Instead, our approaches are really tailored to each family’s individual needs, their priorities, their desires because it’s different for everyone.
Davina Frederick: Shifting gears a little bit, I do want to talk before we run out of time today, I do want to talk about the business of your practice and kind of what that experience is like and the growth of your firm from when you started out, you a desk and a computer to where you are now and your solo to CEO journey so far. And I know that there’s a lot more for you, ahead for you. More growth. But I do want to talk about where you come from and kind of some of the experiences you’ve had along the way. I’ve known you through some of that process and hiring your first attorney and what that was like. All of that. Can you give us a little bit of insight into maybe some of the things that you think were some of the biggest challenges so far in your growth journey and growing your firm from solo to CEO? Making that shift.
Laura Arcaro: One of the important things for me in deciding to open my own firm was as a single mom, at the time, of two very young children, I needed flexibility. I wanted that, I needed that and it seemed like the best way for me to have control over my own schedule was to control my workplace and open my own firm. My children are my priority. They’re now teenagers but they only idolize me for a short season of time and that flies by. What I’ve realized as my business has grown and changed significantly is that the cases and the clients and the financial rewards that go with that will be there when I’m ready for them. There are ebbs and flows in life and the best part about being the CEO of my own firm is that I can ride those ebbs and flows with the firm.
Davina Frederick: Right, right. I know you’ve made some changes to, in the last year or so to kind of take back some of your time. Have some more time for you based on kind of some, you had some sort of health, some things with your health that indicated to you that you needed to take a little bit more personal time for you as well.
Laura Arcaro: Sure. I think as women and as entrepreneurs, as lawyers who care and enjoy the work that we do, it’s very easy to get off balance in many ways. It’s important to be able to balance that desire and that drive for a growing and thriving law firm and law practice with a healthy life. A healthy family life, a healthy personal life. Those challenges are still here every day. And maybe I may not have experienced the same challenges as others, we all have our own different challenges, because I started my firm at a different stage in my life. But, I think we all still have that same fundamental challenge of being able to balance.
What I found is when I had to take a leave of about two months from my firm to deal with my spine surgery, the firm was still there. The work still got done. The clients were still serviced and I give great thanks and tremendous gratitude to my husband and to my associate and to everybody who pitched in and made sure that things continued to roll along as they should. And sometimes when we’re the ones in charge, it’s hard to step back and realize, hey this will continue on. It will be okay. I don’t have to put my fingerprint on every last thing that happens in the office. I can delegate and it will happen and it will be okay.
Davina Frederick: Now, part of that though, I have to say, you have to give some credit where credit is due and that is you because when I met you, you actually didn’t have that infrastructure in place. You didn’t have an attorney yet, you didn’t have an associate yet so you had to actually put, you actually put work to get an infrastructure in place. At that point you didn’t know you were going to be having spine surgery in the future or anything like that so you worked to build a firm to be able to do that. Had a you been a true solo, maybe with one assistant, you would not have been in a position to do that.
Laura Arcaro: That’s true.
Davina Frederick: You created a firm that allowed you the freedom to do that.
Laura Arcaro: That’s true. And again, giving credit where credit is due, I worked very closely with you over the course of several months to develop a plan to get to that point. None of us have the crystal ball to see what’s going to happen in the future but I knew that the challenges were ahead. The balance issues are always going to be there I think for all of us who run our own businesses, large or small and you were so helpful in helping me put together a framework to grow the firm, to put in that infrastructure to make it so that I didn’t have to be here every second of the day. I didn’t have to do it all myself. It’s okay to delegate.
As somebody, I don’t usually think of myself as a control freak. Maybe there are certain things in my life that I am sort of freakish about controlling and I have learned to let go of some of that because there are systems that we developed and put in place with your coaching and guidance.
Davina Frederick: Well thank you for that. I appreciate that but that, you did all that hard work. None of us think of ourselves as control freaks. None of us would admit that. We’ll just keep that our little secret. But, that it pays off though when things happen that we don’t expect and then we know that we have a team that we can count on. You’ve done a great job with your hires because it’s wonderful to hear that Shanttel has been there for three years now and she’s probably really grown a lot over time.
Laura Arcaro: She has. She’s been just a tremendous asset to our firm. We probably took a bit of an unconventional approach in how we developed her as an attorney because when we started out, we didn’t set a minimum number of billable hours that she had to hit because she’s a new lawyer. She’s learning. There are going to be things that need to be done on a case that we can’t bill a client for but which still have to be done so as long as the work was getting done and the learning was happening, and we would give her cases I think the day after she was admitted to the bar and actually sworn in, she had to cover a hearing because we were in court on a Hague convention case. It was really get your experience quickly and she is very independent and very capable of taking big cases to trial. She has fully prepared them and we’re very excited to have her as a member of our team.
Davina Frederick: Before we wrap up, is there any other sort of little nuggets of wisdom that you want to share with somebody else who might be on that solo to CEO journey kind of behind you? Coming along. What other things would you share with them?
Laura Arcaro: A couple of things that I was thinking about is that it’s important to think about what your own definition of success is because my firm doesn’t look like everybody else’s firm and it doesn’t have to. I think it’s important for anyone running a business to decide what their goal is for that business. Are you looking to have a statewide firm with offices in every city? Or if you are a business that sells a product, do you want your product to be on the shelf in every store? Or are you looking to have a smaller firm with fewer employees, maybe more of a boutique experience? Or have a boutique sort of product and niche type of environment. Because I think so many of us are sort of pre-programmed to think bigger is better. We have to grow, we have to expand and that just may not be the right thing for the business owner, for the people that work in it or for that particular time or season in their life and that’s okay. It should be something that’s thought through and something that’s intentional.
The other factor I would encourage people to think about is don’t wait until you think it’s the right time to step out there and take a risk. When I first moved into the building where my law firm is now, I didn’t see how we were going to be able to afford it but I had to believe that we were going to have the capability to make that happen. I love the building that we’re in. It feels like home and we spend enough time here that it should feel like home. When we hired our first employee, I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t confident that we would be able to make that work financially. I took the risk knowing that if we didn’t take the risk, it would never work out. Taking risks is important. You have to step out there and do it and if you wait until you feel like all of your ducks in a row, there’s always going to be that stray duck that wanders off and gets you off track.
Davina Frederick: Right, right. That’s great advice. Both of those very good advice. With regard to growth, growth oftentimes growth is not, growth comes in many forms. Just because you can grow but your growth doesn’t have to look like other people’s growth. You’ve grown a lot but your growth doesn’t necessarily look like a high rise office building with 10 lawyers working for you. That’s not what your growth looks like. Your growth looks different than other people’s growth. Your revenue can grow, your firm can grow, you personally can grow. A lot of things that can grow. You can choose that and have it look different than what other people have.
Laura Arcaro: And that’s one of the things that I found so helpful about business coaching is that there are other ways of doing this and have you thought about this and have you thought about that? It’s so valuable to get that independent, objective perspective. The challenge is, us as business owners to look at things differently. Because you’re right, my firm has grown tremendously, we’re still in the same small office. I think if I had to drive up into a skyscraper with a parking garage et cetera, that just wouldn’t feel like what we want our firm to be.
Davina Frederick: Right, right. It wouldn’t fit your personality at all.
Laura Arcaro: Not a bit. Plus I’d get dizzy driving around the parking garage.
Davina Frederick: Well you’re like me too, you like that natural light. You got to have that natural light and that standing desk.
Laura Arcaro: And something that feels homey and inviting because everybody that comes to our firm, unless they’re getting married and looking for a prenup agreement, everybody is going through a very stressful, difficult, disappointing time and so we like for it to be inviting and comfortable and low key so that people will feel comfortable in this environment and have confidence in it.
Davina Frederick: Right, right. Tell us how we can find you on the interwebs.
Laura Arcaro: You can find us online at www.arcarolawgroup.com and that’s A-R-C-A-R-O lawgroup.com. Our phone number is 954-626-3380.
Davina Frederick: Okay, terrific. Well I really appreciate you being here today. I always love our conversations and I hate that this one has to be so short and we’re running out of time today but I’m really glad that you were here and shared so much, but particularly I loved the conversation about the international child abduction cases and I think everybody will learn a lot just listening to that part of our conversation alone. Thanks so much for being here and sharing with us.
Laura Arcaro: Well thanks again for having me Davina. As always, our time chatting has just flew by.
Davina Frederick: I know. I know. Thank you again.