You wear many hats when you start your own law firm, and it’s easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day business of taking care of others that you forget to take care of yourself. Chavelys Alers of the Alers Law Firm has found a way to fix that for herself.
As a solo lawyer with her own practice, Chavelys says one key to her success has been learning to schedule frequent vacation breaks—as well as a team and systems that keep the firm running smoothly in her absence. “You can’t do it all yourself,” she says, so she’s found ways to hire and train the right people so that she doesn’t have to.
On this episode of The Solo to CEO podcast, we also discuss…
● The reason she works almost exclusively with the Hispanic community
● The #1 challenge facing women entrepreneurs
● Why successful business partnerships aren’t just about teamwork
● The “time bomb” one of your employees is holding right now
● Ways to alleviate stress in an inherently stressful profession
Mentioned in this episode:
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 Chavelys Alers, attorney and CEO of Alers Law Firm. Alers Law Firm provides criminal defense, personal injury, and family law services for clients throughout Florida. Welcome Chavelys. It’s good to have you as our guest of the Solo CEO Podcast.
Chavelys Alers: Thank you for having me.
Davina: I’m so happy you’re here. So you and I have known each other for quite a while now,two or three years, and I’m super excited that you’re here today. I finally got you on my podcast. And I can’t wait to dive in. Can you tell us more about Alers Law Firm and how you serve your clients?
Story of a Solo Turned CEO
Chavelys: Sure. My practice is focused on criminal defense and family law. I used to be a prosecutor for two and a half years when I started my career as a lawyer. After that, I did a little bit of insurance defense. And I said that I decided to go on my own. So I like I said I mostly focused on criminal defense and family law. And the bulk of my clients are mostly Hispanic.
Davina: Okay, so. So let’s back up because I want to hear, I’m always really interested when I talk to other lawyers about how they came to be a lawyer. What made them decide like, was it a childhood dream? Or was it something that, you know, you decided to do later on?
Chavelys: Well, this started mostly when I was younger. My dad always had this love and passion for the law. And he used to say he was a frustrated lawyer. So we will discuss cases, you know, back when we lived in Puerto Rico, but we’ll discuss cases and I just, you know, I just started to have an interest in criminal defense. So I graduated college with, I did a Bachelor’s in Marketing and Business.
And I did not want to dive into law school right away, because I wanted to work and make money. So I put that on hold until the recession back in 2010. You know, the recession was a little bit before but then I said, You know, I think it’s the time and that’s when I decided to go to law school. So it was something I’ve had since I was, you know, a teenager. I pursued it when I was a little bit older.
Davina: So it’s probably better to pursue it when you were a little bit older and have a little bit of experience under your belt because law school is no easy thing to do.
Chavelys: I agree.
Davina: And especially then starting your firm, but you were a prosecutor first. And then did insurance defense, and then what did you decide to finally just like, hang your own shingle?
Chavelys: Well, I think it was time. I didn’t like what I was doing at the insurance defense firm. You know, I wanted to do litigation all the time before I went into the city attorney’s office. So it was a hard transition from being for two and a half years, pretty much all the time to just sitting at a desk. So you know, although I was making more money, I was not happy. And I had a friend who was a great businesswoman, and she sort have pushed me to it. You know, she said, you know, it’s the time. You should do it. Go for it. And, you know, and I did it.
Davina: And how long have you had your own practice?
Chavelys: Since 2017? Yeah. 2017.
Davina: So, yeah, so a couple years now, then. So how’s it been so far? What do you think so far?
Chavelys: It’s been great. It’s challenging. To wear many hats. And, you know, I started with a partner, then we broke up the partnership. You know, things you learn along the way on how to run a business. But you know, it’s been great. And I think there’s a lot more to come. But like I said, it’s challenging.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. We’re going to get into some of those challenges. But before we go there, I want to know a little bit more about you’re practice, because you’ve kind of taken it a real a little bit different spin on your, the way that you practice and what you the markets that you serve. You in particular are very focused on serving the Hispanic market. In fact, you know, I’ve talked and I know that you, like 95% of your clients are Hispanic. Why is that important to you?
You Can’t Truly be a Listening Ear With A Language Barrier
Chavelys: Well, I am Hispanic myself. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. And I have been through, I’ve since seen through the years living here in Florida that obviously, we have grown, the Hispanic community. And I have seen it a lack, or perhaps like, a shortage of Hispanic attorneys especially criminal defense attorneys, and more specifically, women. So I, you know, since I went to law school, I’ve always said that that was going to be my niche.
There are not too many women, like I said, criminal defense lawyers. So you know, it is important for me as a Hispanic to provide this service for the Hispanic community to communicate better, feel more comfortable. You know, as a prosecutor, I saw when Hispanics were represented by non-Hispanic lawyers, and they were just like law. So and I think it’s because there’s not that many out there. So that’s why it’s important for me to target that community.
Davina: Yeah, so explain that to me a little bit more, give men let’s go into detail on that a little bit more because I find that really interesting. And I think it’s something that we don’t talk about enough, how as a society, how important it is to be represented by people who look like you. Sound like you get you. You know? In your society, right? And because when you are in a situation where you are scared, you don’t know, what’s going on, here, you know? And our legal system in this country is complex.
It’s very, you know, no matter who you are, right? And then if you’re standing there, and you know, you don’t, maybe English isn’t your first language. And, you know, for some people, they may speak English and Spanish, but for some people they may not, you know? What are some of the other things you encounter? And why it’s important to have a Hispanic attorney, particularly a female Spanish attorney?
Chavelys: Well, there’s a lot of hand-holding in this process. And like you said, you know, explaining people, they’re scared. So, I mean, I just don’t see. And I see this when people come to my office, you know, they’re still alarmed. They’re still hysterical when they’re coming from another attorney, and it’s like, you know, you’re going through a situation like this, and you want someone that you can trust, that will hold your hand, and that will sort of make you feel like, I get, you know, I got this for you.
So I experience a lot of people coming, you know, to my office without understanding the process. Without understanding the charges. Without understanding the consequences. And people who have accepted plea deals without knowing exactly what they got themselves into. So I see a lot of that and it’s the language barrier. And it’s, you know, the fact that they weren’t explained properly, maybe use an interpreter, but it’s not the same. So these are some of the things and issues that I encounter, that’s why it’s important for me to target the Hispanic community.
Davina: Right. I know there are a lot of law offices when you reach for an interpreter. I know there are a lot of law offices that have you know, that might hire an assistant who are receptionist or paralegal who speaks Spanish, but the attorney doesn’t speak Spanish. And, you know, and they build a law practice, you know, that way. But it makes a huge difference when the attorney is fluent in Spanish. And that’s their, that’s a first language, you know, right?
Chavelys: I agree. I think through a third person through a third party, you don’t build the same rapport with the client, like, I like to sit with the clients, I, you know, I hear them cry, I hear them vent. And I just, I think you lost a little bit of the, you lose a little bit of the emotional component and the rapport with the client when you’re just translating back and forth. And I have also experienced, you know, and seen interpreters not translating the correct words, so it’s just not the same.
Davina: Right. Are there also cultural nuances?
Chavelys: Um, you know, there could be. However, I think, for the most part, you know, the Hispanics, as a whole, they do feel, you know, your Spanish you understand me. So, I mean,
Davina: It doesn’t matter if they’re, you know, Cuban versus Puerto Rican. Yeah.
Chavelys: Right. Right.
Davina: So, you also tend to, I know that you really tend to market to men, as well, I know that you work with men and women clients. But you also think that a lot of times men are a real underserved market, particularly in like family law cases. Talk to me about that. What’s been your experience?
Chavelys: Well, I think men are less confrontational. And they tend to just give up quicker. I think in family law, women are more aggressive, and men just tend to just submit to it. So that’s why I decided to brand my firm more towards men, and that aspect to have a woman’s voice going against a woman. So and, you know, I have seen a growth in male clients hiring me, and then just letting me lead them through the process of, you know, time-sharing, child support and those matters.
But they do tend to be like, I just want to get this over, give her whatever she wants, and I just want to see my kids. Like, that’s actually the whole concept that they have in their head. And it’s a little bit more complicated when you explain to them that the process is just not like, I just want this to be over. We know we have to go through a process.
Davina: Right, right. And that’s interesting, you’re probably you would probably have, I bet you have a lot of other attorneys to nearly probably women attorneys, who, I was gonna say who disagree with you on that. When you said,
Chavelys: No, no, I don’t think they disagree. But I actually have a really good friend who just markets to women. And you know the name of her firm and, you know, have the woman word in it. And, but she also has men who hire her because it’s like, oh, you know, I want this woman that represents a woman to represent me because they’re going to go after the woman, you know what I mean?
Davina: They know how women think.
Chavelys: Exactly, exactly. So,
Davina: Right. It is funny how gamesmanship comes into, you know, how we think, as people about, you know, when we’re going through something like what our strategy is. You know, like, so when your clients come to you what their thought process is in how they make decisions of who they hire, you know? And I remember doing that myself when I was practicing family law, when I had selected mediators, you know? I’d be thinking through, okay, what kind of person is on the other side?
And who do I need, what type of personality, you know? So you’re always thinking of the balancing of the personalities, and who would opposing counsel is like, what opposing parties are like, and how you, you know, what the judge is going to be like, and you know, how to balance all those things out. So it’s a fascinating, fascinating thing. So speaking of that, that’s a nice segue into your own team and building your own firm.
And partnerships and all that kind of thing. So you mentioned before, about having a partner and starting out with that in your firm, and then kind of going on your own? What did you find to be, I think it’s kind of common for a lot of particularly women attorneys, to choose to start a practice with a partner. And then find that, or at some point in their career, to have a partner and then find that maybe partnerships aren’t for them. What was your first thought with starting out with a partner, and what made you decide to not have a partner any longer?
Why Chavelys Went Solo
Chavelys: You know, when I thought of partnering up, I just thought of it, you know, it’s just teamwork. Um, we, you know, we were handling different areas. And like I said, it was just, you know, this is going to be teamwork. And it was a dream we had from being in college. And then, you know, that are just, we, you know, the fact that it didn’t work, you know, we’re still great friends.
You know, you have different views, different personal situations that, you know, it’s just not going to do well in the equation. And then it is just a matter of, you know, this deciding this isn’t going to work. You go on your own, I go my own and then that’s it. I mean, everything amicable, like I said, we’re still great friends.
Davina: Right. When you went on your own, what kinds of things do you like about being on your own? Is it something where would you consider a partnership again? Or do you find that you like being a solo so much, that it’s not really very appealing to you?
Chavelys: Um, I like to have total control of how things are done. And then just branding, one person. Partnership in the future, I mean, I’ll never say no. But for now, I’m just focused on branding the firm, you know, the way I’m doing it right now. So I don’t foresee a partnership soon. I do have, you know, like, not formal, I don’t have formal partnerships, but I do work cases with other attorneys. And we do, like, we partner up to do trials. So
Davina: So there are alternative ways, I know that you work in alternative ways with other attorneys to talk me about that.
Chavelys: Um, you know, we just do co-counsel work. There are cases that I like to handle with, you know, different attorneys, depending on what the case is. And I think two heads are better than one and then sometimes, it just takes the team to handle a case. So, you know, but I like it, and especially trial work to just partner up with someone to handle trials.
Davina: Right. So talk to me about your team. You have been working on growing a team, growing your firm over the last couple years. And I know that that’s been a challenging aspect because that is typically a challenging aspect for solos is knowing sort of, when the good time is too high, a staff person, and when they hire an associate and how to grow. What are some of the challenges that you’ve encountered, and how have you overcome them?
Chavelys: While building a team, I think it’s an ongoing issue. Because it’s like a time bomb, you never know when they’re going to leave. So you’re always on that edge of like, are they gonna leave? You feel like you have a great team, and then, you know, three months or four months into it, they quit. So, you know, if you start putting the puzzle together, but you always have in the back of your head, I mean, maybe this puzzle or this is going to break at some point.
So, you know, I just try to make the most of it while I have them working for me. Give them the tools and resources to just be efficient. But it’s you know, it’s hard to find people that really, really want to work and care about your business. And that they’re just not there collecting a check. So and you know there’s no way to know that until they start working. And then you start seeing how are they producing? How are they handling things?
Davina: Yeah, it’s one of the biggest challenges that I hear with women with solos. A lot of solos that I talked with, a lot of my clients and other solos that I’ve spoken with. Small firm owners talk about staffing, being one of the biggest challenges. And because you know, the people, you might invest in training somebody and then you know, things happen with people. They move, or, you know, they turned out not to be the person you thought they were. That kind of thing. So it is definitely. So what are some of the things that you have learned from some of your staffing changes that improved your skills as a leader over time?
Chavelys: Um, I like feedback. You know, and I have an open-door policy, and I like for them to tell me what’s working, what’s not working to give me suggestions. And I listen. I think that’s key to listen to your employees. Because sometimes, you know, not sometimes they’re always the front face of the firm. So I think listening to them is key.
Davina: Right. Right. So talk to me about some of the other lessons that you think you have learned in this process. In the couple of years that you have had your own practice, what are some of the challenges you’ve had that you’ve overcome that you feel really proud of what you’ve accomplished?
Bumps in the Road
Chavelys: Challenges that we’ve had, you know, challenges time management. And I think you overcome that obviously with hiring people that can help you and that you can delegate work on. Time for yourself is a huge challenge because you feel like you cannot detach from work. So that’s one of the things that I learned with you too, for example, like, have a travel fund. Schedule A trip because you deserve it, and you work hard. So that’s one of the things that I have accomplished this year because I said to my mind to do that.
And because you know, I have people that I can rely on and leave at the firm and handle the firm for a few days. I still freak out. And I get paranoid when I get on the plane and I don’t stop emailing or texting. But I know that it’s that everything it’s been handled, obviously, you know, I have to plan my trips, like, at least two months in advance to make sure that nothing is scheduled. So you know, I think those are one of the challenges. And also clients are very demanding. They always want to talk to you and just you, so.
You know, I trained my team to handle, you know, like front end questions, and to give clients update. We also, you know, try to do as much as case update and the tape management software so that when they call, everybody knows what’s going on, and they just don’t want to talk to me what’s going on in my case. And then somebody else can do that too. So that’s also challenging,
Davina: Right. So kind of introducing your clients to other team members and making that information available so you’re not the only one that holds that information.
Davina: Oh, that’s wonderful. Speaking of your travel, that is one of the things that I think is just fantastic about the way that you have set up your life and your firm is that I know travel is very important to you. You love to travel and go on adventures, and you love the beach, and I always envy your travel log and your travel photos. I see them, of course, you look amazing in a bikini. I envy that too.
But that is something I’ve seen a lot of over the last year is that you manage to really build that into your schedule, which when you and I first met, that was something that, you know, it was a dream of yours you wanted to be able to do. But that took some work to really incorporate that into your life. And, so tell us a little bit more about how you just how you did that. And what made you decide that you needed to do that?
De-stressing With Prescheduled Vacations
Chavelys: Well, you know, this is. Like I said, you know, it’s challenging to run your own practice, you know, you have a lot of you feel overwhelmed at times because you know, you’re soaking in a lot of people’s problems. So, you know, when I got with you, and you said, well, you have to, you know, I recommend I suggest you do a travel fund and that you scheduled vacations.
The only way to do it is just to do it. So I set myself to schedule a trip, or just a getaway, like every two months, or every two and a half months. And I just, and I’m sticking to it. You know this, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this, this month, I’m going to get back into this, and I’m going to do this other one. So and you know, my team knows when I put attorney hours out for like four days I’m going somewhere. And I just think it’s necessary for your peace of mind if you want to make it in this business for you know, for many years.
Davina: Right, right to take that make yourself a priority and take that time. It certainly is especially in our world, in our business. When you’re, you have clients who, you know, when you’re a lawyer, and you’re in the thick of dealing with problems all the time. You’re in the problem-solving business and it’s adversarial. a lot of time, most of the time. You know, very stressful business. And the only way to get away from it really is to kind of disconnect entirely just step away, right? And you’ve really found a way to do that. And the way you do that is to put it on your calendar and make it happen.
Chavelys: Exactly. It’s the only way.
Davina: Yeah, yeah, for truly. Get on a plane and fly far away.
Chavelys: Exactly. Exactly.
Davina: But you also had to put the structure in place. Like you said, with a team, that you had to acclimate your clients to an environment where other people can answer their questions. You need to put a team in place and equip them with the tools they need to be able to handle your clients while you were gone. There are other pieces and parts there that you put in place. So that. How long did it take you to do that?
Chavelys: You know, since I, when was it that I, when I started working with you, and you know, as soon as you hired someone, and one of the trips is scheduled, you know, you alert the team and you let them know, and they know that they cannot schedule anything around those dates. So it’s just been ongoing, you know, I’m still like, think learning to do that. But you know, and it also involves by filing notices on availability so that judges know, assistant state attorney to know not to book anything during those dates. So and like I think it was mostly this year when I started doing that. Taking some time for myself.
Davina: So where’s your next fabulous trip?
Chavelys: It’s already booked. I’m going to Napa in October.
Davina: Oh, fabulous. That’s exciting.
Chavelys: I’ve never been so excited. Yeah.
Davina: Oh, that sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to see the pictures of that. I’ll live vicariously through you on that trip. So tell us what’s next for the Alers Law Firm. What kind of things are on the horizon for you? Are you, you have more, I know growth ahead of you. You know, a couple years down the road what kinds of things do you see for your firm? Are you planning on adding more attorneys?
Chavelys: Yes, I’m expanding. I leave the office next to me so that I can have more space. I do want to have at least two more attorneys in the firm so because sometimes I feel like I’m split in between two counties. And it’s a mess. So yeah, so I’m planning on adding two more attorneys. Perhaps another paralegal and perhaps a person just focused on calling and calling weeks and updating clients.
Davina: Yeah. And around here, you mentioned two counties. We have a lot of counties around here there in driving. But you know, around here you driving just between two counties is a lot of driving with our traffic. I mean, just going from one courthouse to another and there’s your day, right?
Chavelys: Yeah. I mean, the girls that I drove so much that I felt like I needed a driver. I mean, obviously I’m not at that point or level to hire a driver but it’s
Davina: Maybe that’s what you should put on your list.
Chavelys: But it is tiring, you know, going to Orange County, going to Osceola, going to the jail here going to this other jail. Going to seminal, running errands. So yeah, it is. I’ve been eating all this week lunch out of my car. I grab my lunch bag with my ice pack. And then I just eat lunch whenever it’s time to eat lunch in the car.
Davina: Oh, no. So you could like, be like the Lincoln Lawyer though. You can get yourself a nice, you know, a big car and a driver. Did you ever see that movie?
Chavelys: I have not. But I heard of it.
Davina: Yeah, you need to watch that movie. That’s what you need to do is get yourself up a car and a driver. And speaking of lunch and everything like that you, I’m sure you eat very healthy too, because I know you are a big fitness buff and you always make time for your workouts at like five in the morning.
Chavelys: Yes, that’s my time where I can work out. Yes, I try to eat healthy for most, you know, for the most part. Sometimes, you know, I cheat and I eat whatever I want. But, you know, for the most part, I try to eat healthy.
Davina: Well you’re really on it. You’re really, you do it better than some of us, let me say. So by the time I wake up you are long gone from the gym.
Chavelys: I know I know. It’s not fun. Sometimes there are one o’clock in the afternoon where I start feeling sleepy. But if I cannot got in the afternoon, I’m tired when I get home, or, or just stay late in the office, so.
Davina: Well it pays off. Definitely can tell it. Alright. So tell us where we can find you on the internet. Where can we find out more about your buffer?
Chavelys: Well, Alers Law Firm is on Facebook. And that’s the nickname Alers law firm as well as Instagram. My website www.alerslawfirm.com. And the office phone number is 407-930-4888.
Davina: Fabulous. Well, I am so glad that you’re here today. I’ve enjoyed talking with you. And I appreciate all that you share because I know that there are other folks out there that will really get a lot out of the information that you shared today. And of course, I always enjoy talking with you. So thanks so much for being here and talking with me.
Chavelys: Oh, thanks for having me. Been great also. Davina: Okay, perfect. And that’s it. Thank you.