Regina Edwards experienced rapid growth when she first started her law firm – but the pace of work was unsustainable… even with eight employees. Even though she was making bank with her big firm, her overhead had her working around the clock. And none of it was making her happy.
Before things went totally off the rails, Regina decided to scale back and take a “mini-retirement.” She chucked it all and moved to Scottsdale. By the time she came back to Atlanta, she was refreshed and had a new mindset that transformed not only her practice, but her life.
Now, she’s virtually a lone ranger, with no full-time employees, only virtual assistants, lots of systems and automation, and a whole lot of satisfied clients. More importantly, she’s happier and healthier than ever.
We talk about why she opted for this new business model and the steps it took to get there, as well as…
- Why she prefers legal work to running a business
- How she manages to take month-long vacations (and live in one state while practicing in another)
- Strategies for working effectively with virtual paralegals
- When rapid business growth goes bad – and how to fix it
- Resources readily available for those looking to take the solo to CEO journey that teach you how to avoid the pitfalls many newcomers fall into
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 wealth-generating business.
I’m your host, Davina Frederick and I’m here with Regina Edwards, attorney and founder of Edwards Family Law. Edwards Family Law is located in the Atlanta Georgia area and provides Family Law services like divorce and child custody and support-related matters. Welcome Regina, it’s so good to have you as our guest on the Solo to CEO Podcast.
Regina Edwards: Thank you so much for having me.
Davina: So you and I’ve known each other for quite a while now. And I really love your, I’d really love for you to share your story of how you went into practice for yourself and grew a large firm, and then decided that that wasn’t the direction you wanted to go in anymore. Can you tell us about that?
Sometimes Downsizing is the Way to Go
Regina: Sure. So I’ve been practicing for 18 years. So for the first couple of years doing public interest, and I did a short stint with disability. And then I started with a father’s rights family law firm. And I was only there for six months before I knew that was just not the fit for me. And I had always wanted to start my own firm. I did not plan to do it as quickly as I did, but the situation was just untenable so I just kind of took a leap of faith. Just left no plan, no savings, just did it.
And my firm grew very, very, very quickly. And I think part of the reason it did is because I can build websites. So back in 2004 and 2005 solos and small firms really didn’t have websites. It really was just the big firms. I was getting so much internet traffic and so many calls that my firm, just grew, grew, grew grew grew. And I really did not have any systems in place. I was just kind of winging everything. And I accrued a lot of expenses. And I had about eight employees at some point. And it just turned out it took me a while to figure it out. But that was just not what I wanted. I was working all the time, I was working 14, 15 hours a day.
I was constantly having to manage people. I couldn’t sleep because people kept messing up under me. And of course, it’s my name on the door. And I just couldn’t get any sleep because I just would panic and wake up in the middle of the night. Was this done? Was this done? And was this done? And it just kind of got away from me. So I decided to scale back. And that sort of coincided with a couple of things. I wanted to take a break from practicing. So I decided to do kind of a little mini-retirement, just not do anything for six months.
So that was lovely. And at the, when I scaled back at that point, I only had one paralegal and one associate and they both found other jobs. And then it was just me for a while. I did my little mini-retirement. And then initially the plan was to come back and sort of ramp back up to where I was. And then I just decided it’s not what I wanted. I enjoyed just sort of practicing on my own. I do have a virtual paralegal. And she does most of the legwork, but I enjoy dealing with my clients. I enjoy actually doing the legal work. And that is what was missing. When I had this large firm, I wasn’t able to really have contact with the clients.
They would complain, you know, that I wasn’t able to email them, I wasn’t able to call them I would send associates mediation hearings. It just wasn’t the service that they were looking for. And I just found the only way I was going to be able to deliver that service was to scale everything back. So instead of having 150 cases, now I’ve got 40. And I do have the time to call my clients and attend mediation and do the legal work that I really love to do. And just sort of have, you know, a small practice and that’s what I enjoy.
Davina: Right. Right. I love that. I love your story because I think it really highlights how important it is to, well, a couple of things. One, it highlights how important it is to know, to get clarity on what it is you want, and that you can have any kind of law practice that you desire. You don’t have to create a law practice that looks like what other people think a law practice needs to look like, right? And also, I like how, you know, it’s really okay. As you learned, it’s really okay to try something and then realize that, Oh, this isn’t what I want, and you can do something else, right? And that’s what makes your story so compelling.
Regina: Yeah, you don’t have to be tied to a particular path. And I will admit that I stayed on the wrong path for much longer than I should have. Because I mean, there was a bit of ego involved, but I grew the processes fast. I, you know, I must be, you know, kicking butt and taking names, I’m sure I can handle this. I’m sure I can fix all the problems.
I just kept growing forward, and I just never really stopped to consider maybe this isn’t the direction I should be heading. Maybe this isn’t what I want. And then, you know, 2007 when the market crashed that sort of helped me out. So I kind of involuntarily had to scale back a little bit. And then that’s where I really got to do some more of the legal work myself and realized this is what I want to do. And I’ve got several friends that run law firms that are 100% the opposite, and that’s fine. They don’t like to do the legal work.
They like the business aspect of things. They like running, they like managing, but they don’t do any of the litigation. They just hire people under them to sort of run the firm and all they do is the business management side of it. And that’s fine. And if that’s what you love to do, and you’re good at it and that brings you fulfillment, then more power to you. I just found personally that did not work for me and that did not make me happy and that was not what I want to do. So I do decided to stop doing it.
Davina: Right. Right. So when we grow a firm, it doesn’t mean that we have to grow a firm with a lot of people working for us. And you know, that company we could still make, you could still make good revenue, enough to make you satisfied and happy. And then keep it small, keep it all as they say.
Regina: I don’t know why it took me so long to sort of grasp on to that concept. But yes, I had no much overhead and it’s frustrating when you have that much overhead. And you know, normally if you’re making 70, $80,000 a month to most people, that sounds like you’re doing pretty well. But if your overhead is 60, $70,000 a month, and you’re just breaking even, it’s exhausting. You feel like you’re running on a treadmill that’s going to a little bit too fast and you’re about to fall off at any point, and I did not like that feeling.
And for me being able to scale back means that there’s just much more cushion in there. And I take long breaks. I take, I probably only work on average about eight to nine months out of the year because I take so many breaks. Two week-long breaks, three-week-long breaks, month-long breaks throughout the year. And that’s just not possible when you have so many mouths to feed with the large firm in my opinion. I’m sure someone figured it out, but I haven’t.
Davina: Well, yeah, so I want to delve into that a little bit because you actually kind of live part-time or go frequently to Arizona. Like Scottsdale, right? Arizona?
Regina: Yeah. I’m going to my house, my condo on Monday. I’m so excited. That was part of my first sort of mini-retirement in 2015. I just, I was kind of burnt out. I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do family law anymore. So I took six months off and I just picked a place I wanted to go and Arizona looks lovely to me. I had never been there. I know that I like to hike, obviously, tons of hiking out there.
And I didn’t want to go to a state where I could wave into the bar just in case I decided to practice there. So Arizona just sort of ticks all those boxes for me. And I ended up loving it. And I didn’t want to come back after the six months. So I didn’t. And I just kind of started my practice again. But I just lived in Arizona and I would just fly in for whenever I did hearings. So I’ve been back and forth ever since. And now I’ve just purchased a place and I’ll be renting it out to someone else during the winter.
And I’ll be there during the summer because I’m the only person that actually likes to be in Arizona for the majority of the summer. But I found it easy, or not easy, but it’s definitely doable to run a litigation practice without actually being in the state where you practice. It’s 100% doable if you have the right systems in place.
Davina: Well, that’s what I want to talk about next because I think that a lot of people are going to, you know, we’re going to be scratching their heads listening to this going How is she running a family law practice, relatively by yourself? I mean, I know you have some, you have virtual assistants, virtual paralegals that work with you. But how are you doing that and taking off, you know, two weeks at a time or month at a time or, you know, whatever? They’re probably wondering, How is she, how the heck is she doing that? So give us some insight into how you make that work.
Systemization is Key
Regina: Well, I’ll admit, if I had tried this, you know, 5, 10 years ago, it would have been a complete disaster because I really did not have any good systems in place that would have allowed me to do it. So I’ve done a lot of things wrong over the years, and I’ve learned from those mistakes and I think I’ve built what I think is a solid foundation, which kind of allows me to have this practice. So I sort of got this idea when I read The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss which I think is an amazing book.
Just the overall concept of you don’t have to be tied to a desk. You can design your life the way that you want to. And that’s what I decided to do. So one thing that makes it easy is to charge flat fees. People think that’s crazy in family law, but it’s 1,000% doable. The number one question I get about that is, well, if you have flat fees, your clients are going to call you all the time. And my response to that is that’s not a free issue. That is a client management issue. So before I take on a client, I have a very real conversation about this is how I deliver services to you. And the reason I’m able to deliver services at flat fees is for this reason.
Don’t call me. I don’t accept any unscheduled phone calls. Not being tied to the phone is that honestly will change your life, because that’s having someone else dictate what your emergency is. And that’s not what I do. I like to have block scheduling where I’m working on what I need to work on and it doesn’t need to be interrupted by a phone call. So I use an answering service. And, you know, if there’s an important message it’ll get emailed to me and I’ll read it whenever I check my email, which is talking twice a day. And I’ve got, I don’t take any cold calls from potential clients.
That goes to the answering service and then my intake. paralegal follows up with that. So honestly, that frees up a lot of time for me to hone in and focus on what I really need to do. And then going deeper, I just use a ton of systems to make things easier. Document generation. I personally use Lawyaw. So with a couple of clicks, if someone hires me with a couple of clicks, I can have an entry of appearance and you know, leave of absence filed in 30 seconds. It’s beyond easy. E-filing has made things easier. All my documents are in the cloud.
So my paralegal who works for me doesn’t even work in my office. She lives in Athens. I’ve probably seen her twice this entire year. So no matter where anybody is, we all have access to the entire file. I have actually been paperless for 10 years. So that is not a new iteration for me in terms of making sure that everything is scanned and on the computer as opposed to having to pull a paper file.
That’s probably the number one thing that people need to do if they’re thinking about trying to have a practice where they’re not tied to the office. You need to be able to see everything in the file at all times. And the easiest way to do that is to not have a file. Make sure that everything gets scanned in. And then below that, now that you’ve decided that you’re going to be paperless, there’s different ways to make it easier. Like I have a very specialized naming system of how I name all my files. So there’s consistency. All my folders was the same.
All the breakdown of the folders was the same. The names of the files are always going to be consistent, which makes it very easy for anybody to come in and search for something. So it’s just a matter of looking at what you do in your practice and really drilling down and figuring out what is the easiest way to make this more efficient and to make sure that everybody can view the files and to work on the files from anywhere. And then once you start breaking down each element In your practice, you’ll find ways to make everything so much more streamlined, so it just frees you up to do other things.
Davina: It’s really about applying system, systematic thinking and taking a step back and setting up your system as opposed to just kind of doing it organically, right? At some point you sat and thought through, okay, I want to create a way to organize these files online just like I would organize them if they were paper, right?
Regina: Yes, that’s exactly it. And everyone needs to know the system, obviously. So no one’s doing it differently. I see it all the time where people have scanners so they don’t rename the file. So you get a file that has a name that means absolutely nothing to anybody. And that just makes no sense to me. The file name should make sense. I personally like to date everything with the year first. 2019 dot six dot seven. So we’ve got a whole bunch of files in one folder.
If you sort by name, it’s automatically going to sort chronologically. That saves a bunch of time too because if you know approximately when something is filed, it makes it easier to search. And the title of the document should really be reflective of what’s in it. You can be very descriptive. So that’s helped me and I’ve also developed certain workflows. So in family law, certain cases, you know, obviously, there’s going to be detours and unexpected happenings. But in general, you’re not reinventing the wheel on every single case. So that, for example, I’ve got a trial tomorrow. And in every single trial that I’ve got, you’ve got to file a financial affidavit.
I have to file a child support worksheet, I need to number my exhibits, I need to print my exhibits, I need to print my proposed orders. There’s just a list of things that I’m going to have to do in every single case. And I have made that into a workflow and I’ve probably got 20 different workflows depending on the case and I just apply it to the case that I’m doing. And we just go there, we just systematically check it off to make sure that it’s done. And we do that days in advance of the trial. So I’m never going to be up at midnight 11 pm printing documents preparing for a trial. You know, I’ve got a knockdown drag out trial tomorrow.
And, you know, as soon as I get off the clock I go back to watching Netflix. There’s nothing left for me to do because we prepared for it all along. And the more organized you are throughout the entire case, it’s so easy to prepare for trial. It rarely takes me more than an hour to prepare for trial, because as I’m going along, anything that I know is going to be an exhibit, it gets put in the exhibit folder. So and then organize it on the screen. So and I don’t, I’m hoping in most jurisdictions you can screen your exhibit, so that’s what I do.
I number the exhibit, and I have the descriptive name, and I organize it online. So then when I’m actually in the office, all I have to do is print and it’s already in order. So there’s so many things that you can do remotely where you actually don’t have to be an office that just frees up your time. So the exhibits were organized and named days ago. And today, all I had to do is go into the office, hit print, put it in the folder and leave. And that sneaks into my trial prep.
Davina: Wow, that’s incredible. So that efficiency is just incredible. And that also improve your profit margins, right?
Regina: It does because I’m not spending a lot of time doing it. And part of the key to, especially in family law is contact with the client. So because I pre-number and pre-organize my exhibit, I send until closing counsel ahead of time via Dropbox, I’m saving paper in time because I’m not printing them a copy and I say if you want to copy of trial, then you can print it on your end, and you can kill trees and the Amazon but I’m not going to. I upload it to my client to review. So my client and I give them an opportunity to weigh in and say hey, these are the exhibits I’m using at the trial. Let me know if you think I’ve missed anything.
And I think that’s so important to bring them into the process because they can visually see all the work that you’re doing. And you don’t have that uncomfortable moment at trial where you’re trying to put on your case and your client keeps kicking you in the shin, because they’re saying, Well, what about this document? Or what about this? We don’t, I don’t do any of that, because they have an opportunity to review the exhibits ahead of time and let me know if anything is missing.
So everybody’s on board, and there’s no confusion about what’s going to be put into evidence. And to me, it makes for a much better attorney-client relationship. When they’re involved, they see the work that you’re doing, they see how it works. I will always be the most organized person in the courtroom every single time. And impressions are everything. clients love it, it helps me get referrals. It just sort of builds on your reputation as an attorney when you have these systems in place.
Because, you know, at the end of the day, especially in family law, clients just want to know that you care. And they want to know that you tried. And I’m certainly not going to win every single trial, but my client is going to know that I’ve done everything that I can to advance their interest and to try to win it. And that’s really all that they can expect. So just having that, having those systems in place allows your client to see the value that you’re giving them.
Davina: Right, right. Because that was the next question I was going to ask you is how you handle, you know, one of the things that I think that will come up for people when they’re listening to this is well, how could she do that, because how can she work remotely? Or, you know, because what about clients wanting to meet you and come to your office?
I mean, I remember back when I was practicing full-time, and I was working remotely, and I had an attorney, an older attorney, a man who said to me, clients aren’t going to like that. Where are you going to meet with clients? You need to come rent an office in my office. And of course, his objective was to get me to rent space in his office. But he was trying to tell me that clients weren’t going to like it that I worked remotely. And I’m, of course, you know, if I ever needed to meet with clients, I had meeting space, right? But tell me about that. I mean, do you, how do you meet with clients?
Running a (Almost) Virtual Law Firm
Regina: I do meet with clients. It’s not as often as you would think, especially in family law. Again, that’s something that clients just need to know from the beginning what their expectations are. So when I’m doing a consultation, I let them know, you know, we’re not going to be meeting every week, there’s no drop buys, no one’s going to, I don’t care if you document the drop-off. That’s just not a thing at my office. You don’t just drop documents off at my office. So I set the expectations early that a lot of times we’re not going to meet until, you know, a few days before mediation or a few days before trial.
But I really do get the sense that clients sometimes want face to face contact. If they like they don’t know what’s going on with their case. So I think you can eliminate 90% of that if you just let them know what’s going on with their case. And there’s a way to do it that requires very little effort and honestly, zero effort for me. So one of the systems that I have is a client portal. I know tons of people use practice management systems. I’m not a fan of practice management systems, so I’ve sort of created my own. But what I use is called Clinked. And it’s essentially just a client portal where I am building around
Davina: Called what? Sorry, it’s called what?
Regina: Clinked. CLINKED. So, it’s simply just a client portal and share file is something that’s similar to it, where you’re uploading documents for your clients to review. So when everything, when anything gets filed in, it gets scanned, it gets sent to the client immediately. If we get discovery, it gets uploaded to the portal, we upload instructions to the portal. So they’re constantly getting sort of little bits of information along with explanations from us in terms of what’s going on. So it’s when they have that sort of constant communication.
They’re constantly updated of what’s going on. They really don’t feel the need for a face to face meeting unless it’s obviously the trial coming up. We have a mediation coming up. And then honestly, I like to do a face to face meeting too, because honestly, that’s where I get to show off all the hard work that I’ve done. You know, we’re all you’re, they’re prepared for mediation. Here’s all the supposed orders I’ve drafted for mediation. Here all the exhibits that we’re going to use. So it’s kind of like a shock and awe thing. And then when I go to mediation, they can tell that it goes so smoothly because I am prepared.
I mean, I can’t tell you how many mediators have said, You’re always the most prepared attorney I’ve ever worked with. Thank you for coming with your documents. The other room, it sounds like it’s an initial client consultation over there because they haven’t discussed the case. They haven’t discussed expectations, that kind of thing. So clients hear the difference between what I’m doing and what someone else is doing. And that’s all because of, you know, I’ve got these systems in place where they’re able to see what it is that we’re doing.
Davina: Right. Do you do when you do your initial consultation, do you do In person? Or do you do that over the phone? Or how does that go?
Regina: I’ll say about 50, well it’s actually more than 50% now. I think probably up 60% of people hire me without meeting me. So I have a really great intake person. And I think by the time people get to that point, they’ve already decided that I’m their attorney. I have a couple of things that are intentionally prohibited. First of all, when you call my office, you’re never going to get anyone on the phone other than the answering service who tells everyone, because of the high demand of all the phone calls you may not get a call back within 24 hours.
People that are really impatient and that don’t want to wait, they don’t wait, and they just call another attorney. Which is fine with me because that’s not my ideal client. So that’s kind of, you know, barrier number one. I also charge a $400 in-person consultation fee. So people aren’t going to sign up for a consultation unless they’re serious because I do require payment before they even get on the calendar. So those sort of systems that I put in place to sort of weed out the tire kickers and let them know I value my advice and you need to value my advice. If you want to come in, that’s fine. A lot of times people just skip it.
And because they know that I’m the attorney they want to hire, they just go ahead and sign the agreement and pay. And at some point in the future, we’ll set up a meeting. Once, you know, and get all the information, we dropped all the pleadings, we start getting discovery in. And now it’s time to really sort of strategize and figure out where the case is going from there. I find that meeting to be more productive really than, rather than an in-person consultation. And honestly, a lot of clients are fine with that. If people do want to have an in-person consultation, I’m fine with that, too. I’m charging 400 bucks may come in.
But I probably only do about three to four of those per month. And I just set them for the week or two that I happen to be in Georgia. And another thing we tell clients is we only accept a maximum of three consultations per week. And I only do six per month. So if a slot’s not available, they’re just going to have to get added to the waiting list and rolled on to the next month. And I haven’t found that really, you know, to be an issue. It’s to think sometimes when you’re sort of in high-demand people sort of thinking you’re valued highly and they’re willing to wait. It seems to be working for me.
Davina: Right. Right. So that is a very interesting approach because I talked with so many attorneys who have, you know, who have a lot of fear that if they’re not accessible and available every time a client, you know, barks that they, you know, that that’s an issue, right? And it can be an issue if you really are not being responsive to your client and you’re not proactively communicating. But the way that you, there’s two things that you are doing with your model.
One is you are, you’re setting clear expectations right upfront, you’re telling them I have a system. So it’s client management. You’re setting that up right at the beginning and saying I have a system and then you have made yourself less accessible, less available for ad hoc, or in person or whatever. So you’ve made yourself more exclusive. And that’s going to create more value in their mind, which, you know, it’s amazing. It’s human psychology, right? Because you’re less available, you’re going to be more valuable.
But you are not communicating, which is one of the number one bar grievances is lack of communication, right? But you’re not communicating, they’re satisfied with the service because you, first of all, you’re limiting yourself to clients who are serious about hiring you because they want the best, right? And so you can give a higher level of service. And then secondly, you’re not letting them chase you for the communication. You’re actually being proactive about communicating.
Regina: Right, and there are going to be things that come up periodically. And in family law, you know, people tend to think that everything is an emergency. But I really am pretty honest with people about, you know, just because something is bothering you or something’s happened doesn’t necessarily turn it into an emergency. So I don’t consider myself, I’m not a co-parenting coordinator. So you know, other party is 10 minutes late for soccer practice, that’s not something you need to tell your attorney and it’s not something that I’m going to deal with because that’s not my job.
And that’s not what I get paid, you know, $400 an hour to do. So I think if, if long as you set those expectations in the beginning and say, you know, at some point you’re not going to have an attorney, so anything that’s not a legal issue, you’re really going to have to work through on your own with the other parent as opposed to the default. You know, something happens. Let me just call my lawyer. Well, what did you do a week ago, before you hired me? You just dealt, you dealt with it and you handled it with the other person.
So I’m trying to also give them life lessons because at some point, I’m not going to be their attorney anymore and you can’t just write an email me or send a message to the portal of what’s going on. I try to prepare them for how to deal with co-parenting or deal with the other party going forward in the future. And I think that helps with client communication. I just, as long as clients don’t feel lost in the process, then they’re not going to be calling you and emailing you all the time. Just overwhelm them with information, and that’s what we do from the beginning.
The portal has information on it. It’s got our address, our work hours if I’m going on vacation, that is a permanent note that’s posted of what I’m going to be an office when I’m not going to be in office, what to expect my turnaround times on email, which is 24 to 48 hours. That I only check email twice a day, if you have an issue to put it through the portal. All that stuff is already there at their fingertips. So they don’t have to ask, well, what’s the process for this? Or what’s the process for this? Or what happens with discovery? All that information is there because we send it to them. So it just lessens the amount of, the number of questions that they have.
Davina: Right. Let me ask you this. How did you learn how to do all of this? Because when you had your first business, it wasn’t set up this way. And then you took that time and then you went back and created a new business. And I imagine that this is probably evolved over time.
Regina: It’s evolved over a lot of time. So the way that I kind of describe it is I pretty much burned everything to the ground and started over. So when I went to Arizona, I had zero employees. It was just me. So I really had to go back to basics. And honestly, I hadn’t done a lot of the legwork and administrative work in probably at least, I don’t know ever, now that I think about it. Because when I started my firm Initially, I started with a paralegal and an associate.
So I’ve never done that legwork. So having that couple of months of me being 100% solo was super helpful because number one, I could figure out how it was, but I could kind of look at all the steps of what I was doing, how I could make it better and I just eventually built it back up. So then when I did hire a paralegal, I was able to say this is the process for this and she actually wasn’t a paralegal. She was a legal assistant.
I don’t think she even has a paralegal degree. She was a legal assistant and a transcriptionist. And I had someone, my former paralegal sort of trained her, but now she’s an amazing paralegal. And I just kind of gave her my systems and how we do things. And now it’s all like clockwork, because I was able to describe it and I’ve got it in writing the process for everything, and she just follows the process. And when everybody is, you know, on the same page about how to do things, it really lessens areas for confusion.
Davina: Right, right. And so that’s one of the things that I think, you know, when I’m coaching my clients and working with clients, one of the things that I talk with them is doing processes before they bring in the team and teach them processes, right? Now obviously, if you’re a big firm and you’ve already got a team and everything, but if you’re solo and you’re growing your firm, you know, I often want people to try things first and have an understanding of what it is and what it’s like.
And then to bring in people to take over things for them, you know, so they can, you know, don’t have to spend their time doing certain things, right? So that’s one of the things that you did in your growth and evolution from, you know, where you started as a true solo to using a virtual team.
Regina: Yeah. And I’m that there wasn’t some sort of malpractice stuff going on when I had my large firm because there were mistakes happening left and right. And I just was happy I was, I just happened to catch them before they become full-blown disasters. But looking back, there was no way for there not to be mistakes.
Because I just when I compare to what I’m doing now versus what I was doing then and in terms of the safety net that I have and how everything sort of works like clockwork, I honestly don’t know what I was doing. So now that I can see the contrast, I can definitely see how writing everything down and taking everything step by step, explaining everything step by step to someone else and sort of locking that into place has made for a much easier practice.
Davina: Right, right. So let’s talk, I want to talk about a couple of things. One is, I want to talk about your use of virtual paralegals because I think that’s another thing that people are going to be, you know, asking questions about how do you make that work. Because so many people think I’ve got to have somebody sitting here in my office and with me. Or somebody manning a reception desk or, you know, that somehow people are going to think less of them if there isn’t an office with a reception area and a receptionist there and you know, a paralegal that they can come in and see. Talk to me about that and how you’ve grown your team virtually.
Growing a Virtual Team as a Law Firm
Regina: Well, so I shared space. I have three partners, and we share expenses, not income. So it’s really more of a sort of office sharing and resource sharing environment versus a full-on partnership. But we don’t have a receptionist. We have a very nice office, it’s very large, maybe four or 5000 square feet, something like that. And it has a reception area, but we don’t have a receptionist. I kind of think it’s a waste of money.
Davina: But you use a service, right?
Regina: So I don’t, but we don’t have an in house person sitting there waiting to greet people. That’s just something that we felt like we didn’t, we just didn’t need to spend money on. So at some point, I thought that I needed all that too because I had it. I had the receptionist and I’ve just decided that that’s not what I need and if people think that’s not, you know, the firm environment that they’re looking for, if they want the marble floors and the, you know, receptionist greeting them with a cup of coffee, then that’s fine.
They can hire someone else. But what I do is deliver amazing legal services at flat fees. And that’s just not something a lot of attorneys are doing. And I think a lot of people are looking for that kind of value, and it’s certainly not cheap. It’s not inexpensive. But there’s something to be said for predictability. So to me, that’s what sets me apart. So I really don’t worry about the other stuff and what people may expect. I just tell them, this is what I do. And this is how I do it. And if you like that approach we can work together. If you feel like that might not fit your approach.
I’m not going to be offended if you want to go find someone else that might, you know, better mesh with you. And I think part of that is because my marketing is working. So I get a lot of new client calls. So I just, I have no compunction about turning down people that I don’t think are going to fit. If someone’s pretty clear about they want my cell phone number, and they want to be able to call me at all times, that’s just not going to be the client for me.
Or if someone wants to drop by at all hours. That’s not the client for me. When people call Initially, the answering service always has to gather an email and the person says, I don’t have email, they’re just very politely told, well, the way that Miss Edwards delivers her legal services, it does require an email so she’s not going to be able to work with someone that doesn’t. And, I don’t know, sometimes people call that elitist.
I don’t know, I don’t care. I don’t time to delve into the dynamics of that. All I know is that’s how my firm is set up, and that’s how I choose to deliver services. And that’s just how I am. I understand that people are different and they’re going to do different things. But I am choosing to sort of curate the type of clients and cases that I want to handle and that I can handle efficiently. And that’s how I do it.
Davina: Yeah, I guess I was thinking more in terms of how you manage that, you know, other attorneys may be curious too and want to adopt, you know how you manage a team of people, right? When they’re virtual.
Regina :So I use a project management tool called Monday. So most people have heard of some project management tools. There’s Monday, there’s Asana, Trello. I’ve tried them all. I prefer Monday just because of the way it’s set up. And it just sort of works the way my brain works, which is amazing that I actually found something that works the way my brain works. So I’ve decided I don’t need a full-on practice management system.
What I needed was more of a super souped-up task list. So we have, I’ve got several boards on Monday. And for tasks for my virtual paralegal, we assign each other tasks. And what it really eliminated is the going back and forth. What’s the status of this? What’s going on with this? Remember when I had you this week ago? What’s happening with that? None of that is occurring because the board is so specific and customizable. So if I assign her a task and I say do this, you can start doing it and she runs into a snag, there’s probably 20 different options she can pick from the status.
I’m waiting for the client, or I’m waiting for opposing counsel, I’m waiting for the court. I’m waiting for Regina to do something. So if you can just look at it and see what the status of every single task is. And then once it’s done, it drops out of view. So sort of having that 30,000-foot view at any given time, I can immediately see what’s been done, what’s being done and what can be done. That’s what helps manage the practice. And because it’s all cloud-based, you know, her being in another city from me it’s just pretty seamless. So in terms of managing someone, I don’t really manage her. I don’t even set her hours.
She works 30 hours a week and she picks them. She just puts it on the calendar when she wants to work. And that’s fine with me. So I don’t monitor when she’s actually in front of her computer banging away. I don’t monitor when she goes to lunch. It’s just, I assign her things to do and she does it. And I don’t care if she’s on the moon, I don’t care if she’s solid, I don’t care when she’s on.
I don’t deal with micromanaging as long as things get done and the cases are progressing along and she set good contact with the clients and they’re happy, that’s all I care about. I let all the other stuff fly. And I see so many posts, like on Facebook groups about, you know, this person must miss a day of work, or this person had an emergency, or this person is on Facebook during work. I do not care about any of that. I care about results.
And all I know is that my paralegal delivers results. I give her the tools that allow her to give me those results and someone either can cut it or they can’t. And she may be listening to podcasts while she’s doing it. She be maybe watching movies, she may be at the beach. So I have no idea what she does. I don’t care because the work gets done. So I’m sort of hands-off in terms of, you know, quote-unquote management. I don’t manage her I just give her stuff to do and it gets done.
Davina: Right. And, you know, if probably if you did have her in the office and you saw her doing things like that while she’s working, he would be more irksome, right? But because she’s virtual, you’re not seeing what she’s doing. So you’re not seeing everything like Oh, she’s doing this on my dime, you know?
Regina: And then I also know the way that I am, which is, and I’ve been this way since I was a kid and my parents never could understand it. I cannot do anything without the TV on, without a podcast on, without music on. I can’t just sit there and work in silence. So if I know that I’m capable of doing good work while you know, multitasking, watching a movie then certainly I’m sure other people are. So I don’t judge how people get things done. So she could be doing that. She could not be doing that. I don’t know. I just look at results.
Davina: Yeah, because I think you know, oftentimes you, that’s one of the issues that a lot of lawyers have who have their own practice and they’re trying to grow it, is they can’t let go of the micromanaging. They can’t let go. And they can’t say, Look, I’m giving this to you and I expect results. And I expect to get it done. And if she weren’t, if she was not producing results you’d find somebody else who could.
Regina: Oh absolutely. Yeah, it would probably take me a while. Because honestly, she’s so good now. And now that my systems are so specific. And in on, she’s been the guinea pig for me switching systems over and over and over and over again. And finally, we finally come up with a perfect setup system. It’ll be really hard for me to find someone else and train them to do what she does now. So I don’t really want her to go anywhere, but yeah.
And that’s why I think it’s just a complete hands-off approach. I mean, if she needs time off, she needs time off. I don’t even calculate vacation hours. If she wants to go, she wants to go. I close the office for two weeks, you know, at Christmas. I just, it’s super hands-off. As long as things are getting done and my clients are happy, she can essentially do whatever she wants to do.
Davina: Right, right. So I want to talk about one more piece before we wrap up today, and that is your marketing and lead generation, because it’s something that you are really, really good at. And you alluded to that earlier and you mentioned you talked about being in a time, you know, when you were able to create websites and things like that.
Another issue that a lot of attorneys have when they’re growing a practice, is they view marketing as burdensome and struggle to do marketing and can’t find the best way to market and get clients and particularly ideal clients like what you were describing, right? And so give us a little bit of insight into how you think you’ve been so successful with that.
How Regina Vets Her Clients
Regina: I’m definitely not the marketing expert. And I definitely don’t do things the way that I think a marketing expert would tell me to do them. What I know is that, you know, when I’m designing my websites, when I’m putting information sort of out there in cyberspace or just in general into the universe about what I do, I’m pretty clear about what it is that I do and the client that I want to service. And I think that comes across. I think it comes across in my website, it comes across in my you know, social media postings that I’m interested in, you know, someone that has a family law issue.
That is committed to focusing on the issue and not committed to punishing the other person. Someone that wants a reasonable solution to a problem and doesn’t want to spend all their money doing it. That’s what I want. And that’s what I put in my marketing materials that I’m looking for. So there are going to be some people that just want to drag their other, you know, through the mud and they just want that scorched earth approach and they’re not going to be attracted to me as an attorney because I’m very clear that that’s not what I do.
So I think just sort of putting out there and just talking to people about what it is that you do and how you do it really just sort of helps build your name and brand and reputation. So anytime I’m talking to someone about what I do, because a lot of people, especially lawyers that don’t do family law, and they’re just amazed at how I do family law, and how is it not so stressful, I just tell them, it’s not stressful because this is how I choose to run my practice. These are the clients I choose to represent. And it just sort of, you know, gets around that that’s what I do.
And I think that comes through also not just in my marketing, but also in my representation of clients, which of course leads to future business because they’re referring me. My goal is to assist the court and finding a fair result. My job isn’t to blindly advocate for whatever it is my client wants. So there is always going to be a balance between this is what my client wants versus this is what I think that they’re likely to get, and we have realistic conversations about that.
And I think clients appreciate that because I’ve seen people, especially on the other side of cases, walk into court and get completely blindsided because they were never warned by their attorney about what could happen if they pursued a particular course of action. And I think that sort of ties into your reputation, all that.
So I try to be super honest and upfront about what it is that I do and how I’m going to help you. And I think it comes across in my marketing, anytime I talk about my services to anybody. To potential clients, to other attorneys. I think it comes across and I think that’s what helps sort of develop your reputation and why clients end up being attracted to you because that’s something that they want. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Davina: No, absolutely, absolutely. I mean, what it tells me is you’re very clear on who your ideal client is. And your ideal client is not just somebody who can pay me. You’re very clear on the type of people that you want to represent, right? So if you have somebody comes in and says, I’m very, you know, they’re very angry and vindictive about the other party, you’re like no. So you’re really clear on who your ideal client is. And that allows you to do your best work, which then makes for very satisfied clients who refer your business.
So that is what a marketing, I’m a marketing expert. So, that is what a marketing expert would tell you. And I also, you know, I want to ask, do you how you use your systematic thinking and your automation and technology in your marketing efforts? Because I’m sure you do, you know, being technologically savvy enough to do websites, right? And I’m sure there have been times where you outsource websites as well. You haven’t always you know, done, you’ve probably started out doing your own, but how do you incorporate technology into your market?
Regina: I mostly did on my own. I picked a template from theme for and I put most of the information in there and I just hired someone to tweak it. So even now, I still build websites but I just honestly don’t have the time to do it. And even though I’m good at it, it probably takes me three times as long as an expert so I do the basics then I just hire someone to come in and tweak. But my intake is pretty streamlined and systemized.
So my answering service filled out a form which I’ve created, and I probably have about 20 different intake forms because they’re spread out all over the universe. So my answering service has their own dedicated intake form. I have several different websites, georgiafathersrights.com has their own intake form. Edwards Family Law has a different intake form. Edwards Divorce Law, and then I’ve got several different office locations.
They each have their own intake form on Google Maps, so I know where the form is coming from. The ones the answering service takes the call from the client, they fill out the form it automatically gets sent into my intake system, which is Dubsado, which is an amazing CRM system. And it’s so less expensive than the kata or clio grow or whatever else that people are using these days.
Davina: I’m sorry, what was it called?
Regina: It’s called Dubsado, DUBSADO. Yeah, So if anyone wants to test it, you can just go to my website, edwardsdivorcelaw.com, fill it out and make sure you put test somewhere in the subject line. So I know to send me some sample template. But so anyway, so when the client calls there immediately, because we gather their email address, they’re immediately going to get an email with some information and just while you’re waiting for a call back, if it’s a current case, or a case that you’re trying to modify, here’s the link to upload documents.
So the client feels invested in this from the very beginning because as soon as they get off the call, they get an email within 10 minutes, they’d get instructions of what to upload and where to upload. There’s a link to my video so they can watch my nice crisp video. Actually, I call it my hero video. A two-minute video explaining about me and the firm etc. So just sort of, it just kind of gives information to them at the very beginning. Then once my intake coordinator calls them back, she will put those in there and task it to me. I’ll read the notes in about 30 seconds.
And based on those notes, we can offer them a consultation, we can offer them a contract, which we can do also instaclick with Dubsado because it’s an all in one CRM system. Or sometimes we decline the case, we refer them out, we refer them to legal aid and all that’s done with just, you know, a couple of clicks and very little time and input for me. So we really have to systemize the intake process, you know, down to a tee so I’m not spending a ton of time doing it.
Davina: So tell me what is, what do you think is next for Edwards Family Law? You said that you are, you have a couple of partners now and that, you know, you’ve done that in the last year or so. And how do you work with them? Is it just a, is it sort of an expense-sharing space-sharing thing? Or do you guys of counsel with each other or anything like that?
Regina: We do work on each other’s cases individually. And so I personally like to do restraining order cases, one of my partners doesn’t. So anytime she’s got a divorce case, number string or pops up, she flips it over to me. So I usually just charge them a flat fee, which they’re happy about because she actually bills hourly. And I’ll just do the GPO or I’ll do mediation or do was temporary hearing something like that or vice versa.
Sometimes they’ll happen and we’ll work on each other’s cases. But for the most part, we just independently have our own cases. And we don’t really have any shared cases, but we definitely do work on each other’s cases. And sometimes it does help if there’s a particularly difficult client and you know, someone needs a break and they kind of need a fresh pair of eyes on it that it sort of does help that dynamic.
Davina: So let me ask you this. You have, you know, if you were to give one piece of advice, or some, you know, one or two lessons that you’ve learned along the way in growing your practice, what advice would you give to somebody who’s kind of on the journey, solo to CEO journey behind you, you know?
Regina: Well, definitely don’t do it the way that I do it, which is just jump into it with no plan, no reading, no background, no mentoring, no nothing. There’s so many resources where you can avoid a lot of the mistakes that I made. I made a mistake of growing too fast. I made the mistake of having overhead that I really don’t need. I do have some resources on a Facebook page that I have. And one of them is a list of things that traditionally law firms think they need. But don’t, I don’t have a fax, I don’t have a phone system that saves money.
I don’t keep paper files, I don’t have a receptionist. You know, in the beginning, people can jettison a, you know, full-time office and just use meeting space. So there’s a whole lot of ways that you can sort of keep expenses down. And I think it’s really important because, you know, most practices will have ebbs and flows.
And of course, when you know, you’re in that high season, you’re making a bunch of money and you think it’s never going to end, you start spending a whole bunch of money and then in a low season, all of a sudden you’re scrambling because you haven’t, you know, planned for that, you know, low season. So keeping your expenses low helps you absorb those low seasons better without feeling that sense of panic. And so that, I think advice that I wasn’t given and apparently wasn’t smart enough to figure out before.
Davina: Some of us have to learn the hard way. I’m one of those too.
Regina: One thing my mom always has said about me is man, you’re smart, but you are soo hard-headed. But there’s so many resources, so many books out there about the practice of law and about keeping expenses down. That you know, you don’t have to wholesale subscribe into any one person’s theory. I read a lot of books, probably seven to 10 books a week. And if I get one or two concepts from any one given book that helps me in my practice, I think that’s fine.
So there’s just so many things out there that can help you in your practice and decide what it is that you really need. And you don’t really have to do what anybody else is doing. It’s okay that your practice looks like nobody else’s. It can be completely unique. And as long as it makes you happy, and it services to you and allows you to service your clients, that’s what’s important, as opposed to Well, I need to have this because so and so has it, and I need to have the big office because that’s what the big firms do.
You don’t have to subscribe to that theory. And I admit that I did at some point and it did not go well for me and, you know, lost lots of money. And you know, I don’t want to go through that again. So I’m glad that I was fortunate enough to be able to bounce back and to build the firm that I really wanted, and it’s going really well. And I kind of wish I’d done that from the beginning. But, you know, you live in learn.
Davina: You know, also I was thinking that you have, you created this firm that allows you a lot of flexibility and time, you know, time to devote to other areas of your life. And, you know, so you and I, neither of us have children, and so many people think, you know, okay moms are the only ones that want flexibility on their schedule and then get into practicing on their own so that they can have that flexibility so they can spend more time with their families.
But we’ve talked about this before, you know, you’re kind of living proof that, hey, I can enjoy my life. It doesn’t have to be because I need to be with kids or family or whatever. I can create a practice that serves and gives me the kind of life that I want to live and the time to do it. So you can create the money and have the time to do the things you want to do.
And it doesn’t have to be just, you know, because you have, want to spend it with family or kids or whatever. You can live a very full and interesting life and create a practice that serves that because I think so many times people think that women lawyers without children, you know, that we need to be devoted to career and that is our sole, that we’re career-driven. And that’s going to be the sole focus of what it is that we do. That’s not necessarily the case, right?
Regina: Right. And I think it’s just a matter of just really drilling down and honing in into what you want. And for me, the breakthrough was, I’m going to plug his book again, Tim Ferriss, The Four Hour Workweek. Now, there are some chapters in there that are going to be completely irrelevant to lawyers, you can kind of skip through those, but the overall concept of you can design your life and of course, The Four Hour Workweek. Yeah, that’s a sexy title. I don’t think anyone’s going to really the only work four hours a week.
But the concept is there in terms of you don’t have to be a slave to the office. You don’t have to do things in a traditional way. And I actually liked his book because his ideas are so radical that if you just sort of ignore your initial reaction of Well, that’s crazy, I can’t do it and really think about it, it can be done. For example, he has an automatic email response that says, essentially, I’m not going to email you back. That’s not my process.
If it’s an emergency, and you know, and you’ve got my cell phone number, you can call me or I will respond to your email, I think maybe says once a week or once every two weeks. It’s a very, very limiting email. So obviously, you don’t have to go to that extreme, but you can do something similar. And I’ve seen a lot of people do it and I certainly do it. You know, I just let people know from the beginning, you know, email is not going to be the best way to contact me, especially for my potential clients.
They have to go through the portal. So when you’re not tied to your email and you’re not tied to the phone, it really frees you up to do the work that you actually need to do. You just have to tell people ahead of time what your expectations are and how they can contact you and what they need to do to help you do your job better. And as long as you explain it in that way, this is what I need you to do to help me help you, then it tends to come across, you know, better.
Davina: Because you don’t owe your clients your life, you know?
Regina: No, no, you absolutely don’t. And it is difficult for people to understand it and obviously, with family law, it’s very emotional they’re, it’s very traumatic. Sometimes people are blindsided with a divorce and I get all of that. However, I also have to remain objective in order for me to do my best job so I can’t get sucked into the daily drama.
I can’t get sucked into the Sunday afternoon call because somebody was 10 minutes late for work. It’s not going to allow me to do my best job. So I’ve just sort of designed, you know how I’m going to deliver services, I tell my clients how I’m going to deliver those services. And for the most part, they’re pretty acceptable. And they’re pretty happy with what we’re doing and how we’re communicating with them.
And once you still have that in place, it’s really going to free your practice up, because you’re not, you don’t have to have your phone at all times, because you’re worried you’re going to miss a potential client call or you’re going to miss a client calling or you’re going to miss an email. And once you’re able to kind of unshackle yourself from that you’re going to be able to design the practice that you want for whatever reason.
And I personally, I don’t have kids, I’m not married and I don’t have a family so I don’t need extra time to spend time with kids. But you might. You might want to have this extra time to spend time with your children. Personally, for me, it’s traveling, I like to go to Arizona and walk up the mountain. That’s what I like to do with my spare time, but whatever it is that you want to do, you can design your practice to make it fit that as opposed to, you know, well I’m single or I just it’s early in my career. I just need to be spending all my time in the office? You know, you really don’t.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. And you know, for some people who are highly ambitious, that may free you up to explore other business opportunities or to write a book or whatever it is that you want to do, Right. Regina, I really appreciate you being here today. And this, I mean, the time has just flown by. We’ve covered a good hour. So I really thank you for being here and sharing. You have, you’re very inspiring and the way you run your practice, and I’m sure that anybody listening to this is going to get so much.
They’re gonna be taking notes furiously as they’re listening to this podcast and applying some of these concepts maybe to their own practice. So maybe we’ve done a terrific service for a lot of other women attorneys out there and help them get a little bit of their life back, you know? Tell us your email. I mean, you’re not you’re emailing your web address so people can find you on and take a look at that fabulous website.
Regina: So my main website is edwardsdivorcelaw.com
Regina: We have lots of information about both my firm and my systems and also my fees, my flat fee practice. I just, I try to be as transparent as possible so it’s all on there.
Davina: Okay, great. Terrific. Well, I really appreciate you sharing with us today and thanks so much.
Regina: Alright, have a great day.