Even as she excelled in her law career, Ruby Bolton felt guilty devoting so much time to work when she felt pressure to be spending more time raising her family. And vice-versa.
It was only when she let go of what she felt society expected of her (and told herself it was okay to succeed) was she able to grow her business to where it is today… a thriving family law practice… while still being an integral part of her children’s lives.
We talk about the double-standard impacting women in the workplace and the practical steps she had to take to grow her business, as well as…
- Why you need to delegate when growing your business – and how to do it the right way
- How to figure out the true value of your business and a strategy for harnessing that power
- The one personal trait that will impact your success more than any other
- What she had to do to escape her traditional background (it wasn’t easy)
- The fundamental importance making the decision to succeed has to actualizing success
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 Ruby Bolton, attorney and founder of the Bolton Law Firm. The Bolton Law Firm is located in The Woodlands, Texas and is focused on providing divorce and other family law services. Welcome, Ruby. We are so happy to have you here today on the Solo to CEO Podcast.
Ruby Bolton: Well, thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here.
Davina: Oh, great. So we have a lot that we’re going to talk about today. And I’m ready just to dive right in. And I’d like to start with you telling us just a little bit more about your law firm. Give me an idea of kind of the services you provide and kind of how big your firm is, and, you know, sort of the makeup of it.
Ruby: Sure. I am a family law firm, which means I help people keep their children and their assets during a divorce. That’s, you know, our focus. Family law also encompasses adoption, paternity suits, premarital agreements, pretty much everything surrounding the raising of children or a marriage or the dissolution of a marriage. And right now I have got five people full-time on my firm. I am interviewing for an additional attorney as we speak. I’m hoping in the next little while that I’ll have an additional full-time attorney on board. I also do some significant work in wills and probate but the focus of my firm really is on family law.
Davina: Right. Okay. Great. Great. So tell me how long have you been, how long has the Bolton Law Firm been in existence? When did you start that firm?
Ruby: Well, I have been practicing since 1994. And my first husband was an attorney as well. And when I began practicing is the two of us were together. I got divorced and formed a firm, which was the Bolton Law Firm in 2011.
Davina: Okay, so you’ve been doing this a little while now.
Ruby: I have. I’ve been around the block.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. And you’ve been doing it. You have a pretty big family, don’t you?
Ruby: Yes, I do. I have five children. And they are 23, 21, 19,18 and 14.
Davina: Wow. So you’ve been doing this while even raising a family with five children. That to not have been easy.
You Don’t Need to Feel Guilty For Being Successful
Ruby: No, it was definitely challenging. So I will tell you that I come from a very traditional background. And when I first made the decision to go to law school, my first husband and I were in agreement that we wanted to have a large family. And we discussed that I would spend my time primarily with the children. I really liked the idea of being licensed and doing some law because I really enjoyed it. And I think it’s important to continue to have other interests even when you’re raising your family. So the plan was that I would be mostly at home with the children and just come into the office occasionally.
But quite honestly, that never really worked out. And I have been pretty heavily involved throughout. So when my children were younger, there was always this, you know, kind of tension where I wanted to spend as much time as I could with them. And yet, I was needed at the firm, quite honestly. I’m a very good business manager. My first husband was a good lawyer, he was not a business manager. And those are, that’s a very necessary skill if you’re going to have your own firm. And so I came into the office, right from the beginning, a fair amount.
And as I said, throughout our marriage, there was a bit of tension in that I wanted to be home with the children. I didn’t want to be in running the business and practicing law too much. I wanted to do it. I loved doing it. But I was always trying to minimize the amount of time that I spent there. So I noticed, of course, I love your podcast. I’ve listened to a number of episodes. I think you’re a fabulous Interviewer and I love the things that you bring out to people.
And one of the reasons I was so excited to have you talk to me is because, quite honestly, I think that there’s a lot to be learned from looking at the way that my journey went, to where I became, you know, where I started out thinking, I don’t want to work. I want to be with my kids. And I really kind of resisted going into the office to where I am now, which is that I don’t think that a mother having a job is necessarily incompatible with raising a family. And the biggest factor really in my being successful was making the decision that it was okay. That it was not something that I needed to feel guilty about.
That, you know, I could love my children and be committed to having a family and that it was alright for me also to be successful. And it was alright that people that met me knew me primarily for my success in the courtroom, primarily because I was a good businesswoman. And then they learn I have children, because I know it sounds odd, but that bothered me at one time because my picture of myself the way I had been raised, I defined success by was I seen primarily as a mother.
And so it in my case, was very much a process and coming to a decision that was first forced by the fact that I got divorced. I had to completely support my family and I needed to quit resisting and learn kind of how do I balance that with continuing to be involved in my children’s lives and there for them and love them and yet still be a very devoted and effective attorney. And so it’s definitely been quite a process.
Davina: So it was beyond, it’s beyond just having a job. It’s really about being the breadwinner, is really what you’re talking about. It’s really about being the one who, you know,
Ruby: I think primarily, it’s much beyond having a job. It’s how do you see yourself? And when you’re working do you feel guilty for being good at what you do? Do you feel guilty for enjoying it? Because I love what I do. You know, I get high out of being in a courtroom. I’m an extremely skilled advocate. And you know, I get a lot of attention in my professional world. And one time when people, you know, would say me, oh, you know, I heard you know, your greatest, it actually made me feel bad.
Like I must not be focusing enough on my kids that I’m primarily known for, for what I do in the business world. And I know that sounds odd and it was really a journey for me to recognize that I was torn by that, that I felt badly for enjoying so much what I did and for excelling at it, When I did start officially working full time and when I got divorced, I still had this mindset of I needed to keep my practice small because I was raising my family, and I didn’t want to feel or be perceived as putting my job in front of them.
And so as I was raising my children even working full-time, I always, it was important to me that my practice was small because I didn’t want it to be perceived as the focus. And really, I think that that is true of a lot of women. I think that a great many women feel like they need to act as though they don’t really enjoy their jobs or act as though they don’t really care how successful they are, or how much they grow. And what I realized is it was a decision I made, you know? At one point of, you know, I don’t feel guilty for this. My children are well taken care of and it is okay for me to succeed. And it is okay that I’m well known not for my family, but for what I do,
Davina: This is Ruby, this is so, I think this is going to be really controversial and I’m so glad that you brought this up and you’re talking about this because I talk with women lawyers all the time. And you and I are of a different generation, you know, we’re a little bit older and, you know, but I talk with women attorneys all the time who are younger, who are starting families and they’re making choices. And so much of their decision making about it is still very traditional, it’s still very traditional in terms of them. And there’s a lot of that sort of, you know, guilt. Guilt is what you’re talking about,
Ruby: That is exactly what I am talking about, and yeah. People used to tell
Davina: And not being able to say I want a big firm or I want or I want a, I want to go to this place where I feel really good, right? A big career. So,
Ruby: And I do want to make sure that people understand I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with being a homemaker and being a mother and being a stay at home mom. I loved raising my children, especially when they were little. And if my original plan had worked out, and I had, you know, spent 10 hours a week working, I think I would have been happy. I think I would have felt fulfilled. I think I would have been glad that I had an outside interest as well. But I think I would have been happy.
I’m not trying to say there’s anything wrong with being a stay at home mom or that it can’t be fulfilling. What I am saying is that I think so many working women, when you’re at work, you feel guilty that you’re not at home. And when you’re at home, you feel guilty that you’re not progressing more in the workforce. And I think what I’m advocating for is more that, you know, it’s a valid choice, to stay home, to work part-time or not to work outside the home. But it’s equally a valid choice to work full-time and have an amazing career and be a mother.
And I don’t think that, as a society, we ought to look at that as an either-or choice. You know, nobody has a problem with the President of the United States having little children. And yet when women have a successful career, when they’re running a firm, well, there’s this thought of their poor kids, you know?
Davina: Well, the fact that you and I are having this conversation if I were interviewing a man, I often think about that. When I mentioned that when I’m having a conversation with women, and I mentioned that they have children, and I often think to myself, you know, if I were interviewing a man would I ask that? Would I say something about having children? But the reason that I do is because I know that it is still a very different thing in our society for women. It still is. It is what it is right now. And that is, mothers still have, view it differently. It’s still two full-time jobs you’re carrying when you’re doing that, you know?
50/50 Parenting After a Divorce Isn’t Always Practical
Ruby: And I will tell you what, I think one of the things that I have learned with my focus on divorce is that that higher expectation of, you know, and that obligation on women actually harms men as well. And by that what I mean is I represent a lot of fathers in custody battles. And I love representing a good dad. And one of the things that I run into, you hear a lot these days about people advocating for like, well, 50/50. And why shouldn’t you know the children be equally split?
There’s father’s rights groups out there saying, well, it ought to be, you know, the default that we assume that children should live 50/50 with each parent. I’ll tell you, I completely disagree with that. And I think it’s unfair to children. And I think it’s actually unfair to the really amazing fathers out there. You would be amazed at the families that I see where, who first I want to say there’s very few married parents, that parent 50/50 and if you think about it, if a parent is not a 50% of the time parent when they’re together, why would they be a 50% of the time parent when they’re not?
Yeah, in most households, there is a parent, that when the child is upset that they really want to speak with. And I’m not saying that both parents aren’t important. I absolutely think they both need to remain involved and, you know, I’m not at all about excluding one. But children usually bond more with one of their parents. And, you know, our society and tradition does say that that’s more likely to be the mom, and I would agree, but it isn’t always the mom. Sometimes it really is the father. And I have been involved in a number of cases where it became obvious that the child or the children were bonded much more closely with dad.
That dad was the one that was making sure that they went to the dentist and got their shots and did their homework and visiting with the teachers, and yet mom could not allow dad to have custody. Why? Well, because society would just eviscerate her. You know, all her friends would be what’s wrong with you? You, wow, you lost custody of your kids. That’s awful. And that’s because we have this assumption that the real emotional connection that is really only with the mother, and I think that does a disservice to dad.
And I think as a society, it needs to be okay for a woman to say, you know, I love my kids. I love my job. And really, my children are bonded super closely with their dad, and that’s why when we got divorced, it seemed best for them to live with their dad and I’m there and I’m involved. And I’m a great mom but, you know, their primary parent is their father. I think right now as a society, we are not there. People don’t see that there’s a stigma when a woman doesn’t have custody, and I think it’s very harmful.
Davina: That is such an interesting topic that, you know, we really need to delve into and talk about. And I do think that so many you know, there’s with women, we often do, you know, do it to ourselves. We know when we’re talking about our law practice, or, you know, our business, whether it’s our families, our business, we often do things to ourselves, because we’ve put this pressure on ourselves, to do everything, especially high-achieving women to do everything and do everything perfectly, right? So it’s
Ruby: By the way, it makes it hard to make that transition from solo to CEO. The idea that you have to do everything yourself. It keeps women from being successful because one of the hallmarks of a successful person is effective delegation.
Davina: Let’s talk about that in terms of your growing your business. And one of the things that you said earlier was you were talking about your, that you found that you kind of were the one who had this sort of natural business skill as
Ruby: I’m very good at numbers.
Davina: Yeah. So let’s talk about that. Like how did you develop this, is this something just kind of comes naturally to you, this sort of business acumen, or does that come, did you have training in it?
Ruby: Yes and no. So as I said, I am very good at math. I really love numbers. I have an instinctive grasp of where value is, which is, you know, incredibly important in my practice. I do high-asset divorce, you know, I do divorces where there’s, you know, a family business involved and getting a good value on it. And, you know, figuring out well what separate, you know, what if somebody assets came from an inheritance, and what came from money earned during the marriage, all that is, is incredibly important. I also really enjoy learning.
You know, at the time that I went to law school, I largely was going to law school for fun. Remember, I was only supposed to be working a few hours a week. So I have an incredible appetite for skills and knowledge. I listen to a ton of books. And I think that if you, it’s a very different decision. Do you want to be a lawyer or do you want to run a business?
And just like you go to law school to learn how to think as an attorney, I think that if you’re wanting to run a business, it’s important that you read, listen, put a seminar. Learn. That’s a different skill set. If you’re going to run a business, you need to be able to make good decisions about who to hire to align your practice well, so that things don’t get dropped and forgotten. Law has an incredible amount of deadlines that have to be tracked. So it’s important to put processes in place.
So that, you know, if there are multiple people in your firm, you don’t have where, you know, oh, well, we didn’t prepare for this because everybody thought somebody else was doing it. You know, we didn’t give the client to call because the attorneys thought the paralegal was doing it, the paralegal thought, you know, the administrative assistant was doing it and somehow it didn’t get done. There’s a lot of management involved in the practice. And if you’re going to do it, well, it can’t be an afterthought. It’s got to be something you plan.
Davina: Right, right. And sounds like you really delved into it and became good at it because you have a passion for it. And so you educated yourself on it. You went and invested in the education to be good at it.
Ruby: I am a very goal-driven person. So I will tell you that as I said, my focus even after I got divorced, I wanted to keep my practice small, which was a struggle because I eliminated all my advertising. You know, I closed an office, I got very selective about the cases that I had because I had this mindset that I needed to have a small practice because that wasn’t going to be my focus. And, you know, once I let go of that, it was a decision I made and I mapped out.
I’m very goal-oriented, and I mapped out okay, well, how am I going to do this if I am going to, you know, really grow my practice, I want to pay for five children to go to college. That doesn’t happen with, you know, one person and one assistant. And so, you know, I became board certified in family law there, which is a designation like one out of 100 attorneys in the state of Texas have. It was very important to me that I was extremely good at what I did.
And I thought the first step to growing a practice I’m going to become a recognized expert among the lawyers for what I do. And then the next thing I did is I kind of put myself to business school. You know, I listened to audiobooks all the time. I also read a lot. I am a big believer in, I looked for some, you know, good podcasts and blogs on how to run a law firm successfully. I followed them for a long time.
Whenever I found an area I didn’t think I knew enough about, I found somebody explaining how to do it. And that’s the amazing thing about technology. There is so much information out there on YouTube, podcasts, blogs, just articles, books, audiobooks. If you isolate your weaknesses, figure out what you’re not good at, what isn’t working, and look for resources on how to make it work.
Davina: Right. Right. Excellent, excellent advice. I want to go back to what you said about when you first split up with your husband.
Ruby: My first husband? I’m remarried now and very happily.
Davina: Yeah. Good. Good. So you had started your firm and at first, she wanted to keep it small and so I have a couple of questions here. One is I want to know part a, I want to know why you cut out your advertising. What your thinking was by keeping it small. And then the second part of that question is, at what point was the turning point in your mind where you finally realized that, you know, I can have something bigger? Like, what was the shift? What was the catalyst for that change for you?
Make The Decision to Succeed
Ruby: Sure. I kind of had this mindset in that because I had been raised with the idea that I should be a stay at home mom and because I come from a traditional background. I had this idea that well, of course, there are some women that have to work but you would never want to work unless you had to. And the way I kind of interpreted that I was, if I had more money than I needed, then I was obviously working more than I needed to, which meant that, you know, I wasn’t working because I had to, therefore, I wasn’t focusing on my family enough.
Davina: So you really have a very strong money story around that. Like, if you had excess money, it meant you’re working too much and not focusing on your children, which meant somehow that you were a bad mother, and so this is a story from your, you know, from the way you were raised. From your childhood or something, right? From your past.
Ruby: I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and people know us as Mormons. And I just come from a very traditional background. A woman should be raising the children. And I probably to a lot of your listeners sound like I’m speaking from a different country or something. But it was something that was wrapped around my DNA, you know?
Davina: It’s real to you, right? is very real. There are a lot of women who have, who will relate to that maybe for different reasons. But will have that feeling of guilt about the, you know, the mom guilt, like if I’m doing, if I’m here, then I’m not there, you know?
Ruby: And what really brought out the guilt was how much I liked it. Meaning I love being a lawyer. I love my family law attorney. I love helping people, you know, either reach a good agreement or, you know, really delving into, you know, making sure someone’s able to take their inheritance with them out and I like what I do. And as I said, I’m very good at it, which again, you would not think would be a source of guilt. But it was. So, for me when you ask what the turning point is, I’ll be quite honest with you, my children started going to college.
And I had, I was not prepared to finance five college educations. So at that point, I thought, Okay, well, you know, I serve my children also by maximizing my earning capability. And it was kind of a process. First off, you don’t have to, I had this mindset, which was wrong, you know, that the harder you work, the more you make, and you know, that extra dollars has to mean extra time. And that’s not true. It’s really in how you structure and manage and hire.
And I do think that if I had known now, what I knew, you know, when I first started having children, you know, I could have had a successful multi-attorney firm and spent as much time with my children as I did. And so I think it was really harmful this idea that, you know, I don’t want to be a business person. My focus isn’t on being successful. I will tell you right now, I am successful, I want to be more successful. I’m going to grow my firm. And I think that for women to be successful, the number one thing they need to do is to make that decision.
And that sounds like well obvious, but no, it’s not. I think a lot of people wake up and they think, Okay, how am I going to make these bills this month. And it is a real decision to say I’m not trying to make my monthly bills. I want to have a firm that provides me with an excellent lifestyle and money for my children’s future needs. And if they want to open their businesses I want to have, you know, I have a daughter wanting to be a veterinarian. You know how much it costs to open a veterinary practice?
Davina: And to become a veterinarian.
Ruby: Exactly. I have another daughter that wants to be a reconstructive surgeon. And, I mean, you’re talking about, you know, I don’t think I have any of my five children that the doesn’t want at least a master’s degree, and I want to be able to give that to them. And I think that part of loving my children at this point is being very successful and just deciding I don’t want to be a little successful. I want to be very successful.
I want to have a very profitable, effective firm. It’s amazing how much easier it becomes when your goal isn’t just okay, well, I want enough to have a house in a good school district. When your goal is no, I want to be very successful it becomes a lot easier to be, but you’ve got to make that decision. You’re not going to become very successful if you haven’t decided to.
Davina: Absolutely, absolutely. You just said a mouthful right there. That is absolutely it. It is that vision that you have and that decision that you make, that makes all the difference.
Ruby: Right. And how are you going to define success? How much money does your firm have to bring in for you to decide this is where I need to be? Part of its really deciding on that and revising that number. Because I guarantee you the first number you come up with when you reach it you’ll realize, no I want more.
Davina: Right, right. You thought that was an ambitious number and then you get it. You’re like, oh my gosh, this is not gonna be enough.
Ruby: Not only that, but you realize that you can. You know, it’s not just, you know what I would like to have more, it’s, my gosh, I see the way ahead of me. It’s kind of like walking across the bridge in the fog, and you can see the steps right in front of you. But the further you go, you can always see the next step that you need to take as long as you know where your ultimate destination is. It’s okay that you don’t know every single step along the way.
Davina: Right, right. This is terrific. Terrific visual there. I love that. I love that. So let’s talk about your, let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of your firm and your team now because you have started on this growth process and you have a team now. You’ve, it’s not just you and your paralegal. You really invested, and you just moved didn’t you? Didn’t you just move to
Ruby: I did. So part of deciding that, Okay, I need to grow while I was in a building, I owned that building in Tomball. I love the Tomball community. That’s, you know, I’ve got still two children in Tomball High School. I had an office there 1200 square feet. So we’re bursting out of the scene, and for a long time, and I’ll say too if you want to grow your firm, you’ve got to have physical space to do it in.
And I think that we somehow restrict ourselves if we don’t have opportunity. And so deciding to sell that office I now have a 2700 square foot office in the Woodlands and then I have a small satellite office in Tomball so that for the benefit of my clients who are still there. But my plan right now is for growth. So I told you I’ve got five full-time people right now. I want to have 14, and within 18 months from now. Right now I have it structured. I have myself an office manager, two paralegals and a full-time receptionist.
I have been aggressively interviewing and promoting looking for an associate attorney. I’ve got one in particular that I think has a ton of promise. But what I want, where I plan to be, I want to have three to four attorneys with each one having a support staff of two paralegals and an administrative person.
Davina: Excellent. I love having this conversation with you, and I’ll tell you why. Because so many, you know, it is very common to see big law firms, midsize law firms and big law firms founded by men and what I call the white men over 50 Club, white men over 60 Club. Right? That our big, midsize law firms or mid or large law firms founded by men, and it’s very, it’s a very common thing, right?
And they might have, you know, they might promote a female partner, you know, into it, you know, or, you know, there might be people of color, they might promote, you know, one, you know, one or two partners there, whatever. But generally speaking, when you look their, the makeup of the firm it, that’s what you get at the top. So they may hire other lawyers, but that’s who the partners are, right?
And it has been my goal to talk with women and kind of a mission to get women to start thinking bigger, beyond just the solo law firm where it’s just, you know, a woman and one or two staffers, or a woman and one associate and some staffers. Why not? Why are women not reaching higher and saying I want to have a large law firm? I want to have, I want it to be a woman-owned law firm with women at the helm and I want it to be a large law firm or a mid-sized law firm, not just a law firm with one or two, which is what I find where a lot of women kind of stopped themselves there.
And they, and I think we’re the place that it comes from, is a lot of women who, you know, wanting the flexibility because they’re raising kids, and they say, Well, I want flexibility, right? But I look at it and say, Well, what if you could have a large law firm? What if you could create something like that? And you’re, what if you could create more and still have that, you know,
Ruby: Exactly, because if you look at, you know, first you don’t get to a large law firm by accident. You’ve got to decide this is what I want. And if you look at the people practicing law, particularly family law has a large number of solo practices. There are some absolutely incredible attorneys out there. In fact, I had lunch with a gentleman yesterday. He’s a fabulous lawyer. Well, it’s him and his wife is his, you know, paralegal/office manager and it’s just the two of them. I think people have this idea well if you’re good enough your practice is going to happen on its own, built on its own. Well, maybe sometimes.
But if you talk to successful people in every field, not just the practice of law, you become very successful by planning to be. And if you want to be a 20, Attorney firm, you have to sit down and say, Okay, this is where I want to go, what’s the first step to get there, and how do I get there, and how do I learn to run a firm of that size? And get yourself prepared to be there.
And I think that the important thing, we need to realize is that, you know, you look at people that are very successful. They don’t necessarily work longer hours than your solo practitioner making do with a contract paralegal and answering their own phone. In fact, I’ll bet you that solo practitioner making, trying to get every single phone and draft all their plating and do all their research and everything themselves. It’s working harder and longer.
Davina: Right, right. And I just feel like that. It’s like, we don’t dream big enough. We cut off that desire. We don’t dream big enough. We don’t say, you know, I can do that. Why not me? Why can’t I do that? You know, and somehow there’s this cap on our dreams. You know that
Ruby: People talk about Yeah, the glass ceiling that people talk about, a lot of times, it’s not put there by the people above us. It’s there by us.
Davina: Right. Oh, absolutely.
Ruby: Yeah. We need to and, you know, as we’re not reaching higher, we’re not going to accomplish more. We’ve got to be trying for more to get there.
Davina: Right. Right. Absolutely. Well, this has just been fantastic. I know we’re getting close to the end of our time here. But I could keep talking to you probably for another hour, but we’re going to wrap it up today. So but Ruby, it’s just been a real pleasure chatting with you. Before we end, I’d like to know if there’s any kind of nugget, golden nugget of wisdom you could share with anybody who’s on the solo CEO journey behind you. What would that be?
Learn to be a Business Owner as Well as a Professional
Ruby: I think that once you have decided that you want to run a business, you’re not just practicing law, you’re running a business. You need to learn how people who have done it successfully did it. Research out there. There’s some wonderful resources for how to become the owner of a law firm. And that’s what you need to research. It’s not going to happen by accident. You’ve got to be going for it.
Davina: Right. That’s, that’s great advice. Great advice. I love it. Thank you so much for sharing that. So how can we find out more about the Bolton Law Firm?
Ruby: Well, I am on the internet. My website is bolttonlaw.com. I also have a YouTube channel which is Ask a Texas Attorney. I have a Facebook page which is also facebook/askatexasattorney. And, reach out. I’d love to speak with anybody who’s interested and I look forward to hopefully meeting some of your listeners.
Davina: Great, thank you so much. I really appreciate you being here. It’s been a delight and I’m sure we will be talking again soon. Thanks so much.
Ruby: Thank you.