How to Expand Your Practice Statewide, Serve More Clients, and Cultivate Referrals
This is a really enjoyable interview with Ms. Marsha Stiles, one of our veteran provider attorneys. One of the things that’s unique about Marsha is that she started out in the Springfield, Missouri jurisdiction and over the years has expanded to St. Louis, Missouri and Kansas City now. These are not cities that are just an hour apart. It’s literally the three corners of the state, three to four hours apart depending on where you’re coming from. She walks us through the process that she’s gone through to open up these new regions and how she’s been able to leverage our lead generation services in order to do that. Some of the other things that we talk about in this episode, she talks about strategies for training her staff to call her leads when she’s not available without her having to lose any clients in the process. She streamlined that, scripted it, and trains her clients a specific way. She elaborates on that.
We also talk about the importance of creating multiple service options like unbundled legal services and then sharing them from the lowest cost option to the highest, and why that allows your clients to be a lot more receptive to getting started in your practice. We talk a lot about strategies for cultivating referrals. She has a lot of unique ways to do so such as offering in-home appointments and a number of other things as well. This is a really interesting call for creating ideas to work with clients in ways that you, maybe, hadn’t considered before. We also talk about the importance of building a legal brand rather than law practice, and how genuinely caring about your clients is the greatest sales strategy. This is a great call from one of our attorneys that has worked with us for a very long time. With that, we’ll jump right in. This interview with Marsha Stiles, one of our provider attorneys out of Springfield, St. Louis, and Kansas City, Missouri.
Dave Aarons: Hey, Marsha, welcome to the show.
Marsha Stiles: Hey, how are you today?
Dave Aarons: I’m excellent. It’s a pleasure to be back and chatting with you again. You’re quite busy these days, understandably, with the amount of folks we’ve been sending you in and the amount of people that have been retaining you. I’m glad that we’re getting a chance to jump on the line and catch up and hear how things are going and learn more about your process. Thanks for joining us.
Marsha Stiles: Well, I do apologize. I know we had to schedule this way out in advance, but like you said, I have been keeping rather busy. I’m very happy about that.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It’s a good sign. Maybe we could start by, I think … Gosh, we’ve been working together for at least a couple years now, right, since we first started?
Marsha Stiles: I think it’s been at least two years.
Dave Aarons: Yeah.
Marsha Stiles: At least that much. It’s not more.
Dave Aarons: You’re one of our veterans, the program. You got a lot of experience. We can talk a little bit more about how many clients you’ve been taking and the opposites and so forth, but maybe, there’s a good place to start as you can give people a little background on how you got started in the practice, the areas you serve and what you focus on in your practice, primarily.
Marsha Stiles: I like to tell people that I am a full-service practice because I am very multi-faceted. I’ve been a teacher of law. I try to develop areas of the practice and then I’ll hire an attorney to take that over. I’ll guide them and mentor them while I build up another practice area. We do a lot of estate planning, asset protection, business development, family law and juvenile law among other things. We do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Bankruptcy, I haven’t tackled for a while and I haven’t tackled too many things like employment law. I’m late but I prefer not to.
Dave Aarons: Right. Okay. Maybe you could share a little bit about the areas you service. Because when we first started working together, you were focusing on just Springfield, Missouri, but I think you mentioned you grew up in St. Louis and I have an office there. Is that right?
Marsha Stiles: Well, I grew up, actually, in Philadelphia but I downsized to St. Louis and lived there for about 20 years, and had a practice out there before working for the Federal Government for a while. I do have people that still look me up because that’s where I taught well at. In that happening, I decided to test the waters and see if I could expand my practice. What I did is, I contacted unbundled attorneys and said that “You’re already doing, you’re giving me leads from Greene County and Taney County, Christian County and some surrounding counties there.” I decided to test the waters out and get some leads from there and get some leads from Kansas as well and see if it could be developed into something much more enough to open up a satellite office. At this point, I think, it’s justifying the cost. It’s the great way to cast your bread on the water and see if it floats because you’re not investing a lot of money into it.
I don’t have an 800 number or St. Louis area code at this time although, well, probably working towards that 800 number, but even at that, I let people know when I get back to them that we have multiple offices. It does give me an air of, I guess, I don’t want to say importance but it puts me up there with the big dogs. They have multiple offices around the world even though I’m just in the little itty-bitty State called, Missouri but it’s been developing quite nicely to the point where I do have an attorney that I’ve got working up starting on a part-time basis. We’re looking, now, for a physical office that we can work out of. He already has an office in a nice place, but we’re working to get more of a presence where we can have our name on the marque and things like that. It’s certainly something that I wouldn’t have known would be a good investment have I not had the leads coming from that source.
Dave Aarons: Right. Got you. That’s, maybe, an interesting area to dive into because most of our attorneys are working on one specific area of the state. We have a couple that handled an entire state. We can talk about strategies for that as well, but you’ve gone from one specific area, let’s say, and then expanded into a new office. Maybe you can share a little bit about how that process went. You started taking some leads and now, you were doing some driving back and forth, but what were the first steps? Maybe you were fielding leads for yourself, and then how did you go about once you figured out that, “Hey, maybe, there might be something here,” identifying the attorney that you might be able to create a relationship with to feel them going forward in that region?
Marsha Stiles: Well, I already go back and forth a little bit because I do estate planning and I do it all over the state. I also have kids in St. Louis. I’m very familiar with the area. The courts already know me. One of the churches that I represent allowed me to use their facility as a satellite place. Also, a lot of times, local bar associations being an out of towner, your membership dues are very little. You can use their conference rooms for almost no cost. It’s very pompous. It’s very nice to have clients come in. I would do things like that. I would go down there twice a month. I’d have it pre-scheduled. I just do back to back intakes.
The frustrating thing, of course, is when you don’t have someone show up, but usually, I can get people confirm ahead of time so I know what I’m looking at. I figured out that if I can get two new clients a month that that justifies the cost of hiring a part-time attorney. That way, that person can make my appearances for me and the cases can be worked up. Exploring it further, it just looks like a really good idea to pay this person a salary to start handling some of the cases and doing a few of the intakes as well. I met somebody that had my mindset. I explained to him the greater project out there of having a satellite office. It’s funny because this person, really, does not care for family law too much, but when I described to him what the ultimate goal was, he was very interested and he has very good management skills.
The hope is to develop it enough that when we do move into a physical building that’s just ours and not a satellite office, that we’ll have junior attorneys in there so that he can supervise them and be more in that capacity in doing the other areas of the law and training up the newer attorneys to do the family law. That really sat well with him. He looks at it as an investment, long-term, for himself. We just tag team. There are cases that he’s uncomfortable with and I go in there and I litigate them. There are cases that he’s fine with and I’ll work them up and I’ll ask him to go represent on because he’s closer. We’ve just worked out a good relationship like that.
Dave Aarons: Got you. When the leads come through, you’ve got leads coming through in Springfield, you have leads coming through in Kansas City, and then you have leads coming through in St. Louis. How do you guys manage the new leads coming from one source and then distributing them accordingly from there?
Marsha Stiles: Well, what I do is, I fill them from this office and we get the appointment set up for the face-to-face in his office. If it’s a phone intake, which we offer phone intakes for some people, then it goes to whoever is available. Usually, I’m doing most of the intakes myself. I have a very large experience in sales, in closing and things like that. I’m very good with doing that. The face-to-face, he’s really good with, but when there is a client that’s maybe on offense, he calls me and I just close it. What we have set up, we call it the hot phone. It’s a cell phone that our office number will go to by hitting option two. You could call in the middle of the night and you can actually get to somebody. If a person were to call, we would be able to address that immediately. When the lead comes in, the leads go to the email that’s on that cell phone to whoever has possession of the cell phone for that night automatically calls to try to make contact with that person.
In the unlikely event that we cannot reach them for some reason or another, we automatically send an email letting them know, “We’re going to call you when we reopen at 8:00 a.m. from our Springfield office, but we do have multiple offices in different areas.” Very few people have raised an eyebrow at that. We’ve had, maybe one, let’s say, “Well, I think I’d rather be with somebody more local.” Once we explained that we are local, they were fine.
Dave Aarons: Got you. Eventually, once you take that next step, you’ll have the local number in St. Louis. Even though that one person that might have raised an eyebrow, would even feel …
Marsha Stiles: Right.
Dave Aarons: … that would basically have in that entirely. Okay. You mentioned, no-shows. We’ll just cover that real quick given that you’re handling multiple regions. I’m sure that’s a challenge because the last thing you want to do is drive across the state and then have the folks that you’ve booked and not show up. Were there some systems that you implemented that improved the no-show rate over time? If so, what did you find has worked the best to make sure that you’re limiting the amount of folks that don’t show up?
Marsha Stiles: Well, what we do is, we try to contact them immediately. That gives people a lot of warm fuzzies right there. That’s a legal term, by the way, but when we schedule the appointment, we let them know that we’re going to call them up the day before the appointment and confirm it. If it’s not confirmed, we’re not going to be sitting there waiting. We do let them know that if they miss the appointment or have to reschedule without at least 24 hours notice, then when they do schedule the next appointment that there is a fee associated with that. That seems to do the trick.
Dave Aarons: Got you. When you first made contact with them, is there a fee for that next appointment or that’s basically their first step after you chat with them to get to know your firm and they’re not paying necessarily to come in?
Marsha Stiles: Right. I really try to keep that first one absolutely free. It works for the client because they’re going to get at a face-to-face meeting and they’re going to be able to get all their questions answered. For me, I’ll sit there and I’ll tell the client that, this is my opportunity for you to relax, give me everything that you got and you don’t have to fear this ungodly bill coming from this meeting. After this meeting, I care enough about your finances that I’m going to get it all now and I’m not going to call you into the office every time we have a court hearing. I will call you into the office every time we need to sign something. I’m going to be efficient with the money that you’d give me so that we’re using it wisely. Hopefully, at the end of the day, you can see something come from that and I’ll let the client know that even when they’re giving a full retainer and making payments on the payment planned schedule that that money in the trust account is there to ensure payment but that we’re not just looking at that and saying, “That’s the money we’re going to spend.”
I let my clients know that if I can offer a refund at the end of their case, that’s just good marketing for me. That makes the client feel a little bit more relaxed about and trusting me with their funds and knowing that I’m going to do a good job for them without gouging them.
Dave Aarons: Right. Exactly. Now, we’re starting to chat a little bit more about how you work with the clients. Maybe we can start from the beginning as far as when that lead comes in. You mentioned that you guys try to call them right away. Sometimes that’s possible for you personally to do that because of your schedule, but other times, you’re in a meeting, you’re at court. How have you been able to be effective at calling them as soon as possible? Because as you know, it doesn’t make a really big difference and the contact ratio and then how the client feels as a result. How do you work around making sure you’re getting back to them as quickly as possible?
Marsha Stiles: We always have somebody at the front desk. We have a dedicated email that these intakes come in through, that all our leads come in through. In the office, that email is up on my receptionist’s screen. When I’m out of the office, she also has the office cell phone where I can text her back and forth if I need information. Those leads come in on both of those sources. So that when they pop up right away, we know there’s a lead and we can call right away. When the office is closed, that cell phone goes home with somebody. I get leads on my phone even though I might not have what we call the hot phone. Either myself or whoever has that phone call right away to make that first connection with that person, and just to give them a little bit of information. Then let them know that we’re very approachable and that we’re attorneys that are responsive to their phone calls because the biggest complaint people have with attorneys is that attorneys don’t return their calls.
Dave Aarons: You’ll have someone that has that hot phone that will call them back even after normal business hours?
Marsha Stiles: Even at eleven o’clock at night. I’ve had leads come in at 3:00 a.m. and while I did not call them, I confess, I did send them an email right away saying, “Hey, I just happen to wake up and see this. Hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to wait until the morning to call you.” That was fine.
Dave Aarons: Wow. Well, you guys are really doing everything you can and get back to them. I’m sure people really appreciate that. By the way, how do people respond when you give them a ring back, let’s say, 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. or they just submit the request? I’m assuming they’re pretty surprised …
Marsha Stiles: They’re pretty shocked.
Dave Aarons: … by you guys willing. Yeah.
Marsha Stiles: They’re pretty shocked, but it’s a pleasant surprise. When they find out we’re so flexible and working with them, we take a holistic approach. We’ve got people that call quite often. Unfortunately, we can’t help them. They’re calling and the kids are in another state and we’re not licensed in that other state. We just give them a little bit of peace of mind, so that way, they know that they’re going to get another response. Even if it’s not as quickly as our response was, that they’re going to have somebody that’s pretty much like us and willing to work with them and try to do all they can to help them.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Exactly. Okay. Maybe we can start chatting a little bit about once you do get them on the phone, and by the way, if you’re not the one to speak with them and let’s say it’s your assistant, do you have the assistant get into the specifics of the legal situation or is there a primary role to schedule the time for them to speak with you?
Marsha Stiles: Their primary role is to get enough of the facts. They cannot give legal advice and they let them know it, but it is to explain the process and how we go about doing business, how we go about scheduling them for an intake. We don’t charge for that intake unless, of course, they have to reschedule or they miss an appointment without any notice, and then we’ll charge them a fee for the next month. We let them know what full representation looks like, but also, that we work in other ways too such as limited scope and we explain what limited scope is. My assistants, they go through and they explain all that but they do get enough of the facts so they can determine, is this an in-state case or was it erroneous in contacting us. Also, just to try to put them at ease. That person that talks with them the first time has got to be somebody very likable.
Even if they don’t have the answer, they just put that person at ease so they can relate to them and know that when they call this office, they’ve got some caring individuals on the other line.
Dave Aarons: Got you. They do actually get into some of the specifics of the different cost options that you guys typically offer. Did you script out for them? How did you end up training them? Because we have had some attorneys that I’ve had challenges with having someone other than themselves do that initial call because people get sticker shock and then they go away before the initial appointment. How have you worked around that or trained them so that they’re giving more of a general basis so that people aren’t getting scared away by that initial call right over the phone?
Marsha Stiles: Well, we do have a script that they use. Frankly, until they get that sucker memorized, they’re not on their own, but they have, pretty much, like a little tree that they go through. They want to make sure it’s a good time to talk. They want to make sure that the guy that they’re talking to has a pen and paper handy so that they can write down notes. They ask a little bit about what’s going on so they can ascertain what county is this in, what state is this in. They ask a little bit about what their finances look like, what employment they have. The nice thing about it is, we try not to be very clinical about it and more like a chit chat thing so that clients are a little bit more comfortable talking about those things. Often, potential clients don’t want to talk about their income because they think your rates are going to go up.
We try to talk a little bit about just how their life is going in general and what brought them to this place that they’re at now calling an attorney. We just go down the line and ask them, is it something that they’re just looking into or if they talked to another attorney yet and if they see themselves hiring an attorney. All that good stuff that you want to get, and then ask them if they would want to save money on it. If they could represent themselves or do some of the work. No matter who comes in the door …
Dave Aarons: You-
Marsha Stiles: … when we do talk to them, we bank that up by giving them a little sheet. “This is nine ways to save on your legal fees,” and give them some ideas about doing that regardless of whether they wanted representation on a limited scope basis or on a full basis, but we have the person on the phone making sure that they understand the difference between full representation, limited scope, just document preparation, documents assistance and client coaching. Once-
Dave Aarons: Okay. You’ve got full representation, limited scope, client coaching. It sounds like you guys are using the Unbundled Attorney or at least a variation of the primary introduction script. How do you explain or how do they explain? If you remember, roughly, how you guys phrase it, how do you break down those various different options? What are the price points that maybe initial call person maybe not yourself just someone that’s a receptionist or something would be able to break down the option so that the client has a general idea of what they’re looking at financially?
Marsha Stiles: Well, everybody that works here, they shadow me for a couple weeks in my appointments so they can see how I deal with people and how I explain it to them. They know that they can’t quote fees. They tell them, pretty much, that if you went to a dentist, you wouldn’t want the hygienist telling people that they need oral surgery. They would want to wait for the dentist to come in and do that. That’s the role. It’s just to get it all cleaned up and neat so that the attorney can come in and really assess what they need. They can relate to that. They can’t give them a ballpark on what it would cost for full representation, but they can say, “With limited scope representation, we’re able to do it as to what you can afford. That we’d get a retainer for what you need.” Usually, a simple document review is, we charge an hour for. If they would like us to draft something, we have some flat rates that we’re still tweaking on just making sure that the prices are accurate.
Basically, if you want to petition draft it in the ancillary documents that go with that, in the State of Missouri, you have an income and expense. You have a property and debt. You have a certificate of dissolution for a divorce. We can usually bundle that up for about $800 for those initial documents or in this State, we do have a self-represent website where you can get the form and you can go down and check the boxes and fill it in, and then we can check it over for you to make sure that you not only filled it out correctly but that you’re not changing yourself. A lot of people value just being able to come in and learning what the process is after they file that paper.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It sounds like you’re stepping from the bottom of the ladder and working your way up or you can come in for an hour. We can give you coaching and advice. You can get the forms. We can review. That’s about an hour and then you have a next level, which is the petition. We draft it. It’s usually working on a flat rate. Maybe you’re staff can give them a range, $500 to $1,000 or somewhere in there. Do they also talk about the next step where we handle things from start to finish and that’s where we’ll start with a retainer? You pay a little bit higher rate upfront and then we bill up by the hour from there and just go and just cover the whole gamut.
Marsha Stiles: Right. They cover that even when we do full representation. We have paralegals that charge a little. We bill a little bit less. We have a team approach here and that everybody is familiar with their case. That way, when they call, anybody can usually give them a status about where their case is at. All my clients, they have the ability to reach an on-call attorney if they have questions. If they have an emergency, we do charge a fee for that, but it’s nominal. It’s just to keep people from calling me in the middle of church on Sundays. They usually respect that, but it does begin with, “Okay, there’s some documents that you can look at on the internet that you can do yourself. What do you think about those? Oh, I don’t know about that. Okay, well, if you don’t like the idea of that, what about and if you had somebody draft that up for you, would you feel better about that?”
If that suits them fine and they do that, and sometimes they just want somebody to go handle the default judgment, that court appearance because they don’t really seek well for themselves or they’re not familiar with the rules of evidence. A lot of times, they just get something. They’re representing themselves already but they have something that’s strange to them like interrogatories. We can go over it with them and just explain it to them and handle any objections that they might want to pose. We can quote them a flat rate on that because we know how much time it’ll take to go over it.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. I really like the way you’re, again, doing more of a bottom-up approach where you’re addressing where they’re at right now and then the lowest to highest services you can provide. “Do you feel comfortable getting those forms? How do you feel about that? Man, I don’t know.” Then you say, “Well if you’d like as alternative we can go and prepare that for you. Would that feel better? Yes, it would. Okay.” You can eventually, maybe once they’ve taken some initial steps, you’ve delivered some initial service, then gradually, they can transition to, “Okay, maybe I want you guys more involved than even this level.” You go from where they’re at and low-end pricing and just starting fees and then they can transition and gradually evolve into more of a full-service relationship. Whereas other attorneys might start from the top and go, “Well, to handle your entire case, you’re looking at $3,000 to $5,000, but if you can’t afford that, we can do this and that.”
I think the way people receive that, it seems like it’d be a very different feeling like, “Ideally, I should have this big amount of money, but if I don’t have that, then the work with me is a lot different than, oh, where are you at now? We can do this for you. How do you feel about that? How do you feel about that?” Then gradually working their way up to, maybe even a full scope relationship if that’s something they can afford and that they want.
Marsha Stiles: Right. It puts them at ease a little bit. They come in already worried about exorbitancies. When you can start somewhere around the bottom, it makes them feel a little bit more secure that you’re actually looking out for them.
Dave Aarons: Right. Exactly. It’s also a much lower, more comfortable barrier to entry.
Marsha Stiles: Yes.
Dave Aarons: Where folks can just get a chance to get to know you, start working and coming in and just, “Hey, either way, I’m going to come out of here with some service from these guys.” Once they’ve had a chance to work with you, then they can go take some of the next steps from there if they would need continued service.
Marsha Stiles: Right.
Dave Aarons: Okay. If you are personally able to make the call, maybe, what can you do a little bit more? What’s the next level that you bring into that call? What’s the Marsha Stiles flare that you’ve been developing that, maybe, you can’t train into a script or give your staff the ability to repeat and just get people in the door and meeting with you? If you’re the one who does the call, is it the same exact process? Are you able to go a little bit more in-depth? Is it different at all from when you take the call versus one of your team members?
Marsha Stiles: It’s definitely different because we don’t need an intake, really, when I do it because I go through … It’s hard to shut up an attorney. I just go through it. By the time I’m done with them on the phone, they’re usually coming in and signing documents. I have a very good closing rate when I call myself. That works very well, but ultimately, when they come in, I’m a very laid back person. We have just enough in our office that we’re not terribly pompous. We’re not really ostentatious, but we’re well put together. It’s very practical when I do a home appointment, which I do. They see me roll up in my little HHR with blue flames. I’m not in some kind of a BMW or anything like that. I think it puts them just at ease coming in and having not a homey atmosphere because it is a business atmosphere, but they can tell it’s laid back the way the staff is and the way they interact and everybody smiles and says hello to them regardless of whether they’re talking to them or not. We just try to develop that report from the get-go.
Dave Aarons: Great. I think you mentioned briefly in there you have home appointments. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Marsha Stiles: Yes. It’s amazing how many people contact us in our on disability. That’s very trying because as an attorney, you know that you can’t sue them for any money, “Oh, they’re exempt.” You have to be a little careful with that. They might not know that and some attorneys will try to get their fees that way. We don’t, but we have to have that in the back of our heads because a lot of people think they can do just big things and they can’t. Because of their being disabled, a lot of times, I have to go out to their home. Not too many attorneys offer house calls. We explain to them. Usually, we can fill them out. Most people, if it’s a lady calling, I have no problem going up to their home. If it’s a guy calling, a little bit different and we’ll make sure that I go and I’m escorted by somebody. We do make those home appointments for people that can’t get out. We also work long distance.
We had one client go through the Unbundled website that we wound up representing fully. He was in Maine. I never did meet him in person, but we did everything electronically and there’s not a lot of attorneys that even want to do that. We just try to think outside the box to accommodate our clients so that they’re not running all over the place.
Dave Aarons: Right. Or if they’re not in a position to come in. Do you factor in a little bit of travel time there? Normally, you would have it be just strictly no-cost consultation, but if you’re going out to do a home visit, is there a little bit different fee structure? Do you typically charge a fee to come to them?
Marsha Stiles: No. No, I don’t. Usually, it’s good word of mouth advertising. Sometimes you don’t see it for a year or two, but usually, when I’m visiting with somebody, they’ll usually wound up calling me back for something even if they don’t retain me right then. I have had a lot of people, by the way, when I do their family law case, the first thing we discuss towards the end of their case is estate planning because they just fought hard for these kids and this money. If they died, guess who gets to control everything, the ex that they didn’t want to have anything. We start talking about estate planning. You really can spin off into other areas of the law. When I go out to their homes, it’s a great opportunity. They have all their documents with them. They’re more laid back because this is their turf, not mine. You can usually get a lot of information just from their surroundings that you might not get in the office.
Dave Aarons: That’s really interesting. Okay. Great. They must be really pleased to hear that. As an attorney, you’d be open to come and meet with them. I’m sure that when they say, “Well, I’m not able to come in the office. Oh, that’s okay. We could come to you.” That they must feel pretty good about that.
Marsha Stiles: Yes. It’s a funny thing because I actually follow up with clients if they have a death in the family it sounds more of a … but I go to the funerals. I make sure that I do things like that and they are just tickled to death. Look, my attorney actually thought enough of me to come to this person to come to their funeral. You’d be surprised, they introduce you to everybody there. You just get so many good referrals. When you do things like that, you’re representing more of an old-time doctor that makes house calls feel and a lot of people really appreciate that.
Dave Aarons: Wow. Okay. Great. What is it for you that you think is one of the things that really contribute to your ability to be so successful with closing those deals over the phone? Maybe, what have you learned over the years on that initial call that really helps you be so effective at getting people in and ready to sign the deal right from that initial call? What contributes to that do you think the most?
Marsha Stiles: One, it’s just because I really care about people and I convey that. I’m a straight shooter. I will tell somebody if they’re being a SOB. They get a whole shocked at it, but I think they appreciate it. That’s probably my East Coast coming through because in the Mid-West they don’t expect that, but usually, I’m very to the point. I try not to waste their time and I’m very honest with them. A lot of attorneys, in my experience, people have gotten burnt because they’re trying to say, “Oh, yeah, this is just $1,500. Give me that and I’ll take care of it.” Two months later, oh, you need another $1,500 and they will lead them on like that. Whereas, I go in from the very beginning and say, “Listen, it’s going to be about 18 months. At the end of the day, you’re going to be spending about $8,000. You need to be prepared for that.” They appreciate it.
If they can’t afford it, at least, they’re not starting something and throwing good money if they’re bad. I also let them know that if I have to withdraw for non-payment, it’s a reality of life. That I’ll set them up in a position where they can take off on their own and do just fine. True story, I had somebody contact me this week that I had to withdraw from a case. I had it all set up. This guy had a drug test. When he came into the office, he was not very well put together at all. I say, “The first thing if you want me to represent you, you need to start going to these meetings. In these meetings, we’re going to do this, that, and the other thing. This is all on your own. I’m not charging you for this. This is what you’re going to do if you really want to be a dad.”
I did have to withdraw, but when I did, the only thing he had to do is show up for his default judgment. Everything was setup. He represented himself. Got the divorce, which in turn, allowed him to get his kids back in a juvenile proceeding. He sent me a message yesterday. They did a hair follicle test on him and it came out negative. I gave him a real good attaboy. I told him how proud I was of him. See, I mothered everybody. He said it honestly brought tears to his eyes that I was still supporting him like that. That’s the relationship I just build up with people.
Dave Aarons: That’s wonderful.
Marsha Stiles: They need to know their values. They need to know that listen, business is business. It doesn’t mean that you’re a horrible person or I’m a horrible person, but if it has to be that way, we’re going to plan for it. If you can’t pay me, we’re going to just plan that you’re going to be in the position where you can take off on your own and survive.
Dave Aarons: Great.
Marsha Stiles: So far, I’ve had clients come back later on and say, “Okay, here’s my credit card. Take $100 out a month until you’re paid off.” Even though I withdrew long before that because I set him up in the position to succeed. I think the unbundled really helped with that because you can see how you can do it in these segments once you start doing limited scope.
Dave Aarons: Maybe we can talk a little bit more about that. You really start, again, low touch to high touch as far as the options you’re providing. Can you get into specifics? You have the one hour or you just give them advice and coaching and maybe took a look at their paperwork, and then you have a flat rate bundle where you’ll prep everything for them, and then you have the option where they prep and then you review and correct and give it back to them. Can you walk through those options? From there, what’s the full representation? We can dive into how you work with people when you’re doing more of a full scope of representation.
Marsha Stiles: Well, if you were coming to me and you’re going through a divorce, I would absolutely say to you, “Well, first of all, I’m sorry that you’re going through this. Nobody wants to go through a divorce.” Let’s try to relate on that level right now and get to … the person has a lot of these feelings and you don’t want to comment. Just cold and hard and bam, bam, bam. It’s good to emphasize and say, “What’s going on? I’m so sorry to hear about that. Okay. What would you like to see happen in this proceeding? You could do whatever you want and if turn out to be the way you want it, what would it be like?” Sometimes they’ll say, “Well, I want custody of the kids.” Or “She’s a good mom and I just want to be able to see my kids. Okay. You ask if she’s filed or anything. If she hasn’t, you ask them if they’re able to get along.” Because if they can get along and come to a decision together, it’s so much better than having a third-party that doesn’t know and make a decision.
We talk a little bit about what they want to see come out of this and a little bit about just the court process. That they file something and that the other person has 30 days to answer. If they don’t, you can get what’s called a default, but if they do answer, then you’ll start the process of discovery and you explain what that’s like and what they need to have in advance of that. You just give them this little education, and then you ask them, “Well, you know, you reached me through this unbundled attorney website. Do you understand what limited scope is?” A lot of times, they’ll just say, “No, I don’t know what it means.” The answer to that would be okay in that setting. There are certain forms that you can find online so that you can represent yourself without the need of an attorney. Especially when you’re short on cash, it might be the way to go especially if you’re getting along and you think you can work this out together. You can use those forms and then file them.
We can always come in and check those forms for you and even make your court appearances if that would make you more comfortable. We ask them, “Well, what do you think about that? Have you ever looked at those forms?” If they say, “No,” we ask them, “Well, would you like to look at those forms before we continue our conversation?” Sometimes they’ll say yes and a lot of times, they’ll say, “Well, I’m not so sure. I mean, this is my children, so I’m not sure if I would want to do that.” Then I say to them, “Well, we can do it where we draft you some of those forms.” That way, they’re tailored to your situation. We take into account the activity of the parties that led up to this thing, the special needs of the kids if there are any. We can draft it for you and then you can file if you’d like and then you’re off to a firm footing.
After that, if you would like, anytime that you have a form that they give you that you need help with, you could come see us and we’ll help you with that. Or if you just feel like it’s too much for you, you’re getting in over your head. It’s like wrestling. You can tag team and we can take over from there, but at least, by doing that, you’re not going to pay an attorney that get up to speed with everything. We talk about different methods of achieving their goals and doing it within their financial abilities, especially if they are on disability, they have a fixed income and very little disposable income to speak of. Sometimes we’ll talk to them and it’s not something that’s pressing. We’ll let them know that they can actually put it on layaway if they’d like and they could make payments to our trust account. When they’re ready to do something, they’ll have that in there and we can work from that when it builds up to a certain amount. We just try to think outside the box and then we explain what full representation looks like.
Sometimes the cost of what they’re looking at in limited scope and the full representation, sometimes there’s not a lot of difference. You might as well just go and do the full representation, and then we talk about the payment plans that are available with that and how we structure that. We just try to, first, find out what their income is like and not just theirs but anybody in the household that might contribute, whether they have family members that might be willing to assist them. We take into account if they’re calling around tax season. Are they going to get a refund? We try to plan within the means that they have.
Dave Aarons: Right. By the way, that was a really interesting idea as far as, maybe, if they need the retainer fee, a lot of attorneys will say, “Okay, well, once you have the $1,000 or the $1,500 then call us back and we’ll get started,” but it sounds like you’ll say, “Okay, well, look, what you can do is, you can start making payments towards that into the trust account and get that built up. When we have it to a certain level, then we move forward and file and get started.” You work with them on building a structure to have them start saving up that money sometimes as well?
Marsha Stiles: Absolutely. Because then, they have a goal. If they’re contributing something like that on a regular basis, the more you have to use it, number one, they’re more not to sit on their keister and not do anything about the situation that they need to do something about, but I also explained to them that if I don’t earn it, I’m not allowed to keep it. It puts them at ease. The worst case scenario for them, in that case, is that they just accumulated some money and set it aside that if they don’t choose to go forward with their legal actions, they can still get their money back. It’s not really something that they’re losing.
Dave Aarons: Absolutely. I think when you’re creating the structure for them and you’ve set up that arrangement and that money is going into the account, they’re not tempted to spend it on other things and they create the structure in which they know that they’re moving forward towards accomplishing their legal goal and they have someone supporting them on that and building a financial plan to make that happen.
Marsha Stiles: Absolutely.
Dave Aarons: That’s wonderful. Okay. Great. For the clients that, maybe, are a little bit further out or for other areas, you’re originally working in St. Louis and Kansas City. Now, you have an attorney practicing there. Up until that point, you were batching appointments every month or every couple weeks where you would meet with a handful of clients at any given time and then schedule them all together so that you can make one trip and address each one at the same time?
Marsha Stiles: Yeah. What we would say is that “Okay, we’re currently scheduling, let’s say, May 6. We’re currently scheduling for May 6. We have an availability at 10:00. Is this convenient for you?” Or if you think your matter is more urgent, we certainly can get to you on the phone if you would like and give them the option. That way, they don’t feel like we’re putting them off but they have the opportunity for a face-to-face, because they really are panic-stricken and want to talk to somebody sooner, they can easily talk to us on the phone. We also do Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and a couple others that we do.
Dave Aarons: Great. Well, this has been an excellent call. I have, maybe, a couple more questions and then we can wrap it up. One question we typically ask if there are any current technologies like client management system or dropbox or something that you’ve developed to help you guys be more effective at managing cases and keeping track of them or billing tools or anything that you found that’s been very useful in your practice.
Marsha Stiles: Well, right now, I’m old schooling it. I’m using a series of Excel spreadsheets, Word, and Access. We are looking into getting some software, but I’m a little gun-shy. I have not found anything that just totally flips my skirt. I like to play things a little closer to the best because of my grading, your case is onto some case management software is very tasking. I’ve got a little bit of a computer background and so I can do pretty well with what I got, but it could be better. Absolutely.
Dave Aarons: Sure.
Marsha Stiles: We’re exploring more efficient ways to use things.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. We had a webinar recently with a client management software that’s been working pretty well. That’s Clio, which a number of our attorneys have been using. If you haven’t seen that, maybe I’ll have our team send that to you because that’s a very complete service. We’ve met with them and it seems like it’s a good fit. We can pass along some information on that. I guess my final question would be just more, generally speaking, if we zoom out and you’ve been taking, maybe we can give some context about how many leads did you typically receive on either a weekly, daily, or monthly basis to give folks a little bit of context on how many leads you receive given that we’ve been working for over two years now?
Marsha Stiles: Well, it does vary. I can tell you, in February, we had about 22 leads come in. We probably had, let’s see … I think we had in February, it was a month that I was not here fully because I had my vacation planned. I think we only closed on about one-third of those. Usually, it’s a little bit higher.
Dave Aarons: You’re certainly taking a pretty high volume, 20 to 30, I think. Even recently, it’s been continuing to ramp up. You’ve been really dialing in the system with a lot of leads coming in.
Marsha Stiles: Yeah. It’s the great way to explore new territory because I would’ve never have tried to open an office in another location that’s on the other side of the state without having some resource available to garner the … because I’m not there to network and do all the things that I would normally do to build up a practice on a constant basis. Right now, what I do is, I go there and I do my networking and my marketing, but I’m not wasting my efforts on something that’s not going to come to fruition because I had these leads coming in from this area now. I know that there’s something steady coming in on the other side of the state and not to justify hiring an attorney to make my appearances for me. Ultimately, now, he went from not to actually working up the cases, meeting with the clients and then, now, we’re looking at actually having that second physical office. That would’ve never been able to transpire without this service.
I’m taking that model and we’re working up St. Louis and when we get that developed as we’re doing it, then I’m spending more time down there and building it up more and some other practice areas. I can look and say, “Well, about this county here? We’re really not servicing that county and it looks like something that might be of interest.” I can ask for leads just on the test basis from that area. Luckily, there’s no contract to buy me in for a certain amount of time so I can get leads from a whole new area. If I don’t like what I’m seeing, I can just discontinue it. No questions asked and maybe, try a different area after that.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Absolutely. I think, maybe, if I remember correctly from two years ago, I remember you had a vision of creating a Mid-West legal services for the entire State of Missouri. Am I incorrect about that?
Marsha Stiles: Well, truthfully, the reason why we chose a name MidWest Center for Law and Justice is that it can go outside of the boundaries of the State of Missouri, getting licensed in Arkansas, that we can have an office down there. We can have an office just about anywhere within the middle range states under this banner and do just fine. That’s one of the nice things about having a name and not using a personal name when you sell off the business, the goodwill that goes with it, the name goes with it. That really helps drive up the value of the business when you’re selling it.
Dave Aarons: Interesting. Absolutely. Okay. Great. For those of you-
Marsha Stiles: If anybody wants to have a franchise, hey, call me. No, I’m just teasing.
Dave Aarons: Well, you might get some calls, but certainly, for attorneys that have been focusing on one local region, there certainly is a possibility given that you can have confidence, so you’re going to be able to get a consistent number of clients in a new region to start thinking about whether you do have expansion goals and want to start looking into other markets either within your state or wherever you’re licensed in. You’ve clearly been successful in being able to do that in St. Louis. There’s certainly a pathway to do so. So then, I guess my final question is going to be something we work together for a couple of years. You’re taking 20, 30 leads a month. What have you learned, generally speaking, overarching in fielding leads and work with these clients that, maybe, you’ve learned from mistakes or just, generally speaking, you found or the one thing for you or the main thing for you that you’ve developed over the years that has been, maybe, the most important aspect of being successful with converting these clients and servicing their needs?
Marsha Stiles: Honestly, just be very honest with people. The sooner you can contact them, the better and the most honest entry you can give them even if it hurts. They appreciate it. Don’t talk over people’s heads. Just meet them at their level and they appreciate that.
Dave Aarons: Great. Well, I got to say, Marsha, I’ve really enjoyed this chat and catching up with you again. I couldn’t be more happy about the way you’ve been working with the clients, the results you’ve been seeing. I’m excited about your expansion goals and being a part of that and doing whatever we can to support you as we continue to work together moving forward.
Marsha Stiles: All right. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate you too.
Dave Aarons: All right. With that, we’ll go ahead and wrap up. For everyone else that’s listening, we appreciate you guys jumping in on these calls. Until next time, thanks again for listening. For more information about how our lead generation services can help you grow your practice, visit our website at www.unbundledattorney.com. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please be sure to subscribe so you get each new episode as soon as it’s available and leave us a rating and a review on iTunes. Once again, thanks for listening.
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