Automating Client Follow Up: How You Can Leverage Email Management Systems to Easily Stay in Touch with New Prospects and Clients
It has been an incredible journey thus far in the development of this podcast where I think 43, 42 episodes in. This is the 42nd episode we’re releasing here. It’s going to be Robert-Buchanan, one of our provider attorneys out of Chicago, Illinois. I think it’s a good place to take a pause and I’d love to get some feedback from you on what you love about the podcast, but also who you would like to hear from, or if you would like to be a guest on the podcast. You can reach out to me. We really want to make sure that the episodes and the interviews are as valuable as possible for you, the listener, that can help you build your practice. And whatever pieces are missing, whether it be technology, options, hearing from experts in the industry, hearing about other tools. Whatever it may be, I’d love to hear your feedback so we can make sure that the next 40 plus episodes are going to be perfectly geared towards what it is you’re specifically needing in order to build your practice and offer more affordable services to your clients, unbundled and otherwise.
So for the feedback please send us an email to Podcast@UnbundledAttorney.com and let us know who you’d like to have on the show? Also, if you’d like to be a guest feel free to email us as well. Or send us an email with any feedback, suggestions, or ideas for any future episodes. We’d love to make sure we can tailor it to what you’re specifically interested in. Today we’re interviewing Robert-Buchanan, again who’s our provider attorney out of Chicago, Illinois. And we cover some really important topics. Number one, we cover partnership. He originally went into a partnership with another provider, another attorney that did not work out. And there were some very specific reasons for that. They were actually not really well suited for each other from the beginning in the sense of what they’re both bringing to the practice, and so we have a really great discussion on how to decide if you want to bring on a partner in your practice and the reasons why you’d want to, and the reasons why it wouldn’t necessarily make sense.
We also talked a lot about automation and email auto-responders. He uses some tools like zapier and a couple others to automatically continue to maintain the relationship with his clients over the long term, without necessarily him having to do that himself. He’s got systems to do so using auto … Email auto-responders. The one he uses is Drip. We talk about Lexicata and MailChimp as well, so that all those folks that never get on the phone or come in the office and don’t quite make that decision, you don’t necessarily have time to keep following up and keep calling them yourself, but you can start to develop systems with email where you can continue to maintain that communication with them automatically using some of these tools. So I really take some time to get into the nitty-gritty details of how you can go about setting this up. We’ve also made a commitment on this episode to start to create a relationship with email management company that can help you with building out these emails and these systems so you can start to maintain relationships with your clients long-term automatically.
And some other things as well including hiring associate vs. hiring contract lawyers and much more. So let’s get right into it.
Dave Aarons: Hey Robert, welcome to the show.
Robert Buchanan: Thanks a lot.
Dave Aarons: Yeah man. As we were just discussing here we’ve got officially a year under the belt as of four or five days ago working together here. So seems like an anniversary we’re celebrating, and really looking forward to catching up on how this past year’s been and hearing more about how things have been going.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Absolutely. I’m excited to have gone from where I started at and a year later I’m definitely … I’ve seen substantial growth in my firm. And yeah. It’s exciting. Every day is exciting so I’m glad to be with you and I’m excited to talk about it.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. So that’s probably a good place to start is maybe we can talk about where you were at a year ago and maybe just give a bit of your background when you got into the start of the practice of law, and the area and the region you serve. And then maybe talk a little bit about where you were at when we first started working together, and bring us to where things stand now. Maybe the short list, and then we can dive into some of the details.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Absolutely. So come this November first, I’ll be licensed five years. I practice out of Chicago, and I went to law school here. So I graduated in 2012, and shortly after I graduated I started working for a private criminal defense attorney and he did a little bit of family law as well. And I was driving all over the place, I think there are six different suburban courthouses in Cook County, and I was going from one to another and covering multiple things and just really staying busy but quickly started getting that feeling that I could be … I could make more money and be working a little bit less if I had my own practice. So I think after about a year of working with him, a good friend of mine asked me if I wanted to partner up with him and I said, “Sure. Why not? Let’s jump off this cliff together.” And so I started practicing with him.
And then about I think a year, maybe a year plus, after being with him I started to feel that our visions weren’t the same and started really wanting to take control of my own destiny if you will and I told him that I wanted to go off and do my own thing. So I started my own practice and-
Dave Aarons: Can I stop you there real quick? I want to continue, but maybe just stop and just share for attorneys that have considered bringing on partners in a firm. Obviously, you had a relationship that didn’t end up working out. So maybe you could share a little bit about some of the possible pitfalls of having a partnership and the way things can go different directions and maybe some discussions you may want to have, or discussions you wish you maybe should have had at the outset that may have prevented or anything that you learned from that process.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s funny because when he asked me to be a partner, his partner, he asked me if I wanted to do it with him, I’d actually just read a blog post talking about how having a partner is a bad idea. There should be a strategic reason for doing it. But I kind of ignored thinking this is somebody who I think I have a lot in common with. We obviously get along socially, and this is a scary thing to kind off on your own, so let’s do it together. What the biggest pitfall I think is there needs to be a discussion beforehand about where … What each person is going to be responsible for what strength they bring. And talking about the vision in general and really aligning what the vision is and figuring out whether or not it makes sense strategically.
And I think, for the most part, most attorney partner up for a not very good reason. They just want a practice with somebody else. And what happened, what I started feeling, was that I was really passionate about the marketing. I was really passionate about automation and using technology, and we can talk about that a little bit more. And ultimately I felt like I was bringing more value to the practice. Whether or not that was accurate or not, I don’t know. But if that sort of feeling starts to arise in one person, it’s not going to work out. And especially when you’re starting out it’s a struggle period. You know we weren’t bringing, neither of one of us has a book of business. We were just trying to keep the lights on literally. And that adds a lot of stress.
So the most difficult thing was that neither one of us had … Or let me say there was no real synergy if you will. And so we were losing a lot in efficiency. When you have a partner, what you lose a lot of is efficiency in making decisions. Because you have to talk to the other person on a lot of decisions where now that I’m on my own, I just think it through, I might get some input from a colleague or a business coach, and then I make the decision. And there was a lot of wasted time in communication I felt when I had the partner.
Dave Aarons: Right? Exactly. And that’s a really huge point where if you as a business owner, if you want to pave it or you see a marketing opportunity or you see a new way structure practice you can, you know like you said, put some thought into it, think it through, and make sure it’s a good decision but then immediately implement if it makes sense to you. It’s actually one of the main reasons we work with a lot of small firms and smaller practitioners is because you know, maybe they have offered unbundled legal services before, but we can have a couple conversations, we can give them some training, give them some podcast episodes, and then they can make the decision and say, “You know what? This makes sense. I can see how we can serve more clients. I can see how we can do it profitably. Let’s do it.” And then actually implement it straight away.
Whereas if we talked to a firm where the lead counsel, or the partner, “Oh that really makes sense.” For them to be able to transition the firm to offer those types of services they’d have to train that down through ten different associates, implement new systems, and it’s just like a tanker that’s been going in one direction for a long time, takes a while to get that thing to turn. And especially nowadays with the internet and how many different things … The marketplace has changed and evolving it can be pretty beneficial to be able to be a light of foot and to adjust accordingly at a high rate of speed.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think that that’s why I have been able to be successful using your leads, using leads from other sources, is because I can figure out what I want to try, see what works, and iterate from there, and I don’t have to confer with anybody else. Things do get a little bit more difficult. I brought on an associate about four months ago so I have some extra cost there. But I’m still … I know I’m still growing at a certain rate and it’s still working and I think a big part of that is me being so close to the service I’m delivering as well and being able to … I’m on the front lines. I’m doing the sales. Figuring out what works, going from there.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. And I think you said … Exactly. And there’s one other piece you mentioned a little earlier that I thought was really valuable, which is making sure that a partnership is strategic as opposed to, “Hey we’re good friends. Let’s do a business.” Right? So you know you really want to look … This is definitely something I’ve learned in my own personal experience is that you want to look for a partner that compliments your weaknesses. So you know my strength is sales, marketing, communication, and building a community and these types of things. But what I’m really weak at is technical side, I’m not a developer, I’m not extremely analytical when it comes to accounting and so forth. And so I sought a partner that had those skillsets, and so there’s that compliment of skills as opposed to two people that just get along really well, and like each other, but tend to have a similar personality type that doesn’t tend to be as conducive to a balanced relationship in a business.
Robert Buchanan: Right. Yeah. Absolutely. And I found that when I was in my partnership, some of the things that I didn’t like doing, in particular, he didn’t like doing either. And I think if we had really inventoried what our natural strengths were and what we wanted to be doing, we would have seen that we had maybe a little bit too much in common in certain areas where it could have been used for one of us to have a skill that the other one didn’t have. So you live and you learn. It was a good experience to have and now I’m very clear in the fact that I love having my own practice.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Awesome. Okay, so appreciate the feedback on that. So you start out your own firm out of this partnership that was maybe three, four years ago. Maybe you can put us there and then when we started working together, and then bring us to today.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Absolutely. So yeah. It would have been probably a year and a half ago that I started my practice. And so you said that I started working with you guys about-
Dave Aarons: September-
Robert Buchanan: A year ago. Right?
Dave Aarons: The end of September 2016.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. So from when I started my practice I had a couple clients, a handful that I took from my previous firm and I was looking at different ways of generating business. I was doing some of my own pay for click stuff. I was networking as much as I could to bring in business, and some of the pay for click stuff was definitely working. I mean it was keeping the lights on, but it was … It gets expensive fast. I mean you guys are obviously experts in doing it, but for someone like me who doesn’t have much of a background in the pay for click, it can get expensive fast and feel like it’s getting out of control. But at the same time, my big passion from the beginning was automating as much as I could.
Early in my career if you will, it sounds funny saying that being a lawyer for five years, but early in my career I stumbled upon an automation tool called The Form Tool which is a Word plugin. hotdocs is kind of the big player in the field, but Form Tool is a product where you can basically program your forms relatively easy without much knowledge in developing really any at all. And I started using that very early. And so I started developing a library of forms, automating the entire divorce process. Starting to automate the custody process. And so I wanted to take that and start turning that into certain services that I could provide.
So I started advertising for some flat fee divorce stuff where I knew that I could get the whole package done in an hour’s time. Stuff that might take three hours or so if it wasn’t automated. So I started doing that, putting up my own AdWords ads. And things were good, but I felt like they could be better. And then I started working with a … Kind of in a mastermind group if you will, and one of the people on there I believe was working with you guys and so then I looked it up, I looked up you guys and signed up and started getting your leads. Started really focusing on my sales process-
Dave Aarons: That was probably Brian Reidy that was in the mastermind group.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Exactly.
Dave Aarons: Brian’s awesome. He was actually on the podcast earlier. An episode called, How to compete in the DIY Internet Age, a really good episode that breaks down his systems as well.
Robert Buchanan: Oh nice. Well shout out to Brian, and I’ll have to listen to this episode. Sooner rather than later.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. We were just talking with him. A really good guy. But continue.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Absolutely. I just saw him in court like a week ago. So I started really focusing on the sales process and really figuring out what was working, what I could do to increase conversions as far as getting people into the office. And then figuring out what was the right retainer amount that I could charge people. And I started to see the ball rolling, and I started to see my IOLTA account, my trust account increase and before I knew it I kind of had more work than I could handle, and I was losing sleep at night because I was concerned that I had too much work. So that’s kind of the long and short of how I got to where I am today.
Dave Aarons: Okay great. So one of the topics that I think would be really worthwhile to dive into, especially with your interest and passion for it, is automation and forms and streamlining the process. We’ve talked about this with Michael Chasin from Lexicata. Talked about with a few others on the podcast, but it would be really helpful to get into some of the specifics, especially for family law on the tools and the processes you’ve developed to speed up the process and like you said, it really is that difference between three hours and one hour and that’s probably one of the primary reasons that lot of attorneys don’t offer unbundled services or a document preparation flat rate for $750 or something like that, because it would probably take them three hours, plus the time to onboard and enroll the client. Whereas if you had some systems for documents automation that allows you to get these documents and tasks done more efficiently and more quickly, where it only takes you an hour or so, then all of a sudden it has a pretty significant impact on your effective hourly rate.
You know attorneys can start making … If it only takes them an hour of their time, an hour and a half even, a $750 flat rate, unbundled, document preparation can start netting an effective hourly rate of $500 per hour or even better. So that’s pretty good for a high volume, what would be normally be considered a low-value task, all of a sudden that becomes pretty … Very very high value. So maybe you can talk about some of those systems that you’ve developed and how that’s impacted the types of options you can offer to your clients.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think just kind of from a high level where I’m coming at this when I do something I hate to do something twice that I know that I’ll end up doing ten times. So pretty much in every single area, I’m looking at a way that I can automate it a little bit more, even down to when I’m texting leads I even hate having to copy and paste the same language that I might put into a response to a lead. So I’ve started using a text expander on my phone, a nice app that I found. I think it’s called TextExpand Pro or something like that where I have probably a dozen different responses that I can send to leads that come in that are individualized for a certain situation. So everything from that to when a lead comes in, I use Zapier.com quite a bit. And I know that you guys integrated with Lexicata, and I’m not currently using that.
And I think that’s more just because I have a big infrastructure built up with Zapier.com where when I have emails come in from a lot of different sources, I use Zapier which is a tool that pretty much connects APIs from many different clouds save services where you can get an email for example that has certain information, and for example your emails, and I can parse that information and shoot it into any other program that I want to. So for example, the workflow for a lead that comes in from Unbundled, it goes to my Drip campaign, so it automatically sends an email to the prospective client saying, “Hey, thanks for contacting us. If I haven’t given you a call I will as soon as possible. If you want to schedule a call with me you can by clicking this link,” and that links to Calendly which probably most people know is an online calendaring app.
And then that gets into a follow-up series as well that is about scheduling and then also a little bit more about building trust with them where I’m telling a little bit of my story, a little bit of their story so when they ultimately do come into the office and I’m drafting the retainer, that’s when I start to use The Form Tool for the first time in earnest. And The Form Tool, what it does is say I have my retainer form and I start getting their basic information, name, address, date of birth. If we’re doing a divorce, all the pertinent dates, if there are children involved, the names, the dates of birth of children. And the retainer is generated and then I’ve actually set it up so that I can easily export that data to a Google Sheet. And then once it’s on the Google Sheet, kind of your creativity is the limit as far as what you do with that information there.
As far as things that ask that you have in the cloud in order to send off. Like they’re automatically subscribed for an example to another email campaign that’s for my current and past clients so that I can keep up with them easily. And then as far as the documents themselves, there’s probably in Cook County … I want to say that in a typical divorce there are maybe 10 to 12 separate documents that you have to prepare. 15 if you’re including documents that you might provide as a courtesy to the other side, or documents, correspondence that you might be sending out to your own client. All those documents I’ve automated and most of them use 90% of the same information. So once I have it, I can generate these 10, 15 documents that are probably a total of 30, 40 pages and I can do that within about, like I said, an hour’s time and make a nice profit off an uncontested divorce.
Dave Aarons: Okay. So this is really getting at the crux of finding ways to streamline the things that recur over and over. I mean one of the things about lead generation that’s somewhat beneficial is that the process of receiving a lead, the types of cases you’re going to see, types of clients you’re going to work with, have their variances in the specific facts and details of the types of the individual circumstances of each client. You know, the kids involved, and what happened, and then what occurred and so forth, but the types of cases overall are somewhat going to be similar across the board, day after day, month after month. And so you’re in a position where you can start to develop a system over time gradually iterating and improving on how you deliver the services one step at a time.
And one thing you mentioned that I’d like to ask you about is, for example, you have a Zapp that takes our Unbundled lead form and puts it into either your [inaudible 00:23:45] or something like that. Oh, no you said you get an email, autoreply email directly to them and that’s actually one thing I don’t think Lexicata has set up yet where you can just drop an autoreply email immediately. I don’t know if you can also do an autoreply text or so forth, but could you describe that Zapp that you’ve created that just sends an autoreply email, and if you’re using MailChimp or Constant Contact, or Aweber, or what email management software you’re using to be able to get that email sent out from that Zapp directly from the email at Unbundled.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Absolutely. So as all the listeners or all the people that work with you, when a lead comes in you get an email that has a subject, New Family Lead:, and then the name of the prospective client. And then the body of the email contains … And obviously, it’s coming from the form that people are submitting online. The body of the email contains the pertinent information. The first name, last name, phone, second phone number, email address and their issue. So that email is … I set up a filter in Gmail and it’s then sent to what is called an email parser and that email parser I’ve set up so that it pulls out the first name, the last name, and it names all those as first name, last name, phone number and then that information then automatically gets imported into Drip. I use Drip as far as my email follow-ups go.
So it gets imported into Drip. It makes them a subscriber of what I’ve called my Unbundled Attorney campaign, and upon being a subscriber it fires off the first email to them which is the one that I described before that says, “Hey we’re here to help you. Call us as soon as you can. We’ll be calling you.” And from that, I would say probably 10% of those people sign up right away to get on my calendar for a phone call. A lot of the other ones, I would say maybe 30% call my answering service, and then I get probably another 20% that are calling after the second or third email. And that’s without me even reaching out to them, and that’s a big part of my process is, as you guys advised, time is of the essence and just calling people immediately. But you know, as is common with a lot of small firms, it’s hard to reach out to people all the time. I have court, I have other phone calls, I have meetings, so it’s just not always possible.
So the automation part of it really makes me be able to do a lot more than I would otherwise.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. And just to finish these details, I think anyone can create a filter in Gmail just by Googling how to create a filter in Gmail. That’s pretty easy. The email parser, is that something that you custom built yourself or is there a tool you’re using to parse out the emails that you’re forwarding from Gmail?
Robert Buchanan: That is part of Zapier. So if you get into the automation with something like Zapier, that’s one of the tools that they have. So it’s basically a separate email box that you have and you’re just filtering a message from Gmail and it’s automatically forwarding all the Unbundled Attorney leads to another email address, and that other email address is the parser itself. So that’s getting into Zapier a little bit more, but that’s one of the fundamental tools of Zapier as far as dealing with emails.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. I mean I know it’s not actually that complicated. I appreciate you just kind of isolating it a little bit further. So people just go to Zapier and search email parser. It’s a box where you can forward emails to it and then you can have it parse out the fields like the name, so forth like that and then that information when you have a field that has name, or phone or something like that then that’s the kind of information an email management campaign, you can just set up the fields in the emails so that the emails that go out can be customized where it’ll say, “Dear John,” or “Dear Mike, we received your request help of a child custody in Chicago or this zip code.” All the fields that are in our email could then be added because they’re not becoming fields in the email parser to the email by just putting in the field name in the email, and then as soon as the email’s generated it auto-populates based on that information that’s being provided based on that one individual record.
That’s a little complicated for a lot of people, but I think once you get into Zapier and start working on this stuff, do the email parser. You’ll start to see these fields and how they can auto-populate right into the email so that you’re sending a customized email without actually clicking a button or doing anything.
Robert Buchanan: Yes. And it’s pretty amazing. I mean as far as it is very customizable and individualized as far as it saying, “Hey Bob, we got your request for legal help,” and it’s amazing how most people think that a custom email to them. Most people have no idea that it’s automated. I mean with my follow-up series where I go into a little bit more storytelling if you will, I have people right in the back saying, “Oh my god. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with me.” People just, non-marketers if you will, they feel that personal connection and that’s why it really works and it’s worthwhile to do.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Great. And thank you for sharing this. When it comes to Zapier and these types of things, it makes me realize that we would probably need to do a training on this. And perhaps might even bring in a team that could help with doing some auto responding emails for attorneys that want to get this set up. Because at this point, for anyone that’s using our service, we send an autoreply email to the client as soon as they submit the request with your contact information. So that happens no matter what, but the next step is for you to start reaching out to them, and so these are ways in which you can do that automatically, directly from you. And then obviously what you’re talking about here Robert is having a Drip series, an autoresponder series, and so this is a way where attorneys can start to send an email on a periodic basis.
So as soon as the lead is subscribed, you send the autoreply email and then I don’t know if you shift to a new list or whatever, exactly how you’re doing it but then you can send some pre-written emails that are very specific to their situation that to the client feels like, “Hey. You know Robert’s just sending me an email to give some details on this stuff,” but a lot of these things can be pre-written in advance, and then they’re getting regular communications from you weekly, or every few days, or whatever you set up so that those folks that you don’t get a hold of right away, or you talk to them and they need some time to make a decision, or if they say, “I want to think about it,” or they have to wait to respond, you can maintain communication with these clients consistently without having to do so yourself personally each time.
So could you elaborate on that just a little bit Robert, as far as how that’s impacted your practice and the way you have that setup?
Robert Buchanan: Yeah absolutely. I mean one of the other areas that I was thinking about when you were talking was when someone comes into the office, or if it just happens over the phone, but we get to the place where I am giving them a retainer agreement and they’re not quite ready to sign up at that point. They have to go on their own way and think about it, and I want to stay on their radar, they are already on my system and all I have to do is tag them in Drip and they get switched over to what I call my retainer follow-up series. And it sends them an email immediately saying, “Hey if you’re ready to get started just sign the retainer and you can make a payment here.” And I have a payment link in there.
And then I think maybe three or four days later, it sends them another email that says, “Just wondering if you have any questions. I’m here to answer any of your questions. I’m available.” And then three or four days later, sends them another one. And then if the lead’s getting a little bit cold, about two weeks later I send them to say one that says, “Hey just wondering if I should keep my file open for you. Let me know if you have further questions.” And just kind of down the line like that. And I definitely see people responding to that and communicating with me and people tell me, “Oh yeah. I definitely want to hire you. I’m just getting the money together,” or they’re saying, “I just don’t think the time is right now, but I want to stay in touch,” or whatever it is. But I know that they’re staying connected with my firm and they’re not starting to shop elsewhere because as we all know it’s competitive. Especially in Chicago. I think there’s like 50,000 lawyers here.
So creating that relationship and maintaining it is extremely important, and being able to leverage those kinds of tools to do it is key.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It’s really really important. And just for users of Lexicata, they also have an integration with MailChimp where if you’re working for Lexicata and you do a meet up, and you meet with a client and let’s say they don’t enroll right then, you can just add a tag in Lexicata that automatically creates the tag in MailChimp and just adds them to that list that you’ve created. It’s the same thing if it’s a contacted. You can just tag that as contacted in Lexicata. That will then add them to an contacted list that you could create in MailChimp and follow-up in that way.
And for attorneys, it’s important to imagine that you’re talking to clients every single day and either you’re not getting a hold of some folks, or they’re not enrolling with you for whatever reason. There’s a lot of different reasons why that I’m not going to share with you today, but every day you talked to a week ago, two weeks ago, a few days ago, months ago and you’re getting emails from these clients saying … That just got your email from … You met with them two weeks ago, they got your email today from your automated follow-up series, that’s sending you a message saying, “Hey,” because they just got an email from you that was automatically sent two weeks later, which is now today, saying, “Hey just checking in. Do you want to me keep the file?” And they’re saying, “Hey man I’m still serious but I want to move forward,” and you were just doing some other task and you’re getting responses from clients.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Yeah. It starts to feel, I mean once you got the system in place it starts to feel pretty cool because you’re not even doing anything and you’re getting people contacting you. I had a guy, I think I talked to him maybe, let’s say six months ago, and then I open up my email and I have a transaction in my LawPay for $2,500 that I wasn’t … He was completely off my radar, and then you make the sale without doing anything. So that starts to feel really cool when you can get that stuff going.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Absolutely. And so you have this follow-up system where you’re sending every few days, every few days, then maybe a week later, then two weeks later, “Hey man, just reaching out. Want to know if you want to let me know if you want me to keep the file open. This may be my final email.” At that point do you also … Will then at a certain point transition them into more of a general tips and suggestions type of sequence or do you do like a newsletter style so that they can keep you top of mind for months from there? I mean how far do you take that at this stage?
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. You know I would say more the kind of follow-up for the retainer. Right now I have it running just for about two weeks. I could easily, with about 15, 20 minutes of time expand that to a month or two, and obviously, when you start getting further out you don’t need to keep pestering them. What I do is I’m also running them on the same campaign that’s a little bit more like a tips or a newsletter if you will, so that once the retainer, the follow-up runs out, they continue to get kind of just those weekly or semi-weekly emails that are meant to just keep them in the loop and keep building authority and trust with them.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. And are those emails that you’ve pre-written? So do you have maybe 12 months or 24 months of emails you’ve pre-written? Or do you also just do kind of a broadcast each month, like one of those emails that are … What comprises those emails that are just the monthly or weekly, or whatever it is? Maybe you can share the frequency and so forth of just keeping in touch with clients so that you’re staying top of mind months or even years later.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. I would say in general, I mean it’s a little bit more when they first … When I first get their information. But I start to break it out to be about one per week. Right now I have just about six months in my system. But those emails, what I try to do is those emails are … And I’m a big believer in the more authentic you can be in your marketing messages, the more people will connect with it. So a lot of them are pretty personal stories to me. Stuff I’ve gone through. And I tend to write them when I have some sort of moment in my life that is emotionally charged one way or the other because I think that that’s where some of our best writing and communicating comes from is when we can convey that sort of experience to somebody else.
So that’s where I kind of write my … Kind of the stuff that is more focused on me personally so people can get to know kind of who I am, what I believe in, what my principles are. And then I would say half of the emails are where I’m telling their story, and those are inspired by moments that I have in court or with clients where I’m starting to see something recur or I see that a client had a revelation in a certain way or went through something, or a lesson is learned. And so I kind of build a story out of that, and that’s what the essence of my emails are. I try to make them real. Try to make them useful. I mean I always put some sort of, “Here’s your takeaway. Here are your tips,” but always rooted in some sort of true experience. And in my experience, that’s what people connect with the most, the easiest.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Yeah. And do you find a lot of people responding to those emails and checking in with you months later from people you talked to? I mean we’ve been working for a year, so you’re getting leads every single day and you’ve been doing that for months and months and months. So do you get a consistent number of responses to your emails on either a daily or weekly basis?
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Certainly. I would say that I get people that probably got into my funnel six months prior, nine months prior even I’ve seen. And it goes all along the spectrum from one to nine months because of everybody … You have no idea when you’re meeting people in their own process, and especially when you’re doing family law because it is so emotional. People might start really searching for an attorney in earnest during a particular blow-up with a spouse, or with a parent of their child, and then things might cool down the next day and they say, “Oh no. I can live with this for a little bit longer,” and then it happens again say three months later and then they’re like, “Okay. Enough is enough and now I’m going to reach out and hire the attorney.”
So yeah. The answer is I see people responding all the time to these emails and then a certain percentage of them, I couldn’t really say at this point, but of the people that respond that’ll start up an actual conversation where I’m replying back asking them about their case, inviting them to give me a call, and then they’ll come into the office and someone will hire me that I first connected with six months before that.
Dave Aarons: Wow. Yeah, this is such an important topic. I think as a result of this conversation, we’ve been considering doing this for a long time, is creating a relationship with an email broadcast company, or management company that can help. Because for a lot of attorneys this is a really valuable sequence, and some lawyers have the technical know-how to set up the email autoresponders, others don’t and it is a skillset that takes some time to learn. And obviously, it’s something you’ve worked on for many years and are kind of geared towards it. But many attorneys aren’t. So as a result of this, I think what we’ll do is we’ll create a relationship with an email broadcast company. I have a couple friends in the internet marketing industry that could put something like this together and help attorneys to make the transition to having these email autoresponders because it’s such a huge value to be able to continue to maintain the relationships with each client months from now, years from now.
I used to do that back in the days when I worked in the legal access plan. I would have an email I would send out once a month, once every couple months. And inevitably we would get 5, 10, 15 people responding to those emails saying, “Hey Dave. Thanks for this email, I definitely still want to get this done. Give me a call.” And those honestly, when they responded to those emails to me that was a really really hot lead. That was someone that converted into ruling in the services we offered back then, and certainly for if you’re an attorney and ruling in your services right then because like you said, they’re in those moments where they have enough motivation either because of something they’re experiencing or problems that they’re having, or challenges they’re facing where they’re in a motivated, and empowered place to take action.
And so the value of being able to continue to maintain that communication in an automated fashion, because there’s just no way to do it, to follow up with leads from six months ago with an email each month, it wouldn’t be cost effective because the response is only maybe less than 10%. That’s just not a good use of time if you had to do it personally, but if you can do it in an automated fashion, that’s going to make it worthwhile.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Absolutely. Without a doubt. I mean it’s one of those things that I keep expanding on and figuring out how to use it better because it’s absolutely a good investment of time for any attorney who’s serious about growing their business.
Dave Aarons: Okay, awesome. So I will keep everyone posted. We’ll send an email out to you letting you know when we have some kind of an organization that can help with getting these email autoresponders together. We’ll start working on that right away. So keep everyone posted on that. Love to switch gears a little bit. In our discussions, you were talking a little bit more about how you started to offer more unbundled service options. Maybe you can just talk about what you shared, maybe the majority of clients you find are retaining you for. And then also how you’re starting to adapt to offer unbundled more often for at least the initial starting phase of working with folks.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah absolutely. So as far as … I would say, I don’t know, 75% of the Unbundled leads that do hire my firm probably are paying anywhere between $1,500 and $2,500 for an individual retainer. But what I do is talk to them about the fact that their case is probably going to cost more than that amount, and that we need to set up some sort of payment plan per month as far as them financing the legal services. So I do everything I can to make it clear to them that this isn’t a flat fee monthly, but rather they are making a minimum monthly payment towards their outstanding balance. And that certainly works for a large percentage of my clients. The tricky part for me is figuring out how much can I afford to be the bank if you will, and afford to finance their legal services.
And that requires … The one thing that I do do is put in my retainer that there’s a certain gap between say, $1,500 and $3,000 that if they get to that amount that they owe my firm, there has to be a renegotiation of what the agreement is. Because I can’t allow people to get to owing me $5,000, $10,000. That just isn’t worth it from a cash broker perspective. So that’s kind of the model that I use for the majority of clients. But I would say in the last month or two I’ve been experimenting more with unbundled services in the realm of specifically, and it’s mostly dads, dads looking for visitation. Some sort of parenting time agreement when they haven’t seen their child in a while or the other parent is recently saying, “You can’t see the kids for XYZ reason,” and I’ll have that potential client on phone, and I’ll give them three options.
I’ll say, “Do you either want … We can offer you our full representation as more of a traditional where we are charging you by the hour and we require a $3,000 retainer for that. Or we can do a flat fee of $1,500 and that’s cover two court dates, and on the first court date, we will try to negotiate with the other parent a temporary parenting plan. We’ll ask the court to refer your case to mediation. And if we cannot negotiate a parenting plan …” Or, excuse me. “A parenting time schedule on that first court date, we’ll ask the court to set it for a hearing.” And I’ll explain that a hearing is when the judge can make a decision on that because they’re not allowed to make a decision on the first court date.
And then I’ll say, “We’ll be there for the hearing. We’ll have the hearing and then the judge will order a temporary parenting time schedule. And that’s a $1,500 flat fee. And at that point, our job will be done. What you paid us to do will be done, and we can either get out of the case or we can negotiate what we’re going to do for the next leg if you will.” And what our firm does in order to cover ourselves, and I’m sure there’s an equivalent in every state or almost every state, but a limited scope appearance which allows us to get out of the case with much more ease than if we’re filing a regular appearance.
And then the third option that I give people is just coaching and document drafting. And this is where with those two options is where the form automation comes into play big time. Because we’re able to pump out the templates that we have, modify them a bit based on the particular circumstance, but getting those documents ready for the client takes much less time and we’re just able to be more profitable. So I’m really excited about starting to offer that service more and continuing to offer it because I think it’s definitely going to add to the bottom line quite a bit.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. And then you mentioned something earlier that I thought was valuable which is the amount of involvement you have in a case when you start off unbundled. Some of them, Anthony Sanders was on a podcast on the most previous episode, the Try it Before You Buy it Enrolment Strategy, where he offers the unbundled service first, and he finds that 90% of the clients after they use the unbundled will retain him for additional services from there. Whether it be more unbundled services or full rep. And so it’s a nice way for people to get to know his firm, get comfortable working with him and offer something as a solution.
But also for those that don’t, it limits the amount of involvement that he’s going to have in the case. He can get the documents done and out the door. You know that’s been under unbundled service, and the client proceeds from there. And whether they proceed with him or not, it stands alone and you don’t necessarily have to get involved in the entire case. And we can talk a little bit more about that.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah absolutely. There’s so much of this and getting people to buy that, or retain you for a larger part of the case, has to do with them getting to know your firm and starting to trust you. And that’s certainly something that we see on a regular basis is someone will hire us for this finite service, and then nine times out of ten, it turns into something more. And then the other aspect of it, as I was talking with you earlier on the phone is the fact that I think that what we do as family law attorneys is incredibly stressful. And it’s stressful for the attorneys, it’s stressful for the client.
And unbundled services is a very cool way to kind of limit the stress for the attorney because it’s kind of like there is a limit on the relationship if you will, between the attorney and the client and the client doesn’t have this expectation of you are going to fix their entire life if you will. Which can start to happen when you’re in the representation where you represent a client for say two, three years. It can kind of take on a different flavor. So that’s good. Now that I have an associate, I’m always worried about his stress level. So those are the sorts of things that I’m thinking about as well.
Dave Aarons: Yep. Absolutely. And that brings me to one other topic that we wanted to cover here is that you did hire an associate. You got to the point where you mentioned your IOLTA account was filling up, but you’re also getting more work than you can handle. And so you decided to bring on an associate. What did that hiring process look like? Maybe you can share a little bit about how’s that structured. I’m not sure if you’re paying by the hour or salary, and how you came to decide on the way that was structured and how that’s been going for you thus far.
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Absolutely. So I hired him, I think, about four months ago and it was a very organic process actually. We were both mentees in the Chicago Bar Association mentor/mentee program in the family law group. And so I got to know him through a meeting, I think it was once a month. We went out for lunch just to kind of learn about each other as colleagues in the community, and during that time my practice was going through that growth and I was really starting to feel like I needed to take somebody else. And so we started talking about that possibility, and just had different conversations about whether or not that would be a contractual relationship where I’m paying him X amount of dollars per hour. And there’s always a decision to make whether that’s going to be, “Are you paying this person for each billable hour that they work? Or just each hour that they work?”
And then I was thinking, “Can I afford to pay this person a salary,” because there’s always a little bit more risk with a salary because it doesn’t matter how much money you take in, or how much work you have for them. You got to give them that salary. I ultimately, my offer to him was a salaried position. I think that that’s a personal choice as far as where you see your firm going, and what you’re trying to build. For me, I really wanted to start being the leader, or CEO if you will of my firm and start building a culture. And so it’s easy to build a culture when there’s only two of us, but certainly, when you have someone salaried I think they feel there’s more stability there and they feel like you’re invested in them then.
So it’s been … The last four months have been great. I have a good friend who I talk business with. He keeps telling me that I’m really lucky to have found someone who has brought so much value to my firm and who’s such a good employee. Because I think it is very difficult to find good people. So that’s going to be certainly a challenge going forward when I look at hiring my next associate which I hope to do honestly in the next six months or so. But we’ll see.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It’s something that we’ve had a number of guests come on the podcast, Rhonda and Jay [inaudible 00:53:06] have hired I think ten associates now. Opened up a new office in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. We’re actually going to have them back on the show probably in the next couple weeks here to share kind of part two of the growth. We talked to them last year, and they were just opening up the Tulsa office and since I think they’ve hired ten new associates. So I’ll be sure to ask them some more questions. Maybe they can elaborate on what that process looks like and any strategies tips they would have for hiring an associate.
They certainly covered that in the first episode. It’s called, Scaling Up Your Practice: How to Expand from Solo Practitioner to Small Firm in Under Three Months, or something like that. You can look forward to the Unbundled Attorney website under podcast. You can find that episode. Really valuable for those of you that are looking into … Especially when you’re getting a lot of leads, a lot of clients. You can’t really necessarily handle it all yourself. Consider hiring an associate. We have episodes of hiring contract lawyers and that type of relationship, and you can start to think about what type of relationship might work best for your individual firm.
So I appreciate your thoughts on that. One final thing I think would be interesting to cover because you’re in a unique situation. You’re covering Cook County, and this is one of the I think largest, or maybe second largest … LA County might be slightly bigger, but I’m not sure. I mean they’re both huge counties. I think you mentioned there are six different courts. Can you just talk about what has been the challenge and also what you found to be the most successful in working in a large county, serving a diverse, very diverse number of different types of clients, and how you’ve been able to be effective at doing that in that type of a region?
Robert Buchanan: Yeah. Absolutely. I think one of the biggest challenges in working in such a large county is just the vast number of judges that you’ll be working before. The vast number of attorneys that will be opposing counsel, and just kind of getting used to the fact that you often go into situations where you’ve never been before this judge before or you’ve never worked with this opposing counsel before. And just getting comfortable with that alone. And then as far as the clientele that you serve, you do get people from all parts of the spectrum contacting you. And I think that that’s been the most difficult part of figuring out exactly what services to provide, and figuring out what models of unbundled representation are going to work the best.
Because it is clear that there’s so much business to be had in Cook County that it’s just a matter of finding the right business model and iterating and doing what you need to do to increase profitability. Kind of on a personal note, I think the toughest part of going to court in Cook County is going into the Daley Center which is the main courthouse, downtown Chicago, and it is literally rush hour at 9:00, 9:30 in the morning. And the elevators are packed. And everybody is rushing off to where they need to go. And just getting comfortable and finding yourself in that environment.
For me the sales process, the marketing, the developing, the automation, all of that, that’s really my passion. And my goal is to actually completely get out of going to court. And my associate loves to go to court, and I think there’s … Most attorneys, they become attorneys to practice and they want to practice. And that’s a benefit to somebody like myself who says, “You know what? I really like building the business here, and developing these systems more than anything.” And I think the volume of people in Cook County and the amount of business there is, is going to allow me to grow my practice to the level where since I don’t want to go into court, I don’t have to. I’m not quite there yet, but give me two or three months.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. And well this ties perfectly back to the very beginning of our conversation when it comes to partnership and building a firm. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a partnership. But how do you hire? Who do you work with? Who do you look for? And what aspect of the business are you most inclined to work towards? We have a lot of attorneys that love doing the initial calls, love enrolling clients and beginning the relationship but don’t want to go to court. And we have other attorneys that love to go to court and really want to bring on someone that can do the calls. And there’s a lot of other roles in between.
So finding what that truth is for you, there’s a really good book … I have the one … Read the one that’s called The E-Myth Attorney: Why Most Legal Practices Don’t Work and What to Do About It
Robert Buchanan: There’s one written-
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Specifically for lawyers right?
Robert Buchanan: Specifically for … Yeah. Yeah. There is.
Dave Aarons: And it talks about building a business. Maybe you’ll look it up while we’re on the line but a really good book. I read the one that’s not specifically for lawyers, and it talks a lot about the different hats you wear as a … Okay. The primary hat when you run a solo practitioner office and you’re being a self-employed, what he calls a technician. Where you’re doing everything, and he tells a story about a baker that worked in a bakery. Love making cakes. But then she started her own bakery and then had all these new tasks which are involved in running a practice. And so she had to build systems and figure out where her talents are best used and hire people to help her with the things that she’s not as inclined towards.
And there was a story about how she didn’t, and she started to lose her passion for baking cakes because she found herself having to do all these other things that she really doesn’t … Didn’t enjoy. And so it’s a really really good book. I’d be curious to hear anyone’s feedback on the blog when we post this episode. If anyone that’s read that book, E Myth, for lawyers. I think there’s a version of it. I should really check it out. But really starting to think about what aspects … You’re building a business now. You’re a business owner. You have to think differently. You have to think like an entrepreneur and start to think of … And it brings to the surface the opportunity to carve out your ideal practice in which you’re doing the things that you love to do, and then potentially having others doing the things that are not as conducive to your skillset, or not the things that you much enjoy that other person would love. It would be their art.
And so that’s an opportunity to start doing that, which it sounds like you’ve been exploring with the associate and it sounds like it’s working well.
Robert Buchanan: Yes. Absolutely. I mean I love being a business owner and an entrepreneur and really creating the job that I’ve always wanted. And it’s a process. It’s stressful sometimes, but I wouldn’t exchange it for anything. Well, that’s not quite true. But it’s awesome.
Dave Aarons: Yep. All right. Well hey Robert, this has been just an unbelievably valuable episode. Especially our discussions on email and automation, and unbundled services. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about your evolution on offering unbundled services. Certainly, check out that episode I talked to you about. We talked about that earlier. I think that would be really valuable, and then also talk to us. You know you can speak with me, Graham or any of the other members of our team and we come up with a lot of ideas and give you some suggestions of what’s worked really well for other attorneys as far as unbundled services. But definitely appreciate your feedback there, and for coming on the show and taking the time and being so helpful. So thank you so much.
Robert Buchanan: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. I had a great time.
Dave Aarons: Okay. So with that, we will go ahead and wrap up this episode. For all of you that are listening, we certainly appreciate you taking part in the podcast and learning and applying all these tools and technology. I understand that some of this stuff can be pretty overwhelming. These tools have a learning curve and take some time to implement, but when you’re every day making little improvements daily to your practice, they tend to make massive differences over time. It’s the concept of kaizen, Japanese automakers implemented this practice many years ago, and it’s the concept of small daily improvements eventually lead to huge advantages. And from a standpoint of automation and these types of tools, especially as solo practitioners and small firms, you can start to get a lot more done in a lot less time.
So thank you for taking the time and energy to build out more future practices. And until next time we will see you all in the next episode. Bye for now.
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