Master Class: How to Achieve the Ideal Entrepreneurial Architecture for Modern Law Offices

Elizabeth Lockwood

Building your law practice from the ground up can be confusing and overwhelming, especially when you're doing it all on your own. You have plenty of obstacles standing in your way and with a lack of real world experience, it can be difficult to know exactly how to get started, let alone how to get your firm on the right path.

In a webinar recorded on October 6th, 2020, Maddy Martin, head of growth and education at Smith.ai, spoke with Neil Tyra, owner and founder of the Tyra Law Firm, to discuss the challenges that law firm owners and legal entrepreneurs face in the modern world. They also touched on the various tools and methods that these individuals can adopt to establish their professional presence, build a reliable business model, and practice sustainable business functions, enabling them to thrive within their field for years to come.

For a better look into this discussion, feel free to read our transcript of the webinar below, edited for readability. You can watch the full webinar here. To learn more on how to grow a successful legal business or any other business, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Moderator

Maddy Martin

Head of Growth and 

Education at Smith.ai

Speaker

Neil Tyra

Owner and Founder of the 

Tyra Law Firm




INTRODUCTION

MADDY MARTIN, HEAD OF GROWTH AND EDUCATION:

I am excited to introduce the topic today. So welcome everyone. 

Maddy Martin here from Smith.ai. I am the head of growth and education for Smith.ai. We're a virtual receptionist and a web chat service using North American based agents and our AI technology to answer calls, chats, texts, Facebook messages.

And we do a lot more than just answering. We do lead screening, scheduling intake callbacks to web form lead, you name it. 

We have a very robust CRM integration

So we'll talk today with Neil, our guest, about practice management solutions, and we integrate with those as well as your calendar and other tools that we will, for sure, touch on.

So, I'm excited to introduce Neil Tyra. You know, Tyra is the owner and founder of the Tyra Law Firm, and he is based in Maryland, is that right? 

And Neil, tell us a little bit about yourself. 

NEIL TYRA, OWNER AND FOUNDER OF TYRA LAW FIRM:

Well, thank you, Maddy, for having me.

As Maddy indicated my name is Neil Tyra. I’m an estate planning attorney, reformed litigator in Rockville, Maryland, which is just outside of Washington, DC. 

If you’ve been watching the news lately, we are just a stone’s throw away from Walter Reed army medical center. So that kind of puts you in our geographic location. 

As I said, I’m an attorney, but the law is my fourth career.

I like to say to people I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I grow up. So I started early in life, cooking for a living. 

I cooked all over the city of Annapolis if you’re familiar with that area, Annapolis, Maryland.

And then, I went to work in building hardware and software systems for the government, primarily for NASA and the DOD.

I worked in the space program and satellite programs, spent 20+ years doing that, developing software in the end, for air defense systems, the Icelandic air defense system, and the Jordanian air defense system, and all that. 

While at that time, I was a practicing martial artist. So when it came time to leave the computer science corporation, one of my black belts said, "Why don't we just open up a commercial martial arts studio?", which is what we did.

So we opened up the Kin Shin Karate school. And I owned and operated that business for about 12 years. 

But in the back of my brain, I was always plagued by the idea that I wanted to go to law school and I had a couple of friends who went to law school later in life and they were kind of my role models in that sense. 

And so I looked around: I have two lovely children, who were, if you did the math, and they're going to be going to college pretty shortly thereafter. And I needed to get in front of them before the money ran out. 

And so I applied; I didn't even know what law school was all about.

So, let me just see if I can get in; that's the first thing because it had been 12 years since I left the University of Maryland. 

By the way, I was on the 12-year program at the University of Maryland. It took me 12 years to get my degree because I took one class at a time, but I let my employers pay for it at the time.

But, then, I was out of school for 12 years before I went back to law school. And I was lucky enough to get admitted to the Catholic University Law School, Columbus School of Law. And I went there and graduated in 2004. 

And I thought I was going to put bad guys in jail. I thought I was going to work in a prosecutor's office.

Instead, I went to work for a small boutique law firm in downtown Washington, DC, that did personal injury law and litigated personal injury cases. I stayed there for about three years. 

And then, my son — who was a pretty prolific athlete at the time — he was going into high school. I knew he had a chance to start as a member of the varsity soccer team and I'd never missed a game and I didn't want to start then. 

So I didn't want to have to ask somebody if I could go watch my son's soccer game. 

So, with the blessing of my boss, I left the firm that I was with and I started the Tyra Law Firm.

Again, initially doing personal injury law.

At the time, I knew I wanted to add some other practice areas. 

So I added family law because I was a glutton for punishment. And I did that for a while until both my kids were grown. 

My daughter is an actress in Hollywood. My son's now a mathematician and a teacher in San Diego.

Both of them live on the West Coast. 

So I wanted to decouple myself from the courthouse. And so for that reason again, I transitioned one more time, which is like starting a whole new career. 

And I started doing estate planning, which I do largely from my home office here. However, I do have a physical space in town.

And that's where I'm at now, at that same time I've met Maddy.

I also started, several years ago, a podcast. I was a podcast junkie and I initially started the podcast quite frankly to get free advice. 

I figured if I interviewed some successful smart people for three to six months, I would maybe some of it would rub off and I'd get smarter.

I didn't realize that there was a tremendous need for that in the legal community because they don't teach you about running a business in law school; they teach you about law, but not how to run a business. 

The Law Entrepreneur book cover

And the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, was I had a classmate of mine, a young kid – of course, everybody was younger than me because I was the oldest person in the class — sadly lost their license because they failed to manage their escrow account properly. 

And when I spoke to them about it, they said, well, they'd never even owned a checking account until they opened their own practice.

And so at that point, I realized that the law school had done a terrible job of educating their students with respect to the real world. 

And that's why I started the podcast four years later, almost 250 episodes. We're still going strong, and I get to talk to great people like Maddy and others and hopefully share some of the things I've learned along the way.

So, that's what we're going to try and do today. 

MADDY:

Yeah, absolutely. And I love hearing your story now and every time. I learned something else about you. 

In the topic today, we're going to be talking about — and it is a mouthful — the entrepreneurial architecture of the modern law firm.

And I sort of laughed as I was putting the little email invitations together. Like, every book in the world says, don't write something like that in an email subject line, but screw it.

Like, that's what this is about. 

And we want to be direct and we're not going to sugar coat it or sound like, we're talking to guy sprinters, we're talking to attorneys and business owners and people who are serious professionals who are like, "I understand and sign up for a course like this on the entrepreneurial architecture" because they know what that's going to be about. 

They know it's going to be about the pillars and the finances and the foundation that you're building when you're ready in business. 

And who wants to learn it from someone who has had as diverse experience as you do.

NEIL:

I think that's really sort of a rich opportunity for everyone who's in the Smith.ai community that's here with us today. 

MADDY:

We've already gotten a little bit of an introduction. 

But, I'd like to talk about specifically right now, as people are looking at, you know, we'll look at their finances. We'll look at practice management software. We'll talk about virtual receptionists and support assistance, the infrastructure itself. 

THE STRUCTURE FOR ENTREPRENEUR'S ARCHITECTURE

But, what are the pillars that we're going to focus on today that frame out the structure when we talk about an entrepreneur's architecture of the modern firm or modern practice or business? 

NEIL:

Well, first thing, I think one of the things that give me a little credence in this area is that I've made every mistake you can make.

So, if you could screw it up, I have done so, so it's probably a whole education just to learn from my mistakes. I was successful in running my martial arts studio, but not initially. 

Initially, I lost a lot of money and I was really worried about whether or not I would make a profit from it. 

So, I made a lot of mistakes, not the least of which was spending nearly $20,000 building out space and adding a really beautiful floor in the studio that I had no students, so I thought about it, and then I had somebody to help advise me at that time, and they have said, "Hey, spend your 20,000 elsewhere."

Get the students, cram a space, and work to get a bigger space. 

When I come from a tech background, which is about 20 years building hardware and software systems, I was managing a large scale software development team of 70 programmers building air defense software.

So that was more in the management and the tech arena. 

So when I started my business, my law firm business, those are the things that I brought to the table, a strong tech background, and a lot of mistakes. 

So, at the time, there wasn't a lot of information available about how do you start a business in the legal practice.

There were a couple of books, which have since been pretty outdated. 

And so, really, I had to, again, kind of learn from my mistakes, and I thought, "Well, you know, it's going to be great because I've already made all the mistakes that I could possibly make in running a business." 

And little did I realize that now there's a whole new set of mistakes to make — it's a whole new world of mistakes waiting. 

MADDY:

I mean, so obviously, tech plays a big role. 

And yeah, if that's really on the top of mind for people right now, because here we are, we're recording this. 

Still, during COVID, there's sort of a second wave that we're seeing and, you know, we all held our breath, and now, we'll take a deep breath because we are going to hold it in even longer.

So tech has considerable benefits when you think about efficiency, productivity, scaling out, and competing as a smaller firm in a larger market. 

When we think about tech, number one, people think about practice management solutions, right?

I mean, that's easily where your mind goes to the top two tech systems that people are implementing in law firms, first and foremost, probably also calendaring solutions, online payments that would absolutely be considered tech. 

Not to mention your website and marketing distribution channels. 

But just for practice management alone, you mentioned when we were planning this that you think it could even be considered malpractice, not to have a practice management solution.

And for everyone who's not in a law firm, basically, that is where project management meets CRM for lawyers, for managing cases and clients. 

UTILIZE PRACTICE MANAGEMENT AND CRM'S

NEIL:

Yeah, well, first of all, I'm sensitive to the fact that we don't have all attorneys here. And so when I talk about the five pillars of the entrepreneurial law firm, it really applies to any business in today's world.

And the best practice has this specific meaning to attorneys, but as you very accurately stated, it's really project management/CRM, customer relationship management, you combine those two concepts together. 

That's what we commonly refer to as practice management. 

So if you're running a chiropractor's office or you're running a barbershop or any type of small business, you need to have that kind of help in terms of managing information that drives your business. 

Because even if you're a service provider and you're training or performing some type of function, there are underlying data issues that drive your business: Who are your clients? Where do they live? How do they pay you? How do you communicate with them?

That's all data-driven. 

So you have to have some kind of system along those lines now, and I have technology listed; it's kind of the fifth pillar here because it's easy for me to get bogged down talking about that first.

Because I mean, I'm a tech nerd, that's what I want to do and practice, and I want to make sure that we don't run out of time.

Now you have a strategy here. Well, we'll kind of work this in that regard. 

So when we talk about technology, I think you've got to take the 50,000 feet view of this. 

And really, the question that you must ask yourself is how comfortable am I with technology and how do I want it to work for me? 

So it's easy to get bogged down in choosing specific technological solutions, which really you have to come to grips with how is it that you use technology? 

So it would be impractical for you, if you have difficulty using a laptop, to write a document in Microsoft Word, if that presents a challenge to you. 

To then say, you're going to run your business entirely.

Using technology resources is maybe a bit of a stretch.

So you need to come to grips with specifically how you relate to technology in the legal world. 

We have a requirement to be minimally compliant with technology. And it's part of our professional responsibility that may not be true in other business areas, but to be a successful business person, you have to be at least minimally compliant.

And so you have to know where your weak spots are. And if you can't fill them, you need to be able to figure out how to go out about and get those addressed.  

I mentioned it here now because you just brought it up. Your profession might not have the same guidelines and rules as lawyers do, but you can actually take sort of a card from the lawyer playbook and say, "It's actually a huge benefit to have these things written out so clearly."

And if you're not seeing them as rules of playing the game and your profession doesn't lay it out as clearly, you can do so for yourself and look at what's being done in finance and medical and legal, even in IT, increasingly people have disclaimers on their websites to say, "Oh, you're getting advice from us, but we're not your dedicated IT provider."

It's the same thing as working with a lawyer. 

You think, okay, there's a level of responsibility here, and what is it? It could be ethical, it could be technological, and it could be financial. But, actually, if you're not in the legal profession, it is very interesting to look at professional rules of conduct from the bar associations and say, "What does this mean for my profession?"  

And then, once you come to grips with all of that, I think you can start getting a mortgage granular, look at the technology that suits you, you feel comfortable with. 

I know for me, I made a decision early in the game as to what ecosystem I wanted to operate it.

And I'm a big Apple fanboy. So I knew I wanted to be in the Apple ecosphere the entire time, but other people, they may not be as adamant about that. 

And in fact, these days, it really all became a moot point because virtually everything is cloud-based. 

So if you start with the operating system, most tools are going to operate.

Look, we just had our webinar with Text Expander the other day that used to be Mac only, you know, now, it's for PC users too. And, and so that makes the decision a little easier in that regard. 

MADDY:

So, when we talk about technology, I normally start with your website name. And again, you can; you can spend an awful lot of money.

NEIL:

I wasted so much money building out my website for my law firm because I thought other people had better solutions. 

I looked at other law firms and said, "Oh, who did their website?" I liked that. And then entered into a contract, which was really not good for me. 

You have to explore those options really well. 

MADDY:

There are a lot of people who are like, “What do I need to be on the lookout for? Like, what danger might be ahead of me or that I'm in that I don't even know I'm in, what are the things to really look out for websites, and what are the myths that you want to develop?”

CREATE A WEBSITE

NEIL:

Well, first off, you need to make sure that you own the website. 

So many times, when you hire a web developer, mainly the larger companies that do these in the fine print of the contract, you'll find that they really own the website and that you may own the URL address, but the whole content that they've developed on your behalf, they still retain rights to it.

And it happens all the time. When I break my contract with the company that was doing my website, they said, "Fine. We'll just take it down." And I said, "Wait, don't take it down. I need to transfer it over to my new provider," They said, "No, no, we don't do that."

Check your contract.

So, I mean, that was a real eye-opener for me and kind of embarrassing. Because as an attorney, you know, you think that I'd read that part of that fine print, but we learned those lessons the hard way.  

Another thing to look out for is that a lot of times, the web development companies will say, "Okay, well, to make it easier, we need to host your website on our site works."

You buy your URL, and then, you host it on their servers so that they can maintain the website. But when it comes time to leave frequently, you found out that your Google Analytics account or your Facebook ads account, or a bunch of other things that tie in with your website because your website was hosted on their server.

If you take the website back, you've got to – you find out the hard way that all that data dies. 

MADDY:

Does it transfer all the images that are embedded or exactly all that data? 

NEIL:

Well, I ended up at multiple different times, rolling my own website, creating my own website. So I would maintain control of it using a couple of different platforms.

Squarespace's one. Wix is another, and they're very, very good. You can do some great things with them, but you can spend an awful lot of time, you know, doing that. 

And if that's not your bailiwick, if that's not something you want to do, that's an area where you can waste an awful lot of time.

I think the big, you know, the 600-pound gorilla in the room in terms of websites is WordPress. So WordPress is a platform that you can build websites upon that are open source, which means they're not owned by a particular company. 

And you can find a lot of developers who are very WordPress savvy.

So if you were thinking about hiring somebody to do your website, you have to make sure you host it on your own provider, and you hire a contractor, whether they'll be virtual or in house, or what you have, and make sure that it is developed in WordPress so that you can easily change themes or rehost it somewhere else. 

As long as it's web WordPress compliant, I think you'll be fine. 

And it's also what you're comfortable with. 

When we talked about practice management systems, for example, or project management, there is the Kanban-style, vertical style project management. You move from one bucket to the other.

Something is in its definition, it's ready for the team, it's in progress, it's ready for review, and it's done. If you haven't sort of heard of Kanban before, you can look it up or email me, and I'd be happy to share more information with you, but it's also about what makes sense to you. 

Are you a visual learner? Do you see that things need to flow from left to right? Or is it top-down? What makes the most sense for you?  

Clubhouse, for example, Asana, you've heard of these project management solutions. You've heard of all the practice management or even CRMs, right? Is it Salesforce or HubSpot, or ClickUp? You name it.

It's really coming down to what you're going to use. 

So what website, what software actually works for you and feels the most intuitive, and what allows you the opportunity to grow into it as your skills and needs change. 

So you don't have to make those really clunky switches from one website to another.

It burns time you would rather spend on other, you know, more business-building work rather than consuming time, just doing a switch that doesn't really create much growth. 

People actually wanted to be even more forward-looking. I'm going to suggest that the idea of a website is beginning to diminish for a lot of small firms and small businesses.

And instead, a collection of landing pages that interconnect with an email service provider, or an auto-mailer if you will tend to be more robust, more easily constructed, more direct, and more action-oriented. 

And the really forward-thinking entrepreneurs are ditching the website, or if not banning and altogether making it a fairly perfunctory, static-type place where they store maybe their blog posts or their, their resume, or what have you.  

But instead, the dynamic part of their online presence and their lead capturing system is using a form that provides a landing page. So a number of email providers such as MailChimp or AWeber, Constant Contact, or they all have built-in landing page development capabilities and integrate natively with their auto mailer functions.

For instance, you get people to come to that landing page; that's why it's called a landing page, and all of the information you're trying to convey there, too, get them to make a purchasing decision or at least start them along that path. 

Math is on that page. 

And then, in exchange for providing their email address to you for some item of value, they're added to an automatic email system, such as, MailChimp or AWeber, what you have.

And that is where most entrepreneurs are going, from a technology standpoint these days. 

Capture the information, and then, the work is in nurturing and follow-up and exposure. 

I mean, it could be the case that you needed, you know, seven points of the exposure until someone would buy from you.

And now it's in the twenties, so people are being inundated with information. And if you have their email, you not only can, by the way, send them messages, but, if they visit a website of yours, you can capture sort of them online with cookies and pixels and show them your content no matter where they are, even if they don't respond to email.

So that's on Facebook, that's around the web showing them advertisements and other messaging. 

MADDY:

Now, speaking of your pillars moving to another one is, I don't know if this is the pillar of yours, but it's the office. 

And now that people are moving more towards remote work, how has that changed your perception of like that brick and mortar pillar? Is that still really necessary for attorneys to have offices?

NEIL:

I think this is something that all business owners are toying with, other than sort of the restaurants or the gyms. 

I think, more and more, that is going to be the legacy of the pandemic, is that more and more businesses are moving forevermore into the virtual space

So I knew I always wanted to be virtual when I started my practice, but for me, that really meant being more mobile at the time, not necessarily virtual. 

And so, I had a brick and mortar office space. Again, you can spend in law a lot of time, money, and effort to get a brick and mortar office space. 

Now, one of the good things about that right now is because so many people are leaving those types of spaces; they're very cost-effective to acquire

I mean, I had a friend of mine who closed her small office and got an entire floor on another building because they're hurting for tenants. 

So if you need a brick and mortar facility, then fine, this might be a good time to do that because there are a lot of opportunities out there.

But if not, then I think you can either be a hybrid or else totally virtual; I will also say, one of the things that I always encourage is before you need it, try it and test it. 

So if maybe there is a future that's coming where the client really begs and asks for a Zoom meeting, you better be prepared to have a really effective client consultation and know-how to sell on video and not face-to-face.

Get really super comfortable with it before it's demanded of you. 

I think that's one of the areas where all of sudden practice management was here, all of a sudden solution, all of a sudden calendaring was here, all of a sudden, I mean, websites. And the people who do best with these tools are not the ones who went and got a computer science degree necessarily.

But those who dive in and try it and allow for failure early on before the spotlight is on that particular area and say, "Oh, I've been testing. Yes. I've been trying Zoom calls. I've been, you know, trying out Calendly or Acuity. And I'm quite familiar with what those tools can do for me." 

And I know that when my client base comes to demand them, I know exactly what I'll use.

And I hear so often on, like, Facebook groups, "Uh, my conversion rate is lower on Zoom." 

I need my physical office. And so often, that is because you are yourself not super comfortable, and that isn't your bestselling capacity, because that medium is new to you. So get comfortable with it. 

And the business will typically flow.

I had a conversation with an attorney not too long ago, and he was bemoaning the fact that he had to do Zoom conferences and he wasn't comfortable with them.  

He didn't feel like they were effective with his potential client. 

And I asked him, I said, “Well, how much preparation did you do? Did you practice doing Zoom calls with your family and with friends?” And he went, "Oh no, that might've been a good idea." 

You would want to experiment on potential clients' trader expertise, right? I mean, you have such a brilliant presence in person where you're in your element, and you're comfortable, and you've done that a thousand times.

But, if you get thrown onto a Zoom call, you're not going to be your most articulate, clear-headed self. 

So stack the deck in your favor as much as you possibly can.

We're going to have lots of attorneys and lots of businesses that are a hundred percent virtual run from the office in your house, so to speak. 

On the other hand, I think the hybrid approach is going to be even more prevalent where people such as myself; this is exactly what I do. 

I have a shared office space with Regis, which is kind of, it's an international shared office, a company like we work with. I pay a monthly fee to be able to use that office up to five times during the month. 

So what I will typically do, this was pre-pandemic, is if I have a lot of client meetings, I will batch them up on five specific days and then use an office for that. Otherwise, I work from my office here at home, or else I can work at Starbucks, at the Panera, wherever I have a wifi connection. 

I think you need to kind of explore those options.

There are more and more available, your geographic location may not be complete in that sentence and may not have that many opportunities. There are all kinds of office space that you can rent on a part-time basis. 

And so I would start there, and then, if you find that you can afford it and work warrants it, and you want a full-time brick and mortar space, then you can step up to that, but don't lock yourself into that ahead of time. 

Now, I will tell you, my clients have told me that they prefer virtual. 

And the reason for that is interesting because I was having difficulty getting potential clients to come in and I did a survey.

And what was their biggest concern? The number one concern was coming to your office, like, why is that? 

Well, because we work, I'd have to take time off from work. Do you know what I mean? Let's preface this with that this was before COVID creation to come to your office because it's way more time-consuming.

There's what happened. 

Well, then I said my response, “Well, how about if I come to you?” “No, it's state planner.” “I can come to meet you at your, you know,” “Well, no, no, no, no, no. Then, I have to clean the house, and I got to figure out something to do with another intern.” 

And so I said, “Well, you know, if we are going to meet at the Starbucks,” “Ah, man, the same thing I got to, you know, make time and like both of us can't come at the same time.”

What would be the best solution? How about if we do this virtual online? We used at that time, FaceTime and Skype.

Now, it's kinda more Zoom and online forms and, what we have, by far, my clients have said that is what they prefer. They prefer interacting with their attorney via the phone or computer.

And so to me, I think that we're going to see even more and more of that. 

And I think even, especially estate practices, it's often said that those are the sort of slowest to move, but in your case, they were pushing you to move faster. 

So I think that's really important to highlight there that there are often claims of the demographic of your clients slowing down your sort of tech progress of your practice.

And that's really not necessarily the case. 

In fact, many times I’ve heard people say, “Well, my customer base, my client base is older they're not going to do it right.” So when I said, “How many grandparents do you know that are FaceTiming their grandkids?”

Pretty much all of them. They may not be able to make our spreadsheets, but they know how to place a FaceTime or a Zoom call. 

So I think that's something we have to come to grips with as entrepreneurs. 

We have talked a lot about the virtual assistant; you're a legal virtual receptionist. How has that played a role in your practice and its growth? 

Well, I think, just as I made a comment, not having a practice management system, I think it is them— the legal malpractice.

HIRE ADDITIONAL SUPPORT

Another truism is that, and I have to admit: I borrowed this from a friend of ours who — you may know — who has said that the most cost-effective way to scale your business is through hiring virtual assistants and the first thing that most attorneys go to, the first thought that they have is I don't have enough work for a virtual assistant because they're thinking full time, virtual assistant.

But you can hire virtual assistants on an hourly basis on demand. 

And so there are lots of different platforms. Upwork is probably one of the most well-known, and Fiverr is another one that's very well known. 

Fiverr

And so you can hire virtual assistants to do anything you don't like to do at a fraction of the cost.

And many of them are offshore and in foreign countries, but they speak very good English. They communicate really well, would you put them in front of a client or a customer? 

Maybe not, but to do all that other stuff that you don't like to do, you can hire a virtual assistant.

I had another mentor that said, “If you don't know what to hire them for, sit at your desk and start tapping your pencil until you come up with an idea.” 

Because if you went and hired a virtual assistant, let's just say you hired one, and you planned on hiring them for five hours a week.

You get them as cheap as five bucks an hour, and that's, that's good money from where they work. If you have somebody five hours a week, start asking yourself, what could they do for me? What is it that I don't like to do? What is it that I'm spending too much time on, given what I'm capable of doing? What am I spending too much time doing? 

Start and give it to your virtual assistant. If they don't get it right, it's probably because you're not doing a good job showing them what you want to do. 

So learn the skill of how to delegate and how to engage these assistants and then, just start offloading work and keep hiring virtual assistants.

Keep loading them down with stuff to do until you're sitting on the beach, just monitoring the work of your virtual assistants. 

And even getting to the point where, if you have a virtual paralegal or an assistant or writer, blog writer, very often, you know, getting it to even 80% to where you put your twist on it or you review it, and then you acknowledge it — that is hugely beneficial. 

So, it doesn't have to be everything; it should be someone you are comfortable with. 

Obviously, there's confidentiality that you need to be mindful of. 

But if you are also training, people who are working for you virtually, I highly recommend using 

Zoom for recording videos, document your training, because the most frustrating thing for many small business owners, including lawyers, is to keep training them on the same thing. 

And if you record a video once, then instructing them to watch the video, instead of bothering you; it is really good for you, and it is a great test of whether or not they're going to make it in the long run because they should have everything that they need.

I've even gone so far as to hire virtual assistants to help keep the virtual assistant training program updated. 

Can you document all of this, or we're going to have a call and record it, and you're going to make it into a help document, right? Varying levels of virtual assistants. 

As we said, you can get them on an hourly basis or an on-demand basis to do one-off projects.

Then, there are things like a virtual receptionist, you know, if you spend a lot of time doing intake on the phone, then that may not be the best use of your time. 

So you can hire a virtual receptionist, such as Smith.ai, and you can offload that function for far cheaper than if you were to hire somebody full-time as your receptionist.

So, I kept offloading those kinds of tasks. 

First, I hired a virtual receptionist. Then, I hired a virtual bookkeeper. And then, I hired my first VA to do some graphic design work for me. And it just kept multiplying from there. 

And your comfort does build over time, right? I mean, it's not something higher?

In the legal space, you can eventually hire legal assistance, you know, virtual paralegals, virtual legal assistants, and even virtual attorneys. 

So, you can have your entire office staffed by people who work for you virtually and that you may never see physically, and who are focused on, you know, the best things that they like doing.

So their work satisfaction is so much higher, and the retention is so much higher. 

I know many firms and businesses that have a paralegal or a specialist or a technician of some kid who’s really specialized. 

And they're answering the phone, or they're answering email, and they don't need to do that, and they're taking time, which is more valuable than that just as you would prize your own time.  

Another point that you touched on earlier that I want to directly address is that you may not have a fantastic job market in your area. 

And one of the benefits of going virtual, not just to yourself, but in the entire mindset, is having access to hiring someone or permitting yourself to hire remote staff who may be dedicated to you. 

They may even be employees, right? They don't have to be just part-time contractors, like the ones that we're talking about. 

But if you go outside of your job market, you know, if you're in a rural area, you can tap into, you know, a better pool of talent potentially.

If you're in an urban area, you can tap into a wider pool of talent who might be more affordable because there's less competition. There might be someone really great in the suburbs that wouldn't come into your city office.  

So that is a competitive advantage for any small business.

MADDY:

Now, speaking of finances, as we don't have a ton of time left, I want to make sure that we touch on managing finances. This is so critical to success. 

We talked in the beginning about the story of the lawyer who lost her practice because of the mismanagement of finances. 

How do you really get things tidy, and how much work is involved? Like what tools do you need in order to do this? Just reasonably and securely. 

USE TOOLS TO STAY ORGANIZED

NEIL:

Well, first off, I think that one of the first hires you to need to make, an attorney needs to make, and probably any business owner needs to make is a bookkeeper, somebody to make sure that your records are correct now, most businesses these days use electronic bookkeeping, whether it be electronic checking accounts, you know, maintaining their banking accounts on the banks' system.

And then integrating those with an accounting package, such as QuickBooks or Mint are a couple of examples. 

So you want to do the accounting work. So you want to record everything for an attorney. 

It requires you to have two accounts; you're operating an account and an escrow account. 

You need to learn how to manage the money in an escrow account that's compliant with your bar requirements. 

The bookkeeping function is really kind of backward-looking financial management. It looks at what you have done. 

Let's put everything in the right slots, tag it appropriately as an expense or income, what type of expense and what type of income, so that we can generate profit-loss statements and, and the like. 

The next step is a financial assistant, whether it be a manager or administrator or planner that helps you, then start looking forward. What are my needs going forward? Where should my budget be going forward? What are my expectations in terms of income going forward? And who helps make decisions?

Like what could be deductible? What advantages I get from using fake credit cards, which is a real holistic approach to business financing. 

But you want to make sure you get something from the use of those credit cards, like points or cash-back or something like that. 

So first, hire the virtual accountant bookkeeper to put things in shape, looking backward, then hire the planner to help you look forward.

And if you're again an attorney, one of the kinds of not new, but emerging kind of philosophies is the profit-first model, which involves taking your salary out of the mix first and manage your business on the remainder as opposed to the other way around, which is normally how we do things.

And then finally, the last part of that would be you need somebody to help you — assuming that you're banking some money — you're putting some money in the bank from your business. 

So if you are, you need a financial planner to help provide for your long-term security. Don't try and do that on your own.

MADDY:

So I think that we're getting into something exciting right now to tie all of this up, focusing on the very first word of this topic, which is the entrepreneur's architecture, right? 

So entrepreneurial architecture — an entrepreneur is someone who is starting something, a business, but also, there is this business school of having a thriving profitable business.

And how much do you want to grow? At what size business do you want? How does that meet your lifestyle and career goals? 

We often see that one of the things is, “Okay, I've expanded, and I have as much work as I can handle, you know, do I hire another attorney?”  

Traditionally, we would say, are you going to open another office? That might not be as much of a conversation anymore. 

If we're moving away from physical offices, how are you tying that sort of front end that we talked about, the website marketing and the conversion rate, if the revenue is there and those goals align with the actual infrastructure to serve that client base that you're attracting, there's sort of these input costs.

And then, there's a responsive cost that you have the business that is the size that you need to deliver effective services to your client base that you're attracting, how do you manage and sort of anticipate those costs and get to that next stage? 

NEIL:

Well, I think, I think it involves a fundamental paradigm shift and we've probably all heard this before, but it is so valid.

You have to stop working in your business and start working on your business. 

So if you're the one who's providing the billable work, it doesn't matter what your business is, if you're the one doing the work versus you're the one managing the people who do the work, I think that's the fundamental shift, and it's really hard for attorneys to give up.

It's also hard for artists to give up; you have to make that fundamental shift so that you can now take that top-down view and say, what are the pillars? What is holding up this business? What is working well, what's not working well? And then the fundamental question now is, how can I fix this?

But rather, who can I get to fix this? Not how do I improve this, but who do I get that will improve this? And if that's where your thinking is, I think you can't be more successful, and you end up having such a relief when the burden is not on you to fix all those problems. 

But, to be a problem solver, select the right person to do the right task for the right agency.

See, to do that task, you don't need to learn how to make your own website. You need to know how to discern who's going to create, you know, your new website for you. 

Are you good at picking those service providers and contractors? And the only way to do that is to try and to learn and get exposure to what that process is like.

MADDY:

As we sort of wrap up here, I want to share with everyone today that if you would like to learn more about a virtual receptionist website, chat to support your delegation and your outsourcing, and your growth, we would love to get you started risk-free.

You can use the code “law entrepreneur” which is what we'll use and we would like to say, “Thank you for joining us today.” And that's good for 14 days. And then after that, we have month-to-month plans

So what we've talked about here today are flexibility and control in your business and your growth.

It keeps you in tune to not have an annual subscription to something you're regularly evaluating. You're keeping a close eye on your finances, and you have solutions that can flex as your needs change or as we have a COVID pandemic, etc., it's nice to be able to have flexibility in your business and not be tethered to certain software services or whatever it is.

So give us a try. 

We'd love to show you what we can do, not just answering calls, but also screening and intake and scheduling you name it, and then, if you would like to hear more from Neil and listen to his fantastic podcasts.

I think you've got a Facebook group, too. How can they stay in touch with you?

NEIL:

Well, the best way is to go to the website: thelawentrepreneur.com, the hardest job is being able to spell entrepreneur, but thelawentrepreneur.com is where you can find us on any of the podcast platforms, iTunes, which is not, it's not anymore. It's Apple podcasts or Spotify or Google. You can search for our podcasts there.

Email me.

And just also to say, even though I use a competitor of yours for my virtual receptionist. I know a ton of people who use Smith.ai, and I honest to God, I've not heard one of them say a bad thing about Smith.ai, not one. 

So it's a great company you're at all, so consider using a virtual receptionist, you can do no better than Smith.ai and that, you know, I've got no dog in this fight.

But honestly, from me to you, I don't know anybody who's not having a good experience with your company. 

MADDY:

Thank you so much. Wonderful. 

And thanks for all the praise in the chat. So everyone, thank you so much for joining us. If you have any questions, please do email. Now I've provided his email to you.

I will also provide it to you in the follow-up and in the summary of the video which I'll provide an upload to YouTube, but Neil thank you so much for joining us today. 

Really fascinating to get to know your peers, modern law practice, and to apply it to other businesses as well.

So thanks for sharing an hour with us and really looking forward to another conversation with you soon. 

NEIL:

My pleasure. Take care.


Questions? Contact Us.

Have any questions about Smith.ai's virtual receptionists services or anything else mentioned in this webinar? Call us at (650) 727-6484 or email us at support@smith.ai.

If you’d like to learn more about how Smith.ai’s virtual receptionists can help your business, sign up for a free consultation with our team or get started risk-free with our 14-day money-back guarantee!

To watch more webinars like this one, check out our YouTube channel or access articles, guest blog posts, and other resources on the Smith.ai blog.

Elizabeth Lockwood

Elizabeth Lockwood is the content marketing associate at Smith.ai. She focuses specifically on writing and editing engaging articles, blog posts, and other forms of publication.

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