Maresa Martin Talbert is an attorney and law firm owner with a story you won’t want to miss. She served as an officer in the Navy, used the GI bill to pay for law school, opened her own successful law practice, and plans to retire early!
In this episode, Darren speaks with Maresa Talbert, founding attorney at Talbert Law Office, APC, and navy operator, to discuss her journey and the lessons she learned along the way.
Darren and Maresa discuss:
- What inspired her to want to become an attorney from a young age
- Leadership lessons she learned from serving in the Navy and how those translate to her work as an attorney
- What inspired her to launch her own practice, and what advice she has for other law firm owners.
- And more!
Connect with Darren Wurz:
- 30 Minute Chat With Darren
- Wurz Financial Services
- The Lawyer Millionaire: The Complete Guide for Attorneys on Maximizing Wealth, Minimizing Taxes, and Retiring with Confidence by Darren Wurz
- LinkedIn: Darren P. Wurz
- LinkedIn: The Lawyer Millionaire
- Twitter: Wurz Financial Services
Connect with Maresa:
About our guest:
Maresa Talbert owns and operates Talbert Law Office, APC, a virtual law practice that helps entrepreneurs, founders, and creatives start a business or nonprofit, maintain legal compliance, avoid risks, and protect personal and intellectual property assets through business formations, contracts, trademark registrations, and so much more.
Her business is not just a transactional exchange of goods and services. She lives by the mantra, “Purpose over profit.” Her purpose is to (1) honor God; (2) make her family proud; and (3) serve her community.
The way that it reflects in her business is by (1) delivering a premiere client experience; (2) providing culturally relevant education through her legal services; and (3) empowering her community to thrive in their purpose and build a legacy.
Transcript:[00:00:00] We are on a mission to help lawyers and law firm owners maximize wealth and achieve financial independence. Welcome to the Lawyer Millionaire with Darren Wurz From Wurz Financial Services. In this podcast, we will help you build wealth, minimize your taxes and plan for retirement with money management strategies designed for the legal profession.
Join us in this journey where we help you manage your money so you can make the most of your future. Start feeling confident in knowing you are well prepared for retirement and on track to financial independence. Now on to the show.
Patrice: Going it alone can be tough, but that is exactly what Darren Wurz’s guest has done. Maresa Talbert has a solo law practice focusing on business, nonprofit, and intellectual property law. As the founder and owner of Talbert Law Office, she knows the ups and downs of doing it yourself. Darren, [00:01:00] why don’t you tell us more about Maresa.
Darren: Yeah, I’m, I’m super excited to have our guest on today and learn more about her and her firm, and as we were just talking in the intro here, before we got started, I was learning that she’s on the West coast; but she actually goes back and forth. So I’m excited to learn more about that and about all the exciting things she does. She’s a veteran herself and she started her own practice. Very exciting stuff. So, welcome to the show Maresa, we’re glad to have you here!
Maresa: Thank you so much, Darren. I am excited to be here.
Darren: Well, great. I’m excited you’re here too! And I was just gonna say, I’m jealous because you’re in San Diego, is that right?
Darren: Right, but, I understand that you spend some time on the East Coast also. So I’m not too jealous, I guess. But I am longing for the warm weather definitely.
Maresa:[00:02:00] San Diego. Is that a paradise place? It is. It has truly been fun to call San Diego.
Darren: Yeah, absolutely. I was in San Diego many years ago around Christmas time, and it was like 60 degrees or something, and everyone with, all the locals were wearing like parkas and I was in shorts and a t-shirt, because I was excited for the warm weather. So. Well, Marisa, why don’t you start out and tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming an attorney and what that was like.
Maresa: So the journey to becoming an attorney was pretty clear for me. So I always knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an attorney. The type of law that I do now was not as clear. I thought I wanted to be a criminal prosecutor when I was about eight years old. And that was both birthed from [00:03:00] seeing attorneys on TV and really loving the courtroom action and really feeling like I wanted to do something that mattered and that made a difference.
But it also was birthed in the fact that…. Lawyers on TV really lived these lavish lifestyles and I knew I wanted to live well and I was naturally inclined to do well in school. I loved reading, so it just seemed kind of like a natural fit for me to make a living as a lawyer. So through high school, through college, that was my focus.
I knew I wanted to do well and be an astute student because I had to get the good grades to get to the college that I wanted and eventually go to the law school that I wanted. Once I completed college, I was in a rut. I was a little bit burned out. I kind of wanted to take a break from school and I wasn’t [00:04:00] exactly sure how I was going to pay for law school.
So that was really the crux of, how, where, how do I now do this? Where do I go next? What’s my next move? I was at the time working at the Texas State Capitol. I’m from Texas and I graduated from college. I was working at the Texas State Capitol for a Senator, and my mom said “you should go into the Air Force because you could get the GI bill to pay for law school. You wouldn’t be stressed, you wouldn’t have to try to work full-time.” And I thought, oh mom, that is the worst suggestion you could have ever suggested. I am not going into the military. I don’t know why you said that. Now both of my parents have retired from the Army. So, I was a military brat. I was very familiar with the army. Where I grew up was a military town. So I was familiar with the army, but, or the [00:05:00] military in general, but I, that was not my path or so I thought. About six months after my mom recommended that to me, I went to see a recruiter. . Now this story gets a little funny.
I went to see the recruiter. I accidentally walked into the Navy office instead of the Air Force office. So they had just switched offices and they hadn’t changed their signs outside. So the Air Force office was actually next door. So I walked into the Navy office. The recruiters were very friendly. They started talking to me and come to find out I already had a college degree, so they’re like, oh my gosh, we can get you in. You’ll be so easy to get into the Navy. And I’m like the Navy. I thought I was, I thought I was coming to see an Air Force recruiter and they’re like, oh, they’re next door.
So I went next door to the Air Force recruiter and they were not as friendly. They acted very snobbish, for lack of a better word. And [00:06:00] so I was just like, oh, well I don’t really, I don’t really wanna deal with them. So I went back to the Navy office and they got me signed up.
So I told my mom, Hey mom, I went to see a recruiter. Um, I talked to the Navy and she’s like the navy, where did the Navy come from? So she said, both my parents, they said, you can’t go in unless you go in as an officer, like we did the enlisted route. You have a degree. Go in as an officer if you’re gonna do anything.
And so I took the test. I applied for the officer’s program before I left for bootcamp. I got accepted and a week before I left, I told all my friends I’m leaving, I’m going into the Navy. And they were stunned and they were like, she’s gonna be back soon. She’s, she’s, she’s not gonna do this navy thing. I left home and never came back.
12 years later, I have done active duty in the Navy. Navy [00:07:00] Reserve, and I, after I completed my four years of active duty, I got my full GI bill, and went to law school. So, that was my journey to becoming an attorney .
Darren: Okay. Very cool. I am very fascinated by that. So both of your parents were veterans then, correct?
Darren: Okay. Wow, very cool. And then, yeah, so you mistakenly or accidentally ended up in the Navy and it says here you’re, on your LinkedIn, you are a Surface Warfare Officer. I think that is so awesome. Can you tell me just a little bit about what that means?
Maresa: Sure. So it sounds. . It sounds very cool, and it is very cool when you think about it from the outside in.
Um, what that really means is that I am a tactical ship driver for combat. And so as a Surface Warfare Officer, we are trained to be the commanding officer of the ship and to do so in times of combat [00:08:00] and in times of peace. So I have driven billion dollar warships assets on deployment, outside of deployment, and I’ve learned all the tactical requirements to do so effectively. So that, in a nutshell, is a Surface Warfare Officer.
Darren: Wow. That sounds awesome. Absolutely. Very cool, Maresa. Well, as you’re talking about all this, I’m just curious, uh, and we’ll kind of get into how you started your law firm, but, did you find that there were things you learned in the Navy that carried over into your law practice, what can you tell us about that?
Maresa: I think everything that I have taken from the Navy definitely translates over into my practice. It translated definitely into law school even. I felt very assured of what I was doing. I was very disciplined. [00:09:00] I maintained that discipline.
I feel like I was disciplined as a child growing up but being in the military gives you an altogether different kind of drive. It gives you a different kind of discipline. And I have taken all of that in my practice. It helps me just dealing with all different types of people from different backgrounds.
I have led hundreds of people, so it gives me leadership. It makes me very sure of my leadership style. It makes me very assertive in times where I need to be. I have really taken so much from the Navy that I will always, always treasure and be thankful for. Definitely.
Darren: Absolutely. That. The last one you mentioned there, assertiveness. I love that and I imagine that that experience gave you that, that courage. I mean, sometimes, I don’t know if you have a lot of this experience, but if you’re on the opposite side of a deal or something, you have to exercise some of that. How can you tell us a [00:10:00] little bit more about that experience or what you, how you’ve used that in real life?
Maresa: So I like to say that my leadership style is very collaborative. I’m very much open to feedback with any and everybody that I work with, but I’m also very decisive and I have come to trust my decision making very much so. So, I can make a decision with a team or without a team. I am very confident in the decisions that I make, but also when it comes to that assertiveness, I know how to be a bulldog when I need to. Um, I’ve had to stand up to people who, who were, who outranked me. I’ve had to stand in the gap for my sailors in different scenarios where it wasn’t pretty or it wasn’t fun. Or it wasn’t easy. And so that has also translated into when I’m working with opposing counsel, again, I’m very collaborative when I’m working with [00:11:00] opposing counsel, but at the same time, I know how to take that and be very decisive. And be very assertive when the time comes. And if I need to turn into a bulldog, I can do that too.
Darren: Absolutely. I admire that about attorneys. The ability to negotiate, with someone that’s on the opposite side, negotiating in their own interests. And to be able to do that without letting your emotions get the best of you and be able to do that calm and in a collective, collected way. I really have a lot of respect for that. And so you were talking about you know, all these great qualities that you learned, these characteristics that you acquired. and you, you used that in starting your own practice, but that wasn’t the original plan, as I understand. You started out at a larger firm. But what kind of was the journey that led you to eventually opening up your own practice? And then tell us about that.
Maresa: So, Darren, that is a loaded [00:12:00] question. . . So when I graduated from law school, my only plan, my only aspiration was to get a job at a big law firm and practice law, and that is what I set out to do.
I applied for many, many, many jobs, many positions, and I got nothing. So between talking to my mentors and talking with my husband they all kind of led me to the path of ” you can start your own”. At the time, that was something that I had no aspiration for. I just didn’t wanna do it. It was definitely far from my idea of what success was. And I was contracting. I was doing contract work for other attorneys. About three other attorneys at the time. One was [00:13:00] paying me about $25/hour for work. One was paying me $75/hour and another one was paying me maybe another $25 to $35/hour. So I was kind of doing these little projects for them when they had overflow in their caseload, and I really got upset with feeling like I was working for pennies. And it was my husband who said, you can do this on your own. He was the first person that said it to me, you can do this on your own. You don’t, you don’t have to work for anyone else. You can take your own clients. And I thought, no, I can’t. I can’t do that. And I, one of my mentors, reached out to me to speak at a continuing legal education seminar; and continuing legal education is something that all attorneys have to do to maintain their license. And so, I was on a panel speaking about microaggressions and eliminating [00:14:00] bias and he reached out and said, “we need your bio so that we can market and you know, market the program.” And I sent, well, when I was trying to figure out what my bio was going to say, I was, I was lost. I said, okay. I’m a California licensed attorney. I’m a Navy veteran. I don’t have anything else to put on my bio. I can’t say I’m an associate attorney that works at such and such a place. And so I was really embarrassed by the fact that I felt like I didn’t have anything to put on my bio. So my bio went out with a California licensed attorney and a Navy veteran. That was it. I spoke at this workshop and I’m speaking to all of these seasoned senior attorneys, and a lot of them came up to me afterwards and thought, oh, you did such a great job. Can we refer people to you? What area of law do you practice? They really wanted to refer clients to me. And [00:15:00] so I was like, okay, I guess , I guess I can, I guess you can refer clients to me. I did have business cards. I gave out my business cards and I got some calls and so that was the first time that I started to actually take on a client or two on my own. And I felt like, to me, I was just a freelancing attorney. So I kind of set up a letterhead that said Talbert Law Office. I did that really quickly. I prepared an engagement agreement to start taking on my own clients, but I still was only doing that as a means to an end until I found my big law job. So all of this time that I’m taking on my own clients, I’m still like applying for other jobs and I’m like, okay, soon my time is gonna come where I get a job at a big law firm.
And about a year and a half later, I got the job at the law firm. Practicing the law that I wanted to practice, and I hated [00:16:00] it. And I quit after two months and I thought, I hate this. I can deliver services better and I can deliver services in a way that I want to receive the service. And that is what I did. I left with the full intention, I can do this on my own. And I felt very assured that I can do this on my own. And that was the start of me actually creating Talbert Law Office and putting everything into it to make it what it is today.
Darren: Wow. So this is, it kind of started out as a necessity and wasn’t the original plan for you, but I bet now that you’re doing this, you feel like this is the right pathway. Would you agree with that?
Maresa: Without hesitation. I know now that this is the divine path that I was supposed to go on, and God just had to [00:17:00] force me, kind of redirect me through all of that to go this way because I wouldn’t have done it on my own.
Darren: Absolutely. So you’re starting your own practice. You had some clients coming in. Tell us about, some of the, the difficulties and the challenges that you experienced in that process. What was that like for you?
Maresa: So many. I think for me, the practice of law came very easy, easier. The business of law. Quite different. And by that I just mean the business of running a business, being a business owner, wearing all the hats, while also doing the work. You’re kind of the visionary and the implementer, and so trying to balance that has been really difficult. Even now, it’s still very difficult. I have come to learn to manage a lot of it and to [00:18:00] automate processes and, you know, implement processes that make some of this a little bit easier, but it is still very different hats to wear being a CEO and being the person who’s doing the work. And I’ve now come into a place where I have a clear vision, but that just came maybe about a year ago where I had a clear vision of where the business was going. And so I think part of the challenge initially was, one what am I doing? First of all, what am I doing? I know how to deliver the service, but I don’t know how to create this world around doing that.
Just have recently, I would say, started marketing myself. I wasn’t marketing, but I was having clients come through the door because of word of mouth, which I’m very thankful for because it alleviated me of having to try to market [00:19:00] myself. So a lot of it was what business structure do I need? I was a sole proprietorship for the first three years of my business. And, switching into a law corporation was something that was, I had to really think through and make sure that it was the right time and the right thing to do. It was making sure that I was doing all the filings correctly with the state bar, making sure that my accounting was correct, making, what am I charging? Why am I charging this? If a client asked me about why their bill looks like this. I have to be ready to explain that. So how do I explain my prices? Why are they the way that they are? It’s all of those external things that go into the business applause that make it difficult. What if a client doesn’t feel like they got what they paid for? How do I make sure that I’m very clear in the scope of services? It’s so many things. And when I first started, I was not creating boundaries at [00:20:00] all. I would answer clients at any given time because I just wanted them to know that I was trustworthy. And when I would have consultations, I would just spill everything because I wanted a client to feel comfortable with hiring me. So there’s a lot of things that I have learned in the process. That I have stopped, I have now started to really create boundaries and stick to those boundaries. You know, I know how much to give. I know not to give too much information. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming for a client when you are talking a lot about things. Other times they just kind of are window shopping and seeing who they can get is the most information from. So many things that I’ve learned along the way, and I continue to learn and evolve literally every day. I’m always learning. I have plenty of books now. I’m always reading. So it’s, it’s been a process.
Darren: Absolutely. There’s been you’ve, you’ve learned that you need to [00:21:00] be an entrepreneur in addition to an attorney. And I know you mentioned you had the clients coming in initially, so that was great. And you focus on business, nonprofit, international, and intellectual property. Did it start that way? Or how did that, how did you decide what area you were going to focus on?
Maresa: It did start that way. I think I was doing a lot more. At first, I was taking anything kind of business related or anything nonprofit related or anything intellectual property related. Now I know my wheelhouse areas, and so while it started in those broad areas, it is still pretty broad. I now know. Okay, I don’t care to do this specifically. These are the areas that I focus on and that’s just come with time and realizing where my time is most valuable, realizing what’s gonna take me a long [00:22:00] amount of time that I don’t care to spend or knowing, you know, I just don’t enjoy doing this and so I’m not gonna do it. So, these areas of law were the initial areas of law that I’ve always wanted to practice in since about my second year of law school, since I knew what area of law I wanted to practice. These are the areas, and so I’ve kind of stuck to that pretty well. It’s just I’ve kind of niche down within those areas even more than I initially started.
Darren: Absolutely that, that’s a great marketing strategy. I’m all about the niching down into a particular focus. So, uh, congratulations there. Now as you think about all this that you, you’ve, you’ve gone through and, and creating your business and so forth, you talked a lot about the business of law.
What are some big lessons you learned? You mentioned boundaries is a good one. Maintaining those boundaries. Are there some resources that helped you and figuring out how to manage the business side of law or, or what are some of the big lessons you learned there that you could pass on to other attorneys who are [00:23:00] in kind of a similar position?
Maresa: So, definitely resources. I think experience is the greatest resource. But I also have books. I have the 12 week year, I have the Business playbook. And those have helped me in just creating some systems and being productive and time management. Um, but I think a lot of it comes from just working hand in hand with my clientele and the things that have happened that I did not like. Where ,um, clients would delay the project for weeks and weeks and weeks at a time, or I can’t hear from them. And where I’m always very much trying to be the person that waits on my client and making sure that they’re not waiting on something from me. I’ve also come to learn that the longer it takes for me to finish a client matter, the more money I lose.
So, putting in processes where if you [00:24:00] delay or if I can’t get in contact with you for a certain amount of time, I have the right to terminate you as an attorney because you’re holding me up and if I can’t move your project forward. Then, you know, I, I either need to return the money that you provided, or we need to, we need to do something else.
So, that’s been something that I’ve learned. I also, in the beginning, I used to not take deposits. I used to wait until I worked and then invoice the client, and I’ve not gotten paid. So, I. Starting off, you want to, at least for me I wanted to, I’ve always wanted to treat people the way I wanna be treated, And sometimes it is hard to pay for something upfront and you don’t have an insurance that you’re gonna get what you paid for. But I’ve come to realize there are reasons why most businesses have you pay upfront . [00:25:00] So it’s some things are just because that’s how business is done and you can see why business is done that way. And some things are very unique to situations that I just didn’t like to be in. And I am not confrontational.
So it’s really hard for me to to confront a client in that way to terminate them. I have started to do so, and it has become easier for me to do when I need to terminate a client. But they always have a sob story, it’s always like, oh my this or that happened, or, oh my this.
And I’ve come to realize that is not my problem, as much as I am sympathetic. Yeah.
Darren: Yeah, that’s, that’s tough to do, to know when to do. But that’s such a great lesson. I’m glad you’ve learned that one early on is, making it easier for clients to pay, getting [00:26:00] the money upfront is a great lesson in improving your profitability. The quicker you can make that cash flow cycle that’s gonna mean your business is more profitable. You know, collecting on accounts receivable later is so much more difficult. The longer, the more time that goes by, the harder it is to collect on those things. And I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t realize when they think about running a law firm is getting the clients to pay, you know, that’s just assuming that they’re gonna pay. But, you know, you wanna make sure that that happens and that doesn’t, unfortunately, always happen. So, great lessons to learn. Now, Marisa, I’m curious about the future for you. You know, you’ve got a lot of time ahead. You, you’re, your practice is still young. What, what are your future plans? What are, you talked a little bit about your vision for the business. Tell us more about it.
Maresa: So it’s such a broad vision, but it is very specific. So right now, to be [00:27:00] honest, my goal is to train my c e o; the person who is going to replace me and have them up and running within the next five years. That is my goal. So everything that I’m doing right now in my business is geared toward my replacement, training, my replacement. When I started on that journey, it forced me to revamp everything that I was doing in my practice, and that was because I was doing everything from me being the person, the implementer, and being the person who knew the process, and being the person who knows how I wanna speak to this client, and knows how I want to email this client, and knows how I named this file. And when I realized that I needed to bring someone else in to really, not only just expanding to bring in another attorney and interns and other people who will work under me, [00:28:00] but to also bring in someone who will eventually replace me. It was such an overwhelming task to think about all the things that I needed to do to make that possible, and so it started me on the journey of documentation, and creating videos, and having a naming convention for files, and getting SOPs up and running, and having a centralized place where everything is. It really took me on a journey. An overwhelming journey that I don’t think I was fully ready for at the time because I realized, oh my gosh, I have been working and just churning out the deliverables and I have not been documenting anything. And so, Oh boy.
Darren: That’s, that’s very fascinating. So, uh, the process, this is in procedures, so you’re talking about now this is someone [00:29:00] replacing you, is this like a long term succession plan that you’re kind of starting now? Wow. I love that. I am a big fan of that. Kudos to you. You know, one of the things I talk about in the book is getting that succession planning starting now early on. So hats off to you, Maresa. That’s really fantastic stuff. And you’re right. All the things you’re thinking about, those are things people start to think about and those are all just good business practices by the way. So , that really makes it, uh, forces you. To, to think through a lot of those things. So, great, great stuff. Well, we’re almost out of time, unfortunately. I feel like we could go on and on and on and on. We’ve got so much good stuff here to talk about. I have one last question and then I want you to tell our listeners, uh, how they can get in touch with you. But one question I want to ask all my guests going forward. What does retirement look like for you? It looks like something different for everybody, but what does that mean to you? And then tell our guests how they can get [00:30:00] in touch with you.
Maresa: So retirement for me, I hope is quicker than most. I would like to retire early. I am in my thirties right now and. . I think I would like to retire within the next 10 years. So retirement to me looks like being at home with my family, probably cooking or experimenting in the kitchen every day. I love to cook. I love creating in the kitchen, and so retirement for me is really, truly probably being a homemaker full-time.
Darren: Wow, that is fantastic. So you’re on the retire early train. Kudos to you. I want to know more about that. That’s awesome. And as we wrap up here, why don’t you tell our listeners how they can find you, how they can get in touch with you and learn more about you.
Maresa: Yes. So right now, I am revamping my website.
It’ll be up within a week at talbertlawoffice.com. But you are still able to schedule a [00:31:00] consultation if you would like to. And you can find me on Instagram at Talbert underscore law underscore office or on LinkedIn at Talbert Law Office or Marissa Talbert. And I think that’s it.
Darren: Great. Well, thanks so much for being on the show, Maresa.
Maresa: Thank you, Darren, it was such a pleasure.
Darren: Absolutely. And if you wanna know more about The Lawyer Millionaire Podcast, the lawyer Millionaire the book, or to get your own copy or to learn more about me as well, or book a consultation for your own retirement planning, just head on over to thelawyermillionaire.com.
Voice Over: Thank you for listening to the Lawyer Millionaire. Click the follow button below to be notified when new episodes become available. This content has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. This content is not intended to represent investing or tax advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified investment or tax advisor with any questions you may [00:32:00] have regarding your own financial circumstances.
Darren Wurz [00:00:04]:
The time has come. You’ve created your succession plan. You’ve picked a successor or a firm to merge with, and the process has started. Now, how do you navigate the complexities of merging your firms? How exactly do you ensure a seamless transition mission? And how do you bring two different law firm cultures together? I’m Darren Wurz. Thanks for joining us today, and welcome to part five of our series on succession planning for law firm owners. Today, our focus is what happens after the sale and how do you make sure it’s successful? Joining us for this discussion is Margaret Burke, founder of MB Law Firm Consulting and a leading expert in this field. With her wealth of knowledge and experience, margaret has helped numerous law firms navigate the complex landscape of mergers, integrations, and succession planning. Welcome to the show, Margaret.
Margaret Burke [00:01:07]:
Thank you. I am so happy to be here.
Darren Wurz [00:01:10]:
I’m excited to learn all the cool stuff that you know and your insights. We’ve talked a lot in this series about the lead up, the planning, the getting ready, different types of succession plans, different strategies. And now we’re kind of in the phase of talking about how you make sure it’s successful and pulling it off. So before we get into all that, why don’t you share with us a little bit about your background and how you found yourself specializing in law firm consulting.
Margaret Burke [00:01:40]:
Sure. Yeah. Thanks for asking. So I have been working in and with law firms for more than 20 years in house at a law firm, two different firms. The last firm I was with, I served as the CEO, and I had the benefit and pleasure of helping launch the firm and really grow it. I was actually with that firm for many years and really was able to experience the lifecycle of a law firm. And when I was with my last firm, I saw a need in the legal community. And I think anybody that works at law firms, I believe, will shake their head in agreement that you will never find I shouldn’t say never you likely will not find anyone with spare time. That includes the professional staff, the attorneys, the bookkeeper. Everyone at a law firm tends to be extremely busy at all times. And as a result, law firms work towards hiring when they don’t always need to hire. So I saw a need to help fill in in those gaps at law firms to help free people up from being busy 60 hours a week and knowing that they have someone coming in to help them that understands the business of law firms.
Darren Wurz [00:03:03]:
Fantastic. So you really had an inside look at the mechanics of running a law firm and the business side of things that really helps you in your work now. And so I know you do law firm integration consulting. I’m curious. The other aspects of your business? What are some of the main areas that you help law firm owners and some of the big things you focus on?
Margaret Burke [00:03:27]:
Sure, I do a few things. I’ll bucket them in three different buckets. One is fractional COO. So I was alluding to this service actually a moment ago. That is where firms really want and deserve support with running the business. Running the business includes planning, execution, strategy, and the operations. But they don’t need someone full time, want someone full time or they can’t find someone full time within their budget. So I perform and work closely with firms as their fractional COO and a lot falls under that bucket. The other service I provide is strategic planning. It’s typically with a founder of a firm who is usually succession is always part of strategic planning and they want to grow. Growth means different things to different people. It typically always involves revenue, staffing and the services and their succession. Again, that comes up in almost every strategic plan engagement. And the third is what we’re talking about today is law firm integration. And this is a service that I would say is somewhat of a niche. Large firms tend to have a team of people that specialize and when there’s a group of attorneys in their team joining a firm, they usually have a team that will actually help make sure that it is successful. Small to mid sized firms usually do not have a team to do this. And the person that they have knighted as responsible is already busy with the 60 hours a week that I mentioned earlier. So that’s where I come in and I help with the integration. I call it day one, but ideally it definitely starts before day one and it is okay, everyone’s decided to get together. You’re almost like merging two families. You’re coming together now. It happens. And I help to ensure that the things that need to be addressed are addressed. I serve as a sounding board and I serve as a project manager and advisor to sort of address the things that will absolutely happen. There’s always issues and that’s okay. That’s part of the experience I share that I help get through them and ensure that the reason the two firms came together actually happens, which is usually growing the client base and a number of other reasons.
Darren Wurz [00:05:58]:
Absolutely. So the succession is a big piece of what you’re hearing that a lot. In your conversations with law firm owners, I’m curious, are there some things that you some patterns, some common obstacles, issues that law firm owners are dealing with other than succession itself? What are some of the recurring types of assistance that law firm owners need help with and why do you think that happens?
Margaret Burke [00:06:22]:
Sure. Yeah. So putting succession to the side, what comes up often, and this is incredibly common, is you will have a few attorneys who start a firm and they’re fortunate enough to be really successful quickly. And usually this happens with good attorneys that provide much needed services. They set up an infrastructure really quickly. Sometimes they’re leaving another firm, so it’s done very quickly because they leave that firm on Friday, they want to be up and running Monday. And fortunately, they have a client base. They’re busy, the firm continues to grow, and this can really happen within the first year or two, and it can happen quickly. And what happens is the firm client base and needs and complexities grow so quick that they don’t have the infrastructure to support it. That includes the operations technology, but also includes the team. And what is very often the case is there’s a few trusted individuals that were with the firm when they launched. And they’re incredibly important. And their roles keep growing and growing and growing. They’re asked to do things that they have never done before. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it can be incredibly stressful. Things start to fall through the cracks. Where I come in is to help with assessing the current situation and making recommendations to fill in the gaps that they have and to really relieve the person that has started to be the jack of all trades and to relieve the attorneys from actually spending a significant amount of their time on trying to manage the firm. So I see that a lot, and it’s incredibly common. And I actually had that experience with one of the firms I was with. So I lived it firsthand where the growth came so quickly that we had to really focus on the infrastructure to free up the founders. And now that I’m a consultant, it’s amazing how often I see that.
Darren Wurz [00:08:26]:
Yeah, I see that a lot.
Darren Wurz [00:08:27]:
And that makes a lot of sense. You have the law firm owner, the law firm founders wearing all the hats, doing a lot of the jobs that probably should be passed on. They haven’t created that infrastructure that they need to be able to do that. So let’s move into the succession planning part of things. And in your work with succession planning for law firm owners and integration, what are some of the trends or things that you’re seeing in the industry in recent years in regards to mergers and acquisitions? What are some of the emerging trends that you see and how you see the landscape changing?
Margaret Burke [00:09:06]:
Sure. So trends founders want to start planning. I think that years ago, founders didn’t really discuss it. It was something they were going to work forever and did not discuss the fact that they actually want to take some downtime, maybe enjoy their families more, travel, whatever their goals are. So I see that. I don’t want to say since COVID but it seems to me I’ve noticed since COVID there’s more of an open discussion about succession. There’s a lot of planning that is starting, and there is often the goal for someone at the firm, a trusted attorney that has been with a founder for a while. The founder really ideally would love that individual or individuals to take over the firm for them. And that is something that is usually the first choice. And as part of that, it’s the discussions around do these folks want to do that? Do they want to participate in some sort of financial component which is important and really vetting out like is this viable? And then planning for that event. And as part of that, there’s discussions on the backup plans. So that’s a common theme of discussions that comes up.
Darren Wurz [00:10:33]:
So important to have a backup plan.
Darren Wurz [00:10:36]:
I’m glad that you mentioned that and I’m glad that this is becoming more of a topic for people. I think it’s about time that this is more talked about, it’s more discussed. And so I’m glad that it’s becoming a more common thing and a more acceptable thing for law firm owners to start thinking and talking about. Now I want to know more about your process for helping law firm owners with planning for that succession and that integration piece specifically that really fascinates me. Could you walk us through some of the steps that you take in that process and what that process looks like?
Margaret Burke [00:11:13]:
Yeah, absolutely. I certainly can. And I do want to just quickly circle back to the discussion that we’re just finishing is often succession isn’t completely stopping the practice of law. It is often really reducing hours and serving as a consultant sometimes is the goal of the founding attorney. So I wanted to mention that because I do think that listeners may think, well, gee, I don’t want to stop practicing. I love what I do, I love my clients and that is a common reaction to succession and there are options related to that.
Darren Wurz [00:11:51]:
Thanks for bringing that up.
Darren Wurz [00:11:52]:
That is really important and you’re so right. It’s not about necessarily just bowing out from law completely. It can be setting up yourself to practice part time. Maybe you still want to work, but you don’t want to work as much. You want to enjoy more of your freedom and your flexibility and have some time to do other things and pursue other endeavors. So, great point. Yeah. So let’s get into the steps in your process. I want to know the integration. How do you bring two firms together when they decide that they want to merge?
Margaret Burke [00:12:24]:
Sure. So there’s a few things. One is there are many wonderful people, you’ve had some on your show who actually really specialize in making sure that there’s a high likelihood of success between two groups of attorneys. There’s culture fit, there’s practice area synergies, there’s making sure that the folks that come together have the same end result goals. And there are many specialists that will help with the actual almost matchmaking it’s matchmaking where I come in is there’s actually two points in the ideal situation? It is well before a founder starts to sell his or her firm and it is preparing for that day. And there are a number of things that are considered very valuable to an acquiring growing law firm. Obviously, a client base is important. Having the documentation to show that a client is either a long standing client that touches with that individual that touches with that person’s family. If it’s a type of law that is conducive to families business just making sure that there’s a record of interaction with clients and being able to show that a good CRM is a tool that firms can implement early on, in addition keeping their contacts updated so that when they do go to another firm, they can actually reach out to people and know that there’s a high likelihood that their announcement will reach the right people. And then there’s also the social value or the marketing value of a firm. So firms that have a really strong marketing presence, it’s a combination of social media, blog writing, thought leadership, Google reviews. Google reviews is incredibly important. Firms that start to think about those valuable assets before they decide to go to another firm are in a much better place when the time comes to maximize the value of their firm. Those are things that acquiring firms are looking at in addition to the things that I think we can all expect, which is revenue team. The team is very important so that’s the beforehand often folks will I’ll work with them, but they may not have planned ahead for a number of years and that’s fine. They’re a great firm and they have decided to join another firm. And I will come in and help to make sure that that integration is successful. I’ll work very hard at different components that law firms don’t always think about and it ranges from culture, technology, training and client integration. And I really work with clients. I call it a punch list, but it’s really an extensive list of different events, tasks, introductions, things that have to happen to ensure that the group that came in becomes part of the new firm. It doesn’t stop practicing as a solo silo, which can happen very often. And when I work with a firm, there will always be components where the acquiring group tends to do things a certain way. But there’s discussions of why things need to be a certain way and people are informed in real time that things are going well or there needs to be an adjustment.
Darren Wurz [00:16:10]:
Wow, there’s a lot to unpack.
Darren Wurz [00:16:11]:
There a punch list, events and things that need to take place to bring the two firms together. Could you give us maybe a couple of examples of what some of those things might look like?
Margaret Burke [00:16:23]:
Sure, yeah. It really ranges and we prioritize. One of the first things that really happens in an integration that can go wrong and there are always pain points in this area is technology and it’s an area that if you have an IT department, they’re not always thinking about the group coming in, needing to know how to use the technology. They are setting up the username and password and they’re assuming that the group knows what to do on day one. And quite often they really don’t have any idea and they also may not know what is expected of them. So there is a focus on training for the team, informing them beforehand the expectations of the acquirement firm, addressing any special needs. Sometimes you may have people on the team that are very valuable. You may have a valuable paralegal, for example, who’s an excellent paralegal, but is really not technology savvy, that individual needs training beforehand so that when they come in, they can start to be productive on day one. So we address technology needs, training needs. There’s a focus on culture and that’s really important because the sooner the two groups come together and get to know each other, we recommend lunches, after dinner, after work events, the more they get to know each other as people and are more apt to collaborate and help each other. So we focus on the culture, we focus on client lists. Getting the client list into the database of the acquiring firm is really important. Talking about and making sure that there’s a press release, that there’s proper messaging on the websites for the closing firm as well as the acquiring that LinkedIn is updated, BIOS are updated, pitches are taken. We do this beforehand. So it really is a combination of taking advantage of the opportunities, which is the marketing as well as proactively, addressing the things that will be challenges, which are time and billing time entry, people getting, making sure people are working with both teams are coming together to work together. So those are a few examples that are on the punch list. There’s very open discussion about what needs to happen in a particular week. And my role is very much to organize it, do it, work with the existing staff and then oversee it and make sure things happen.
Darren Wurz [00:18:54]:
Darren Wurz [00:19:10]:
Absolutely. Okay, so those are some great things on that list. Technology, I hadn’t thought about that specifically, but that makes a lot of sense. Maybe the two firms are using different CRM systems, different client relationship management software, and you have to try to bring those together. There’s a lot there that is a big task, it seems like.
Margaret Burke [00:19:34]:
Yeah, and I’ll note actually really the time and billing system, it can delay billing very quickly if people don’t know how to use it and they’re not entering their time and it can snowball quickly. So those are the things that we will address before the merger or acquisition to mitigate what will happen, which is delays in folks knowing how to use the software and being effective.
Darren Wurz [00:20:05]:
The key there, of course, is making sure you’re using it and using it effectively and making sure you have one. And those are some of the things you help law firms put in place as they’re getting ready for that sale. So there’s a lot of work there’s. Work on the front end, work on the post sale. As we’ve talked on the show before, it’s a long process and there’s a lot that goes into it throughout that process. You mentioned a few of the challenges.
Darren Wurz [00:20:33]:
I’m curious, what are some of the big challenges that you have run into before, some of the big difficulties in that succession planning process and how do you deal with those.
Margaret Burke [00:20:42]:
On integration or succession or both tied together?
Darren Wurz [00:20:49]:
Sort of both.
Margaret Burke [00:20:55]:
Yeah, I’d say it makes sense. It’s a human component. So you have an attorney, attorney’s, attorney who has been practicing independently, decision maker for many years, and now they’re suddenly joining a firm. Thankfully, it was a good match. They’ve had a lot of conversations. That process can take a while, so they know each other. But day one, when something happens and the person that was acquired, the founder, is asked to do something that he or she doesn’t agree with or just says, what, this is not how I’ve always done it. Those are things that really come up all the time. It’s expected. It’s like two families coming together. And that’s really a part that I ensure that the founder that was acquired knows that their concerns are being addressed and then that there’s really transparent conversations about what can be adjusted and what can’t be adjusted. So to answer your question, I would say really very quickly there’s the people part that presents itself as a challenge that just needs to be addressed right away.
Darren Wurz [00:22:08]:
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
Darren Wurz [00:22:10]:
I was going to ask you, you talked a lot about culture there. What happens when you run into sticking points when people aren’t getting along? Have you run into that before? What do you do to try to get past some of those roadblocks?
Margaret Burke [00:22:27]:
Yes, it happens. It actually happens at most companies. It absolutely happens at law firms. I think the reason I say it absolutely happens at law firms is because people are under pressure. And when we’re under pressure, we’re not always as patient with other people. And that’s a really big part of starting with making sure that people get to know each other personally. Personally, as in professionally, personally, group wine tasting, group event. Because when you like someone and know them, you’re more apt to be more patient and to help them. So on the attorney side, it will depend on the infrastructure at the firm. Absolutely. The manager, partner, HR would be informed, we would come up with a game plan to address it’s usually often on the administrative staff side where they weren’t informed that they have a new role at the firm or that something that they’re currently doing is going to someone else. So that’s where communication comes into play. And just being really direct with people and explaining, empathizing, understanding that this is a big change for people, but understand that there is a reason that this happened, that changes will be part of the transition. And similar to anytime this conflict is acknowledging, addressing, and being clear and making a decision, the teams do, ultimately it’ll be important that they do follow the decisions that are made on behalf of the acquirement firm.
Darren Wurz [00:23:54]:
That makes sense.
Darren Wurz [00:24:19]:
Okay, so you were talking about the client lists, and you mentioned that as part of the integration process. That’s a big piece, and that’s probably one of the biggest things people are worried about, is making sure that the clients are retained through that process. What are some of the strategies you use or how do you help to ensure a smooth transition of client relationships during the succession process?
Margaret Burke [00:24:46]:
Yeah, so the answer will always depend on the practice theory. But in general, the relationship individual at the acquired firm will be part of that process. And it can be a range of meeting people in person. Lunches, introductions, coffees, zoom meetings, there’s mailings, there’s information that went out to these folks beforehand promoting how the merger is going to help them as a client. It’s very much a PR marketing, BD exercise. And where I come in on that is when I make recommendations, I also track it and we hold each other accountable. And that’s part of we have, in the beginning, a weekly meeting. It’s typically the founder, manager, partner of the acquiring firm. It’s the founders of the firm that was acquired. And we talk about the priority clients and what needs to happen. And we make sure and we do it in increments because there’s just so much you could do in a week. And we come up with the most time effective way to make sure that every client has been informed, they understand why this event took place. We gear it towards how it’s going to be better for that individual or company. And it’s an ongoing process. It does take a few months, but it actually starts before the merger.
Darren Wurz [00:26:14]:
Darren Wurz [00:26:14]:
Yeah. I guess the key here is communication and communication and communication. And I like that you use the word PR because that’s exactly what I was thinking. Publicity. This is marketing. You’re marketing to your client list to make sure that they understand that they feel this is of value to them, to stick around. And that is one of the biggest things I run into is you can’t sell client relationships, right? So how do you sell a law firm? Well, you can. You just have to work with somebody like yourself and make sure that that’s a transition process that clients are comfortable with and try to get them to stick around with the new firm post transition. Another big thing I’m curious about because you might have great CRM, you might have great client files, but not all the information is necessarily in those files. There’s a lot that’s up here, there’s a lot that’s in the head. That’s knowledge that the current lawyers have that are working on cases and things. How do you help with that knowledge transfer between the outgoing and incoming leaders? What are some keys you have there in that process?
Margaret Burke [00:27:30]:
Sure, I’m laughing because I can tell you work with law firms, a lot of it is in the head of the attorneys and that’s part of the ongoing communication I reference that we typically will have, I say weekly just so people get an understanding what I mean. But there is the prioritization of the clients. Then there’s a knowledge transfer that takes place at those meetings and it can range from gee, this is a really good client but XYZ and that is recorded for the acquiring firm’s use. And then there’s a plan in place to make those introductions. So there’s a few approaches. Is that blanket PR marketing letters, promoting and explaining the reason for the change. And then there’s the more detailed one on one where it involves knowledge sharing, transferring information and that happens in stages at the meetings that I conduct with the firms that I work with.
Darren Wurz [00:28:31]:
Darren Wurz [00:28:32]:
Yeah, a lot of meetings, a lot of working, communicating, talking, sharing valuable information, that’s all great stuff. Now as we’re wrapping up here, I’m curious if there’s anything else you’d like to add, any other additional valuable insights or lessons that you have for law firm owners as they’re thinking about this.
Margaret Burke [00:28:51]:
Sure, yeah, I will say I keep using the word meeting which I know for some of us we’re like oh my goodness, not another meeting. But it’s efficient. So my role is to ensure that the meetings are action focused. There’s takeaways after the meeting and it actually helps save time later on. So the more things that are discussed proactively and planned for, the less emails start floating around the firm a few months later with questions. So I do want to note that and I think that it’s important to know that things don’t need to happen overnight. But prioritizing and addressing the priorities first is important and things don’t need to be perfect, but they tend to go very integrations tend to go very smoothly when there is ongoing communication and action taken on a regular basis over a period of a few months. And then the last point I’ll make is there are so many opportunities for attorneys to find value in their firms. They know the value, they know they have amazing clients. They know that they have an amazing team. And I believe that sometimes there’s the misconception that there aren’t options, and there really are. And the integration is one option that is available to attorneys. And there are so many people like Darren and myself and others that can really help you through this process. So know that there are options.
Darren Wurz [00:30:24]:
Darren Wurz [00:30:25]:
Well, we’re coming to the end of our time. You know, we talk a lot about retirement and succession planning here. So I’m curious what the future holds for MB Law Firm Consulting. What are some of your future goals and what would be your dream retirement?
Darren Wurz [00:30:41]:
What would it look like?
Margaret Burke [00:30:42]:
That’s awesome. No one has ever asked me that. So for MB Law Consulting, my goals are this is going to sound a little scripted, but it’s not because I didn’t know you were going to ask this. I love working with my clients. I have wonderful clients. And my goals are to continue to provide the much needed support that the firms I work with need. My goals are growing my team. I’ve recently grown over the past few months to bring on an administrative professional in two team members. I actually have someone I work with that specializes in law firm workflows. And that is like a little bit of a niche that is so needed for law firms. And so I’m growing my team from understanding where firms need specialized help. So I would say my plan within the next three years is to continue to grow very strategically, to continue to provide very high level service. As for retirement, I don’t have retirement plans right now. I’m fortunate enough to have my own company. I can work where I want. I have been able to work internationally a few times, which has been a pleasure. So my plans are to continue as I am right now and revisit that in a few years. Darren, maybe I need to speak to you. Maybe you can help me come up with a game plan.
Darren Wurz [00:32:16]:
Well, yeah, that’s perfectly fine. And that’s one of the great things about being a business owner, is maybe it isn’t retiring completely. Maybe it is continuing to work in some fashion. I always kind of thought I would run my business from a beach on a laptop know? But who know? It can be whatever you want it to be. And that’s the beautiful thing about so great. Well, Margaret, why don’t you share with our audience how they can learn more about you and get in touch with you if they want to?
Margaret Burke [00:32:51]:
Sure. Yeah. So my website is MB law consulting. That’s Mblawconsulting.com. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And then feel free to reach out that way or call me. My business number is 617-702-0529.
Darren Wurz [00:33:15]:
Darren Wurz [00:33:16]:
Thank you so much for joining us today on The Lawyer Millionaire. We appreciate you tuning in and being a part of our financial journey. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast so you never miss an episode packed with useful financial advice and expertise for law firm owners. We also invite you to leave a review and share The Lawyer Millionaire with your friends and colleagues who might benefit from our discussions. Together, let’s empower more law firm owners to achieve even greater levels of financial success. If you want to learn more about how you can take your financial planning to the next level, check out our website thelawyermillionaire.com. There you can find free resources and webinars. Schedule a one on one with me and get a copy of my book, The Lawyers Millionaire. I’m your host, Darren Wurz. Until next time. Remember that at The Lawyer Millionaire, we believe in you and your financial potential. Keep growing, keep learning, keep thriving. Thank you for being a part of our community.