Episode Notes

Sara has a heartfelt conversation with long-time Labster and owner of a thriving appellate law firm Tim Atler, about overcoming self-doubt and fear and embracing bold and impactful strategic decisions.  

Through candid dialogue and poignant reflections, they explore the transformative power of self-awareness and courage as true business leaders. From navigating daunting uncertainties to embracing vulnerability, this episode inspires firm owners to embark on their own journey towards fearless, strategic decision-making and professional fulfillment.

If today's podcast resonates with you and you haven't read The Small Firm Roadmap Revisited yet, get the first chapter right now for free! Looking for help beyond the book? Check out our coaching community to see if it's right for you.

  • 5:05. Posh Virtual Assistant
  • 10:05. Challenges faced as a business owner
  • 30:52. Improving efficiency and client experience



Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Lawyerist supports attorneys, building client-centered, and future-oriented small law firms through community, content, and coaching both online and through the Lawyerist Lab. And now from the team that brought you The Small Firm Roadmap and your podcast hosts 



Stephanie Everett (00:35): 

Hi, I’m Stephanie Everett. 


Zack Glaser (00:36): 

And I’m Zack. And this is episode 499 of the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today, Sara talks with Labster, Tim Atler about his journey from law firm to solo. 


Stephanie Everett (00:50): 

Today’s podcast is brought to you by Posh Virtual Receptionist. You’ll hear Zack’s conversation with him in just a few minutes. 


Zack Glaser (00:57): 

Few. So obviously 499 means our next episode is 500. 


Stephanie Everett (01:02): 

Yeah, huge. 


Zack Glaser (01:03): 

Did we know that? 


Stephanie Everett (01:05): 



Zack Glaser (01:06): 

Did we plan anything? Is there anything coming up, Stephanie? 


Stephanie Everett (01:10): 

Yes. But you’re going to have to wait till next week to listen. So we do have something really fun scheduled for next week for episode 500, but maybe as we kind of lead into that, I’m kind of curious. Zach, do you have a one or two maybe favorite podcast moments from the first 499? 


Zack Glaser (01:27): 

Oh man. Personally, I think my favorite thing was talking to Dr. Temple Grandin about the different ways that people think and how we can use different people’s mindsets and perspectives to our advantage as a team. But I think my favorite moment with Dr. Grandin was she reminded me of talking to my grandfather because he was just so direct and she was so direct. And then obviously, I think our Father’s Day episode from, I think two years ago I got to interview my dad about our law firm and about succession planning. And my father passed away last year and I haven’t been able to listen to that episode since. So I will probably, hopefully by the time this one airs, I will have listened to it again. But it’s a very special thing that I have very special moment that I was able to share with my father, who’s also an attorney and was my mentor as an attorney. 


Stephanie Everett (02:32): 

Yeah, I love that you got to do that interview, and I knew that was going to be your answer to my question. I mean, 


Zack Glaser (02:40): 



Stephanie Everett (02:40): 

Zach, we were going to have words. 


Zack Glaser (02:44): 



Stephanie Everett (02:45): 

But fair that you haven’t listened to it yet, but I think it’s really cool that it’s preserved forever, right, that conversation. Yeah. So that’s really cool. But also you guys shared really helpful information. I think a lot of us do forget that succession planning piece, and I know I’m doing some work on it right now for some new course content in lab, so that’s super, super important. 


Zack Glaser (03:08): 

Yeah. Well, and Dad was a very real person. He was always willing to open up. And so I think we did get into some very specific things and very things that resonate with a lot of firms that are trying to figure out their succession planning. But Stephanie, how about you? We’ve done a ton of episodes. What’s something that has spoken to you? 


Stephanie Everett (03:28): 

Yeah, there’s some that catch you by surprise. When we did the workplace violence one and I started to, I got emotional unexpectedly. So I am glad that I’m able to share that vulnerability with the community with our listeners, and that was unexpected. I didn’t know that was coming. I’m still kind of fangirling over my conversation with Alicia Menendez because I think at the end I was like, we would totally be friends in real life is such a geek. I really think we could be. I see her on TV and I’m like, Hey, there she is my friend. And then I just have a ton of moments of little nuggets of, I mean, I call back some of the episodes we do all the time for our lobsters and for people I’m coaching and teaching. It’s like, Hey, here’s a section where we talked about how to give feedback to an employee that I did. I mean, I’m looking at all the books on my shelf because I was so fortunate to interview so many business authors. And so I think about moments from those books and it’s just really cool. And I’m just, I don’t know. I’ll say this again next week probably, but I’m just really proud that we were able to do the show the way we are and that it’s still going and the people still find it relevant and interesting. That’s pretty amazing. 


Zack Glaser (04:45): 

Yeah, it is. It. Well now here is my conversation with our sponsored guest, and then we’ll head into Sara’s conversation with Tim. Hey, Zack here with another quick sponsored segment, and today I have Crystal White with me from Posh Virtual Receptionist. Crystal, thanks for joining. 


Crystal White (05:06): 

Thank you, Zack, for having me. 


Zack Glaser (05:08): 

Now, for those that don’t know, posh is a 24 /7 live answering service that helps a lot of different industries, but absolutely focuses on the legal industry specifically. And you can see that in a lot of the integrations that they have with Clio and Rocket Matter and Calendly set more and all of that. Crystal, let’s dig a little bit into Posh specifically. What are some of the features that you really like out of Posh and the Posh app? 


Crystal White (05:36): 

Absolutely. So yes, we understand that lawyers often work beyond regular business hours, so you’re absolutely correct. Posh does offer 24 / 7 availability, so we are happy to schedule appointments on your behalf. We do partner with Calendly, which makes that a seamless process and other leading scheduling tools such as set more. We understand the value that Clio provides to our legal clients. So we have developed an integration that will take the information that our receptionist team captures and the contact details of your callers, and we will direct that information directly into Clio so that you have all your information in one place. 


Zack Glaser (06:18): 

So I don’t have to go into the posh web app and go and copy and paste and put that information into my Clio system. It’s going directly in. 


Crystal White (06:27): 

Absolutely. It is a seamless behind the scenes integration that we have developed. 


Zack Glaser (06:31): 

Okay. And do y’all have that with others other than Cleo? 


Crystal White (06:35): 

Yes, we have a direct integration with Rocket Matter as well. Then we are also able to partner with other CRMs using our integration with zapier.com. 


Zack Glaser (06:47): 

Okay. Well, you also have Zoho, HubSpot, Salesforce, so it’s beyond even just the legal CRM. So if there are attorneys out there that are using some of the larger, not legal specific CRMs, you’ve got that as well. So talk to me about the app, the app on the phone, what are we doing with that? How is that helping an attorney? 


Crystal White (07:06): 

So having that app in hand is almost like taking your office with you. You are able to determine when we are trying to reach you with new clients versus when we might just take a message for a call back. You’re able to organize your messages so that you know what is still actionable versus what you can archive as already done. The app will also sync in with your calendar. So if you have upcoming appointments that it would be wise for us to know about so that we’re not interrupting you, you can apply those into your app as well so that the receptionist team is always well-informed. So the app also provides the ability for you to mask your personal number. You can place outgoing calls from the posh app. It will utilize your posh service number as your caller id, or you can register any phone number that you own to be used as your caller ID when dialing out from the app. So if you’re on the go, but you need to call this client back right now, rest assured we can keep your personal number private. 


Zack Glaser (08:09): 

Oh man, that’s huge. So not only am I getting the messages that I need from my business phone, I’m essentially bringing my business phone with me in my pocket and able to keep people from texting me back on my personal cell phone number. Exactly. So the app, is it Apple, is it Android? Where can I get it? Both. 


Crystal White (08:31): 

Okay. Both on the app store as well as on Android. 


Zack Glaser (08:35): 

Okay. Well Crystal, so we get the app, it’s on iPhone. It’s on Android. You can get it from the app store and Google Play obviously. So it’s my virtual receptionist in my pocket. What’s the price for this? 


Crystal White (08:50): 

Alright, so the app of course is free to download as part of our services. Our most popular plan is our elegant plan. That’s 100 minutes for $204. And if you happen to have a busy month and go a little over each additional minute is billed at $2 4 cents per minute. 


Zack Glaser (09:07): 

Okay. And you guys have great names to your plans. We’ve got Chic, Vogue, elegant, luxurious, prestigious, lavish, exclusive. These are all plans that I would expect from a company called Posh. 


Crystal White (09:21): 

Absolutely. And special thanks. I helped craft those names. So yes, Vogue, that is one of our most economical plans. It comes with 50 minutes at $119. So if you’re thinking you just may forward a couple of calls here and there, that’s a wonderful option to get you started. And then you can sort of track your usage, see how the month is going, and we’re always available to do an upgrade if needed. 


Zack Glaser (09:47): 

Great. So people can kind of dip their toes in it and go, or they can dive right in if they know what they need here. Well Crystal, thanks for being with me again, posh.com, but where can people find more information about all of this? 


Crystal White (10:00): 

Absolutely. Give us a call at eight three three, get posh. That’s 8 3 3 4 3 8 7 6 7 4, mention lawyers and you’ll receive a 14 day free trial or 500 minutes, whichever comes first. 


Zack Glaser (10:14): 

Awesome. Well thank you very much, crystal. I appreciate your time. 


Crystal White (10:17): 

Thank you, Zach. 


Tim Atler (10:22): 

Hi, my name is Tim Atler. I’m the founder of Atler Law Firm pc. We are a small civil appellate practice located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I’m really happy to be here with you, Sarah. 


Sara Muender (10:35): 

Tim, it is so great to have you on the podcast. I’ve been wanting to bring you on the Lawyerist podcast for forever now. So thank you so much for taking the time to share your story. So recently our podcast team asked me if I personally coached any Labster, that’s who we call our coaching clients in lab, our coaching program. And they asked me, do you have any that would be a good fit for the podcast? And of course I was like, yes, Tim Atler for sure, and I wanted to bring your other team members on as well, but just for scheduling issues, I’m so happy to have you on because one, I’ve personally really enjoyed being your coach over the last couple years or so. You’ve definitely been one of my faves. I mean that and two, your story is so relatable in so many ways to other solo and small firm owners. 



And honestly, I’m really proud of the way that you’ve committed to this journey of improving yourself personally as a business owner and a lawyer and an employer. And also because along the way we’ve kind of discussed an opportunity to make a really big investment decision in your firm as far as hiring for a pretty high level role, which I honestly think would be scary for a lot of business owners. But you went at it with so much courage and a good strategy, which is the important part. And so we’ll definitely get into that in this conversation. But let’s start at the beginning just for some context. Sure. Why did you start your law firm? What was your vision at the time? What were you hoping it would do to serve your life and serve the world, and how did you imagine it would go in terms of day-to-day? 


Tim Atler (12:11): 

Well, so surprisingly, I didn’t have much of a vision at the time. What I knew was that I was interested in appellate practice. And for me, that went back to law school where I had some great experiences with appellate, new court competition. I had sort of gone for a long time in my youth not really knowing exactly what I wanted to do for a job, for a living. When I grew up and participating in the moot court competitions was that moment where life came and sort of hit me in the head and said, this is what you’re doing, which is great because when you finally realize really what your calling is and what your skills are and what you’re naturally good at, it’s a blessing. It’s a wonderful thing to really figure out and realize, but translating that into a career is not that straightforward. 



So I did an appellate clerkship for a couple of years after I graduated from law school, which was wonderful. It definitely reaffirmed my interest in appellate practice. And then I joined one of the bigger firms here in New Mexico as a litigation associate, and I got great training there, developed some great relationships that are ongoing today, but it’s very hard to break into the world of appellate practice. It requires experience, it requires some very specific skills, and it took a little while for me to start to get some traction in that area and then to develop a little bit of a reputation for myself, both within the firm and beyond. At some point I became a shareholder at the firm and I started to learn a little bit more about law firm economics and started to have a realization that my particular form of practice was very independent, very self-sufficient, and not maybe well calibrated to some of the big infrastructure of a larger law firm and all of the full service support that those firms provide. 



And it just kind of dawned on me eventually that I wanted to go off on my own and start a solo practice. But getting back to your question of vision, there wasn’t a lot of vision at that time. It was really just thinking about it as doing the same thing I was always doing, but in a different context, which is just on my own. And what I didn’t appreciate then that I so appreciate now is that my firm, even though it was just me at the time, was its own thing, its own entity having its own needs. And we’ll get into this I think a little bit more, but that’s part of what I learned when I met you. 


Sara Muender (15:03): 

Yeah, I think that whether or not you start a business with a vision of exactly how you want it to be, and here’s how many people we want on the team and here’s how much revenue we want to make and all these things, or we don’t just kind of ease ourselves into it and learn along the way. Either way, we’re inevitably faced with some unexpected challenges that we might not have anticipated. So along the way, what have been some of those challenges that you have faced maybe not expected? Let’s start with that. 


Tim Atler (15:35): 

Yeah, so one of the things that I figured out pretty quickly is that this running a business thing is not that easy. It seems. Maybe I was naive, but it seemed fairly straightforward. You hang your shingle, you get a webpage, register your business, and you’re off and running. And some of that’s true, but there’s a lot to it, obviously not even just talking about the back office piece of it, but just thinking about your processes, whether you’re going to hire anyone, accounting, bookkeeping, all of the stuff that makes the firm go, that was a lot to take on. And one of the sort of blessings that we’ve had in the firm is that we’ve had no shortage of work. And so as clients started to discover that I had gone off of my own and new clients learned about me and the firm, I was getting great work coming in. And I think a lot of lawyers can relate to this, but between all your family obligations that you’ve got and your substantive work that you’re working on, and then as a business owner, the administrative piece of it, I really started to get behind on a lot of things. I felt like I wasn’t doing any of the things well really felt spread out, and those were kind of the main challenges that I was having. 


Sara Muender (17:04): 

Yeah, for sure. I mean, there’s so much and you can just look at, if you go to the lawyer’s website, you can learn about the healthy firm model that we talk about and that we help you guys with in lab, and we’ve got tons of free resources on these different areas to help you. But it’s like you’ve got to think about your healthy systems and processes. Like you said, you have to think about how to be a healthy owner so you can show up for your business. You got to think about healthy clients and the client journey and communication with clients and all the things, healthy profits and finances and healthy teams, just all these things that I honestly don’t know how the average business owner without some really solid systems and a structure to manage all that can do it for as long as they do. 



I think that more than probably admit, feel like they’re constantly keeping their head above water and trying to keep up with the legal work while trying to keep up with tending to that business, which like you said, is this living, breathing entity, this thing that has a circulatory system and we hope and we want it to function well. But from your perspective, without even getting too personal if you want to, but what do you foresee other business owners, other law firm owners without guidance, what do you think some of those barriers and weaknesses of other business owners in general could turn into if they don’t address those things proactively and on an ongoing basis? 


Tim Atler (18:35): 

Yeah, I think a lot of lawyers will say that law school doesn’t teach you how to run a business. And that’s true. And some folks, I think different people come to this profession with different levels of experience in business acumen, I suppose. I was not one of those people. And so if there are others out there like me, there’s a lot of self-doubt around that. It’s like, okay, well, it’s one thing to say I want to go start a solo practice. But then when you really start to respect the firm itself has needs and needs to be supported in order to give back to you and to be able to provide for the community and for clients that you got to take it seriously and really put the work into it so that you get a good result out of it. And it’s so hard to do that without guidance. 



So the internet can give you some things, and the internet is how I found Lawyerist to begin with. You start searching for small law firm business advice, and it’s going to come up pretty quickly, pretty close to the top, and that’s where you’re going to get the structure that you’re talking about with all the different points you raised, healthy team, healthy clients, all that stuff that is really well cataloged and well-researched. There’s just such a wealth of information that you all provide. That’s stuff that we shouldn’t be out there recreating the wheel on all that. But if you try to recreate that wheel, that’s when you’re going to find that unless you just have some really incredibly innate talent and knowledge that you’re going to burn out. And so for me, it showed up in the form of getting behind on billing, keeping time and those sorts of things because when we’re really busy with substantive work, that’s the priority. You’ve got to get the work done for the clients, and then the billing can always happen later, but if you get caught on the treadmill going too fast, that can really build up and be a problem. That’s kind of how it manifested for me. And so yeah, there definitely came a point where I just could not do it anymore without some help. 


Sara Muender (20:54): 

Yeah, and I think that at some point, everyone who can relate to you who has a solo or small firm practice realizes that at some point something’s got to give something’s change. And I’ll say this, they need to decide to do what they’ve never done before in order to get what they’ve never had. So for the listeners, let me repeat that. If you want what you’ve never had, you have to be willing to do what you’ve never done. So Tim, tell me more about that turning point for you, which eventually led to that decision to join lab and work with a business coach. And at what time did it seem like a no-brainer for you? And also did you have fears going into this? Were there specific things you were hoping to achieve from it? 


Tim Atler (21:40): 

Absolutely. For me, it was a scary choice, I guess both scary and exciting. Like I said, I got to kind of a point where burnout was going to be a real problem, and if you’re going to burn out, then you have to ask yourself, why are we doing this? But I love my work, I want to keep doing my work, and I somewhere deep down saw a seed of hope for this firm where it could be the context in which I could really reach my potential and grow a team that could share that with me. So I had known about Lawyerist for a while. I had listened to the podcasts, which are awesome. They’re so helpful. So again, I’m very excited to be here because you 


Sara Muender (22:22): 

Drank the Kool-Aid from day one. 


Tim Atler (22:24): 

I’m a long time listener, first time caller or a guest I suppose, but so helpful. And so I knew having listened to those that there’s value here and some help to be found. The fear was, okay, well if I bring someone on to help me, they’re going to see that I don’t have my act together. And that’s hard. That’s risky. It’s a little scary. Then the other little piece of me, if I’m being totally honest, is a fear, probably didn’t even realize it at the time, but a fear that even if I get coaching, what if I still don’t improve? That was sort of the darkest and hardest fear because that’s just self-doubt sort of in its purest form. But I didn’t let that control my decision. I went ahead and reached out to you all and kind of following up on what you were just saying about if there’s something you want, you need to do something to go get it. I feel like that’s very true. I feel like when you have a need or hope or wish a vision and you reach out to the universe and say, I want this and I’m going to do something, put things into motion to make it happen. Sometimes the universe comes back to you and says, okay, here we go. What the universe gave me was Sarah. 


Sara Muender (23:51): 

Well, the universe gave me you too, Tim. 


Tim Atler (23:55): 

No, the universe did a great job. So high five to the universe, and I’m going to sing your praises a lot here, and I hope you don’t mind. 


Sara Muender (24:04): 

I’m just glad we’re not showing video because I’ll be blushing the whole time. Yeah, go ahead. Carry on, carry 


Tim Atler (24:10): 

On. So I didn’t even realize it at the time, Sarah, how important bringing you into my world was going to be for my development as a business owner and just for this journey. You call it a journey a lot, and that’s exactly what it is because it has all these trials and struggles and successes. But one of the first things that you helped me understand was that the firm has its own identity and to stop thinking about it as just sort of a little shell of where I do my work or a hobby or just an extension of me, it’s really its own thing. And then once I had that realization, you helped me see that I started to realize all of the different things. I mean, it was sort of like a good and bad news, all of the different things that need to be done to feed it and to help it grow and flourish. And so that can be overwhelming because then it’s like, okay, well what I didn’t know before was now I know it and want to crawl under my desk. But those challenges, to see all of those things and to know what needs to be done really is where the journey starts. And that for me was again the turning point to really take this thing off. 


Sara Muender (25:30): 

Yeah, I mean, I can’t even tell you how inspiring it’s been because you nailed it with the fears coming in thing, and I think that that probably touched a lot of people’s souls who are listening. I know it touched mine. I got the chills when you said that because I think that there is a level of ego that can get involved that keeps people from doing the hard things they need to do in order to make any progress whatsoever. And you have been humble, you have been willing, and I hope that throughout our journey together you have felt my support in a way that’s not like I’m constantly pointing out your flaws or what I see is missing or what I see is wrong, but I’ve kind of let you bring those to the table. And me personally as a coach, I don’t typically take a tough love approach. 



It doesn’t work for me because I already know that people like you already beat yourself enough for the things that you feel are your weaknesses or the businesses weaknesses. So what good would that do for me to just drill that in? And rather we stay in a solutions based mindset and we look at everything as experimental, like, well, let’s try this and let’s try this and let’s gather data and let’s go from there. And I think that this idea of you nailed it, the business, you are not the business. The business is its own separate thing. That’s a huge, huge shift that I’ve seen in you that was kind of like the linchpin that unlocked all of the changes in progress that you’ve made, the business going from the business owning you to now you are owning the business. And you’re not so much in this reactionary place, although we can, as people tend to default back to being reactionary when there’s a lot of things going on, but we constantly have to come back and come back and come back and reshift and refocus and prioritize. Honestly, I wish more firm owners would make that kind of shift like you have because there’s so many positive things that start happening when they do. 


Tim Atler (27:37): 

Yeah. Let me just interrupt you for a second there too, to talk about sort of what that’s like when we have our discussions on the coaching calls from my perspective. So you and the listeners have probably picked up on all of the sort of self-doubt that was surrounding that decision to get started with coaching. But what’s so amazing about that process and about working with you is we come into these calls and we’re just working problems, solving problems in an environment and in a space that is just so welcoming, so nonjudgmental, encouraging, and it’s impossible to put words to how valuable that is, how impactful it is, especially for someone like me where I can have a tendency to be self-critical, to have someone coming back with positivity and saying, Hey, Tim, what were your wins this week? And I’m like, wins. Oh yeah, I guess I could think about those. 



And really focusing on those and celebrating them and realizing that we’re making progress as we go along. That’s the key that kind of unlocks the potential and shifts this from a feeling of fear and maybe some anxiety to hope and excitement to see what the potential could be for this firm to start to take what was a very fuzzy or maybe even non-existent vision at first to a clearer picture and a clearer vision and some excitement to build and get from here to there. The environment that you have provided was absolutely key to that being possible. 


Sara Muender (29:22): 

I’m so glad you failed that way. That was so beautifully said. And yes, it’s a really important part of the progress process to celebrate your wins along the way. Okay, so let’s get specific, Tim, what would you say has been the most impactful initiative or focus over the past year or two from a business owner, meaning not the actual legal work, but what we’ve worked on in your business? 


Tim Atler (29:46): 

So this one’s easy at some point along the way. I think it’s fair to say that you had the epiphany, I’m not going to take credit for it, but I agreed with it, which is you suggested to me, Tim, you should think about hiring an operations manager. And that suggestion, I think was born of the fact that there are all these things to work on. There are all of these facets of the business that need work and attention, and it’s helpful to have a team member whose job it is to make sure that all of those balls are rolling and making progress and moving forward. It’s very difficult as a busy practitioner to be working on all of your substantive legal work and also taking the time to really do some of the hard work to get your processes in place and develop them, figure out what they’re supposed to be, run team meetings, all of those things. 



So you had the idea, I agreed I could use the help. I think one of the things that’s very scary for a lot of law firm business owners, particularly for solo folks or small firm folks, is the prospect of number one, just hiring anybody. But number two, hiring someone who’s not going to be an income generating employee. So it’s one thing to hire another attorney, which I did a couple of years into my practice, my colleague Jasmine, who’s my fellow appellate attorney here, that was a great decision that allowed me to increase my capacity for the substantive work, but a lot of these business related issues were lingering. And so the fear is, well, I’m going to hire somebody, they’re going to command a high salary and their time is not going to translate into billable hours. They’re not going to generate income. Can I afford it? 



So I think that’s probably a big hurdle for a lot of people. But part of what helped me get over that hurdle was the thought that, okay, if we’re really being serious about growing this firm, about maturing the firm, then we need someone whose job it is to really take the lead on a lot of that stuff. I of course, would still have the vision. That person would be what Lawyerist calls the integrator, the person who makes it happen. And so that solidified the decision to go ahead and do that, but it was quite a process to get it done. 


Sara Muender (32:20): 

Oh yeah. I’ll never forget the conversation that opened up that whole new universe for this business. And from day one, I was getting to know you and I was getting to know some of your strengths and weaknesses, but more importantly, what you like to do, what you want to be doing more of and less of specifically what your ideal role is in the firm. That’s one of the first questions that I ask early on. I wanted to help you craft things in a way over time that allowed you to be more in your ideal role, but I needed to figure out what your natural tendency was. Were you more of an integrator or more of a visionary type? And so I remember that conversation exactly. We probably have it recorded, so I’ll have to go back and send it to you for fun, but we were talking about your ideal role and I said, let’s go back to the accountability chart. 



Just a reminder, there’s this visionary who comes up with the vision and they decide where they want the boat to be pointed and where they want the vote to go. And usually in a small and solo law firm, that’s the business owner, that’s the main lawyer that starts it. And then there’s also this need or function according to an accountability chart for an integrator. And those two different roles at a leadership level are completely different. They’re good and bad at completely different things. So the integrator is better at taking the visionary’s dream and where they want the boat to go and actually making it happen, and then managing the day-to-day, things that come up and all the things that need to do to get that boat where it needs to go. And so we quickly identified you more as the visionary type and as the one who would be the primary lawyer. So I just remember this light bulb moment when I was like, you know what? Let’s consider hiring an integrator, which ended up being your operations director. And like you said, that’s such a scary role to hire for because it does not produce immediate revenue for the business. In fact, it’s an investment where it kind of feels like taking five steps back, but it’s going to allow you to take 50 steps forward over time. 


Tim Atler (34:21): 



Sara Muender (34:22): 

So what were some of the things that did open up for you? How has it gone since we successfully hired for that role? I mean, Amy is amazing. She gets a shout out for sure. 


Tim Atler (34:31): 

Yes, absolutely. And let me back up a little bit and talk a little bit about the process of finding Amy, because that was something that you helped me a ton with. You can’t just snap your fingers and have your integrator appear. That’d be cool, but that’s not how it works. You actually have to post a job ad and interview folks and screen resumes and all of those things. So you gave me some great advice. I drafted up an advertisement for this role. You helped me with it. One of the best things about it was I think it really communicated the firm’s values. It communicated our personality. It really wasn’t one of these kind of stale classified ads that just sort of says, looking for so-and-So with three years of experience or whatever, it really communicated what we’re about and what we’re trying to do and also what we’re looking for. 



So the thing about it is I posted the ad and got this tremendous response. It was something like a hundred applicants. Part of the problem there is that sometimes the services that you use will cast a very broad net. And so some of those aren’t serious people, and you can weed them out pretty quickly. But out of the a hundred or so applications, I think there were 20 that were worth looking at. And then it was about another 10 that we ended up interviewing came down to a final pool of three where we had some follow-up interviews and they interviewed with the team, and ultimately we landed on Amy. And I’m just laughing because this theme of the universe coming back with stuff. So the universe gave us Amy, and then I’m like, this is amazing. Yeah, Amy is fantastic. And so I got to be careful here. If I sing her praises too much, she’s just going to take this clip and I’ll never be able to tell her anything again. But she is amazing. So she has all of those skills that maybe aren’t my strengths, which is these incredible organizational skills. She came from the banking world, so she has just an incredible amount of knowledge, has a business degree, and has just really brought all of her skills to this environment, which she hadn’t worked in the legal profession before. 


Sara Muender (36:51): 

She’s not a lawyer, just so we’re clear. 


Tim Atler (36:54): 

Yeah, she’s not a lawyer. She is an operations manager. And so one of the many cool things I think about that process was she saw the ad and in the process of interviewing with us, got to know us a little better and really resonated with our values and with our personality and what we’re trying to do. She thought that our practice area was interesting. This isn’t, some folks may know some a little bit about appellate practice and others may not. It’s not for everybody. We’re kind of a special breed of lawyer who were very into legal research and writing and legal issues and how they affect the state of the law. And I think it’s very cool, and I know my fellow appellate practitioners out there do too, but it’s not for everyone. But Amy saw that and said to herself, I’m going to paraphrase for her, but something along the lines of, I’d like to help that business take off. I’d like to be a part of that. And so that was how we made that match. 


Sara Muender (37:56): 

I mean, the fact that you found Amy and the fact that she had that desire to help your business thrive and grow and just blossom and to support the cause and the mission that you do says a lot about, you did a lot of things right in the beginning processes in getting real clear on what you were all about, what you were looking for, and making that very, very well articulated in the early hiring process. So I got to give it to you. You nailed it, Amy. It’s like she’s the perfect example of what happens. You get clarity and you do things the right way from the get go. 


Tim Atler (38:39): 

Absolutely. I’m going to follow that approach for all hiring going forward. It was just such a successful effort. It was great. 


Sara Muender (38:48): 

And it opens up, I’m sure a lot of people’s ideas about what’s possible of you can bring a fellow attorney into that role or you can bring a non-attorney into that role. We hate that word, but there’s so many different opportunities. I personally coach someone in that role who is not an attorney. They are an integrator type, sort of like an operations director. And I’ve been working with him for a couple of years. And so whether you’re an attorney or not, you should have someone serving that function and serving it well, and there’s a lot of opportunities there. So how have things changed since Amy came on board? What has improved and what’s this going to open up for you in the future? 


Tim Atler (39:33): 

Yeah, that’s a great question and I want to take a little time to answer it. So I gave Amy a list of duties as I had sort of cataloged them in my mind and figuring out what I would be looking for from the person serving in this role. So those cover things like financial planning and oversight, managing relationships with our vendors, handling billing, handling the development of our internal processes, taking a project management approach to our case management, taking a proactive approach to client relationship management. And I think that’s really key. Being in charge of marketing in charge, helping us figure out our goal setting and performance. What are our key performance indicators, our KPIs, being responsible for human resources and team management and all those sorts of things. It’s a long list. I didn’t even finish it, but then it sort of reaffirmed like, oh, I was supposed to do all that. 


Sara Muender (40:35): 

So true. It has to be done. 


Tim Atler (40:38): 

Yes, it does, but the way it’s made a difference is we’re now tracking all that stuff. So I meet with Amy weekly, actually more frequently than that, but at least officially weekly to go over our progress on all these fronts. We also have kind of impromptu meetings throughout the week as well. And our main focus right now is on the project management piece of what we’re working on. So we’re trying to formalize our internal processes coming up with an approach to the legal work that we do as a project that needs to be managed. So what phase are we in? What are the things that need to happen for us to advance to the next phase? And building that into a system that actually catalogs all of that, prompts us to do things if we haven’t done ’em yet, and things that formerly we were just relying on our own memory to remember to do. 



But when you get really overwhelmed and stressed and you’re busy, some of those things can fall through the cracks. And knowing that there’s a system external to our minds that we’ve now been able to delegate that to is huge. We’re not done with it yet. It’s an enormous project to build that system, but we’re having beta versions of it and already seeing some of the benefits of it, and of course that will help us scale as a team. So as we’re trying to grow a little bit and bring on more attorneys, we will have that system in place for them to take advantage of all of the hard work we’re doing now 


Sara Muender (42:16): 

To replicate that. 


Tim Atler (42:17): 

Absolutely, and this is only within the first year. Amy started last July. We’re not even a year in, and all of these things are just taken off. So I’m very excited having seen that and thinking, where’s this going to go? This has the potential to be anything we want it to be. 


Sara Muender (42:38): 

Yeah, I’m really excited for that too. I mean, I’m just blown away at again, your humility, your willingness, and you’re just really going at this and following the advice that your business coach has given you at times. But really you’ve done all the hard work yourself. So we obviously know what hiring Amy has allowed you to do less of and not worry about so much. But what is it going to allow you personally to do more of in your ideal role? 


Tim Atler (43:06): 

I like being a lawyer. I like doing appellate work. I like working with my clients and with co-counsel, trial counsel, just doing the substantive work. That’s kind of where this all started is I wanted to get into that appellate work and sort of in some ways happened upon starting my own firm, but then realized, well, actually this thing could be really cool. So yeah, I think that as we develop those processes and workflows and formalize those things and polish them, that it really will just unlock all of our potential where we can just start leveraging all of those tools to be more efficient, keep better track of our time. I think the flip side of the coin of managing our time through a project management perspective is we can also enhance the client experience, so we can educate the clients about the appellate process and what the different phases are going to be, and then keep them informed about where we are, what’s happening, what’s coming up next. 



Those are all the same things that we’re telling ourselves internally in terms of the work that we have to get done, but making sure that they’re staying informed about that. One of the things about appellate practice that can be challenging for keeping the clients informed is there are usually big flurries of activity around certain project, like drafting a brief, and then there’s a lot of downtime between waiting for the other side’s brief or waiting for the court to come forward with the decision. And so the clients may not hear from us for months and months, and some are fine with that because we’ve told them that’s what’ll happen, but others are not. And they start to wonder what’s going on? Did something happen and I haven’t heard? And so focusing on the client experience a little more will help us regularly check in with folks. 



Even if nothing’s happening, we can say something like, Hey, we’re just checking in. We’re still waiting for a decision from the court, but we’ll certainly let you know as soon as we hear anything. In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions. I think that can be very reassuring. It’s just like, oh, okay, yes, nothing’s happening, but at least I know they didn’t forget about me or whatever. So that’s kind of a long-winded way of saying I think all of these things are kind of working in tandem to improve our experience as the lawyers working in the firm, and then hopefully also improving the client’s experience being on the journey with us through their cases that they’re seeing that we’re pretty organized and keeping them informed along the way. 


Sara Muender (45:45): 

Yeah, I mean, from my perspective, I have seen the fruits of that in good reviews coming in from your clients that you’ve shared with me. I’ve seen it, how it’s impacted you personally and being less stressed and more focused and being able to dive into the work that you love to do with so much heart and focused and the right mindset, because you don’t have to worry about all those things. So I mean, great job. I’m so proud of you. You should really be proud of yourself. Is there any final advice that you would give just something short and sweet to your fellow small firm owners who might have related to anything we’ve talked about? 


Tim Atler (46:22): 

Absolutely. Don’t wait. Don’t hold yourself back or more precisely, don’t hold your firm back. If you’re thinking you might benefit from coaching, make contact, get the ball rolling. I certainly didn’t regret it. I think if I have any regret, it’s not having done it sooner. 


Sara Muender (46:41): 

Well, thank you for that, Tim. I mean, I appreciate that. Of course, for those that are listening that want to connect and have a casual chat with me about what’s possible for your business, feel free to connect with me via email, which is Sara at Lawyerist dot com, at Sara with no H-S-A-R-A at Lawyerist dot com. Of course, I want to hear from you, and I’ll give this final advice that I would kind of summarize the amazing ways or the reason why you’ve succeeded so well to this point is because I think our success is entirely dependent on our willingness to fail to fail as many times as it takes to get it right. And that’s why we call this lab. We consider everything that we do in business and experiment. We form hypotheses, we experiment, we gather data, we revise, and we repeat this process over and over until we’re closer to where we want to be. And Tim, I got to give it to you. You have embraced this mindset in your journey in lab, and while it hasn’t been easy at times, it’s certainly paid off for you. So you didn’t let fear drive your decisions. You’ve been willing to embrace what’s possible and make those tough decisions. So thank you so much. 


Tim Atler (47:52): 

And Sarah, I mean, again, I have to thank you from the bottom of my heart. This has been such an amazing experience for me, and I really owe you a debt of gratitude for just bringing not only your skill, but just your generosity of spirit and just positive approach to coaching. And I’ll also give a little shout out to your colleagues as well. I’ve had great coaching calls with some of the other coaches, just for whatever reason, if scheduling hasn’t worked out, this is a group of superstars. And by the way, folks, they’re not paying me. 


Sara Muender (48:30): 

He’s just that generous. 


Tim Atler (48:32): 

There is no cash filled envelope, but I really mean that. I’ve had great coaching calls with some of the other coaches as well. But yes, Sarah, I’m glad. Thank you for giving me this platform to really just thank you for all that you’ve done for me and for our firm. 


Sara Muender (48:48): 

Well, thanks for all you do in the world, and I’m really excited to see what’s 


Speaker 1 (48:51): 

To come. 


Tim Atler (48:51): 

Thank you very much. 



The Lawyerist Podcast is edited by Britany Felix. Are you ready to implement the ideas we discuss here into your practice? Wondering what to do next? Here are your first two steps. First. If you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap yet, grab the first chapter for free at Lawyerist.com/book. Looking for help beyond the book? Let’s chat about whether our coaching communities, are right for you. Head to Lawyerist.com/community/lab to schedule a 10-minute call with our team to learn more. The views expressed by the participants are their own and are not endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said in this podcast is legal advice for you. 

Your Hosts

Sara Muender

As a Lab Coach, Sara works with lawyers to build healthier law firms through workshops and 1:1 coaching. She makes sure lawyers have the guidance and tools to implement their ideas and grow their businesses.

Featured Guests

Tim Atler

Tim Atler is the founder of Atler Law Firm, P.C., a boutique law firm focusing on civil appeals and on other civil and administrative actions involving complex legal issues. Tim holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Michigan and he holds dual degrees in law and Latin American studies from the University of New Mexico. Tim is rated AV Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell and he has been recognized by Southwest Super Lawyers and by Best Lawyers in America for his experience and skill in appellate advocacy.

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Last updated April 11th, 2024