For some small law firm owners, growth isn’t the goal.
In this episode, Sara talks with former Lawyerist Lab member Katie Roe about how and why she built her firm with the intention of staying small. They discuss the steps Katie took and the boundaries she created to find balance while running her thriving business and being a working mother of two.
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- . Intentionally staying small.
- . Lean law support.
- . Designing the life you want.
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
Jennifer Whigham (00:35):
Hi, I’m Jennifer Wigham.
Zack Glaser (00:36):
And I’m Zack Glaser. And this is episode 417 of the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today, Sara is talking to Katie Roe about her choice to stay a small firm.
Jennifer Whigham (00:48):
Today’s podcast is brought to you by Berkshire Receptionists, Posh Virtual Receptionists, and Lawyerist Lab. Imagine that we wouldn’t be able to do this show without their support, so stay tuned. We’ll tell you a little bit more about them later on. Hi Zack.
Zack Glaser (01:02):
Jennifer Whigham (01:02):
Jennifer. It’s been a while since we’ve been on the intro, so just wanted to start it out with some manners and say
Zack Glaser (01:08):
Hello. Good morning, good evening, and good night. Yeah.
Jennifer Whigham (01:11):
Yes, and everything in between. So today I wanted to talk about something that is happening in December, which is weird because it is 73 degrees outside and it’s November right now. And I live in Minnesota and that makes no sense, but I won’t complain right now though the reasons it’s happening are probably complain-worthy. Yes. But what I wanted to talk about is, so we started this thing in Lab, which you have taken part of and it’s called study groups. And I was wondering if you could just describe a little bit about what these study groups are because you put one on.
Zack Glaser (01:46):
Yeah, so I put on a study group about creating and automating your intake system.
Jennifer Whigham (01:52):
Zack Glaser (01:54):
This was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun for me even. But in this study group, I am less of a lecture, more of a facilitator. So we had six or seven or eight Lab members in there all with the purpose of taking their intake that they either already had or haven’t created yet, and turning it into something that was either fully automated or more automated or something like that. It just was a way for them to learn from each other, to learn from me, to bounce ideas off of each other. It was like a study group. It was like a study group in college where you just get together and everybody brings their own expertise, brings their own knowledge, and they’ve done work outside of this group in order to make the group better.
Jennifer Whigham (02:47):
So we started these groups for the first time in October. We do one a week for three weeks, and we think of them as sprints. So our group, the groups meet with their coach for an hour every week. They have some homework that they do in between that they’re prepared to come and talk about at the next one, and then they end it with either a next step or a completed product of some sort. So some of your people may have completed their client intake, some may have just started it, but regardless, it’s the sprints that really get people going. And we also had one on delegation and we had one on hiring this month. We’re doing a couple other ones. But what I wanted to talk about is that we have one in December coming up that is about planning for 2023, and we are opening it to people outside of our Lab community.
What this is gonna look like is it’s gonna start on December 7th, which is a Wednesday. It’s three to 4:00 PM central. It’ll go for the next three weeks through the 21st of December. And it is open, as I mentioned to people outside of Lab. Stephanie, our ceo, our Lab coach, will be hosting it and she will take you through over those three weeks, a sprint of planning for 2023. So you are gonna go into 2023 feeling like you know what you’re doing. You’re not gonna be scrambling at the last minute. She’s gonna have materials for you to help plan and all sorts of things. So I wanted to let everybody know that’s happening. We’re gonna offer it to you and your firm members for a grand total of $149 for all of you. So anybody in your firm can come and we encourage them to come because this is planning. You want your leadership team or your team there to help <affirmative>. And we will have a link in the show notes to sign up. Just make sure that you have signed up by December 7th, and if here’s a little bonus. You ready for this? No, not ready.
Zack Glaser (04:36):
I’m always ready for bonus.
Jennifer Whigham (04:37):
Okay. Just making sure your face looks unready. If you like the study group so much and you join Lawyerist Lab, that $149 goes towards your Lab membership. So think about that. Think about getting a group together and being with a group to plan for your 2023. I think you should do it.
Zack Glaser (04:59):
Fantastic. Well now here is Sara’s conversation with Katie.
Katie Roe (05:08):
I’m Katie Roe. I am a solo attorney with the law office of Katherine Roe. My practice is located in Folsom, California, which is just outside of Sacramento. I started my practice back in January, 2017 when my second daughter was born, and I have been going solo strong since then. I practice social security, disability law, social security disability applications and appeals through the appeals counsel process.
Sara Muender (05:38):
Well, welcome to the Lawyerist podcast. Katie, it’s so exciting to have you. So we recently published an episode that was all about challenging the hyper-growth mindset. And so I wanted to talk to you today about your decision to intentionally stay small, how you’ve done it and how that determines what you prioritize in running your firm. Because of course, there’s certainly a time and place for growth and even scaling if that’s the vision that a firm owner has for their business.
But some lawyers like you see value for their own lives in building and running a business that doesn’t necessarily pursue that hyper-growth. And here at Lawyerist we’re all about building firms that serve clients well, but also that serve you as the owner and supports and allows for your personal goals as well. So if you could give us a little backstory on your vision when starting your firm and how that journey has been for you. Did you start your firm with the intention to stay small?
Katie Roe (06:42):
I did. I came from a small firm. The partners were retiring and I was doing workers’ compensation and social security disability. I was also had a two and a half year old at home and I was very pregnant with my second and I decided that it would be a good time to set up my own practice. So I took 17 cases from the law office that were all Social security disability and started really, really small.
The first six months was just building up my web presence, getting the basics in order and starting with those few cases. And it really grew slowly and organically for the first several years. And that was very intentional. It was important to me to be present with my girls who both had some gross motor skill delays that required extra time. But as they got older, I was able to devote more time and energy to my practice and it was growing as well at that time through word of mouth and connections that I had. So now that it’s been about six years in January that I actually established the practice, it’s certainly grown. And sometimes I say the law practice has a mind of its own in that it wants to grow even larger. But my focus this year has been putting some of the breaks on to keep the quality and one on one attention that I’m able to give to my clients. And that’s been very intentional.
Sara Muender (08:16):
I mean, it seems like getting clients has certainly not been a problem for you. So what have been some of the ways that you have set up your firm to intentionally stay small? What are some of the things that you practice? What are some of the tools that you use that it has allowed you to kind of hit those breaks, so to speak, and even grow along the way intentionally small?
Katie Roe (08:43):
Yeah, absolutely. So I don’t market. I don’t spend any funds or energy on marketing besides maintaining my Google My Business account. The reviews are very important. And I think because I have that close relationship with my clients working on their cases, they do leave me positive reviews. And I’ve also developed relationships with other attorneys in the area and social security, so workers’ comp attorneys and PI attorneys. And I’ve nurtured those relationships.
And I’ve also sometimes realized that I need to have caps. So I have an idea at the start of the year how many cases I wanna take and I break that down on a monthly basis and someone’s might be higher. So September was a little bonkers with about 21 new cases. So then I slowed it down in October, I took about nine cases and I’ve just shut it off for the rest of the year for intakes. I’ll still talk to referrals that come from other attorneys, but people who find me just online without a direct referral, I’ll close my intakes for a period of time, and that’s just to maintain the quality of service that I’m providing to my clients.
Sara Muender (09:56):
Yeah, I mean it’s pretty amazing that you haven’t really had to do any marketing to have this firm that just wants to grow by itself. It’s growing arms and legs and it wants to take off. And I always say for some attorneys, of course, depending on the nature of the practice and everything, but for some attorneys, their marketing strategy is referrals and it’s building those relationships. So how did you go about doing that? How do you keep those relationships strong? How do you nurture your referral partner relationships and how do you seek those reviews?
Katie Roe (10:34):
So I’ll start with other attorneys. It helps that I was practicing in the workers’ compensation field for several years before focusing exclusively on Social security disability. So I already knew other attorneys, they knew me. My husband has also been in that field for 10 years, so I had a reputation and they will send me their clients directly. And even if it’s the case I end up not taking, I still provide that person with a free consultation and direct them in the right area.
I also serve as a resource for some of those workers’ compensation firms explaining how Social security disability benefits work and how the workers’ compensation settlement might affect the client’s social security disability benefits. So they see me as a resource. And through our relationship, I’ve been able to really coach some of these attorneys on what makes a good social security case. So they send me cases that are winners and often get them approved at the application level, and then everybody’s happy. From reviews, I really am my business when the clients work with me, they’re working with the attorney directly. I’m the one that they speak to. They’re not handled by a case manager, as is the case with some larger firms and how it had been in the past when I was with a firm. So we have that relationship and when someone is approved for Social security disability benefits, it’s often life-changing for them and they’re extremely grateful.
And so I capitalize on that moment of the joy and the hard work that we’ve usually put in for two years, and I ask them for a review while my clients say, What can I do for you? I’m so happy. And I said, You know what? The best thing you could do is leave me a review. That’s how other people find me is through reviews. And that would mean a lot to me, and it does. My clients are my number one marketing resource. I’ve represented past professors, I’ve represented past coworkers, family and friends of past clients. So most people are more than happy to leave me a review. And that means a lot.
Sara Muender (12:50):
Yeah, I’m making that ask, right? And I think that it can be a little intimidating to do that, at least for some of the lawyers that I’ve met and coached to. I don’t know, it just feels weird to ask for a review, but these people who you’ve helped are more than happy to do that for you. I mean, it really doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it makes a big impact. Sometimes the smallest things make the biggest impact. And so people are generally really happy to do that. And I always say too, you don’t have to wait until the end to ask for that review. You can be asking for reviews at any stage in the client journey. So even from the very first call that they have with you, if they feel helped, if they feel that sense of relief of like, Oh, I just got some information and now I feel like I have kind of a game plan, I don’t know what that looks like, but I know this person’s gonna help me. That can be a good time to ask for a review too, because every point of the client journey matters.
We’re gonna take a quick break to hear from our sponsors and then when we come back, I wanna talk more specifics about how you run your firm, what tools that you use and what have been some of the changes that you’ve been making over the past six months or so.
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Sound interesting? Schedule a 10-minute, no-pressure call with me, Sara, by clicking the link in the show notes or visit lawerist.com/coaching.
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Sara Muender (16:05):
We’re back and I’m talking to one of our beloved members of our Lab program attorney Katie Roe, about her decision to intentionally stay small in her firm. And Katie, I’ll never forget when you first joined our Lab program, you and I were having the discussion about your goals for your firm and some of the things that you wanted to work on with your coach while in Lab. And what I thought was a unique experience for me was witnessing someone who you knew exactly what you wanted at the time and you were like, I wanna do six months of coaching and then be done. I don’t wanna get bigger. I don’t wanna scale. I want to increase my quality of life. You wanted things to be less stressful at home. You wanted a more sustainable lifestyle that allowed you to spend more time with your family and to be able to leave early and go to the gym if you wanted because, and I think this was unique for me as the coach because I’d say most people, certainly not all, but the majority of people that come into our Lab program do want that growth.
They are focused on getting more clients in the door. They want to hire people. And you were kind of a unicorn for me as a coach because you didn’t really want any of those things. You wanted to make improvements in your firm as it was that would ultimately improve your quality of life. So I’d love for you to talk more about your experience over the last six months while being in Lab. What have been some of the tools that you’ve used or implemented over the past six months and how do you make it work so that you can have that quality of life?
Katie Roe (17:45):
Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve always been a solo, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have help. So I started my practice really focused on what I call lean law. I was a big fan of the book Profit First and I started my practice with $5,000. So I intentionally had to be resourceful. So that started with answering my own phones, doing everything myself. As I grew, I did hire a virtual receptionist service. I’ve been with Back Office Betties for about three years now, and that has been huge in taking things off my plate because I’ve been with them so long. Think they know my practice really well, they answer all my phone calls. So I’m no longer spending my time doing that in my practice area. We have to give free consultations. We can’t charge. So that results in really high volume of calls and Bettie’s has a way of triaging those calls and providing people with referrals. If I can’t help, they also act as my intake coordinator and the person when they call in, if they pass the first screening, then they go through another 10 question screening process which gets sent to me to review and then I give the green light on whether they can schedule consultation with me if I think it’s the case I’m gonna take.
So that frees up a lot of my time. It also allows me to control the number of intakes that I’m doing on a daily basis and on a weekly basis. And I can flex my schedule as needed with that. I do get other help. I’ve used contract employees in the past. There’s an attorney who is a former decision writer for Social Security who is an amazing resource for me and helps with some of my brief writing. So although I’m a solo, I definitely have a support team that I rely upon. And other things like my web service, I’ve outsourced at this point, I built my own website initially. Now I have someone else manage that. So that allows me to focus more on the client interaction and the actual legal work in my practice.
Sara Muender (19:47):
And I think you’ve done a great job of that, of recognizing that even though you wanna stay small, you still can’t do it all. And I think that you’ve put those delegation pieces in the right areas, you’ve identified the things that just aren’t worth your time, that could be a lot cheaper for someone else to do so that you can free up your time for the things that really matter. So talk to me about your typical weekly schedule then. So how do you, for everything else that needs to be done, because certainly there’s still a lot. How do you divide up your week? How do you fit it all in so that you can still have that quality of life that you’re after?
Katie Roe (20:25):
So mornings are my golden period of when I work best on my focused work. So my kids don’t start to school till nine, but I like to be in the office by eight. So that means that my husband does drop offs. I get in the office by eight. I’ll often a couple times a week time block. So I’m just working on a brief with no interruptions and I’ll let the receptionist service know to not transfer any calls to me. And then late morning, early afternoon, I’ll work on other tasks, maybe like filing appeals that aren’t quite as tedious as brief but still need my focus when I am doing intakes. When I have those open, I schedule those in the afternoons. Those are typically towards the end of the day cuz they don’t require as much brain power as legal brief writing. And I’ll usually do just about an hour to an hour and a half of intakes each 15 minutes apart. Depending on how many cases I wanna take on at that time, I’ll do it anywheres from three to four afternoons a week. There’s also other types of client appointments. For example, filing an application for someone I need a longer period of time.
Those I like to do right after my lunch break. So people tend to get scheduled either for 11:00 AM appointment for that or a 1:00 PM Of course I have a little bit less flexibility with when my hearings get scheduled. So those are scattered all around. If I’m doing intakes on that day, I like to be out of the office by 3:30 if I’m not doing intakes, might even be a little bit earlier 3:15. And then I like to be able to head to the gym couple days a week to then get my workout in until I can pick up the kids and my girls get picked up around 4:30 in the afternoon. Sometimes I do a little bit more work in the evening after they go to bed. But that’s the beauty of having my own practice. And I can do that leave in the afternoon.
So then do a little bit more work in the afternoon and Fridays. I don’t take calls from clients. That’s something I picked up working at another firm, it allows me a little bit of a break during the week so that I can focus on not just the legal work but my actual business. So Fridays, yes, I do sometimes use those as catchall. If I have a deadline coming up, I didn’t get finished, I can use my Friday time to finish up those tasks. But I can also use it for the administration part of my business future planning technology. I’m adding in Clio Grow right now after coming back from Clio Con. So I’m trying to train myself on that Tory, gimme that breathing room to finish up and spend some time on the business.
Sara Muender (23:06):
Yeah, that’s awesome. I love that you’re taking Fridays off. A lot of people do that and once they made that decision and blocked their calendars, never went back cuz it was the greatest thing ever. And I’m so glad that you’ve been able to find and create. It’s really more about creating the way for you to leave the office early and go to the gym in the afternoon. I mean that was one of the specific goals that you had when when <affirmative>, you came into Lab and you’re doing it and it’s super inspiring mean and that’s the message that we’re trying to convey here is your firm can be anything you want it to be. You can work as many hours as you want, you just have to be strategic about it. And you certainly have. I’m curious though about client issues and questions that come up because certainly they never stop coming, especially with the amount of clients that you have. And I know that for you in working with you, building those client relationships has been so important to you. And so being available to them has been really important to you and a big value to you. So how do you meet your clients’ needs and be there for them and answer their questions without letting those constant disruptions really take over your week?
Katie Roe (24:17):
That’s something I’m still working on. Time blocking is one thing. So not having calls transferred during periods of time that I know I’m doing my focused work is really helpful. I don’t require clients to make phone appointments. If they call in and I’m not working on a brief or it’s in the afternoon, I can take the call. I absolutely will. Otherwise they’re able to talk to the receptionist service and leave a message. A lot of my clients now know that the fastest way they can get a response from me is usually email. Cuz that’s kinda one of those things I do late at night too, is that if there’s any people have contacted me from the day that I haven’t been able to reach out to that I will do an email scheduled to go out the next morning.
So they’re not getting emails from me all times the night they go at 9:00 AM the next morning. And I would say that it works pretty well. My reviews will reflect that. The number one thing that gets mentioned over and over again is my responsiveness. And I remember as a law student being told the number one reason for BAR complaints is people that don’t feel like they’re communicating with your attorney. So having the ongoing communication with my clients is really important to me and it’s important to my practice. And that’s one thing that I’m focusing on going forward is how can I better answer my client’s questions before they actually get to the point where they’re asking me. So that might look like PDFs, like an ebook that they have about the social security process. It may look like videos in the future that aren’t so much sales videos to bring in clients, but videos that I can send to my clients commonly ask questions at each stage of the process.
Sara Muender (25:56):
Bingo. Yeah, that’s gonna be really powerful because you already know at this point what your clients need before they know that they need it and that you know what their questions are gonna be before they know what their questions are gonna be. And so you can get intentional about that and really set aside some time in business development. And it can be, this is such a good practice for anyone to do, but you can sit down and really map out the client journey from beginning to end and look at what do these clients need from me at these various stages? What do I need from them and how can I get ahead of it? Like you said, with videos or with PDFs or automated emails and things like that to really give them the tools and resources so that they feel supported along the way and they feel like you’re there for them even if you’re not physically there for them or you’re not actually on a call with them. So that’s super exciting. Well I wanna tell you that it’s been such a joy for me to be your coach over the last six months. Not too many people are like at that six month mark and they’re like, I’ve done, I, I’ve reached my goals and I feel like I got this now. I mean there are definitely some who had that cuz our Lab program is six months and you can get a lot done in that six months and now we’re releasing you into the wild because you have reached your goals and I’m so proud of you and I’m really excited to see what life will look like for you in the next six months and beyond. You better stay in touch and in the future if you ever do get to a point where you need support again, we’ll be there for you. So what else is next for you? What are you excited about?
Katie Roe (27:40):
I’m excited about having a little bit more time with my family over the holidays. That was hard. There always is this pressure to grow. I have a real hard time saying no when there’s a lot of people calling in the cases that I could take. But it’s also been refreshing to have some afternoons free to work on fine tuning and some points in my practice. Like I talked about trying to improve the client experience is my goal going forward. And then looking forward to just spending some time with my girls during the holidays and starting up again fresh in January perhaps with some new goals for my practice.
Sara Muender (28:18):
Yeah, that’s really exciting. I’m happy for you and thank you so much Katie for coming on the Lawyerist podcast today. It’s been really fun talking to you.
Katie Roe (28:27):
Thank you, Sara. It’s been great working with you.
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.
Sara is a Community Coach at Lawyerist. She is a certified life coach and has had years of coaching others through their professional and personal lives. She works one-on-one with our Lab community members to take their business and perspective to the next level.
Jennifer Whigham is the Community Director at Lawyerist where she coordinates Lawyerist Lab. She’s the behind-the-scenes stage manager of the program, where she facilitates Lab content, coaching staff, and events (including the annual LabCon conference). She is our team's Animal Ambassador and outside of Lawyerist, she’s the co-owner of a nonprofit music lesson studio.
Zack Glaser is the Legal Tech Advisor at Lawyerist, where he assists the Lawyerist community in understanding and selecting appropriate technologies for their practices. He also writes product reviews and develops legal technology content helpful to lawyers and law firms. Zack is focused on helping Modern Lawyers find and create solutions to help assist their clients more effectively.
Katherine ‘Katie’ Roe is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. She has extensive administrative hearing experience representing clients before the Social Security Administration, Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, Center for Medicare Services and California Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Law Office of Katherine Roe was established in 2017. Ms. Roe represents disabled adults in applications and appeals for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income in the Sacramento, CA area. She enjoys spending time with her husband, Mike, and two young girls.
Last updated March 22nd, 2023