As part of Woven Legal’s endeavor to interview our network of clients and contacts to share their helpful experiences and insights, it was my pleasure to speak with Geoffrey Chambers, Esq., of CPERL Group this week. Geoff’s practice largely focuses on Consumer Protection, Environmental, and Regulatory Law (CPERL). He is constantly juggling practice management, client relations, business development, AND a young family while at times, residing on a boat!
WL: What is your biggest challenge as a solo practitioner and small law firm? And, how do you tackle that challenge?
GC: The biggest challenge I have faced since opening my own law firm 8 years ago is balancing my cases and clients with the daily administrative tasks while also trying to grow the business.
WL: How do you handle business development when you’re not physically present, say due to the coronavirus or because you’re off on your sailboat?
GC: You have to make sure people in your network are aware of what you’re doing and the types of projects you work on. Then, you need to make sure you stay top of mind so that when they become aware of a particular project, you are the first person they think to call. I’ve built a lot of strategic relationships with other law firms over the years who know I can handle particular types of cases and they know that if they bring me on, I make sure every firm working on the case has a financial upside.
Also, we have a little sailboat I often take to races. I slapped the firm name and website on the side of the boat. Now, every time I drive that thing down the highway, my website analytics light up! We’ve gotten work from that advertising and from people I’ve met at the sailboat races. Even when you’re participating in your hobbies, make sure people know what you do. People you meet while sailing, volunteering on boards, or doing whatever else you do for fun know you well and will likely trust you to help them with their legal needs or recommend you to someone.
WL: In May, Thomson Reuters published results from their yearly poll of small law firms and the top two struggles attorneys reported were growing their practices and managing the legal administrative tasks. What made you decide to offload some of your administrative work to Woven Legal?
GC: I am not surprised. I think the root of the problem for many of us (attorneys) is striking a balance between current, potentially short-term needs and the often expensive tools or services available on the market. When I was at the AG’s office for the first four years after law school, I became accustomed to the tools they had on hand for research, case management, tasks, deadlines, etc. as well as utilizing an extensive support staff. When you set out on your own, however, you tend to make do – you obviously wear a lot of hats. It can be hard to stay on top of so many shifting priorities – all while working to grow the business.
The desire to be flexible has certainly shaped how I’ve grown my firm, from the type of work I can do to the desire to keep it small and lean. Working with Woven Legal has let me scale a little without being so worried about the impact, essentially growing with less growing pain. I also regularly partner with other lawyers who lead flexible lifestyles and between us, someone is around to cover unexpected hearings while the other is off sailing or traveling.
WL: What tools do you currently use in your practice?
GC: FastCase for research. It was made available by South Carolina’s State Bar and for the firm’s needs right now, it’s getting the job done. G-Suite for many of our other administrative tasks, Harvest and Quickbooks for billing…and (laughing) Woven Legal!
WL: Ha! I know! Specifically, what tasks has Woven Legal taken off your plate?
GC: After you matched me with Bonnie, I shared my preferences on what works best for me – my goals – and she crafted a workflow with that in mind. She and the Woven Legal team also organize files and email, draft contracts and pleadings, prepare invoices for my review, and make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Bonnie is an extension of me, really, and has become invaluable to my practice. I really rely on being able to increase her hours when we are in the middle of a document heavy discovery. Afterwards, we return to her normal 15 hours a week.
WL: Thanks! That provides some great insight.
WL: Small law firms or solo practitioners often report they have undervalued their “worth,” and, as a result undercharged clients. Have you ever fallen victim to this? How do you now, as a more seasoned attorney, avoid undercharging or under-valuing your legal services?
GC: Sure, early on in my law career, it took much more time to move through the work so I was charging about half my current rate. Honestly, it probably ended up costing the client about the same amount of money because, in the end, I delivered pretty much the same result – the value was the same – but it probably took me twice as long to get there. Along the way I have learned a lot, which we all do – so we charge more and it takes us less time. It levels out.
WL: Can you share a time, if ever, you have allowed someone to linger under your employment who just wasn’t working out? Conversely, have you ever hired someone in the heat of the moment then realized you should have probably done more work on the front end because problems arose shortly after they were brought onboard?
GC: Yes, early on in my practice, I met and hired a senior paralegal who worked for a power-house attorney for, like, 30 years. Her boss retired and so she came to work with me for just a couple hours a week – she was semi-retired. She was amazing because she had encountered so many situations I just hadn’t faced yet at that time. (Laughing) Looking back, I was so new to owning my own practice, her experience was HUGE.
But, as my practice and experience grew, she understandably didn’t want to assume more work or take on more hours. That paralegal eventually left to retire full-time and this was probably overdue because, although her experience and knowledge were invaluable early on, as the practice matured, I really needed someone not only with experience but who was hungry. It’s a big shift working with someone like Bonnie who understands my practice and is always looking for what’s next – what she can take off my plate and is willing to take on more hours as needed.
WL: Okay, now I need to know more about the boat! I have to believe there are other attorneys out there who would love to practice law from a boat as you did for many years. Please discuss how this came to happen and if you plan to resume this lifestyle in the future.
It came to happen by chance. My wife and I had job opportunities in different parts of the country and she had a few months of school left. So we bought the boat thinking we would live on it for a few months, move it wherever we finally landed, and then buy a house. Eight years and two children later, we finally bought a house. We still spend time on the boat regularly.