The Real Market With Chris Rising – Ep. 28 Cindy Flynn
The Real Market With Chris Rising – Ep. 28 Cindy Flynn
01:27 CR: Welcome to The Real Market with Chris Rising. I’m really excited to have Cindy Flynn with me today. Cindy is a founding partner of a law firm called Hackler Flynn & Associates. She and I have gotten to know each other through YPO, and when we were talking, she was telling me her story about the things that she was working on, and how she’s built her law firm, about how she has built a firm from scratch. And I thought it was such an engaging conversation I wanted to bring it to our audience. So Cindy welcome to the podcast.
02:01 Cindy Flynn: Thank you so much, Chris it’s really nice to be here.
02:04 CR: Well, I am excited for everyone to kinda hear your story, but why don’t we start with… So you grew up in Southern California and you went to law school, give us the basics that led up to you moving to start your own firm.
02:23 CF: Yes, so when… So I grew up in Orange County and in the 80s my parents ran a business, it was called Gap Printing. G was for Glen my dad’s name, A for Angie, my mom’s name and P was for printing, GAP. [chuckle] And over the years they got hit with some really difficult employment issues, they had an employee fall down the flight of stairs, and had to have a bunch of screws put in her ankle. They had another employee come in drunk repeatedly to work and they didn’t quite know how to handle it. They had another employee go out on a pregnancy leave, another employee would be late at the time. So, all of these issues over the years really and unfortunately tore my parents apart. So they ended in bankruptcy and divorce, and I knew from that point forward, I wanted to be an attorney to help small business, small and medium size businesses grow. I knew I didn’t wanna be a divorce attorney, or a bankruptcy attorney, [chuckle] but someone that really helped the business owners, because I think they’re doing such a powerful job for our nation, for our state, for our world.
03:39 CR: Yes, I think it’s one, admirable, but also the fact that you had a front row seat to it all, ’cause it could have gone either way, you could just say, “The last thing I wanna do is be near attorneys.” And then the other is to be passionate about your cause and the things that you do. So where did you go to college?
04:00 CF: Yeah, so before college actually in high school ended up getting a job at an employment law firm. I was there eight years through high school, college and law school. And went to UC Irvine for undergrad.
04:13 CR: An ant eater.
04:13 CF: So I was staying very local. Yes. And part of…
04:16 CR: And what did… Go ahead.
04:18 CF: And part of the reason why I stayed so local, was because I was still working at this employment law firm.
04:24 CR: Was there anything about as a high school student, about employment law, ’cause it is a very statute-focused business as in the law, there’s a lot of rules, there’s a lot of paper and regulations. How was that exciting to an 18-year-old? [chuckle]
04:47 CF: Yeah, it was really exciting, actually. We were on the dark side, though, so we were doing a ton of class action work, filing law suits against all the major retailers and phone companies, and stores. And it was a really exciting time because some case law at the time had just come down and my firm was all about class action work and the long hours, and going through time records and payroll records and everything, so it was really fun and that gave me exposure on what it was like to be on the other side.
05:28 CR: And then that led you going through college and then to law school, and through that whole period of time and passing the bar, did you always know that being on the side of employment law, or within the world of employment law was more appealing than being in a courtroom as a litigator or more… Drove you more than being in in the M&A world or the transactional world, you kept that passion all the way through?
05:57 CF: Yes, definitely. The thought did cross my mind, “Ohhh maybe I can do criminal law.” But no, that was a quick thought in and out, but yeah, I really wanted to focus on employment law. I love it, I got a lot of great learning tools, throughout before becoming a lawyer working on the dark side. And yeah, I just kinda stuck with it.
06:24 CR: Well, then at this point, I think a lot of our audience is probably saying, “Chris now why are you having an employment Law attorney on?” Most of the podcasts are about real estate or technology and all. So, let’s delve into how you and I clicked and… You graduated from law school, you worked at a couple big firms, you did the long hours, and then one day you woke up and you said, “I gotta do it differently.” So why don’t we talk about that? What was the inspiration?
07:00 CF: Yes, so I had worked at a couple of different law firms after coming out of law school and I just remember looking around and thinking, “This is just not for me.” And I had one boss who didn’t believe in voicemail, so all calls had to be handwritten, and that isn’t that long ago, we’re talking, [chuckle] I graduated in 2010. And then he also didn’t believe in email. So, we’d have one email account for the entire office, print it out, and then he’d walk around with paper copies to all the attorneys. So, [laughter] I’m looking around and I’m like, “There’s just gotta be a better way, there’s gotta be a better way to run a firm that’s a little more efficient and a little more high tech in this day and age.”
07:48 CR: And what did the office space look like? What was the feel when you walk through that door as a young attorney in that office space?
07:58 CF: Yeah, the building is beautiful, on a major street in LA, but you walk in and it’s that green carpet from the 80 and the dark wood and the library room, all things that aren’t so modern in this day and age I guess.
08:19 CR: So all the skill set that you would learn graduating from law school in 2010, using LexisNexis, using Gmail and cloud accounting and all of that. It ended the second those law firm doors opened.
08:35 CF: Yes, yes, good way of saying it. [chuckle]
08:39 CR: And did you find that your friends and colleagues from law school who were lawyers, were bumping up against some of these same things?
08:47 CF: Definitely, definitely. And I don’t think for me personally, I didn’t think being a lawyer, I just had a different expectation of what it was gonna be like to be a lawyer than I had actually working in the firms that I worked at.
09:06 CR: Well when I became a lawyer and I practiced at Pillsbury, at the time called Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, I so remember the green carpet and the wood walls, and I started in 1996. Email was a brand new thing, all the monitors were still green, black with green typing. We had a huge almost a whole floor of wood word processing, and cut and paste and red lining literally meant that you would cut paragraphs out, paste it on and you… So I got in just about the time the technology started coming, to being a lawyer. But I remember a couple of my friends as a first or second year attorney said that they wanted to start their own firms, and I remember them writing on a legal pad, “Okay, this is the… We found some office space, and this will be our rent, and then we gotta have a copier, so we’ll have to sign a five-year lease, and we got a five-year lease on our office space, a five-year lease on our copier.” And then they were a little enterprising, so you could find a LexisNexis through a computer, but everything was dial-up, but still, those were all the cost and then of course you had to have an assistant ’cause 1998, you had to have an assistant.
10:25 CR: So you start to look at how you would start a law firm around 1998, 2000 and you really had to have 10 or 15, $20,000 in savings just to get the doors open. When you started looking at this, after you graduated from law school and work for a while, did you have to go through the same process or was it a little different in the way you looked at the world?
10:45 CF: No, it was very, very different. Especially when I first started out, I was on different websites looking for clients just virtually. So I would take on a client who had a contract needed to review in San Francisco or somebody in Bakersfield, who needed some litigation support health. And so based on the internet and a whole host of different websites, you were able to meet clients where you actually don’t ever have to meet them face-to-face. And that was huge.
11:19 CR: Now was this a little bit. So this is very much the gig economy, gig economy kind of thing. Are there websites today, like Elance and some of the, like we’ve used certain websites for graphic design, and certain things, is there a website or websites, plural that people post that, “Hey, I need an attorney to do X, Y, and Z?”
11:39 CF: Yes, absolutely. So Up-counsel is one of them, Elance was one of them and merged into oDesk which I mean, I had 55 star reviews I think on oDesk. And when I started out, I didn’t have very many expenses they started out at $30 an hour. Just hustling as much work as I could get done. And my last day at my firm was a Friday and I was nervous for Monday and all weekend, I ended up getting so many contract jobs at $30-$45 an hour that I worked all weekend, and I haven’t stopped. Our prices have gone up since, of course. [chuckle] But I mean, you’ve gotta start somewhere.
12:21 CR: Well the irony that I find in what you just said is having been a young lawyer myself, is your quality of work probably that time was probably worth $40-$50 an hour. But the law firm is billing you out at a $150 an hour, $200 an hour to get their margin or their profit to cover all this overhead. So you really just stripped all that away and said, “Okay this is how I’m gonna get into business. I’m willing to be paid less than maybe what a market would be there, but I don’t have these costs, so I’m keeping more.” But at what point… So it’s almost like you put yourself on commission only. At what point did you say, “Okay, this is more than me just trying it, but this is how I’m gonna build my business.” Was it a week, a month, a year? At what point did the fear of the business drying up go away?
13:12 CF: Well, actually that fear is still here today. [laughter] I think because it always stays with you. But maybe a couple months into it, I hired my first law clerk, and I thought it was amazing because I was able to bill her out at a less rate, my rate by then at that point had gone up of course. But she did an assignment for me, I gave it to her at like 8 o’clock at night, it was done by the morning, it was fantastic, I passed it on to the client, and everyone’s happy. I remember making like $40 off of that in the middle of the night thinking that this was the most amazing secret in the world of having someone hire you, and then you give it to somebody else to do the work. And so maybe six months into officially quitting my job and having my practice, I hired my first full-time attorney which was very scary. But over that time, I had grown and I had so many emotions and things to do. It was the month of October that it ended up working out quite well. But she had to quit her job that she was there for 10 years to come work with me. So that was a really big deal.
14:31 CR: So what I love about what you just went through, in your very personal experience is that as a lawyer, you are an entrepreneur and you have figured out early this entrepreneurial spirit and how you address problems and issues. But when did the, “I’m gonna go work for myself,” become, “I wanna build a law firm.” Because it still sounds like your first hire or two, that’s you just kind of leveraging some people for yourself. But you’ve now have worked towards building a law firm with a vision and identity. When did the vision start? And maybe you can tell our audience a little bit about what that vision is and what your law firm is today.
15:11 CF: Sure. So to give everyone a sense, I’ve over the last five… For over five years now, I’ve built the firm to seven women attorneys, two women paralegals and a male receptionist. And we’re all focused on protecting and defending business owners. And I think when I… I belong to all of these entrepreneur groups, I belong to the EO as well, I belong to Vistage. And it was a really hard thing to overcome as a solo of… I went to law school, I love employment law, I love everything about what we do to help clients. And it was a really hard thing to be able to delegate that to somebody else to help with. But the people that I’ve hired, all the attorneys that I work with have 10-20 years of experience. So it was great in that sense that even though my name is on the door and all the liability of course falls onto me, the business owner. I hired people who I knew were smart, and knew could get the job done, and who were resourceful. And that’s really what I look at in hiring people.
16:31 CR: Now, all of your attorneys are women, was that by design did you, is that kind of the policy that you’re only gonna have women lawyers?
16:38 CF: No, no, of course not. As an employment lawyer, absolutely not. [chuckle] It just happened that way actually. That firm that I mentioned that I worked at in high school, I was there for eight years, I ended hiring eight people from that firm to come work with me. So, it just naturally happened one by one over the last several years. I kind of brought everyone back together, and everyone has a really good working relationship and good dynamic. Our last two most recent hires over the last couple of years have come from meeting attorneys on Indeed, which… The job bait service. So, yeah, it just happened that way. Nothing I’ve set out to do. [chuckle]
17:23 CR: So, the other thing that I think is very unique about the law firm that you’re building, I think it’s amazing that it’s women who are the partners. And it sounds like if there was a good fit with a man, you’d have no problem with that. But I think what’s interesting, jumps out to me, especially as a person who owns and develops office spaces, there is no physical address for Hackler Flynn & Associates. Tell us a little bit about how you’ve built out your team without office space.
17:57 CF: Yes. So, a little tricky, but I used to have… When I very, very first started I had a PO box at a UPS store and I got all my mail there, and I’d go and pick it up myself and scan it all in and everything. Now, we have a virtual office in Irvine, so we’re able to meet clients there and it’s very reasonably priced. We just pay for the conference room if we need it, and they collect all our mail and they scan it in and everything. So, nobody is really in that office from our firm, but we have that availability. So, that was…
18:34 CR: Now, are you at a co-working facility or can you describe what… What is a virtual office? And is it within a co-working like WeWork or something like that?
18:48 CF: Yeah. It’s through Premier Business Centers, so it’s a little more professional and it’s in a beautiful office building in Irvine. We still have… It’s where I grew up, Orange County. And so I still have a ton of clients in Irvine. And so, any time a client needs to meet, we can set that up. And it’s just a flat fee you pay once a month. And then, of course, if you validate anyone’s tickets for parking or need a new conference space, they just add that on. And it’s incredibly reasonably priced. But there are other options like WeWork and other things as well.
19:21 CR: Yeah, I think Premier does a terrific job, we know them well. And I think you hit on something which is… Well, I think WeWork and cross campers are wonderful products. They don’t necessarily fit for attorneys necessarily because of the privacy and some of the confidentiality, but can you talk a little bit about how do you create team camaraderie, how do you work on having partners that you genuinely like and respect if you’re not spending 50 to 75 hours a week in an office. How do you build that camaraderie?
20:02 CF: Yeah. And I think a lot of it has to do with… We get together just once a year where everybody in the firm comes together, I fly everybody in because I have my… I have two people working for me in Northern California, I have San Diego, I have LA, I have Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. So, our stuff is widely spread out. And once a year I fly everyone in, and we spend the weekend together doing team building exercises and doing yoga together, and nice dinners and just re-affirming our firm culture. And I think a lot of it has to do with, which also helps, we do so much via phone and email as well. We do our weekly calendar call on the phone, we use UberConference, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it automatically calls everybody at the desired time so nobody forgets. Yeah, [chuckle] [21:05] ____.
21:05 CR: And do you prefer a conference call or are you using video technology like a Zoom or anything like that?
21:13 CF: I asked my entire team if they wanted to use Zoom and video conferencing and they all said no.
21:21 CR: My hair is on top of my head right now in a bun and I’m wearing no makeup. So, I haven’t pressed that. So, we just do the traditional phone call.
21:29 CF: Well, we moved everything to Zoom because of the pet peeve of you hear someone making a very important point and then you hear the computer keyboard keys ‘rat-tat-tatting’ away. So, we felt for our team… ‘Cause our policy is Tuesday, Wednesday, everybody needs to be in the office, that’s our team building. But one day, Thursday, Friday, if you need to be out place, we don’t have to. So, we do on Tuesdays, ’cause we own properties all over, people have to call in and we’ve made it Zoom required because of the ‘rat-tat-tat’. But if you can trust everybody there, I think the conference call works as well.
22:09 CF: Yeah, yeah. And one thing that you need to be aware about when communicating a lot via phone and email is, especially an email’s tone. You can misconstrue something pretty easily, if there’s no exclamation point or happy face or something that… Or a cap, somebody thinks they’re being yelled at. So it’s really important to have some training done on that for your team, just so nobody gets offended and resentments don’t start to build, and then it can destroy a culture.
22:46 CR: I think it’s a really important point and I also love that we’re having this discussion because it’s much more focused on running a business that’s digital as opposed to face-to-face. Let me ask you this. So, Uber calls, which is a fantastic technology, what are some other technologies that you’ve been able to utilize to begin this business that isn’t like your father’s law firm or mother’s accounting firm or something. This is a real 21st century business. What other technology are you using?
23:23 CF: Yeah, we use… Well, a lot of it is attorney specific. We use Clio for our practice management software, we use our Westlaw, Alexa’s account, things like that. But a really good one that we’re using now is called WorkFlowy, they have a free version and they have, of course, a paid version. And the free version, I think is great. It allows you to create your to-do list of things you don’t wanna forget. So, it’s not necessarily a daily to-do list, but it’s something like somebody suggests a book, you don’t wanna forget it, you put it on this type of list. And then it syncs with Asana, so, if you’re familiar with Asana at all, you…
24:10 CR: We are huge advocates of Asana, it’s changed our business. Our rule is if you work for us, you better not send an email internally. [chuckle] Everything is on Asana. Outside world email, okay, but you better bring it into the Asana world. So that’s… I love to hear another Asana user.
24:26 CF: Yes, yeah, it’s been great as well. So…
24:32 CR: What about things like… So, with Asana… Every time we get frustrated and something doesn’t happen the way we want, it seems like they put an update out and they fix it. [laughter] So, we are a little frustrated that Asana is not great for a CRM or client relationship management, and we use something that used to be called Prosper Works, but it’s now called Copper, because our whole backbone is Google. That’s a kind of a round about way to ask, is the infrastructure that you’ve built on Google, Microsoft? What’s kind of the operating system for your law firm?
25:10 CF: So, all of our email is through Google, through Gmail, but everything, like all documents are in Word. And then we use Box for client documents. And Box has… Hits the compliant standards, so you can make sure everything is very confidential and encrypted in that way.
25:33 CR: We also use Box and the hip apart is very big. We looked at… I keep hoping, ’cause I personally use Google Drive for a lot of things, and we keep all of our relevant company documents on Box. I keep hoping that team files for Google will get that hip a compliance ’cause it’s just so much easier to download from the web or from Gmail into Drive, but right now I think the best product is Box. So, what I find interesting about this discussion we’re having right now is if you took what you are doing to run your law firm and broke down what it was and what those skill sets were, say 10 years ago, you probably would have been talking about the requirement of office space, requirement of having lots of files, probably the requirement of having at least one or two assistants who are non-lawyer trained, probably a couple of paralegals. But you have built this all out and be able to communicate without the overhead, without an office space, without the time commitment of office space, without the commitment and all this. But at the end of the day, you still have to have human interaction. So, do you find the, challenging people to make sure their communicating, is an issue, or do you feel like it’s because I’ve hired the right people? Or, as an owner of a business, let’s take the lawyer hat off. How do you look at those issues?
26:57 CF: I really invest a lot before we hire somebody into making sure that they are a good fit. We have a really sophisticated hiring process because we wanna make sure that somebody coming into the firm fits our firm culture. And I think that the more you invest upfront in getting to know the person, the better it is and the longer they last at your firm and you’re set up for success.
27:27 CR: So, one of the issues that I perceive just in talking with you about all of this is, and it’s one that we deal with, is do you feel like you can never turn off? I mean, if there is no office door to shut, if there is no place to leave papers behind and your whole life is connected to the internet, do you feel like you have time to shut off?
27:55 CF: That’s a really interesting question because since starting my business, the only time I did not check my phone was for half my honeymoon. We went away for 10 days and I did not check it for five. And that is the only time since starting this that I have not, I’ve actually turned off. The thing is that I believe in running a business in this day and age and using all of the tools where we can do so much on our phone, we don’t even need our laptops anymore when we travel.
28:26 CR: That’s true.
28:27 CF: It allow us to me personally to be gone for a lot longer. So in the past working for a law firm I would have taken five days and gone somewhere on a trip out of the country and leave Saturday, come back the following Sunday, and you’re taking five days off. Now, I find I would rather be gone for two weeks, or three weeks at a time and just work two hours a day or three hours a day. Any kind of keep that ear to the firm.
29:00 CR: I hear you, it does take some discipline to meditate and to get away from it, but I am constantly amazed how much less I’m using my laptop today. I mean, we use Google Docs, we use obviously Asana. Just that yes there’s things that are just easier ’cause we have the habit of using a mouse, or a track pad, but boy as mobile technology continues to become more and more like operating systems on laptops, you can do it most of it on your phone. Are you finding that in the law side of things as well?
29:33 CF: Oh yes so much so. And now with self-driving cars, I mean, you can do so much while you’re driving on your phone. [laughter]
29:41 CR: Well I have a…
29:43 CF: Not that I endorse that.
29:44 CR: No I have a Tesla and I’ll tell you the urge when you put it in on autopilot, especially in traffic you’re like, “You know I can really get a few key things done.” And then the collaborative what I find also, and I’m interested in how… Do you find with Microsoft, the ability to have multiple people work on a document at the same time, to be a useful tool?
30:06 CF: We haven’t implemented that aspect of it. I just too many drafts, I think can be complicated, but I think Google does a pretty good job at that. Where everyone’s allowed on the Google Sheets and everything to be able to edit things simultaneously.
30:29 CR: One of the websites I follow a lot because I’m such a geek about technology is iPhone JD or it’s JD iPhone, it’s a lawyer out of New Orleans who… And he’s really into using the iPad and how a lawyer when they’re in court… And are you finding that the tablets or any of your people using tablets in a way that’s different or anything in terms of technology that you think that you all use that’s different than your typical big law firm.
31:02 CF: Yes. So we do run a paperless office. There is very, very little paper in our office. We don’t have the big filing cabinets or filing room or anything like that. And I think you’re absolutely right, using a tablet, and they have a ton of trial apps that can help you prepare for trial, and easily turn to things, videos, just a whole host of things. So I think using the iPad when it comes to it, to bring that to court is a lot easier. And judges are getting more and more comfortable with it as well.
31:38 CR: That’s true. That’s true. So we’ve talked a lot about you building your business and all these wonderful things you’ve done. I think one could have the impression that work and building a business is the only thing in your life, but I know you better than that. You’re married and you’re about to have your first child, and you’re really, in my mind, kind of the example of what the millennial generation is doing so much better than the Gen X and the baby boomers. But talk a little bit about how you look at your business and how you look at your personal life and the things that are important to you outside of work.
32:13 CF: Yeah, I mean one of the most important things is working out, do cross-fit. In fact love crossfit so much, that’s where my husband proposed.
32:22 CR: Wow. [laughter]
32:24 CF: Yes. So there’s a whole flash mob video on, “Best crossfit proposal ever.” If you have a chance. That is us.
32:30 CR: Oh really, we’ve gotta look for that. The best crossfit…
32:34 CF: It’s 25,000 views or something like that. But yeah, we really enjoy crossfit and at end of the day, we as much as we can, we turn off where we’re not answering emails in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning. I think it’s important every day to meditate. Have your quiet time, enjoy your breakfast, and then dive into work before… Getting started.
33:04 CR: Yeah. I’ll tell you, for 2019, I actually made it as something I was gonna do and I’ve done it, and that’s I move my… I charge my… I use it… I don’t really use a laptop anymore, I have an iPad Pro and I have my phone. And literally they charge in the kitchen and I’d… It’s made it just in, what are we in? Like 25-27 days? It’s made a huge difference because there’s that fear of missing out. If the iPhone is next to my bed, I wake up in the middle of the night I’m gonna check it. So that’s been a big thing for me. Are there any tricks of the trade for you on how you maintain a balanced home life and a marriage when it comes to technology?
33:43 CF: Yeah, I’m with you with not having your phone next to your bed. Having it charged in another room is really key. Not having all of those notifications come up on your watch because now an email comes in, your phone buzzes, your watch buzzes and your computer buzzes all at once.
34:04 CR: Yes.
34:05 CF: And it can be startling. So turning off a little bit in that sense, I think, is really key. And then also not turning to your phone first thing in the morning. Cook your breakfast, enjoy your eggs and then get to it when you’re in the right head space. After you’ve had a chance to meditate for five or 10 minutes too.
34:23 CR: Yeah, that’s big. Is there anything that you’re working on for your law firm as you look at this year in terms of… A lot of people talk about having an operating system for their business or… What’s 2019 look for how you’re gonna grow your business, how you’re gonna grow the team? Anything that you’re looking at this year saying, “I see a way to get better.”?
34:48 CF: Yeah, so I just set a goal this year to do 100 speaking engagements.
34:54 CR: Wow. That’s a pretty good goal.
34:56 CF: [chuckle] So a little aggressive maybe, but been in nine so far this month and it’s all focused on educating business owners and telling them about all the new laws that have come out for 2019 in regards with the employment area, of course. And just continuing to really cultivate my team and take a step back on how much we’ve grown and how we can get better and more efficient. And we’re looking now actually into lean manufacturing practices, Six Sigma, which completely intrigues me, [chuckle] and how to be able to implement that into our business. So some good things up on the horizon.
35:43 CR: Well, how do you look at your… Your husband has a very successful business. You’ve got a successful business. You’re gonna have a baby, are you gonna take a maternity leave or… How do you look at those kind of issues that have been big issues in prior generations about… Do you take time off? Do you stop working? So what are your thoughts about being a mother in 20… A wife and a mother in 2019? What are your thoughts on that?
36:12 CF: Well, and this could change because things I hear from everybody that a lot changes once you have kids. But my business has been my baby since I started it and I know my husband feels the same way about his business. He’s grown his to 100 employees, I’ve grown mine to 11 and we don’t plan on stopping. And I think though, with all the technology that you and I have been talking about that we can implement, I think it can be done and I think you can have a pretty good work-life balance and go to your kid’s soccer games. And if you’re checking your email through it, I mean, that’s what you have to do in order to be there. So…
36:51 CR: I agree with that. So one of the areas that, we talked about a little bit, you said it wasn’t by design to have a law firm where all the partners are women but that has to have some sort of marketing to it that brings you interesting business and things like that. Is it… Do you really market yourself as a firm that’s made up of women partners? Are you… Do you market yourself more so that, “Hey, we represent small businesses for employment law and whether it’s male or female, it doesn’t matter.” How do you look at the issues of a firm made up of women partners?
37:32 CF: We represent both men and women who run businesses. I mean, that’s really the core that we’d focus on business owners. We are women-owned business certified through WBENC and so we tend to do a lot of things with WBENC and then NAWBO with a huge part of me growing my business and NAWBO stands for the National Association of Women Business Owners. And so just by being involved in those types of groups, we’ve, of course, represent a lot of women business owners. And from what I’ve been told from our clients, a lot of times, they’re a little intimidated to go and speak to the partner in the corner office on the 54th floor downtown where they would much rather feel more comfortable walking into a much more casual office. I mean, we still dress up everyday, of course, but somewhere where it’s a little bit more their environment that they feel comfortable in.
38:32 CR: Well, going back to your discussion about a partner who didn’t believe in email or voicemail, how do you feel that your clients interact? Are they even aware that you don’t really have a physical office, that it’s a virtual office? Do you find that clients today, most of it is email and voicemail? What’s your sense of your interaction with your clients?
38:56 CF: Yeah. Honestly, no client has had an issue that not everyone is in our office every single day. In fact, most of my clients, anyone who comes from a personal referral from an attorney that they’re currently working with, we probably haven’t met unless it’s in deposition or in court. And so, I really think that running a virtual practice in this era is not a big of a deal and it’s really rare that a client wants to actually meet in person before signing the retainer because we send our retainers through DocuSign.
39:37 CR: Yeah, that’s terrific. I do wanna talk a little bit about DocuSign. One of the frustrations in the real estate business is that the notary side has not gone digital. We keep hoping they’ll be a product that does that. But what I’m amazed it has… We just had to sign a non-disclosure on something. We signed it on DocuSign. It’s with a Japanese company and they insisted on wet signatures. So what we literally did was print out and send a copy of a PDF. They did write back and say, “No, please, we wanna see the ink.” There’s nothing more authoritative about a signature than DocuSign. It says I signed it at what time. [chuckle] You can even do a location search on where you were. So do you find that the law business is starting to be much more receptive to things like DocuSign?
40:29 CF: Yes, definitely, definitely so. And, yeah, I think it’s a lot more friendly and they would even take in credit cards. As lawyers weren’t, I don’t even think allowed to take credit cards more than five or 10 years ago. So everything is becoming so much more easier, I guess.
40:53 CR: And are you taking bitcoin or you’re not gonna do that?
40:58 CF: We’re not there yet. [chuckle]
41:00 CR: So when you envision how this firm will grow, do you think it’s a firm that will grow outside of just employment law? Do you think you’ve got a model here that really works for the 21st century that people are gonna look to you and say, “That’s how I wanna build a law firm today.”?
41:16 CF: I do, actually. I’ve spoken to a number of attorneys now over the years who wanna start their own practices in a similar model. And just for me specifically, I’d seen my boss roll in at 11 o’clock and those resentments are starting to build from your employees. Your employees get there at 7:00, 8:00 AM and their boss is rolling in at 11:00. And I’m open with my calendar. I share that I’m in a meeting every morning starting at 7:00, 7:30 at the latest, every day and I work really hard. But I could see that when I’m out in the world, doing speaking engagements or networking with people, or I’m in a client’s office that, oftentimes, people in the office don’t see that. And that’s one of the big advantages I think of having a virtual firm. You know?
42:10 CR: Yes. One of the things that I wanna ask you as a millennial, I’d tell you as a Gen X, I don’t remember really a morning where my father, ’cause I grew up very traditional with my mother, stay-at-home mom, my whole life and then my dad working everyday. But I don’t remember a morning, for the most part, where my father was there. He was up and out at 5:30 in the morning to the office ’cause that’s where all his stuff was, that’s where you had to work. But, today, where I literally get more done between 5:30 and 7:00 on my phone that I can ever imagine, I still have these guilty pains and I’m trying to get over it. I think I’m gonna have to see a psychiatrist about the whole thing [chuckle] but it’s like, I can work from home for four hours and get more work done and I still feel guilty that I’m not in our office being a leader and things like that. I take it, you don’t have any of those issues?
43:07 CF: No, no, definitely not but I don’t have a staff coming into the office everyday not seeing me there, because I’m out working on the business in other ways. So I think what you’re feeling is absolutely validated.
43:24 CR: And when you’re looking at bringing… Something just jumped to mind and I just… So you’re looking at bringing someone in, what is it in your interview technique that gets you confident that this person is still gonna work hard even though they may be working at home or from a coffee shop, or a WeWork once in a while? Is there something that you look for that says, “Okay, this is someone who’s gonna do it the right way and not take advantage,” or is it all in the billing hours? It could be all in how many hours they bill, but how do you look at it?
43:57 CF: Yeah, definitely, you set the expectation. For us, it is based on billable hours, so that’s pretty easy. We’re paying you this salary, we expect 40 hours a week to be billed. But also asking them, “Have you ever worked at home before? Do you think that would be something you’re comfortable with? What would your office look like? Are you gonna go to Starbucks every day because it’s a lot harder to take phone calls from Starbucks than it is in a quiet home while everybody else is out the door.” So setting the expectations.
44:32 CR: You may have said it but just curious, how do you track people’s time? Do you use a software?
44:38 CF: We do.
44:39 CR: And is that something that everybody sees or do you keep it, only you’re the one who sees the hours?
44:44 CF: Me and the people that help me in the office through billing see the hours and we make sure everyone gets their hours in daily.
44:56 CR: And so, what was the software? I’m sorry that I miss that.
45:00 CF: Yeah. It’s called Clio. It’s attorney practice management software.
45:02 CR: Yes, that’s a great one. Well, this has really been interesting. Let me ask you how, given that you do Vistage and EO, which I think is a terrific organization as we got to know each other through YPO, but EO is just an amazing organization. What are you doing to promote, what’s your marketing strategy? Are you an active user of social media? Do you use Twitter, do you use Instagram, anything like that to promote your business?
45:34 CF: With as virtual as we are, [chuckle] I always think the best referrals come from the people you know. And that’s why I think it’s so important to not go to every networking events because that can really be daunting after a while, but focus on the ones who have the best ROI. And then this year, we’re really focusing on speaking engagements and those types of things. So we have a Facebook page, we get some action on that. We have LinkedIn profile and those types of things, and we’re always putting out new content but I think the real benefit is still from who you know in those relationships.
46:16 CR: That’s interesting. And can you foresee a world in which you can run a virtual legal or virtual law firm and have first or second years join you? Or do you think someone’s gotta have a few years of experience before you can really run a virtual law firm?
46:37 CF: Chris, that’s a good question. I think that the right candidate with the right personality and the right style would be able to work virtually from early on, I really do. You just wanna make sure that they are comfortable in that because I don’t think I could have done that 10 years ago. I would be like, “Oh, there’s dishes to do, laundry to do. I can’t possibly start work with a dirty house.” So it depends on the person. I think it’s really individually specific.
47:12 CR: Let me ask you a question. I had a discussion recently with a friend of mine who’s about 10 years older than I am and he was talking to me about how his employees. He has an office in Calabasas and he was getting frustrated because a lot of his people were telling him they didn’t need to come into the office because the way they worked. And while he got it, in the sense that doesn’t make sense for someone who spend an hour and a half in the car to come to the office and an hour and a half home, he was lamenting the fact that some of his best memories, especially as a young professional, where the time spent in the office and working late nights, and giving each other, teasing each other and all that kind of stuff. And I had a response to him on that. But I’d be interested to hear what, do you think that the camaraderie is lost if you’re not in an office for 60 hours a week together?
48:08 CF: I think it’s just different. I don’t think it’s lost but for instance, one of our clients had a big, big legal issue and this was maybe a year and a half, almost two years ago, and I pulled every single person in our office off of what they were working on to work on that client’s issue. We were all together virtually [chuckle] but all working till midnight, 12:30 in the morning, getting what needed to be done out there. And I think you can still have a lot of that camaraderie without physically being there and we also tease each other. We all worked really, really hard to get the job done but it was about a week of that where everybody in the office shut out everything else they were doing because this client was in such dire, dire need.
49:03 CR: I love how you said everybody in the office but you weren’t really in the office.
49:07 CF: Yeah, virtual.
49:08 CF: Virtual, yeah. [chuckle]
49:08 CR: So everybody online was fully engaged. I mean there’s no doubt this is where the world is at. I do think that as an owner and operator of office buildings, that I think there is a role for office, I think there always will be, because I do believe in teamwork, and camaraderie and sports teams have their locker rooms and their places. Apple and Facebook continue to build space but I do think there’s a balance that we all have to recognize, there really is a balance out there and that some businesses can be run and should be run virtually. And so I applaud you for what you’re doing. I think what was so exciting about having this conversation was one, you’re a smart entrepreneurial person, who said, “I don’t have to follow the rules as they were laid out as a lawyer.” You’re doing it on your terms, you’re doing it as a great partner and supportive person to your husband and you’re inspiring people, and you’re doing all these things. Do you ever turn around and go, “Wow, that’s a heavy weight [chuckle] I need a break.” And now, you’re adding motherhood just to make it a little easier.
50:25 CF: Yeah, yeah, hopefully I haven’t gone to the point where I need a break, I just wanna continue to hustle and grow and give back.
50:36 CR: So let me ask this, do you use Twitter? I wanna get the Twitter handle out there, if possible.
50:41 CF: I don’t, I know I don’t use Twitter.
50:44 CR: Oh, so I would think that you would have an active Twitter account and you could tell us all the funny stories of employment law done virtually, but I guess I’ll have to ask you, are there any great stories you have about, anything funny or anything about being a virtual law firm and as it relates to employment law?
51:06 CF: I have a ton of client stories with regard to employment law that I probably won’t get into, but a lot happened during the holidays with some of our clients who threw holiday parties, including cops been called and a cop been bitten on the ankle by the COO of a company.
51:30 CR: Oh my god.
51:32 CF: And those type of things. [laughter] So it seems interesting. That’s for sure.
51:36 CR: Well, as I’m looking over it at Maria who’s our producer here. It’s a good thing that I left our karaoke Christmas party in the first half hour, I don’t think anybody bit anybody, but we know who to call if that happens.
51:48 CF: Yes, yes, [laughter] exactly.
51:52 CR: Well, Cindy, thank you so much. I do want you to be able to give the website for the law firm, for Hackler Flynn & Associates. Is it hacklerflynnlaw.com?
52:03 CF: Yes, that’s it.
52:04 CR: Terrific. Well, thank you so much, this has been a great conversation. I’m so excited for our audience to hear how you can build a law firm today ’cause it hits all the themes that we see today. So thank you so much for your time and being on the podcast.
52:18 CF: Thank you Chris.