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Melissa Shanahan

#239: Delegation: Free Your Time, Build Trust, and Cultivate a Thriving Firm with Jeff Lewis

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As a law firm owner, you can’t and shouldn’t be personally handling every task that needs attending to in your firm. You want to focus your time on bringing in new clients and doing the work you truly love, but where do you start?

This week, Melissa is joined by Southern California appellate and anti-SLAPP lawyer, Jeff Lewis of Jeff Lewis Law. They just did a strategic planning session together where they planned for the year ahead, and as one of her clients who has mastered the art of delegation, Melissa invited Jeff on to discuss exactly how he’s created an abundance of time and mental freedom for himself as a law firm owner.

Tune in this week as Melissa quizzes Jeff on how he’s found freedom as a law firm owner and the services he’s leveraged to free up his time and focus. Jeff is sharing his insights on what you shouldn’t be doing as a law firm owner, how to stop being a bottleneck in your firm, and his tips for cultivating an empowered and thriving firm. 

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Enrollment will be opening soon, so join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• What prompted Jeff to start focusing on freedom as a law firm owner.

• How hiring Buying Time has provided freedom for Jeff.

• The ways Jeff is leveraging delegation in his firm.

• Why Jeff’s experience of delegation felt different in 2023.

• How Jeff empowers his team, and why it has led to deeper levels of trust and responsibility among them.

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Jeff Lewis: Website | Podcast | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter (X) | YouTube | BSky

Buying Time

Ernie the Attorney

Buy Back Your Time by Dan Martell

Superhuman

Drafts

David Sparks’ courses

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #239.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast, powered by Velocity Work, for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going, take planning seriously, and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Melissa Shanahan: Right, everybody, hello and welcome back to this week's episode. I am so lucky to be sitting here with Mr. Jeff Lewis of Jeff Lewis Law. Hello, sir.

Jeff Lewis: Hello, everyone.

Melissa: I just spent the day with Jeff doing strategic planning. It was great. We planned for the year, got a lot of things organized and set in place. Yeah?

Jeff: Set some great goals, looked at the past year's data, and yeah, I've got a great plan.

Melissa: Yeah, definitely. Since I was here, I thought I would take the opportunity to sit down with you. You are always inspiring to me. I love having conversations with you. I love learning about what you're up to, what you're learning, and so I thought maybe we could do an episode so you can share some things. I'll ask you questions.

Jeff: Okay, let’s do it.

Melissa: Well, first, I have to say you were one of the clients that introduced me to a service called Buying Time LLC. They offer administrative assistants for certain kinds of things. “Administrative assistants” actually seems too simple, they probably have a word to better describe it. But they have a pretty robust team that can handle many different kinds of tasks.

You were the person who introduced me to them. So, you've been using them for a while?

Jeff: Yeah, they do all the stuff that lawyers should not be doing. So, social media posts, PowerPoint presentations. When I've had events at my office and open houses, etc. they’ve helped me with the party planning. Anything that a lawyer should not be spending their time doing, they can do.

Melissa: And, you have a podcast.

Jeff: Yeah, we've got a podcast. They do help me with some of the administrative parts, and making sure guests get thank you gifts and podcast mugs, and help with some of the details there.

Melissa: Tell everyone what your podcast is called.

Jeff: We have The California Appellate Law Podcast, which I co-host with Tim Kowal. We put it out every Tuesday.

Melissa: I didn't give you an opportunity at the beginning, would you say a little bit about where you are and what kind of law you practice?

Jeff: Yeah, I'm a Southern California appellate and anti-SLAPP lawyer. Most of my time is spent helping defend people who are sued for speaking their minds. So, podcasters who are sued for defamation, or people who have said things on an online review, like a negative Yelp review. Or people who are sued for filing a suit, such as malicious prosecution. I help them invoke the protections of California's anti-SLAPP law and help them get dismissals of those cases.

Melissa: How long have you had your firm now?

Jeff: Fifteen, sixteen years.

Melissa: Okay. You were talking about Buying Time LLC, and there are a few other things we'll talk about that you found really helpful for yourself, and finding freedom as a law firm owner. But when do you think you started to have the mind switch to focusing on freedom for yourself, or getting organized in a way that will allow you to see some freedom at some point? When did you start working on that stuff, as a law firm owner?

Jeff: Well, candidly, during COVID. Before COVID, I was running a pretty ragged pace. COVID gave me the opportunity, with a freeze on trial dates, to kind of take stock. I started doing a lot of reading and reshaping my law firm. And I realized that the skills that helped me get to this point, such as being a great lawyer, and keeping up with email, and those kinds of things, were not the same skills or things I should be doing to take my law firm to the next level.

Melissa: Ernie the Attorney was a big influence for you; Bill is.

Jeff: Yeah. It’s how I know you.

Melissa: Yeah, it is. I remember you saying at that time, that's right around when I first was introduced to you, you had said that everyone else, for the most part, were stressed and freaking out about COVID and what to do. In talking to you, tell me where I'm wrong, but you had some anxieties, natural anxieties. I remember you saying, “You know, this is pretty awesome, and I never want to go back to the way things were.” It was like a light switch flipped for you.

Jeff: Yeah, you remember the introduction to the Jetsons cartoon, George Jetson on that treadmill going around in circles? That’s me before COVID. What a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pause, take stock, read, and rebuild my firm from scratch.

Melissa: Yeah. I just remember how much you really felt like you were enjoying the space, more than maybe some. Okay, so you turned your attention to creating some freedoms for yourself, and paying attention to things maybe you hadn't paid attention to in the same way as before. We mentioned Buying Time LLC. You do leverage them to gain a lot of freedom, and you have felt that this year.

Do you want to talk about some of the biggest ways the things that they are doing for you has provided the most freedom?

Jeff: Sure. As a measure of time and focus, the biggest impact they've had is… I read a book, at your recommendation, called Buy Back Your Time by Dan Martell. One of the chapters in that book talks about not reading your own email. Having someone else triage your email and floating the most important ones to the top. And maybe having an assistant respond to some of the priority emails, to save you the bandwidth of having to triage emails. It was really valuable.

So, I hired BB’s team, Buying Time LLC, to come in. They have access to my email, and before I wake up each day at 6am they have already filtered and sorted my email box into one folder that I need to check with the 10 most important emails, and everything else has either been filed away or taken care of.

Melissa: Do you use the inbox system that he recommends?

Jeff: Absolutely. I have a bunch of different folders: The Jeff box. There's the Done box. There's just a Read to Review box. I added a few more that I customized for a law firm practice, such as Leads; I don't think that was one he had. Court Filings, that was another one that Dan Martel's book doesn't have. But it was important that I have a separate box for those.

Melissa: This is sort of a side note, do you use Superhuman? I feel like we talked about it.

Jeff: I do. It's fantastic.

Melissa: Yeah, I do, too.

Jeff: I want to say, before I read this book, or before I started using BB’s services, I never got the pretty reward screen of the Empty Box/Zero. You know how they try to reward you with a pretty picture? I'd never got that before. And now I get it on a daily basis.

Melissa: It works. It’s nice. That's great. Okay, I want to make sure that we emphasize well how much freedom that's given you. You mentioned today, that was like a top win for you at the beginning of the day.

Jeff: I didn't realize before I started this, how much time I spent each day checking my email, filing things away, forwarding emails to others to take to handle it. Not only the amount of time, but the amount of mental energy it took for me to get from inbox 500 to let's say, inbox 100; only 100 emails left. BB’s team helped me achieve that goal.

Melissa: Can you point to activities that you are able to spend more time on now? Or the freedom, is it more of an internal state, like we've reduced anxiety, so to speak?

Jeff: Well, I've always been a big fan of blocking out time for deep work, for focused work. Having someone else check my emails has given me the freedom to block out more time. So, there's more frequent opportunities for deep work. And from a mental point of view, at the end of the day I'm not as exhausted, and I can pick up a book and read, or do things other than sit around and watch TV.

Melissa: Okay, PowerPoints you mentioned, also.

Jeff: Oh, yeah. Let me say I do a fair amount of presentations, either via Zoom or in person, even before COVID, and after COVID, on topics about malicious prosecution or anti-SLAPP law. I used to create PowerPoint presentations, check for typos, put in the artwork, and make sure all the slides are thematically matching. It's all just too much.

And so, I hand the text, my PowerPoint over to BB’s team. They put in interesting artwork or gifts to keep the audience engaged. They make sure all the pages look professional. They proofread it. So, I've given them the content and the substance, but I get a polished product that I don't have to agonize over every detail.

Melissa: I'll tell you, what struck me was that you care deeply about margins and spacing, and I do too. And so, when I heard that someone else was doing your presentations, I thought, “Well, if they're good enough for Jeff, they’re probably good enough for me.” So, I started using them as well, to help you put together stuff.

Jeff: I get so paralyzed by details. There's a program called Drafts, which I believe is a Mac app, that I use. It's basically a text processor with no bells, no whistles. And I am able to use that to just draft an article or an email or an important appellate argument. Then, I take that document and I hand it to an assistant for polishing.

Because if I'm looking at a pleading paper with 20 lines and the lines don't… my texts don't line up to the numbers, I’ll spend hours trying to fix the line spacing. I didn't go to law school to fix line spacing.

Melissa: Mm-hmm. And sometimes you'll do this verbally, you'll get audio…

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. You dictate into Drafts. It's a great app.

Melissa: I learned about that through Ernie. And there's a course that I found through… I’ll put his name in the show notes, it's blanking right now. Sparky...

Jeff: David Sparks?

Melissa: David Sparks, I think so. I said Sparky because I think that's in his newsletter. But he has a great course that's extremely affordable, the full monty, on Drafts. It's a really good course.

Jeff: He has what he calls Field Guides. He has a course for Macs. He has a course for Drafts. And, he has a course for Obsidian; I've viewed the one about Obsidian. He has a great course about utilizing Mac’s shortcuts. If you're somebody who likes to automate lots of functions into a one button press, he has some great guides.

Melissa: I did not know about the shortcuts for Macs, but I would like that one. It is crazy how fast, how efficient, shortcuts make you.

Jeff: Absolutely.

Melissa: People don't utilize them very often in our world, that I see. So, I have a deep appreciation, thanks to Superhuman that taught me how efficient shortcuts can be. Okay. You also, in addition to Buying Time LLC, and still talking about freedom, gaining freedom, delegation, and those kinds of things, you have an in-person assistant here at the firm.

Jeff: Yes.

Melissa: You also have delegated, since reading the book Buy Back Your Time, you've been thinking about that role.

Jeff: Well, I would say that grew more out of… you know we meet once a quarter, and I frequently would communicate how me or my paralegal didn't have a lot of time, because of a lot of administrative tasks. It sounds silly, but going into QuickBooks, printing out a check for the rent, handing that check to someone to be mailed, scanning the incoming mail, taking the outgoing mail to the post office, or taking our checks to the bank.

We identified that those are all tasks that an in-person administrative assistant could take care of. And so, we hired one.

Melissa: Yeah. And, she's great?

Jeff: Yeah, fantastic. Lila, if you're listening, you're amazing, a valued member of our team.

Melissa: That's right. Okay, so a few things you have her doing? Just to give people ideas about, if it's their first go with leveraging an administrative assistant?

Jeff: Well, the first thing she does, and probably the most important thing that she does, is like anywhere between three and 10 leads a day; asking for an appellate lawyer or a defamation lawyer or other topics. She processes those leads and does a quick response to them, if they are a valuable looking lead, a good fit for our practice. And to the other folks she refers to other lawyers, or kindly sends him an email suggesting we're not a good fit.

The time it would take for me to read and select and send out those emails is just paralyzing. Lila does that each and every day. It's a fantastic role that she’s filled.

Melissa: Okay, yeah. And calendaring she helps with?

Jeff: Absolutely. So, motions come in the door and she takes those motions into Clio, and calendars our firm deadlines and milestones, anniversaries. She helps manage the firm's calendar.

Melissa: Mail processing is another one?

Jeff: Absolutely. When there's outgoing mail, and when there's incoming mail. I only see the important stuff at the middle of the day. She looks at the mail in the morning and sorts and throws out all the junk mail. It sounds petty, it sounds trivial, but all these seconds and minutes add up. There’s time spent on mail or email or printing out a check in QuickBooks.

Melissa: Absolutely. Okay. So, this year you've made many strides with gaining some freedom through delegation. And you've learned some big lessons there, because you've had some big wins there.

Jeff: Yeah.

Melissa: You could have made these moves sooner; you're making these moves this year. So, you had the information, you had the knowledge about what was probably good for you, good for the firm, but it took a bit for you to really get on board and get into a flow with it. Speak to that a bit, because there are plenty of people in what were your shoes, whether there's hesitation, a lack of trust, etc. How could you talk to those people?

Jeff: Yeah. Every law firm owner reaches an inflection point where they're drowning. They're doing the tasks that got them to the point of being a successful law firm owner. But they reach an impasse, because there's only so many hours in a day where you can respond to each and every email, respond to each and every call, personally handle every task.

At some point, if you don't delegate, you're not going to grow and you're going to stress yourself out. And so, you helped me, and the Buy Back Your Time book helped me, identify what tasks law firm owners should be doing. And delegating those out, so that I could focus my time on either bringing in new clients or doing the work that I love, which is crafting appellate briefs or arguing anti-SLAPP motions.

Melissa: Do you think that your experience with this… Because I’ve been working with you for a bit, and you've been working on delegation for a long time; it's not a new topic. Why is this year different?

Jeff: I think all the pieces were put together perfectly this year, in terms of my team, and in terms of building trust over time. That I could close my eyes, put a task in someone else's hands, and it would not only get done, but get done correctly.

Melissa: Yeah. And not that you don't verify, but you have evidence now that things are followed through with in the way that you prefer for them to be followed through with, and handled well.

Jeff: Absolutely. It's a person multiplier, so I'm no longer the choke point at the firm, in terms of tasks or things getting done. It’s spread across a team of six people; tasks that I used to do myself.

Melissa: It's been neat to see. There's one team member in particular I'm thinking of. Although, I think you do a really good job with this with all of your team members. By the way, for everybody listening, Jeff's retention rate for employees is very high. That speaks volumes to you. You are a delight to be around. You have a great sense of humor.

I think in many ways, you could be, I'm being frank, challenging work for because of the level of detail and standards. But the environment here is so healthy, and that's kudos to you. Because that's not true everywhere.

Jeff: I’ve not always worked at friendly, inviting law firms, where people felt comfortable voicing their opinions. I just wanted to have the kind of firm where people had their doors open, and people felt comfortable talking to each other.

Melissa: Yeah. I've seen you empower your team. There's one team member in particular, that you've empowered to really step up and take responsibilities that are higher-trust responsibilities. I don't know if you want to speak more to that, but that's been a big deal for you with reducing anxiety and transferring responsibility.

Jeff: Yeah, let me say this about that team member. I think, for years, that team member’s probably been willing to step up and take on more responsibility. It was just a matter of me trusting, and finding the right time and the right opportunity.

And boy, when we decided to pull the trigger and give this guy the responsibility for doing more than his narrow role before, he flourished. He gave me time and mental bandwidth to turn to other tasks.

Melissa: Mention a few of the things that he's focused on now, in his role.

Jeff: Payroll for our team, calling in the payroll, banking, interfacing with our accountant, overseeing accounts receivable. All the little things that lawyers didn't go to law school to do. Ensuring our malpractice insurance is renewed every year. Dealing with the business license renewal every year. All the paperwork that a lawyer doesn't get paid to do, and shouldn't be doing.

Melissa: Finds job candidates…

Jeff: Did a fantastic job filling that. We had two vacancies. Merely brought a couple resumes to my attention, but before that point I'm sure had to sift through a lot of acceptable resumes.

Melissa: Yeah. Also with the team, you guys have goals and there are things that each person is accountable for. And he's done a really good job, in a really positive way, of working with team members on their goals. I don’t know if you have anything to say about that, but I'm really impressed with him.

Jeff: Let me say, numbers are not my friend. I went to law school because I don't like math.

Melissa: They are your friend. They're just waiting for you to be friends with them.

Jeff: I would say, in the first couple of sessions you and I met there was a lot of back and forth about my data, my law firm data, what my numbers were, and the KPIs. I quickly learned that me trying to compile, enter, and monitor this data is not my core strength.

Having this staff member take on that mantle of data entry, quality checking, helping me analyze what the numbers mean, and make real time adjustments with my staff in terms of productivity for billable hours, collections, any number of KPIs, it's been great to watch him embrace this new role. And it's been great, frankly, to relieve myself of having to deal with numbers.

Melissa: Yeah. As I'm listening to you talk, and I'm having thoughts about this, I'm not sure I did a good enough job today of patting him on the back for his efforts there. Because there are many times I talk to teams in these kinds of meetings, and they're frustrated with their team in hitting their goals. But they don't take the time that Jason does, to sit down and have conversations weekly about the numbers.

He has a way to do it that everyone feels really positive about. It's not a sit down and talking to about ‘you're falling short, or why are you behind?’ It's not that at all. He's really on their side. He's a supporter for them. Because he takes the time to talk to them weekly, and daily, actually… It's up every day, like a scoreboard... But weekly, I think, at least with certain team members, he's having meetings to discuss this, and there is no question why these team members are thriving.

Jeff: Yeah, and the key is there is positivity. Yes. The guy sets the tone and carries through, in terms of when he communicates with staff members. It's not, “Why haven't you made your numbers?” It’s, “What can the firm or I do to help you, and support you reach your potential?”

Melissa: Yes, absolutely. He's an asset. To your point, he's always been an asset. You've just made some decisions in more recent years to really help him step up.

Jeff: Absolutely. He's been with me 14 years. It's only within the last maybe two years that I really took advantage of his willingness and abilities.

Melissa: Absolutely. Well, thank you for taking time to chat. I think it's just good for other law firm owners to get to hear from another law firm owner, hear what's been top of mind for you, and what you've been through. So, thanks for taking time.

Jeff: Yeah, of course. Thank you, you helped me rebuild my firm from the quiet time of COVID into a thriving firm that helps me get closer to my dreams.

Melissa: Oh, you have done such a good job. And it feels like things are coming together for your firm and for you. You've been working hard; smart and hard. I don't mean, just nose to the grindstone. It's really neat to see when things start to come together. I feel like you're in that place.

Jeff: Yeah. We talked a lot about trusting my team, and a big part of this is also trusting my coach. My coach knows what she's talking about. Follow the advice and good things will come.

Melissa: Well, congratulations to all your success, and continued success. Cheers!

Jeff: Cheers.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/Friday Wrap. If you go to VelocityWork.com, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to VelocityWork.com to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to VelocityWork.com where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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