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Melissa Shanahan

#225: Solving Intake Process Challenges with Wouter IJgosse of DecisionVault

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By now, you know that strategically planning each quarter is Melissa’s shtick, and if you want to take planning seriously, you need to consider what your intake process looks like in your firm. There are lots of different tools out there for automating the intake process, but have you found one that works end-to-end seamlessly?

This week, Melissa is speaking to the founder and CEO of DecisionVault, Wouter IJgosse. DecisionVault is the intake portal for estate planning practices that helps firms gather information from clients and integrate it with as many tools as possible in the legal tech space. He saw a gap in the market when it comes to having one system to gather client information, and he’s here to tell us how DecisionVault came to be. 

Tune in today to hear how Wouter got DecisionVault off the ground, and who this portal would be a great fit for. He’s sharing how DecisionVault can save you on average of 15 hours a month, why it creates efficiency and ease both for your clients and your internal staff, and how it enables adding automation to your practice. 

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:

• How DecisionVault came to be.

• Who DecisionVault would be a great fit for.

• How DecisionVault solves the challenges you come up against when you automate your intake.

• The things that helped Wouter get DecisionVault off the ground.

• How DecisionVault can help you create efficiency and ease both for your clients and your internal staff.

• Wouter’s personal routines and his experience of hiring support.

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Schedule a consult call with us here.

DecisionVault: Website 

Molly McGrath

Dan Martell

Missive

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #225.

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:  Welcome, everyone, to this week's episode of The Law Firm Owner Podcast. I am lucky to have a special guest on today, Wouter from DecisionVault.

Wouter IJgosse: Yes, that's right.

Melissa: Welcome. I did ask him how to pronounce his last name, and he said it beautifully, but we decided to just go with Wouter from DecisionVault. Will you say it for everyone?

Wouter: My full name is Wouter IJgosse.

Melissa: There we go. Awesome. I met you recently, we were both present for something for Molly McGrath. Listeners are probably familiar with Molly McGrath of Hiring & Empowering Solutions. We met briefly. I heard a little bit about what you do and I thought, “Okay, I would love to have him on the podcast,” because I think that a lot of people could benefit from knowing about your product.

So, thanks for coming on. I would love to start with you giving listeners an idea of your background and how DecisionVault came to be.

Wouter: Sure, so the two-line headline is, DecisionVault is an intake portal, right? It helps you gather info from your clients. On the back end, we integrate with as many tools as we can, in the legal tech space, to kind of push that information over so you don't have to retype it. So, it helps transfer information.

The way that it came to be, or what initially got me into this, is that my wife is an estate planning attorney. In the beginning of 2020, she had a matter in her practice where a client wants to nominate 37 beneficiaries. Obviously, clients can do that, right. Then we have to draft an estate plan for them.

But the way that my wife was operating her practice at the time made it that it was quite a bit of work to get that all done. Because she was doing a fillable PDF. The client had filled that in, then there came a design meeting where more names came up. Then there came emails back and forth to follow.

So, when it was time to go draft this plan, she had to couple all that together and find it again in her inbox and her notes, type it all into her draft platform to enter all these contacts. Then, she could generate these documents.

That kind of was the instigating incident where she asked, “Hey, is there something that can help here?” I initially went into that looking for, okay, there's lots of these tools out there. Can I find one off the shelf that can just do this? To gather info from a client in a digital format, and then just sync it on.

What I found, was that I couldn't really make it work end-to-end. Yes, every tool has intake forms, and you typically can gather some information that way. Some of the tools integrate with some of the other tools, so you can push some things over. But when you try to do it end-to-end it’s like, I send an intake form, I get the stuff in, I push it over to my different tools, and you find out there's lots of gaps and it doesn't really work.

So, that kind of prompted me to start looking into this and see, hey, what can be done? Or how should we do it differently to make it work, and to get the data into these different tools at the touch of a button?

Melissa: Okay. What's your background that made you qualified even understand what you're looking at?

Wouter: I would call myself a Product Manager. But I also could develop enough to be dangerous. So, that kind of combined background, including then having an Estate Planning Attorney for a wife, gave me all the ingredients.

Melissa: Yeah, absolutely. When did you start DecisionVault?

Wouter: Started writing code in the middle of COVID. It was a nice COVID project. So, July 2020, kind of went live with it. With the first couple of users in January of 2021.

Melissa: Okay, okay. You've grown quite a bit since then, I know.

Wouter: Yes.

Melissa: I saw, when I was looking up your site, that you mentioned specifically Estate Planning Attorneys. But say more about who likely would be a great fit for DecisionVault?

Wouter: Yeah, so Estate Planning Attorneys. We're slowly getting into some other areas, right? So, maybe an estate planner is pairing up with a business attorney, or doing some real estate, or maybe a little bit into family law. So, I think there are other areas that this potentially can help with.

The tool is really good at gathering all the contacts, all the financials, and asking other questions on top, if you need to. But you could look at that and say, “Hey, but why do I need DecisionVault? Because my CRM (Customer relationship management) does this right? Clio has an intake form.”

Sure, but there's a couple different things. When you try to automate your intake more, there's a couple of things you're going to run into. So, the first is, with these other intake tools, typically, it really is a form. You send the link, the client can fill it in, they submitted to you, then that's it. There's never any, oh, and now we reopen it, or now we add more info.

Just like that example of the matter that my wife did, you don't get all this stuff up front. With some of it, you'll sit down with the client for a design meeting and four other names come up. How are you going to capture information on those four names? There's no good way to gather that.

That means that it kind of falls in an email, and then you'll have to dig that out of the email again when it's time to do drafting, right? So, that's why DecisionVault works like a portal, where the client has an account, they can log back in over time. Until, of course, you want to lock them out. Because we don't want to have them make changes the morning of the signing.

That's the first thing, the over time component is what will be a problem if you're trying to do this with intake forms.

Another thing is the financials, right? So, how do you do financial intake? Well, if you try that in other form tools, you're going to ask the client to type in the following text box all your different bank account details, and then there is no way to kind of, at a glance, see whether this person has a taxable estate or how much they own in these categories.

Also, if you wanted to use the info, you want to build funding instructions or an overview of their assets, it's going to take your staff a ton of time to copy-paste it all together. Well, we've solved that. You push a button and get a nice-looking Excel sheet. There are some specific things that we've solved.

If you are just trying to get a lead captured from your website, with the name, email and phone number, great, use a simple form, that's fine. If you are trying to do things with lots of conditional logic, like the whole logic tree of employment law, that's not the best with DecisionVault.

But if we're trying to get a sense of, John and Mary Smith, their whole family, their friends, their relatives, their assets, their income, other questions, and some indication of who might be… We have these questions, on the stock DecisionVault Estate Planning Questionnaire, that say things like, “If you were to become incapacitated, who would help you with medical decisions?”

We're asking for a Medical Power of Attorney, but the client probably doesn't know what those were words mean. So, we're just asking you in a client friendly way, and they can select people from the drop down. It's very geared today, to gathering all the contacts, gathering all the assets, and financial info. So, estate planning works very well.

Melissa: Yeah, it's great. I think it depends on what tool someone is currently using but I'm wondering, how much time do you think, over the course of the matter, it could save an attorney or a firm?

Wouter: Probably at least an hour to two hours. If you have 15 contacts that you want to enter into your draft platform, you have to create each contact, you have to add all the data, and then you have to go through them again to make sure you did it correctly. Right?

Some folks tell me that creating a nice-looking assets sheet takes them two hours, as well. Yeah, that doesn't take two hours anymore. So, it definitely is at least an hour, probably two. And, if you do the creation of these other documents, like asset reviews, then it saves even more time.

That's why we we've kind of been pushing to make, and to connect with as many tools as we can. So, on the drafting side we integrate directly into InterActive Legal. We’re an official WealthCounsel Integration partner, so we sync the information to WealthCounsel, contacts, that is. On the CRM side we support all the usual suspects; Clio, Lawcus, Lawmatics, Actionstep, in my case.

At the end of last year we added another category of integrations with several document automation tools. So, Gavel, Woodpecker, Formstack. That would be for some folks that have their own version of ancillary documents. Like, “I like my own Power of Attorney form, and not the one that comes out of InterActive Legal.”

Or they have documents like instructions for care givers, right? So, a list of the short-term guardians. You could assign roles in DecisionVault, then have it pushed over into your document automation tool where it fills in a template. Then, you can print that, it can become part of the client's plan, and they can hand it to the kids’ school, right? “If something happens, call these people, in this order.”

We have all the data. So, now it's about getting it into other systems in the right way so you can use it for more than one purpose, right?

Melissa: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I was just doing the math. If you said one to two hours per matter. So, let's just say, one and a half. Then, if you're a smaller firm who's doing 10 new matters per month, that's 15 hours of work per month that it would save your firm. So, maybe some of it is attorney time, maybe some of it is support time, but it doesn't matter. It's 15 hours that doesn't need to be spent anymore.

That's for 10 new matters per month, so if you had 20 new matters per month, that's 30 hours; that's almost a full work week of work. I mean, I guess it's 75% of a work week. But it adds up. It's crazy, how efficiency… how much it matters when you start to really dig in and look at it.

I am curious, you were mentioning, there are so many other software that you integrate with. You just listed a bunch of them, and they're all on your site, I saw them on your site.

Let's say there is an estate planning attorney and they are interested in using DecisionVault, is there a set of tools that they could be using that kind of makes DecisionVault not worth it? Or is that not the case, that DecisionVault can still be useful even if they're not using some of the usual suspects?

Wouter: I don’t know. Some are bigger and more known, right? So, others that make it less useful. I think, in the estate planning space there aren't really any that you would just plug-and-play in place, right? I've seen this a little bit when I did research into the bankruptcy space, or into immigration.

I think there, what you'll see, is that there are tools that kind of all go together. So, they have a questionnaire which then feeds the calculations, or whatever needs to happen with the data, and they spit out the court forms for immigration. So, if you have that I don't think that it makes much sense to then try to squeeze DecisionVault into there.

I think there's something similar in the bankruptcy space. Maybe there's some family law tools that do similar things. I’m not so sure. So, for Family Law, we're slowly getting into and getting some feedback on. In the estate planning space, it really is a little bit different.

Because people kind of pick the CRM they like, and then they pick the draft platform they like. Part is usually due to, “I like how it works.” But when it comes to the documents, people have opinions. “Oh, WealthCounsel’s documents are too long. ILS is better. WealthCounsel is better.”

So, differences also on content versus just the technology, right? If you're looking for document automation, maybe you’d prefer Gavel over Woodpecker, just in the functionality space. But when it's about these draft platforms, people have a preference on what the documents look like, that come out.

Yeah, in the estate planning space, there isn't really one where you can just do it. Clio comes the closest, in that, yes, if you have contacts sitting in your Clio account, you could sync those over to ILS and to WealthCounsel. However, declare intake forms are suffering from some of the problems I just highlighted on, like doing financial intake, doing it over time, and also, just in general, capturing lots of contacts, right?

With Clio, specifically, when you're building a questionnaire, which is, by the way, one long running thing. Which is terrible for estate planning, because people will get overwhelmed. I joke that you have to pick how many children your client has, right? Because when you put five questions, they can add five children, but that's it; no six children. That's on the children's side.

But it’s same thing for other relationships, right? While we can keep adding them, and keep track of, “This is Bob, the uncle of John. Then Sally is the niece of John,” so we have these relationships, as well. That makes it that you can capture more and more contacts.

That's what I was talking about earlier. When you try to kind of do it end-to-end in a client friendly way, it starts to break down, when you try to do it with these forms.

Melissa: Yeah. This is so, so cool. I bet there are a lot of people that are really glad you decided to start this company. I do have a couple questions. A lot of the stuff that we focus on in Velocity Work is definitely nuts and bolts, data driven, and all of that.

But if you are willing to entertain it, I do have some questions just about how you've thought about, as an owner, you’re an owner of a company, how you have thought about your own growth and your own stuff? So, as you lifted this company off the ground, I'm thinking of all the listeners out there that are also lifting their firm off the ground.

Maybe they don't quite have a viable business, but they're working on it and they're going to have one really soon. What were some of the things that helped you the most to dial in, sort of prove out that, “Okay, this is going to work. Now I have revenue coming in.”

Wouter: Like I mentioned, my background is as a product manager. The 10 years before this, was of building and improving digital products mostly, like software. But the techniques are not that different from what you would do to prove out a law firm.

So, the things that helped? People talk about, “Is it the team? Is it the product? Or is it the market?” When you look at the VC space of software startups, there's always this discussion, “Who has the best product? Do they enter a good market? Or is it the team doing it?”

Between those, I think that, yeah, the team, sure that’s sort of baseline. Products? You don't really know what the product is going… An amazing product that doesn't have a market, doesn't connect so there's nothing there… So, it's really about the market, right?

In this case, I came across this from talking to my wife, from talking to some of her estate planning friends, and sort of starting to get an understanding of, “If we're trying to solve this thing, what is hard? What can be done? What if they tried before?” Then I could start to not go, “Okay, I'll go away for six months and try to build some things.” No, I'll mock up something and then try to put it in front of them.

Obviously, with a law firm this a little bit different. Because you do need the technical chops to know what you're talking about. So, dare I think, when it's about starting a law firm, it's a little bit more about finding those clients, or finding those initial set of clients.

I think that's the part that's comfortable is. The initial set of clients, from doing it once or twice, you'll learn so much more than from trying to plan how the first 100 are going to work. Right? With DecisionVault, with software, I'm always really hesitant of… Well, now I know it a lot better what to build, how to build, and because I'm bolting stuff on to this existing thing.

But in the beginning, in the greenfield, it's really hard to build something greenfield. The engineering guys like it because they’re like, “I don't have to deal with legacy stuff.” But for the product managers, it’s really hard because it's really easy to build the wrong thing.

Melissa: What you're getting into, I had a hunch this was going to be along the lines of how you answered. I feel like it's really important for people to think about. You've done it with this company. So, yeah, please keep going. How did you figure out, as a product manager, what to have them build?

Wouter: Well, the one advantage is that I built the whole thing. So, that made it a lot easier because I didn't have to go have a meeting with anyone. I did a lot of whiteboard stuff. But, it's up in here. The thing that that is underrated, or easy to glance over, is ‘go do it once,’ and then go do it again. By the third time, you'll start to see some patterns. “Hey, what I quoted this client…” and I tried to do smaller things, right?

So, if you're a law firm owner, and what I thought how complex it was, or how long it would take, you're probably always off, right? But if you've done a couple, then you can start to see a pattern. Now you can start to plan against that, and say, “Hey, these kinds of cases we should filter out and not take any more. We want more of those kinds of cases.”

In DecisionVault, I prototyped out the sync into WealthCounsel. I prototyped out, what would this look for clients? That's always a question people show up with, right? Will my client fill it in? Then, the thing that usually we hear from folks when they've been using it for a while is, my clients complimented me on my intake. It's kind of the opposite way, right?

It's, instead of clients saying, “I don’t want to fill this in,” they tell you that they're happy that they filled this thing in because it was nice and easy to use, et cetera. So, that comes from experimentation, trying things out, and not being sort of too wedded to I have to write this giant plan.

Well, guess what? The moment that the ink is dry on the plan, it’s not going to work like that. Because reality doesn't really function like that. So, it's more important to kind of have the handful of things that you're focused on and try to get a couple of traction points, focusing on getting those first three clients, even if they were the wrong cases. It’s more important than trying to plan for the imaginary next 10 clients.

Melissa: Yeah. What's funny is, if I have a consult call and they're just starting their firm, or they're getting ready to, I’m like, “Come back later. Get your business off the ground.” Because people like the idea of planning. There’s something that feels really solid and responsible about planning.

Well, when you're trying to lift something off the ground, you have to get in there; roll your sleeves up, get in there, try it out. I'm using much more casual language than what you were doing. But it feels gritty to mine the information that you need to mine, in order to make the thing that your customer actually wants.

I think it's easy for law firm owners to think, “Well, that doesn't really apply to me because it's not ‘a product.’ This is just a legal service.” But the ways in which you go about doing things, the workflows, and the processes and the systems, I think, people are quick to plan a bunch of that stuff out, before they really have done a few, or more than a few, and find what does their flow need to be? What does their process need to be? And with intake, in particular.

I imagine that for the first few it's not as clean, when you're lifting something off the ground or you're beginning an arm of your practice that does estate planning, for example. It's not as clean.

So, I think one of the reasons I was excited to talk to you is because I think that there are listeners that are not there yet, where they've lifted their firm off the ground, where it would make sense for us to work together. You just really talked through why that is. That once you have something really underneath you, then you can make solid plans and bolt things on, as you were mentioning.

Wouter: But even now, I have worked with some prior firms. I did some consulting over the years, etc. I've seen some of the… especially in the corporates, they're really good at this. “We’ll just plan out these amazing PowerPoints,” and that's about the extent of it, right? Some plans, some PowerPoints.

It is planning for this venture as if it already has 20 new cases each month, right? When you're not there yet, it feels great to have these plans. But then, similar to the beginning days of DecisionVault, I'm building this thing; my first paying subscriber was my wife.

Then, the second one signs up. So, I was excited. I was telling one of my neighbors about my two paying clients. He looked at me like, “What?” But yeah, that's how it starts 1, 2, 3, 5 clients. At some point, you're at much bigger numbers, like we're at now. But it was really small at some point.

But that's hard, right? Because I was working probably as hard back then as I am now. But when you're looking at it every day, it's very different feeling.

Melissa: Yeah, I agree with everything you're saying. We were talking about someone lifting it off the ground, but then also, we have people that part of their strategic plan they'll make is to develop an arm or a practice area that they don't yet have developed.

Estate Planning is probably the number one thing that people do second, if they aren't already doing it first. You make all these grand plans for something you don't have a lot of experience really working in, and it's important to pay attention to the things that you think you'll need.

So, all of this is to sort of circle back and say, most of the people that I had the privilege of working with, they are in spots where they're really optimizing things and getting organized because they have this underneath. They have some experience. They know what their barriers are.

Without fail, at least every single quarter, there's someone, or many, that decide to make a quarterly priority, which we call Rocks inside of our organization, and others do as well, to revamp intake. However they describe it, it's the intake that needs focus. It needs attention, because it's one of the reasons that will hold them back from the growth that they want to see, if they don't get this streamlined.

So, I want people to understand and know about your tool because it's a solution that they could use, and spend a quarter digging in, getting it integrated… I don't know how long it takes. That's my next question coming at you… Digging in and implementing this so that they can start to feel some ease, from intake, forward.

Wouter: I’ve talked about it. It works out of the box, right? When you register for a free trial, we have a 14-day free trial, it automatically generates sort of a standard, outlined, estate planning questionnaire. In there, it has all the people questions.

It has all the fully filled-in asset intake. It has a couple of boilerplates. “Oh, welcome,” and those kinds of messages, and other common questions that we see. It's probably a little shorter than what you really would want to do. But you could register for a trial, take the link and send it to a client, and you wouldn't look bad. It works out the box.

That would help start to speed up the intake of contacts, the intake of assets, and then it depends a little bit on what other tools you already are using or are trying out. Then you can push a button and the contacts show up in InterActive Legal or WealthCounsel. It's a trial run on the Clio side or on Lawmatics.

So, if you're plugging this in, it'll immediately start saving time on transferring those data points over into your draft platform. The sync to the CRMs can be used in a bunch of different ways. That’s usually less critical for like, “I'm saving so much time,” because sometimes people just want to sync the two clients, right? They don't want all the contacts in their CRM, they just want the one or two clients.

But because it syncs into the CRM, it's a little bit of an enablement technology, right? So, when people talk about, “I want to streamline my intake,” really, what they're saying is, “I want to get a better handle on the data that flows through my practice.” Because some of it's written down, some of it’s in an email, some of it’s here and there.

Now, we have this tool that it goes into, and comes out of, my other pieces of technology. Clients will do what clients will do, right? The client will still email you the address of some contact, but now you can open DecisionVault and take that address and put it in there and then archive the email. Then, when it gets synced over, it's there and it'll work. You don't have to go find that email again.

So, that's where getting started is pretty easy in that sense, that we have something that works out of the box. We don't yet have a stock probate questionnaire; we're working on it. But also, if people want to try this out, if they have a current one, they can email that over to our support and we can help you set that up.

But there definitely is a little bit of, somewhat of, a learning curve in terms of… The tool’s pretty intuitive and quick, but then some of the things work a little bit differently, right. For instance, people, when they're using fillable PDFs, oftentimes asked on the PDF already, “Hey, who do you want the trustee to be,” or the successor trustee or the power of attorney for the husband, for the wife, position 1-2-3.

We do that in a slightly different way. So, that sometimes takes a little bit for folks to kind of wrap their head around why we do that. But other than that, it's pretty intuitive. It does a whole bunch of complex things.

The hardest part about DecisionVault is for us to keep adding capability into the tool, but make it so that it doesn't feel overwhelming. A lot of the complexity is just hidden. There's stuff you can configure, but it's not too overwhelming to get started with.

Melissa: Yeah, it doesn't feel clunky, even though there's a lot of capability.

Wouter: There's so much. yes.

Melissa: Yeah, that's hard to do. That's really hard, to make a simple, beautiful product when there really is a lot of complexity behind it.

Wouter: Oh, yeah, yeah. We just now, over the weekend, we've greatly improved the integration with four of our CRM partners. So, Clio, Practice Panther, Lawcus, and Lawmatics Maddix. MyCase will be next. But we’ve had some delays there.

So, what now? It used to be that you could only sync contacts over into the CRMs, and that's it. But we've made it possible to basically map any of the data points from the questionnaire over into those tools, in terms of text, a number, dates, yes/no value, or a person.

In DecisionVault, we can capture people into roles. Like, the attorney on the firm’s staff side, you can say, “This is the list for the folks who are going to be the trustee or successor trustee.” Then those roles can get linked over into these custom fields in your other tools. That is getting a lot more complex. Definitely not needed from the start.

But with that it enables lots of interesting workflows, in terms of some people have built out their fee agreements in their legal CRM. If DecisionVault can transfer whether or not there's one client, two clients, some of the size of these people’s estates, approximately. You have some of those data points. Then those fee agreements can get fully automated.

These kinds of transfer and linking of information will enable… It's very fresh. So, now I need to go and record some new videos to show people how it works. Then we'll see what folks built with it.

But yeah, that's the kind of stuff that we like to do; gather it from the client in a nice and friendly way, then use it anywhere.

Melissa: This is so, so neat. I did notice on your site that you have demos. Videos that kind of show certain elements and what it looks like. I think your site does a really good job of explaining the value of the product. Showing, that's probably a better way to say it. Not just explaining it, but showing the value of the product. So, kudos to you.

I'm pumped for you, that this is becoming what it's becoming. And, it's just the beginning in so many ways for you, I think. Do you agree?

Wouter: Oh, yeah, yeah, it just grows in capability. We add more data gathering steps. Now, we've just added more, where the data can go somewhere else. So, that just keeps on raising, raising, raising what it can do.

Melissa: Yeah, yep. I hope that everyone listening really understood. I don't have that many people on, to talk about a product; very, very, very rarely. But I'm telling you, when I met you, I knew that it was like, why don't people know about this? People should know about this. They should understand that this is an option, and they should look into it. It should be considered.

Wouter: Yeah, well, if you have a more mature practice, and you have two or three attorneys, and then there's, I don't know, a total staff of 10 or something, then people don't really know what the possibilities might be for plugging in a tool like this. Also, they might not be too aware, “Intake? That's not really a problem. One of the paralegals handle that. They call people, they send out the thing, they get it back, they enter it here, they enter there.”

The attorney, in that sense, wouldn't really see it, right? So, it's a little bit of a niche problem to solve. But then, once some people see it, they're like, “Oh, now that this becomes possible, what else is possible?” It enables, a lot more, adding automation to your practice.

We're not automating the practice, it's not Legal Zoom. Where the client fills it in, you push a button, and you get estate planning documents. That doesn't exist. But it's adding the automation, adding some of the enablement that then lets you save hours on copy-pasting stuff into Excel, and having a nice-looking sheet.

They didn't really see it as a problem, “My intake’s not a problem. It takes some time. It always takes some time.” Yeah, but it could better. Also, the experience for our clients can be better.

Melissa: Yeah, yeah. I will say, I do think I'm lucky in that most of the people I get to work with, just by nature of their size and the fact that they're engaging in the type of work that we do, they are forced to really evaluate what is in the way of them growing, and intake is a thing. So, I'm really glad that you are willing to come on and share.

For those of you listening who are like, “Well, I'm not an estate planner,” okay, but you should still know what this is. You don't know with this will develop into.

Wouter: Yeah, yeah, “Due to capacity, we're not too focused right now on the other areas.” But I was emailing this morning with someone on feedback, on applying it to the law firm where they have some estate planning partners, and there's also somebody doing Family Law. So, they're just looking to add Family Law in.

Because if a client already has an account, they can take one questionnaire, and another questionnaire… so, having it all in one environment is nice. That's why people add the different questionnaires.

Melissa: But I do know that we have a lot of estate planning attorneys in our community, and in listenership. So, hopefully, this is helpful to each and every one of you. My whole shtick is planning, every quarter. Because the listeners are not brand new with their firms. This should be considered. What is intake looking like in your firm?

Even if you don't realize there's issues with it. If somebody was going to come in and take a look at all your systems, would intake be one that they would point to and say, “You could do some things here to create some efficiencies and ease for clients, ease internally for the firm?” Couple of minutes here and there; it's like paper cuts on your time and efficiency.

So, I'm super interested in what you said. I mean, we were talking about earlier, if there's 10 new matters per month, and that's what the firm does, then it would save about, on average, 15 hours per month, based on what you and I talked about. You start to put money to that.

Even if, let's just say, you don't want to attribute any of the attorney time as that’s what saved. Although, I'm sure the attorney time is saved with that. It's just support staff. I mean, depending on where you are and all that, let's just say 20 bucks an hour to round it out. That's a lot of money that the firm saves over time, and a lot more ease that everyone feels inside.

Wouter: There's one thing, saving money, but also you can put those hours towards talking to clients or doing some more client acquisition work so you get more clients in. It just makes, also, the job of some of the firm's staff more enjoyable instead of having to back stuff over.

Melissa: Absolutely. Definitely. Listeners, if you get whiplash, I'm really sorry. I started to talk to him about this, and then we dug in a little more, which I'm super glad we did. But I'm curious about you as an owner, do you have any habits that help you as an owner? Stay the course? Do your thing? do you wake up early, for example?

Wouter: I do, but that's just my circadian rhythm, I guess. I'm usually up at 5am, and then I can get something done for an hour before kids start moving around. So, yeah, I wake up without an alarm clock, usually. That just happens, so I'm fortunate that way, I guess.

Melissa: Yeah, no. That’s fantastic. I mean, it does help getting a head start on things. Then you have an EA, I know.

Wouter: I do.

Melissa: Executive Assistant. How long have you had your executive assistant?

Wouter: A couple months now. Slowly started before the summer, so about five months or something ago.

Melissa: Have you noticed a shift, yet? I would imagine you have. A shift in the time you're getting back?

Wouter: I would say that I'm very self-reliant. I built a software company. Around DecisionVault, most of anything that's repetitive is already automated, right? So, nobody's sending invoices. All that's just taken care of; sales tax, and all these things.

Bringing on an executive assistant, who then we're working towards, we're getting close to now, she owns my calendar, and she owns my inbox. She does the first line of defense there. We do have DecisionVault support, right? So, she doesn't get into support. We have a full-time support rep who can answer support questions, and they get on with onboarding calls with folks. That’s his role. So, there's a dividing line there.

But other than that, my EA works on the inbox. It took a little bit because we have little of these repetitive things that happen every day, every week, it's mostly like things just come up: What do we do with this email? What do I do with this request? So, it's been taking some time.

But lately, I’ve noticed, I would describe it as you don't really know what it’s to work with an EA before you work with an EA, right? So, just commit and then do it for a while. Because now that I'm working with her, I have more of these things throughout the day of, I could hand off this, or can I hand off that.

Then you'll start to notice things and see these patterns. Before that, when I was thinking and looking into this, in March, April, six months ago, I was trying to write down: What do I go have her do, or him? I was like, I don't know. I don't really see it. But I'm part of a community of B2B SaaS founder. They hammer on this…

Melissa: Is this Dan Martell?

Wouter: Yeah, Dan Martell.

Melissa: Okay, that's actually what pushed me to get our EA, because of his book. His book is so impactful. I know there's a lot of law firm owners that have read it. So, you're in his coaching community for SaaS, sounds like, which is awesome. It's probably really good.

Because it is tough to see up front what exactly are they going to be doing. But when you have someone that's pushing you, saying, “Listen, there's definitely stuff that you're doing that you don't have to do, get somebody in.”

Wouter: It’ll just take a little bit of time. I think the advice there is to start part time. So, that's what I did. Then we started to notice part time doesn't cover the whole day, right? So, I'm still back in my inbox in the second half of the day. So, the idea was to grow towards full time, right about by September; that's now. But there's plenty of stuff that is just hidden until you start to get attuned to it and come pick it up.

Melissa: Exactly. I’m really glad you said that. I had someone once tell me, who has a lot of experience with an EA… Actually, a few at this point. That's the level that she's at. She said, “You need to give it a year.” As long as it feels like the right fit with the person that's there in the role. It takes time for it to be how you think it should just be humming. It really does take that time.

I've thought about that a lot. It doesn't happen as fast as what I think everybody wants it to. But so it's nice to hear your experience. I mean, you've done it. It is slow, but it is building and that all feels like…

Wouter: It’s definitely is saving time now. I get emails come in to reschedule things. Those things just get handled beautifully. We've cleaned up so much of all the incoming mail, unsubscribed a bunch of things; automatic filters into the ones that we do. Maybe also for you.

I've tried a couple different ways to share email, and the tool that we landed on… Because most of those, I don't really want to have her log into my actual Google account, and then be in four Google accounts; it’s a little tricky. It's better to kind of have that barrier there.

There are these tools that let you share email, but most of those are focused at doing customer support, sharing support@DecisionVault.com, then have people reply. To make that easy for support, date and tag that conversation to the person replying, which means that if I ever reply to an email, the reply from the other person comes back to me again. So, that's annoying, because you don't want that with an EA.

So, I found a tool called Missive. That one has some settings around this, where you can say, somebody emails me, my EA assigns it to me because I should reply, I reply. Now, when the other party does the next reply, it lands back into the email delegation inbox. They have some support articles that show there's different flavors of how you can set up that tool.

That one, so far, we’ve found to work really well. She has one login to that tool, and then in the tool my different email accounts are there, so that she can help with all of them.

Melissa: Very cool. Very cool.

Wouter: Since we're on this topic, I thought I'll throw that tip in.

Melissa: Yeah, I'm glad you did.

Wouter: I've cycled through several other tools that work great if you do support email. But if it’s not support email, most of the things should keep landing in a shared inbox where then…

Melissa: That's really cool. Yeah, I'm glad you shared that. I'm going to look into that. I'm sure other people will find that useful, too. Man, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, and sort of indulging. I didn't give you a heads up that I was going to ask you about your personal routines and how you think about things. But I'm glad that people got to hear about DecisionVault.

I think it's always cool to kind of get some insight of the brain behind it; how they think, how they operate. So, I really appreciate your time.

Wouter: Thanks for having me.

Melissa: Everyone, check out DecisionVault.com. We'll link up everything in the show notes. Anything else that you want to say or share before we wrap up?

Wouter: No, I would say, at DecisionVault.com you could start a free trial from there. There's a product tour page, where we have a couple of short clips to kind of show the client experience, the sync. We didn't talk about the design sheet at all, which I'll say something in a moment. We’ll add that in.

So, in the product tour you can kind of see those different parts. We have an integrations page that lists all our integration. When you click on each of them, you can see a three-minute video of how that works. Then there's a more in-depth recorded demo, about half an hour, you can register for and watch on demand. I kind of go over some of the backstory, but also why it's built and functions like it does. Then there's a quick product demo.

Melissa: I mean, What’s the design sheet? I know I was about to say goodbye, but what is this?

Wouter: Yeah, I just thought about it. Oh, the other thing. Yeah. Intake, like I talked about, it sort of has a few plugins involved, it enables other things. So, the client fills in a questionnaire but then, at some point, the attorney will have to sit down with the client to go through how are we going to design this plan. There are a couple different ways.

Some attorneys just do it from memory, and sit there and write their notes in the meeting. Some sort of checklist that they fill in. But it's typically too hard to really make some kind of combination of what the client filled in and the list of questions you want to ask them. To make sure that you covered all the angles, in determining what the design of the plan is going to be.

So, in the beginning of DecisionVault, I built out the questionnaire part and the syncing part, and then for a year and a half, my wife kept bothering me. Saying, “Well, what about my meetings? I want my design sheet automated.” Okay, yes, I see the value of that. So, now we did that at the end of last year.

Don't start with this. Start with the questionnaire, with syncing the information, and getting familiar with the tool. But this is what you can then do to build on the information, right? So, it functions like a separate section to the questionnaire that is only for firm staff. You can list out your different questions, your meeting template.

How are you going to have the meeting with the client? Then you can plug in the actual data, and things that the client has already answered on the questionnaire, in the order of where you need it. I have the clients’ names first, and maybe a list of their children if they have filled any, a summary of their assets. Start to have these sections where you can start to document the design choices.

Are we going to do a single trust? Separate trusts? What's the name? What's the signing date? All these things you don't want to bother the client with in the actual questionnaire, you can capture here. Who are going to be in which exact roles? What are we going to do about funding? Are there some other special things you need to plug in? Yes or no? Choices on clauses to include.

The idea is to take a little bit the approach of the dentist office, right? Where you sit in a chair, you get prepped, cleaned, etc. Then, at some point, the dentist will come in and run through everything for five, six minutes. Then we're done.

Now, obviously, the design meeting is two hours, but it's a similar thing. When you walk out of a design meeting you fill in the design sheet. Whether it's on paper, because you exported and printed it, or you did a virtual call and it's used on the screen, that should be filled in.

You won't get there in the beginning where you can then just walk out, right? As you notice, how do we typically run these meetings? What are the questions we always ask? What are some of these questions we typically go back to the client for, after the design meeting? Because we forgot. All those things should get plugged in over time into this design sheet.

So that it is a sort of process driven approach where maybe you have to sit there at the end for 10, 15 minutes to kind of run through it, top to bottom again, and fill in the missing gaps that you may have missed. But that's it, then it should go.

Probably, your audience will have some staff doing the drafting. But even if they do the drafting themselves, they have the exact inputs that they need. Or if you use Back Office Drafting, or something, to do [crosstalk] drafting. That's the design sheet. That's the next level that gets enabled by doing intakes in DecisionVault, in the first place.

Melissa: Is that what you meant earlier, when you said one to two hours per matter you would save, but more if you use the tool more deeply? Is this what you're referring to?

Wouter: Yeah, that's one of the things that will start to add up. Because that’s a little bit of hidden time, right? I add that two hours with the clients, but now I'm sitting here for another hour or two, kind of building their plan or designing it. Between the contact sync, and you can apply a scenario in your drafting tool, then you have these other choices that are captured. So, all those things together will really streamline your whole drafting process.

Melissa: Yeah, that's so cool. Okay. I'm glad you thought to say that. It's very cool. Man, well, this is probably a perfect place to round out. But I totally appreciate you coming on here. Anytime you feel like there's the next wave or features, or something you're really excited about, don't hesitate to reach back out so we can chat again. I would love to stay up to speed.

Wouter: Sounds good.

Melissa: All right. Thank you, Wouter.

Wouter: Thank you, Melissa. Have a good rest of your day.

Melissa: You too.

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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