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Melissa Shanahan

#152: Finding Ease in Your Leadership Journey with Giselle Urbina

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What are the goals you’re working towards in your firm? Do you know how to put systems and metrics in place to meet them? Are you in the midst of a transition in roles, or wondering how to implement a leadership team in your firm so you can finally feel a sense of ease and balance?

These are just some of the things behind the curtain that every business owner has to make decisions on, and you’re not alone if you feel blind and alone as you forge the right path for you and your business. So this week, you’re hearing from Melissa’s client, Giselle Urbina of Urbina Law Firm, and she’s here to give you insight into her own experience of growth and learning throughout their work together over the last 18 months.

If you too are in the thick of making difficult changes in your business, trying to figure out the hiring and firing process, or wanting to empower yourself and your team into higher titles within your company, listen in. Giselle is generously sharing the challenges she’s had to overcome, what helped her own her role as COO, and how having a leadership team has allowed her to do more in life and business.

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

What Giselle’s role in the operations seat at her firm looks like.

The difficult decisions Giselle has made to get to a place of flow and ease now.

How she came up with concrete systems to make sure she’s got the right people in her business.

What she’s learned from the hiring and firing process.

Giselle’s thoughts on the value of having an accountability chart in her firm.

The difference between internal operations and company-level operations.

Why Giselle struggled to claim and own the COO hat, and what tipped the scale into empowerment.

What having a leadership team has allowed Giselle to do in life and business.

Featured on the Show:

Create space, mindset, and concrete plans for growth. Start here: Velocity Work Monday Map.

Giselle Urbina: Email

Urbina Law Firm

Ep #57: Accountability Charts

Ep #137: Tesla Efficiency Mindset with Micheal Urbina

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I'm Melissa Shanahan, and this is the Velocity Work podcast, Episode # 150. This podcast is for attorneys who are running their own firms. We explore tactics, tools, and stories related to pushing tasks and simply lawyering well and into building a successful firm. Working in your firm and working on your business are two very different things. This podcast focuses on the latter.

Hey everyone! Welcome to this week's episode. I have a special guest for you today, Giselle Urbina of Urbina Law Firm, they're an immigration firm outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I've worked with them for over a year and a half now as a private client, and what a journey they've been on. I'm talking to Giselle today about her role in the operations seat, she's COO in the firm, and what that is like for her, what the transition into that has been like.

Really just hearing her experience and sharing with you some of what she's learned and how she views things, and imparting lessons along the way for you to be able to digest and run with. I think hearing other people's stories is really powerful, and I have a hunch you will definitely agree after listening today to this interview.

I did an interview with Michael Urbina, the founder of Urbina Law Firm, earlier this year, the beginning of 2022. So we'll put that in the show notes so you have easy access to that. I also reference accountability charts pretty heavily in this episode, so we will be sure to link to an episode I've recorded in the past that covers accountability charts, at least just the basics.

And lastly, there are a couple points, more towards the beginning of this episode, where just for a quick blip, the audio skipped out. So you may hear a little bit of technical difficulties, but we got back on track really quickly, and you can still catch the points that Giselle was making. But wanted to acknowledge that up front, sorry about any inconvenience there with the listening.

All right. With that, we're going to get into it. Please enjoy. Welcome to the podcast Giselle Urbina.

Giselle: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Melissa: Absolutely. I'm so glad you're here to talk through your role, and things from your point of view at Urbina Law Firm. You guys have been private clients for a little over a year and a half now, so I've gotten to know you pretty well. It's been an honor to witness just what you guys have been through in your journey. And finally it feels like things are getting easier for you guys; you've been making hard calls, hard changes since I've met you, really, and the fruit of all of that is really starting to pay off, it seems.

Giselle: Yes.

Melissa: I mean, so I guess first I would love for you to just share a little bit about you and your role, you can say a little bit about the firm if you want, and then maybe give an overview of the last year and a half or so. Even if it's a little before you met me, but that's just the timeframe that's in my mind. But I would love to hear you speak to some of the high level, the changes that have happened, and how you see it.

Giselle: Yeah. So definitely a little bit over a year and a half ago, we didn't really have a structure of how to keep track of metrics, or what to focus on. We kind of just went at things with what you feel like going with right now. Like, “Okay, so the problem is marketing, so let's just go ahead and do this,” without really thinking about the problem or thinking about what goals you need to actually put in place in order to find the metrics that you can keep track of in order to meet that goal.

So we would go to issues very randomly, and I think that's where you came in, you helped us have a structure of actually planning, which I think is something that many people overlook, and I think is so important when you are running your own law firm.

Melissa: Yeah, and I guess we should say you guys are an immigration law firm outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Do you want to say a little bit more about you and the role and the dynamic?

Giselle: Yeah. Basically I am the chief operations officer, and I assist my husband, Michael. It's his firm; it was founded almost ten years ago, and it's been an amazing experience, honestly.  It's been rough on some occasions, but it's been a really good experience for me.

I come from a background of something completely different. I'm a chemist. I have a masters in biochemistry, and I used to lead a lab at Coca Cola here in Atlanta. And a lot of the things that I learned here can be transferred, for example, creating procedures, systems, keeping track of metrics, but of course from a different perspective because now you have a business that needs to make revenue, needs to hire people.

Over there it was a little different, it was just managing people that already were there. So that's where my learning experience comes from. And it's been awesome, being able to see how we started and where we are. We currently have about 25 employees that's in between people in person and virtually, and basically Michael started all by himself, and now nine years later, here we are.

Melissa: Okay. One more thing I would love for you to speak to, just to get people up to speed is, maybe talk about some of the really hard changes that you did make, and how it all played out, and that even after making those hard calls, it wasn't easy right away. And, yeah, just what it's been like, because you guys are starting to feel a flow and an ease right now, that it's taken a while to get here. I would love to hear your perspective on that.

Giselle: Yes. So I think one of the most difficult things we've had to do in order to get to this point is to have the right people in the right seat. We would hire someone in the past and just keep them in there, and give them chances after chances at the expense of our own happiness or even at the expense of the client, which is not good, right, like we would always try to make things better with this person or group of people, and it just wasn't working.

So once we understood that the right person needs to be in the right seat, not only for the client but for ourselves as the business owners, we made the difficult decision of letting go of a lot of people. There was a, Michael calls it “the purge,” we've done two or three of those. Because honestly when something is not working, specifically with a person, even if it's one, if you keep that person more than that person needs to be there, it's definitely going to cause issues.

And the longer you wait, obviously the more problems you're going to have. So for us, that has been I think the most difficult thing, but also the most rewarding, making sure that we have the right people in the right place.

And putting systems in place to notice early. For example, recently unfortunately we had to let go of a person after two months with us, and I noticed probably three weeks in, I was like, there's something off. Before, I would have found any excuse to say "Oh, it's just because this person, she's new," or "Maybe with a little bit more training, that's going to fix it."

And the reality is, no, when you sense something, there's something wrong, you got to make sure you pursue it. You write it down and you observe that person closely. And I just started writing down everything I saw, and at the end, I was able to determine, “Hey, this person is not working. You're only 60 days in, but I know it's not going to work, and I'm going to have to let you go and find a replacement.”

That's the best thing I've ever done, being able to determine early on when something is not right, and being able to actually do something about it, rather than wait years. We've had people sometimes after three years being like, “Okay, we've known this for three years, and we haven't done anything about it,” and it's quite late three years later, all the damage that that person could have caused.

So having that said is one of the things that has helped the firm in the growth that we're now seeing, and the ease that you are describing that we started to feel lately.

Melissa: Yeah, that's so great. I'm so proud of you, not in a weird mom way, but proud of you that you're taking the reins. And red flags you take seriously as red flags, and that you're keeping track of them, and it just allows you to make decisions on facts, not feelings, much better with the team, which can keep things rolling in the way that it should.

There's something else around hiring and firing. I did talk about this with Michael when he came on the podcast, but some people may not have listened to that, and I think it's worth saying. You worked really hard, and it was with good purpose, to get the people expenses in the firm closer to 33 percent, or a third of the revenue. And that was good and actually forced some of the calls that hadn't been made for a long time, you finally made them, and you trimmed the fat.

What did you learn, though, I would love for you to share, because although that's a healthy guide of a number, what did you guys learn about that ratio or percentage? There's often advice out there which I don't disagree with, but that you should keep the cost of the team to about a third of the revenue that's coming in. How do you think about that now versus how you thought about it when you first were learning about it?

Giselle: Yeah, so when we first were introduced to this guide for percentages and how we view revenue, where it's spent, honestly for us it was like, "Well, that's the rule, so we have to follow it." So like you said, it helped us get rid of people that we didn't need, and it helped us become a healthier firm in that way.

However, it brought other issues, because at that point we let go of so many people that we didn't hire the right people to replace at least some of that work, that people just started having two, three hats at the same time, and that brought, again, other production or efficiency issues, because people were trying to do work that they were not trained for.

It was just, "Okay, we let this person go so now it's your responsibility and you have to know and learn it fast." So the training procedure for that wasn't really the regular way we do it, it was a little bit faster than usual, in order to keep the firm floating. But it also brought a lot of regular tasks that were delegated to someone else back to Michael and I, which created a big problem because now Michael and I, instead of managing the firm and overlooking, we had to be very hands on in everything in order to fill the gaps of those people that just left.

So I think it's a good guide in general, but I think you also need to be cautious about your firm. Every business is different. Not every law firm, not every practice is the same, and it depends. For example, maybe immigration law, that ratio doesn't work. Maybe it can work for family law, as an example.

But maybe for us, there's other things that are involved in the process where we actually need to invest a little bit more in people. One of the examples I can tell you right now is when we pick up the phone, for example, usually the people we serve, they really need a lot of guidance and teaching because immigration law is very complex.

And these people that we serve, which are amazing clients, they come from countries that they don't only need to learn the law, but they need to learn the culture and the language. So there's a lot of barriers between the client and the actual case in order for us to get that case done.

So of course we're going to spend more time on the phone with them, of course we need to prepare a lot of material to help them understand what the process that we're doing for them is, what it entails, what we need for them. And all that is time consumed by the paralegal, by the attorney, by the people answering the phone.

So I think, for example, in that, of course we're going to need more people to help, because our average call is three and a half minutes, which is a very long time. Usually calls should last, according to the rules, they should last about a minute, because when we were hiring people to help us answer the phone, they were, like, "Oh, we'll charge you by the call, but it usually takes about a minute per call."

I was like, our calls are three and a half minutes, and they have been that way for years. It doesn't matter how efficient we become, how we try to speed the process. Our clients, fortunately or unfortunately, I'm not sure, but they need more time from us. And we, as the law firm owners need to understand that maybe we just need more people on the phones to help our clients through the process a little better. And that's part of customer service as well.

So yeah, thinking about the ratios, it's a good guide, but there's different things that might affect that, and you have to really look close at your firm and understand that sometimes you might have to have your own numbers. Like, use it as a guide, but understand that it might look different.

Melissa: Yeah, absolutely. I think this is a perfect example of just taking, which we've all done, you look at something, you look at a number, and you're, like, “Oh, okay, that's what I should do,” and then you do it. And then you realize, I mean, there's a whole bunch of learning through that that you guys now have under your belt, and that I get to witness that I've learned through your experience, that there really isn't a blueprint.

You have to look at what matters for your firm and start to have confidence about the decisions that you make. Some of them might be mistakes, but you're going to learn from them, but not just taking advice but really looking at things as a whole. Which, this makes it sound like I think you guys were just taking advice, and you weren't being smart. That's not the way I think about it at all. We've all done that with different things.

I think it's a great point to share with everyone that the advice should be, from you it sounds like the advice is, “Sure, look at the guides, and then you make the right decision for your firm based on your knowledge. Don't necessarily just run with it.”

And you guys have learned, I'll say now too, I don't remember exactly what the percentage is, but I think right now the people cost is higher, like maybe 45 percent or something like that, but if you hit your goal this year, which you are on track for, then it will be 33 percent again.

So it's almost like a strategic investment to help give you the space, the capacity that you need in order to grow in the ways that you want to grow, and then it will kind of even itself back out, which is what you guys are planning on.

So great. This is the kind of stuff that I have no idea if this is boring to listeners or not, but I love this stuff. It's fun to geek out on this stuff because these are the little things behind the curtain that every owner has to make decisions on, and every leadership team, if they're big enough to have a leadership team, has to make decisions on, and sometimes you feel blind and you feel alone on trying to make these decisions, so I think it's great that you are willing to talk about what you've learned, at least in that regard.

Giselle: Yeah, I agree with you.

Melissa: Let's talk about your accountability chart for a second.

Giselle: Okay.

Melissa: And the reason I want to talk about this is: One, I think it would be really great for you to share just what you see as the value of having it. For those of you who don't know what an accountability chart is, there was an episode about accountability charts I think from September of 2020, we'll put that in the show notes, but essentially it is different than an org chart because it spells out not just who reports to who, but who is responsible for what, at a pretty great level.

Your accountability chart, just as it should, has morphed over time. I know it started one way; we've tweaked it every quarter.  Usually there's a tweak we make with private clients, some more than others, and yours has really shifted in great ways, and all shifted based on learning. Every time you guys learn and you grow, you have a need that has to be represented on the accountability chart.

So I would love for you to share how you think about your accountability chart, and how it's helpful in running your firm?

Giselle: Yeah, so definitely love it. Love my accountability chart, because I actually use it from day number one with any new employee coming in the firm. And the reason why I do it from day one is so that they see, okay, this is not only you, this is everyone's responsibility, and you can clearly see if you need something from anyone, you know where to go immediately.

So it helps and eases communication, and it helps answer a lot of questions that people coming in your firm might have, but you don't even think about it, that they don't know anything, so you have to literally teach them everything, how everything works in your organization. They might know how to prepare a packet or, you know, that kind of stuff, but not the internal structure.

So from day one, I give them access to it, and I say, “Here it is, this is where you are going to be,” and I go bucket by bucket, explaining to them this is what each person is responsible for, this is who is in charge of that bracket or bucket. And honestly it creates a lot of ease when you're onboarding someone new to the firm. It just basically, like I said, answers a lot of questions that they have.

And they see the firm literally on one piece of paper, which is crazy, because it's a lot of information, but everything is in there, and the precise words that need to be there are in order for them to understand what each person is in charge of doing, including themselves.

Melissa: Yes, absolutely. And when you said it's all on one piece of paper, that is the thing that blows my mind every time. I get goosebumps. Like, the first time we helped you guys map this out, it is a lot of hard work because your firm has always existed in your head, and it makes a lot of sense in your head, but it's never been mapped on paper, so you've never really thought about, in most cases, what departments exist for the firm. Like, if you had to say you had departments, what are those.

So mapping that out pretty high level, and then listing out the responsibilities underneath each bucket, which takes a lot of time. And you guys were an example of what this was like, but when you do that with owners, they get to see on paper what they've built. It's always existed in their mind, and I always get goosebumps when we kind of round it out and it's finishing, because it's like, this exists in the world because of you and your brain. That is it. Someone else's firm looks different.

It's almost like a thumbprint of the business, that's a useful thumbprint because you can see a lot of like what you said, who is responsible for what. And I can't remember if this was your reaction or not, but almost always at the end, there's a big sigh of, "Ah, wow, that's my firm. That is it." And it's just been a mess in my head because all the things have to get done, and even if you have systems and processes, it's not really spelled out in this way.

So your chart, the reason I was bringing this up is because your chart has been super interesting, because for a while, I mean, Michael was always the visionary at the top of the accountability chart, and he has specific responsibilities as the visionary. He was also in other seats at the time, like when you first started, he was in the legal services seat or legal works seat, I think you have a bucket for that.  Marketing seat. I can't remember what else.  

Giselle: Financial seat.

Melissa: Financial seat. And you were also in seats. So we have one box for your firm called internal operations, that was you, running and making sure the internal operations was good. Maybe at the time it was intake. I don't remember. You were in a lot as well.

And since then, not only do you have two team leaders that help with you and Michael, that they have a seat, so that's relieved you to be able to focus more clearly on a specific set of responsibilities within the firm and allows them to do the same, but you also added the COO seat, between the visionary and all the other buckets in the firm, you added the COO seat, and that's you.

So a couple of things I would love for you to share. One is the difference between internal operations, like how you guys think about internal operations, verses operations like COO. Because I just recently had another person that internal operations is what they called a bucket in their firm. What is the difference between internal operations and company level operations?

Giselle: So to me the easiest way to describe it is that internal operations, that team specifically helps everybody else at the firm do their job. For example, their clients, I tell them, your clients are everybody else at the firm. The paralegals, the attorneys, the marketing, anybody else that works at the firm, those are your clients.

So they help with anything from picking up the phones to processing documents to submitting packets, I mean, you name it, any admin work, they are the ones in charge of it. So the clients are taken care of by the paralegals for the most part, so that's how I differentiate between them two so that way they understand.

Now, the operations is basically the whole firm as a whole, like, it includes all the internal operations as well as the operations that the paralegals do with the workload and how that work is brought in the firm and submitted to immigration. It includes making sure that all the marketing and the financial aspects are doing well.

So the operations, it's more of an umbrella of everything, and making sure that the firm as a whole is running smoothly, but internal operations is very specific to making sure the firm has all the admin assistants possible in order for them to focus in their specific areas.

Like I don't want a paralegal sending a letter or picking up the phone, or I don't know, stuff like that, which again, I always tell them, no task is too small, and every single task is super important, but I need to make sure that I put those tasks under the right people, and that it makes sense.

For example, if I have the attorney picking up the phone, I'm paying per call, like, a lot of money, because attorneys get paid more. Same thing with paralegals. So that's why I try to make sure that the internal operations do that job because I don't want other people necessarily investing their time in stuff that is going to actually end up being more costly to the firm in that sense. So that's how I basically differentiate between those two.

Melissa: Yeah. I mean, do you think technically the way that you have this set up, someone else could call that bucket administrative, but for you guys, internal operations is what makes sense to you, and that's what you run with?

Giselle: Correct. And that's why we call it internal, so that way it's stuff that happens inside the office, not necessarily anywhere else, it's just a differentiator for us. But, yeah, I can understand how people would call it the administration and stuff like that.

Melissa: Okay. That makes sense. The other question I have for you about the accountability chart is, you claiming the operations seat was a big deal. I think you referred to yourself as the office manager for a while. Is that right?  

Giselle: Years ago. Not anymore. Yes.

Melissa: But when I first met you, there was a humbleness about you that was, like, well, I don't need that title, I don't need that. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Giselle: Yes.

Melissa: Okay. Will you speak to that a little bit? Because I think that's super common. Like Gretchen with Springs Law kind of had the same thing until she didn't, and she just really stepped into it and owned it. What was that like for you before and finally just saying, "Okay, no, this is the hat I'm wearing, I'm stepping into this, I'm calling myself this, and we're doing it this way." What's it been like since?

Giselle: I think it's funny because in order for me to explain how it feels, I think I have to go a little bit back about how I feel personally about leadership and roles. So for the longest time, at least in our culture, I'm from Puerto Rico, and it doesn't matter who you are, you have to be a professional. You have to go to university, study something and be either a doctor or a lawyer or this or that to be successful.

That's how our culture, at least when I was growing up, viewed successful as, which I don't agree with anymore, I think differently, but growing up that's how I saw it. So that's why I went to college, and I graduated top of my class, and I had a 4-point whatever GPA, like, I was meant to be someone great according to my family.

But then when that didn't work out because I had a baby, and that baby changed my life forever, I went through a really difficult process of, "I really want to be a stay at home mom, but I still want to be a professional, but I don't want to go back to where I was." It wasn't feasible for our family.

So I stayed at home for three years, and finally, when I went back to work with Michael, there was something inside me that made me feel like I was there just because I was his wife, and not because I was worthy of that, because that's not what I went to college for. I had no idea about the law. I only knew how to do experiments and all that stuff back at Coca Cola, and that's where I felt comfortable, that's where I felt I could excel.  

So when I got this opportunity, which basically he calls me one day and says, "Hey, I really need you in the office. I need your help. I need someone who I can trust because I'm in court all day, and I need someone who can handle the office when I'm not there." When he called me that day, I was actually sitting in my car at his mom's house, because I was a stay at home mom and I was visiting the grandma with my daughter, and I was like, "Okay, I'll find a babysitter, and I'll be there."

I just didn't feel worthy of that position until I felt like I studied it, I learned it, I was actually worthy of taking that title, because I didn't want to feel that it was given to me. I wanted to feel that I earned it. And that's how, being raised all my life, like, you have to earn things. You don't just get them just because.

So it took me a while to actually call myself a COO, I think. It took me until probably a couple of months ago to actually feel comfortable with that title. And it's because of that reason, because of how I was brought up, how I felt about myself, and I never want anyone looking at me, saying that you're there because of somebody else. I'm here because of me and because of everything I've learned and all the work I've put into the position to make it what it is today. So I think that's where, I know that's a long story for a short answer, but I think that's where all that comes from.

Melissa: I love that you just shared all that. Two things. One, I think it's common when there's a spouse situation in any business, there can be some of that. It shouldn't be that way, but it can feel that way where there's almost feelings of inadequacy until you prove yourself or, you know, you were handed this because of the other spouse, the other party. I get that people deal with that.

And on the flip side, I think that everyone I have worked with that sits in that seat, doesn't walk in with like, big cajones, you know, I mean, it's really like they have to identify differently in order to do a great job with that role. They have to own that title to do a great job with that role, otherwise, they're weak in the role because they don't see themselves as capable or worthy or, I don't know. Insert word here.

So that's your version of that. That's your story with that, that you've now overcome. It's super clear to me that you've overcome it. And I think no matter what the barrier is for people, there's always this barrier about not-enoughness of some sort, and whatever that stems from. So I think it's really helpful for you to share your story.

And for anyone out there that has someone that is sitting in the seat but really isn't owning it, this could be a good thing to share with them, this episode, or anyone out there who does work at a firm, who is sitting in this seat, and you can hear yourself with what Giselle just shared, let this be a lesson that this is just a mental block, and you absolutely are capable of leaning into an identity that is COO or whatever you call it at your firm. COO or operations lead. Whatever it is.

What do you think, Giselle, helped tip the scale for you to really, now it's not a question, it's who you are, and you embody it in every sense of the way at work?

Giselle: I think time, experience, and the most important one is when Michael, for example, in your case probably the CEO of your firm, or your husband, whoever that person is, gives you the understanding and tells you, "Hey, I trust you and you don't have to make every decision based on what I think, because you're capable of making the right decision on your own."

And to me, he told me that, he has said that a few times, but a few months ago he said it, he said, "Anything admin, just do what do you think is right." I was like, okay, because before, I would ask him everything. Not because I didn't know what to do, but because I didn't feel empowered. Or that my role, I couldn't make decisions on my own.

And when he allowed me, and he made me understand, "Hey, you're the COO for a reason. It's not because you're my wife, it's because I trust you, you know what to do, just do what you're supposed to, just make the decision," that has made me really understand my role, and I feel like that truly on its own helped me understand, okay. I got it. And it's okay. It will be fine, and I'm worthy of this position. I can do it.

Melissa: Okay. That's a really interesting point. It's almost like you were given permission. Empowered, is another way. You used that word as well. So that's also a good thing for listeners to consider. It's like if you're the owner and you have someone in the seat, and you feel like they're just not owning it, maybe you need to have a conversation with them that helps them understand that you trust them.

It does not mean you expect perfection, just that you trust them to make decisions. He's empowering you, giving you permission, like go for it. And if there's something that didn't work out the way you thought, or was a quote unquote "mistake," okay, it's not the end of the world, you guys can chat through it and figure out the next course of action, it's like there's permission for all of it.

It's not permission for you to be perfect, it's permission for you to fully own it, and when things don't go as planned or when maybe he would have made a different decision than you would have made, there's going to be space to talk through that and pivot through that and then move forward again. Maybe that's useful for people to hear.

If you've got someone in that seat, you have to give them the permission to really run with it, or else they'll always be one foot in and one foot out because they're scared.  

Giselle: That's very true, and I think that happens also to your leadership team. Like you mentioned in the beginning, we have two other people sitting in the leadership team, and I myself, I'm guilty of this, of not giving enough permission verbally. Like, I assume they know they have permission, but sometimes you have to remind them and say, "Hey, I trust you, you're here for a reason, just do what's right because, you know, a mistake happens, we'll figure it out."

And Michael and my situation is a little different because of course we're married, so I was always scared to do something that would hinder his office, his dream. Because remember, this was not my dream. My dream was not to run a law firm. That's not what I went to college for. That's not what I had in my mind.

So I was always scared to ruin somebody else's hard work or dream, but he made me part of the dream. And now I feel like it is mine as well. I feel empowered, I feel like I'm allowed to do what I'm supposed to do, because at the end of the day, you can make a mistake, but overall you're going to do more good than bad if the owner selected you to be there. Right? So I think it goes both ways.

I feel like the communication is to be like you were saying, make sure you tell your team that you trust them, that they got this, that you're there for support, but that you trust their judgment, and if you are on the other side like me, like make sure you feel empowered, make sure you understand that you were put in that position for a reason, that you deserve it, and that it's okay to make mistakes. Nobody's perfect. And I always say, if you learn from your mistake, then it was worth it.

Melissa: Yeah. It's almost like saying to your team member, you've got this, and I've got you. Both of those. Like you trust them, you believe in them, and I've got your back. We'll figure this out together. Just the safety in that feels, or it feels safer to make calls, to make decisions in the best way you know how and then you'll evaluate once you get through some of that.  

Since you really owned it and stepped into it, which, by the way, for everybody listening, she's been in this role for a long time and she's done an amazing job with it, it's just been this final little click it seems like, mental click for you. Because I remember March of 2021, at that retreat, I can't remember what you called yourself. I think it was office manager, I think.

Giselle: Yeah, it was.

Melissa: I was like, no, you're not an office manager. And you were humble about it and shy about the COO role. You were still doing it, but it was just that humbleness. So since that last mental click into place, what do you think has shifted and changed for the better for your team and for you now that you've just owned it?

Giselle: So because I feel that I owned that, I've been able to give more opportunity to other people, for example. Before, because I was the office manager, and the COO and the internal operations lead and all this other stuff, I just didn't give that chance to other people to feel empowered and to give them a path for a leadership position in our firm.

Because if we want to grow, it's impossible for Michael and I to be the leads in everything and have our hands in everything. It's just humanly impossible. So since then, I've been able to recognize when someone is ready to make that step. I've been able to do it with two people at the firm, I was able to give Paula, which is one of our newest employees, we made her the office administrator, so she's not the office manager, she's the office administrator.

Melissa: She is the lead of internal operations now?  

Giselle: Correct.

Melissa: For the whole department?

Giselle: Yeah. I said, hey, I actually observed her for two and a half months, I made my conclusions that, you know, she has great potential, she got this, and of course I'm there for her, but I said, "Here, the department of internal operations is all yours. These are the procedures. Train your team, ask me any questions, or have me be there when you need me to, but I trust you." And I delegated that whole team to her.

Has it been perfect? No. But it's been great. Overall it's been amazing. And she's still new, so of course it's a lot of stuff that she still needs to learn, and everyone in the department, but it's been a great relief having someone that I can trust, and I've been able to help her develop those leadership skills, which you actually need, again, in order to grow your firm.

You have to start somewhere, you have to start slow in order to see that growth happening eventually. So that's one of the people I was able to put in a seat where I took my hands off because I need to focus on my COO role. I can't do it all.

And then the other person I recently promoted was in the intake team. So we still have an attorney that's overseeing that whole department, but I made an intake manager, Maria Flores, she is one of our virtual employees, or contractors, and honestly, she has all the skills, everything that that position needs. And I even said it, she does it better than me. She really does. And I told her, too.

And recognizing that in yourself, when somebody else is ready, "Okay, if I step out of the way, this person can actually do a better job and I can focus on mine and do a better job at what I'm doing," that's great. That's where growth starts.

Melissa: Yeah. That's so good. Okay. So Paula is newer to your team, so once she gets through a certain phase, will she be the internal operations manager? It's just right now that's not her title because she's newer, and she's sort of leaning into it, you've given it to her, but there's still a bit of, I think, it sounds like trial period to make sure this is the right call. Is that fair to say?

Giselle: Yeah, so I think that on average, it takes six months to a year to really understand your basics, you know, for immigration and for how we run our business, like all of that together, and she's still so new that I feel like I don't want to put her in a position to fail. I want to make sure that whatever I give her is something she can handle. And as we go through, and time goes on, and training and experience, I think that she's definitely someone that can do a management position at the firm.

Melissa: Yeah. So good. What are you most excited about sitting where you're sitting right now, looking towards your future, what are you most excited about with the firm?

Giselle: Honestly, I am very excited to see how the firm keeps growing. I know that's what everybody is very excited about, or most people, but I never thought that, when we opened the firm back on May 1, 2013, with Michael by himself, I would have never thought honestly that we would be where we are today.

I just thought, I guess that was just good enough, whatever he had going on that day, it was good for our family. But seeing that growth, I just can't wait to see what's coming. I feel that I'm excited to see how the new people that we just hired develop, I love seeing someone starting and I love seeing their path as they grow and where they lean towards. Are they more of a leadership person? Are they more of, I don't know, a paralegal extraordinaire? What is their actual path?

Sometimes people they just want to go the law school. So this is just that one step in the meantime while they get accepted into law school, so I'm excited to see how many people from our employees actually make that jump. So I'm excited not only for the future of the firm, but for the future of our employees.

And I feel like to me that's the most exciting thing ever. Like, seeing someone start from the beginning at the lowest position that we might offer, and seeing them grow. Like we have an employee who started as the receptionist at the firm, and she now sits in the leadership team. And it has changed her life, and she has changed our lives too.

And having that connection with people, even though we only have 25 employees, but seeing them grow and be happy, and evolve, it's just, to me, that's the best thing I could ask for honestly. That's where my true passion is.

Melissa: So good. I was going to round it out, but I do have one more thing I would love for you to speak to if you can. This idea of a leadership team, to many people, feels way far off in the distance. Like, "What is that? I don't even know how to put that together." It just feels not who they are yet, to have a leadership team. And when I met you guys, I think it's safe to say you didn't have one. Is that right? Or how did you think about it before? Go ahead.

Giselle: We didn't have one, but we did have those two individuals identified, and we would share, it wasn't official, but we did share all the ideas with them, we asked them for feedback, and we had them I think one of them was in a leadership role at that time, it was just not part of the leadership team, per se.

Melissa: Okay. So for anyone who feels like that's not their world, they don't necessarily know how to put that together or what that would entail, what would you say to them? Because the reason I'm asking this is, I think people are listening to this and they're like, "Oh, well, Urbina Law Firm is like next level. That's not us. We don't need a leadership team." But that isn't true.

I think you guys have one, and you have a pretty big firm and you're growing pretty quickly, but you don't have to have a large firm in order to have a leadership team. So what feels important about having a leadership team, and what has it allowed you to do? And maybe that will help people, no matter where they are whether they're making 200K or 2 million, no matter where they are they can hear the message and apply it to themselves.  

Giselle: So I think it has to do with where the person sees their firm in the future, what they want for themselves. I can tell you from my experience, Michael and I want to have a good living. We don't want to be rich necessarily, we just want to provide a good life for our daughters and for ourselves, of course, while helping others. That's our motto, or what we want in life.

But at the same time, in order to take care of her girls, we need time off. We need to have a balance between work and life. We want to create memories. I always tell my girls, "I just want to create memories with you so that when you get older, you have them. That's the only thing I can actually give you. Memories. I’m not necessarily going to give you money or a house, I don't know where I'm going to be later, but memories, good experiences, that's what I want to do for each and every one of you."

So for that to happen, I need time off, like have a balance. And sometimes owners get so involved in their business, which I understand, trust me, when you start a business, you have to dedicate so much time to it. And even now it feels like it consumes your life. But if you want to have a balance, and that's your goal in life, have a balance between work and life, you definitely need someone that you can trust that you've been able to train in a leadership role.

Because if you're going to go travel or if you get sick, or if you're going to open a firm somewhere else, you can't physically be in two places at once. You have to leave someone behind to lead the team or firm for you. So if your plan is to grow, and if your plan is to have that balance between work and life, absolutely you have to train someone.

The best way you can is having that leadership team meet weekly with them in order to train them. Right? So you cannot just appoint them and say, "Okay, you are going to be left with all this work, I'm going to go to Europe for two weeks, and you stay behind." But you never really train them. How would they know what to do, what the goals are, keep pushing your rocks, if they're not part of it?

So you have to make them part of your firm. You have to train them as much as possible in order for you to eventually be able to have that balance between work and life. That's one way of looking at it. Some people just are very careful because they don't want to share, maybe profits and all of that stuff, they don't want people knowing that much information about your firm.

You don't necessarily have to share a lot. In my experience, the more I share, the better it is, because they understand exactly where we are, and what effort we need to put in to make it to where we want to be. But I do respect if people don't want to share that much. I understand. It's not an easy thing. But I think it's worth it at the end if your goal is to grow, again, like I said, and have that balance.

Melissa: Yeah, oh, my gosh, well said. Yeah, there is a scenario in which a leadership team doesn't make sense, and it's really if your life is work, then you don't need a leadership team. The other thing I'll say is, if you are a smaller firm, even just starting with one key person, just a secondary person to you, maybe you call them operations and they really help with the operations piece, that's your leadership team, and that's awesome.

And then over time, you probably add one, and add one. And it's really based on the firm's needs, and man, I'm telling you guys, if you don't have an accountability chart, I would do it. Because when you look at the accountability chart, it's really easy to see why you feel the way you feel, because your name is everywhere on that chart, and you start to see where you have to transfer responsibility to certain people in certain areas in order to get some space for yourself to even just be better at your work that you should be focused on, let alone have a life outside of work.

Giselle: I agree.

Melissa: Yeah. For anyone out there who's like, "Leadership team, that's, like, different level," it might not be. It depends on where you are, what you want, and how you want to grow. If you want to grow in a way that gives you the life that you want, you're going to have to start to transfer responsibility, and have people own certain things inside the firm.

And those are leadership positions, that they're privy to information, they help you think through decisions. Yeah. You guys have a really great leadership team. And it's probably growing. I would imagine in the next year there's someone new at the table at the quarterly meetings.  

Giselle: Yeah, probably growing. And that's something you'll never know until you get there, right? So you're like, oh, it'll never be more than four people. But if you keep growing, and that accountability chart keeps changing, you have to.

Melissa: Yeah. It's almost like when you guys get in a flow that you've gotten in, which has taken a lot of hard work to get here, you stop making decisions for the business, and you start honoring what the business needs. I don't know if that makes sense, but you follow, you're a good steward of the business instead of dictating what the business gets. I don't know if that makes sense.

Giselle: I agree. And that's the thing, right? Some people just want to put their own needs before the firm, and that's actually a disservice, right, because you have to think about what's best for the firm. Sometimes, like I was saying before, you don't want to let someone go because, "Oh, my God, she's so nice," or "He's so nice," but you have to think about the firm.

What's best for the firm, not about your own personal needs. And that's how I move through, sometimes, when I'm trying to get too emotionally involved, I correct myself and I ask, "What's best for the firm?" And that's so easy to just have an answer that way than putting all my emotions into it. Like you say, facts, not feelings, is going to take you really far.

Melissa: Well, thank you for coming on the podcast. You are such a pleasure to work with. I love your brain and the way it works. We always, at the beginning of retreats, we do a check in with everybody, and one of the questions in the check in, is what you would most love to get out of this retreat or this meeting, and every time Giselle answers that, I'm like "Oh, my gosh, she's my person." You're like, “I want a plan for X, Y, and Z.” Like, you are getting that, sister.

Giselle: Thank you. You're awesome. Thank you for everything you do for us, honestly. It's been an amazing year and a half, and hopefully many more to come. You've given us guidance and so much more, and you've been there when we need it the most, and that's really important to me and I really appreciate it.

Melissa: Oh, my gosh. My pleasure. My pleasure. And just to say one more thing, you are truly inspiring. There's times I'll watch you in the meetings, no offense, Michael, because Michael's a really good leader too, he just has a different role. Your role is very different. Your role is more hands in the pot in many ways. Not that your hands are in the pot, you are managing people whose hands are in the pot.

And Michael doesn't do as much of that, he does legal work, but watching you in the meetings is inspiring. It shapes me, truly. When I watch you, how you engage and interact, you think in a great way before you speak. You're very intentional. That's probably the best word I have for it. You're very intentional with your words, with your sentiments, with your nonverbal communication. You're extremely intentional, and maybe you are all the time in life, but in those meetings, I can feel it.

And that takes a lot of awareness to do that consistently for hours. Our meetings are like eight hours, and sometimes they're two days. So just watching you is really inspiring. So yeah, thank you.

Giselle: Thank you.

Melissa: Well, I think everybody got some good nuggets from this, and we can always have a follow up if we get some feedback on questions but thank you so much for being here.

Giselle: Of course. Thank you for having me, and yes, if there's any questions, or anybody wants to talk on the side of course I'm here, available for anyone. I love doing this.

Melissa: Awesome. What's the best way to reach out to you and the firm? I mean, I don't have millions of listeners, but just be thoughtful about what you're getting ready to say.  

Giselle: Of course, I have my e mail, that's the easiest way, Giselle at ubinalawfirm.com. You can reach me there. And, again, I'm not perfect in any way, but I'm a good listener. So maybe sometimes you're going through something tough, or you don't know what to do, at least I can listen to you. I think that's important in this world, to be listened to. So I'm here for you guys.

Melissa: Awesome, thank you. We'll put that in the show notes as well. All right. Have a good day.

Giselle: Thank you, you too. Take care.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process that 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.

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