RL 99: Billie Tarascio — Operating a Law Firm That Values Wellness
Release Date: 08/27/2018
In this episode, I am excited to have Billie Tarascio on to talk about starting and operating a law firm that focuses on putting a wellness culture first.
Billie is a family law attorney and the owner of Modern Law and Modern Law Practice, LLC in Phoenix, Arizona. Modern Law has been recognized as one of the fastest growing and culture-forward firms in the country through it's focus on employee wellness and whole health. She is a mother of four, a yoga and mind enthusiast, and the author of two books: Decode Your Divorce and Tiger Tactics: Powerful Tools for Successful Attorneys.
- Starting a small law practice: how she ended up starting her practice and tips/tools she used to navigate such a large life change. She also talks on how she got into family law.
- How her law firm is organized differently than a traditional firm and how she finds balance, skills she had to learn, and what she wishes she had known. She also talks on time management and how to intentionally carve out time to do the things that need to be done.
- How she decided to start her own practice, how she chose her practice area, and how although we are not taught to be business owners, it can be easier than you think if you go about it the right way.
- She talks on marketing, how she figures out what works for her and how law firms should approach marketing.
- The COBE set of standards that her law firm holds as their core values: Compassion, Optimism, Bravery, and Empathy.
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Billie Tarascio: [00:00:01] Marketing is about communicating what our clients need to know; to provide information and content that is most relevant to them, talking about broad spectrum problems and issues, and also being very real about who we are and what it is that we can offer and bring to the table.
Intro: [00:00:23] Welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast. In this podcast, we have meaningful, in-depth conversations with lawyers, entrepreneurs, and change agents. We offer tools and strategies for creating a more joyful and satisfying life. And now your host, Jeena Cho.
Jeena Cho: [00:00:44] Hello my friends, thanks for being with me today. In this episode, I'm so happy to have Billie Tarascio. She is a family law attorney and an owner of Modern Law and Modern Law Practice in Phoenix, Arizona. Modern Law has been recognized as one of the fastest growing and culture-forward firms in the country, through its focus on employee wellness and whole health. She is the mother of four, a yoga and wine enthusiast, and she's the author of two books: "Tiger Tactics: Powerful Tools for Successful Attorneys" and "Decode Your Divorce."
[00:01:18] Before we get into the interview, if you haven't listened to the last bonus episode go back and check it out. I shared a 6-minute guided meditation practice to work with loneliness. It's a preview for my new course, Mindful Pause. So often I hear from lawyers that they know they should practice mindfulness and meditation, but they just don't have the time. And I always tell lawyers, start with just six minutes or .1 hour. Of all the hours you dedicate to your clients, work, and others, don't you deserve to have at least .1 hour to yourself? Mindful Pause is designed for lawyers like you, to fit into your very hectic schedule. Think of it like taking your daily vitamin to boost your well-being. Head on over to JeenaCho.com to learn more, or check it out in the show notes. And with that, here's Billie. Billie, welcome to the show.
Billie Tarascio: [00:02:07] Thank you so much, glad to be here.
Jeena Cho: [00:02:08] So let's just start by having you give us a 30-second introduction of who you are and what you do.
Billie Tarascio: [00:02:16] Well, my name's Billie Tarascio. I'm an attorney, a mom, an entrepreneur, a business owner, and I love wine, yoga, and all things outdoors and travel.
Jeena Cho: [00:02:30] Wonderful. So maybe we can go back a little bit, did you start your own law practice right out of law school? How did you end up starting this business?
Billie Tarascio: [00:02:43] I knew really early on that I did want to own a law firm and start my own practice, and I knew I didn't really want a traditional career path. My oldest son was born my third year in law school, and I knew right away I didn't want to go into big law. So right away I sort of designed a career path that would allow me to learn as much as possible. And I worked for four or so firms as a contractor, different sizes and different types of individuals, and just started studying how they did what they did.
Jeena Cho: [00:03:26] And how did you end up focusing on family law?
Billie Tarascio: [00:03:31] I knew early on I wanted to do family law. I was probably impacted most by my parent's divorce; they went through a divorce when I was early in college and I knew I wanted to go to law school, and it just seemed like such a real law. Law that really had an impact on people's lives, and was less focused on technical terms and more focused on how do I solve problems and how do I really have an impact on people.
Jeena Cho: [00:04:03] Yeah, I think that's the reason why a lot of people end up in their practice areas, because of personal experience. I have talked to criminal defense attorneys and they had some run-ins with the law that also inspired them to do their practice area.
[00:04:17] So tell me more about Modern Law, how are you guys organized and how is it different than a traditional law firm?
Billie Tarascio: [00:04:26] Sure. Modern Law is a family law firm in the greater Phoenix area, and I think it looks like most modern law firms; we have work-from-home policies, everything's cloud-based, it's very millennial-focused where I'm not asking you to check in a certain time. We work when we need to to get our jobs done, and there's a lot of freedom and a lot of autonomy. And at the same time, there's accountability and structure, meetings, communication, and collaboration.
Jeena Cho: [00:05:05] Do you guys have a physical office that you come to, or are you guys completely virtual?
Billie Tarascio: [00:05:11] No, we do we have two physical office spaces, but attendance in them is not required.
Jeena Cho: [00:05:17] It's just so different than a traditional law firm. I think it's less true now, but I remember when I started practicing law back in 2003 or 2004, face time was very important. There was a lot of emphasis on spending as much time as you possibly can sitting behind your desk, because I don't know why. It was always drilled into me, you should just have like a lot of face time at the office. I remember being like, I don't have any work. Why do I need to be sitting behind my desk? That doesn't make any sense.
Billie Tarascio: [00:05:50] No, it doesn't. And it's not that face time isn't important, but face time for the sake of face time is not important.
Jeena Cho: [00:05:58] Yeah, great point. So I know you have this law practice, but you also have an interest in having a more balanced lifestyle, especially I would imagine with kids it's always a struggle. So how do you go about finding balance, and what does balance look like to you?
Billie Tarascio: [00:06:20] Balance, for me, is spending time on things that are important and most valuable. And by constantly doing that analysis and determining what is the most important thing for me to be spending my time on right now, I find that I can do almost everything that I want to do.
Jeena Cho: [00:06:45] What are the top three most important things, and how do you go about actually checking in to make sure that you're prioritizing those things? I think we all kind of intuitively think, I need to have a healthy diet, I need to get some exercise, I need to spend time with family and friends, and I also need to get work done. But just in terms of the day-to-day, "how to prioritize," I think oftentimes we tend to do the thing that feels most pressing and important, rather than taking a step back and saying, "Okay these are my priorities, and how do I actually carve out time?" Because I think things like spending time with friends and family can often go by the wayside.
Billie Tarascio: [00:07:30] Right, I completely agree. What happens to me, and probably a lot of people, is things just creep up and we can feel ourselves approaching burn out. We can feel anxiety growing or we're not sleeping, our body is giving us indications that things are out of balance. Sometimes it takes a while before we're like, oh my gosh I'm miserable. And I think we all go through it, but I think it's a great time to say let's take a step back, let's look at all of my tasks, all of my priorities, and reassess and make changes. Because we're not slaves to our circumstances at the moment; we have the ability to make changes, to change priorities, to delegate different tasks, and to be living the life we want to live. It just takes a lot of effort.
Jeena Cho: [00:08:34] Yeah. What tools or suggestions do you have for lawyers out there for gaining clarity on those things that are important to you, and also actually intentionally carving out time on a regular basis for including those in your schedule?
Billie Tarascio: [00:08:55] Two amazing questions. Let's start with the second one, how do we make sure that we can take the time to do the things we know we need to do, but they're hard to get done? And I think that that all comes down to routine. At Modern Law we close early on Friday's and we bring in a yoga instructor, so that at least every Friday we've got time set aside for physical activity and mental wellness and checking in. I find it really hard to spend as much time doing physical activity as I wish I could. I don't have a great routine for that; it's pretty easy to do on the weekends, it pretty easy to do on Friday afternoon when we close early, but it's challenging to do during the week. And it's challenging to do when I'm traveling, which I've ended up doing more and more. So if you have any tips, I would love to know how to work that in.
Jeena Cho: [00:09:56] Yeah, so once a week on Sunday's I look at my week and just see what's in my calendar. And I'm all about scheduling things, so I will regularly put 15-minute breaks in my calendar. Because you know how it goes, if you just allow things to end up on your calendar you'll just devote all of your time to everyone else, and then not yourself. I also like to sign up for things where there is no refund; my local yoga studio, you have to sign up in advance and I hate losing money, so I'll sign up for 2 yoga classes and I just feel terrible if I don't go, so I make myself go. I also try to spend as much time as I possibly can on the weekends outdoors, I think having that connection to nature is so healing. I also have the best insights when I'm out and about and just walking around.
I will also schedule personal retreats, I usually try to take a week a couple times a year where it's just.. it's not really a vacation because I feel like when you go on vacation there's a lot of stuff that you do on vacation. But I'll find a little cabin out in the woods somewhere with no internet and bring good reading materials, and just spend a lot of time outdoors. But I think also finding something that works for you is really important. I know for some people it's playing a musical instrument or painting; I think there are just different things that we all need to do to nourish ourselves, and that's such a challenge. It's a struggle for me, and I have yet to meet someone that's like, I've got this wellness thing all figured out. I think it's always a challenge and a struggle.
[00:11:55] So one of the things they don't teach you in law school is how to be an entrepreneur, and I certainly found that to be a challenge when I started my own law practice; no one taught me how to do accounting, how to manage a trust account, or how to do marketing. What tips or suggestions do you have for lawyers out there that are thinking about starting their own practice?
Billie Tarascio: [00:12:24] Well I'm glad that we're talking about this, because it's something that I'm hugely passionate about. You gave a couple of examples, how to do a trust account, how to do accounting, or how to do marketing. And no, we are not taught how to be business owners, but you can go learn something like accounting or trust accounting; there are directions and rules. But most of law practice there isn't; there is no guidebook, there isn't a standard model that works. When we talk to our mentors who are 30 years older than us, they were living under a different set of conditions and completely different rules for how to practice and how to make practicing work. I happen to just really like this stuff. so I've spent the last 10 years in my law firm experimenting with how we do consultations, how long should intake take, what are the conversion rates from the number of people who contact us to schedule to show up? What is the right AR ratio? All these little, nuanced details of practicing. A projection that I'm working on now in my practice is taking these best practices that I've been able to create, predictability and security in my firm, and plugging them into other law firms to say, does this work across the board? Not every lawyer wants to be an entrepreneur; some lawyers don't want to work for a firm that is outdated and works poorly, but they also don't want to spend the time to figure out everything from scratch.
Jeena Cho: [00:14:22] So I guess for the lawyers out there that are like, I want to start my own practice but don't really like the idea of marketing.. and I think also sometimes lawyers have a misunderstanding about what marketing is. They think I don't want my face on a billboard, or they think about doing marketing in a way that doesn't align with who they are. So I'm curious, when you're doing marketing how do you think about doing it and go about figuring out what's going to work for you?
Billie Tarascio: [00:15:00] So, we have marketing philosophies that are pretty ingrained, and that's that marketing is about communicating what our clients need to know; to provide information and content that is most relevant to them, talking about broad spectrum problems and issues, and also being very real about who we are and what it is that we can offer and bring to the table.
Jeena Cho: [00:15:35] How is your law firm different than other family law firms? When you're doing your 30-second pitch about who you are and what you do, what makes you unique and different?
Billie Tarascio: [00:15:52] It all comes down to our values. And it took several years to really uncover these values, but once we did (and it's not that we chose them, it's that we dug down to find them, because they were always there) and they are: whole health, growth, and this acronym called "C.O.B.E.", which stands for compassion, optimism, bravery, and empathy. So we've taken these values and we've written out, what does this really mean? Both internally in how we treat one another, and externally in how we treat our clients. These values are our Constitution, so we are committed to the whole health of our clients. Which means we will not take actions in their divorce that will hurt them or their families long-term. It's not an option. So if you ask us to do something that is outside of our values, then we're not going to do it and you're probably not a good fit for the law firm. So really knowing who we were and communicating to our potential clients who would be a good fit has made all the difference in attracting the right clients, and being able to differentiate us from the lot.
Jeena Cho: [00:17:05] Oh, I love that. So let's go through COBE. The first one, compassion; I talk a lot about compassion with lawyers, and usually I get the rolling of the eyes or I can sense the collective cringe in the room. So when you say compassion, what does that mean to you?
Billie Tarascio: [00:17:26] It means understanding that even though I've been practicing divorce since 2005, the person sitting across from me is going through this for the first time. So even though I may feel like this doesn't matter or this is routine, it is not routine for them, and the things we take for granted are not things that they may know. And we're going to intentionally set aside our baggage to be present for them, and compassionate for where they're at.
Jeena Cho: [00:18:00] So it doesn't mean that you're going to concede to what the other party wants always, or always show up chipper and happy, or you are going to get along with everyone, which is some of the feedback that I get whenever I talk about compression. They're like oh Jeena, I know you live out in California and you do the compassion stuff. And I think the point you made about the things that are important to our clients that we may not even think about is so true. I do bankruptcy law and I'm often surprised that know clients will have these huge concerns about losing their dog or their mother's necklace that they got when their mom passed away. And I'm usually like no you can keep your dog, but I think sometimes we need to pause and dig a little bit and say, tell me about the significance of that. Because I think we can actually end up getting a lot of information and also gain a better understanding of where our clients are coming from.
Billie Tarascio: [00:19:06] Right, yeah. So compassion is probably also like curiosity; be there, get to know these people on a human level, and be willing to meet them there on a human level, and then you'll get loyalty and happy clients who are happy to pay their bill.
Jeena Cho: [00:19:23] All right, so let's do the O: what does it stand for, and what does it mean to you?
Billie Tarascio: [00:19:30] It's optimism, and it means that it can be very easy to get discouraged or to say it's never going to work, what you're asking we're never going to be able to get, and we're not going to practice law that way. Be creative, and being creative and optimistic means we will think about this for a while. If you have something that's really important to you that normally a judge doesn't care about, it does mean we can't get it, it means we need to be a little bit creative and figure out how can we make that happen for this client.
Jeena Cho: [00:20:08] How do you maintain optimism in a practice area.. I think in law practice in general, there is a struggle for keeping up your optimism. What do you do on a daily basis to restore and recharge your optimism?
Billie Tarascio: [00:20:28] Well, we try to hire people who tend to be naturally optimistic. It's a whole lot easier to be optimistic if that's just how you look at life. And the internal dynamics really, really affect the way each of us feels when we come to work. But also, we read things like Crucial Conversations and we take time to invest in one another and our clients. We celebrate all of our wins, so any good client feedback that we get goes out to everyone. I think that really helps encourage optimism and help people understand wins. So we celebrate every court win, every client win, all the good feedback, and just try to put positivity into our working measurement.
Jeena Cho: [00:21:16] I love it. And the B?
Billie Tarascio: [00:21:18] B is bravery, and it's sort of related to optimism. It means that we're not going to get discouraged; it's very easy to get discouraged, but we're willing to take risks on our client's behalf. And it kind of comes along with the creativity and optimism. We're going to take on tough cases, we're going to make bold arguments, and we're going to really go to bat for our clients and hope for the best outcome - even if it means the judge may say no.
Jeena Cho: [00:21:48] Right. And I think so often the clients really appreciate you going to bat for them, even if they don't get the outcome that they want. They just appreciate having an advocate that stood up for them and fought for what they wanted, or what they thought was just. And I think as lawyers we tend to put so much emphasis on the winning part and getting the client what they want, which of course is important; I'm not dismissing that at all. But I think we often underestimate how important it is for our clients that we tried; we showed up and did our thing, and tried our best.
Billie Tarascio: [00:22:25] Right, right. And as lawyers, we win. We are people who like to be successful, so we may have a tendency to aim lower than we could because we don't want to fail. And that's not in our client's best interests; in our client's best interest is our ability to look outside of ourselves and be brave.
Jeena Cho: [00:22:50] Yeah, totally. Alright, and finally last but not least, the Y.
Billie Tarascio: [00:22:56] Empathy, it's actually an E. It's empathy.
Jeena Cho: [00:22:59] Oh okay, got it.
Billie Tarascio: [00:23:01] COBE's a made-up word, obviously. And empathy is kind-of related to that compassion piece, of really being able to see each person's perspective. It doesn't mean we agree with them, and it doesn't mean that we cave to them, but it really allows us to understand where are they coming from and why are they saying the things that they're saying. And this allows us to communicate better to every single person we come into contact with; having empathy for the opposing counsel or for the judge, or for the mediator who's in a bad mood. All of those things help us get better outcomes for our client.
Jeena Cho: [00:23:39] I'm curious, in your mind what's the difference between compassion and empathy?
Billie Tarascio: [00:23:47] That's a good question, I almost feel like I need to pull up the long, written descriptions. I don't know, what do you think is the difference between compassion and empathy?
Jeena Cho: [00:24:12] This totally isn't something that I came up with, it's something that I learned in a book.. I wish I can credit the source, but compassion is when you walk alongside someone that is going through a difficult time or suffering. So you're their ally, you're there for support. Versus empathy, which is where you literally put yourself in the shoes of someone else. So you are feeling with them, which can take a toll on you. So you want to be careful of how much empathy you put out there, because that can lead to burnout. When you over-identify with what the client is going through and imagine yourself in their situation or their scenario, which can be really hard. Versus compassion, where you have some distance from what they're going through.
Billie Tarascio: [00:25:10] Yeah, I think that's a great point. And it's something that comes up with new family law attorneys all the time. We have to understand our role as attorneys, and our role as an attorney is limited in their life. They've got their whole life story, so compassion does really seem to be the more appropriate role for an attorney. Like I want to understand you, but your life and your problems, we're not going to take them home; we're not going to take responsibility for them.
Jeena Cho: [00:25:39] Right, yeah totally. Billie, for the listeners out there that want to learn more about you and your law practice, where is the best place for them to do that?
Billie Tarascio: [00:25:53] I am all over the place, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. So if you just Google me, you'll get to me for sure. Or tweet @MyModernLaw, the website is www.mymoderlaw.com or www.mymodernlawpractice.com.
Jeena Cho: [00:26:11] Great, you have such a great website so I encourage everyone to go check it out. And Billie, before I let you go one final question. The name of this podcast is called The Resilient Lawyer, what does it mean to be a resilient lawyer to you?
Billie Tarascio: [00:26:25] That's a good question. Resilience I think is adaptability. And I heard recently something that I think is so important. Stress doesn't hurt us, it's our reaction to stress that hurts us. So our ability to take our stressful situation, pull out the positive, figure out the next direction, and do it quickly, and be forgiving ourselves, I think is the key to being resilient.
Jeena Cho: [00:26:59] I love that. Billie, thank you so much for joining me today, I really appreciate you sharing your time and your wisdom with me.
Billie Tarascio: [00:27:07] I appreciate being here, thank you so much Jeena.
Closing: [00:27:12] Thanks for joining us on The Resilient Lawyer podcast. If you've enjoyed the show, please tell a friend. It's really the best way to grow the show. To leave us a review on iTunes, search for The Resilient Lawyer and give us your honest feedback. It goes a long way to help with our visibility when you do that, so we really appreciate it. As always, we'd love to hear from you. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, and look forward to seeing you next week.