Ep. 9: Justin Kelsey of Skylark Law & Mediation

Episode Overview

Justin Kelsey is a collaborative divorce attorney and mediator at Skylark Law & Mediation in Framingham, Massachusetts. He's a graduate of Boston University School of Law and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Justin is president-elect of the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council and is also on the board of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation and the Family Law Steering Committee of the Boston Bar Association. Justin has spoken at MCLE, the BBA, CDSC, and the MBA on topics ranging from marketing and social media to jurisdiction, child support and alimony, and mediation. Justin is one of the faculty for the MCLC Introduction to Collaborative Training.

In this episode, you'll hear:

  • When Justin decided to drop litigation entirely, and how clients reacted to that decision.
  • How online tools help clients and professionals while raising his firm’s visibility.
  • Why Justin regrets waiting so long to stop litigating.
  • How a small personal touch in your marketing can make a huge difference in connecting with potential clients.
  • How to attract the clients you WANT to work with.
  • How investing in going paperless can help you improve workflow and meet client expectations.
  • Justin’s recommended cloud storage solution and mobile app.
  • What lessons ADR professionals can take away from a documentary about a sushi chef.
  • Justin’s advice on bringing in new clients through professional networking and personal referrals.

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Resources Mentioned

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Episode Transcript

Rackham:

Welcome to the ADR Initiative. This is the podcast where you'll hear from successful mediators, arbitrators, collaborative law attorneys, coaches, and other alternative dispute resolution professionals about what they do, how they got here, and valuable lessons they’ve learned along the way. I'm your host, Rackham Karlsson.

Today, I'm talking with Justin Kelsey. Justin is a collaborative divorce attorney and mediator at Skylark Law & Mediation in Framingham, Massachusetts. He's a graduate of Boston University School of Law and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Justin is president-elect of the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council and is also on the board of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation and the Family Law Steering Committee of the Boston Bar Association. Justin has spoken at MCLE, the BBA, CDSC, and the MBA on topics ranging from marketing and social media to jurisdiction, child support and alimony, and mediation. Justin is one of the faculty for the MCLC Introduction to Collaborative Training.

Welcome to the show, Justin.

Justin:

Thanks, Rackham. Thanks for having me.

Rackham:

It's a pleasure. I'm just going to jump right in here and ask you to describe a little bit about the services that you provide today.

Justin:

Sure. As you said, I’m very involved in the mediation and collaborative law communities, and that's mostly what my firm is trying to do, all related to family disputes. Our sort of tagline is, "At Skylark Law & Mediation, we help families resolve conflict," and that ranges from divorce, which is our primary business, to estate planning, probate mediation, pretty much anything where a family might be involved in a conflict or planning, like prenups and wills, to avoid future conflict. Our goal is to do as much of that as possible in our office, in a setting where people can be comfortable using mediation, collaborative law, or collaborative techniques even when we're in a negotiation setting.

Rackham:

Great. Now if I understand correctly, you no longer practice in court but there are attorneys in your office who do?

Justin:

Yes. I have four other attorney-mediators in my office. Everyone in my office is a trained mediator, including my office manager, and soon, my administrative assistant will be a trained mediator as well. All the attorney mediators practice in family law or probate, or some of both. Two of the attorneys also still litigate and go to court, though our style of litigation is very much settlement-oriented. We're always trying to mediate in the office when possible. About three years ago, about three and a half now, I actually stopped going to court and litigating and decided to make my primary focus working in dispute resolution.

Rackham:

Can you talk a little bit more about that? Was there a defining moment? Was it a decision that had been a while in the works? How did it come to that point?

Justin:

The interesting thing is when I started doing mediation, I was very interested in outside-of-court settlement. I loved the mediation training when I took it, but I had pretty much decided I was only going to aim for about fifty-fifty. I would still go to court; that would be about fifty percent of my practice, and the rest of the time I would do mediation, collaborative law. As I started doing more and more of that, about three years in, I decided I actually enjoyed that a lot more, and the sort of defining moment was a week when I had three pre-trials scheduled. Despite the efforts I had made in those cases to work towards settlement, they were with attorneys who just weren't that interested in settling before a pre-trial, which, unfortunately, it was my experience in litigation that ... Not everybody, but there are a number of attorneys who kind of just don’t pay attention to cases until they get to the pre-trial stage.

I had all this ton on work that was sort of draining on me and most of all draining on my clients, and I just realized I had enough mediation and collaborative work at that point that I could make the decision to say, "In my personal practice, I'm just not going to do this anymore." The more I thought about it, the more I felt like that said something to the public, and enough people are doing this that I can make that decision. Also, this is so much, in my opinion — mediation, collaborative approaches — so much of a better way of resolving family conflict, but to say, "I'm only going to do that. If you want to work with me, if you're personally referred to me and you want to work with me, then you’ve got to commit to that," I thought was kind of powerful.

After getting through those pre-trials, I made the decision ... All of those cases settled, by the way. I made the decision to not do litigation work anymore. A few of my cases were transferred to other attorneys in my office, and starting in terms of new cases, I would tell people coming in the door, "If you're already in the litigation mode, we're going to try and get you out of that if you want to work me, depending on the other side being willing to do that, but if it stays in litigation or if you're headed to litigation, you have to work with one of the other attorneys in my office, or I can recommend other people as well."

Rackham:

That’s great. Having made that decision myself, I know what it's like to take that plunge and to wonder how clients were going to react. How did clients react to you when you told them that?

Justin:

The couple of clients that were in litigation at the time, they wanted to continue to work with me after I explained the situation, but I think they all kind of knew me. When you're at a pre-trial stage and you're that far into a case, people kind of ... They’ve gotten to know your style, and I think they all understood. In addition, the attorneys I have in my office that I work with, we all have kind of the same style, same attitude. Everyone seems to really love Valerie, who does most of my litigation work. The transition was pretty smooth.

In terms of newer people, sometimes people are a little bit, you know, "I was referred specifically to you, want to work with you." They're a little bit upset if you're not willing to do that. For me, it's not a case-by-case thing where I make that decision. It's been a personal decision I've never regretted, and I tell clients that, and I think most people understand.

Rackham:

Yeah, I think they do. As much as I worried about people saying, "Oh, no, I want to keep my options open," or, "I want an attorney who's going to go to court with me," the vast majority of callers will say, "Oh, that’s great. I don’t want to go to court either," so it works out pretty well. They like to hear that.

Justin:

Yeah, I think people naturally know court is not a place you want to be. The images we have of being in court, it's a place you want to avoid if you can, and I think sometimes people just don’t realize there are other options until they sit down with someone who's going to explain all those options to them. One of the frustrations I've had is sort of a lot of the information that’s out there for people about how to get divorced, for example, a lot of it starts with, "Well, here's how you file in court," as opposed to, "Here's how you think about how you want to get divorced." Part of the challenge is getting that information out there. Once people have that information, I think most are much more likely to say, "Well, yeah, I want to try to resolve it without an adversarial system in play, without the possibility of someone telling me when I can see my kids," if they know that they have those options.

Rackham:

Yeah, so true. Now I want to go back a little bit further, because I know you have a little bit of an unconventional background for law. Can you talk about your educational background and how that’s fit into your practice?

Justin:

I took sort of a circuitous route to get to doing family law, for sure. I have an engineering and philosophy undergrad degree. I thought I was going to be an engineer and didn’t really enjoy it, so I kind of went with the philosophy route and said, “Well, I’ll go to law school and see what that’s like.” My aim at law school was more policy track. I was working for the Department of Public Health and also working on getting a master's in public health at the same time that I was getting my law degree, and I wrote some regulations for the Department of Public Health in Massachusetts. I really enjoyed the people that I was working with there, but I think the engineering background, what fit there for me was problem-solving, and the downside of working for the government is that problem-solving takes a really long time. The regulations I wrote didn’t even get to the hearing stage till two or three years after I left the Department of Public Health.

I was frustrated with that slow process, so I decided I was going to just ... Once I graduated from law school, I'd get a job at a law firm and try being a lawyer. The first job that I got offered was in a small firm that wanted someone to do divorce litigation. For the first four years, I did primarily divorce litigation and settled most of my cases, was a little frustrated with the lack of systems. At that time, we didn’t have the new alimony statute. There was very little information about how to pick an appropriate amount of alimony, and I helped create at that time what's called the Stevenson-Kelsey Spousal Support Calculator, which all it did was use formulas from all around the country and some formulas that different judges in Massachusetts had suggested, retired judges, so you could see all these formulas in one place.

That calculator was actually very popular prior to the new alimony statute, which kind of made it a little bit obsolete, but just being able to see a range of what some people think is reasonable. I think in that way ... As an engineer, there are systems and formulas that we can provide people that at least help them make decisions, even if they're not binding. That background has helped me also in my marketing. I'm much more comfortable with computers and websites than a lot of people, so I spend a lot of time on that. I do get to bring in my engineering past a little bit into the work that I do, but it's obviously where I ended up doing family mediation is kind of a far cry from the original path I started on to be an engineer.

Rackham:

It is. As you say, if you're comfortable with computers and comfortable with technology, there are ways that you can make things easier for people. I think probably most family law attorneys and mediators in Massachusetts are familiar with your website and the tools that you have on there, which are, of course, very helpful, so thank you for those.

Justin:

For me, they’ve been a great way of people getting to know us as a new and a small firm, so they’ve been great marketing tools, even though that’s not really what we intended them to be at first. Every time I've created one of those tools, it's been about trying to fill a need. I noticed that a lot of attorneys don’t like to do math, and the Child Support Guidelines worksheet involves some math on the fly. Being able to do it quickly, I think you're often able to show some arguments being made may not be a big deal, may not affect the guidelines as much as people think they will.

Being able to run a couple of different guidelines quickly is very helpful, and I was thinking, "Why don’t we have an iPhone app that does this?" so we got a friend to help us build an iPhone app, and we had one of the first Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines iPhone apps. It helped get our name out there, but I think it also helped a lot of people just quickly calculate child support. I have a Parenting Plan worksheet on our website as well that I created because I'm a visual learner, and I found with a lot of clients, talking about how to split up parenting time over a one- or two- or three-week period and people can't picture it.

They're describing schedules, but we think in terms of calendars and it's easier sometimes just to look at it, so I created this worksheet that lets you click on the dates and times, and it colors it in with two different colors and you can see the schedule. For me, it was just much easier to understand what people were discussing or arguing about if I could see it, and then I found it's very helpful for other people as well. The tools came out of a need that I saw more than wanting to market with them, but I think it's been helpful for my business, too, that people then do go use them and are on my site more, so they see our name because they're using those tools.

Rackham:

Yeah, I think those tools have been very successful for you, both in terms of being a tremendous service to attorneys, mediators, clients, and also, as you say, in raising the visibility of your firm, which is relatively young compared to some of the other firms out there. Looking at this from a different angle, though, of course, some of our best learning comes from our mistakes. From a business perspective, what's one big mistake that you’ve made along the way?

Justin:

I think I just actually commented on your ADR Initiative page. I think one of the biggest mistakes I made was waiting so long to drop litigation as an option in my personal practice. I think it's easy to get distracted by wanting to keep doing what you know how to do, and the income, honestly, is a little bit easier. You make more per case doing litigation, so you have to have higher volume to do dispute resolution and make a similar amount of money. When you're starting a family, running a practice and you have bills, it's easy to kind of get caught up in that.

When I made the decision to drop litigation, it just got so much easier to market dispute resolution, to stay in that space where I was always thinking about how I practice mediation, how my firm reflects that, how my marketing reflects that, how when you walk into my office, the intake form reflects that. Not trying to straddle both and think about advertising an adversarial system, kind of letting go of that made things so much easier, and I didn’t even realize how much I was being held back by that. I wish I had done that earlier, because I think that I'd be farther ahead in building a dispute resolution business.

There are cases I can think back to. Before I took the collaborative training, I can think back to a case that would have been perfect for the collaborative law process, a really tough case that ended up in court because of how it got filed. We ended up settling it, but some emotional moments that really could have been helped by a coach, some difficulties and not having ground rules about them, around living together during the process. Then they had a nesting arrangement, and the ground rules kind of got hammered out in court as opposed to in a meeting room where we had more time to think about them and the assistance of a coach to bring in that area of expertise.

I look back and I say, "If I had taken the collaborative law training earlier, I actually would have provided a better service to that client, because I would have known about something that I think really would have helped her that I didn’t know about when she came into my office.” I wish I had made the switch for some personal reasons but also, I can think of clients that would have been better off if I had known about these other services more, earlier, and had those skills and that training. I wish I had made the switch to dispute resolution, made the leap and dropped litigation a lot earlier in the practice.

Rackham:

Yeah, I feel the same way about some of my former clients back in my litigation days, if I'd been more immersed in some of the ADR techniques, that they would have been better served. That’s part of the learning experience, and thankfully, I like to think I'm able to help people a little bit better in that regard now. I like what you were saying about being focused on mediation and collaborative law helping with your branding and marketing efforts, because that is really the conventional wisdom in having a practice, that being a general practitioner makes it really hard to stand out and establish yourself as a successful practitioner, unless you're in a very small community where that’s really all that’s expected of you.

It's very smart, of course, to narrow down and say, "Well, I do family law," but family law, I think, also there are hundreds, if not thousands of family law attorneys in Massachusetts alone, and you can't really call family law a niche. ADR is certainly a niche and you could go even more narrow and say, "Well, I only do mediation," or, "I only do collaborative law," and really become known for that work that you do in a way that you can't when you're spread too thin.

Justin:

Mm-hmm. In marketing, having someone pick you, even just to pick up the phone and call or send an e-mail, it's such a gut reaction in that moment. If you don’t hit what they're looking for or you weren't recommended to them by somebody, it's really how are you conveying your story very quickly. If your story is, "I do everything," I think people kind of naturally know if you're a jack of all trades, you're a master of none. That story isn't telling me anything about you, so being able to narrow that down and say, "This is really who I am and why you should want to get to know me."

I found, actually, some personal things about our website have been some of the best draws for clients. The people who get a personal referral to you, there's a connection there that I think adds a little bit. They're more likely to trust you just walking in the door before they even know you. Someone looking at your website on the web who's never heard of you, what are they going to see that makes them realize or think about, "Do I want to meet this person?" in a situation in their life, if they're getting divorced or they're scared and there's a lot going on and they want to make sure that that person is going to understand them.

I have something in my bio that I thought was just kind of like, “Let's give a little bit of something individual about us.” I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, so I have at the bottom of my bio on the website, "What did I want to be when I grew up?" just a little tidbit about me, and it was Captain Picard. I was really into Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was a kid and that sort of captain, the very problem-solving captain. I used to love that show and loved that character.

That little bit of me on the website that has nothing to do with my job, nothing to do with my work per se, people comment on that all the time and they want to talk about it. Whether in kind of a joking way because they weren't into Star Trek or someone who was into Star Trek, we could spend half the consult just talking about that interest and connecting. That’s something I thought wasn’t going to be a big deal but that little bit of me out there, what I was willing to share when clients have to share such personal stuff with us walking in the door, that’s been a huge marketing thing for me.

Rackham:

Yeah. I think putting that personal piece out there, letting people know a little bit about you as a person, it attracts the kinds of clients who you'd like to work with as well. My friend Ruth Carter is an attorney in Arizona. She was one of the ABA's legal rebels a few years back, and she has a YouTube channel where she talks about different aspects of social media law and flash mob law, really interesting stuff, but she wears a tee shirt. If you're the kind of person who's looking for an attorney who wears a tie or dresses up very formal, you're not going to call her probably. She holds herself out in a way that’s true to her, and that brings in clients who she wants to work with as well.

Justin:

Yeah. One of the lawyers in my firm who is of counsel, does work for me, also has her own firm called Think Pink Law. Her motto is, "Lawyers are human." It's sort of that same idea that she's just putting herself out there. She's not a wear-a-suit kind of person and she wears pink all the time. It's sort of her branding, but it's also kind of reflective of who she is, what she's into, and it turns some people off. They're like, "Oh, that’s not professional enough for me," but those are probably the clients she wouldn’t get along with anyway.

Rackham:

Exactly. Yeah.

Justin:

You're finding the clients that are going to work well with you, and I think it's a mistake ... A lot of times when you're new at a business or trying to build a business, can get in the mindset that anyone who walks in the door, you want to work for them. Everyone who could possibly pick up a phone, you want them to call you. Realistically, if you want to enjoy your work and you want clients that are going to recommend you afterwards, you want the people you're actually going to get along with and that sort of match your style, especially in dispute resolution where the bond is kind of important.

Working as a mediator, people really have to feel like you're listening to them. If you have nothing in common and it's just you don’t like them or they don’t like you, it's not going to work. You're not going to be able to mediate that case well. If you're not doing a good job, that's going to reflect poorly. People are going to do negative reviews. You really do want clients that kind of match your style or are interested in who you are. Limiting your clientele to some extent but having good clients, I think, is how you run a successful business.

Rackham:

Yeah. I think it's hard for people just starting out to imagine, but there is enough work out there that you can be selective about who you bring in as clients, and they can be selective about whether they want to hire you, and that’s fine. You can still have a very successful business.

Justin:

Yeah. I tell people all the time, interview more than one mediator, interview more than one attorney because if you only interview one person, even if it's me, but if you're not quite sure if we have that connection, then you're not figuring out all your options, you're not seeing if you might work better with somebody else. What we're doing is family conflict, divorce, estate fights and stuff like that. They're so personal. They involve relationships that people can either find a way to repair or at least mend in some ways or can be damaged for life and hurt their kids and hurt their family relationships for life. It's such a big deal if people don’t in that moment realize how important it is to actually have someone that you can work with and trust and how much of a setback it can be if you have to switch professionals while you're working.

Rackham:

Yeah, absolutely. What do you consider one of your best business decisions to date?

Justin:

From a purely business perspective, just workflow in the office. We went paperless about five years ago. We've been open for about eight, and about three years in, we said, "We're starting to get a lot of filing cabinets. People talk about going paperless. Why haven't we done it yet?" We invested in it. My office manager at that time was our admin to ABA TECHSHOW and said, "Go to all the paperless workshops. Figure out everything you can about how we do this right," because we had kind of copied a lot of systems from older firms we were at before we joined up as partners.

The systems we had copied were more traditional systems, and those firms have storage rooms and stuff for all the paper that they’ve generated over the years. We didn’t want to get to that point, so we decided, "We're going to go paperless and everything that that means for us." That transition took us about six months, planning and then figuring how we implement it, getting the right cloud computing services. Since then, it's been a huge improvement in our workflow, in the amount of storage we need in the office, the amount of paper we keep.

I think clients sort of expect it now. We had to put in some info in our retainer agreement about the fact that we're a paperless office and what that means, the use of cloud services and how we pick our vendors and stuff like that. I think clients expect businesses to start to be on cutting edge of technology, and that’s not even cutting edge anymore, but just using the current technology appropriately. If you don’t, they kind of look at you as "Well, why? What's wrong with you that you haven't figured this out as a business person?"

Also, there's a reason why firms go that way. It's just a much better workflow. I think that was a decision we put off. I don’t know why we didn’t do it when we first opened, but I'm very glad that we eventually did. I've actually been thinking about areas that we can push that envelope a little bit. We still do paper retainer agreements, because I think people have some desire to come out, sign the contract on paper, but I want to give people the option of also signing our contract electronically if they want to. I'm thinking about pushing that envelope so that all of our stuff is available in electronic version as well.

Rackham:

I think it’s going to be more and more accepted. Talking about going paperless, there was a period of time there where people were talking about, "Should we do that and why should we do that or why should we not do that?" That was maybe five, six, seven years ago. Today, the conversation is much less about "Should I?" and much more about, "How should I? What's the best service to use? How do I share documents with clients and colleagues?" rather than, "Is it something I should even be considering?"

Justin:

Yeah. I think people get caught up sometimes in security questions and fears about certain technologies, when if you can analogize them to their analog similar, how do you keep paper secure and how do you keep it backed up and have those two benefits, if you apply that to how you pick cloud vendors, how would you pick a storage vendor, how do you pick your cloud vendor and you use those same principles, you can keep the same level of security and get the advantages of the newer technology.

A scanned electronic version that’s backed up to the cloud and backed up to our local server, it's backed up in multiple places, where a piece of paper that never gets scanned, if that piece of paper gets lost or stolen, it's gone. There are such significant advantages to making that leap that you just have to learn from others and find the information on how to handle the small hills to climb to get over that, how to understand the security requirements and things like that.

Rackham:

Definitely. Of course, it's a little bit amusing to me because I think lawyers, as skeptical as they’ve been of the "cloud," lawyers have been using the cloud for decades and didn’t even realize it. If you're a lawyer who's been using an AOL account or a Yahoo account, your e-mail has been in the cloud this whole time, maybe without you even realizing it. That’s really no different than storing the documents in something like Box or Dropbox or Clio.

Justin:

Right. I agree.

Rackham:

Along the same lines, what's one tool — and it doesn’t have to be on the computer — in your office, your computer, your mobile device, one tool that you think every professional should have in their toolbox?

Justin:

This is a tough one, because there's so many things I use every day. Along with paperless, I really like the scanner we have at the office and all that. Pretty much I'm at the point of doing a lot of business on my smart phone and just finding the new tools on the smart phone that can help me. We're using Box for our cloud service, and I have found that their app on the smart phone that I use ... I use an iPhone ... is very helpful for quickly being able to access documents outside the office on my cell phone. Even when I don’t have my computer, I don’t have a Wi-Fi connection, I can look something up real quick. I've just found that very, very helpful.

Someone wants to talk to me, I happen to be at home or picking up one of my kids and I'm looking to just give them a quick call back and answer the questions for them, I can access all of those files right on my phone. It comes up pretty quickly and easy to search. That has just made my ability to work outside the office, to have a conversation with someone and be able to answer their question without having to go search for the file. It's all sort of come from that going paperless, but then choosing the right vendors, how I'm going to access that information and the fact that I want that to work as much as possible with my iPhone, with what I'm going to be carrying on me most of the time to access that information. I guess the thing I use the most, most recently, is the Box app on my iPhone, box.com.

Rackham:

I'm right there with you. I use Box as well, and their app really is very good. It's very well designed. Going a little more low tech now, what's one book and, yes, just one book, that you consider essential for anyone providing ADR or related services?

Justin:

I read so many blogs and articles and stuff right now that I have trouble coming up with a book that I've read recently start-to-finish that I could recommend. I don’t really have one, but I have a documentary, because I find it easier for me sometimes to find time to watch an hour and a half documentary and be doing some work on my computer at the same time, which I can't do when I'm reading. I saw this documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, J-I-R-O, about this Japanese sushi-maker who has been doing it for sixty-five years.

What's so interesting in this documentary to me is how passionate he is about his business and all those things about what he's chosen to do with his business. It's like a ten-seat restaurant. You have to book three months ahead of time, and he's not interested in getting bigger. He's got his focus and is just really interested in providing the perfect sushi, a really good product. He's training new sushi people, so he's involved in that kind of forwarding the craft, but he's also still always trying to make himself better.

This guy's been doing it for sixty-five years. Everyone thinks he's the best. He's pretty much got it, but he still thinks he can be better. I found that so motivating for thinking about how to practice, the importance of focusing your business on what you want to do, being the best at that, always trying to get better, always taking more trainings and mentoring other people so they can get good at it as well, and the value that that brings to the whole community and your own business, not just focusing on yourself. I really enjoyed that. I found it a very motivating documentary, even though it has nothing to do with dispute solution practice, I think there were so many things that you could think about in your own business, about how this guy has really built a model that I think is reflective of my ideals running a business.

Rackham:

Yeah. It's been a while since I saw that movie, but I think what you're talking about is that Japanese concept of kaizen, small and never-ending improvements. There's such an emphasis, or it's easy to fall into the trap of looking for the next big tech solution, the next big this, the next big that, that’s going to completely revolutionize your business, when really, if you just focus on the little stuff, the day-to-day, and improve it incrementally over time, over time you can build something truly great that just it runs smoothly and something that makes people stand back and say, "Wow, that’s really a phenomenal product, a phenomenal service, or a phenomenal piece of sushi."

Justin:

Yeah, and it informs how you choose the things you do outside of your business that add to your business, the trainings that you go to. The people that I see regularly at trainings ... Some of the trainings, I basically say, "Why is that guy here?" or "Why is that woman here? She already knows all this," but there's something that they can pick up from that training, so they're there to keep learning, to keep getting better. The people who you see who keep doing that, they're the people who are the most respected in the community, the ones you say, "Oh, they're really high level in the craft."

For instance, in mediation, I don’t think you can take a thirty-hour training or a forty-hour training and then just get it and be a great mediator. It takes practice, it takes interest and how you hone that craft, and I think an ongoing commitment to training, getting better and thinking about what are the unique situations that you may not have faced yet that could come up in the moment you've got to deal with it, all these trainings kind of help with that.

I'm constantly trying to stay involved in different trainings and opportunities to learn more about how to do those, to learn from mentors, to learn from people who just learned how to be mediators, what they're facing and the things that they're coming up with that might be innovative that you haven't thought of because you've been doing this for a little while. Being involved in that community ... Obviously, I'm a proponent of it because I'm on the board of the Mass. Council of Family Mediators and on the board of the Mass. Collaborative Law Council. I think being involved in those communities, going to the trainings makes us all better at what we do.

Rackham:

Yeah, that training, that constant learning is so important. Of course, no amount of training or learning is necessarily going to bring you to clients' attention, so for somebody who's just starting out to build an ADR practice or growing one that they already have, what's the best way that you’ve found to attract new clients?

Justin:

When we first started out, we created a website and were active in social media and starting out blogging. That stuff takes a while to build up and pay off. The other thing that we did at the same time is we got out there and we met as many people as possible, lunches, coffees, taking a walk, going to trainings and peer meetings, and just being open to introducing myself to people. I took the policy that I'm not selective at all about if someone wants to have lunch with me. If someone e-mails me and there's something that they might be looking for, referrals from me more than I am from them, they might not be a great referral source for me, but I'll take a lunch with them anyway.

Just meeting as many people as possible, you start to find the people that are going to be good connections going forward that you might want to do presentations with or use as mentors. Just personal referrals for the type of work we do are much more powerful, I think. You have to have a good website because people are still going to look at it. I'm an introvert, so going out and meeting people, I kind of have to force myself to do it.

I found it easier through communities where I get to know a few people, then they’ll introduce me to other people. Being open to that as a small business person is so important, because the personal connections you can make are much more likely to get you a higher volume of business long term than even the best website, because the dispute resolution practice is personal and people are so much more likely to trust a referral than they are a website.

The other part of that that’s, I think, nice about the dispute resolution process is many cases are going to involve multiple professionals. Unlike an adversarial process where someone's not going to trust a lawyer that their adversarial opponent suggests, in a collaborative or mediation process, I think people are kind of open to ... I want to work with someone that’s going to work well with the rest of the team, because that’s how we're going to get this case solved. We want people that work well together. There's a real opportunity for referrals within the community, so getting to know as much of the dispute resolution community around you is so important to building a business and getting referrals. Luckily, you kill two birds with one stone because those are the same people that would potentially be mentors for you if you need to reach out to somebody, so meeting those people is important anyway.

Rackham:

Yeah, and it is harder for those of us who are more on the introverted side. There's a book called Everybody Eats, or maybe it's just a saying. I'm pretty sure there's a book by that title. It's so true. If you schedule all your lunches and just make sure that you're eating your lunches with people, that’s a great way to do networking and have a nice meal and some good conversation at the same time.

Justin:

Yeah, the new entrepreneurial work spaces are designed that way, becoming more common. Just get everybody in these work spaces where when you're not doing your work, you're able to hang out. For the privacy we need for dispute resolution, that doesn’t work as well, but that doesn’t mean you can't get out into those spaces in your off time or find that space within the community, because it's such, like I said, a personal business that I think community relationships are so much more important than your typical marketing avenues.

Rackham:

Right. So true. Justin, thank you so much for your time today. Before we go, if somebody is interested in your services, what's the best way for them to reach you?

Justin:

Through our website, skylarklaw.com. Our phone number is on there and we have a contact form. That’s the best way to get to us. You can also schedule consults right on our website. There's a Schedule a Consultation button.

Rackham:

Perfect. Thank you again, Justin.

Justin:

Thank you, Rackham.

 

Rackham:

That’s today's show. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed the show, please leave a review on iTunes. You can find show notes for this episode, get free links to any books and other resources mentioned at zephyrlaw.com/initiative. I have some more great guests lined up, so be sure to join me next time for another edition of the ADR Initiative.