07. Allison Williams, Williams Law Group — Crushing Chaos: Building Multimillion-Dollar Firms

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Taking a law firm from start-up to a multimillion-dollar business won’t happen overnight. But CEO and founder Allison Williams did just that in under four years. Williams Law Group is ranked 14th of the fastest-growing law firms in the nation. Allison founded Law Firm Mentor to help law firm owners “stop the chaos” by creating an efficient firm resulting in more success and free time.  On today’s episode, we cover honing a clear vision and why a firm can not save its way to success. And we dig into why working more is not the same as adding value.  

What’s In This Episode

  • Who is Allison Williams?
  • How to rewrite the narrative of working more does not mean more human value.
  • What pitfalls should be avoided when starting a firm?
  • Is chemistry in a law firm partnership enough?
  • How Allison grew her firm to a multi-million dollar business.
  • How can attorneys crush chaos in life and in business?

Transcript

Allison Williams

We definitely need to reconceptualize the way that we have set up a whole host of different industries, including the law so that it can be appropriate for women as women are today, not women as they were when they were nothing more than the servant of their husbands.

Sonya Palmer

Cutting new paths often means leaving behind standard measures of success.

Allison Williams

But we do have to think about the fact that if we’re going to try to create something different, your something different is probably not going to have the same success metric. It’s not going to have the same utility. It’s not going to work in the same way as the traditional model. And you have to be okay with that.

Sonya Palmer

According to a recent survey, only 19% of managing partners in US law firms are female. We would like to see that change. Hello and welcome to LawHer show where we celebrate the trailblazing attorneys and entrepreneurs who are changing the game for women in the legal field. Be inspired by their stories, learn from their mistakes and look forward to the future they’re helping build for the next generation of women in Law. I’m Sonya Palmer, your host and VP of operations at Rankings, the SEO agency of choice for personal injury lawyers. This is Law Her Allison Williams grew her firm Williams Law Group from half a million dollars in revenue in year one to a multimillion dollar business in just three and a half years. She is the recipient of the Law Firm 500 award. Ranked 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation and named a Stevie Award finalist for female entrepreneur of the year in 2017 and in 2018. Wanting to share what she had learned with others, she founded Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service that stops the small firm chaos and dramatically improves success. On today’s episode, Allison and I discussed engineering versus allowing a career to unfold while looking out for what lights you up. And we cover the dangers of being a broke lawyer and why our firm can not save their way to success. And we’re going to dig into why working more is not the same as adding value. Let’s dive in.

Allison Williams

I grew up in Pensacola, Florida, and I would like to give a special shout out to my American history teacher Walter Kelly, who gave us the responsibility for cross-examining or putting on the trial of Christopher Columbus. I got to play the lead DA and I had the joy of cross-examining Christopher Columbus for his various war crimes. of course I’m a high school student, so I’m winging it. I’m taking from what was then Allie McNeil and LA law. I don’t even think Law and Order was a thing back then. And I played the role well so much so that my history teacher played some of the snippets of how the students did. And I was one of the highly rated students in that exercise. So they played it for faculty, at faculty meeting. My mom was a teacher at the high school. And so a whole lot of people started coming up to her and saying, oh my God, I hope your daughter is planning a career in law. She was like, I don’t think so, but I’ll let her know. And she did, she let me know. I hadn’t thought about it, it sounds interesting. And I started exploring and the rest is history.

Sonya Palmer

So you were just a natural from the start.

Allison Williams

Ironically, even though the exercise was cross-examining or putting on a trial for of a particular historical event, it wasn’t necessarily what I was called to do. It was really, I thought about the prestige of law more than anything. I’ll be candid. As a kid, I didn’t feel like I had a lot of power. I didn’t feel like my voice mattered. And I thought, oh, if I become a lawyer, I will suddenly have status. I will suddenly have power. And so I really envisioned myself going into an office and doing what lawyers do in an office, type on my computer, read my documents, get my large paycheck and go home. And I fell into litigating more than anything. To some degree, I guess you could say I was natural at that.

Sonya Palmer

I love that. Shout out to excellence high school history teachers and government teachers. So then let’s talk about law school. You went to Syracuse University College of Law. What are some school memories that stuck with you over the years? What do you remember about it today?

Allison Williams

So Syracuse was one of my fondest memories. I absolutely loved it there. I had a very positive experience. It was very different than where I grew up. So I grew up in Florida and then I go to New York. Really planning to work in New York City. And of course, Syracuse is in the state, but not anywhere near the city. So I got my feet wet on living in the north by virtue of being in Syracuse. And so all of the snow and the great way that they are there. City resources take care of this. Now that was the thing that really impressed me. The one time I was five years old, it’s not in Florida. Shut down everything. My dog didn’t want to go out to PE. I remember that memory. And then I go to Syracuse and their feet of snow every day, you’re cleared up miraculous later, be walls and snow everywhere, but the roads were always clear. And the people at the university were just very they were a different type of friendly people. So in the south, there’s very much a veneer of, we speak to each other. We acknowledge each other. So I had to acclimate to being in an environment where that wasn’t the friendly that I experienced. But when I was at the university, I felt much more that people were genuinely interested in my success. They were always seeking to make me happy. I was not just a student, but I was a customer, so they were trying to keep my my business, if you will. And so law school was very much an experience about trying to find my way, but having resources to do that. And I didn’t, I don’t think I ever really experienced that until I got into law school.

Sonya Palmer

What were some of those resources? Did you have mentors or professors that sort of helped guide that?

Allison Williams

I participated in my third year in the public interest law firm clinic. PILF, For short and there our professor she created a bit of contention as the first Asian American professor. It was it was very important for her to be successful and she did not get along with the student populace. That was like a huge issue. But I remember how hard she worked and she genuinely wanted us to have the experience of being able to help people boots on the grounds. And that was the first experience I got of actually going into a courtroom and having someone teach me what it was to address the tribunals, what it was to present myself professionally. So there was that. And I would also say that career services was great because I had planned a career and gotten a job. And then there was a government hiring freeze. So I had to experience my job being rescinded have to immediately go into hunting for a job my last year, my last semester, desperate to make sure I be employed after law school and career services was just wonderful. They really gave me guidance around where I could go in the short term to get a job. I got a job as a law clerk here in New Jersey working for a superior court judge in family court. And that really paved the way for my career in ways that I hadn’t even contemplated. And if I didn’t have someone to say don’t panic. Like here are some options for you in the short-term go here. Here’s what you need to do. Here’s what you need to say. Here’s how you send your letters and use that, that very street, strategic guidance to get myself, an interview or a series of interviews actually. And then ultimately get a job that was, if I didn’t have that help, I don’t know what would have.

Sonya Palmer

Oh, that’s excellent. I love that. And you with Law Firm Mentor typically work with established attorneys that are running their own firms, but do you have any advice for law students? People who are just starting out.

Allison Williams

There’s almost always this idea that you have to have it figured out when you are starting an educational path. And I had that advice when I was starting college and I had that advice when I was starting law school. You like, you need to know where you’re going. And I allowed myself in law school in ways that I ex post facto have figured out, but I didn’t know at the time. I allowed myself to go where opportunity was, even if it didn’t seem like the opportunity that I was desperately excited to have. So I never wanted to be in a family court system. my parents are married 52 years now. They never argued, so I didn’t really know what it was to have, divorced parents. And I certainly never experienced any form of domestic violence or have people fighting about child support and things like that. So when those opportunities became available to me, they didn’t seem like the right fit for me. I’m not really drawn to that cause I don’t have any personal experience with it, but I needed a job. So I needed a job and I was much more inclined to work places where I would like the people over places where I would get the best resume filler. So I ended up following. Working for the unified court system the Honorable Brian Hedges and his court attorney really took me under his wing and gave me a lot of guidance. And I, I wouldn’t have had that if I hadn’t had opened myself up to opportunities that became available to me. I would just tell a law student, if you’re really looking to build the right career, don’t try to engineer it as much as to allow. Allow things that you’re interested in, people that are inclined toward you, ideas that excite you, pursue those things, and it will make it a lot easier for you to create a career that’s really consistent with who you are and how you’re going to be the happiest.

Sonya Palmer

I think that’s excellent advice for everyone, not just law students. Thank you. And you mentioned your legal career, you’ve focus on family law, matrimonial law. Is there a specific case that sort of stands out to you that had an impact or that you’re particularly proud of?

Allison Williams

so there are several but I would say the one that kind of started my passion for the law is the the area of law that I’m known for throughout our state is child abuse and neglect parental representation. So within family law, there is a subset of law referred to as dependency law. And when some, when a parent is accused of? child abuse or neglect, the state gets involved in your whole series of ramifications to that. And once upon a time, it was thought of, and to some degree, even still today, it’s thought of as kind of poverty law, that there’s a certain type of person that’s accused. And that’s just simply not true. And it’s kept very quiet that there is a middle-class and an affluent class of person who is similarly accused. And it is oftentimes justice specious with the poor, but the poor are often assumed to be more likely to commit certain offenses by virtue of having higher rates of some of the problems that would cause a parent. Engage in inappropriate behavior, anything from poverty, leading to financial distress, leading to substance abuse and things like that. I ended up finding my way to a case. A woman walked into my office. At that time. I was a young associate. I was the youngest attorney and so everything flowed downstream to me and this woman was accused of essentially neglecting her children, no child abuse, but her husband committed suicide. Her daughter who was 12 at the time, found him. And she had an eight year old autistic child who was not verbal not potty trained and he required 24 hour a day, seven day a week care. And she just emotionally shut down. When her husband died, she fell into the bottom of a bottle and stayed there.. And I remember we had a court hearing. She had already lost custody of the children, but they were placed with her in-laws and her in-laws loved her. And it was a a relatively happy family as that circumstance can allow. And so I go to court and my expectation is that I’m going to be arguing for this woman, that she needs certain things to get well, And that she’s going to comply with the state’s request for those things, but they needed to be reasonable. So I go up to the attorney, introduce myself. She says, okay, great, thanks for letting me know who you are and when we’re ready, we’ll call your case. And they said, okay can we talk? And she said there’s nothing to talk about. We’re going to get X, Y, and Z. And I said, Okay. The last time I checked, this was a a process whereby both sides have a right to be heard. And she was like what are you really gonna argue? And I said you’re asking for a lot. I don’t think it’s reasonable that this woman who just lost her husband just lost her children. It’s clearly compromised that you want her to engage in substance abuse, counseling mental health counseling, psychological evaluation, psychiatric evaluations. You want her to do parenting classes? You want her to get a special needs monitor? There’s. Like you can’t dump all of that on one human at one time and expect her to integrate all of those complex new habits and skills. That’s a little absurd. And she said you can ask the judge if you want, but he’s going to give you. And so I said, all and I was expecting much like in family court, if I ever went into a family court and said, judge, my adversary has directed that you will be giving her whatever she wants. So therefore, I don’t need to have any say in this, the judge would be outraged. So when we go in, we go onto the record, the state’s attorney starts addressing the court and says, judge, we would ABCD and E and F. And the judge says granted, and I just looked and I said, excuse you. You realize this there’s somebody over here and he said you’ll get a chance to address the court. I was like it doesn’t really matter if you’ve already said granted. What are we doing here? And that did not go over well. Luckily I wasn’t held in contempt. I wasn’t thrown in jail. But needless to say, I had some choice words for the court. At the time I got to address the court. And it was really that moment that I said, this is what I want to spend my life doing. I want to spend my life getting back at the people treat human beings this way. And it was really just morally repugnant to me, the fact that this person was standing here and she had one shred, one ounce of humanity left inside of her. She had lost everything and they were just rolling over her, it was a pre-ordained. Yeah, she’s never going to get her stuff together. So we’re just going to dump all these things on her so we can check the boxes. Say we offered it to her. She didn’t avail herself. And when we take her children from her permanently, we’ll have the justification on paper to support it. And that was very clearly the agenda. And I saw myself as being the person in between her and that outcome. And I saw myself as that for every person that I represented in child abuse and neglect court. Yeah, that’s the thing that lit me up and really formed my career.

Sonya Palmer

With so much passion and drive, Allison was quickly building a name for herself. In 2013, she decided to form the Williams Law Group. I wanted to know what the transition was like going from attorney to entrepreneur.

Allison Williams

That was quite a traumatic story. I had already built myself, the job abuse and neglect didn’t seem like it was going to be an area where you could make a name for yourself, but nobody was really doing that practice area unless they were doing it for the public defender’s office. And I wasn’t. So I had built up a statewide reputation and I had a substantial book of business when I went out on my own. And started my career thinking or started my entrepreneurship journey thinking, okay, I’m a lawyer in my own entity. I worked for another law firm, but I was the only one who handled my cases. I was the only one who managed my staff. I had all of the metrics dialed in for how I took in new clients. So I had all of the stuff to practice. And I thought, okay, yeah, I’m going to stick in there, paying the bills and negotiating a lease and all that stuff. And. That stuff was so omnipresent and overwhelming that trying to attack it on to what was already an overwhelming volume of work. Part of the reason why I left my law firm was that I told them I was like, I, if you want me to train up your new staff person, like I have too much work, you have too much work. We need to hire somebody. And if you want me to train that person, I’m not going to be your assistant. So I need a title, literally the energy that it took for these people to have a debate about the title infuriated me. And I said, all right me and my 500 grand, we’ll just walk down the street. If it’s too much for you to give me the title. And then I left and I left somewhat precipitously, but I went out with a partner and we’re often running and it was just so many details to have to manage and all of the minutia that. I always have taken for granted how much has been orchestrated behind the scenes for me. So my partner and I separated, we separated amicably and then I’m off on my own. But now instead of 43 clients that left with me, I now have 58 clients. I had a completely inept secretary, so I had to immediately go hire somebody the process of hiring and firing and hiring and firing. Cause I was very bad at hiring. It was also very bad at firing, but I got that. And I said, you know what? I’m just going to be a secretary and a lawyer. I just need psychological space to breathe and get my bearings before I can hire again. So at the time I lived about 45 minutes away from the office, also very poor choice, and I decided I would drive to work. Be a secretary from 6:00 AM to 8:30 AM be a lawyer from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM. I’ll secretary again from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM and then go home rinse and repeat seven days a week. That was very poor choice on my part. I very quickly started to run out of energy. I had to start taking high amounts of coffee to basically keep myself to the point where I wasn’t falling asleep in the courtroom. And one night quite precipitously. I got noticed on a Thursday that all of my cases for Friday word. I was going to have a day in the office. Now this is a day in the office after probably three or four weeks with no day in the office. So I was thrilled and I was going to give myself the gift of sleeping late. I was going to sleep until seven o’clock in the morning. I was not going to get into the office until eight. I was going to leave at 7:00 PM. So like the seven to seven, 12 day, 12 hour day was my excited gift to sell. And Thursday night I stayed later because I was so excited about the prospect of going into the work on Friday with a full night of rest that I kicked it off a little early and fell asleep while driving. And I was driving about 90 miles an hour. And I woke up about this close to a guard rail.

Sonya Palmer

Wow.

Allison Williams

Yeah.

Sonya Palmer

God.

Allison Williams

That was one of the Thank God quite literally, when people use that saying Jesus take the wheel. I think quite literally what happened. Cause I have no recollection of anything other than opening my eyes, seeing the guard rail and seeing myself swerve across the highway. And thankfully I didn’t hit anyone. And thankfully I wasn’t injured, it was that moment that I said, working harder is not working. Like I can’t. Tack on any more 90 hour work weeks. I think that I’m going to be effective for my clients for myself. And this is lunacy and what was really at the heart of all of it. What’s really crazy is I learned a lot about myself through the process. Debriefing that, and it included the fact that I was working harder, but I was working so stupidly. At that time I had a reputation that spanned the state of New Jersey. All that I really had to do was increase my prices and take fewer clients. I’d make more money and work less. It’s it’s the simplest math equation in the world, but my thought is, oh my God, no, I’ve got more work. I’ve got to work harder. And there was a part of me that was trying to prove myself, trying to prove myself worthy, trying to prove that I could do it, try to prove that those people, that didn’t give me what I wanted were wrong to not give me what I wanted. And there was so much anger inside of me. Fueling me that I was really just riding on the high of my own feelings of self inadequacy. And once I learned that and started. Process that and say, okay, wait a minute. Look at historically, of course at first I started with the surface stuff, look at how impressive your resume is. And then over time I started to say, you’re a child of God. You’re a human soul. I want you to think about that. You’re a human container over a soul and you have as much intrinsic value as any other person. And starting to realize that I started to really dive into what is it that I’m here to do? What am I here to create? How can I help more people? How can I get control over the things around me? And I stopped trying to control the people around me and really just started to control the process. And I started to learn how to systematize. I was always highly efficient. That’s how I got to 600 and some change, thousands of hundreds of thousands of dollars in the first year of practice on my own. It’s because I knew how to systematize and I knew how to market, if I could just put those things together in a way that made a better environment for me and others, then we could scale. And so that’s how we got to a multiple seven figure business in a couple of years. And after that, I said, Okay. Now that I know how awful life was as it was and now that I see the difference on the flip side, the law of relativity, see how much better it is when I have control of myself. When I enjoy the work that I do, when I enjoy the people around me, when I’m contributing to the lives of every person that I tell. Let me now share that with other people. And so in January of 2018, we launched law firm mentor. We, I mean me, myself and I soon thereafter added my wonderful executive assistant ina and, we’re off and running. And so it’s now also a multiple seven figure company in a few years. And we also touch a lot of lives here.

Sonya Palmer

I relate to a lot of that and I’m confident many other people. Law firm owners do as well. I think what attempting to block schedule, with your six to eight and then your full day of work. I see that. And it’s something that I attempted to do and like how you described, I don’t ever feel burnout. I don’t ever know that I’m working too hard until I start seeing mistakes and I start getting sloppy and that’s what I’m. Okay. It’s time to take a PTO day or, so I think that mentality of work harder, just do more, you can catch up, it robs you of your ability to then actually be your best to do what you’re the most capable of.

Allison Williams

It does. And what’s crazy. You mentioned the kind of you, you see the outward signs, like you see mistakes as the basis for you to stop and slow down. What’s really crazy is that all of this, I left out one very important part of my history, which is the fact that I’m a recovering alcoholic and that I went through a very severe depression and that was at the tail end of my being an associate at someone’s law firm. And I remember. When I got myself under control, when I got myself into rehab, when I got myself a therapist and started really working on the stuff that was causing me to feel so bad about myself. And so I already had a wellness plan. Like I already knew that these are the things that pushed me to the limit, where I’m going to have a desire to drink or where I’m going to go into a dark room and not want to come out those moments. Like I had plans around that and I still couldn’t see, once I got into business, it’s almost like it just it turned a reset, because it was so well wired in me that my value comes from doing. And I think that’s a real challenge that lawyers have in particular, because we learn. The best lawyers, the one that builds the most hours, it’s the one that, has all the answers. It’s the one that is always on. It’s always working. People used to joke about me. Like they used to say, you ought to ask for a raise at your law firm because they don’t need a security system. They’ve got you. You’re the cot in the office. And they were joking, but only somewhat. I just, I never stopped working because I just learned. Great. The place that you matter is when you are working. And I think for so many women attorneys in particular, there’s that added layer of you have to be on, you have to be successful because you owe it to your gender, right? And then if you dip that person in chocolate, then you owe it to your. And then, if you have any type of other about you, if you are other able, if you’re disabled, if you are if you are a lesbian, if you are transgender, like if you have anything that’s not within the norm, you owe it to this population of people to be the breakout star. And we kind of root that in our society. And then the legal profession layers on just the general ethos that says, if you are working like a slave, you matter as a lawyer. And I think when you put all of that into one human body, The stress of being in it either causes women to completely denounce the law. Like I can’t do this anymore, or we start to create these pockets of mediocrity around us. So we just buy into the story that even though we’re the smartest in the room, we know all the law, we know all the facts, we just have to be conceived of as mediocre, because we’re not working 90 hours a week, which of course is the most ridiculous outcome in the world. The client cares about. Did you make the best possible chance for me to get what I did? Not, did it take you 90 hours versus 15 hours versus five hours versus one minute to get. But we write the story and then we buy into the story and then we sell the story to future generations of women lawyers that have that same stress, but they now have even more problems that come along with the fact that our society has become far more isolated. We are much more individualistic. We have less family support. People move away from their families more. I mean the problems just go on and on. We just make more of it. And then we make people feel guilt and shame around the fact that they can’t live up to a standard that no one could.

Sonya Palmer

Yeah, we absolutely have to read it. That, you can be better by working less, that the hour, the hustle, the volume will actually, detract from, what you can actually cook, like the best way that you can contribute. I run operations for rankings and we work with a lot of from owners, entrepreneurs and. They have similar stories to yours, where they were attorneys, they went out on their own and now suddenly they have to figure out accounting and marketing and hiring. And I like working with attorneys for that reason because they’re trying so hard, they want to make it work so bad. They care so much about the success of their business and taking care of their team and their attorneys. So I always admire that small business owners in general. I always have a lot of respect. Let’s talk about more about law firm mentor. You founded it in 2018. What is the mission of your.

Allison Williams

Yeah. So I tell people all the time law firm mentor is a business coaching service dedicated to helping solo and small law firm attorneys do three things. We help you grow revenues, crush, chaos in business, and make more money in that order. You have to have revenue in order to have a business that you can invest in so that it can create the types of minimum outcomes that you are required to produce for your clients. There are certain things like you’re not required to win, but you are required to do certain things ethically. You need money to be able to do that sustainably and reliably. Then we help you to crush chaos because as you start producing more revenue for most people, not all, but most people have never had hundreds of thousands of dollars available. Either over the course of months or over the course of years that they have to control, manage, grow, and use, or their teams, their clients, and for themselves. And so there’s a lot of internal chaos that comes with all of the activity, but there’s also a lot of actual chaos, right? The putting out fires, the responding to problem after problem and creating systems around that is really how we crush that chaos. And then ultimately, Making more money comes in the profit that comes once you have a sustainable business and you know how to run it effectively and efficiently so that you are not required to be at the epicenter of it. So that’s very much about making sure that you have a business that is not simply an extension of you, right? So that if you don’t work, you don’t eat, but you’re actually going to create something that will have sustainability of jobs for other people. It will have sustainability of outcomes for your clients because it’s reliable and predictable. And of course, it’s going to create a much better life for you as the owner where you can choose to work as much or as little as you desire.

Sonya Palmer

I love crush chaos. I don’t just tolerate it, crush it. So I appreciate that. And what do you see as benefits for women starting their own firms going out on their own?

Allison Williams

Yeah. So there’s so many benefits to going out on your own, right? It’s not for everyone. So I will say that, there’s a certain. Fire that a lot of lawyers have inside of them that they’re not even aware of until they become a business owner. When you have the ability to not just have the freedom from a boss, because to be clear I worked at three great law firms and at least the managing attorney, the one who hired me, the one that I work most closely with, I still have great relationships with all of them. I loved working for them. It was never a matter of me wanting to escape a job. And I always was highly productive. So I got a lot of freedom. But when you are in your own business, the freedom then becomes something that you can really visualize as how you want your life to be so that you can create a business that supports your life. So that might mean you want a certain stage time to be able to cut out in the middle of the day to go to things at your children’s school, or you might want to entertain artistic passions that you have. So you want to be able to take certain weeks off to be able to go paint or go right, or go be in a commune, right? There are certain elements of the business that you have a lot more sale over. So you get to start driving. Who you help? Who are the people that you most enjoy working with? What is it that you want to create with your law firm? Do you want to just practice law as a way of making money or is there something bigger merit to that? And by the way, there’s no judgment. If there isn’t something bigger, right? There are some people that practicing law is a job, right? And they want that job to be highly financially successful so that they can do something else. But if you don’t own a business that is effective at producing revenue without. Just as you can’t, when you are working a job, you have to produce the labor in order to justify your compensation. You’re not going to be able to get to that something else. And I think that’s something else is really critically important. It’s really become even more important during the pandemic, as people have really had to stop and pause and think about how much time do I want to be spending at my home with my family in my interests, how much time do I want to give over to a career that may or may not serve me? And as we tap into that, Creating your own business really allows you to have space to create that for yourself. Now, a lot of people don’t actually create that for themselves because they see having a law firm is just a job with my name on it. That’s how they run it. So they now hold themselves accountable to billing a lot of hours instead of being held accountable by someone else. But if you really conceptualize it the right way, a business is a gateway to create. Dream life and it really does make people better citizens. It makes them better for their families, better for their friends, better for themselves. And I’m very much committed to helping my clients achieve that.

Sonya Palmer

What are some pitfalls that people should be aware of or should watch out before. Start their own farm.

Allison Williams

I think there’s probably several that, that immediately come to mind that are always danger points. So the first thing is. A lot of lawyers are risk averse, right? So we’re always looking at problems and we’re always trying to mitigate problems. And the way that a lot of us do that as we go into retraction, right? The best way to avoid a problem is not to have one in the first place. So they oftentimes will avoid investing in themselves. They will avoid delaying gratification. They will avoid. Doing things that are seemingly aggressive to get them to the result that they want faster. And what I always tell people is there is no greater risk to the public than a a broke lawyer, not just because of things like stealing from a trust account. That actually is one of the. Common offenses, even though that’s what we are most strongly punished for. And rightfully and that’s what people think of. But when I say broke lawyer, I’m talking about a lawyer who has to choose between, am I going to live on credit this month? Or am I going to pay myself? Because I’ve got deposition fees and I have. Court costs and this month I want to invest a little bit in pay-per-click advertising, but I’m terrified. So I’m going to take it out of someplace else rather than say, there’s going to be a, both, and I’m going to invest and I’m going to hold my, my investing partners accountable so that I can get to actually more out of that investment. So there’s a an ignorance for lack of a better word to the idea of saving your way to success, which is a feasible strategy, especially when you own a business. The second thing I would highly caution people about when they’re thinking about going out is that people like to feel safe and the feeling of safety often comes in now. So people will choose a colleague that they respect, or even a friend, and they’ll say, Hey, let’s go do this together. And they don’t sit down with that person and say, what do we want to create? Not just, can we both practice law? Not just are we both good attorneys? Not just can we both generate clients, but what do we want to create? And just about every partnership that has come through our ranks at some point in time has had the conversation with. They decided to go their separate ways. Not because they’re not. Fully invested in the business, but because one of them wants to create a mega firm that only practices in one practice area and the other wants to have a boutique practice with three different practice areas that has satellite offices in four different counties. Like there, you can’t create both of those at the same time. And when you try to compromise on what you desire, even though you are spending all of your time and all of your energy and all of your effort in this. Neither person is going to be satisfied and neither person is going to be full on committed to the vision because the vision is a hodgepodge of what both of you have said that you want. And oftentimes you don’t have those conversations. So people make assumptions about what the other wants, and then you’re acting on those assumptions and then you’re demonizing each other for not wanting the same thing. So I would highly recommend if somebody decides to go out to really see. I know it’s going to seem scary, right? I know that I’m going to feel alone. There are a whole host of different resources out there for you to not feel alone. Right now, lawyers are assembling themselves in social media and you can find groups of lawyers. There are local groups of lawyers. You can find mastermind groups and networking groups. You can get coaching, you can do any number of things where you can find a community and find yourself a community, and then go in as an individual, but not alone. So ask for help. Ask for it. Use the help that’s available to you. And it’s going to be a much better outcome than if you just stick yourself with a person. So you don’t have that feeling of being alone.

Sonya Palmer

I’ve been talking to women lawyers especially ones that have a partner it’s seems that they fell into it. Like it was the chance meeting. There was immediate chemistry and they’re like, we’re going to do something amazing. And I wonder by. Starting asking this question that you’re posing, if you can spark that with people, that instead of falling into it, are there other dynamic doers and partnerships that can be created and successful simply by sitting down and saying, okay, what do we want to create together and how that could, Start a lot of really amazing things and then, prevent things from falling apart later.

Allison Williams

Listen, I am, I’m a very much an individualist, so I’m very much about self optimization, but there are some people who, again, if you’re passionate, Create through your business, but you need a certain amount of revenue to create another areas in your life. You may very well want to go the partnership route. There’s nothing wrong with that. but it’s just having the conversation. And then once you and your partner on the same page, you can create a model, right? You can say we’re going to be a law firm of individuals who eat what they kill. There’s going to be a certain minimum amount that you’re going to put into the pot. And then beyond that we will generate work that we will share equally amongst ourselves. And that works for some people. And I know successful law firm, partnerships that have been around for 20, 30 years that have had that model, or you can say, we’re all gonna lead a different department and then we’re going to hire associates and share the work among them so that we can see where they fit. There’s. An infinite number of ways for people to put themselves together. But that starting partnership really has to get clear on what they are creating and then it becomes easier to scale it without the risk that every time you add a person you’re adding more challenge, more differentiation, more disagreement, and more minds that have different thoughts on what, where we’re ultimately going.

Sonya Palmer

Women remain underrepresented in the legal industry, especially in top positions, like founding our managing partner. I wanted to know what Allison would tell women who see those statistics and get discouraged.

Allison Williams

So there’s a, there’s been a lot of commentary. I’d say. Over the past several years, but even in the past couple of years about the role of women in business versus in home. And I’ve taken a significant interest in this cause I have quite a few clients women, clients who are wives and mothers, and they’re trying to find the balance of where does my personal life fit with my business life. And the one thing that I will tell you that has been universally true is that you cannot. You cannot ignore the things that are going to make you successful in this industry because you want to do it a different way. And what I mean by that before anyone gets triggered by it, is that if you are a person that says I would much rather collaborate than be an individual, I would much rather. Make sure that I am taking care of people all over rather than prioritizing taking care of my myself. First, a lot of those principles sound like good principles, but the challenge is always going to be that the model of the industry does not fit with that. So if you want to break the mold by all means, go break the mold. But what you can’t do is try to break the mold and spend your time and your energy and your effort complaining about the fact that the industry does not fit the mold that you are trying to create. That doesn’t mean that you should be a pacifist about the changes that you want to make by all means. We definitely need to reconceptualize the way that we have set up a whole host of different industries, including the law so that it can be appropriate for women as women are today, not women as they were when they were nothing more than the servant of their husbands. But we do have to think about the fact that if we’re going to try to create something different, your something different is probably not going to have the same success metric. It’s not going to have the same utility. It’s not going to work in the same way as the traditional model. And you have to be okay with that.

Sonya Palmer

Yes. So there’s a specific structure. And if you choose not to use that structure, the re like results might be difficult to identify a success or otherwise.

Allison Williams

So like a perfect example is, I know That there is a shift right now in the law, moving from billable hours to flat fees. And what a lot of people don’t know is that the billable hour was actually something that was demanded by the public. It wasn’t created by. Originally lawyers actually did value billing where they would assess a case and say, okay, this will cost you $10,000 and the person would say how do I know it’s worth $10,000? And so lawyers started breaking down the content units of time that they spend, and that was how they were ultimately able to produce. And the client could say, okay, I know, that you are entitled to a certain amount of money based on what you actually build me, but now we’re moving away from that as well. And if you think about it, whether you’re billing by the hour or you’re charging a flat fee or even a contingency practice, there are still metrics associated with how much productivity your labor is going to produce. And what is the cost of your labor relative to the cost that you are serving your serve. Now that you’re delivering your service, right? The spread between the two is going to be your profit, right? So the cost of the service, which includes the cost of the labor has a leftover profit margin. And if you are. Focused on that, right? If you just go off and practice law, because it feels good to do it a certain way and you’re in your own space, you’re not going to be able to say with any level of reasonable predictability, here’s how much money I’m going to have left over for me or investments in the firm for people that I want to hire for choices that I want to make down the road, those numbers need to be dialed in. And I think that a lot of times women. So resist the traditional model because it has been so hostile to women that they say on the flip side. Okay. I’ll think about things like the bottom line. I will turn it over to an accountant to calculate for me what that number is, but when it’s time for me to create in the space, Optimizing that bottom line we want to go back to it feels good for me to be over here in the collaborative, supportive, nurturing space instead of over here in the competitive, aggressive driving space. And it’s okay to create something. That’s. 100% the model that it was, but just recognize that until our society values collaboration and cooperation and nurturing and supporting at the same level, that it values and compensates competitiveness and driving forces and aggressiveness, et cetera, you’re not going to make as many. And so you have to be prepared for that. Most women that I talk to are okay with that. Especially if they’re in partnership with a spouse that either is a financial contributor, or it could be even primary wage earner at that stage where they start that journey. They’re okay with that. But the women that I find that the most competitive naturally the most driven by. What led them to the law in the first place, they feel very frustrated by trying to meld two worlds of masculine and feminine into a pseudo model of what we once had into this new thing. And that oftentimes causes a burnout at a whole different level, because then you’re not really following who you are, you’re following what you think you should be as a woman. And you’re resisting what you think is wrong with the model that has always been driven by men.

Sonya Palmer

The drive competitiveness is very stereotypical of lawyers and business owners to have to adopt that. Can you keep that supportive? And then sometimes it’s just personality. So I think just taking a step back and evaluating yourself, your support system type of family, you have type of job you want could save you a lot of time and stress,

Allison Williams

it still boils down to communication. If you think about it, because so many times, people who get themselves together in their twenties or even their thirties will oftentimes make presumptions that we’re in a galitary relationship, right? Both of us cook both of us clean both of us work and we’re in partnership. And then along comes baby, and there’s a whole host of natural instincts that kick in. And oftentimes the assumption is of course, you’re the woman. So you’re going to take a lesser seat with your career, right? Why would we not do that? And the woman is I’ve never said that was what I wanted for my life. And all of a sudden you have a clash that is causing a lot of additional stress, right? The stress of the relationship. Now you have a child and you want to preserve the relationship. And if you didn’t have those types of panic conversations before the child, now you have. The trying to create difficult conversations with your partner while you’re dealing with the stress of being a parent. And while you’re dealing with the stress of owning a business and, for people that don’t have those conversations early on and get clarity on that, it will oftentimes break them in one area of their life. And far too often, unfortunately it’s breaking in the area of the business, right? Because people say the child is not negotiable. The spouse is not negotiable. And my, my business. I want it. I love it, but I’ll let it take a backseat. And then very slowly we see the dying on the vine of the dreams and hopes and all the life aspirations that person had. And it’s always very sad because I think they feel trapped into that reality when, just shifting the narrative a little bit and forcing yourself to have those difficult conversations and really help their.

Sonya Palmer

So after you have crushed chaos, is there anything particular you like to do to decompress? How do you stress relief? How do you wind down?

Allison Williams

Yeah. So of course anybody that’s seen any level of my marketing, that I have two pirates. One is a yellow shouldered, green parrot. Maximillian he’s an amateur. And then my Rosebreasted cockatoo, her name is Versace and they are the loves of my life. That’s why they show up with me in photographs. That’s why they live here with me in my office, even though I did wheel them out for this interview. Cause they will sometimes participate.

Sonya Palmer

Oh, they could have come on.

Allison Williams

So I love my birds. They are my sweethearts. I’m in a relationship. So I spend time with my partner. And then, I’m a Floridian at heart. I was born and raised in Florida. I’m a Pisces. So I’m a water sign. love the beach, loved being near the water. And anytime that. I can go for long walks near the water, that’s what I do to clear my head and through my senses.

Sonya Palmer

Breaking the mold requires tossing out standard metrics of success. Having hard, honest conversations about goals and expectations with partners, both professional and personal. But first you have to know what healthy success really looks like for you. And while cutting new paths can feel terrifying, Allison reminds us that this is not something you have to do alone. Tap into existing networks or build your own. A huge, thank you to Allison for sharing her story and unbelievable insights with us today. You’ve been listening to with me, Sonya Palmer. If you found this content insightful, inspiring, or just made you smile, please share this episode with a trailblazer in your life for more about Allison Williams, check out our show notes, and while you’re there, please leave us a review or a five star rating. It really goes a long way to help others discover the show. And I’ll see you next week. on LawHer where we’ll shed light on how another of the brightest and boldest women in the legal industry climbed to the top of her field.

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