40. Shermin Lakha, LVLUP Legal — A Practice of the Future: Flat Fees, Transparency and Trust

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Shermin Lakha’s firm, LVLUP Legal, may have a brick-and-mortar location in New York, but that is as close as she gets to a traditional firm. Most business is conducted virtually – saving time for the clients and staff, which allows her high-volume firm to take on more clients. And her innovative practices extend into the structure of the practice itself. She has done away with the billable hour entirely.

Flat fees for service can increases transparency and cultivate trust with your clients – especially in young businesses with limited resources. Firms also benefit from reduced overhead administrative costs. She explains how she sets service fees, maintains boundaries, and hires great cultural fits under this model.

What’s in This Episode

  • Who is Shermin Lakha?
  • Why has switching to a fee-based firm accelerated her growth?
  • How did she fund her firm in the early stages of development?
  • What do you need to start a practice of your own?
  • How does she set boundaries without billable hours?
  • Why has she not spent a dollar on advertising?
  • How does she only spend two hours a week making a week’s worth of social content?

Transcript

Shermin Lakha

The two big questions people always think are going to be expensive are how much is my accountant going to cost? And how much is my lawyer going to cost?

Sonya Palmer:

In the world of startups, mentorship between attorneys and clients can go both ways. In quickly evolving markets, innovation and transparency will help your firm in the businesses you serve thrive.

Shermin Lakha

People are so educated now, and they want to be able to talk in an educated way about their business from all perspectives, including legal. So we take the time to give our clients the wheels to go forth and represent their business without always having to ask their attorney.

Sonya Palmer:

In 2021, women made up over half of all summer associates for the fourth year in a row. Yet equity partners in multi-tier law firms continue to be disproportionately white men. Only 22% of equity partners are women. We would like to see that change. Hello and welcome to LawHer the 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, build community and look forward to the future they’re helping build for the next generation of women in law. I am Sonya Palmer, your host and VP of operations at Rankings, the SEO agency of Choice for Personal Injury Lawyers. This is LawHer.

Shermin Lakha is the founder and managing attorney of LVLUP Legal.
She has done away with billable hours in favor of flat fees, established her firm as primarily virtual, brought on an ever-expanding book of business, and has done it all without spending a dollar on advertising. Her innovative practices provide a mutually beneficial service to her clients. The transparency in billing fosters trust and deeper relationships while doing away with managing retainer fees slashes her administrative overhead. Shermin is a wealth of insight today. She acknowledges why it’s okay to transition even after you have checked all the boxes. What it really takes to open a solo practice and it’s less than you might think, how to set boundaries when you’ve done away with billable hours and how she built a high volume firm without spending a dollar on advertising. Eight-year-old Shermin was a big dreamer. Let’s dive in.

Shermin Lakha

So I always really wanted a lot of attention as a child. I was always really outgoing. And so when I think about eight-year-old me and what I’m doing now, it does seem kind of fitting in a way because I am able to use my voice as an attorney. I think that a lot of times when we think about really buttoned-up careers like accounting or law, we think that we’re going to be sitting behind a desk but now that’s been able to be changed so much.

Sonya Palmer:

Very true.

Shermin Lakha

And so I’m not only able to work in a way with clients that are, it’s outward facing. I also get to work with a lot of wonderful women and I get to be a mentor to them as well.

Sonya Palmer:

Being a lawyer and then of course running a business, and being a firm owner, are very different skill sets. So I think an outlier is necessary sometimes to be a good firm owner.

Shermin Lakha

Absolutely. I think that when there are two different types of things you could do. You could be a lawyer for sure, but I’m also in the business of running a law firm. So the business of law and there’s two sides to that.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes. So when did you know that a career in legal was kind of where you were going to go?

Shermin Lakha

To be honest, I kind of backed into going to law school. I was graduating from undergrad and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted a professional career. I knew that I wanted to continue my education and I was an English lit major and so I wasn’t good at science so the next best thing, I was like, “All right, I’m just going to go to law school.” I ended up getting very lucky. It was the right thing for me.

Sonya Palmer:

And then you’re originally from Seattle?

Shermin Lakha

Yeah, my parents are still out there. I went to the University of Washington and I went to Seattle U for Law. But during my last year, I always knew that I wanted to be in New York. I was always a woman who was like, “I’m going to be in the center of where everything is, from lifestyle to law, to whatever’s really going on.” I feel like New York really moves the needle when it comes to everything. So when I was 22, I created a program at my law school to be able to do my last year here and graduate out of Seattle U. And I’ve been here now for 11 years. It’s nice to have both. So I have that West Coast vibe and I’m really from there, but now I feel like I’m more in line as a quintessential New York woman.

Sonya Palmer:

New Yorker. Do you think you’ll stay then?

Shermin Lakha

Yeah, I’m a lifer. This is my home now. I feel like I grew up here. I’ve had every interesting part of my life here from being in law school, getting my first job, interning, and even going through a lot of life changes here in my 20s. You grow up so much during that time period. And now that I’ve entered my 30s and I run my own practice, we base ourselves as a very New York-centered law firm. We even did an event called Empire State of Law over the summer, so definitely very New York-focused.

Sonya Palmer:

And then you worked as a corporate lawyer for a handful of years before opening your own practice. Can you take me back to the moment when you knew you wanted to have your own firm? When did that fully make sense to you?

Shermin Lakha

When I was in law school, I’m one of those achievers and I’m one of those checkbox people. So I was like, “Okay, I’m going to go to law school, I’m going to get all of these different jobs and I’m going to get this big corporate job that I’ve always wanted and I’ll be secure.” And that’s really the end goal. And when I finally got to that stage, it just didn’t feel fulfilling. They always say, “I wish everybody had all the money in the world because then they would know that that’s not what makes you happy.” So I thought that I knew it was going to make me happy at the time but I realized fortunately pretty early on that really wasn’t what it was for me. So I remember it was December, it was around the holidays I believe in 2018. And I just had this feeling, I was like, you know what? I’m not going to do this anymore. I want to do something else.
And I’ve always been an extremely social person, I’ve always been really well-connected in New York and I had a lot of friends that had previously asked me to help them with their startups. And I was like, “Okay. So I have a couple of people that I know that might need some work. I know that I have some money saved, why don’t I just take a break for the first time ever?” I’ve always gone through school, and never taken a break.
So during the three-month pay, I decided to quit my job and I started a website and then I’m like, “I’m just going to post it on social media that I’m offering legal services.” I ended up growing so quickly within three months, I was able to hire my first intern her name is Shayna and she’s still with me now she’s a graduate attorney focused on IP. And so it ended up just growing. It wasn’t necessarily an exact moment, but I think intuitively I knew that it was my time to do that. I don’t think I would be as brave as I was back then now. But it all just ended up happening the way that it should at the time.

Sonya Palmer:

I think it’s really amazing when you have those inclinations and they’re strong and sort of flushed out early. Because a lot of people don’t get that clarity until they’re in their 40s, 50s, and sometimes even 60s. This is my purpose, this is what I meant to do. So it’s amazing that you got that.

Shermin Lakha

Yeah, to be honest, I never thought I would be one of those people. When I was in law school I was always like, “Okay, I’m going to go to law school because then I’m going to just have a secure job, but I’m going to do other stuff on the side. I’m going to be creative, I’m going to do this and that.” And I was like, “I’m just never going to be one of those people that loves what I do and lives to work.” And now I really am. So you never know. I feel very fortunate.

Sonya Palmer:

And then one of the aspects that often keeps women from opening a firm is money. How did you initially fund your firm, if you don’t mind sharing?

Shermin Lakha

When I started as a solo, my thought process was, “Okay, all I really need to do is just get a website and use my personal network.” And when you are a solo, I think the reason why a lot of attorneys stay solo is that there’s very little overhead. You’re really just paying for your laptop and your brain can do most of the work. And it’s just connecting and networking accordingly. So when I first started I had about $30,000 saved. I’m like, “Okay, if I have this much, just a little bit of a nest egg.” I was still 29 at the time my rent was relatively affordable, I didn’t have that many expenses and so I started just taking on the business. And because the law is technically a service-based business and we have these amazing tools like social media that allow us to network and to promote our businesses for free, I was able to just build clientele.
And now obviously we have an office space where I have employees and I pay salaries and all that great stuff. So there is a lot more overhead. But when a woman wants to start a business, what’s amazing about us is that we are really strategic and we are very resourceful. So I think that we also know how to market to people and know how to be attractive in what we do and attract the right customers. So I think taking all of those things and utilizing social media is so important if you really want to start a business. And I think the law is getting there, but I think it is still very underutilized.

Sonya Palmer:

If you can get a website up that communicates your services, then you can start taking clients. And I think having enough savings of a nest egg to at least be able to support yourself for six months or nine months until you can take lots of clients, that’s really all you need.

Shermin Lakha

Right, and I never even dipped into that 30,000, to be honest.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes, it’s amazing.

Shermin Lakha

I was able to start generating revenue right away. I definitely undercharged at the time. That’s one thing that I do. I still feel like my team will be like, “You’re undercharging.” And I have male colleagues that will tell me, they’re like, “Shermin, I wouldn’t do half the stuff that you do for free for your clients because you care.” And so having a little nest egg is important because it gives you that security so you don’t approach things with desperation. But as a service-based business with minimal overhead, we’re so lucky that we’re able to really start in that way.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes. And then you’ve mentioned getting your first intern. When did you start hiring and then what did that process look like?

Shermin Lakha

It’s so funny. So Shayna’s very near and dear to my heart because she’s kind of been from the beginning. So she’s seen the Emperor had no clothes at that point. So I think it was within three or four months. I was getting really busy and I was still really trying to market on social media and do the work and get organized. And a lot of times, and I tell this to even my startup clients, “You need somebody with you who is going to really be someone you can rely on and be a right-hand person. You can’t really just go to bed at night and be like, it’s just me. I’m going to make this decision and that’s that.” So within three months, I hired her as my first intern. I put out an add ad on one of the law school websites. It actually happened to be her law school, but she found it via Google. And so then she applied and she has been amazing since. So she’s always had the heart and the dedication.
I think what made her stand out is that you had to have that entrepreneurial mindset in addition to being an attorney. And she understood that, that it wasn’t just about taking in clients, it was about how are we getting these clients? What are we doing? And then after that when she was going to study for the bar, she was like, “Shermin you need somebody else in here to take my place.” And so she brought on my second attorney who’s still with me today, Bianca, and I worked with Bianca while Shayna was sitting for the bar and they both joined me, and then we had our fourth Selena in the same situation. When Bianca went to study for the bar, I brought her in.
It was really just kind of them referring people they knew and I honestly didn’t have time to do a whole interview process now we have a whole interview process and we really, because we’re trying to grow the firm to be honest with the right candidates. And so sure it’s really important to have them while they’re an intern to understand the business that when they get out of law school they’re able to start taking on clients generating business and all of that. So it helps that learning curve because there is a learning curve.

Sonya Palmer:

For sure. I think that the entrepreneurial mindset, and growth mindset is often undervalued in team members and employees just because “is it culture or is that a skill set to constantly be looking for growth? And I think that’s something people overlook. So it sounds like you have a great team.

Shermin Lakha

Yeah, I do. I adore them. So people ask that all the time. They’re like, “You have all women; what’s the tea? What’s the drama?” I’m like, “We don’t have that much. Everybody gets along.”

Sonya Palmer:

That’s amazing.

Shermin Lakha

Maybe I think that I don’t know what happens behind the scenes, but everyone gets along in the office.

Sonya Palmer:

So, in addition to your team, do you have any other mentors or people you turn to during the process or even now?

Shermin Lakha

I feel like I’m growing in such a way and we’re opening up new practice areas like Web3 and cannabis law. And for a while I felt like, I didn’t really have a mentor because there wasn’t really someone doing what I was doing. Also, attorneys are just naturally competitive. I don’t know if there are other attorneys out there that would want to mentor me in any way because technically I’m competition. So as we’ve dived into new areas of law, I’ve had other attorneys and people really guide me. I work with a lot of female founders and when I first started, I would say a good mentor was Cate Lucio, who is the founder of the Luminary, which is the women’s workspace and collaboration hub, Jen DaSilva. She’s the president of Berlin, Cameron.
They helped introduce me to the right women in the New York area to help build my practice. And honestly, without those women’s introductions, I really wouldn’t have been able to grow. I’m at this stage where I feel like rather a mentorship is really important, but I’m a mentor to so many women as well that it would be interesting to find somebody who I could actually speak to guide me. But I have a good friend group, and I’m very good at expressing myself. So it’s like if I need help, I’m not afraid to ask.

Sonya Palmer:

I do think it’s very difficult when you’re innovating, and you’re trying to pioneer. How do you find someone who has done what you are trying to do successfully? That’s very difficult. And to me, that is a good mentor. I want to talk to someone who has done what I’m trying to do. But when you’re at the front of things, that’s very difficult to find.

Shermin Lakha

FEMA founders in general, we’re always really good at mentoring each other, but also because a lot of those women are my clients, I’m like, okay, then I end up mentoring them at the same time on their business. So it goes two ways. It’s great though.

Sonya Palmer:

Shermin is looking to modernize the legal industry. In addition to being virtual. She has done away with the billable hour in favor of flat fees for service.

Shermin Lakha

So originally I went with flat fees because a lot of our clients, sometimes we are their first cost when it comes to starting their business. They’ve been bootstrapping, they’ve been taking their time and building the business, but then they’re ready to actually spend on legal. And I have to say, the two big questions people always think are going to be really expensive are how much is my accountant going to cost and how much is my lawyer going to cost? And there’s a big question mark when it comes to that amount because everyone knows, like, oh, your lawyer’s going to hit you with a $10,000 bill, X, Y, Z. So transparency is key when you’re dealing with new founders because every dollar that they spend on their business counts and they could be using it to generate growth in the business while protecting the business is so important. And it helps be proactive versus reactive.
They want to make sure their dollar is being spent well. So we did the flat fees so that people can know how much we charging them and they don’t feel like they’re going to be hit with a scary bill and that they can talk to us candidly without filling their like on a shot clock.
So that helped cultivate the relationship. We don’t take retainers. Lawyers are required to have a special trust account and have to make sure that they withdraw from that. And it’s just a lot of admin. So when I started I was like, “I don’t want to deal with retainers and [inaudible 00:17:18] accounts and all of that. I just would take the flat fee, it’s agreed upon, and that’s just that. And that’s been very good for us from an admin’s perspective, so it’s just both. It’s the ease of us being able to take on clients and work with them, transparency and also it just helps cultivate a relationship and all of our clients end up coming back to us. We don’t take these long-term retainers where we connect them to us and have that reassuring income. Every month is different depending on who we bring in, we’ve been able to grow such a big base that way.

Sonya Palmer:

Sure, that transparency can cultivate trust so then they know that they have the right people they’re working with. So that makes a lot of sense. And then so often, we hear that women undervalue themselves. You already sort of stated your prices are undervalued, especially when it comes to service-based businesses. How did you approach pricing your services?

Shermin Lakha

So I approached pricing based on how long I think the work will really take and what’s really competitive in the market. People are so educated now, and they want to be able to talk in an educated way about their business from all perspectives, including legal. So we take the time to really give our clients the wheels to actually go forth and represent their business without always having to ask their attorney. Obviously, it’s increased over time but really just based on the time that it takes and the value we provide, we do have a lot more overhead, but we’re smart about how we spend it. My [inaudible 00:18:58] originally was to be the premier women-owned law firm. Now I’m just looking to be the premier law firm.

Sonya Palmer:

I want to follow up on the billable versus flat fee. I think that a client, that can just email you or text you and get you without that attached would be super valuable to them but also a double-edged sword. If there’s no boundary for that billable hour, how do you set boundaries with communication so that you’re not constantly being bombarded?

Shermin Lakha

So boundaries is something that I actually am not good at, and I’m working on it, but I care so much. My associate, Shayna, she’s so good at boundaries. One of my other associates, Bianca, she’s very good at communicating exactly what the work is going to be. So in addition to my transparent flat fee, we let them know it includes one 30-minute post-call to talk about, anything additional will be billed separately, and we’ll let you know if there’s more that needs to be done. So creating clear boundaries in that respect so they can understand what’s included in the fee has been helpful. But I’m not going to lie, I still get texts, calls, the emails all the time. I think my biggest thing is I have to realize that I don’t have to respond right away, but I get something I want to respond to right away.
But I’m like, okay, if I’m somewhere and I’m not in the right frame of mind to respond, let me take a step back and make sure that I have an educated response back to them, and that’s thought out rather than just like a ping, ping, ping, ping, ping. And you have to manage your clients that way. I think that is always very hard for women as well. We generally want to do our job well. We want to be there for the clients we work with. And I think that’s why a lot of people choose female attorneys because we are more empathetic to situations. So see, after a while, you just have to get a little harder. I think I’m a little harder now, but-

Sonya Palmer:

It’s true. And then I saw on your site that you are building out templates. Can you speak a bit about what the services are and how your clients will be able to use them?

Shermin Lakha

Yes. So the templates should be coming pretty soon. I’m a perfectionist, so we want to build out the templates to be so accurate because we read templates all the time that people download and review them. And I’m like, “I can’t believe that someone is allowing people to put this template up for this business.” Another reason it’s been taking a while is that I like everything to be so tailored to each business that I feel almost like, “Oh, only certain things could be templated.” And the reason we started this is because a lot of our clients do need things instantly. And if they need it yesterday for something, it takes us time to make sure that we review and draft, and understand the business. So we want to have that service available to our clients. It’s only going to be limited agreements like an NDA, potentially a privacy policy. Still, we’re never going to do a service agreement or terms and conditions or anything very specific to a business.
I can’t reiterate that enough. If anybody is doing templates and it’s like a service agreement, everyone’s business is so different, you can’t really do that, and you can’t really advise them properly. In addition to having templates, we will offer, if someone purchases a template, a 15 to 20-minute meeting with us to go over and make additional edits to the template to tailor it.

Sonya Palmer:

Customize it, yeah.

Shermin Lakha

I think what helps with the templates is our business development time. So we already know that person is a retained client and we just can actually do a post-call with somebody we know that’s retained us for our time. So that’s the purpose behind that.

Sonya Palmer:

Excellent. And you primarily work with startups, creatives, and entrepreneurs. Do you see that model working in other areas?

Shermin Lakha

So I do think that it could work. It only works for contracts. It could work on employment a bit. Everything needs to be negotiated when it comes to different agreements. So NDAs and all of that can work for really any business model. But for templates, I think I’m the stopgap between that. Everyone’s like, “We need the templates help; it’ll help streamline.” I’m like, “I’m a very perfectionist in my quality of work,” and most of what I do now, though is because I am running the firm, and I work with a lot more complex businesses. I do mostly startups that are raising investment funds; I do mostly startups that are raising investment funds.
So now I’m doing a lot of strategy calls with them because I was doing that anyways. I was spending an hour strategizing their business because I’ve had so much familiarity with businesses raising funds, and we’re looking at becoming part of different accelerator programs. We’re a preferred member of the Carta. And so my time now, because of my experience, I’m doing more strategy, and then I can focus on less of the templated work that can be templated. So there’s growth in what we’re trying to do and expand that way.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes, that’s clear. And then you began your firm in 2019, right before the pandemic. Was going all virtual part of the original plan?

Shermin Lakha

So originally, when we say we’re a virtual firm, we mean that we work with clients virtually. So we get that all the time because now there are so many virtual firms that generally work online. So when I first started, I was working from home and taking all my client calls virtually. So the reason we did that is that startups really only have 20 to 30 minutes tops to tell you what they need, and they’re so busy. So it was able for me to have a call with them directly and then not have people have to come into an office and sit down and waste their time with transportation. So before the pandemic, it was working great, and I was taking all of my client’s calls virtually, and I got really good at that. Then when the pandemic hit, we kind of already had everything set in place to be able to continue to serve our clients.
And one thing I always say when taking virtual clients and what I always do is I always have a team, a lot of people, a lot of attorneys we see will come on and their sweatpants and they’re put a high bun, and I’m like, “No, we come in, we’re dressed every day. We come in professionally because you’re really dealing face-to-face and a client wants to feel like you’re taking them seriously. You’re not just taking a call out of your bed.” So definitely, when we take our virtual calls, we make sure that happens. The pandemic was very beneficial for our business. I mean, I think that that was really the crux of what makes us successful because, obviously, there are hundreds of attorneys in New York City or even all over the U.S., right? Thousands, millions, don’t even know the number. But why was I able to be successful, and how was I able to scale during a time… I would sit at my desk 12 hours a day.
I mean, I didn’t have anything else to do. I would take call after call Shayna, Bianca, and I was cranking this out, building the business. We then brought on Selena to help as well. And a lot of startups and clients started pursuing their passion projects. They started pursuing their dreams because they either got laid off or they had all this extra time, and so they needed legal help. And so this was a great time for us, and we just hustled and hustled, and a lot of those clients are still our clients today.

Sonya Palmer:

That’s amazing. I imagine that having been set up to be virtual also works to your advantage because there’s still some hesitancy for firms to go virtual. So the fact that you were already set up and ready to do that probably worked to your advantage.

Shermin Lakha

Yeah, it did. So we were marketing on social media, and we’re taking client calls virtually. I always have many interns come into the calls while they’re still interning to understand how this all works. And so yeah, it helped us really during the pandemic a lot. And even afterward, we still take a lot of our clients; virtually a lot of them want to come into the office to see us and hang out with us, but then our time is so allotted because we’re high volume. So if we have someone come in, it’s like 15 minutes here, the half-hour we’re chatting, then we get into legal, and then it takes up the whole day. So we can take on more business by speaking to our clients virtually as well.

Sonya Palmer:

Culture exists at every firm, whether you make one or not, Shermin has been intentional about culture from the beginning.

Shermin Lakha

So when it comes to the business, I always tell the team, the team is my number one priority, and then it’s the brand, and it’s the clients, and then all the other things in between. And while everything is very important, if my team is happy and they have a good positive working environment, they’re going to perform well for clients because we’re going to work as a team together. The brand is really kind of twofold on that. So I would look at LVLUP Legal as a brand, a brand that allows women or individuals to feel comfortable in their skin and be who they are. I think that was one of the reasons I left corporate practices because I felt like I had two separate lives. I was somebody who was working, and then I just couldn’t wait till it hit, time to go home, and I could go hang out with my friends and be who I am and not feel like I have to have this corporate mask.
And so the firm’s culture and what you do most of your days now is so important. So I’ve always made sure that we have camaraderie. I’m an open book. I’m probably the one who chats and talks the most with the team. But we’re really like a little family. And I think the most important thing is that they want to come in, they want to perform, they want to be successful and not just for their own careers because they care so much about the brand.
And I think it shows in the way we market ourselves. So when creating a business or if you’re looking to create a law firm, it’s not just about the dollar; it’s about what you’re building and if you’re able to build a good lifestyle because what do we spend our money on? We spend our money on doing the things we want to do and be the places where we want to be and activities. So that should all be part of your daily life, and so we try to incorporate that. So culture is important. We’re mostly fire signs science in the office, so it’s very fiery. I’m a quadruple Leo with the Aries moon.

Sonya Palmer:

Oh wow, you are going to be very successful.

Shermin Lakha

Really. Three Leos, I believe-

Sonya Palmer:

Yes.

Shermin Lakha

We have two Virgos who do our social, which is good. And then a Gemini who chats with everybody and does it all. So we have a lot of big personalities. No water signs, I believe. No water signs.

Sonya Palmer:

No, I’m a water sign. I’m a Cancer.

Shermin Lakha

You’re a Cancer? That is perfect for you.

Sonya Palmer:

I’m a Cancer, Aries, Scorpio. So I’m not all soft.

Shermin Lakha

Are you Aries moon?

Sonya Palmer:

Yes.

Shermin Lakha

That’s my least favorite part of my Aries moon because you’re so passionate. You get so passionate about things, and you mhave to make it happen.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes, make it happen. I always treat the zodiacs like personality tests. Do you and your team, do you do the personality tests? Have you done predictive or engram or any of those?

Shermin Lakha

We do, actually. So we try to do monthly or weekly team drinks and or dinners. And one of our fun activities is we’ll do little games like the personality test or 26 questions or just fun ways to laugh about different things. Because we always joke that your coworkers know you at so many different stages when you cried when you’ve been upset, how do you do other people? Like more than anybody else. I’m just more than your significant other or even your best friend because they’re just close enough, but they’re still a little further, and they’ve just seen the things that go on in that day-to-day. So we always laugh at our personalities and when we interview, we always ask people, what’s your zodiac sign?

Sonya Palmer:

Yes. Yeah. Anytime we’re talking about personality tests and employment tests, we get these full results back. And I was like, but did anyone ask them what their sign was? I need that to be part of this.

Shermin Lakha

Oh-

Sonya Palmer:

And they’re like, “Oh, I’ll figure it out on my own. Thanks.” Yeah. So let’s talk about growth. You built an incredible modern female-run firm, and if I’m not mistaken, you’ve done it without spending a single dollar on advertising. Tell me about how are you prospecting and retaining clients.

Shermin Lakha

We started marketing on social media using those tools, and we haven’t spent a single dollar on paid ads. We do everything pretty much on our iPhones. And it started because I’ve always been good at social media on my personal page. So I’ve always just understood it as a bit as that. And I understand that that is how people consume information. That’s why we have this whole content-creator culture. And I was like, “Okay, where are our clients? Our clients are founders, startups, female founders, and entrepreneurs, and where is everybody going to find what they’re looking for on social media?” So we have used those tools and not have had to spend the money. I know attorneys that do paid ads, and they’ve asked me, “How are you able to build on social media?” And it’s not about the number of followers; it’s not about the number of likes.
The point is that when somebody comes to you and says, “Hey, I need an attorney.” We want to be the first of mind; we want to be on their feed, and we want to be the page that they send. “Oh, have you tried these women or this firm?” So that’s what we try to do. So I think never get bogged down with numbers or likes; that’s not important. It’s about being at a top of the mind when it comes to who do we need to hire as an attorney. So we primarily use TikTok now is one of our biggest, and I’ve been a proponent on YouTube, and that’s something we’re going to try to do more of because it’s good content. We want to have a little bit more informational content. Instagram we do as well as LinkedIn, and now we’ve started on Pinterest because people love our aesthetic.
And so with that, it used to be very haphazard posting, and I think that was very confusing. Now the interns make a calendar; we review it, and they do the research for articles and different things that are changing in the law. And then on Fridays, we have filming days. So I know many attorneys are how do you film so much. How do you have the time? We even get comments like, oh, all you guys do is film. We spend from around 2:00 to 4:00 PM bulk filming, and all of us, during the week, save sounds and thoughts or DM ourselves; this is a good trend; this is what we should do, what the caption should be. Then from 2:00 to 4:00 PM on a Friday, we bulk film 20 videos, even more, if we can.
And then each of us kind of are assigned to edit them and post them. And then we do that once a day, and it’ll be 30 minutes that someone spends to post that information. And it’s able to do all of our marketing that way, all in-house. We don’t outsource any of it. And it’s because a lot of the information that we provide is legally based, and so we don’t feel like it’s something that we could outsource. Maybe it’s me not being able to do that yet.

Sonya Palmer:

So I like what you said; I think it’s very true with social media marketing versus maybe more traditional digital marketing, SEO, PPC, and paid ads, and social media is where the clients already are. There’s a lot of intent with ads and SEO where someone has to search for something. So there’s a ton of intent, but everybody is already on social; they’re already on those platforms. So I think that’s very smart. And then that two to four-hour block, will that get you content for a week? Two weeks?

Shermin Lakha

Just one week?

Sonya Palmer:

Just one week. Okay. I mean to think that’s a good trade-off. Two hours within a week of content, and that’s pretty good.

Shermin Lakha

And then also because the trends always change. It’s good to have that do what’s trending. And that’s really for TikTok. Instagram, the insurance will pull different articles and things that are happening. The law changes to law, and we’ll have that in a calendar, and then they’ll start drafting captions, et cetera. We’ve lowered on our Instagram a bit just because we think that TikTok is really where the trends are. And so that’s been helpful for our interns as well, to be able to focus on the TikTok that we already have filmed because we do like to give them a lot more substantial work. We have a very good problem that we are extremely busy and continuously busy, continuously growing so many referrals, so much word of mouth. And I think it goes [inaudible 00:36:40]. So it’s because of that extra time that we take with our client’s people appreciate it.

Sonya Palmer:

Shermin has created an incredible community, not just online but in person. Last August, she launched the Empire State of Law Conference.

Shermin Lakha

The Empire State of Law idea came because two years ago, I went to a TikTok for Lawyers conference in Las Vegas. And our intern at the time, Avery Bishop, was like, “Shermin, you have to do the second one. We have to do it in New York.” I’m like, “Okay.” And that was a very casual event, and I’m like, you know what? “Let’s do the second one. We’re going to call it Empire State of Law.” We decided to do it in July, and in 30 days we planned a three-day event and got about 100 attorneys to attend from all over. And that’s just how I do it. I got the venues, I got a full boat, I got an opening, I got all of the stuff going, and in the meantime, our team was still working. So it was a very crazy summer. There were tears, and there was stress, but it all came out to be so amazing.
We liked working in emerging practice areas. And so I know we had up panels, which were amazing. The Web3 one was a big favorite. That was early in the morning. We had Jayaram Law, Francesca from, she was amazing. the cannabis one was really interesting too. Bob Hogan from Clark Hill. So it was great to see a lot of these prominent attorneys, both in medium to small size law firms as well as big law, coming to this event and talking about these emerging practice areas. We also had a really fun one about legal influencers. So we had some of the major legal influencers we all watch on TikTok there. And we had one about branding as a law firm, so kind of like what we’re talking about now and then IP.
So a lot of those practice areas are things that we already do. And right now, we’re going into cannabis law, and we’ve always been into Web3. We started our own LVLUP NFT as well. So that was kind of a precursor of what we were doing. And what’s great about that, about entering into a new field of law like cannabis, is that some of those speakers now know us, they appreciate us, and they are willing to assist us and work with us in different clients.
That goes back to my moonshot goal. People ask me, “Why would you post this event? What was the point?” The point is that we are not just a solo or very small firm that’s marketing on TikTok. We want to be in the league with these great law firms that provide these services that are so well-versed in these practice areas because why not? And by bringing everybody together, these attorneys and different legal professionals, it really showcases how we can work together when we’re technically a big contentious group of people.

Sonya Palmer:

You are very busy. What do you do when you need to decompress or take time for yourself?

Shermin Lakha

So what’s interesting about what I get to do is that, so I think time is very fluid. So a lot of my team, they’re like, you need to take a day, a full 24 hours off, you need to take a week off. You need to take this time off. But I love what I do. And so for me, if I need to take a break or some time, I will take my time when I want to I can. My Saturday is the same as my Tuesday. All of it is very fluid. So you know what I do when I want to take some time. I love getting massages, like a massage per week. I work out at least 30 minutes a day, and that’s my time; I started this thing with my girlfriend called the 6:00 AM club. And this sounds like more hard work, but every morning we wake up at 6:00 AM, and we talk about our goals and our thoughts, and then I get to have the morning to myself.
So a lot of that decompression time, that silent time, I get to journal, I get to meditate, I get a lot of the house things done. I sometimes think about things that I want to do, I exercise, and I do get that time to myself. And then, even though my day is very hit the ground running the rest of the day, I get that time to myself. If I want to take a day off in the middle of the week, I have such a great support team that I can, but I’m still in this growth phase. So until I get sick of that, a couple of hours here and there, I will take it when I need to. But I’m still very excited about everything I do. So I’ll take a vacation when I need a vacation.

Sonya Palmer:

If you check all the boxes and are still found wanting, look elsewhere and create the life that fulfills you. If starting a solo practice is what you need, have enough savings to last nine months, a solid website and a curated social media presence. Considering flat fees for your practice can both increase transparency for billing to your client and reduce the overhead admin cost on your end. But make sure the boundaries surrounding time and deliverables are addressed and communicated to your clients. Manage the expectation before it has a chance to become a problem. And when in need of additional assistance, shermin has found success in bringing on interns who eventually work for the firm. This cuts down on the learning curve needed to operate in this unique space, be willing to take calculated risks and you might just be able to build the practice of your dreams.
A huge thank you to Shermin for sharing her story in unbelievable insights with us today. You have been listening to LawHer 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 Shermin, 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 for others to discover the show. And I will 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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