All businesses have been deeply impacted by the last year, but people-focused work, such as that of the legal industry, has had to morph at warp speed, embracing technology and makeshift solutions to keep moving important legal work forward.
In this second part of our discussion, Houston-based attorney Ashton Taylor of the A. Taylor Law Firm tells us more about the unique problems lawyers have navigated in recent months.
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Jill McKenna: Something else you said made me think of an experience I had as a small business owner and I think a lot of other small business owners do too. And I’m wondering how you saw this evolve or if you do see it. So when people hear small business owner, they for some reason always think that means successful and wealthy. Like that means we’re just thriving. And I’m sure even more so as a lawyer. So what do you wish people understood about being a small business owner and a small business lawyer?
Yeah, I think that it’s a great question. And just the expenses that we have, the overhead, as I mentioned earlier, you have to have somewhere to work. You can’t, because like you mentioned that earlier, I had an issue with a… I had a court case with an Attorney General. Now, they work for the government, but they still have their kids at home also. So it’s just a big challenge. And so to answer your question specifically, yes, I do believe that they have to understand that we still have to pay the overheads and we have the expenses. And at the end of the year, when we do our taxes, that profit isn’t really there all the time. It’s just, I mean, I know I used to hear that a successful business doesn’t make a profit for three to five years.
Now, I can’t quote where that came from, but I’ve always heard that. And so I’m in my 10th year yet and I’m still waiting for the huge profit. And so I just wish people would understand that we need support. The support staff, that’s why I love Ruby because I’m able to kind of push my phone calls off. Not push them off, but you get it. People want to hear a live voice. I mean, that’s definitely your business model, that’s why it’s great. And I don’t have time to answer the phone all the time. That’s one thing I will say too, not even a financial thing. People think because you have your own business, you’re an entrepreneur, you have all this time in the world to talk or to handle this or to answer this question and to be flexible with the prices and with the payment plan. Like you said, “You’re a lawyer, you have all this money, just give me a break.” But no, that’s not the actual factuals.
No. And from the work you do, it’s obvious that you do it, and there’s so many lawyers who do, who do it because they believe in it. They believe in the work. They believe in the people and the representation that they can offer, which people forget about. So what has changed about the way that you physically work day to day now with COVID?
Well, I’m working from an office, but it’s not my home. And so that’s different, and then we don’t go to court. And so we do a lot of Zoom, just like this, a lot of Microsoft Teams. But even that is challenging because the normal thing was when I would go to court, I practice in a couple of different counties. So one county outside of the county that I actually… My office is, is about 40 miles away. And so you would think, okay, that’s easier now because you can kind of… But the judges, they don’t have a lot more leniency of running late. I’m running late or I’m in another county. They all automatically think, well, you can be on. So sometimes I’ll have, like right now I have an iPad, MacBook, and I have to be on hearings, muting at the same time.
And it’s almost like not only do you have to be an attorney, you have to have great technology. Also, you have to have high, high speed internet because they don’t want you in a hearing where it’s buffering and all that. And that’s an increase in cost. Like I mentioned, I’m blessed to have two computers. I know it may be some lawyers, business owners that can’t even afford that. And the thing is you have to have good technology. You can’t just have a computer these days, because you have to have a computer with great access, high speed internet, no cookies popping up and all of that. You have to have the best Zoom and it’s just, it’s the technology and the cost has just drastically went up.
That’s incredible. It’s something I didn’t think about of the needing… Now that everybody thinks, well you’re just always available because you’re in one place, I didn’t think about what that would mean for lawyers of this constantly being on sort of a feeling. Whereas before, you could have been driving to court or from court or take some phone calls in the car or whatever, that seems like it must all be gone now.
It’s over. It’s over. And you can do it, but like I said, if you’re driving and I’m on a CPS hearing, a real serious hearing and I’m buffering while I’m driving. So it’s like, yeah, it’s definitely, I mean, it’s challenging. It is really challenging. I do think that it can be efficient, but it won’t be efficient for another year or two. Because I do like the fact that I can log on and I don’t have to go to a five minute hearing, 40 miles away. I do like that. But at the same time, you definitely have to be prepared for that with the technology and the time management and things of that sort. And like you said, not having my kid in the background on his class, his Microsoft class.
Yeah, that’s a whole thing.
Yes, yes, yes.
That’s interesting because all the research I’ve done into the legal industry and the changes have all said exactly what you just said, which is like this huge vanguard of need for technology that isn’t necessarily there for the industry yet. And so everybody’s just kind of band-aiding solutions together until something better appears or somebody learns how to do things better. But I mean, that’s a major pillar of our country, the legal system that is operating this way. It’s incredible.
Exactly, exactly. So I do also, I didn’t mention this, but I do a lot of, a ton of mediation. And the mediation part of it with this is great, because a lot of judges, they don’t want cases to be heard. They don’t want long, lengthy trials. Like right now, because you can’t even have jury trials in a lot of places. So if we can get it taken care of in the mediation part or the arbitration part outside of court, I think that’s going forward, I think a lot of judges in the legal industry will start pushing more on that end of it.
But that, you have to have great technology because when I first tried to do my first one, I didn’t even know how to put people in different rooms and because it’s confidential. So if you mess up and have somebody, a dad in a room hear something that mom says that’s supposed to be confidential, that’s a major… That might be an ethical violation. So yeah, I mean, I hate to keep harping on the technology and having it. I’m almost wanting to hire someone to come in and make sure everything is good.
Last question. You’ve mentioned some things that have had to change and some things that you’ve found solutions for, but in this last year, are there changes and realizations that you’re glad have come about? Or solutions that you’ve found or things that are really working that you hope never change?
Yeah. I love the DocuSigns of the world, the Dropboxes, the iClouds. I had a young associate, I’m 43, so I had a young associate who’s in college. She’s like 19. She would always laugh at me because I have a whole stack of papers. And she’s just like, “You need to learn Dropbox and Google.” What’s it called? Google’s Teams. I don’t know. I don’t even know. But yeah, I love the… I complain about the technology, but I love it. Because once you have the good technology where I can look up a case on my phone at dinner, or everything’s connected with the iPad, the iPhone, and everything’s connected. And they’re uploading it at the same time. But as far as the apps, the Zoom and the DocuSign has been great, especially the DocuSign. The DocuSign is just a hidden gem that is just… Now, I really, I do think that company, everybody invest a lot of money in that company because I don’t think they’re going anywhere anytime soon.
I just think that just the business that you guys have, it’s been great for me personally. This is my second time speaking with someone from your organization and the level, I don’t know if I would have made it. And this is not a commercial or whatever for Ruby, but I would not have made it without having Ruby. And that’s the technology side of it too, just being able to get an email or a text to say somebody just called, a live person spoke with them. It goes a long way. It goes a long way and I would just encourage you guys to just keep hammering that into your marketing, that people want to talk to people, at the end of the day.