confessions from a celebrity family law attorney
& the secrets a law firm consultant tells lawyers
- our biggest surprises in law practice
- the most valuable lessons learned
- impactful next steps to invest your time
3a: Hey dude, I got you water.
Kessler: Thank you very much.
3a: How’s it going, man?
Kessler: Good, I’ve been waiting for this.
3a: Yeah? I miss coming to the games.
Kessler: You, you kidding? Look how long I’ve been going. 2002.
3a. Those are vintage!
Kessler: 2010. I mean I’ve been saving these; I better have some for next year 3a: The only one I got is from the last game of the season this year on March 11th.
3a: Sad, sad day man.
Kessler: That was a sad day.
3a. So, how you been?
Kessler: That’s right, did you get any good take-home gifts that day?
3a: Yeah, I got of course Harry with me. Harry the Hawk always goes with me. We got, you know, a good basketball for Darian, a basketball for Mason.
3a: (laughed) For Elizabeth, I got her this huge flag.
Kessler: That’s unbelievable. I think I can top that. I don’t want to open it inside and get bad luck…but look at this, an Atlanta Hawks umbrella.
3a: That’s perfect, dude.
Kessler: Alrighty, let’s get to business.
3a: Well cheers dude, good to see you again at the game.
Kessler: Yeah, fun, good to be here man. So, hey look, the good news is the Hawks aren’t losing this game tonight!
3a: (laughed) oh, we’re definitely going home undefeated tonight. So, what the hell happened dude? What like…?
Kessler: So, it’s cool that we’re here at a basketball court setting because that’s when it hit home for us, right? We’re sitting at a game and all of a sudden, the Utah game is canceled because one of the players tested positive. All of a sudden third quarter they say someone else has tested positive. NBA season cancelled. Now we could talk about sports as a metaphor but you know when you cancel the NBA season, that’s BIG, and you don’t want to minimize this virus by saying it’s, you know, how it affects sports it affects all of us but when it affects an industry like that, that’s when it hit home for me – that this isn’t just a, you know, be safe, be careful, cough into your arm, this was a, something more is going on, somebody that’s in power knows this is dangerous or they wouldn’t close the NBA season from from 0 to 100 (snap fingers) like that. That was just incredible.
3a: And it’s every, not only like you said around the world, but it’s every sport: MLB, NFL, you know, it’s just, it caught everybody by surprise and I mean two and a half, it’s been two and a half months, you know?
Kessler: Yep, but you know for you and me things don’t change, people don’t stop needing lawyers, lawyers don’t stop needing business, people still get divorced, they still have marital issues, they still have personal injury issues, so you know, this was not a let’s just stop and we’ll decide when we go back to work, this is how do we continue?
3a: How do we continue, yep!
Kessler: But you know you’re the perfect person…I’m glad that we have such a good friendship because you know the stuff that I’ve been doing in my office and the stuff that you’ve been doing and teaching people is how to do exactly what we’re doing anyway, right? We’re basically learning how do you work more efficiently? How do you work remotely? How do you get beyond the day-to-day got to go into my office, spend my own rent and so I think we were sort of ahead of a lot of folks, but it still, it hit us all like a ton of bricks.
3a: It hit us…I was, I was really surprised. I think it really separates people, you know, into “yeah, I was kind of prepared” into “I was completely not prepared” and uh, it really just created a gap between…
Kessler: I agree, but I would think the gap is more of the “not that I’m not prepared” or “I am prepared” which is a clear gap, but as you’ve seen, the people who are willing to accept the challenge and those who are saying “I give up”. And you know look, this happens all the lawyers, lawyers who turn 60, 70… they might say oh there’s new code or a new statute or new family court – I don’t want to learn the new way. This is a good time to get out of the practice. I’m sure there are some lawyers that said I don’t want to learn how to zoom…I don’t want to learn how to do that stuff, but the vast majority of lawyers, I think, are open to it and it’s like we say, necessities mother invention, either you’re open to it or you better be open to it because you’re gonna not make money and your customers expect you to be open. You know our customers are getting younger and younger and what’s the big deal? Get on the phone call, get on a zoom call – if they can do it why can’t us lawyers they’re paying all this money do it?
3a: Well, especially in family law. I imagine with everyone staying home, you know, you’re probably getting a lot of phone calls. You know, people who are thinking about divorce are like….
Kessler: They did, well we’ve been getting a lot of them. You know it used to be “well I came home, and I got home at 9 o’clock at night and I was gone by 6:00 in the morning so it wasn’t so bad”. Now they’re face to face, whether it can work or not, but also we, you know, obviously when we become friendly with our clients they share their deepest darkest secrets with us and that’s a relief to a lot of people and I found myself talking to people a lot more about the cause of the divorce, and I always joke with my wife when they say “why do most people get divorced?” and I say generally it’s not my job to figure out exactly why they wanted it they come to me, and they want it, my job is to figure out how to get them through it. I’m not their therapist, but now I think people stay on the phone with us longer…they stay on zoom’ with us longer. And I was reading an article my wife sent me from The Wall Street Journal about zoom fatigue and you know, it’s hard, you know it sounds easy…you’re on the phone looking at somebody, but what if their reaction isn’t right when they, you know, say it…what if I laugh at your joke, but you see me laugh and don’t hear me laugh for a couple seconds later, at the end of the day your mind has done a lot to try to put it all together and it’s just tiring on everybody.
3a: Yeah, no, there’s been a lot of people – if you had symptoms of anxiety, symptoms of depression, I mean I can’t imagine how exponentially worse they must feel, and you know, having, not really being able to cope in a way that you’re used to coping…going out with friends or you know, going shopping or whatever, so it’s you know, it’s been an amazing experience, you know, and I’ve learned a lot.
Kessler: Like hey Alvaro, the ball is about to hit you in the back of the head, be careful! I know that’s when, by the way for everyone watching that’s Alvaro’s favorite thing is when the ball comes over he grabs it and him and the referee fight about when he’s gonna give it back, so..
3a: And when not to touch the players, I’ve been warned a couple of times.
Kessler: (Laugh audible).
3a: So what a lot of people don’t know is that Randy and I have been friends, I don’t know, 20 years or so, and we when we started going to games, he’s been going longer than I have, but when we started going to games, we’d be sitting there, we’d be talking shop and we’d be talking about what we see happening, what are some things that I’m seeing with my clients, what are kind of the next things that are evolving and it’s, we’ve kind of grown together through this and so we thought it’d be great to just kind of get back to where we feel at home and just talk shop, talk about you know what’s happened with your practice, you know be honest, you know like what do you think?
Kessler: No question.
3a: For you guys what do you think the biggest surprise or hit, or…?
Kessler: Well I’m you know I’m surprised in a hundred different ways. 1) I’m surprised that we’re still as busy as we are. I was sure that people are gonna be afraid to call a lawyer, you know maybe, you know, we’ve got a nice little boutique family law practice and most our clients can easily afford our services and some can’t easily afford them, but you know for the one that money is really not the biggest object it’s a good use of their money to figure out how can I make sure that I’m okay when this all ends and make sure that with whatever we have when it’s all over and done with is enough to get us both through? So that was sort of surprising. I’m also surprised at how quickly everyone’s adapted and I don’t mean just lawyers younger, but judges, I mean staff, judges I mean judges you know, they got to move their calendar (snaps audible) and they get graded on how many cases they move, they don’t want to come back in July or August and have five hundred cases cramming into their courtroom so they’re really adapting and they’re actually forcing some lawyers to get off their butt and go do a zoom call or an audio conference call and that sort of been surprising to me how quickly they adapted. And the hope, the thing that brings me hope is even though there’s glitches and they freeze for a minute that’s gonna improve. Technologies getting there, I mean you’re too young, but when I was a kid downloading a movie…what are you talking about, you download it off the shelf, that’s what you do, you get on a ladder and you download it
3a: You got it off the Blockbuster shelf.
Kessler: With the internet downloading a picture you used to watch it pixelate, it would take 30 seconds to get a picture, so if you can download movies in three minutes the real time interaction is gonna be there and I think when we go back to full time in the office clients are gonna say “why do I have to come, I’m used to zoom”, judges are gonna say “why do you have to come”…I’m gonna say judge, I used to be able to have what we call a conflict letter
Kessler: “Judge I can’t be in Gwinnett County at 9 and Fulton County at 11”. Why Mr. Kessler? “Well, because of traffic.” Well, I did it last week! I had a case in Fulton County at 10 and at 11 I was in another court because it’s just turning a button on and turning a button off and you’re across the state, it’s, it’s incredible.
3a: How’d the staff react for you?
Kessler: Well I think at first like most out there are two sides one is everyone’s terrified and scared that you know let’s hope that everything sticks together, they don’t really know the finances and we reassured them that we were gonna be okay, so there’s that, and they all stepped up and said what else can I do to make sure that the firm runs, the clients are satisfied and that they’re valuable – they want to make sure we have people, you know, doing things they didn’t do, you know, I’ll be glad to go to the office and meet the client who’s bringing a check by that’s a receptionist job we have lawyers doing that – the flipside is I think they enjoyed it. I think the fact that it’s forced time at home and we’ve reinforced that if you’re not working at noon take an hour and walk around the neighborhood you know you can work at 7:00 at night if you want instead of 3:00 in the afternoon, so I think people are adapting. I just think it’s, it’s a social thing. People have to be somewhere where they, they see they’re really going to work and we were lucky enough, Alvaro, you know, to have, our offices are too big and we spend too much money on them, but now at least there’s social distancing, so you want to get out of your house miss paralegal, mr. lawyer, well you can come to the office and have some good social distancing there that you can’t have in your neighborhood if you live in a townhome or a small community. There’s actually more space, uh, and more relaxing environment at work maybe.
3a: Yeah so I mean as a law firm consultant you know we help all over the country every practice area I think the biggest thing that my clients were surprised about was how efficient they actually can be you know kind of like what you said about not needing conflict letters potentially, uh, they were really surprised at how much their their team supported them through it and then of course you’ve got a batch of people who were just surprised because they weren’t financially responsible and they didn’t see this coming and and so, I think a lot of that my clients are just surprised at how well they found out their firm is doing, how efficient.
Kessler: Well I know old saying and you didn’t invent it, but you know it takes money to make money. You know why do you spend money on a law firm coach? I’m having a hard-enough time bringing in money…well spending more money well think about it if you don’t spend money on technology if you don’t give your staff the ability to log in remotely by a good computer or a laptop they can’t bill the hours for you and guess what your competitors have it and when the client comes to me and says I like your competitor Mr. Kessler because they don’t charge you to drive down to the courthouse and walk into court they just charge me at nine o’clock when the hearing starts and turn it off at 9:30, you got to be ready to adapt and sometimes it takes some money so you put a little money into the technology, you make sure you have your your ring light and your you know tripod and everything ready to go so you look professional – right for court?
3a: Yeah, so I mean I think that’s huge, I mean I think a lot of people are just coming out of this thinking yeah, we’re we’re ready, we can handle this, you know um…I think a lot of people unfortunately lost their market share, you know, the clients they could have gotten because they were scared, but I mean personally, you know, you said why hire a law firm coach, but we’re actually busier, you know?
Kessler; I’m sure, I’m sure
3a: Clients I haven’t heard from in a couple of years since we did the last project “hey I need an hour of your time, I need to know what to do, should I keep people, should merge, what should I do with marketing, how do I you know take advantage of this situation?” So again I think people are realizing this was a time to be reflective. I mean that was the one lesson that I learned was hey, got to reflect, got to analyze and adjust
Kessler: And I’m not surprised. You say we go to the games and we talk shop just because it comes about, but we don’t intentionally do those kind of things you know we put out fires, we got a client who calls, we got to do what they want us to do and we do it and we don’t say wait a minute, I need this hour to think about my business or to think about am I going to invest in a new computer system?. You wait till it crashes it’s too late, you wait for pandemic it’s too late, so you know now people are calling you saying what should I have done and unfortunately for them it’s probably more expensive because they’ve got to hurry up and all the great computers are on on wait list, your time is probably more in demand, my time is more in demand so it’s it’s a lesson for when this all passes, don’t wait until something bad happens to figure out your next three years, think about the next three years now and you’ll be ahead of the curve.
3a: Most of my phone calls were you know “hey I’ve been thinking about doing this. I’ve got the downtime, now’s the time to do it” and so they’re seeing the value in it, they’re seeing the value of having remote workers be more efficient, they’re seeing the value of they can run the practice for a lot cheaper, you know, so.
Kessler: I’m a curmudgeon and I’m old school, and, but it’s the same story, which is you know lawyers come out of Law School we go to work and our cubicle and we just think the business is going to come in and we just ride away and do the work. Well if you don’t step back from doing that and figure out how do you make sure the business comes in, how to make sure the firm runs, how to make sure all the work can get done, how do you make sure your staff is competent, in a good mood, well-paid, whatever it is, if you don’t step back and spend some time doing those things – you don’t get paid for doing those immediately, you don’t spend an hour working on your payroll issues and you paid for that but if you fix those ahead of time then your staff is happier, they stay a long time so you know people using and talking to someone like you: invaluable.
3a: So once you figure out how did you pivot marketing wise because I think marketing everyone knows you you’re on you’re on the news the players the NFL players association NBA players I go to Tampa and I have a high school friend say hey you know that desperate housewife guy
Kessler: you know you know speaking of speaking of Tampa it’s gonna be Drew Brees against Tom Brady and we got a to make on that one baby
3a: You got it. You know what was the biggest lesson you learned marketing wise since you weren’t able to go to conferences you weren’t able to travel or you know
Kessler; First, first thing I learned is health and safety is more important than any marketing or anything whatsoever, you know, so there were some seminars and before this really we knew what it was gonna be I was supposed to speak in West Virginia to the West Virginia family law bar and to another bar and I said I’m not going and I knew that was a loss of possible marketing aspect and returns, so number one, marketing is irrelevant when it comes to health and safety, I mean so let’s get that off the table – it’s not a balance of do you take some risk I don’t want to take risks but you know no reason to take a risk just to make some money, but then when I knew that I was not going to be at seminars speaking and at these public events or places where I usually meet people, Hawks games or you know we blended the people who say hey you’re that divorce lawyer, so it’s online right everything’s social, everything’s social media, but so is everybody else. These seminars have now gone online. Next week we’ve got one for the ABA – they’re doing a webinar on how do you do some trials we’ve got some judges same kind of thing I’ve been probably more on social media, I’ve looked at it a little more. I used to be sort of the opposite of a lurker, some people lurk, they don’t post they just read. On the opposite a lot of times I post and I don’t read because you know unless it’s something I’m really really interested in but I’ve learned that social media helps, but you got to be visible you got to be out there and and you know what if it doesn’t get you business, my marketing is, you know, wasn’t an intentional kind of let’s go out there and tell everybody how great we are, my marketings are evolved from I like the bar groups, I like Atlanta Bar, the Georgia Bar, the family law section of the American Bar. I ended up chairing all of those because I liked being around lawyers and learning but it gave me visibility and I realized that people would say I remember meeting you at a seminar in San Diego and I’m from Orlando, but my client moved to Georgia and they need a Georgia lawyer, so I realized you know staying connected with the people that will send you business is important. Just now you got to do it socially and, and you know you and know people you represent you tell them stay in touch with them connect with them on the various media’s and we’ve done more of it.
3a: I’ve been saying you know get on social media and even before this happened and now it’s you know doing webinars and and they’re like “I don’t have time for that or I don’t have time to do a webinar”, but they’re noticing if they take the time if they’re more efficient during their day use technology and marketing. Hey look there’s Greg Parent!
Kessler: Very funny. Hey, I’ll tell these till these rappers tell Dream and 2 Chainz that you know we need, we need some more space
3a: Hey scoot over, scoot over
Kessler: You know aside from technology there’s always “hey how you doing I haven’t talked to you in a long time”, I mean just pick up the phone and call folks I stay in touch people business is not gonna materialize out of thin air. You can spend money, I mean you and I were talking this morning about Super Lawyers and paper clicks and you know Avvo you can look at all that stuff but I sort of like to spread the wealth and sort of figure out you know a little bit here over there
3a: And what works for you
Kessler: Yeah and and really that stuff is not my biggest draw I think it’s just you know sharing content I mean I like to help people learn and it’s something I’ve always felt good about I help younger lawyers I help other lawyers in our firm outside of our firm and sometimes it comes around and helps because people say I’ve got a really big case can I bring you in on it great and if not then I’ll help somebody there’s something about karma so uh you can’t just go to sleep and wake up and hope the business is gonna come in and you can’t just pay Google or an SEO person to do SEO for you I hope that’s gonna do it you got to do a little bit of everything
3a: So I mean so you’re saying like after memorial people are starting to come out I’ve heard you know some places like Miles this opening June 1st, when do you kind of see things you know evolving or getting at least closer to normal?
Kessler: Yeah yeah I get you know a lot of my peers and colleagues call and say what are you gonna reopen because we want to know when should we reopen and I’ll give it away right now. We’re never gonna reopen because we never closed ya know we really didn’t close we’re gonna tell our staff don’t, don’t come in if you don’t feel like coming in and you’re sick do come in if there’s something you have to do in the office and you feel safe but until we all feel comfortable I’m not gonna be the one who tells somebody you have to do this we have good people they are very efficient they’re doing a great job from home. There are two lawyers in my office right now on the day on day seven of a zoom trial and it’s working and they would rather be there the clients there they have a big table there are 12 seats and every fourth seat has a person in it.
Kessler: And even a sneeze guard between them but you know we’re so we’re not gonna officially reopen, I think we are open and we’ve always been open for business – it’s just the new normal- it’s gonna be when people start coming in we may not come in as much because now it’s a little more crowded in our building. We’ll use our remote building, our satellite office on West Wave a little bit more because it’s just a second-floor walk-up instead of getting on elevators for those people who don’t want to get on elevators. We’ll meet people virtually every day or in the lobby if we want, but it’s an unknown I’m not gonna be that person that says May 1st, oh scratch that June 1st no scratch that July 1st – it’s gonna be what it’s gonna to be.
3a: but I think you nailed it, we never, we never closed you know we just never closed we just adapted and I think those are the ones that really, like I said, are gonna come out exponentially further by just adapting and just not quitting but going forward and saying okay, this is the new normal, this is what we do now. It’s like when they trade one of our favorite Hawks players, it’s like well, I guess this is what happens.
Kessler: Yep and, and I want to say this to lawyers that are watching, and I mean it. Justice Hunstein used to talk about doctors are good for healing the body and the religion is good for healing the soul, and we’re good for healing society. I mean lawyers, we are important and you know a lot of people say why are lawyers considered essential services? Why did they get excluded from the stay at home orders? Because without law there’s chaos, without lawyers there’s chaos and good lawyers know that, and a lot of people don’t like lawyers until they need one, but you know be that lawyer and be a leader because we have no idea and all of us who have been clients, and many of us have been clients whether it’s in a personal injury suit or whatever kind of lawsuit, when you’re a client you realize how important that hand-holding, that ability to tell somebody you know here’s my fear, am I gonna get to be the lawyer that says you will get through and here’s how it’s going to work and none of us know the outcome none of us how it’s gonna all end we do know that with a civilization and advanced civilization like ours, lawyers are crucial for keeping us on track and moving forward.
3a: I get the question a lot why lawyers why do you only work with lawyers and if you truly think about it you know outside of teachers, after school lawyers are the number one profession in terms of if you’re gonna do anything significant in your life or anything significant happens to you, chances are there’s gonna be a lawyer advising you so you know I for those of you know that are just naturally positive and and happy keep it up like Randy says but then also I mean you know they’re the ones who are hurting depression and anxiety just kind of reach out.
Kessler: Clients generally don’t care about our personal problems I mean they do when you get to know them in a while and you get to bond but they’re not paying you you know everyone’s got we’ve got our own issues but it’s not a friendship it’s a business relationship and also I do think lawyers are important and I do think teachers important but I know of course I think the medical professionals and I know Alvaro especially your whole family’s medical professionals and I know how much you respect that so we don’t mean to be saying that lawyers are great, but they’re important people to save lives are important that people who protect us so important the first responders important but as far as businesses you know we’re the glue and we got to keep that glue together because when things go bad they call us to say make sure it doesn’t get any worse or try to make it better and uh and I’m glad to be able to do that for some folks
3a: So, I know people get sick of seeing us at Hawks games all the time, but they haven’t seen us in a while, but some want to say to everybody but just you haven’t seen like
Kessler: Wow I’m gonna say ref you missed that call that was not a foul on John Collins he didn’t touch the guy, but really you know if you know what I’d say I’d say see the silver lining. I have a friend who calls himself Mr. Positive and he sees the silver lining in everything and this poor guy was a police officer during Katrina, his family had to move relocate to Houston, then there was another hurricane had to relocate to Charlotte – but stay positive there is a silver lining who knows what the good is in this it’s making us evolve it’s making us get closer to our families it’s making us do things that were outside of our comfort zone it’s making us care about one another more – you know I’ve been to China and I remember seeing people wear masks and in China and thinking “why are they wearing masks?” and now it I look at somebody and I say “why are they not wearing mask?”
Kessler: so, we’ve all evolved to that point um why do the Chinese bow instead of shaking hands. I don’t think it was to stay away from Corona, but you have no idea how culturally people have evolved and done certain things so we’re all open-minded but the main thing is don’t be stupid right. Let’s not be stupid we this thing is out there and you can open up the whole world but until there’s a vaccine and until it’s gone it’s still there and I don’t care if you if you social distance, if you were a mask, that little slip you know your dog runs over to say hi to a friend and you go to pick the dog back up and then you stay there a foot away from the person just simple things -um you know I see people make simple mistakes and family law the time and you know it was just one night oh it’s just one kiss so it was just one gamble it was just when you know bottle of alcohol it’s it’s the one-time thing that that hurts us, so be safe be strong you know and we’re gonna be back and I think 2021 the seasons gonna start late hoping there’s a season and I hope I’m sitting three seats away from you maybe we’ll go to every third game together.
3a: Every third game, that will work that will work. Well cool man, it was cool catching up with you. For me its good being in touch with everyone via technology and can’t wait to get back out there you know seeing you all and just doing what we do
Kessler: You’ll never see me like this even at a Hawk’s game this is this is for Alvaro he made me do it and he’s a good sport and uh and I want to say this about Alvaro you know a lot of people see him and he looks like a little kid he laughs like a little kid he’s excited excitable like little kid he’s a smart he’s a smart MF-er I mean he really knows his stuff and don’t be deceived and I remember it’s not the exact same saying but it sort of I’m gonna make an apply I’m gonna twist it but it’s you know when people say don’t mistake my, my kindness for weakness you know if someone’s kind that doesn’t mean they’re weak if someone’s fun and energetic it doesn’t mean they’re silly when they’re doing their job and Alvaro knows his stuff and does his stuff right and and it’s good because he’s got that balance, so I wanted to share that with you.
3a: All right see you guys we’ll catch up with you soon
Kessler: All right. Thanks for having me