Today on the podcast Tyson sat down with Deena Buchanan. Deena is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and the Georgetown University Law Center. After matriculating from law school with honors in 1998, she moved to New Mexico, working for a large law practice in Albuquerque. She subsequently worked for a Fortune 500 company in Philadelphia and for other large law firms, where she worked on a number of cases that garnered national coverage. Deena returned to New Mexico in 2008, opening Buchanan Law in 2019 to provide top-tier representation to individuals in employment and personal injury matters. She also represents small businesses in commercial litigation and other matters. She’s an active member of the New Mexico Association of Trial Lawyers, the National Employment Lawyer’s Association, and the American Bar Association’s Solo and Small Firm Section.
5:50 seed money
7:20 true solo in the beginning
11:46 setting up systems
15:40 protect your time
17:18 future ideas
Jim’s Hack: Book: Ask Your Developer by Jeff Lawson
Deena’s Tip: Lawyers who have practice areas they can give tips to people should try out making short videos on TikTok.
Tyson’s Tip: Book: VIvid Vision: A Remarkable Tool for Aligning Your Business Around a Shared Vision of the Future by Cameron Herold
Watch the interview here.
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This is The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
Your hosts, Jim Hacking and Tyson Mutrux.
Let’s partner up and maximize your firm.
Welcome to the show.
Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim Hacking.
Tyson: And I’m Tyson Mutrux. What’s up, Jimmy?
Jim: Oh, well, it’s unusual, Tyson. We’re recording in the afternoon today. We’re doing that, in part, because you were supposed to be flying this morning and the other part because our guest is in Mountain Time Zone so it’s good to see you in the afternoon.
Tyson: We did fly but we were supposed to fly from Columbia to Mexico, Missouri. I could just tell people I was flying to Mexico but that wouldn’t quite work.
But my buddy set up a tour of the Zenith factory which is pretty cool. They put together the parts, right, but they do not assemble the plane. So, you buy kits from them. And then you assemble the planes yourself in like your garage, your living room, or your kitchen, wherever the hell you want to do it. But we’re not looking to do that. We just wanted to go tour the factory.
So, it was a lot of fun. They took us up in the plane. And there are these really light planes that can take off in like 50 feet. Like, they’re really– they like go like straight up in the air. It’s really cool. So, I played hooky all morning. It was a lot of fun.
Jim: I’m so old. When you said Zenith, I thought you meant a television factory like from the Zenith Televisions when I was a kid.
Tyson: Yeah. Matt, in my office, thought it was the watch factory. So, Zenith Airplanes.
Jim: Do they make watches, too?
Tyson: Apparently. I guess, so. I didn’t know that they made watches too but, yeah. So, Zenith Airplanes, Zenith watches, and Zenith televisions. Yeah, I don’t think that they make Zenith televisions anymore though.
Jim: All right.
Well, our guest today is our friend Deena Buchanan. She just recently joined The Guild a little while back. We’re very glad to have her. She’s an employment lawyer. She also practices PI and Workers’ Comp down in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and all of New Mexico.
Deena, welcome to the show.
Deena: Thanks so much. I’m happy to be here.
Tyson: So, Deena, tell us a little bit about your journey and how you got to where you are today.
Deena: Oh, wow.
Well, I’ve been a lawyer for over 23 years now. And I started out in big law, worked in a Fortune 500 company, worked at regional law firms in Pennsylvania and then back in New Mexico. And, in 2019, I decided it was time for me to hang my shingle and see what the world had in store for me. So, I left the defense and corporate side and started a primarily plaintiff’s practice doing employment law and personal injury. And we added Workers’ Comp last year
Jim: Deena, talk to us about the seed that was planted when you were on the defense side and then how that seed grew into your final decision to go out on your own.
Deena: So, you knew there was a seed.
So, before I even went to law school, when I was in college, one of my focuses was women’s studies. I got a certificate in women’s studies. And, my senior year, I was lucky to win a grant to do a paper where I took a paper I wrote for a women’s studies course about the implementation of the Equal Employment Opportunities Act in broadcasting. So, it allowed me to go to Washington, D.C. and interview a bunch of women who had been with a local women’s group that negotiated to implement the Equal Employment Opportunities Act in TV and broadcasting at a local TV station. So, that got me really interested in employment law. And then, I started law school that fall. And I always wanted to do this stuff. I always thought but, when I went to Georgetown, I had huge loans and I went on the defense–
Tyson: Lost Deena.
Jim: That was right when I went live, too. I wonder– I think she was clicking a button to get that off. If you get the light [inaudible 00:03:44] off and she hung up, I think.
Tyson: Oh, that’s funny.
Jim: We’ll see if she comes back. We should keep this in the recording.
Tyson: Oh, totally.
Jim: What clowns we are. There she is. Did you–
Deena: Hey, guys. I got a warning flash on my screen and suddenly I was out of Zoom, so.
Jim: Oh, sorry about that. We went into the live stream. And then, I think, we pushed you out or you pushed out when you click the button. I don’t know. Sorry. We interrupted your wonderful story.
Deena: Oh, so, anyway, it started with a grant in college. And that’s when I kind of learned about employment law. And always wanted to help people who were, you know, victims of discrimination and harassment. But when I got into law school, I had massive loans and I just kind of plugged into the idea that I’d work at big firms and do big law. That was great. I got fantastic training. But, in my heart, it was always one of those things that I wanted to be the one telling the story. So, I finally got the chance a couple of years ago,
Tyson: Talk about that chance. Talk about the feelings you had whenever you made the decision and the first few months. Like, what was it like? What were you feeling?
Deena: Well, it goes back to the end of 2018 when I was getting ready for trial on a big trucking case. Three people died in the case. I was defending the trucking company and the driver. It was a pretty intense trial preparation time for me. And an acquaintance of mine sent me a file for a med mal case and said, “Hey, I want you to look at this.” And I started looking at the file and I said, “Guys, you don’t need me to consult. You need me to come in and help try this case.”
So, I took on this case, with a plaintiff group, and we ended up settling that case for a significant amount of money relatively quickly. So, I was basically working during the day getting ready for this big trucking trial and, at night, I was working on this big plaintiff’s medical malpractice case. And it was a tragic, tragic case. And we were able to do some amazing things with it and, as a result of that, I was able to get some seed money to start a firm.
And when I saw that I was able to do it. And we got an amazing result for our client. And I worked with these people, on the plaintiff side, who are great lawyers. I just said, “You know, this is what I want to do.” Yeah, I mean, I love my work with my firm, my colleagues were great. I got great training but, man, my heart was just really taken by that case. And I said, “This is what I want to replicate. And this is what I want to do.” And I had the opportunity.
So, beginning of 2019, I quit my job which was stressful. I mean, I didn’t have anything lined up. I took no clients because I was switching sides. And I took three months to ski.
I took a couple of months where I really– I was working as a contractor for– the former opposing counsel on the trucking case brought me in. I called him, when I switch sides and went of my own, and he said, ”Oh, I’ve got this case getting ready to try. Let’s do it together.” And I was working on that, but I was skiing a lot. And part of that was kind of working through fear, because I had a lot of issues with skiing that I wanted to work out. And it gave me time to think. And, honestly, my husband supported that. And it was one of the most transformational experiences of my life.
So, by March ‑April, I was ready to do the hard launch of the firm. And I was set. I was at peace with a lot of things. And I was ready to go. So that’s what we did. I mean, it was working through a lot of things at that point, but I’m glad I gave myself a little time.
Jim: That’s fantastic. I remember we talked at the conference and you mentioned something about working late at night on a brief and listening to the podcast.
So, at the beginning, it was just me, for nine months. And I did everything. I did all the intakes during the day. I did the legal work at night. I was working on this big case in Arizona that I was going to help my friend try. And we had lots of briefing to do. We were up against a pretty big Arizona firm. And, of course, they slam all kinds of things at you right before trial.
So, I found your podcast and I was listening to you guys and the lawyers folks. And I remember there was one night I was working on a brief until, I don’t know, three o’clock in the morning, and I just listened to Maximum Lawyer for hours in the background. And sometimes, you know, I was working on the brief so I’d have to stop and I’d rewind. And I was listening to your intake stuff, Jim, at that point. And I just thought, “Wow!” You know, “This is how I need to build the firm. This is how I can grow. And I need to really think about that stuff.”
Tyson: Tell me something. Is it hard to go from, basically, representing companies to representing individuals? How do you make that transition? Because, honestly, sometimes I feel like these defense attorneys are just heartless bastards. You know, I just– I don’t understand how they do their jobs. But like, what is that transition like? Because it cannot be easy in my– I mean, I’m just guessing. But it seems like it’d be really hard to do.
Deena: Well, I think it depends on the person, Tyson. I mean, I always tell people, “I don’t want to cross examine another grieving widow in my life,” because that was kind of the job that I got on the team because I was the empathetic one. And I could actually cross examine someone with sensitivity and not piss off the jury. You know, that was one of my things.
And so, when I get to be on this side, I get to tell the story and I am just much more comfortable in my skin. And, as a defense lawyer, I had a hard time figuring out what my trial persona was, you know, who I needed to be in front of the jury, because I couldn’t really emulate a lot of the people on the defense side because it didn’t feel authentic to me. So, kind of being your authentic self in front of the jury was me being– you know, connecting with witnesses. And switching to the plaintiff side hasn’t been hard at all.
The hardest thing about switching to the plaintiff side is just being so proactive and not reactive. You know, on the plaintiff side, we have to come up with the bulletproof theories and then get ready for the defense just to try to poke holes. Whereas, I think, you know, on the defense side, somebody would serve something up and if they had sloppy work, I’d just, you know, take advantage of that.
So, yeah, the biggest thing for me isn’t who I represent. It’s actually kind of retooling all of those processes, and procedures, and systems to make sure that we kind of push our cases and we do a good job on the plaintiff side.
Jim: So, let’s talk about that because, you know, I used to dabble in plaintiff’s law. It was not a good thing. But one of my mentors told me that delay is the lifeblood of the defense attorney. So, how do you make that transition where, you know, you want to be setting things for trial and making sure that things are moving,
Deena: It is so hard. And it’s something that we deal with on a daily basis. I mean, it’s something that my team and I talk about a lot. You know, we did something as simple as– you know, we tried to send out 30(b)(6) notices. So, we take corporate rep depots early in the case. And then, we just kind of hunkered down and we then get the delayed response on that. And then we get this, “Oh, no. That’s too broad.” And so, we get into this thing about talking about it, talking about it. Then, we file our motion to compel or they file a motion for protective order. And if we let it go that way, the defense wins, because then it’s six – eight months down the road and we haven’t taken a deposition.
So, we are really kind of focusing on tightening things like that. And here’s the notice, if we don’t get something set, then we’re going to take our deposition or we’re going to file our motion to compel. And we’re not going to fool around for months, you know, working that out.
And, you know, we have that with all of our stuff. It’s a matter of just getting the deposition set, getting the discovery out with a complaint, and pushing and filing the motions. And, you know, I think people see now that we actually are willing to file motions. And so, I think, over time, hopefully, they won’t make us do that. But I don’t know.
I’m realizing why people hate defense lawyers, honestly.
Tyson: Will you give some advice for younger lawyers that are setting up their systems now? And I’m thinking– I’m not going to mention who it is, but I’ve got one attorney in mind that’s fairly new in their practice and they’re beginning that journey of setting up those checklists and all that. Can you give some advice to those younger lawyers that are setting up those systems from scratch?
Deena: Well, the first thing I would start with is make sure you have somebody good doing your books. I know some lawyers out there do their own QuickBooks and that’s great but that wasn’t me. And, honestly, it’s a huge stressor. Just make sure that you have the trust account set up, make sure you have somebody doing your books who knows about law firm accounting. And if you’re a contingency fee law firm, get somebody who has experience in contingency fee law firm bookkeeping.
And then, after that, I would start working on the basic systems like intake, you know, file organization. We started simply with G Suite, I had a Google form that I was using for intakes that fed into a spreadsheet. We used that for actually a while and it was pretty effective. And then, we had G Suite folders and, you know, you have a system. Before I invested in a CRM, I had really clear folders. I had system folders and things.
And then, the other thing I would say is, after you get the basic setup like that, start documenting your processes as you come up with them. A lot of firms will find themselves, will grow fast, and they’ll find themselves going, “Oh, wait! I can’t turn this over to anybody else. I am super important in my firm everyday” just because I have to answer all the questions about how to do things. And that’s really not an effective place to be. And you can’t focus on cases, you can’t focus on growing, you can’t focus on marketing, if you’re the one telling somebody how to do an intake every single time. So, that’s where I would start.
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Jim: Talking today with Deena Buchanan. She owns her firm. They practice employment law, PI, and Workers’ Comp down in New Mexico.
Deena, I think that a lot of plaintiff’s lawyers think that defense attorneys just have all these minions that work for them and do all this stuff. And I’m going to assume that that is true. When you go out on your own and you don’t necessarily have all those people, talk to us a little bit about that shift in mindset and how important was for you to keep on delegating.
Deena: It was definitely a harsh wakeup call when I had nobody to send a letter and I had to learn how to use the fax. So, yeah. I mean, I think it’s a matter of try to delegate what you can from day one. My first thing was the bookkeeping. The second thing I delegated was the answering of the phone. So, I got a virtual receptionist maybe month three– month four which is a little early for some people but, honestly, it was a lifesaver. And then, by month nine, I hired my first assistant paralegal. We thought it would be part time but, when she started, it got to full time almost immediately.
So, I guess, you know, in that first few months, the big mistakes I made were allowing the virtual receptionists to book my intake calls because they booked me every single minute of every single day for weeks. I mean, people want a free consultation in employment law and they will take it and there was no screening there. So, then, I realized I had to set up screening systems.
I guess, I would just rely heavily on, if it’s just you, have some systems, protect your time, designate certain days for certain tasks, if you have to, and start delegating with outside vendors before you’re able to bring on employees. And then, there’s always the virtual assistant option which is super helpful and very affordable.
Tyson: So, tell me, what is it that you struggle with now? It sounds like you’ve got a pretty good grasp of those. It seems like you’re doing a pretty good job. So, what is it that you struggle with now?
Deena: Oh, boy.
Well, scaling. You know, we have a lot of great work. And I think we’ve got a good start on our processes. We’re building a good team. I, honestly, desperately need another attorney who’s able to go try cases so that I can focus on some other stuff with running the firm.
And then, the next phase, for us, is really getting good financial reporting and KPI implementation on the results side of the practice. I think we’re doing well despite ourselves that way but that’s where I think we can really dial in in the next couple of years.
Jim: All right. So, where are you headed? What’s your growth plan? What do you think’s next for your firm?
Deena: I would like to add a couple of attorneys. My dad had a health scare this summer and it really had me starting to think about whether I could also open an office in Pennsylvania, where I’m from and where they live, as they’re getting older. So, I’m working on reactivating my Pennsylvania law license. And then, we’ll see if I end up having firms in two very different parts of the country or how we handle that.
And, from there, I mean, we’ve also talked about maybe opening this practice in a couple of other states in the Mountain West because there really is a need for employment and PI lawyers, I think, throughout this whole area. And, you know, we’re very rural. We’re very spread out. And there’s parts of New Mexico that, if you go corner to corner, it can take you 10 hours. New Mexico is a very, very large state. And so, there’s lots of people and places that don’t have lawyers nearby. So, we’re kind of looking at how we can serve them, too.
Tyson: So, I wonder if you’ve created any sort of like, you know, milestone. Kind of like a BHAG, you know, big, hairy, audacious goal, for really serving all those people because we’ve got people like Terry Clancy, and I can’t remember what her number is, but she wants a sort of a certain percentage of the population where she lives, or a certain number of wills, or estate plans. I can’t remember exactly what it was. But do you have something like that when it comes to people you serve?
Deena: Yeah. You know, the one thing– not really numbers or percentages. But we have really talked about how to get out into those communities and really be there to help them because we really do have a shortage of attorneys in the rural areas and a need, especially for the Workers’ Comp practice.
So, our Workers’ Comp attorney and I have talked about things like getting an RV and going to do, you know, regular monthly maybe clinics for people in some of those areas because– especially in the oil fields and stuff, there’s just a lot of hazardous situations and people get hurt. And the populations in those areas, especially the Spanish speakers, they tend to kind of quietly suffer and it’s really heartbreaking. And that’s something that we want to work on.
Tyson: I have an idea for you. Jimmy, before you jump in. A lot of people talk about buying an RV but then it sits there for months on end.
Tyson: If you’re going to do it, consider renting but then buy banners that you can put on there. And then, also, there’s big magnets you can put on the side. That way you don’t have to actually buy an RV. Just my two cents.
Deena: I totally love it because I was overwhelmed. I heard the podcast about the guys in North Carolina that have the RV. And I was like, “This is perfect for what we need.” I don’t have a place to park it. I don’t have a place to, you know, remodel it so that is brilliant, Tyson. I’m going to look into that.
Jim: My question for you, Miss Deena, is when was the last time you were skiing?
Deena: I skied on spring break, last year. With COVID, we only got three days of skiing in last year. But my family and I are taking a whole week at Christmas time. Then, we’re going to go up to Colorado. And, you know, that’s something we’re working on is helping me get out of the office and making sure nothing breaks. So, it’ll be a good time.
And then, we’re getting the staff– the staff will get some good time off over the holidays, too. Really, I love doing that. I love letting them get some paid time off outside of the regular, you know, PTO schedule kind of thing.
Tyson: Love it. Very good stuff.
All right. We do need to wrap things up because, in five minutes, we’ve got a Guild hot seat and I don’t want to be late for that, so.
Deena: Another Buchanan, right?
Tyson: That’s right.
Jim: Yeah. It’s like–
Tyson: Exactly. Bob’s going to be up there.
Jim: Buchanan & Buchanan, it sounds like a law firm.
Deena: All right.
Tyson: So, I do want to remind everyone to get involved in the big group. Go to the big Facebook group, if you’re not in there yet. We’ve just over 5000 members. So, that’s awesome. If you’re interested in a more high‑level conversation, join us in The Guild, maxlawguild.com. And, if you don’t mind, please give us a five‑star review so we can help spread the love.
Jimmy, what’s your hack of the week?
Jim: So, I told you, Tyson, and I sent you the book cover and I’ve been talking to Kelsey about it. There’s a book I’m reading by a guy named Jeff Lawson. He’s the CEO of Twilio which many of us use every single day. It’s a communication app. You use it in Uber. You use it in Filevine. You use it in all kinds of things.
And the name of the book is Ask Your Developer. And it’s basically about how people should be thinking about software for more solutions, more solutions, and that you need to think more like a developer in solving problems and not looking at it as a cost but as an efficiency thing. It’s a mind‑blowing book. I’m having these conversations now with people at Filevine. And it’s just a very different conversation because I’m sort of up another level of thinking. I really, really like it. And it’s very digestible. It’s not overly techie, so far, at least.
Tyson: Very good. It’s next on my list. And my book that I’m going to talk about is going to be my tip of the week but it’s next on my list because you sent it to me, about to download and I’m going to listen to it.
But, Deena, as you probably know, we ask– actually, I’m guessing, since you’ve listened to all those episodes, you do know, we ask our guests to give a tip or a hack of the week. Do you have a tip or a hack for us?
Deena: Yeah. I would say I’ve been working on TikTok this week. And I would totally suggest that lawyers who have a practice area where they can give tips to people get on TikTok and just start doing short little clips about a little tip. And it’s amazing how many people might start following you. And I’ve already gotten a call this week about a case.
Jim: That’s awesome.
Tyson: So, that’s really cool because we just hired our second marketing employee. So, my goal is to build a marketing department. Right now, we’re at two employees, my wife being one of ‘em and then a new college intern that will be part time. And he’s going to be a big focus. He’s going to focus on this TikTok. So, he’s younger so he kind of gets it. I don’t quite get it, but he’ll be able to do TikTok’s for the firm. So, he’ll be working on that. So, if you’ve got any pointers, let me know, Deena.
But my tip of the week is– and Jim, I don’t think– did you recommend Vivid Vision to me? No. Okay.
I can’t remember who it was, but I was curious to see how other people define their vision. And so, someone else had recommended this book to me. And it might have been during the mastermind for Max Law. But it’s called Vivid Vision, by Cameron Herold, A Remarkable Tool For Aligning Your Business Around a Shared Vision of the Future.
And it really does kind of help, you know, draw that vision out. And I’ve got a pretty good vision for our firm. But I was really curious to see how other people do it. And it’s a good way of doing it.
So, if you’re struggling with figuring out what your vision is, check out Vivid Vision. You can just listen to it. You don’t have to actually read it, if you don’t want to, so.
Deena, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for joining The Guild. And we appreciate you coming on here.
Deena: Well, thank you. I loved MaxLawCon. My mind is still blown with lots of ideas. So, I’ll see you guys in January.
Jim: Awesome. Thanks, Deena.
Tyson: Excellent. See you, Deena.
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