This week on the show we have Cheryl Morrison, a solo practitioner at the Law Office of Cheryl A. Morrison in the southwest suburban Chicago area. Her practice is focused on residential real estate transactions. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/attorneycherylmorrison/.
In today’s episode we’ll talk about going out on your own, work-life balance, slow growth and competition.
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Do some videos! Cheryl is a part of the video challenge in the Facebook group!
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Tyson: Hey, this is Tyson Mutrux. Really quick, before the episode, I want to thank you so much for listening to the The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. You’re going to love this episode.
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All right. Now, onto the show.
Run your law firm the right way. 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 The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim Hacking.
Tyson: I’m Tyson Mutrux.
What’s up, Jimmy?
Jim: Tyson, my friend, good to talk to you. We just got off the phone with our planning meeting for the conference so it’s sort of funny to talk to you right away.
Tyson: I was just telling Cheryl, it’s really weird, we’re recording about an hour later, but it feels way later in the day for some reason, but yes. We usually talk after the show, not before the show. We’ve flipped things today.
Jim: Well, I’m excited about our guest. She’s one of our maximum lawyers. She’s a participant in the 366-day video challenge. She handles real estate matters up in the Chicago suburbs. Her name is Cheryl Morrison.
Welcome to the show.
Cheryl: Hey, thank you. Thank you. Glad to be here.
Tyson: All right, Cheryl. Tell everybody about yourself, just tell everybody about your journey.
Cheryl: Okay, sure.
Gosh, I was actually just sitting here looking at my diploma. I have been licensed for just about 16 years now, the whole time I’ve been practicing. It’s been here in the Chicago area. I actually moved back here from law school in Wisconsin and first got a job in the city at a small commercial litigation firm and spent about a year and a half there before I opened up my own shop and have been a solo practitioner ever since. Took a few years off with my kids. I’m just getting back now into the game, in the past few months or so.
Jim: Let’s talk about that decision to leave your big firm job and go out on your own. Talk to us what you were thinking and what your mindset was.
Cheryl: I figured, if I was going to be hustling, it may as well be hustling for myself. At the time, I knew that eventually I’d want more flexibility with my work to be able to take not only the types of clients and cases that I wanted but having a better work-life balance for when kids came. Even now, with coming back into the practice, having a good balance is really important to me and has sort of guided my decision to stick with the transactional real estate so that I can have that.
Previously, with litigation, I was in court every day – morning and afternoon. It just wasn’t really conducive to the type of balance that I wanted.
Tyson: Cheryl, one of the biggest struggles that people have is just striking that work life-balance. I do a lot of things that I can to protect my time but it’s still really, really difficult. What are some of the things that you do that help you strike that balance because it’s really, really hard to do sometimes?
Cheryl: Yeah, absolutely. To be frank, I haven’t always done a great job but it’s a continuing struggle, for sure. I took some time off when I decided that that was the best and, at some point, I worked more. I think just constantly re-evaluating where you are and what your whole life needs, not just work but family, can help guide that. And then, just really being protective of my home time and not being afraid of making that a priority for me and knowing that it’s a choice and those choices have consequences. I’m okay with taking fewer clients and maybe not doing as huge cases as I once did so that I can have that time with them. But yeah, it’s definitely an ongoing struggle.
Jim: How did you pick the practice area of working in real estate?
Cheryl: When we did commercial litigation, it was real estate – a lot of it. We worked for some things and title companies, foreclosures as well. I liked that area. And then, as I opened my own practice, I started to get more real estate clients and just enjoyed that.
I think that it’s a fun change from some other practice areas that I had dabbled with in the past. I did some Divorce Law. While it’s great to help people there, I think that real estate is happy law. It’s kind of a nice place to be. I feel like it’s a great practice area to automate and that sort of helps me with that work-life balance as well.
There’s lots of things that every single case you need to do. Since I’m doing those same things in every single case, it’s really a good place to automate those things. That’s what I’m working on right now. With rebuilding my practice is kind of building out those automations as technology has advanced a little bit in the last few years, so putting that together.
Tyson: Cheryl, whenever I left my previous firm to start my firm, I’ve been given quite a bit of experience on actually running the firm. It was a volume firm but they really let me. They kind of pulled the curtain back and let me see how things were run which was really advantageous to me. It seems like going from big law to– I’ll call it small law, I guess. I don’t know a better term for it. It could a difficult transition, it seems. Is that the case? talk about leaving a big firm environment to going out and you’re doing everything, like talk about some of that.
Cheryl: Well, I wasn’t at a humongous firm before. I think there were maybe 15 attorneys. It was still a small firm but it definitely was a very old school firm culture. They didn’t really have a lot of technology or anything. I actually feel like it was a really good transition for me because I wanted to be able to bring things forward a little bit. I didn’t really have too much trouble with that transition just there because it was just–
The firm has been around for forever and they were very entrenched in the way they did things. It was a great place and I learned a lot. I got a lot of good experience. They threw me right into court right away and client context and all the stuff that you’d want as an associate but it just didn’t–
I like now having that ability to look at what needs to be done and be able to make those choices myself and to try things. I think that’s a great benefit of being on your own. Yes, it’s scary to have to do all of the things but it’s really empowering to know that when you see a problem, you can do something to fix it. I try to concentrate on that aspect and not really think about that I left the established firm.
Jim: Talk to us a little bit about restarting up your firm. I’m sure we’ve had other people talk in the group about taking a hiatus and then trying to get things started again. I know you and I have talked offline about that a little bit.
Talk to our listeners about what that struggle is like and how that looks.
Cheryl: Yeah, it’s hard. It’s harder than I expected it to be. I’m not a particularly patient person. I’ve learned that I need to be patient in getting back to things.
I wasn’t out for too long, just three years or so but it was enough that I lost some contacts. Some realtors who I had worked with had moved on to other things so I didn’t have those referral sources there. It’s also kind of brought to light that I realize now that the mistakes that I had made before, like I don’t think I grew a large enough network of people. I didn’t stay in close enough contact with them, or even with my past clients.
Whereas, now, I’m being very intentional with reopening about making plans to stay on top of networking and stay in the minds of my past clients so that they’ll be referring people to me more so that I’ll have that better base going forward. Yeah, it’s been slow.
I’m also trying to limit just to the real estate. Whereas, before, I was a general practitioner. While I’m excited about that change and I think that that will help with the work-life balance I mentioned earlier.
It’s hard to turn away cases when I’m just getting restarted to– it was like the logic, ”I know, it’s okay but like, in my gut, it’s just like, “Oh, gosh. I could really use that right now to–” So yeah, it’s been slow.
I think that things are coming along and I know, logically, they will come together but it feels– I don’t know. It’s hard.
Tyson: So, Cheryl, it’s really interesting what you just said because it is really hard to turn away money when people are sitting in front of you, they want to give you a check, or they’re on the phone and say, “I’ve got money to pay you”.
Do you find yourself taking on cases that you shouldn’t be taking on, or are you are you doing a good job of filtering out those cases they don’t really want? And, if so, how are you doing that?
Cheryl: For the most part, I’ve actually been doing a good job with it which I think, in the long run, will pay dividends. It feels like a leap of faith to be turning away that business. I definitely am turning away divorces and that which I used to do pretty regularly and some other things that I used to do pretty regularly. I’m having a hard time with real estate-related things and those ones are hard to turn away, like evictions or foreclosures.
I’ve done some consultations with that. I probably should’ve just referred them out right away. I’ve taken a couple of estate planning clients which– and, in the back of my mind, still thinking that that might be a nice second practice area but it might make more sense to be building out real estate fully first before taking that. I struggle with whether or not that’s the right decision to do that. But, yeah, it’s really difficult. It’s everyday is a struggle of feeling bad for turning things away and then thinking that maybe I shouldn’t have. It was a mistake. Will I really be able to make this limited practice area work? I know that everybody says that’s the best thing to do but it still feels very much like a leap of faith at this point.
Jim: All right. Let’s take that on. Let’s take that on right now. So, what are your favorite kinds of cases and how do you get your best cases?
Cheryl: I love the transactional real estate, helping people buy and sell their homes. I get those cases primarily from referrals from different realtors. As I rebuild, I’m sure I’ll get referrals from clients as well but that’s going to take some time. Definitely, realtors are where I’m getting my cases from.
Tyson: What are some of the things that you’re doing? You know that those are the best sources. What are some of the things that you’re doing, or you should be doing, to help foster some of those relationships?
Cheryl: Just a couple weeks ago, I came in when one of the brokerages was doing a continuing education for some of their realtors there. The local title company sponsored lunch and I came in with them and just talked with about my practice for a few minutes which I didn’t expect, in itself, would get me any business but the great news is that then they give you the list of people who are there, so I’ve been following up with them and I’m hoping that that will, in turn, yield some business down the road.
I’m going to continue to do that sort of stuff in the 366-day video challenge. I’m hoping that putting that information out there is going to get my name out as an established person in the real estate space and help. I actually have found that some realtors are looking at those videos and I’m reaching out to them as well to just try to start building those relationships.
I’ve also recently joined, as an affiliate member, two of the real estate associations in our area as well and hope to go to some events to meet people there, too. And then, just to be really intentional about following up with them, once I do make that initial contact, to see if I could help them when they have new clients come through who are buying or selling. It feels slow. It really feels slow to be doing this but, hopefully, this is the path to making those connections and getting more referrals.
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Jim: You’re back on The Maximum Lawyer Podcast with our guest Cheryl Morrison of Cheryl Morrison Law. She’s a real estate attorney from the Chicagoland area.
We’ve been talking about where her cases come from. One of the things, Cheryl, that it occurs to me is that I work in immigration where about 80% of the people go through the process without a lawyer and they’re sort of happy about that. Do people in Illinois have to use an attorney to do a real estate transaction? And, if not, does that make it harder for you? How can you educate them that they might need a lawyer?
Cheryl: Actually, I’m pretty lucky in that regard. In the Chicagoland area, it’s pretty standard for people to use real estate attorneys when they’re buying and selling. So, it’s not a matter of convincing them that they do need to hire somebody. It’s just a matter of being the person that they hire.
Now, my understanding is that, if you go to Southern Illinois, that it’s not the case and that people do buy and sell without real estate attorneys but, in my area, it’s pretty much a given which is good [inaudible 00:16:04]. It’s a good place to be not to have to convince people that they need a lawyer.
Tyson: That really is a good thing. I was responding to an email yesterday about does it make financial sense for them to get an injury lawyer. And so, I had to explain that. To me, it’s really easy to explain but [inaudible 00:16:20] it’s not.
Here’s my question. How do you compete with some of the silk stocking firms? I don’t think it’s that common in Missouri to get a lawyer doing the same thing but maybe just way different in Illinois. How do you compete with the bigger firms whenever you are a smaller fish? I know how it is. I’m a smaller fish compared to bigger firms. How do you compete with those bigger firms?
Cheryl: I actually think that the bigger problem is that people think that it’s just a real estate transaction and they’ll go to– I recently had one where the other side hired an attorney. She isn’t really practicing. She actually lives in Indiana, near the Indiana border. She’s somewhere in there. She doesn’t actually practice here at all. She’s just licensed here and was a friend of a friend. They just hired her to do it because it’s just a real estate transaction.
I think that the bigger issue is convincing people that it is important to have somebody who actually specializes it and knows more about it, that it’s not something that just any attorney should be doing. Usually, things go smoothly but when it’s not someone who’s practiced in the area, like any type of law, you just don’t know the in’s and out’s as well and it slows things down which is a huge problem in real estate where people might be selling and then buying a new house the same day. And, if that person shows up without all the things that they need, it becomes a problem.
There isn’t really a competition with huge law firms from the city so much as people hiring just whomever to get it done. I think that countering that is just really making those relationships with real estate agents and hoping that they’re telling people they really shouldn’t be using just anybody to do their transactions.
That’s part of what I’ve been doing with my videos, too, is trying to highlight some issues where there’s a concern and letting people know that this is why it’s important that you should hire somebody who specializes in real estate rather than doing one transaction every other year. I think that’s where, for my practice area, that balances the fight that I have.
Jim: Right. I think that’s, that’s interesting. I didn’t even think about lawyers who dabble in them. You and I are sort of in the same boat, that there’s people who think they can just dabble in immigration. There’s people who have a brother-in-law who wants to help. Because they’re a lawyer, so they can get their brother-in-law to help them with the transaction or they don’t really see the need for it or the value.
I think maybe you could mark it against that. Maybe you could mark it against this idea that, just having my brother who’s a personal injury lawyer do my closing sounds like a crazy idea. I think you could do some videos about that.
Cheryl: I had started down the path for one video. I did and I just did a quick how to how to find a good attorney for whatever your problem is. Take a look at their website. How many practice areas are they listing? The more practice areas they list and the more divergent those areas are, the less likely that’s your person, especially if it’s a one- or two-attorney shop. There’s no way that you’re covering 14 different practice areas and doing everything frequently so.
Tyson: I was just thinking about something that Russ Nesevich does. A lot of people that do financial planning and estate planning, they do these seminars? I wonder if it makes sense to do seminars for realtors. Is that something that would make sense?
Cheryl: Yeah, I think that that’s a great idea. It’s something I’ve been toying around with, too, because I have seen estate planners that do seminars. I haven’t come up with any topics. I think I need to find a couple of realtors to ask what they might be interested in to see what would work for that but I think that that would be awesome because you’d be able to provide them some value and maybe that would, in turn, earn their trust so that they’d send some business my way. Yeah, that’s a great idea.
Jim: Do real estate agents have like what we have, continuing legal education? Do they have hours they have to maintain their license? I think they do.
Cheryl: Yeah, they do. Yeah.
Jim: I wonder if you could do like a little online course for them or a little webinar that they could get their hours, like you can get approved ahead of time. I think that’s a great angle. One thing I would really suggest, Cheryl, is you should really dig in deep to Dean Jackson. He’s my marketing hero. He started in real estate. He does courses for agents and all that stuff but I would think that so much of his lessons would apply.
Cheryl: Yeah. Okay. That’s a great tip. Dean–
Jim: The other thing, I was —
Yeah, Dean Jackson. I’ll send you some stuff.
I think that the CLE route is a good idea. I think that this would be a great use of your time too. If the cases aren’t coming in, I think, just building a database of all the heavy hitter realtors and even the smaller realtors who might not be working with a lawyer. I would spend a lot of time researching like which real estate lawyers have been doing a lot of their closings. Who are the free agents – the agents that don’t really have someone that they’re connected to and I’d just be having lunch with twice a week, I think.
Cheryl: Yeah. Yeah, I like that idea of trying to find who’s looking for an attorney to work with. I imagine that the newer real estate agents really don’t have a regular person yet and they might be great people to start targeting for that.
Tyson: Jimbo, I agree. I think even coming up with like a YouTube channel completely devoted to videos because you’re already doing the video challenge, and maybe you’re already doing this, but having a video channel, a YouTube channel just dedicated to realtors asking those simple questions so you’re like the go-to lawyer. You could be like the go-to lawyer in Illinois which would be really, really amazing. What are you doing with your videos now?
Cheryl: I’m completely uncomfortable being on the show. I started doing them and just posting them on YouTube. And then, I realized that that was not going to get me very far, very fast. Then, I started putting them on Facebook. My business page is mostly like family and friends at this point. I was just doing the videos targeted towards what buyers and sellers might want to hear.
Although I’ve done some videos and it’s dawned on me that maybe I should be doing things that realtors might be interested in. I’ve sort of moved to there a little bit. In doing that, when I have a video that I think might interest realtors, I’ve been posting it on LinkedIn.
That’s actually working pretty well for me right now. I have a bunch of realtors and loan officers that have either liked those videos or have reached out to connect with me on there. Now, I’m in the phase with, “Oh, okay, this is happening. I need to reach out to these people and see if they want to meet in person now that they’ve found me on here.” I mean, it’s not tons of people but a couple of new connections a week.
I think that that is a great idea because I think that there’s a lot of interest there that people who I don’t know and haven’t connected with me or seen this stuff and watching it, so it’s a great idea to move the videos and to maybe do a channel just devoted to things that realtors might want to know.
Jim: Cheryl, what’s your biggest stumbling block here as we record at the end of February 2020? What’s holding you back?
Cheryl: My biggest challenge is knowing where to focus my energy because I feel like I have this gigantic list of things that I’d like to get accomplished and it’s hard to stay focused to do one thing and finish it before moving on to the next. I’ll do a little bit on automation. And then I’m trying to figure out the video thing and how to make that better. And then, just doing the work again. Focus on what to do first is my biggest challenge, I think.
Tyson: All right, so I hate to do this now, but we do at the wrap up. Jimmy’s got some other appointments he’s got to go to. Before I do, I want to remind everyone, go to the Facebook group. Get involved there. Also, if you want to improve your practice and work on your practice, you’ve been telling yourself, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to work on my practice but I’m stuck in it.” What you need to do is you need to go to MaxLawCon 2020 and learn from all the amazing speakers that we have coming. I promise you, you’re going to enjoy it and you’re going to learn a lot.
Jimbo, what’s your hack of the week?
Jim: We’re in the process of implementing Filevine. We’re gathering the team together once a week. My tip or hack is, there’s great value in seeing how other people work on your software in your firm. If your firm is growing or if you have multiple people doing the same things, you’re not always the smartest person when it comes to that piece of software. Sometimes, you can learn just by getting everyone together and talking about how they use the software.
We did this yesterday for an hour. This is after we’ve had about six hours of Filevine training and some hands-on stuff. People have been using it now for about 10 days. Just getting everyone together in one room and talking through how they’re using it and how they want to use it was really powerful and it helped everyone come away with some easier shortcuts and ways to use the software better.
Tyson: Good stuff. Good stuff.
All right, Cheryl, what is your tip or hack of the week for us?
Cheryl: My tip is to do some videos. It’s been so fun. I know that we’re already in the video challenge but if there’s anybody who didn’t do it I would definitely say still start. I could have still been thinking about putting out content on video but just jumping in and starting to do it has been the best thing for me. There’s just no way to do it perfectly without doing it so just keep thinking about it and thinking about it isn’t really forward progress but actually doing it is great. It’s helping and it’s starting to get me thinking the right mindset for what my clients and my referral partners might want to hear. It’s been great. So yeah, do video.
Tyson: Alright, so my tip to me is extremely basic but it hit me on Saturday whenever I was at Cub Scouts with Jackson. We went out. All of us and the Cub Scouts, we went out on the trail. We were hiking. We were taking pictures and things like that. I was talking to the den leader and I was like, “Hey, do you want me to send you the pictures?” He was like, “Yeah, sure.” He’s like, “I’ll text them to you.” I was like, “Wait. You have an iPhone, right?” And he said, “Yeah.” “So, let me AirDrop.” He’s like, “What’s that?” For those of you that don’t know what AirDrop is, you’re missing out. If you ever find yourself sending a bunch of bulk photographs via text message and they don’t always go through, or you try to email them, it’s too big, so they don’t go through, AirDrop’s for you.
If you’re trying to find it, go to the search function on your iPhone, type in AirDrop, and it will come up. You turn on AirDrop. You can do it for your contacts only. You can turn it off. You can do it for everyone. Everyone that’s in range with you that has an iPhone, maybe it works with Android, I don’t think it does. Everyone’s got an iPhone and they’ve got theirs’ on, too. You click a button and it automatically sends it to them via Bluetooth. It takes a matter of seconds, like one to three seconds. It’s really, really quick.
Those of you that have not used AirDrop, I really recommend it. I know that for a lot of you that’s probably really, really basic but the guy I was talking to is like my age. He’s 37. And so, like, “Oh my gosh, I thought you should have known this” but I guess not everybody knows about it. AirDrop’s really, really amazing.
Cheryl, thank you so much for coming on. It’s been a lot of fun. A lot of great talk. It was really interesting to learn about you. Thanks so much for coming on.
Cheryl: Thank you. I really appreciate it. Great talking with you, guys.
Jim: Thanks, guys.
Tyson: Thank you. Have a good day.
Thanks for listening to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. To stay in contact with your hosts and to access more content, go to maximumlawyer.com.
Have a great week and catch you next time.