Today on the podcast Jim and Tyson sat down with Heather Harmon Kennedy. Heather is a recovering Las Vegas litigator who now runs a Pennsylvania law firm supporting small business owners in the hospitality & events industries.
6:30 starting a firm for the second time
7:55 only one choice
9:47 the hospitality industry
12:52 startup clients
15:30 joining the Guild during the pandemic
17:30 switching to a flat rate model
20:27 a vision around time commitment
21:20 a small team
Heather’s Tip: Book Like A Boss, bought on App Sumo. Book Like A Boss is the first landing page builder optimized for bookings.
Tyson’s Tip: Tyson just started the process of getting his pilot’s license. It’s made him more motivated than he’s been in a long time. So if you have one thing you’ve been wanting to do for a long time, just get started!
Watch the interview here.
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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.
Tyson: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Tyson Mutrux. Jim is on assignment. And, today, we’ve got a very special guest, one of our guild members, Heather Harmon Kennedy.
I always wonder whether I should just call you Heather Kennedy or Heather Harmon Kennedy but it’s Heather Harmon Kennedy. What’s going on Heather?
Heather: Hey, I’m doing well. How are you?
Tyson: I am doing great. I’m going to do a quick bio for you and then we’re going to jump right in. But I’m going to have you talk a little bit about yourself as well.
Heather is a recovering Las Vegas litigator – I love how you put that, who runs a Pennsylvania law firm supporting small business owners in the hospitality and events industries.
So, Heather, tell us a little bit about your journey.
Heather: So, it’s weird. It’s long. I grew up in the Midwest. I didn’t grow up in Pennsylvania. So, I’m from Illinois, Peoria. Like, kind of in the middle. You probably know Peoria. You’re pretty close.
Tyson: I do. I’ve had cases in Peoria. It’s a three-hour drive from St. Louis.
Heather: Yep, and a three-hour drive from Chicago. And so, we always have like a Cubs-Cardinals thing.
And so, I went to law school in Des Moines, Iowa. And we had a really like bad winter. So, some friends and I decided to move to Las Vegas.
The day after graduation, I drove out to Las Vegas with some friends to move there, and take the bar, and see about getting some jobs and whatever that was going to bring. So, it worked out. I was there for I think about seven years total.
And I got my first job as a construction litigator. So, a lot of that was like insurance and things like insurance defense with like an emphasis on construction. So, that was really popular in Las Vegas at the time. So, it was 2008, a couple of years after like a big rush on residential construction. So, I did that for a while.
I was a Supreme Court foreclosure mediator when like everything went to hell in like 2010, with the residential market, with the economic crash. So, I worked as a mediator for the Supreme Court doing foreclosures between banks and homeowners.
I got married out there and ended up moving to Germany. Just kind of like quit. I had to quit everything. It was either stay there, you know, and then, my husband would– he was an Air Force pilot so we went to Ramstein Air Force Base, in Landstuhl, near the Army hospital. You know, you might be familiar with those areas. I know.
Tyson: Yep. I know. I’ve never been there, but I know exactly what you’re talking about though.
Heather: So, we moved to that little village of Landstuhl. I couldn’t work there because, you know, I didn’t have a license to work there. And you have to take the bar in German if I wanted any hope of working there. So, it was either try to get a remote position which, you know, in 2012 wasn’t really a thing that much. So, I worked as a tour guide for the USO because I could speak German, so it was a really good fit. I could speak German from like college. I wasn’t very good at it, but I got good really quick.
So, I got a job as a tour guide. I mean, it had nothing to do with law. So, I was on like a like a legit sabbatical, I guess, for a couple of years. I just took people on bus and train tours from like– I think the furthest north I went was Amsterdam. And then, the furthest south was like northern Italy. So, it kind of like covered everything in between. I did some bus, some trains, because a lot of Americans were afraid to learn how to ride the– like navigate the train system, especially if they can’t speak the language. So, a lot of what I did was taking people to small towns on trains with the goal of learning how to use the system and then learning how to navigate restaurants, and shopping, and all of that stuff that a lot of Americans were really afraid to do when they left base. So, that was my non-legal life.
I volunteered for the with the Ramstein Officers’ Spouses’ Committee and we put on the largest military bazaar in the world. So, that’s how I really got interested in events and event planning because I did the grid. I did the layout. So, I did a lot of like vendor history and vendor sales. And there’s a lot of like cultural stuff. Like, this vendor from Russia doesn’t get along with this vendor from Germany or, you know, these types of products aren’t going to sell well next to these types of products, historically. So, a lot of it was planning. We used two of the airport hangars and a big portion of the runway for that. And I just loved events from then on which is kind of where I am now.
So, also, living in a small village like that, you know, everything was like mom and pop’s and like legit main street businesses, and market square, and stuff. So, I brought that back.
I got divorced and moved back to Las Vegas. I wasn’t even sure I was going to go back to Las Vegas. I went back to live with my parents for a while. So, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. I’m like, “Well, I have a license in Las Vegas. That’s the only place I can work but St. Thomas sounds like it might be nice.” So, I looked at taking the bar in other states because Nevada doesn’t have reciprocity with anybody. So, I really couldn’t wait anywhere except for maybe DC.
Tyson: [inaudible 00:05:16].
Heather: Eventually, I was like, Okay. Yeah, it was nice to like fantasize about moving to the islands, but I legit only have one choice right now. And I love Las Vegas, so it wasn’t really a hard choice.
So, I went back and worked at a big firm. It was a firm that I really admired a lot of the attorneys there. One of the main attorneys there, the managing partner in our office, had been a soap opera actor in a previous life. So, his trial skills were like on point to watch. Like, I loved wa– I never really caught on to litigation myself. But I was like, man, if anybody was going to, like, get me into litigation, it’s going to be him because he was just amazing to watch even when I was like a baby lawyer. So, I was really, really lucky to get hired there.
And then, I met my husband– my now husband who didn’t even live– he had lived in Las Vegas, and moved to Pennsylvania, and came back to visit. So, we did a long-distance thing and, eventually, one of us had to move. Pennsylvania is a better place to have kids, I thought. So, I came here, studied for the bar because I couldn’t weave in. Took the bar and just decided to start my own firm because then I could have a lot more control.
I had started a firm with a friend in Las Vegas. I don’t know if you knew that.
Tyson: I did not know.
Heather: It took me all of two months to give up and quit because I hated it. I hated every minute of it. We did everything wrong, everything. So, to start over here in Pennsylvania with nothing, like I didn’t know anybody. I think my husband knew like one person in his office because he was pretty new here, too.
Yeah, with that experience behind me, like knowing how much I hated that whole– like whopping three months of doing it before, to do it again, I was like, “Okay. Well, if I’m going to do it, I have to like at least give it a whirl to like do it right” because I knew we made every mistake in the book like the first time. So, I just, you know, did it again because that’d be the best.
We knew we wanted to have kids. And, you know, having a job, like what I had before, in Las Vegas, just wasn’t going to work out.
Tyson: So, tell me about the thought process that you went through when it comes to relaunching a firm and the things that you really thought about, and the feelings and the emotions that you went through because, by this point, you had taken a sabbatical. You lived in a completely different part of the world. You’ve come back in and actually started practicing again. So, tell me about those emotions, the thoughts, everything that you were going through when you decided to relaunch a firm.
Heather: So, I kind of felt that there really was just one choice to do my own firm. I probably could’ve gotten a job here. It would’ve been tough. I didn’t go to Pennsylvania law school, so I didn’t know anybody but I had experience and, I think, I could’ve gotten one. But I really– just, when talking with my husband about it, it was like there’s really one choice, you know, like I can’t be doing the–
To me, litigation was super stressful. I did not have the personality that enjoyed it. And that was almost 100% of my experience. So, I knew, ”Well, if I try to get a job here, I’m going to have to try to go in-house and I don’t have experience.” So, there was no choice, I think. You know, like decision as to, “Do I get a job or do I start my own?” I think it was always you have to start your own but then the hard part was figuring out, “Well, what are you going to do and how are you going to learn how to do it?” because I knew I wasn’t going to do litigation. That was the only real thing I had experience in. And “How are you going to find people – clients to pay you to do it when you’re essentially brand new?”
So, while I was studying for the Bar, I got my real estate license with a brokerage out here because I figured real estate was something that I was very interested in. I do commercial real estate now, but I don’t touch residential anymore. But, at the time, I didn’t know that. So, I thought, “Okay. Well, the first thing I need to do is learn.” So, I learned the industry, like the Western Pennsylvania real estate industry for getting my license and working as a realtor while I was studying for the bar and waiting for my results.
So, yeah, the emotional part was really just dealing with, “How am I going to learn something brand new, and build a practice around it, and get good enough at it that people will actually pay me to do it when I haven’t done it before?”
Tyson: So, it’s interesting. I mean, you lived in Vegas which is arguably the biggest industry in terms of hospitality in the world, right? Arguably. And if not, it’s one of the top, right? And then, you go over to Germany and you’re a tour guide and you get into hospitality out there. So, how has that prepared you to deal with clients that you’re not representing in those industries?
Heather: So, I don’t want to say I understand the intricacies from living in Las Vegas, but I understand what a lot of the culture of the industry is like from living in Las Vegas although it’s very different in western Pennsylvania because we’re not a 24-hour town.
From Germany, the thing I think that I got the most out of, with the event planning, was the different personalities. Like, we had vendors from like 35-some countries that, you know, we were dealing with throughout the year because it was a year-long planning process. And it doesn’t really carry over to the legal part but it does because a big part of my job is understanding the business that my clients are in, even though I’m not technically in that business. So, it helped me to learn, you know, how the past sales are analyzed, how events work, how events come together, what kinds of things can go wrong at a large event. And this happened to be a sales event and the experience but, you know, there’s all kinds of events in Las Vegas.
I did some of it, from the litigation side, like, you know, things that could potentially go wrong. And I feel like construction actually weighs in on a lot of that because a lot of events have temporary structures and things like that.
But it was mostly dealing with people and getting to understand how– especially big events, so we’re talking, you know, antique shows, flea markets, vendor shows, stuff like that, come together and what goes on behind the scenes that kind of helps me understand what the clients are dealing with that’s totally separate from the legal aspect.
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Tyson: We’re talking about an industry that it’s honestly not a huge industry, it doesn’t seem. And then the number of people in that industry that actually need a lawyer is even smaller. So, I guess, first of all, let’s start with how do those clients initially find you?
Heather: A lot of the clients I have–
So, actually, I’ll back up because I don’t do just events. In fact, a very small portion of what I do are the big like kind of events that I was just talking about. A lot of the clients that I work with, in the events industries are in weddings, are in catering. You can also consider it the hospitality industry because I consider hospitality food and beverage as well, so that opens up restaurants–
Tyson: So, do I. Yes, so, do I.
Heather: [inaudible 00:12:38] stuff like that.
Tyson: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. I do, too.
So, is this all referral based? Did they find you on the internet? And also, my next question is going to be. So, if you want to address this too, it’s like, when do they realize that they need you?
Heather: I do a lot of start up. In fact, that’s how I get most of the clients I’m doing like specific industry work for comes from startup work I did years ago. So, I work with a lot of– well, a lot. I work with a couple of like business incubators which is actually where I got most of my clients from when I started. And through the lifecycle of their businesses, it’s three years later now from when I started.
So, now, they’re actually coming back for stuff that they need that is specific to their industry, when what I did for them before was not specific to the industry, it was really getting the business up and running almost from a strictly business perspective. And sometimes we would do contracts. And sometimes they weren’t even there yet because they were still in like the planning stages of their business because, when you work with an incubator, the incubator helps walk them through a six-month or a year-long business planning process a lot of times before they even go out and try to start to sell.
But during that business planning process, part of what they do is they get their– usually an LLC. So, we do the very like basic legwork, a lot of times, before the clients even focusing on what they’re going to be doing for their business. So, then, they come back to me a couple years later.
One of the programs that I worked with, they work with women-owned, minority-owned and veteran-owned businesses. And they have programs specifically for– especially now, under the CARES Act, we’re working with a lot more hospitality industry clients because they’ve been hurt so badly by the pandemic. Right before pandemic started is when I kind of decided I’m going to niche down into events and hospitality because I had enough clients just in general business, I’m like, “Okay. Now, I want to niche into just this industry.”
And like two months later pandemic happens. So, I’m like, “Okay. I’m not going to niche now.” And then, it just kind of happened along the way because that’s where the grant money was. It was directed towards– largely, it was towards those clients in that particular industry that I kind of pumped the brakes on.
Tyson: Yeah. So, the pandemic is interesting because you’d think, for what you do, it would cause a dramatic decrease in revenue for you. So, how were you able to deal– I mean, you’re talking about the grant money and everything but, I guess, how were you able to really still sustain your growth during the pandemic?
Heather: So, one of the first things I did was I joined the Guild. I’d been on the Facebook page, on and off, for a while. And, when pandemic hit, I was like, “Oh, man, like I really need to actually start thinking about and focusing on how my firm’s going to survive through this,” because I’ve kind of seen the writing on the wall, if I just– I mean, honestly, I just been kind of like hadn’t been very organized in my efforts. I hadn’t been very intentional in any efforts.
I was still pretty new firm. I think, when the pandemic hit, I was like two years. And so, I’d really just been focusing on the, you know, learning what I’m doing and expanding what I can offer to people. And then, when pandemic hit, it was like, “Well, okay, yeah, here goes.” Potentially, a lot of my clients, a lot of work. “What if I don’t have any new work for a year?” because people aren’t starting businesses or, if they are, they’re not going to be able to afford what I do.
So, I kind of shifted gears from learning about the substantive area of law because that was pretty new to me. So, shifting from learning the substance to shifting to learning how to actually run my firm so that I could make it through. So, The Guild was actually a massive part of that because I don’t know that– I don’t know for sure that I would’ve made it through had I not been a lot more intentional in what I was doing and how I was doing it because I had never bothered with any of that before. Just like, you know, I was doing like whatever. You know, bank accounting, like if I’ve got money to pay my bills this month and if I can pay myself, I’m doing awesome, just keep doing what you’re doing. But that really wasn’t going to work when I could see most of my clients either leaving or see the opportunity to not get new clients for a long time.
So, that was probably the biggest piece of it. It was like getting my shit together, that I just never bothered to do before and really needed.
Tyson: Yeah. You had one KPI, just the bank account balance.
Heather: That was it. At that point, I didn’t even realize it was a KPI.
Tyson: That’s pretty funny.
So, tell me about this model. Like, how do you get paid? Is it flat rate? Is it hourly? Is it a blend? Like how does that work?
Heather: When I first started, it was mostly hourly. As I went on and had more clients and a little more breathing room, I switched to flat rate which probably as backwards way of doing it, but that’s kind of– I knew how to bill hourly from doing construction work. I was really, really good at like the art of billing. And you had to get good at it with what I did. So, I did what I knew. And then, started realizing it doesn’t really work with the type of work that I’m doing now.
And I also didn’t have an assistant to help with it, you know, like we have billing departments in big firms that do a lot. You know, you have your pre-bills that go out and, you know, one of the partners will go over it. And I’m like, “Oh, shoot. This is all me.” I’m not pre-billing for anybody else, at least, just myself. But it was a lot of time, stress and energy. It didn’t really seem to make sense for me, from my side. It’s just what I knew how to do. And it didn’t really seem to make sense from the client’s either because I couldn’t answer their questions as to like “What’s this going to cost?” And that is like legitimately the number one concern.
I know, in the group, a lot, we talk about people who are– all they want to know is like how much it’s going to cost because they’re so money focused. But, for my clients, I really understand why there’s so money focused because when they’re starting out, they’ve probably just quit a job. If they’re at that point, they’ve potentially quit a full-time job, lost all that income. They have a very like small bank account that they’re trying to bootstrap to get everything done that they need in their startup stages. So, think legit like “Do you have money concerns?” So, I try to figure out what can I do to resolve those which I’d never really had to think about before as an attorney because I never really had to deal with how the billing relationship worked because I was just an associate at a big firm. That was, I guess, a tough but a necessary transition to like go away from what I knew how to do, which was hourly billing – I’m a rock star at, to a flat fee that I’d never done before or learned about.
And, now, I bill almost exclusively on flat fee. I figured out, over time, ways – everything that I do, I can work into a flat fee somehow. And the stuff that I don’t think I can work into a flat fee, I do it anyways, I just have very– I spend a lot of time on my engagement letters with those particular clients that don’t like fit into a box just so they can have a flat fee or, at least, a flat fee for a portion of it.
The only thing I do hourly is government-funded work. Like if it’s a government contract, I have to bill that hourly because that’s how the contracts work. So, I still do hourly billing but only for the clients that come through an incubator or a program that’s getting funded by government money or by incubator money that requires it.
I really want to dig deeper on this whole topic. I can go an hour, but we’re going to have to start to wind things down. I want to talk about the future, really. I guess, where do you see this headed? Like, what’s your vision for what your firm’s going to look like?
Heather: So, my vision revolves around the amount of time that I put into it. For example, in the summertime– I mean, I have about four hours a day right now that I can commit to work because my son, as soon as I’m done here, he goes to swim practice. And after swim practice, you know, then I’ll take him to day care and I’ll have about four hours before I have to pick him up for boxing training.
So, in the summer times, I’ll have about four hours to commit. When he goes to school, in the fall, I have about six hours to commit. And I don’t work weekends. So, that’s really the vision around my firm is efficiency and convenience, both for myself and my clients.
So, another reason why the flat fees were a big deal and like getting my crap together is a big deal because I know that I don’t want to have a lot of staff because that would take, I believe, more time out of my day. But I do want to have a lot of tech that does a lot of work for me. So, right now, I have a virtual assistant that just helps him with assistant stuff. I’ve one of Sandy Van’s virtual assistants that help me with phones and some secretarial stuff. And then, I have an Instagram assistant. And my mom who is still training to be a paralegal for the estate planning practice that I haven’t even launched yet.
So, my vision is six-hour workday. It’s pretty unrealistic, but I’m actually getting there, slowly.
Tyson: I love it.
Heather: Does that answer your question?
Tyson: Yeah, absolutely, because I think it definitely shows people, you know, a different way of running a firm. And that I think it’s cool because it fits in perfectly with what you want for your life, right? Not everybody needs to get to 50 lawyers, you know, like that’s just not what they want. And that’s not what you want. You built a practice around what you want and what fits your vision. So, I think that that’s a great example. I actually couldn’t have asked for a better explanation. So, I’m glad that you shared that. That’s perfect.
All right. We have to wrap things up. Before I do, I want to remind everyone to go to the big group, the Facebook group. That’s where Heather started – in the big group.
And then, I want to remind everyone, if you want to go and join us in the Guild, go to maxlawguild.com. It’s a great place to meet people like Heather and other great lawyers that share their visions, their ideas. It’s just a great place. And then, if you’re interested in going to the conference, make sure you get your tickets, maxlawcon.com, before they run out.
All right, Heather, this is where I normally kick it to Jim, but he’s not here. So, what is your tip or hack of the week?
Heather: Mine is Book Like a Boss. I bought it on AppSumo. And like the other like 12 things I bought on AppSumo, I was like, “Yeah. I might use it. I might not. Whatever.” And I started using it about a year ago. And I am in love with it to do my booking and my scheduling. It lets me do digital products. I can do free consultations because my thing with my clients is I want them to be able to– “you get what you pay for.” So, they can pick a 15-minute free, or they can pick half an hour paid, or they can pick an hourly paid because that visualizes it. And it can do it all through one landing page. And they can also buy a simple LLC package on a landing page. They can buy digital products on a landing page. And you could put a chat widget on your website. I just learned this. You can put a chat widget on your website that will let them immediately book through the widget or buy a product through the widget. So, I’m excited to get started on that. But Book Like a Boss has been huge for me being able to do and, essentially, my intake all in one spot and then Zap it to my CRM.
Tyson: This is really cool. I’m looking at it right now. And they’ve got a cool little pricing plan, like they have a slider to see like what it would cost you. It’s actually fairly cheap. Like, for example, if you only have three users, it’s $35 a month, I mean. So, it’s actually pretty cheap. So, nice. Great.
Heather: Yeah. And they’ve got a lifetime right now. It’s like a thousand bucks but it’s lifetime for like a company with as many like people as you want to have on it. You don’t have to buy separate users every time. So, I’m really happy with them.
Tyson: I’m going to go play with this and see if that’s something that will fit for us. So, that’s perfect.
All right. So, my tip of the week, it’s more kind of big picture stuff. But I did something – it was last week. I started something that I’ve been wanting to do for a really long time and that’s starting the process of getting my pilot’s license. So, I started the ground school already. And I’ve got to tell you, it’s got me more motivated than I’ve been in a long time, right? And I usually have a lot of energy. You know this about me. I’m usually pretty pumped up about things. But this has just got me so pumped up.
So, my tip is this. If you have one thing – just one thing that you’ve been really, really wanting to do over the last few years and you just have not done it, just start. Just start the process. It’s helped me a lot in my firm too because I have more energy throughout the day. You can actually believe that. I get more energy than what I normally do. So, it’s been fantastic. So, it’s been a week and a weekend. I’ve been so motivated. Every night, I’m studying. It’s great.
So, my tip is to pick whatever it is you’ve been trying to do over the last few years and just do it. Start it.
All right, Heather. I really wish we had more time. I wish we could dig deeper on this because I think we could just peel back so many layers of the onion. But thank you so much for sharing what you did share. And then, the rest of it we’ll get from you in The Guild.
Heather: Absolutely. It’s great talking to you, Tyson.
Tyson: Good talking to you.
Heather: Great. Bye.
Tyson: Bye. See ya.
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