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Opening Doors Through Visibility with Ifeoma Ibekwe 317
Categories: Podcast

This week on the podcast Jim and Tyson chat with Ifeoma Ibekwe of Ibekwe Law, PLLC, a wills and trusts firm in Austin, Texas. 

Iffy Ibekwe is an estate planning attorney evangelist for intergenerational wealth transfer and legacy building with effective wills and trusts. She activates intentional women so they can take agency over their lives and build impactful legacies. 

As a Black businesswoman and attorney, she is not your garden-variety estate planning attorney. She wishes to provide services to those who her area of the law has historically ignored. Being a unicorn does not mean she only serves people of color and/or women, but it does mean she actively seeks to serve this demographic. 

4:08 test piloting a new career
6:02 serving those who have been ignored
8:41 activating intentional women
10:50 the importance of rest
16:30 market shamelessly
19:20 visibility
21:26 use the resources around you

Jim’s Hack: Have fun when you’re making your content!

Ifeoma’s Tip: Block schedule to protect your time. And challenge yourself to schedule in time off.

Tyson’s Tip: Tyson has switched from Slack to Cliq, and he much prefers it. 

Listen to the podcast here.
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.

 

Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim Hacking.

Tyson: And I’m Tyson Mutrux. What’s up, Jimmy?

Jim: Oh, Tyson. It’s good to see you, my friend. It’s been a while. We haven’t recorded one with a guest in a few weeks so it’s good to get back in the saddle.

Tyson: Yeah, I was just telling you before the show, I think we haven’t done this in a while. You and I, we recorded together last week. And then the week before that, I think we took off so. Which we already had a couple in the can, so we didn’t skip any episodes or any weeks with the podcast. But you and I did not talk.

But do you want to jump right in with our guest?

Jim: Yeah, you know, we’re heading on our fifth-year anniversary of the podcast. I think it’s in June. So, we’re getting pretty close. But I will.

I’m excited to introduce our guest. Her name is Ifeoma “Iffy” Ibekwe. She’s an estate planning attorney from Texas. She is a public speaker. She represents and seeks to represent underrepresented people who have not gone through the estate planning process before.

And we’re really excited to have you. Iffy, thanks for joining us.

Ifeoma: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

Tyson: Iffy, I’ve got to ask this question. Did Jim pronounce your name correctly?

Ifeoma: Not at all [laughter].

Jim: I thought I had it. Oh, man. Oh, I feel bad.

Tyson: Oh, I feel awful.

Ifeoma: My first name is pronounced Ifoma. And iffy is just the if part of that. But it’s tricky because there’s an e there that people want to make an iffy-oma, but it’s as if there is no e, so it’s Ifoma.

Jim: Dumb ass. I’m sorry. I apologize for that.

Ifeoma: You said it with such confidence. I wasn’t even going to interrupt you. I was like, “He is securing this.”

Tyson: Because if I was, he did say it very confidently.

Ifeoma: So, confidently.

Tyson: Man, we should nail it, Jim.

Jim: Typical.

Tyson: So, Iffy, let’s jump in. Tell us about your journey and how you got to where you are now?

Ifeoma: Yes. So, I graduated from law school in 2006. And I went to law school with the hopes of becoming and someone who worked in education. And so, for the first 11 years of my life, I did education law, working for a large nonprofit. I worked for teachers’ union when I first got out of law school for about a year.

And, after having my third child, I pivoted into estate planning. And not because I had some, you know, deep-dying desire to enter into this field but because I was presented an opportunity to work with a financial planner doing simple wills, as everyone says their will is simple, even if they have million-dollar estates, just so you know, “Oh, ours is very simple.” But, truly, they were very simple. If you could say straightforward for most people. And that’s how I entered into private practice. And almost 99% of my business is estate planning.

Jim: Iffy, I went out on my own when my wife was pregnant with our third son. And I know about those conversations. Talk to us a little bit, for the people that are on the fence, about going out on their own, talk about those conversations that you were having with your spouse and what your thought process was, as you decided to go out on your own.

Ifeoma: Yes. Okay. So, I’ll be very honest and say I got fired from my job of 10 years. And that definitely was a crisis in confidence. And I was going to leave the law, completely leave. I just always thought of myself as someone people wanted to work with. And my clients really enjoyed me. I’m very charismatic. And my husband said– 

And so, I’ll tell you what I did. I started looking into things like HR because I can help you with a resume. I can help you with your interview skills. I can make you polish so that when you’re presenting yourself, maybe I could encourage women in the workforce in that way. And they would inevitably ask me to review a contract or do something legal. And this is when I was test piloting what my next career would be.

And I kept telling my husband, they always want me to just do the legal part. And I’m out of the law. Clearly, I’m not a good lawyer. I’m going to leave. I was just really beaten down by the whole process. And he said, “Well, why don’t you just try and see if you can get one client.” And I did. And I got one client. And they paid me. And it was a dopamine hit.

But my husband is just the biggest supporter of my entrepreneurial journey. I mean, a lot of people would’ve gotten out of law because we had a dual-income home. And we I didn’t have to work at that time. But I really enjoy working. And I really wanted to work. And I didn’t love, and this might not sound popular, childcare. I’d never done it. I had always had my kids in daycare and the thought of just hanging out at home. I didn’t have mom friends. What was I going to do with them? Like I don’t have a schedule for you.

And so, my mind has changed about that a lot. But at that time, that seems scarier than starting my own business. And my husband definitely was so instrumental in just saying, “Just see if you can find one.” And I’m wanting to prove him wrong and show him that I couldn’t. But, when I did, I was like, “Ooh, I like the feeling of getting a paycheck.” It was just more fuel to the fire of entrepreneurship.

And to your question, what would you say to someone, you know– and I’m not even sure if it’s your question at this point but one of the things that I, looking back, wish I had done was to be brave enough to start out on my own because I can’t imagine where I’d be right now if I had started in 2006 or even 2008, so.

Tyson: I think that’s a cool mindset. I do.

So, you provided us a short little bio and there’s a part of it, it says, “She wishes to provide services to those who, her area of the law, have historically ignored.”

Ifeoma: Yes.

Tyson: So, will you talk a little bit about that?

Ifeoma: Yeah. So, I’m really playing around with the idea that I think I’m a very culturally competent lawyer. And estate planning, when you think about estate planning, do you think about me? I mean, honestly, as a lawyer, do you think that “She’s your resident estate planner.” 

And so, consequently, when I go to the Austin Bar Association, or my local meetings, everyone looks like y’all. They just do. And their clients look like you. But the thing is, we have a very rich tapestry of people who are not ideal clients or historical clients for estate planning. And, therefore, they’re left out of the planning process.

My practice tends to sweep in everybody just because it’s such an anomaly to say, “Oh, my gosh, you know, here’s this black woman who’s doing estate planning.” And I say, I want to activate women, right, because I know, if I can get a woman in, I can get her spouse in, I can get her kids in, I can get her parents in. When she’s up fretting about what’s going to happen to her kids, that’s something I can relate very well to, or just the balance of it all, and just the immediacy of doing estate planning is something that’s very universal but not really marketed as such.

I think the brand for estate planning is wealth, land ownership, homeownership, maybe business ownership – even though most business professionals don’t even have a succession plan, and that stereotype. When I grew up, I used to watch Duck Tales and there was Scrooge McDuck. And he was this duck who would just be diving in coins of money and doing his backstroke in diamonds and coins, right? That’s what you think of someone who has an estate plan. He’s wealthy. He’s got a trust fund. And that’s just really not true. I think that it’s way more accessible for everyone.

If you have a body, if you have health decisions that you would like to make for yourself, there’s so much you can do without having a taxable estate. And I really just started saying that and it resonated with so many people. And so, that’s who I see. It’s not just people of color. It really is. 80% of Americans don’t have a will. We’re not representative area of law. I don’t think that that’s acceptable to say, “Well, they don’t have enough money for me to come work for them.” Right? We’ve got to figure out ways that we can serve the greater population with our services.

Jim: Iffy, during your answer, you talked about activating women. And in your bio, you talked about activating intentional women. Can you explain what intentional women means and then what activation of them means?

Ifeoma: Yeah. So, estate planning comes with a lot of baggage. You know, you have to come to terms with some big decisions to be made. If you have someone you’re in a relationship with or marriage with, that means that you’re going to have to talk about things that maybe they may not be comfortable talking about or making decisions about, right? Who are we going to end up taking care of the kids? Or what if something happens to me? What happens to you? You know, things like that. And so, there’s an intentionality of getting to the point where you’re ready for that conversation.

I don’t want to have to convince anyone that they should get an estate plan because, fundamentally, I think they should. When they are ready, that’s when I want to work with them. Because, if they’re not ready, they’re not going to be able to finish the process. And it’s such a process of gathering information, having conversations. We sit down and talk through their family issues, who’s estranged from their parent, whose husband had another child, you know, that’s a lot that comes up when you’re having conversations. Or stepchildren, how are they going to inherit? So, there has to be an intentionality in that.

The activation piece is, “you come work with me, I’m going to empower you in this.” This is not going to be a doom and gloom process, more of an empowering process where you’re going to be able to man, woman, or however you identify, you’re going to be able to come in here and leave knowing that these certain things have been protected. Your estate is protected because your house now is going this way. Your children are going to receive money in trust, if something happens to you. They’re going to receive their assets this way. And there is an empowerment when you think about that. And I want women to know, you can wake up to that. And that’s possible for you.

So, that’s what I think of when I think of just the activating process. And I don’t like the word empowering as much because I feel like it was really dragged through the mud. And so, I felt like activating felt like you’re going to be one of the Avengers or something like that.

Tyson: So, Iffy, you talk about taking the time to rest, in the questionnaire, will you talk about that? Because I find that really interesting. Because you mentioned a couple times. You don’t just mention it one time. You mentioned it a couple of times. Will you talk about the importance of rest and what you mean by that?

Ifeoma: Yes. I did not coin this term. My friend, Abby DesJardien did. And I’m sure she didn’t coin it. But I’m a sleep evangelist. And it means that I believe in rest. I also have four children – seven, five, three, and one. So, people don’t believe me when I say that. But I really strongly believe that there has to be a separation from work, thinking about work, planning for work, doing the actual work, and recreation or actual resting.

And it’s something that is very counter to how lawyers are programmed, and how we are expected to be available to our clients and all of that. And maybe it’s why I am interested in nonprofit law prior to becoming an estate planner, which is also not, “I’ve got to do something overnight,” you know, just it doesn’t fit. And because of that, it allows me to be more creative. You know, I enjoy things outside of work. I’m an avid gardener. I love mountain biking. I love to do art, visit museums and other things that really just feed into my creativity.And when I’m working, I can’t do that.

And if I don’t sleep, I don’t function well. There’s a book about sleep chronotypes. They talk about four different types of sleep styles. And I’m the bear. I need seven to nine hours. I could probably do 10, if they wouldn’t come and wake me up, of sleep uninterrupted. And so, that’s just something we’ve really worked out because we had such horrible sleepers, we got a sleep consultant in here. And these kids were sleeping. After years of being unable to understand why they couldn’t stay in their bed all night. And then, when I started getting sleep like that, I became very protective about sleep. And then, I’ve built that into how my weekend is structured. I take Monday’s off, just things like that, so that I’m not always go, go, go, go, go.

 

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Jim: Iffy, I want to get back to your point about how, when you go into the Texas Bar Association meetings that everybody looks like Tyson and I.

Ifeoma: Yes, definitely. Everywhere in law, actually.

Jim: I’m sure that’s 100% true. And I’m thinking back. So, you don’t know this about me, but I became a Muslim like 25 years ago. And I remember the first time I went to the mosque. I was like the only white guy there, right? And usually, when I go, I’m one of the few white people there. And so, obviously, it’s not nearly the same thing. But when we are at an event, and most of the people look like us, and somebody who looks like you walks in what, if anything, would you suggest that we do?

Ifeoma: Say hello. That would be a very welcome change.

And now it’s not in-person. But when I did go in person, no one talks to me. Maybe the person sitting at the CLE lunch table will talk to me but there’s definitely– and they talk about how collegial the section is. And I’m sure it is for other people but, when you are not known or nobody knows who you are or why you’re there, there’s a tendency for people to just ignore. And it doesn’t hurt to say hello.

Fun fact, Jim. I grew up in the Middle East. So, I grew up in Dubai and in Doha, Qatar, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. So, when you talk about the mosque, I’m like, “Yeah, you definitely would’ve stood out.” But, you know, I don’t think people know that Islam is so diverse in the practitioners except for white people, right? But pretty much, everywhere else in the world, you go to a mosque and you see all kinds of people. So, that’s how I move through the world. I’m always at that mosque as the outsider.

In my neighborhood, in my education, based on where my parents raised us, in elementary, middle, high school-  actually, Middle East, it was very diverse because I went to international schools. But when I moved to Texas, it was just predominantly white. When I went to University of Texas for undergraduate, predominantly white, only 3% African-Americans or black, however they would identify, law school. I mean, it’s like, when I go– so, to me, I’m always that odd fish, just kind of swimming in a sea where, you know, I’m like a tropical fish in Arctic waters. And so, it’s just how I operate.

But, yeah, be friendly. Say hello. Genuinely try and get to know people who may not be at a white shoe firm or someone that you would want. I mean, it doesn’t hurt to ask, “Hey, how are you?” you know.

I’m very friendly and outgoing, so I will speak to you. If I’m sitting by you, I just think it’s impolite not to. But if you see someone coming to your meetings all the time and you don’t know them. I don’t know, to me curiosity, at some point, would kick in where you ask.

But I will tell you this, I think because I market shamelessly. And estate planners aren’t really known for that, which is great. If you’re an estate planner, listening, please get out there. But it has started to open doors for me where people are asking me to now come and speak to my peer groups, at meetings that I would never think that they would have even noticed that I was in this space. And I’m going to be speaking on culturally competent estate planning and how to serve people, whether they’re Muslim clients, or same sex, or black, you know, and really have an eye for serving a wider population. And that’s something that I never thought would happen but they’re like, “Here. The buffet is yours. What do you want to talk about?” And I wanted to talk about the ethics of that. But it really does start with knowing people who don’t look like you and being curious enough to ask questions because, you know, we’re all people so.

Tyson: So, Iffy, this is a really good segue because one of the questions I want to ask you about was how you get your clients because it does seem like a lot of estate planning lawyers are kind of boring with their marketing. They don’t do a lot of videos which is crazy to me.

Now, there are people in The Guild that we know that they do. But there are a lot that just don’t. You don’t see them. You don’t hear from them. They’re not like a personal injury lawyer where you see on billboards. So like, what is it– and I won’t even say how do you get clients? Like what do you think are the best ways for people to get clients when you’re in estate planning?

Ifeoma: Right. I think giving people information, answering questions that they want to know the answers to. What? The big one? I really do feel like this is a big one. What happens to my kids, if something happens to me or the other parent? Getting on video and talking about that for one minute, two minutes, telling them what documents they need to put in place in their estate and the outcomes of getting that in place. Even, just practically, what happens if you disagree with your spouse about that or the other parent, what can you do? What if you’re married and you want to get your estate plan but your spouse doesn’t? Do we do a joint will? Because that’s something we were like, “Is there a joint will, we have to do it together?” And you just explain how, “No. This is how it works in our state. You do this, this and this, you know.” Maybe there are community property laws you have to deal with, depending on where you’re located. Do you have a prenup? How does that affect it? And just answer common questions. And you can find that in so many ways. There are people who do it so well. 

And then, the other thing, I would say, is be consistent and put yourself out there. A lot of the reasons– I think a lot of the reasons that some estate planners do not advertise is because they have repeat business and they’re getting legacy clients. So, I’m not even talking about that demographic. They don’t need to. They have business. They’re good. They have the referral business.

But one of the things I’ve done is I participate on the groups on Facebook. You know, “Hey, I’m this person. I do this.” You know, I have no father to hand me a book of business. I don’t have a brother or an uncle in some firm who’s looking for an associate. Nobody knows me from Adam, unless I present myself.

And so, just visibility, consistency, helping other lawyers by answering questions. “Hey, I’m looking for a probate lawyer in South Texas who can help with a guardianship.” If someone emails me, I’m definitely going to help you find that answer if I can. If I can’t, so I’ll write back and say, “Hey, I’m going to help you look. If I can’t find it, you know, then I’ll let you know.” Right? And then, ask the questions in my network because, ultimately, if you do something kind, that’s marketing too, right? I’m just helping you out as a colleague. 

When they think about business, they’re going to be like, “Oh, she’s really good at Austin. She does this. She helped me find this.” I don’t know when that’s going to come in or if it’ll ever come in, but I also look at that as marketing, too.

Just setting up meetings with other lawyers who are in other fields or other professionals and saying, “Hey, I’m an estate planner, you’re a financial planner, let’s talk” and just being bold about it and sending out the info.

I think we sent you all, something like that. I get on podcasts and talk about whatever y’all want to talk about, I’m ready to talk. And just making that ready so that it makes your job easy. And if you’re rushing, and you’re about to interview me, you have the information, it’s all there to make it as smooth and as easy as possible without having to open up seven emails. Just make yourself available.

Tyson: Jim, before you say something, Iffy, I want to tell you, we reject 99% of those.

Ifeoma: Really?

Tyson: So, something said, you got– like, because we– yeah, we reject a lot of them. I won’t say why but yours got through. And so, kudos to you.

Ifeoma: Thank you.

Tyson: Yeah. [inaudible 00:20:57]

Ifeoma: Kudos to Maya, my amazing intern who also filled out the forms. So, when you’re like you put that you love rest, I’m like, “I did, didn’t I?” Maya– you know, also, that’s a great thing, just using the resources around you, the university interns who want to go into law or PR and marketing, and paying them, you know, a stipend or a nominal fee because we don’t have the time to do all these things, right? To help with all the marketing and all that. Definitely, take advantage of that.

Tyson: Who not how, Jimmy.

Jim: That’s a great segue to what I wanted to ask next, Iffy, which is, you know, somebody signs up, they want an estate plan from your firm, how do you logistically get it done? What’s your team look like?

Ifeoma: Oh, my team is comprised of me. I have an associate attorney, a paralegal, and an admin, and then an intern. And then, I also have an operations director who helps with all of the strategic planning for the entire year.

So, if they want to have an estate plan, then they get on the website or call the office, get on the calendar for an initial consultation. After that, we have a plan design meeting which is where we sit down and we talk about their plan and what they are trying to accomplish. Who is in their family? Who the key players are? Does anyone have special needs who might inherit? Are you wanting to give to charity? Do you have a business? And that allows people– because in the initial meeting, it’s just a little meeting where you talk about whether you’re even in the right office.

And then, the second meeting is with an attorney who will walk through what your plan could look like. Do you want to trust? And all the components. And then, within two weeks of that, we have a draft to them. And then, within two weeks of that, we have them come to the office and have a curbside signing.

Right now, as we’re recording this, it’s during COVID, so they drive up. My team comes out to them. And we execute the documents while they stay in their car. And they leave with the originals. 

We used to do a whole ceremony in the office where we’d have baskets and take photos, which was, again, great for marketing and do all of that. But now it’s really like, “Here’s step one. You have three meetings. And then, you sign and you’re out.” So, it doesn’t have to take long. It doesn’t have to be so laborious which I have done in the past. It’s taken a long time to figure out what the sauce is where you don’t exhaust your clients and you can hold their hands and get enough information to get what you need done done. So that’s how it works.

Oh, and then the other thing I will have to say about that, get reviews afterwards and critiques of what you’re doing well and what you’re not so that you can constantly make improvements.

Tyson: I love it. This is great. I’m having a great time, but we do at the wrap things up. Before I do, I want to remind everyone to go to the Facebook group, get involved there. There’s a lot of great activity. We’re over 4500 members.

If you want to go to the conference, I’m warning you, get your tickets now because I’m pretty sure we’re going to sell out. So, make sure you get your tickets. It’s in October. Go to maxlawcon.com.

And then, finally, if you want to join us in the Guild, go to maxlawguild.com where we just have a lot of high-level conversations, lots of trainings, just a lot of great activity going on there as well.

Jimmy, what is your hack of the week?

Jim: Well, Tyson, as you know, I’ve been doing all my videos on Saturdays. So, I shoot seven videos Saturday morning and I knock them out for the week. And it dawned on me, this last Saturday, that April 20, which is today, the day we’re recording this podcast was coming up. 

And for some reason, I’m not entirely sure of 04/20 is a big day in the marijuana world, so I decided to make a video about immigration and marijuana and all the things that immigrants need to think about. You know, marijuana is legal in some states but, federally, it’s not.

But the funny thing is I had a lot of fun with it. I started laughing to myself. I mean, if people were watching this– because usually I’m sort of boring. People say, “And this guy could put anybody to sleep” but I sort of got going. I was talking about wacky weed and the ganja and I just started laughing and laughing. If somebody was watching, they’d probably thought I was high.

But the point of it is to have fun when you’re making your content. Don’t make everything boring. Don’t make everything about yourself. And like Iffy said, you know, just answer a question. Keep it short and sweet and send them on their way. And you’re going to go a lot further than just being some boring old lawyer in front of law books.

Tyson: So, I think– I mean, in some– if someone will correct me if I’m wrong, they’ll send us a message on Facebook or email me. But I think 04/20 is the code in Los Angeles, like the police code for like a marijuana arrest or something. I think that’s what it comes from. I think that’s what it is, but– and I only know that because I was watching a documentary on Netflix the other day about a lady that was killed. It was a sad story, but they mentioned that.

But, anyways, Iffy, we always ask our guests to give a tip or a hack of the week. Do you have a tip or hack for us?

Ifeoma: Yes. So, I love Jim’s batch recording. In fact, I need to start batch recording. I feel like everything has just gotten super busy.

Block scheduling. My hack is to block schedule which means that you set your calendar up in such a way that you protect your time for substantive learning, for client interactions, for client work, for networking, a day off. I challenge listeners to see if they can start with just a later morning, half a day off, a day off, something like that. But there’s so many tips and tricks out there on how to do the block scheduling. And I find that is a very efficient way of working.

Tyson: I love block scheduling. Brian Moran. Brian talks about taking that day off. And I think that that’s one of the hardest things to do. Jim– that’s something that Jim does. That’s just hard for me. Otherwise, I love the block scheduling. Block scheduling is fantastic. One of these days, I’ll get to the level where I can take that day off, but not there yet.

So, my tip of the week is, actually, I think it’s going to shock some people but we’ve switched., We’ve gotten off of Slack and we’ve switched over to Cliq, C-L-I-Q. And in my opinion, it is far superior. Like it’s not even close. It is way, way better. Some of my team don’t like the threading as much. I think the threading is way better because whenever you respond to a comment, in Cliq, it actually shows you what the original comment was, as opposed to like burying all the comments in the thread. They like it the other way. I like that way.

But you can actually do video chats. You can do meetings inside of it. Like it is just really, really cool. So, I really recommend Cliq. And if you look at it on the App Store, it’s five stars. I mean, it has got a higher rating than Slack. I think it has more reviews than Slack. I think it’s superior to Slack but just my opinion, but I highly recommend that. 

Iffy, thank you so much for coming on. This has been a pleasure. We really, really appreciate it.

Ifeoma: Thank you so much for having me. I love your podcast. I can’t even believe I’m on it, but I appreciate you picking me out of the 1%. Finally, I’m in the 1%.

Tyson: You made it. You made it.

Jim: Thanks, guys. Have a good week.

Tyson: You, too.

Thanks, Iffy. See ya.

Ifeoma: Bye. Bye.

 

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.

 

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