This week on the podcast Jim and Tyson chat with Justin Osborn. Justin is a founding member of Counsel Carolina, whose personal advocacy for fairness and progressive social policies led to the firm’s RV-based mobile services program. A former insurance adjuster and insurance defense lawyer, Justin now fights for the injured and underserved across North Carolina while hosting free “ask-a-lawyer” events in his firm’s custom RV mobile office to make legal assistance more accessible in the community.
2:45 wanting to offer the world more
3:34 goodwill marketing
4:50 RV mobile office
7:58 lower conversion
10:55 access to justice
12:10 not afraid of competition
16:57 evening events
18:45 follow up strategy
Jim’s Hack: Give more, stop keeping score.
Justin’s Tip: Your local law school will let you come in and use their resources!
Tyson’s Tip: Book – Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller
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, I’m at home recording because I’m getting on a plane to go to Washington DC here in a little bit. I have an interview at USCIS tomorrow at 6:45 a.m.
Tyson: Nice. You also get to go check out your troops, huh?
Jim: Yep. I’m going to go have– well, I’m going to have dinner with an old friend who used to work with us. And then, tomorrow, I’ll see the ladies in DC and check in with them on some cases.
Tyson: Very cool. Sounds fun. Do you want to jump right in with our guest?
Jim: Let’s do it. His name is Justin Osborn. He’s the founding member of Counsel Carolina whose personal advocacy for fairness and progressive social policies led to the firm’s RV-based mobile services program. A former insurance adjuster and insurance defense lawyer, Justin turned to the light side, left the dark side, and he now fights for the injured and underserved across North Carolina while hosting free Ask a Lawyer events in his custom RV mobile office to make legal assistance more accessible in the community.
Justin, thanks for being with us, man.
Justin: Hey, good morning. Thanks for having me.
Tyson: All right. So, I’m not going to ask you about your journey. I’ll let Jim ask you that, if he wants to. I’ve always wondered like what goes through a person’s mind whenever they shift sides, because I can’t understand people that are on the defense side? It just does not make sense. I see some of these people. They’ve been doing it for 35 years and they seem miserable. So, what was it that you’re like, “You know what? I’ve got to switch over to the good side.”
Justin: Yeah. Well, I’ve been doing it for 10 years and I was miserable. So that seemed like a good time to get out. We all joke, but I think all of my partners are also former insurance defense guys. And we all sort of had a collective crisis of conscience like our own, you know, Jerry Maguire moment where we just didn’t like what we were doing. You know, you get really good at being a defense lawyer. It feels like you’re just getting really good at denying people money or denying justice.
We just wanted to get back to our roots. You know, we all went to law school to try to help people. So, you know, we wanted to do something that was more oriented in our community and just helping and benefiting regular folks like, you know, our friends and family members. So, that led us on this journey to doing not only like plaintiff’s personal injury work but also, you know, our free Ask a Lawyer drop-in clinic in our mobile RV.
Jim: What do you think it was in your background, Justin, that made you break free, that made you think “I wanted to do something more. I wanted to offer more to the world”?
Justin: Oh, I think a lot of it– you know, I grew up– you know, my sister and I were the first generation in our family to graduate from college. My dad was a postal worker. We have various sort of humble working-class roots. And it seemed like those were the kind of people that were always across the table from me, when I was representing a large company or something, in situations where, frequently, I felt like we did them wrong. And it just got harder and harder to see people that I think I’m more closely associated with against me and representing people that I didn’t really see myself in. So, it was shockingly an easy transition. You know, we went from being very buttoned up, very corporate to more informal, I think the way we all are naturally, and let us sort of embrace our stripes versus what we’ve been doing.
Tyson: So, Justin, I want to ask you about your marketing. The RV is obviously catchy, right? But the RV is not really– it doesn’t seem like the genesis of what– like that’s not what really starts everything. It seems like you have goodwill – you put goodwill a lot in your questionnaire. So, part of it is goodwill marketing. I’ve never heard anyone ever say goodwill marketing before. So, tell us about that.
Justin: Yeah. And when we started this, we didn’t know there was a term for it. So, we realized that there is this branch of marketing that we refer to as goodwill marketing. And it just means, you know, you get a lot of traction, you get a lot of authenticity in your community or your potential client base by just doing good things without expecting anything in return.
We knew, when we started this, you know, we weren’t bringing clients over. We weren’t defending anybody anymore. So, we knew we had ample amount of time. You know, we had all kinds of time on our hands and we didn’t have a ton of money for marketing. So, we thought, “What’s the best way to use that?” And we knew, just spending time in the community spending time answering questions which, you know, our friends and family members take for granted because they’ve got lawyers that they can reach out to. Most people don’t. So, we knew, doing that, that probably and it has paid off, turn into an organic referral network as things picked up and as we got more business.
Jim: So, Justin, walk us through it. Let’s say you’re going to pick a new little, small town in North Carolina to bring the RV to. Talk to us about how you promote it, how it works, and what you do while you’re there.
Gold standard is we have the blessing from someone to come in and park on their property. We try, when we can, to either reach out to property management companies or owners of buildings. A lot of times we’re getting requests now from, for instance, church groups to come out and just park in their parking lot for the day and answer members’ questions. So that’s a great deal of it. And then, we’ll create flyers, do social media campaigns, provide the materials that they can post and they can promote.
But we do also a fair bit of just guerilla pop-up style where we– Food Lion, which is a local grocer here, they seem to be kind of right in the sweet spot of the areas we like to be in. So, we will literally go out, park in a parking lot, set up for the day, and just hope that no one has a problem with it.
And what we have found very, very few property management companies have an issue with what we’re doing. A lot of them get really excited by it. So, you know, we definitely ask for forgiveness when we have to instead of permission.
Tyson: Justin, this has always had like– I’ve always had like this idea, years ago. The reason why I love the RV so much is that I wanted to do this ticket truck because, in St. Louis, they have all these municipalities and every night, there’s night court, except for Friday and the weekends, right, and there’s these massive lines, where all these people that don’t have an attorney have to stand in these lines. And I figured, you know, put this light on top, you know, we’ll have the ticket truck. Come up to our truck. We represent you now. Then, we go. And they can avoid the line. So, if anybody wants to steal that idea, go right ahead because I think it’s perfect.
But I’ve always like wondered like the logistics of it, like people come in, they’re asking for legal advice, like are they like in a segregated room? By themselves? With you? Like talk about the logistics of how this works.
Justin: It is complicated. And that was something that we worked with for a while because even if we take them basically into the RV, close the door, close the windows, they’re not designed to be soundproof, sort of. We have a general sort of warning disclaimer we provide everybody, when they come up, like (1) We’re not your attorneys yet. This is just a free service to the community. (2) Nothing we can really talk about today is going to be confidential. We will try.
You know, we have some circumstances where three, four, or five people have come up and they’re waiting. And what we have found is, for most people, they’re not concerned about it. They’re not really concerned about confidential or privacy. They just have a simple question like, “My landlord is doing X. Can they do that?” Or, “Hey, my boss told me this. What do you think about that?” And so, you know, we try to be mindful about the extent of our advice because we don’t obviously know all the information, but we’re very clear with everyone when they approach us, that, “Hey, this is not like going to a lawyer’s office. We’re sitting outside lawn chairs, in shorts and polos. You know, there’s no expectation of privacy here. We’ll do what we can.” But we found that people are very receptive to that and don’t have any issues with it.
Jim: So, about how many people would you say that you see, on average, on one of your pull ups? And then, you know, tell us about what percentage of the people will actually turn into cases. And then any like super success stories, like some crazy case you got out of one of your mobile visits?
Justin: Sure. So, I would say, on average, we see in the range of probably between 15 to 25 people, over about a six-hour stretch. It varies on location. We keep sort of historical data so we know this is a hot spot where we might need three lawyers for the day versus this is sort of a slower area. You know, we have helped– in two years, since we’ve opened, we’ve done 62 events. Sorry. Our numbers are– we’ve done– we’ve helped 1069 people and we volunteered about 1600 of our hours just sitting out and answering questions. And so, we both do it at the RV.
And then, we also have some community partners that let us set up a table, basically, and just spend the day answering questions for people that come by. We’ve done work with like Alamo Drafthouse which is a cool little movie theater. We did a legal event there.
There’s a local food hall that we set up in once a month. And we just set up a table and, you know, all comers, whatever they want to know, we answer.
So, you know, from that, I think, you know, the conversion rate, obviously, is pretty low. I think we’re probably in the low 1% to 2% of the people we meet turn into paying clients, but we’ve gotten some substantial cases out of it, surprisingly, and in part because of the news coverage that we get from it. You know, we’ve been featured in, at this point, about a half dozen local news stories. We’ve been on TV. We’ve been in local print ads.
And we actually got one case that we just recently settled, a woman that was trying to do it pro se, she got run over by a car in a crosswalk, ended up sort of exacerbating a prior back injury that she had that resulted in a spinal fusion that she needed. And we were able to settle that for a little under half a million dollars. And she just basically came to us crying saying, “ I’m trying to do this. They’re burying me in paperwork. I don’t know what to do.”
You know, internally, we knew that’s exactly what we would’ve done to some poor pro se lady that tried to do it on her own. And we were able to sort of fix what was wrong and litigate that for her. And now she’s our biggest fan. So, it has definitely paid off but, in a direct hours to client ratio, the rate of return is pretty low.
Tyson: All right. So, I’m going to dig a little bit deeper, just a little bit, because I know that there’s some people listening saying, “Yeah, but is it worth it? You know, “Is it worth it? because I hear Jim and Tyson talking about niching down and focusing on my niche all the time.” So, address that because– I think this is fantastic. But I want you to address that because I’m sure people have that question.
Justin: I will say, if you’re doing it from a purely like, “Are they making a ton of money off of this?” The answer is absolutely not. And we knew that going in. But we also know, at least in our community here in Raleigh, there is a substantial issue about access to justice. Like North Carolina ranks 47th out of 50th in states for like lawyers per capita. There’s only one Legal Aid attorney for every 10,000 people that qualify for it. So, this is an area where there really, really needs to be more attention to these sort of overlooked communities. And it’s both urban and rural. I mean, you’ve got one stoplight town that don’t have a lawyer within 20 or 30 miles. These legal deserts. There just is no lawyer access.
And so, we knew that if we could basically, you know, gamble on the community, we would spend time helping people. We trusted that there’d be enough for us to put money in the RV. Obviously, keep us from becoming destitute, you know, paying the mortgage. But we knew it wasn’t going to be a big money chasing endeavor. And we all left pretty high-paying jobs to do this.
So, from a purely money standpoint and comfort standpoint, it’s hard to sit out in a lawn chair in 90-degree North Carolina heat. You know, it’s not for you. And that’s one reason why people have asked us, “Are you worried about people copying you, and people doing this, and these mobile RV’s popping up everywhere?” I don’t believe, for a second, at least based on the very old school legal community here in North Carolina that we have any concern about a competitor popping up because just no one’s going to want to spend time– just, you know, spending time with regular people and outside the comforts of their office. Just, it’s unlikely to happen.
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Jim: We’re talking with Justin Osborn. He’s a do-good lawyer in North Carolina. We’re happy to have him on the show.
Justin, have you had to do anything other than the disclaimers that you give to people when they come? And have you had to do anything special malpractice-wise or disclosure-wise when you’re dealing with people other than what we’ve talked about?
Justin: We haven’t. Luckily, there was a model for what we’re doing. Our local bar does something very similar to this. They had like a hotline to call and they would do a free drop-in clinic. The problem is nobody knew about it. They did just sort of a poor job providing that information to regular people. So, the model was already there. And we had participated in some of those events to kind of get a sense for what they did.
So, from a malpractice standpoint, we haven’t had to do anything special. We have had some battles with our city council because of some city ordinances that we’ve had to sort of tussle with, but we’ve been able to work that out over some very lengthy backroom discussions and then trying to explain that we are not ambulance chasers. We’re just trying to provide a good service for the community. And I think they’ve finally seen it our way.
Tyson: You know, let’s talk about some more of the obstacles though because this is interesting. The term ambulance chaser cracks me up too because I’m sure that that’s what a lot of people think, “Oh, these ambulance chasers,” whatever. But what are some of the other obstacles that you’ve run into? Because I’m sure that this is something that was like a trial and error. I’m sure.
Justin: It was. It was first figuring out what we’d call it. And also, figuring out just the lay of like where we can set up and those type of things. And, really, what we thought was clever signage or branding turned out not to be. We had to get very, very much more plain language to get people to approach us. Some people just assumed that we were out there selling something. And so, you’d have the occasional person that would come by to sort of like gawk at what we were doing or ask questions but no one really got a sense of what we’re doing.
And what we found is we had to be consistent in locations. Basically, come back to the same place multiple times. It took, you know, in some cases, three or four visits before the people of that area have realized, “Oh, this is just some lawyers out here answering questions.” So, there’s a little bit of that, a little bit of some signage that just says like, “Lawyers here to help. Free questions answered.” So, people got that.
And then, a big component of it was us sort of figuring out how to manage our time because, you know, you’re sitting at an RV for basically the entire day. How do you bring your cases, essentially, with you so you can continue to work out there? And sort of the tech that we needed to develop so we could do that. I mean, luckily, like that part was easy. But getting people to turn on to the idea of what we’re trying to do is a little bit harder just because no one’s doing this in our state. There are some states where this exists, but no one was doing it here.
Jim: I really like your whole model. And one of the things that I like is that, you know, we hear a lot about access to justice. And I think that there are a lot of corporate types who are trying to make money off of access to justice and they spin it as, “Oh, we’re trying to help the poor people that can’t find lawyers,” but you’re actually going out to, as you call it, these legal deserts where people are not able to find a competent lawyer. Talk to us a little bit about that, about these areas that people have that there’s no real access to justice. It’s so funny because, you know, you hear about food deserts, where people can’t get quality vegetables, and fruits, and things. And so, talk to us a little bit about that, Justin.
Justin: Yeah. I mean, when we sat down, we were basically sort of blackboarding like “What are the obstacles that prevent people from getting a lawyer?” I mean, the biggest one is just most law firms are open during business hours, nine to five. Like if you hear in Wake County, North Carolina, 50% of people don’t have paid time off. Like, how are you going to get a retail worker, who works nine to five, to take off time to even go talk to a lawyer. And so, you know, most of our events now extend into the evening hours. We go to like 7 or 8 o’clock. We do things on Saturdays.
We’ve been popping up at like the flea market and just places where people are going to be living and working anyway. So, you know, getting a question answered is as simple as just stopping for five seconds from what they were already doing. So, we’ve tried to focus on that. And also pick spots that are near public transportation because, you know, transportation becomes a big issue, trying to get someone to go down to a downtown urban center to talk to a lawyer.
And the other factor that we see that prevents some people from talking to lawyers is they’ve either had a bad experience in the past or they just feel intimidated by the process. Like, I don’t know if the concern I have is even worthy of talking to a lawyer about. I don’t want to bother somebody and their secretary at their office. So, you know, we’ve definitely sort of designed this to be as informal as possible. I mean, we are out there in shorts and polo’s, sitting in lawn chairs, just trying to be like relaxed and easygoing so people don’t feel, you know, any concern about just coming up and bending our ear for a little bit.
We want to feel just like a family friend like someone you might talk to at a barbecue if you’ve got a question. And I think we’ve been able to sort of create that type of atmosphere. I guess, it’s easy to. We’re in an RV. I mean, there’s not any way to put on airs about it. But I think we’ve created a nice space for people to get some sense of information that they need.
Tyson: I can’t tell you how badly this makes me want to buy an RV. I want to buy one so badly now.
So, how do you market to these people after they have come through? I mean, do you collect their information where you market to them afterwards?
Justin: That is our version 2.0. It was like drinking from a fire hydrant to start. We were getting a bunch of names and info. We’re doing everything on paper which we realized was terrible. And it didn’t have any way to reach back out to them other than just like individual emails.
So, our newer version, we’re going to have folks fill out the information basically on a tablet. And they’re going to go into a database where, if they were like interested in a will or had will questions, when we decide to do, you know, will specials or whatever, we’re going to, you know, send an email to ‘em or a follow up and do it that way. So, there is going to be– or, at the very least, we’re going to provide them with a schedule of like, ”Hey, we’re going to be back in your neighborhood. If you have a question, come back out and meet us.”
And what we have found, at least before COVID, people had started basically camping out and waiting for us. We would pull in and see people with their stacks of papers they want us to go through. So, we were developing a nice little following with people who knew where to find us, knew how to reach us. So, we’re going to try to get that going.
Jim: Justin, what kind of response have you received from other attorneys in the area?
Justin: Surprisingly positive, I would actually say. We’ve had, you know, a few sort of curmudgeon-y feelings about what we’re doing to the integrity or the perception of our profession. But I think what we’ve found, for the most part, is that most people know that there’s a problem. They know that people should be spending more time just helping out the community. And I think they’re just kind of glad that somebody’s doing it.
We’ve had a few lawyers that have offered to come out and sit with us during our events, especially in areas that we don’t do. Like we don’t handle like immigration work, for instance, Family Law. We’ve got a handful of attorneys that say, “Hey, when you’re going to be in this area, let me know, and I’ll send myself, or an associate, or someone just to kind of fill those gaps.” Because, you know, we do find that probably the biggest area that we don’t help with that we have questions about are family law questions. I mean, custody – all those type of things. So, we’ve developed a nice network of firms that do that, that have been very helpful to send their own people.
But, yeah, the response has mostly been positive. The local bar honored us with a Pro Bono of the Year award. So, they think what we’re doing is good. We would just like more attorneys in the community to assist or to help out and to make our reach larger.
Tyson: Yeah, I think that’s the– hopefully, that’s the approach that most lawyers take because it is an awesome idea. I think the curmudgeon-y types, those are the ones. Uh, I just can’t imagine them having any objection to this. I think it’s more of a– probably, it comes from a jealousy standpoint.
For my last question. I want to talk about, did you build this thing? Like, did you paint it? Did you wrap it? Talk a little bit about that stuff.
Justin: Yeah. So, we did not have the capital to start to get one like custom made. So, we found a used RV down in Myrtle Beach, some nice little old couple were looking to upgrade. So, bought a used RV. Took it to a group out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They actually do like the blood bank buses that you see. And we came to them, like, “We want to mid-century style office.” And they’re like, “Sounds cool. We’ll do it.” So, they gutted it and turned it into a cool little space. And then, we did some final– like installed some furniture and did some minor things. Then, had a local group wrap it.
So, it kind of has like an old school, a Winnebago sort of feel or vibe to it. And then, inside, it does, it looks like a little mid-century office. It sort of takes you back the second you walk in. And then, you shortly realize it’s an RV because it’s loud, it smells like gas, and all the things you’d expect from an old, old RV.
Jim: All right. So, let’s wrap up by looking back. Talk to us about where you were when you were in those deposition, sort of crushing the life out of plaintiffs, and sort of where you are now and, just day-to-day, how you feel.
Justin: Yeah. I mean, it’s easy for me to say but like the worst day, doing what I do now, is better than the highlights of my career before this. The biggest difference, I would say, has just been passion like actually interested in case outcomes, interested in the people that I’m meeting, and just a real desire to give them everything to do our best.
That, combined with just the feedback that we get from people just from answering simple questions, something that takes really zero effort on our part, except for a little bit of time, has been wildly rewarding. I mean, people would bring us baked goods and do all sorts of things just because we sat down and looked through some notices about a foreclosure that they were facing or we’d spent some time looking over their lease agreement. I mean, just people that were eternally grateful for a little bit of our time, that has been a wildly rewarding ride for us.
Tyson: I love it. Jim, I’m going to plant the seed and watch it grow. I would love to see a Hacking Law Practice RV tour America for all your immigration clients. So, I’m going to go ahead and plant that seed right there. I’m going to water it a little bit here and there and watch it grow.
We do need to wrap things up though. Before I do, I want to remind everyone to go to the big group, get involved there. There’s a lot of great activity going on every single day.
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Jimmy, what’s your hack of the week?
Jim: When I first started our immigration practice, I would go around and do Ask-a-Lawyer questions at the mosque. I really enjoyed that interaction with people and helping people. And, you know, now, I have a YouTube channel and I do a show on Tuesdays and Thursdays, right, just answering people’s calls for free for an hour on YouTube and it creates great content.
But I really enjoyed this call today with Justin. And it just reminds me of, you know, he talked about, you know, breaking that connection between, “Is it a direct quid pro quo? If I put in A, do I get B? If I do this, do I get that?” When it comes to creating content, when it comes to interacting with the public, when it comes to creating value, you’ve got to let go of all that stuff. You cannot be keeping score.
It’s sort of like being in a marriage. If you keep score, you’re going to hate each other within six months. You’ve got a give, and give, and give. And as long as you’re doing okay on the back end, you just say I’m happy and off we go.
Tyson: I like it, Jimmy. That’s a good one.
All right. Justin, you know the routine. What is your tip or hack of the week?
Justin: One of your prior guests may have mentioned this before, but what was crucial to us, when we first opened and had literal pennies to rub together, your local law school, especially our local law school, with a bar card, will let you come in, let you use their Westlaw, let you checkout treatises, read books, practice guides. It is an incredible resource for anybody that may not be at the point where they can either afford all those things themselves or want to spend that kind of money. So, I would highly recommend checking out your local law school. You can get friendly with the security guard. He started sending us people that would come in and ask for legal advice. But it is a great resource to have a connection with and spend some time in.
Tyson: Excellent. That’s excellent.
So, my tip actually might help you if you’re planning on starting an RV, much like Justin did. And it’s building a story brand. It’s a book. It’s by Donald Miller. And it’s a great book. It really does help simplify things. And he also has a free online tool that– I think it’s mystorybrand.com. You go there and you register. It’s free. They really help like simplify your firm’s message. And it’s really interesting. You compare it to like Scaling Up. Scaling Up is much more complicated when it comes to getting your message out.
I still think it’s great. But this one really breaks it down. It makes it really, really simple. And he has a lot of analogies to movies, how movies have– you know, they’ve got a guide, and they’ve got a hero. It really breaks it down. It’s a really interesting book. I really recommend it.
It actually reminded me whenever Justin was talking about simplifying your message like the signage and everything, making it really simple. It’s spot on. So, it’s really awesome. So, very cool.
Justin, I’ve got to tell you, this is one of the fun-est conversations I’ve had in a long time, on the podcast, so thank you so much for coming on.
Justin: No, but thank you guys. This has been a blast.
Jim: Thanks, bud.
Jim: Bye, guys.
Thanks for listening to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
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