Case Study | Attorney Goes From Newbie to Bad Ass Law Firm Owner in 18 Months

Melissa Emery

Melissa Emery plans to fire herself as an attorney – eventually.

“Even though I love practicing law, I actually love marketing and management even more.”

What’s remarkable is that Melissa only opened her own law practice 18 months ago. Despite having only a small budget to start with, she has certainly hit the ground running.

“When I left my previous employer, Phil Rich, I retained 65 cases,” said Melissa. “We now sit at 155.”

While she was working for Rich, a change in contract forced Melissa to “eat what she killed”. Uncertainty was swiftly followed by massive action, as Melissa told me.

Read about how Melissa retained 65 clients in our exclusive case study!

Fill out the form to get your copy of the Legal Marketing Case Study on the Emery Law Firm!

Pounding Pavement

“I started pounding pavement. I went out and talked to the chiropractors that I knew. I took them to dinner. I developed rapport with them. I gave them my cellphone number and asked them to call me and I’d come out and see their clients.”

“One in particular, every single time, would say to me, ‘You’re BLEEPing crazy for not going out on your own.’ And I felt that I just couldn’t risk leaving.”

But then Melissa checked her records.

“At the end of the year you look back. You chart all of this. You keep track of all of it. I looked back and I said, ‘Wow!’ I brought in $440,000 to the firm last year, and I got paid a small fraction of that.”

She knew she could make more by striking out on her own. So she left her firm, taking her two paralegals with her to start her own practice on May 1st, 2017.

Shrewd Business

“All I need is a building,” said Melissa. She phoned around but couldn’t find anything suitable. Five days before she was due to open her practice, something suitable came onto the market.

“I need to move in on Saturday,” Melissa told the real estate agent. She convinced the previous tenants of the office to rent her a corner of the building with pro-rated rent, before they moved out.

“The amount it cost me to buy the furniture was, almost to the dollar, the exact amount that I saved by allowing them to stay in the building for those three months,” said Melissa.

With every step, Melissa has demonstrated that she is a shrewd businesswoman as well as a smart lawyer. “You’re a business owner now,” she said. “Not just a technician.”

That focus on the bottom line was there from day one. Melissa’s constant eye on where cases were going to come from, and the topics that were going to be covered at PILMMA’s upcoming 2017 Super Summit in Nashville were a key reason she joined PILMMA.

“My prior employer, Phil Rich, mentioned PILMMA to me when I worked for him, but I didn’t realize he ever did anything with PILMMA,” explained Melissa. “When I went out in my own, I looked up PILMMA and found out about the Super Summit that would be held about 6 weeks later. 

“At that time, it felt very expensive to me – it was my entire annual CLE budget, but didn’t offer a single CLE credit.”

The BUSINESS of Running a Law Firm

“I looked at the list of topics and presenters and I knew it would be much more relevant to my running my own firm that any CLE telling me how to practice law would be at that time,” said Melissa.

“So I took my CLE budget, joined PILMMA at the Gold level (to get a discount to the Super Summit) and signed up for the Summit.  For CLE, I attended only free CLE events that year. 

“Before I even went to the Super Summit, my membership gained me a call with Ken which proved invaluable.  He gave me marketing ideas that could immediately be implemented, and fit my tiny budget.  I started on those immediately before even getting to the Super Summit.  Once I went to the Super Summit, I knew I’d never miss another.”

Focus on Low-Cost & Grassroots Yields Marketing Results

Since joining PILMMA and then the Platinum Mastermind Group, Melissa’s efforts with low-cost and grassroots marketing have really started to pay off.

“Our goal for this year was to sign up 17 new cases per month,” said Melissa. “The month that our paralegal went on maternity leave, I had gotten rid of everybody else. I made the assumption that most of our providers and referral sources would slow down a little bit.

“We signed up 30 cases that month. I thought, ‘Wow! What a fluke!’ Then the next month we signed up 28. Then it was 27. In month three, I’m thinking, ‘What on earth is this?’ And then I realized, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been marketing for a year!’”

Melissa is keenly focused on getting 5-star online reviews for her law practice, and she’s more than prepared to alter her law firm’s systems, procedures, choreography and scripting to ensure she gets them – even if it means time out of an employee’s day.

“A review is worth one case,” said Melissa, “so of course it’s worth 15 minutes of an admin assistant or paralegal’s time to make sure it happens”.

Read about Melissa’s successful marketing and management strategies in more detail – and find out about her G.A.S. calls – in our exclusive case study.

Fill out the form to get your copy of the Legal Marketing Case Study on the Emery Law Firm!

2019 Growth Targets

Melissa’s target for 2019 is $750,000 in gross revenues and 250 open cases. It’s a fantastic success story of somebody who decided to take control of their own future. But success didn’t just drop into Melissa’s lap – she’s worked hard for it every step of the way.

“You get out of a PILMMA membership what you put into it,” explained Melissa.  “I’m always amazed at the people I’ve met who will attend something like the Super Summit or pay for a monthly membership but then never actually take action on anything they take notes on during the seminar!”

Being smart about your top priorities, and then taking action, is the secret for success, according to Melissa.

Secret To Success

“The important thing to know is that you don’t have to – and couldn’t possibly – implement everything you learn to get significant results,” she said. “I pick about 3 items to attack each quarter.  If I knock all three out early, I go back to my short list and pick the next item to work on.”

Some lawyers prefer to keep their membership of PILMMA a secret. They don’t want anybody else to know where they get some of their best ideas. Melissa, on the other hand, is actively trying to get her lawyer friends to join. 

“I tell them my results,” she said. “I tell them how much my firm has grown – in number of cases, in gross revenue, in number of staff, in referral sources, and in sanity – since joining PILMMA and implementing ideas learned from PILMMA.”

An increase in sanity? Wow! Maybe that should be the headline for this article!

Mastermind Group Makes Melissa Bigger and Badder!

“I also plug my PILMMA Mastermind membership pretty hard,” Melissa continued. “I am fortunate to live in Kentucky, where we have some seriously nice and helpful attorneys who are not members of PILMMA. When I’ve had a question in case strategy or procedure, there’s nearly always another attorney who is willing to chime in and help.”

“That being said, none of them are going to spend 2 days away from their practice with me helping me with mine and none of them are going to fully open their playbook to me as I run an office in their same demographic area.  

Being a member of a PILMMA Mastermind Group offers Melissa benefits that she simply won’t find elsewhere, as she explains:

“I don’t know of any local attorney who had a 7 figure (or larger) firm who would be willing to take 2 workdays to spend with me, away from their firm, to offer advice on how to market or manage my firm and who would fully open their playbook to me.

“It’s not because they are rude or unfeeling – it’s because they have practices to run and even though I may not be a big competitor of theirs today, they still want to keep their cards close because I practice in the same area. 

“In comes the Mastermind group where I spend two days each quarter meeting with other attorneys who are firm owners who are bigger and badder than I am today.

“They even pass along referrals to each other. I just received one recently from one of my fellow Mastermind members – talk about a group that pays for itself!

“They aren’t practicing in my state.  They are willing to open their playbook to me.  They spend time talking to me about MY firm and MY challenges and in turn help me avoid mistakes they’ve seen or made themselves and help me make choices that propel me forward. 

“Even having dinner with that group (where we aren’t usually directly discussing our practices), I learn life lessons that help propel me forward.  I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to join something like that unless they just prefer to stay where they are in life.”

Read about Melissa’s successful marketing and management strategies in more detail in our exclusive case study.

Fill out the form to get your copy of the Legal Marketing Case Study on the Emery Law Firm!


7-secrets-to-more-law-firm-clients