Season 1, Episode 003
In this episode of Legally Blissed Conversations, we are joined by Christine Matus, an estate planning attorney and founder of the Matus Law Group. For more than two decades, the Matus Law Group has served the residents of New Jersey in matters of estate planning and real estate law. In addition to general estate planning, they specialize in estate planning for clients who have a family member with special needs.
Christine believes that firm culture and building a great team are crucial to the success of a practice. She says that humbling yourself, asking for help, and leaning into guidance is key to building relationships in your work and industry. But ultimately, Christine believes that in order to be a better leader, you must hang your ego at the door.
DISCLAIMER: The following is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases, it is incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Suzi: I am so happy to have Miss Christine Mattis today with us. She is the founder of the Mattis Law Group, which for more than two decades has served the residents of New Jersey in matters of estate planning and real estate law. In addition to general estate planning. The firm specializes in estate planning for clients who have a family member with special needs. I find this really interesting and we’re going to get into this Christine graduated from the Jacob D fuchsberg. Law Center at toor college with a degree of Juris Doctor in 1995 and was admitted to the bar of the state of New Jersey and to the US District Court of New Jersey that same year. In addition to that she is also a trustee of the Ocean County Bar Association, the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association, and the American Bar Association where she serves on its advisory panel. A strong believer in giving back to her community. Ms. mattes has been involved in several pro bono work projects like Mary’s little children LLC, and salad time light community LLC. She’s also the Legal Adviser to the Filipino American Medical Society. The Philippine Nurses Association of Ocean County and F CDC, which is the Filipino American community development center. Whoa, okay, so Christine has way too many awards for me for me to even go into but here are just some some of the most recent in 2015 and 2016. She got this special needs lawyer of the year. And that was from corporate Livewire in 2019 2000 22,021. Best lawyer for families and 2020. Probably the best one yet right mompreneur of the year for legal. So welcome. Again, Christine, thank you so much for being here. So that was like such a mouthful. You’ve you have done a lot of amazing things you give back to your community. Thank you so much for being here with me today.
Christine: It’s my pleasure. I was just so honored that you invited me and I love the message that you’re providing to all other lawyers. And for me to be a part of it’s such an honor, I really thank you so much.
Suzi: My pleasure. Absolutely. So I want to talk Okay, so I’ve listened to you on other podcasts. And you’re just a wealth of knowledge in information and like, nuggets, right, like great, like just little nuggets of wisdom for people. One thing I want to focus on, though, is you opening up your own law practice. And I think that this was a about 2003 I’m looking at my notes was that 2003 Open Government practice?
Christine: That’s absolutely right. You’re right. 2003.
Suzi: I know that you had history practicing law before that. I think it was it about 10 years.
Christine: Yes, that’s right. Yep.
Suzi: But I want to know, like the impetus for starting your own practice, and like, what you felt like was the biggest obstacle for that and how you overcame it.
Christine: So I come from a family who’s always had their own type of business. My father is now a retired physician, and he is also my professional babysitter, just letting you know. But he’s always ingrained in my brother and I don’t be your employee, you can be your own boss, you have a vision, you can carry out your vision. And I remember him always saying that and I would listen and I would say, okay, and I had worked for various firms where I learned so much valuable information on how to practice law, how to treat people how to carry on. However, it was around 2003 where I was working for a firm and I was really getting tired. I was getting that feeling of almost that burnt out feeling where you’re working and working and I was living Seeing what’s my goal? What’s my purpose? And yes, in the back of my mind, Susie, I’ve always wanted to have my own practice, I’ve always wanted to carry out my vision of how I want to treat people, how I want to help people. I’ve always thought that I’d like to treat people as if they were on my own family. But oftentimes, when we’re working for other firms and other companies, you know, they have their own philosophy, their own strong philosophy, so it’s important to fall in line. So when I had the opportunity to you know what, I think it’s time, I’ll let you know, I felt like I was jumping off a bridge. I remember feeling like, oh, my gosh, this is it. I’m going to do this. And I remember calling my parents and they were actually invocation Susie, and I remember saying, I think I want to open up my own firm. Then my dad was all like hooting hollering, say, yes, he’s gonna do it. And, and safe. And my mom was all excited. But she was just very steady. She was just like, okay, yes. And she was very, she always instilled in me confidence. She goes, You can do this? Sure. Sounds great. Sure, you know, and there was no iPhone. So it’s no FaceTime. So it’s just listening on the phone. But then I remember pausing. And I remember saying to my dad, I don’t know, what if this doesn’t work? What if? What if this is a total total failure? And I remember my dad saying, so then you’ll just join another firm, Christine, you have experience, you have a background? What’s the worst that really could happen? And I remember that, that feeling saying, Okay, let me try this. But it was scary. Because I kept thinking, will I have enough clients? Will will people know me? Will? Will I be able to do the right type of work I want to do. There’s so many unknowns. And you know, right now seeing that there’s so many resources available. But in 2003, perhaps I wasn’t looking in the right place, internet was just starting out. I didn’t know what it turned out to be. So I did what I could do. I said, let me open up my own shingle. And I took my computer from the house. And I had about 5000 in my bank account. No joke. But I actually did have that confidence, though, Suze, I really had that feeling. I’m going to do this, I’m going to help people. And I’ve always felt when you help the right people, things come back. And I’m only doing things for the right reason. I have no other reason. So it has to work. Maybe it was naive. But I really did. I had the small office, you had to walk up this second flight of stairs. And the desk the landlord gave me it was he was like he could you can use this desk and I said, Great. That was it. I just use whatever I could find. And I slowly build from there. And I remember, and I’ll let you know what I thought was very, very important. I reached out to other members of my community. I remember putting out the shingle and thinking, okay, maybe I should tell other people. So the first person I went to was a criminal lawyer, friend of mine who I’ve known for years. I didn’t even make an appointment. I came in and I said to the receptionist, hey, it’s Carl available. And he’s like, oh, yeah, he does come in. And I said, so. I opened up my own practice. And he was so excited. And it was at the time, I wasn’t sure what my focus would be Suzy. So he said, What do you want to do? I said right now anything. So he gave me a taste right? There he goes, this person came in, you can help them. And I remember thinking, Wait a minute, this is your file. And that was the first step of me realizing, being generous, being helpful. And I remember the feeling when that client came in. It was as if I already been practicing 10 years, but my gosh, it was as if I graduated, I was so nervous. I couldn’t hear what he was saying. And then when he said sure I’ll hire I was like, like this. It was so different now that your own it was just so strange. It was out of body. I was perspiring. He’s talking to me about a speeding ticket. And I’m like, and I’m like, here’s, here’s what I could do. And he goes, sounds great. And I was like, Oh, my God, I got my first client. And I still remember him. I still remember and I still keep that file to this day, I can remember how nervous I was. But, you know, I really one of the big things I remember was making sure you have great connections in the community, and then reaching out to them being human saying, This is what I did. And I just wasn’t even saying it to help it. I just thought, let me share this exciting news. And the first thing he did was so kind. And I just remember now, you know how that feeling of oh my gosh, someone believes in me besides my family. And I’ve always made sure to do that. When I know there’s a new attorney, someone opening up their own firm. I want to be one of the first to greet them, congratulate them. And what can I do to help? Can I send you a file? Can I can I be a resource to you? Do you need staff? I need someone to help it. That was a big deal. And I didn’t realize that that was just by accident when that happened.
Suzi: So yeah, that’s I mean, that’s such an inspiration and Like you said, like, it’s a great reminder to that when that young attorney comes to you, right? Like, what can you do to help them get off their feet? Because at the end of the day, he he didn’t only give you a file. I mean, he instilled in you competence. It’s it’s incredible.
Christine: You did your comfort, right? Because you’re scared. And here was someone he was seasoned. He’s been on his own for several years. I remember and, and all he kept saying you can do this, this is great does it and that that was happening from other members of the community. I had put out a little announcement in our local bar newsletter, Chrissy that is now open. And the kind cards I still have them today, cards from attorneys. Go for Christine teleSUR specialty, we’re going to help you that so I love the bar I’m in. That’s the kind of people I’m surrounding myself with. And that’s who I want to be helpful, supportive. But I was so happy with the women attorneys who really stepped up who really said we’ve got to stick together. And that meant a lot.
Suzi: I love that you did a very, I think we called it a girl or you call it a grassroots approach. That initial business development, right. And I don’t think that lawyers or even just business owners in general now really even think about marketing themselves that way, right? Because it’s like, oh, I don’t have like my Facebook page. And I need to be on Twitter and all of these, like digital platforms, right. But I think that there’s a lot to be said for maybe taking a step back, especially kind of now, and looking at maybe some of the old ways that we’ve done business development and see if there’s ways that we can integrate that into what we’re doing today.
Christine: I’ve always felt the old fashioned way of doing business really makes you stand out. I love picking up the phone. I still do handwritten thank you cards, when someone refers business to me, I always send a thank you card to them. And sometimes they’ll say, look, Chris, I keep getting your card, it’s okay. But it’s a habit. And I want to let them know that I spent the time thinking of you. And I am very grateful. I’m very grateful, because you didn’t have to. And that’s something that I think is important. Same thing with prior clients, Suze, we really try to pick up the phone and just check in with them. It’s very simple. And just to say, hi, you know how to go we you know, we did your will a couple years ago or even last year, everything okay? Or, you know, you bought that house? How’s it going? Is it feel like a hole now? That’s all it says a sincere check in? You know, we could very well send an email, I could do that. But I really think calling, doing that human touch. It’s different. But I’ll tell you a funny story. So I do like calling in and checking in with clients. So I did check in with one. So I remember calling a client and just checking in with him. And I think, you know, I don’t think he was used to that. That’s, here’s the attorney. And I said, Hey, how are you doing? And he was very stilted when he answered, okay, fine. Sure. And finally, he just said, Listen up, do I owe you money? And I’m like, no, no, no. I said, I’ve just asked me how you are. And then he started laughing. And then I kept thinking, Oh, my gosh, is that why you only think we call you always money. I just felt so and we laugh. And I always remember that that probably is a very uncommon thing. That’s why right? I mean, you know, if your CPA calls you, I don’t know, maybe it is different. So I really love that idea that perhaps we’re different that way, and that we we still try to throw in that human element, you know, which is very important, you know,
Suzi: treating those clients, you know, like they are, like each client as if they’re your they’re the only client right? And of course, like this isn’t necessarily the the motivation for but in addition to like looking back and saying, Well, maybe we need to do development, maybe the more old fashioned kind of grassroots roots way, we need to look and see, well, how much of our new business is coming from referrals. And I think that referral based practices, rather than, you know, throwing your information out there in the ether and hoping whoever off the internet calls you or DMV on Twitter.
Christine: You Yeah. But you know, you’re already dealing with people who know like and trust you. So why would you try to put more effort in people who may not know you yet? I mean, the people that we deal with the clients, they’re like family and we always tried to do our best to educate them, inform them, catch up with them. Because, you know, again, gives you that good vibe. You know, and I sincerely want to know what’s happening. But I think from the other end, if I’m a client that I receive a call like that, it’s a nice feeling. It’s a concerning feeling. And then I think you just can’t help but rave to your friend, like, I got a great lawyer, chicken with me, there’s nothing, there’s no separate bill for this. They just want to know how we’re doing. And what’s so nice is that if they do have an issue, sure, let’s chat about it. Now, here, here’s what I think you should do, or whatnot, you know, and that’s all you know, instead of making an appointment and doing all that, sure we do that. But it is nice to chat with someone and just ask how they’re doing. You’re like, oh, my gosh, I’m so happy you called. I was thinking about this. And like, okay, let’s figure it out. That that’s all. That’s all it is. But it’s also about time, right? As our businesses and our practices grow. Is that a realistic approach? And yes, and no. And that’s why, you know, you try to generate a nice team, a team that has your same values, a team that is not shy about picking up the phone, and being that personable. And just checking in saying, hey, you know, Christine had helped you is everything, okay? You know, things like that.
Suzi: I can already tell your team is on point from my communication, right with with your firm, and your assistant, like so kind and, and, you know, when I had invited you on the podcast, I know that you’re, you know, you have a lot going on, so your assistant helped you. And she like, filled out as much as she could. And I was so impressed. Like with that, just that touch point, I was like, Whoa, like, she’s got a great Assistant, Assistant. And another thing I thought was really interesting, I think that this speaks so highly of you as a leader. And it is when you start like hung out your shingle early on, you had an assistant, and there were times where, like, there wasn’t really a lot of work to do. But you didn’t say assistant, pound sand. You say? Exactly. We’re in this. We’re like, we’re a team here, right? Like, hang out in the office and read these magazines. Someone will come in?
Christine: And yes, remember that? Remember that? Yeah, that’s right. And we didn’t even have a computer for her. I remember. And we’re still friends. Her name is Tiffany. And we’re still friends. And I remember I had the computer because I’m doing the work. And she would be there as like, Hey, here’s something. And I just remember that. And it was so helpful, because at least he was answering the phones, helping to do certain things, setting up appointments, and at least giving that feeling with a client that, hey, there’s a semblance of a team there. So we will have someone helping you. But yeah, and you know, it was about four months in Susy, where I decide, I think I need help prior to that I’ll share with you. Again, I think it goes a long way. Everyone you meet, you do create an impression. So I was working for other firms. And when I opened up my shingle I couldn’t I didn’t think I could afford someone right away. So I remember speaking to my old secretary, telling her some good news. And she goes, Well, I’m going to help you. And I remember that, oh, I don’t know if I can pay you. And her name was Mary Ann. And she goes, Christine, you don’t have to pay me. I remember for at least two months. She came in every morning answered the phone for me and I couldn’t. So to this day, I will always be so grateful for that, that can that kindness, that helpfulness? I guess you never realized along the way, who you help, what impression you make. So even as a young lawyer, I’ve always tried to express to other attorneys. Be helpful, be kind, you just don’t know who’s going to help you in the future. It it was just amazing to me. I mean, I was I think only a year as an associate when I met her. And till this day, we’re friends and I’m all friends with all my prior paralegals. We’re friends on Facebook, we communicate with each other. And we have a good time. And I just think again, reminding each other how you treat each other is so important.
Suzi: So so important in the capacity of being maybe a lawyer, a young lawyer in a law firm, and you have like your first assistant, right? I remember being like, like, I just remember thinking I am such a big deal right now. Like I you know, like, I haven’t your legal and a secretary, it was amazing. But at this at the same time, I was like always so like, like afraid to lean into them. But I learned over time, like you will learn so much from them. Like if you allow yourself like that’s where you get some of your, you know, your your best, like in terms of just, you know, day to day knowledge and then also sort of they will help you if they’re on your side, navigate 100% A lot of the politics and just the things that go in on a lot go on in a law firm. So will you talk a little bit about just treating assistants paralegals?
Christine: Yes. And I remember you know, this goes I’m dating myself remember when we are the worst I started. And Michael Jackson was collecting all these celebrities to come sing with him. And there was a sign that said, Hang your ego at the door. And I think that’s so important for associates that, yes, we’re attorneys, God bless you pass that bar. That’s very challenging. You know, I will never do it again, you have people saying to me, Chris, would you ever take the bar to go to another state new, no, 830, I’m happy where I am. I don’t want to study anymore, however. So I get that. And when you have an assistant, you have a paralegal and a secretary, it is easy to perhaps get lost in that. The glow of yourself. However, it’s so important to remember that they probably are doing this longer than you have, you know, practicing law isn’t about how we’re talking. And I can quote the statute. There’s a lot of ins and outs, there’s procedure, there’s just little things of hey, you know, when you write a letter to the court, you better copy your adversary. I remember not knowing that and getting hit for that, you know, who would know that the secretary who would know that the paralegal, and I remember going to them, and I remember that feeling thing, like, oh, my gosh, I feel like they know more than me, and I don’t, you know, and, but then I remember a secretary coming to me, and she had said, Listen, I’m gonna go over certain things. And I’m just being honest with you. I’ve been doing this a long time. So I’m here to help. And I love that. And I love that. And once that happened, when I realized that I’m like, okay, you know what, you’re right. I wasn’t embarrassed, I wouldn’t be afraid when I said, Listen, a motion, how many days? Do I have to answer that? Like, how many? You know, and she would show me, and then I learned, yeah, let’s definitely learn, you know, I wouldn’t rely it’s not fair, you know, to say like, they’ll handle it, you know, and I’ll assign my name when I would just showed me the motion. So I really feel hang your ego at the door, you’re there to learn. And I also feel that being respectful to the support staff goes such a long way. They help to be quite honest cover for you. They help educate you, they help you rise. There’s only so much you might know. But if you can’t get there with their help, you’ll never get there. And it’s the same thing when you go to court, right? Being kind to the court officer being kind to the clerk being that you it goes such a long way. I remember entering court and again, I don’t go to court a lot. But there was a time when I did I was working for an insurance defense firm. So we were there a lot. I remember once you were kind to the court clerk, Were there times when they’re like, Hey, Chris, we’ll put you to the top of the list. Yes, they did. It was very nice. I didn’t ask for it. But it was just so nice to like, put you on the, you know, what am I gonna say don’t do that. I’d be like all of my eggs. Thanks. So kind. And if they did it, no big deal, either, right? And there were times I would go to court and say, Hi, my, I’m honest. It’s my first time here. How does this work? Does the judge whatever it is, and there’s, you come in there, you know, with honesty and humility, I think it goes a long way. I’m not saying be a pushover. I’m not saying you know, being there and now being that shy wallflower now, we’re not even gonna talk in court. But I do feel there’s a time and place to be strong and a time to please to be open to learn and insincere. So to me that those were just big, big lessons that I learned early on.
Suzi: So you have your own law practice right now. And you’re kind of talking back about whenever you were a younger associate. Right. And, you know, you’re dealing with paralegals and legal assistants. So like, what about now? Let’s talk about, like, treatment of legal secretaries and paralegals right now, what does that look like in your firm?
Christine: So I’m very grateful to have such a great team Susie, it took a while for me to get the type of team that I’ve been looking forward to and enjoying to have. And it’s not about the members, it was, it was about me not being clear about my vision, me not being clear of what I was looking for in my firm. And when you’re not clear, you’re getting different tools in your toolbox that perhaps maybe won’t fit together and nothing wrong with them. It says if you’re not clear what your mission is, and your goals are, of course, you’re gonna get a hodgepodge of different tools that may not fit and jive together. So what I’ve been doing the last few years is really focusing on culture, really focusing on the type of team that I would love to be with and right now, that’s a fun team. Susie, I go when I can joke. I can create big visions and goals and that feel an eye roll or not feel like something like ah, like everyone’s support, like, Yeah, we’re gonna do this. It sounds like I’ll tell okay, this sounds audacious. This is what I want to do this month. And I love it. Okay, that there’s really putting their heads up. I think we can do that Chris, instead of being like, that sounds crazy. Uh, you know, checking out. They’re all like all for it. And I love coming to work. And like I said, we have fun. But one of the things and I was discussing this with another colleague what I am, you know, everyone has different skills, and I’m still learning how to be a better leader. But one of the things I’ve decided to realize is, you know, when you’re speaking to your team, a lot goes along with how you do it. It’s very easy for me to say, this is do you have to do this? This was done wrong. That was terrible. Sure. I you know, it probably it’s more efficient and more direct. But we’re dealing with humans, feelings, it’s just the facts of life. So I’ve realized that delivery goes a long way it might one of my old mentors used to say icing goes a long way. And I do agree. I do agree, especially me being a terrible Baker. So I said, it’s all the icing, the icing, it’s all the icing, I know, at least I can get you halfway, you know. So I do think that’s a big deal. You know, and I’ve also realized, it maybe you know, there are times where I do have to be the leader, be decisive, make a quick decision and just commit. But there are other times to where I do have to take a softer approach, or more subservient approach where I tried to give you an option, of course, I’ll lean on what you should do. And, you know, Is there really an option, but I do want to give respect to your opinion, respect to who you are, and that you are trying to do the best you can in your position? And perhaps there are things about it that I wasn’t aware of, you know, because it’s not fair for me to say like, Why wasn’t that do your late out? You know, you’re not, I would love to do that. And like, go through the list. But it’s nice to know, like, hey, what was going on today? I think that was due, what was the issue? A conversation or communication? But it’s not easy. You know, I had to have a tough conversation this morning with an employee, where I felt there was some type of disagreement, and it’s uncomfortable. But sometimes you have to say, Hey, listen, I have feedback. That’s all it is nothing good or bad. Here’s feedback. But it’s still I still haven’t Ha, I still get that stomach ache. Because I think, you know, I am very sensitive to other people’s feelings. And I am too I’m very sensitive. That’s why I am not a great trial lawyer. I’ll let you know. Because I’m so sensitive. Like, oh, that was mean, that was harsh. I’m more of a mediator. But you know, if I, if I am court, and you know, my position has always been direct and assertive, I’m not allowed barrel that you know yeller. And if that’s the kind of attorney you want, because maybe that fits the bill, it’s just that I have matured enough that I can say confidently, that’s not me. My old self, I tried to carve myself, okay. They want a yeller going in there. And then you feel sick, and then you feel crazy. Like you’re yelling, you’re like, What am I saying, you know?
Suzi: Right, yeah.
Christine: So I think one of the other things is just really maturing greeing with yourself, being comfortable with yourself, I’m not a yeller, and I won’t be. So that’s how we are right. And also, Suzy, what I think to being mature enough to be honest with a client, if there’s a situation that you are not familiar with, you don’t know how to handle, let’s be honest, my old self would be like, we’re gonna figure this out. And then I can’t sleep. And I have a stomachache. And I’m like, my gosh, I just took this retainer, and I don’t even know what I’m doing. And I’m, it’s, that’s a disaster. So it’s, no, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it. And oftentimes, I’m sure you may to come across colleagues who tell me that, why don’t I take this case? I have nothing. I have no knowledge about this. And I’m like, ooh, that’s also malpractice. But I, I’ve always said that I like to sleep at night. So you know, you know. Yeah. So it, but it’s, you learned that through hired? Yeah.
Suzi: And let me ask you about sort of your client vetting process because this just goes into mental health, right, like, Christine wants to be able to sleep at night, right? We want to be able to sleep at night, and we’re obviously like, we’re not going to take on cases where he shouldn’t have cases that are completely outside of our, you know, breadth of knowledge. But what do you have any just little tips or best practices for vetting clients? Because as you know, like as we get older and more experienced as lawyers, we can be a little pickier about who comes to your door, right? It doesn’t have to be doll. Is that what you call it? Door law?
Christine: Exactly. Door law where everybody comes through I do it. Yes. Yes. And I could and I honestly could have, but you’re not. Are you doing it as efficiently? Are you doing one of the reasons why I also try to let other people know Yes. Can I help someone at a traffic ticket? I’m sure I can. But the reason why is perhaps maybe I know, but the staff doesn’t, so the amount of time to teach them to Then the appearance letter. But notice, who are we copying? You’re now losing money on that, right time is money and efficiency. And they’ve not they’re not used to that process, they may not have ever been exposed to a municipal court practice, even though you have. So it’s all about systems and how things flow. But when we do meet a client, yes, it’s very important from the onset that the initial, say the receptionist understands what kind of law that you do practice so that they can vet from the beginning, right? Because it’s not useful for everyone’s time that we’re sitting together. It’s like, let me talk to you about the bankruptcy issue I have. And I’m like, Oh, we don’t do that. Now they’re mad, I’m mad, you know, we just say, because we’re thinking, why are we here? The best thing is to find out what they do. And also making sure there’s no, there’s no harm. Sometimes there’s a, you know, an area of law, that doesn’t sound so familiar. And I get that with our receptionist, she’ll ask me, Chris, they’re asking about this, that, I know we do this, but can we also help? And we can educate and say, Yeah, we actually can do that, or no, we’re gonna have to refer that out. You know, and, and that’s all. So first, it starts at the door, right? When they first call, it really does that we want to make sure hey, we want to help you. But we want to make sure we can help you. If not, we’ll find someone who can. And then when we actually are sitting with a prospective client, as much as they’re evaluating us, you need to evaluate them too, right? Is this a team player, this is someone that we can collaborate with, who’s open to suggestions, who’s you know, coachable is the right word, right? Because that’s what they want from us. They do need our leadership, they do need direction, but we want to be respectful with what their goals are. And if we don’t have that, to and fro. It’s very hard, you know, and especially, you know, most of our clients, their clients for life. So I always think, Is this someone I want to sit with at dinner? This is someone that I want to have a drink with? You know, I just very, you know, you need to be honest, because it’s not for everybody. And everybody’s not for us. It can’t be It can’t be. And so it’s, but it’s, it’s hard, right? I mean, in my earlier years, you want that client, because the rents do or whatever it is, you know, and you’re like, Yeah, and I but I can, how many times have we known once they slide that check over? That feeling is gone right away, when you’re like, Oh, this is gonna be challenging, I don’t know if we’re going to work well together. And I encourage clients to also have that open evaluation of us as well, because I can be so gung ho about a client, but if they’re lukewarm with me, it still won’t work. You know, I want them to be excited, just the same way when we work together, because we’re here to do great things for each other, you know, and it’s got to work. But that’s hard. That takes education. But I really feel we’re very familiar. When we go to the dentist, we’re dealing with a dental hygienist. We’re very familiar. When we make a doctor, we have to make an appointment. But not everyone is familiar of how to approach an attorney. A lot of times people think they can walk in, a lot of times people can think they can get us on the phone right away. A lot of times people are confused about what they’re paying for, like, why only ask a couple of questions, you know, so it’s about educating what our role is to help educating what we’re there for. Because, you know, I, you know, I used to, you know, there’s certain files that a paralegal is excellent to do. And the lawyer steps in. We’re what the doctors, I have to tell you, my dental hygienist does a lot for me. And then I see the dentist at the end. I don’t see myself demanding saying, Look, where’s the dentist? You should be cleaning my teeth, aren’t you? What, wait a minute. This is not this is not what I paid for, you know? Yeah. But it’s because we’ve been under, we’ve realized early on how to deal with those types of professions. But attorneys, unfortunately, we usually use them when it’s a real problem.
Suzi: We’re very active situation.
Christine: So that learning curve is to be very fast. So we’ve been working on a manual to give our clients once they hire us. And you know, basically how to be an A plus client, you know, it’s still in the works, but it’s just to educate them. Here’s who’s on your team. Here’s where you can talk to, here’s what we can help you with. This is a definition of an emergency. And that’s different for every firm.
Suzi: Let’s take a quick pause for message from my sponsor, prominent practice.
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Christine: But I also feel because right, we don’t deal with attorneys all the time, I’m always surprised when a certain thing occurs. And I’m thinking like, but that’s because they’ve never hired a lawyer before. They’re very nervous. They’re, they’re not sure what, whereas you know how many we’ve been to that we go to the dentist every year, twice a year we go, we go to doctors all the time. So we know, here’s the nurse practitioner, I’m gonna be like, Excuse me, are you a doctor? Wait a minute, I only want to talk to I mean, it’s just so inappropriate. Don’t do that. And there’s no way I’m walking into my doctor, he can’t see me now. Like, I don’t get this. Yeah, you know, I’m just so all about educating and there’s nothing wrong about it, it’s just that I think the profession hasn’t got to that level where we need to just explain more how things work. And again, every firm is different. So I just think to, you know, to educate the clients, just to help them so you know, because I would love to I would love like, oh, okay, so I have that issue. This is who I talked to, and I shouldn’t be surprised at the paralegal call me like, well, Where’s, where’s the attorney? Why am I talking to you?
Suzi: That’s all above and beyond that engagement agreement, right? Or an engagement letter where we’re kind of just setting the tone of the relationship or, or the expectations, but it really goes a lot deeper than that. And, you know, I love the idea of like having definitions, right? This is this is these are the common terms that you may hear us use, right?
Christine: But also, so say, if you’re a firm that bills by the hour, and you send them first bill, if I’m a client, what what’s point one, what’s the point? What is this? I don’t know what I’m looking at, and I owe you what. So it’s very important, especially before that first bill that, you know, one of our team members gets on the phone, say, Hey, listen, we will send your first bill, we’re gonna go over it together. So we go through it. So we explain to this, remember, you gave us this amount. And this was the time and we really want to make sure I remember when I forget, I can’t remember the author. But there was a book, How To Create bills that clients love to pay. But it’s basically about creating the story in your bill, explaining because it doesn’t do anyone any service drafted email, the client answered client phone call to adversary. What did we talk about? What was it about? So you can explain, read and jog the memory? That was the time she talked to me about that? I get it. Because it’s all and it’s also helping us see the progression and looking at like, oh, I don’t think I’ve spoke to that client in a couple of weeks. I wonder what was going on what happened? So it’s a nice, you know, and I know, there’s only so much you can put in there because you want to be careful about confidentiality, but enough to paint the story to remember and to jog the memory that we’re not just putting messages. And that was a phone call and wrote letter. Get that that’s so unhelpful.
Suzi: That’s so genius, you know, I think, or to, you know, kind of frame in that context of like writing the story for the client, you know, yeah, I remember, as a young lawyer, I kind of when I first had billing, I had no idea what was happening. And I think I put something like, female client, right, you know, what I did, I had that conversation with someone that was like, hey, we need to be a little more informative about what happened here, you know, so you learn that. And then when I had my own practice, I started writing more in there in the billing, kind of for my own, you know, even though I have notes going constantly, I use Clio for my docketing. But I use that Yeah. But I also started getting more in depth with what I said, right? And I think it kind of helps proactively answer questions, right? Because you know, when you have those clients that come back, and they’re like, What is this? What is the point to, you know, all of these things, it can take time. But, number one, if you’re proactive, you know, whether you as a lawyer or your assistant proactively calls a client explains that first bill, that’s genius, and huge. Everyone take note.
Christine: Yeah, it is a good idea, because then it gives them also you’re just strengthening that trust, that we’re not just sending you things, and I hope you pay it or just like, oh, maybe you know, you’re being so straightforward. Here’s our first bill together. Let’s review it. Let’s go over. And of course, if they have questions during that time, that’s, we’re not shy about that. You know, that’s it. But we’re mostly a flat fee firm Suze, but the few that we do by our that’s what we do, but I’ve always thought if I received this if I never saw it, I wouldn’t know what I’m looking at. Like I don’t know what these numbers are. Yeah, and then like a few
Suzi: maybe give a discount or write off. All of that stuff needs to be explained because the client needs to know. They just need to know what’s going on with their case and with with framing it as you’re basically telling this like a story through that I think that’s such a great way to to approach it. Like, even though you’re sitting there thinking, I don’t really want to work on billing today, right? But if you go back to there, and you kind of look at the notes that you’ve taken, you can, you can flush out that story a little more, really ensure that transparency, and increased client trust, which, you know, is obviously paramount. And oh, the other thing about that, I think that’s really good is like having doing that, like they will, the client will be more likely to ask intelligent questions, which is so important that goes back to the main you like that manual that you’re talking about, like kind of that client, maybe well, right, at least helping them get kind of on some, some playing field here with you, right? So, so it can be so when your time is together, it can be really, really, really productive.
Christine: And then also for those shy clients who feel like, oh, my gosh, I’ve never had a lawyer before, I don’t even know where to begin, or I feel like this is a stupid question. So I’m not going to ask it. But at least we give them a base to start, they’ll know some of the lingo, they’ll know who’s involved. And again, when people call, you know, they get introduced to the team. So they’ll say like, oh, right, that’s Doris, from billing, okay, got it, got it, you know, I get the name, whatever the names are, you know, whatever it’s gonna be, you know, because it’s, we’re gonna, we want to create that family atmosphere that we’re here for you, and we’re here to work together, you know, then again, you know, whether you’re a big firm or medium or whatever it is, I just think all of these could be useful. You just assign a team member, that’s their job, educate, communicate, and just touch base with with the clients and just making sure everything okay, anything we should know, of knowing things early and nipping in the bud is so much better than less than, you know, and another thing I didn’t like about your farm and you like, like, more that go from, you know, so yeah, you know, if you can feel agitation, if you’re like, Okay, we’re gonna get there, you know, we’re looking to fix it now. Rather fix it early than later.
Suzi: Because it builds up much better. To be proactive. I want to ask you, so this has been great, because I’ve one thing I love talking with my clients about is client experience, like how we can make our clients experience amazing. And, you know, we talked about gifting and, you know, calling them you know, following up, but I feel like this is really amazing, because it’s gone even deeper, and really above and beyond. So these are, these have been some amazing, amazing points. But when they I really want to kind of talk about with you before we wrap up as your inspirate like your special needs work. And I because I think this is so beautiful, you know you worked with and maybe it was a business coach at one point that kind of helped you look at how you can maybe frame your practice, right, like how you can maybe niche your practice. Can you talk to us just a little bit about how that.
Christine: Yeah, you know, and I, I think it goes to, in any creative profession are a profession that you can become creative. It’s so good to be into something that you know. And when I was deciding what type of law I realized, I do like estate planning, I do like helping plan for the what ifs and the future and creating legacies and helping generations. However, I kept thinking, what could make me different from the next person. So I did have a business coach. And he mentioned, you know, he asked about my family life. And I’m always so proud about my husband and my two girls, Emma and Juliana. And I did mention that Juliana was born with Down syndrome. And he was like, Oh, that’s interesting. And he said, So do you must help other families with that situation. And at the time, I never even thought about this. And I said, Well, I said, you know, I don’t want I did not I didn’t want anyone to know about it, by the way that’s so personal that people have to know about. I mean, I’m here to help. And yes, if they have a situation like that, sure, I can jump in. And he just kept saying, but boy, what a resource you can be because of your firsthand experiences, and all the issues that you came through and how you resolve them. And I fought that feeling. And I said now, now I don’t want to do that. And when I said I honestly don’t even know much about it, you know, I’ll go to other professionals to teach me. But in the big picture, it felt right. And when I decided to focus on that my learning curve was so high Susan, I think it’s because I really generally want to know, how can I help my family? How can I help my older daughter, be a good helper to her sister and also make sure we don’t have resentment? How can my husband I be stronger together? You know, when Juliana was born? I have to say the first thing and we had a we had an idea that she may have Down syndrome but it was never confirmed. It was never you know, we I’ve always had the thought you know what, we’ll deal with it, whatever because we’ll love her just the same. But what I thought was surprising was me thinking, Oh, well, we have so much ahead of us. And I didn’t read that there is a high rate of divorce with families who have a child who’s disabled. So I remember when she was born, not even an hour, I turned my husband, listen, we gotta communicate. If there’s an issue, we got to work together. And he’s like, I Oh, yeah, of course. And we have, we are a very, very, very strong team. But what I was so excited about is to make sure that I expressed that to other families, and to be there for them, whether or not they’re by themselves or wherever. But I’ve researched and been through a lot of helpful forums, helpful support groups to see what can we do to overcome some of these things, but I’m telling them from my own personal experience, and because of that, I’ve really been able to share a lot with my families. And I’m not shy about that, because it was hard. You know, but I remember when things were happening, and my dad, so here’s a real big Pollyanna, I’ll let you know. And use this, Christine, I don’t know what you’re upset about, or why you’re worried. Everything’s just going to be fine. She’s going to be modern medicine is here. And she’ll be great. And you’ll be happy. And then I remember my husband saying, I’m already happy. And I just felt like, Oh, that’s right. Be happy now. And we can do great things. And I share that with my families. Because do I, I’ve received calls where like, Chris, my wife just had a baby. And I do think babies disabled. I don’t know what to do. And I was there, I was there, and I can hear it in the voice. And I do get emotional, Suze. Because there’s that overwhelming feeling that you think you’re alone, you really are not, you really are not. And I’ve always want to express to other families that if you’re going through this, and you know, I do think there is an element. Me being a business owner, a mom. And now whatever situation, I’ve always said is so important to please gather your team, please gather, get. And if you don’t think you have hit me up, I’m on your team. It’s me, I’m here. Because I do get that a lot where people says, I don’t have many people in my family, Chris, who’s there? I don’t like well, I said, Well, I’m here. And I’m there for you. And I’m looking out for you. Because I know what’s happening. I know exactly I can I can sincerely say that I’m walking in your shoes, and I know what you’re going through. And if you don’t know an answer, and maybe I don’t, I’m going to find an answer. Because I I’ve gathered my resources, because I do not want my family to have a disadvantage. And I always say to my families, what I have you have, whatever I’m going through, you’re going to go through, and we’re going to get through together, I’m going to find that solution for you. And I mean that sincerely. So I really felt for other attorneys, when you find that passion, when you find that issue. And I really feel you know, and I forgive me, there is a mentor. And she used to say that, you know, you use what you have you make that your gift, those issues that you’ve had. And I never want to say that my daughter is my issue, or that my daughter is my problem. But I’m saying that it’s it was a layer that we had to deal with. And rather than make that layer, push us down, I’ve used that to rise and help other families to rise. So I really feel it’s important to recognize it’s not easy. It’s not easy to talk about, you know, there’s a lot of stigma with it. And there’s a lot of being vulnerable and being honest with people where you feel there’s certain things I just can’t do. There’s certain things in my family that we’re limited to doing. And that it is what it is, you know, I’ve also been so proud that my daughter, Emma, she’s a great big sister, Susie, she’s really good. And we’ve been very, very focused to make sure that she feels independent, that she feels that she has decisions that she’s not anchored to her sister, if you wants to be awesome. But she she does have choices. She does, you know, because it’s it’s very important that she feels that and that she’s recognized. You know, there was an article that siblings of disabled siblings, they’re always known as the other, or they’re known as the glass siblings, because we see through them because we’re looking at the other sibling who has the issue. And it’s very important that we don’t do that. And she actually participated. We did a siblings helping sibling segment, a webinar where she gathered other kids that she knew in school, who had a brother or a sister with a disability and we got together and we talked about first I focused on them, you know what they like? What’s their favorite subject in school? And then what are some advice that they can share with other kids who have a sibling and maybe they’re going through isolation? Maybe they’re being challenged in school, and they had such great input and they sounded so mature, you know, for these bunch of 13 year olds, you know, it was very good. So it’s been my mission also To recognize the siblings, it’s so important.
Suzi: And you know, if anyone is just listening to this and not watching it, I encourage you to watch. Christine just glow when she talks about her work. I mean, I can, I can feel it, like, through the video how much you how passionate you are about, about this about your practice, about your mission about your firm culture, which is obviously really, you know, important. Your, your clients, your family. I love that. You know, you speak so highly of your husband, so many people don’t do that, unfortunately. Right. They complain a lot. You speak so highly of your father. Sounds like an amazing man. I remember you said in the podcast, he he, I think it was about like, what is in the best business advice or whatever. And he was said Be persistent. Right. Like, don’t give up. Absolutely. That was really cool. It’s like, Yeah, seems like such an inspiration. Yeah, it’s such an inspiration. So let me ask you just one more thing before I permit you to leave me today? Because I think I could have you really? day what’s next for you?
Christine: Well, you know, as I look forward, you know, I really have been trying to make it my mission, to have people look at adults and children, now with a disability, but just to look at them for who they are. People as if you have brown hair, yellow hair, orange hair. It’s just who they are. Rather than seeing them what they can’t do. Let’s keep reminding of what they can do. I’ll share with you with my youngest, Juliana, every little thing that she does, I have to say we’re so excited. And I do point to Emma, my oldest to say, Hey, listen, did you teach her that? Is that something she got from you. But it is funny. And I have to say they’ve showed me what unconditional love means and that we treasure and just honor and be grateful for all the little things. I mean, yesterday, I’m talking to Juliana, and she went to the store and I asked her Hey, what what did you pick out of the grocery store, and she named it. And I really wasn’t sure if she would remember. But she did. She was like grapes, apples. I mean, she went through the list. So those little things, you’re always amazed. You’re always grateful. And and you just always remember that they do know a lot. They they know a lot of things, and we should never shortchange them. And that’s one of my missions than Suze is to be that spokesperson to remind people that there’s so much that can be done, there’s so much that they do. And we shouldn’t forget that and, and not focus on the limits.
Suzi: I think that we as humans kind of tend to do that. Right. Like, we focus on the limits, we focus on the scarcity in life. Rather than focusing on the amazing things that happen in life, like the amazing abundance that life provides us generally, most of us living right here in America, right? Like, we’re pretty lucky. You know, I was listening to your story about visiting your family in the Philippines. And, you know, it’s such a reminder. We’re very, very fortunate here, right? And we have to be grateful those little things that happen for us every day is Is it our little girl coming back from the store? who’s able to remember these three different, you know, fruits that she picked up? Right. And that was such a beautiful conversation that you had with her. So yeah, I have no doubt you have so many amazing adventures coming up in your business and with your with your family. So where can people find you?
Christine: So we have a website. So it’s WW that Mattis law.com, ma T with Le w.com. And all our information is there. We’re also on Twitter and Instagram and the more professional LinkedIn, you know, always find this. Yes, exactly. I know tick tock, don’t go there to tell you I’m I’m fascinated with it. I have to tell you, I think there are times I’m looking through and I see it on Facebook. And I’m like drawn into that world. But yeah, that little 10 Second World. But yet people can find this. We have main offices in Toms River, New Jersey, but we have offices in Red Bank and in New York. So we’re trying to do our best to help as many people as possible. But we’re also accommodating doing zoom and phone calls and things like this has been so amazing.
Suzi: I want to thank you so much again for hanging out with me telling me a little bit about your story. Spending.
Christine: Thank you so much. It was such a pleasure. I really love being on your podcast and you do such a great services by helping educate others and supporting them. them and giving them confidence and things that they can do.
Suzi: Yeah, this is all about supporting women and younger attorneys and showing them what’s possible. And I feel like you are if you are an example of of what’s possible, so I think it’s beautiful. Thank you. Thank you so much for hanging out with us today on legally bliss conversations. If you love this episode, and you want to hang out with other inspiring and light gold female attorneys, be sure to join the legally bliss community at legally blissed.com And be sure to follow me on Instagram at Suzan Hixon. See you next time.
Practicing Kindness, Building Culture and Being a Better Leader with Christine Matus