Esther Vayman: [00:00:00] Growth is hard. It is full of a lot of lessons. When you start hiring a bunch of people and you hope they’re going to be good fits and sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. And sometimes they’re good at what they do, but they’re not good cultural fits or sometimes you love them, but they really can’t produce for you the way you need them to.
And learning how to. Accept people moving on when you don’t want them to, and to let people go when you need to has been a very costly and painful lesson that I think has helped me grow. It’s probably one of the things that’s helped me grow the most as a business owner,
Jonathan Hawkins: Alright, here we are again. I’m Jonathan Hawkins, and today we’ve got my good friend Esther Vain with us. Esther, I know we’ve, I can’t remember how we met, but I have always, well, you can tell us in a minute, but I’ll tell you, you know, the thing that struck me is, you know, when I met you, I know I found somebody who loved the business of law as much as I did, so we hit it off immediately.
So, yeah. How did we meet? I forgot.
Esther Vayman: I was using a business coach who you had used. And he gave me your name. I can’t remember why. I don’t know if I think I needed an attorney who did what you did. And he said, call Jonathan Hawkins. And so I did. And I was like, well, let’s have lunch. And so the rest is history.
Jonathan Hawkins: The rest is history. So, yeah. So, why don’t you introduce yourself? Tell us name of your firm and what you guys do.
Esther Vayman: My name is Esther Vaman. And I am one of the founders and co owners of Vaman [00:02:00] and Titlebaum. We are primarily a family law law firm, and we also have a pretty robust probate practice.
Jonathan Hawkins: And when did you start your firm?
Esther Vayman: We started in the summer of 2010.
Jonathan Hawkins: 2010. So you’ve been going a while. What were you doing before that?
Esther Vayman: I did insurance defense and commercial litigation. My mom is a doctor. My grandmother was a doctor. All of my parents friends were doctors. So I knew that I, that anybody who could possibly dream of suing a doctor must be a really evil person. So I knew I wanted to do med mal defense. But while I was in law school, I had this great clerkship for Justice Benham when he was on the Supreme Court of Georgia and domestic cases had an automatic right of appeal.
And I was assigned one of the domestic cases and I come from a very sheltered, conservative, intact home. No drama. Like my parents fight over like getting the dishwasher unloaded fast enough and that’s about [00:03:00] it. And I wasn’t allowed to do anything growing up. So very strict. And I read this brief where the.
Wife accused the husband of cheating on her and contracting herpes in the course of his infidelity and giving it to her. And I thought at the time and my young naive self like, oh my god, this is someone’s life. Someone did this. This is crazy. But then I read his response brief and he said, well, my brother has the same strain of herpes and she is sleeping with my brother.
So she could have contracted it from my brother. And I thought, I’m sold. Like this is like real life and it’s better than TV. And, but at that time I had already decided I was going to try to do Mal Med Defense. Which I understood by talking to lots of people was insurance defense. So they said, get any insurance defense job as long as it’s not workers comp and you’re sort of on your way.
And so I [00:04:00] started out at a midsize local firm doing commercial litigation and insurance defense, but it was a lot of like construction type work, which is not my jam. And then a larger firm gave me a better offer a couple of years in and I went there and I had. Bigger cases and I started to get into the Med Mal world or the professional negligence world and I though interesting Ultimately, it was boring to me personally and unsatisfying.
I didn’t want to read any more insurance policies It didn’t want to read any more coverage opinion letters. I Wasn’t really sure you know, it’s scary to give up what you know, because I’ve been doing it for five years, but, and I worked for great lawyers, so I had, you know, federal jury trials and all kinds of things.
But I knew I didn’t really want to do it. It did not help me get out of bed in the morning. And then somebody local who owned a firm that was half family law and half commercial litigation asked me to come over. It was a small firm and I always knew I was going to have my own firm. And I thought, well, this might help me see how a small firm runs.
Cause where I [00:05:00] worked, you know, one person picks up the mail, one person delivers the mail, another person makes photocopies. And I was like, I know this isn’t. Everyone in my family owns a business. I know this isn’t the way small business operates. So I went to work for him and that lasted three months, four months.
And I had my first court appearance with one of the partners and he did not live up to what I was used to. And I didn’t want to be introduced into the family law world in that way. And I was complaining to my dad about it and my dad. Building at the time and he had a vacant space at a time when the commercial real estate market was in the toilet and he said, take it and see what you can build.
And I said to my husband, let’s do it. He said, no. And I said, well, we’re going to do it anyway. And we did. And that’s sort of
Jonathan Hawkins: so you said you always knew you’re going to have your own firm. Is that because you sort of came from a family of business owners or
Esther Vayman: Yep. So I think in the same way that most of us. [00:06:00] who are lawyers knew we would always go to college. It was a foregone conclusion, right? You go to elementary school, you go to middle school, you go to high school, you go to college. And then I knew I was going to open a business. So from the minute I graduated law school, the conversation was always, when are you going to start your own law firm?
So it was for me, it was a question of making sure I felt I had a very good skill set to sell because I wanted to be great at what I did. And that was what I was doing before I opened my law school was just trying to. to develop as an attorney because people don’t know this, but when you finish law school, you actually don’t know anything and you have no skills.
Jonathan Hawkins: That’s right.
Esther Vayman: you know, it’s not like medical school where you have residency and you learn so much. We start and we know we are less valuable than the administrative staff in a law firm. So, I think learning. Those first five years was really important.
Jonathan Hawkins: So you knew you were going to start a firm. Did you know you were going to start the firm with your husband? How did that come about?
Esther Vayman: about it. Like I always knew I would own my own business. Both my parents have their own business. My [00:07:00] grandmother had her own business. Our extended family is largely self employed. Everybody has a business. So that wasn’t weird. And most everyone’s in a family type business.
So, I don’t think I thought about it consciously. Like I want to work with my husband, but it also wasn’t a detractor for me. Like, I didn’t see anything wrong with it either way.
Jonathan Hawkins: And so, okay, so now you guys are working together. Are you both, and we’re going back to the beginning, not now. We’ll talk about now later, but at the beginning, were you both, Doing the law? I mean were you both going to court? How did you break apart the responsibilities?
Esther Vayman: So he, even though he went to law school, he knew he didn’t want to be a lawyer. His dad encouraged him to go to law school. He had no desire to be a lawyer. And so when I told him that I wanted to start this law firm, the deal was pretty much that he wasn’t going to practice. He would help on the operation side.
He’s also an introvert. So, you know, you’re never going to see him at like a networking event or anything, but he’s really like tech [00:08:00] savvy and his skill set and my skill set are exactly opposite. So I did all the practice. There was like, I remember early on, there was a case where I needed help, like drafting discovery or responding to discovery.
And he helped me and he said, never again. I’m not doing this.
Jonathan Hawkins: I don’t blame him.
Esther Vayman: So I was like, you definitely got the better end of this deal. So, he did not ever practice.
Jonathan Hawkins: And so when y’all started, was it just you two? Did you have any staff with you? You know, I’m trying to remember when we met, I can’t remember if you had, you did not have any other attorneys. I know that, but
Esther Vayman: I probably had a
Jonathan Hawkins: if you had any staff.
Esther Vayman: I, early on we started out with like somebody who came in once or twice a week and it wasn’t enough and then we went to like a couple part time people and I think I had a part time paralegal for about five years who I was very close with and she was part time because she also homeschooled her kids.
So she was there as much as she could be. And [00:09:00] probably she was with me when I met you.
Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, I remember the first time when you first hired an attorney, I think it was it a contract attorney or maybe not full time? You remember better than I do, I’m sure, but I remember having the discussions with you and you were sort of fretting over, you know, the commitment and I think it maybe took you a little while to actually pull the trigger on it.
Why don’t you remind me what, how that went down?
Esther Vayman: So we initially tried contract attorneys and we tried it from a million angles, people I knew, people who just were connected to me who needed some work. There are some staffing, like companies here, like counsel on call where you can get a contract attorney. So I tried all of it and it was all terrible.
And any new person who asks me about using contract workers because they’re scared to hire. I understand don’t do it because at the end of the day, your interests and their interests are not aligned and so you can’t control when their interests are [00:10:00] going to trump yours and your work isn’t going to get done.
Maybe you won’t get done in the way you want it to get done. I’ve had contract attorneys try to steal my clients. I mean, I’ve seen it. I’ve had people where I have to pay them and redo all their work. I have people who can’t get things done. to me on time. I mean, it just, you know, they suddenly get busy with their own cases where they make 100 percent of the dollars on that case versus getting paid a percentage of my dollars on a case.
So my stuff will go to the back burner. It just never worked and we couldn’t keep any of them around anyway, because they tend to be people who are not, if they’re not pursuing growing their own business, which would phase you out as an employer of sorts, then they’re Not the kind of people you want to be hiring generally anyway.
So with a few exceptions, I know a few people who have had some exceptions to that role, but that is, I would say 99%. of the K of the time, like it’s just not good. But it’s really scary to commit to a salary. It’s really [00:11:00] scary, especially when you’re starting and you feel there’s an inconsistency in workload and can you pay them and pay yourself?
And, you know, I, those are real fears. I mean, You know, can you pay your rent? They want insurance. You can’t provide insurance. There’s a lot of complicated facets to hiring. And that first big attorney hire is scary.
Jonathan Hawkins: You know, I remember, you’re fretting and then you did finally hire somebody full time. We’ll talk about that in a minute. But then there came a point where it seems like everything out of your mouth was go higher.
Esther Vayman: Yeah,
Jonathan Hawkins: so you became a big believer eventually.
You know, I can’t remember, how many kids do you have?
Esther Vayman: three
Jonathan Hawkins: Three, and they’re probably way older than I remember, but they were all
Esther Vayman: a six year old.
Jonathan Hawkins: say again,
Esther Vayman: I have five year old twins and a six year old.
Jonathan Hawkins: that’s right. So you had, there was a point where you had, you know, basically three, one year old, you know, or younger. [00:12:00] Did you hire somebody before that or after that?
Esther Vayman: So the impetus to hiring our first full time attorney was that we really struggle to have children. So, we, my husband and I knew we wanted kids and it wasn’t easy for us the way it is for a lot of people. And we really didn’t even know if it would happen for us. So when we found out we were having our first or oldest I basically told my husband, I can’t work this much because I was doing all the networking, doing all the billing, doing all the work on the cases.
You know, I mean, I was doing all of it. And it was not unusual to have days that went to midnight. I can’t tell you how many times he would go pick up dinner so I could sit in the conference room and trial prep. And I just said, no. No, I mean, this baby is coming November of 2017, and I am going to take time with this baby, and if I don’t get to do that, I’m going to hate you forever, and so we are going to hire someone so that we can do this.
And at the time in [00:13:00] fairness, you know, we were noticing like our trust account balance was getting bigger and bigger, but we weren’t generating any more money because I couldn’t, I myself couldn’t do more. So we felt like we have work for someone. We didn’t know how much that would eat into our income that We needed at the time because again, revenue wasn’t that high.
Even if we kept all of it, it wasn’t that much money. It’s a few hundred thousand dollars a year. It was nothing like crazy. And so. We hired, we found an experienced family law attorney. We got incredibly lucky. She was wonderful and she started November 1st and my baby was born November 17th and I was on November 17th.
I was like, hi, see you in three months.
Jonathan Hawkins: Wow. So you just handed it over. You know, I guess your husband was there to sort of
Esther Vayman: and I knew she was good. I had worked with her for years, so I wasn’t like worried that she wasn’t going to do a great job. And I just, I got very lucky.[00:14:00]
Jonathan Hawkins: And I remember you telling me you know, year over year after hiring that first full time. I mean, you saw a huge jump and then I, is that what made you a believer?
Esther Vayman: Yes. Because I think, you know, what I’ve learned over time is that whatever people you have, the work you have at your law firm will expand to fill their plate. It just will. You have to. I would say a secondary lesson I’ve learned as we’ve gotten bigger is you really do have to manage overhead hires with revenue generating hires.
So that’s a down the road lesson. But I think an early on lesson for people is Let other people bill the work you generate the work or if you love billing the work Then hire somebody who’s gonna help generate more work and you focus on doing the work I mean, I don’t know too many law firm owners who are that way, but I presume there are some out there.
I love the relationships with the clients. I like the strategy. I don’t, you know, I do a lot of consultations, but I find that the actual day to [00:15:00] day work on the files is really better suited to somebody who has full time capacity to do that. And that is how you are really going to start to generate more revenue for your business.
Jonathan Hawkins: So explain that the overhead hires and the revenue producing hires, explain what you mean by that.
Esther Vayman: So a revenue generating hire is an attorney or a paralegal or for us a legal assistant. So it’s somebody who is billing a client and you are getting paid for their time. So if you are paying an attorney just in very loose terms, $100, 000 a year, you can I curse on this? You sure as shit better be getting at least in my opinion, close to 400, 000 revenue minimum from them.
And that above what you pay them is the money that you have to fund your firm and for profit. But if you start to hire a lot of so we have like an intake department, we have a billing department. They’re valuable. They don’t generate [00:16:00] revenue directly in the way an attorney does. So if I have too many people in my billing department, Too many people in my intake department, too many receptionists, too many admins around the office, then it starts to eat up all the profit of your law firm.
So you have to really be careful about balancing those, the revenue versus the cost of your firm.
Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah and so I want to also explore as you started to grow your firm, you know, I guess you, you made this hire, you had the kids, you stepped back at least for three months. How involved are you now in the legal work and then how did that sort of change or it did it over time?
Esther Vayman: I will be involved with an associate who does the day to day work and I’ll be there for like mediations and things like That’s honestly pretty rare because my attorneys are really good. So once they get to know them They don’t feel like they need to pay my rates. They feel like they can get what they need for my associates So I am much more involved in The running of the business.
[00:17:00] That’s really all I do. So I help generate clients for the firm and I help develop strategies. What are we gonna do next? I manage the finances. I’m here to answer questions. So like, I help billing with questions and sales with questions and ops, with questions, and I deal with a lot of personnel issues.
That’s one of the. non joys of growing. I do some recruiting. So I, really I’m more like, here’s where I want to go. Let’s talk about how we’re going to get there.
Jonathan Hawkins: So, there’s a lot of people out there, myself included, lots of people who want to get to sort of where you are now, at least in terms of the legal work, maybe not on the HR side, but how did you get there and, you know, was it all at once or did you have to sort of slowly dial it back? Did you always know you wanted to do that?
I mean, how did that sort of evolve?
Esther Vayman: I definitely never thought I wanted, I mean, I knew I wanted to have a business, but what I [00:18:00] grew up with as a model was more of a self employed professional. So my mom’s a doctor, she has a medical practice, but she sees patients all day. She just didn’t want a boss. And I didn’t really, it took me a few years of having my firm to understand the difference between being a self employed professional and owning a business.
They are not the same thing. I did not want a situation where I’m on vacation and I’m not generating any revenue or I’m sick, but I have to go to court cause there’s nobody else who can go. Or if I don’t take this consultation, I’m going to lose this potential client. Like I did not want that and I realized that a few years in, I didn’t know.
I didn’t know how to put words to it, and I didn’t really know how to make it a reality, but I saw what my mom did, and I saw how my business was growing, and I realized I did not want to be a self employed professional. I debated in high school, and I was really good at it. I traveled the country, all kinds of tournaments, I won all kinds of awards, and so being a litigator felt very natural to me.
I got recruited by [00:19:00] the debate team at my college I was on moot court in law school and won all their little things or whatever. So I always knew I would be a litigator because it was a very natural skill for me. And I think when I finally decided that I wanted out of the day to day practice, I had almost an identity crisis.
I really felt like everybody knows me for this, and this is what I’m good at, and this is what I’ve spent my whole, my skill, I’ve spent my whole life developing, and now I’m just, and I’m just gonna like give it away. You know, and that really was hard for me. And I would find I was often when I was explaining to people what I was doing, finding ways to like justify it.
Cause really I was justifying it to myself, but I felt like I had to justify it because it. I don’t know. It was like an identity crisis of sorts.
Jonathan Hawkins: So how did you figure that out? I mean, I guess it’s two part question one, you know, how do you change the mindset? Maybe it was just sort of gradual, but then how do you figure out how to let [00:20:00] go and actually learn the business side? How did you learn it?
Esther Vayman: A lot of trial and error. A lot of conversations with people. I think one of the things I realized early is if you’re out there networking and meeting people, like I remember I would come back to the office and be like, oh my god, everybody’s so much busier than we are. Everybody’s doing so much better than us.
What are we doing wrong? And my husband was like, people are full of shit. And they talk a lot about like, All the stuff they’re doing, but what are they really accomplishing? And once I understood that there’s a big difference in talking and accomplishing, it really helped me a lot. I’m very goal oriented.
And so if I know I want to accomplish something. I’m going to accomplish that thing and I will figure out how to do it, but I’ll figure out while I’m doing it. Like , my husband’s a real planner. You know, he would not take action until he had some degree of certainty that something is going to go exactly the way it’s supposed to go.
I don’t feel that way. And I’m not afraid to fail. I don’t really feel like I just had this conversation with a [00:21:00] friend who owns her own business yesterday at dinner. I’m not a law firm, but a different business, which is that. Like people are so afraid to fail. And I don’t really think there’s such a thing.
I mean, you’re going to make mistakes and things aren’t going to go the way you want them to go or the way you predicted they would go, but who cares? I mean, Who cares? You’re never going to get to the right thing until you’ve tried a bunch of wrong things, so it’s one step closer to the right thing. I just don’t, I don’t have any hang ups about being wrong or something not working.
I would much rather fail my own decisions than on something somebody else tells
Jonathan Hawkins: All right. So here’s a question for you. So both you and your husband work at the same firm, so all the family income is derived from the same business, right? You have three young kids. You got to make sure you can, you know, feed them and, pay the mortgage, whatnot.
Esther Vayman: They’re expensive, a
Jonathan Hawkins: how do you balance that with, you know, taking risks to grow?
[00:22:00] How did you sort through that?
Esther Vayman: I think some of it’s personality. I do. I am not risk of, I’m risk averse with anything that could cause me physical harm. So you’re never going to see me jumping out of a plane or any such nonsense, but I am not risk averse with my business at all. My dad wasn’t. I think I learned a lot from him whereas my mom’s like very conservative.
And, you know, growing up, my dad used to always tell me money is always money. It’s just money. You can always make more money. And I think that’s true. Like whenever, if we ever are tight, I’m like, I can make more money. There’s always a million ways to make money. So that doesn’t, it doesn’t. scare me or hold me back.
My dad used to also always say to me, he quoted somebody else. I can’t remember who he would quote, but you’re an expert after you’ve made every mistake. And I think there’s truth to that too. So I’m okay making mistakes and I’m okay. Like Knowing I have to make more money. I just, I think money’s out there to be made.
So it doesn’t [00:23:00] scare me.
Jonathan Hawkins: So your parents were not born in the United States, right? They came here, right?
Esther Vayman: was born abroad as well. Yes,
Jonathan Hawkins: So you weren’t born here either. So how old were you when you came here?
Esther Vayman: I was really little. I was like under three.
Jonathan Hawkins: And so your parents, did they have to just completely start over when they got here?
Esther Vayman: So my dad was an engineer and he washed dishes and my mom went to medical school, but did not, could not get into residency in the U S. She applied to every residency program. They all told her no. My parents are incredibly hard workers. My mom went, she would go to Emory cause we lived in Atlanta every day.
She would just sit there and ask them and beg them and told them she would work for free to show that she could Do what they needed and she got lucky there was somebody who had a nervous breakdown Like the first week of residency and they said, okay fine We’ll try you out for free and then she became the chief resident and you know She was number two or three in her medical school class I mean, you know, my parents are really hard workers and then my dad ended up starting a [00:24:00] real estate business and then an export company and they’re just really hard workers and That’s all I know.
And they came to America because America is the land of opportunity and you can build anything here and I believe that
Jonathan Hawkins: that, that’s a great attitude, number one. And, you know, the immigrants that come here. It’s all in my view, at least it’s almost like a self selection. It’s the ones that are ready to take a risk. They’re the ones that are going to work hard and they know it. I mean, they came from somewhere and they came here for a reason.
So it sounds like, you had it, I don’t know if it’s in your blood or if it was the environment or both, but you know, lucky to see that growing up probably has helped you
Esther Vayman: And you know, I was super poor
Jonathan Hawkins: or whatever.
Esther Vayman: I mean being poor is okay. Like I was poor and I was so happy. I didn’t, I only knew I was poor because I was the scholarship kid in a very wealthy private school. But I think if that wasn’t the case, I don’t even know if I would know I was poor because I had great parents.
They loved me. I did well in school. I mean, my life was good. [00:25:00] So, I think it also gives you motivation to work because you’re like, Oh look at all the success. I can have the success too.
Jonathan Hawkins: Okay. So, how big is your firm now? How many
Esther Vayman: around 30 people
Jonathan Hawkins: Okay. 30 people. And how many attorneys?
Esther Vayman: around eight.
Jonathan Hawkins: Eight. Okay. So just you to now eight. Now I remember you’ve had some let’s see, how do I say this?
Esther Vayman: Not going to hurt my feeling.
Jonathan Hawkins: Well, you grew and then you had to come in and make some decisions and start over at least once.
I know of, you know, yeah, maybe if you can tell us about that.
Esther Vayman: Growth is hard. It is full of a lot of lessons. When you start hiring a bunch of people and you hope they’re going to be good fits and sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. And sometimes they’re good at what they do, but they’re not good cultural fits or sometimes you love them, but they really can’t [00:26:00] produce for you the way you need them to.
And learning how to. Accept people moving on when you don’t want them to, and to let people go when you need to has been a very costly and painful lesson that I think has helped me grow. It’s probably one of the things that’s helped me grow the most as a business owner,
Jonathan Hawkins: And what’s that? Letting people go,
Esther Vayman: both. Like being okay with people leaving, and understanding that, you know, when we have an open position, we often try to hire two people for one position, because we just know at least one of them’s not going to work out, and that’s okay.
Jonathan Hawkins: you know, I forgot that. I forgot that I’ve heard you say that I’ve told that to other people and they give this look like, huh. But yeah, I sort of, I mean, it makes sense and you’re prepared and that, that is, sounds like a lesson from experience.
Esther Vayman: Yeah, I think when you know, as if you start to grow, you’re going to hit a point where you’re suddenly stressed about making payroll and [00:27:00] you realize you’re coming out of pocket to pay a bunch of people who aren’t doing their job well. Why? Why am I robbing from my kids or my family to pay somebody who calls in sick every other day?
Can’t meet deadlines, can’t meet whatever KPIs they have for their position. That’s it’s ridiculous. But I think all of us, even litigators, like there’s some sort of natural conflict avoidant quality that we have, and we don’t want to be perceived as mean by the other people in our business, and we’re worried about how letting this person go will affect them.
Or sometimes we overvalue the one thing they do well for us. And how are we going to make up for that one thing? But at the end of the day, if they are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing for your business, they can’t stay.
Jonathan Hawkins: You know, it’s interesting. I have known over the years, I’m sure you have too. Bulldog litigators, I mean, just raging assholes to opposing counsel and everybody out there. But they [00:28:00] were the biggest scaredy cat in the world in the office with an assistant that basically bossed them around and didn’t do anything.
It always boggled my mind, you know, go out there and be complete jerk to everybody, but they could not do it. To the person that probably they needed to do it to the most. And I think that is a skill. Did you have it at first? Have you always been able to do this or is this something you had to develop?
Esther Vayman: I did develop it for sure. I used to stress about it. I would come up with scripts at home. Like what am I going to say to this person? Just like litigation. And if they say this, what am I going to say? And do I have to eat the documents to prove whatever they’re not doing right? You know, I used to, it was just like a whole thing.
And then, you know, I remember there was someone I let go last year. She was lovely lady. And I called her in my office and I said to her, We just had like a really nice conversation. I said, you’re in over your head. And she said, I am. And I was like, it’s probably not a good fit. She’s like, it’s not.
And I was like, okay. I said, that’s okay. You know, and you can start to have. [00:29:00] Conversations like that with people. The parting doesn’t have to be ugly.
Jonathan Hawkins: Okay, so you’ve figured out how to let people go and probably as quickly as possible. Have you figured out on the hiring side, you know, have you figured that out? Whatever the screening procedure you have you figured that out to help you not have to let people go on the back end or is that still just sort of hit or miss?
Esther Vayman: It’s hit or miss. I mean, we do better at it. And I think part of the reason we do better is frankly, we’re a little bigger. We can pay better. We have better benefits. Like we can do more for people. So we have a little better selection than maybe we used to. But it’s still hit or miss. We definitely still hire people who are not.
That said, I would say we’re definitely at a point where we have a great group of people and we have some long retention which has taken us a while to build, you know, have employees who have been here four years, three years, two years, you know, we have people, we have very few people in fact, who have been here under a year at this point.
But that [00:30:00] took a lot of work.
Jonathan Hawkins: So do you chart, do you bill hourly your firm?
Esther Vayman: Yes,
Jonathan Hawkins: Have you ever experimented with any sort of flat fee, fixed fee? I know there are some family lawyers out there that do fixed fees. Have you ever tried to do that?
Esther Vayman: we do it for limited circumstances. We do it as like a loss leader for certain types of things. So like, let’s say somebody has a former spouse who’s not abiding by an order. We’re like, look, we’ll write you a letter. For a flat fee, because we know they’re going to need to litigate this, but now we’ve established a relationship with them, but that’s like the rare exception to what we do.
And I think flat fees are a nice idea, but I know lots of flat fee attorneys and if with the staff that they have, I could generate three times the revenue.
Jonathan Hawkins: So you’re not, you’re never going to try it.
Esther Vayman: Probably not. No,
Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah.
[00:31:00] So, you know, another thing I remember talking with you about quite a bit was, you know, COVID. So we had COVID and then everybody’s working from home. And. Did you ever work from home?
Esther Vayman: never.
Jonathan Hawkins: a week? For a week
Esther Vayman: Not for a minute. I got three toddlers. I am never working from home.
Jonathan Hawkins: So, and what about your attorneys? You had an in office policy, right?
Esther Vayman: So when COVID happened, everything kind of shut down and every family law attorney like went remote and it became this big thing. Like you have to be remote or you’re a terrible [00:32:00] person who doesn’t care about the health and wellbeing of others. And Greg and I said, you know, my husband, Greg said, if everyone’s doing this, we’re going to do the opposite because.
We need to be different. Like we, we need to succeed through this. We’ve got people we have to pay. Most of my employees at the time were either single parents or the sole like income for their survival and I didn’t want to create a situation where I had to fire people or put them on some kind of leave or whatever because, I mean, why do I need a receptionist, for example, if we’re all working from home?
And the phones are not ringing. So we talked to everybody in our office and I only had one attorney, my, my attorney who I had hired back in the day, who felt uncomfortable with it. And she wanted to work from home and we were very flexible with her because of her status and ability to manage work well. But otherwise everybody in my office actually wanted to stay in the office. A lot of them had boyfriends or [00:33:00] spouses at home or kids at home. They did not want to be home. And I did explain to them, I said, you know, if everybody’s going home, we’re not gonna be able to keep everybody. I mean, it’s just what it is.
And so everybody wanted to stay in the office and we at that time actually ended up opening more offices. So we were like, we’re gonna, we’re gonna be in Marietta, Alpharetta, Cumming, Buckhead, Lawrenceville. And it really worked for us because I believe that what we do is a really sensitive personal service, and you can’t cut out the personal relationship from that service.
You know, we are not just drafting a contract for a business that is an arm’s length transaction. We have people crying and they want to hug and they want to know that they are okay and that they’re gonna be taken care of. And I was my feeling was we were gonna be the firm that was there for them, and it worked.
Jonathan Hawkins: And part of it is I just want to be around people. And I feel like, especially the younger lawyers, you know, there’s a huge thing that they want to work from home. And I get it, a commute, maybe it [00:34:00] sucks, but there’s so much you miss out on. I know, there’s so much you miss out on though, in the office, I mean, and it’s more about, it’s not just training.
I mean, it’s the relationships, you’ve been at several firms, I’ve been at several firms. And it’s, you know, the relationships I’ve built at the old firms, from being in the office with people everyday. I still have a benefit from today, even though I hardly ever see those folks, if I’d been working from home the whole time, I would not have those relationships.
Then there’s the training and, you know, other benefits. But I guess where I was going with that, and I can’t even remember. We’ll edit we’ll edit this part out for a second. But go ahead.
Esther Vayman: We have, for example a level of people we hire called legal assistance. They’re generally young girls right out of college or high school, and they don’t know how to do anything. And we train them how to do everything. And if we weren’t in office, I would never hire someone like that, ever, because they would have no use for me.
Training them is hard in person. Imagine training [00:35:00] them through a computer. I mean, it doesn’t make any sense to me. I think there, so there was a article I read that said the number one determining factor in how long somebody lives, it’s not anything you think it is, it’s the amount of social interaction they have.
And it is important for humans mental and emotional health to interact with other humans. And so I think we very much have seen as we’ve taken that away for like two years, how much damage it’s caused to people emotionally, mentally there’s been a bunch of addiction relapses, there’s been depression off the charts, it is not healthy.
And so I always felt that was true. And there were definitely some people who vilified me for my feelings on it. But
Jonathan Hawkins: You know, you know, I remember when we were in the middle of the COVID, everybody thought we were going to die. Everybody thought everybody was going to die. And now you look back on it, and it seems, I mean, obviously some people did die, but It was overblown, I believe, for [00:36:00] sure, but, you know, I know folks from around the country, big cities around the country, not Georgia, that are still largely not going to the office.
And they’re still not doing it which, call us lucky or whatever, but in Georgia, we sort of were able to keep going after
Esther Vayman: But I think it has. I do think it has permanently changed the workforce. Like, there is a large contingency of the workforce who insist they work from home. And I can see that in my profession, but even in like Facebook groups I’m in, where people are like, I’m looking for a work from home job and I just can’t find one anymore.
And I think employers are wise to the fact that this doesn’t work. But I think in a very short period of time, employees have become sort of entrenched with this idea that they can work from home. And, you know, I don’t want to pay somebody to be doing their laundry during the day.
Jonathan Hawkins: I I think that’s probably going to change. It’s already changing a little bit you know, if we, if this recession ever happens that everybody keeps talking about, then people are going to get scared and stop demanding that [00:37:00] probably. So yeah, so another question I had, you’ve had these young kids, you’re growing a firm from just you to eight or nine attorneys.
How do you manage? Growing the firm and the kids. I mean, I’ve, I had young twins. So I know one of them had a health issue. So I know it can be overwhelming. How do you balance that? What are your tips?
Esther Vayman: I probably do it not well. I, so one thing that I decided to do really early is I don’t work on Fridays. and that is just my day to get caught up in all the things I can’t do at work and all the things I can’t do with my kids. So I give myself one day. to do whatever it is I need to do. That has been tremendously helpful and I have just set that boundary so firmly that nobody at work even asks me if I’m available on a Friday because they know the answer is no and saying no to people is okay.
It’s okay. So, I. don’t work on the weekends at all. So my weekend time is 100 percent with my kids and I try to get home [00:38:00] around between five and six. So I have at least a couple hours with my kids every night. I mean, there are nights where I have a networking thing or dinner or something, but the overwhelming majority of the time I try to get home early.
I also try and I don’t always succeed, but when I’m with them, I really try to be focused on them, not on my phone. Not answering slacks or emails but with my kids. So, I think the quality of time is as important as the quantity. I have a ton of help at home. So in no way, people always ask me, how do you do it?
In no way do I want people to think I’m special. I have an assistant. I have multiple nannies who help drive my kids around. And if my kid’s sick in the middle of the day, I’ve got somebody at home who can stay with them. So I have built as much of an infrastructure at home as I have at work,
Jonathan Hawkins: And you know, it’s a similar I’ve talked to somebody last week, talks about you don’t want to wear the cheap hats. So it’s the things you can basically delegate or outsource, do that. [00:39:00] And I think, you know, a lot of people talk about it in the office, but I think it probably applies at home too.
And so it’s just an investment because you invest in those people, it frees up time for you. You’re not as stressed. You can take Fridays off. Now that, let’s talk about that for a minute. I’ve tried that, but man, I get sucked back in. How did you draw the line and say that’s it. I mean, you just did it or did, was there a while that you got sucked back in?
Esther Vayman: there was. So when you had referenced the point where I like lost all my attorneys basically at one time yes, I was here every, all the time until I was restaffed. So obviously we have an obligation to make sure our clients are well taken care of. I take that seriously, but that is the exception to the rule.
And I just tell people, no, I think that it’s really hard for people to say no. And there’s a meme that talks about how like no is a complete sentence. I believe that. I say that all the time. People say, but can you just do this one light meeting? No. Can you just come in for this one [00:40:00] thing? No. That’s it.
Jonathan Hawkins: I need to hire you as a coach. You need to teach me how to say no. That’s what I need.
Esther Vayman: You can say it nicely. Say it with a smile. No.
Jonathan Hawkins: I’m not good at that. What, you know, you’ve grown to about eight lawyers, you’ve got multiple offices around Atlanta. What’s, you know, what’s your vision for the firm? Keep it as is or what do you want to do?
Esther Vayman: Family law firm in the country. That is really my goal. I want to start opening other offices. I have other sort of business ideas around what I do that aren’t just opening offices, but Really? That’s my goal. I think that I’d like to keep my operations here in Atlanta as much as I can I think that’s gonna help me with the overhead of growth.
Because you know, as you grow, the percentage profit you have will decrease, the dollars will increase, but the percentage is going to decrease. You really have to manage that overhead. But you know, I think that I can pump a ton of money into Atlanta and [00:41:00] I’m only going to grow it so much more. So I really think that for me, the opportunities are going to be other markets.
Jonathan Hawkins: So within the state or everywhere?
Esther Vayman: everywhere
Jonathan Hawkins: Wow. Yeah. See, that’s why I like you so much. You’re ambitious. You got big plans. I like it. And I like to see it. You’ve done it. So. You’ve been doing this for, you know, you’ve got your own firm for what, 13 or so years now, maybe 14. I know one of your tips is, hire for sure.
I’ve heard you say it to me, to others hire, don’t wait. And you can expand on that if you want to, but what other advice would you give to somebody who’s either started their own firm or maybe thinking about it?
Esther Vayman: Fire hire. Assuming it’s a hire fast fire faster. other tips I would give people manage your money well. You know, especially at the beginning, keep your costs as low as you can with the exception of hiring, but you’ve got to manage your [00:42:00] money well because you might be like having the best year this year, but you don’t know what next year is going to bring.
Like nobody could have predicted COVID. So make sure you’ve got a really good slush fund. Don’t work with friends and family. Just don’t do it. I do not recommend it. It could go well, but it also could not. I’m not big on having equity partners to whom you’re not married. Cause technically it’s a marital asset as we all know anyways, whether we’re married or not, so it doesn’t matter.
But , you know more about this than I do, but the idea of giving away equity in my business makes me nauseous. It is not a growth point I have reached. Other advice I
Jonathan Hawkins: Well, I would never give it away. I would never give it away.
Esther Vayman: Talking about selling it potentially or something
Jonathan Hawkins: there are people out there that disagree with me for sure, but I think equity is something you buy. It’s not something that’s given. You know, you can profit share. There are other ways to share in any given year. But I think equity is different.
At least that’s my view. And , there’s a question [00:43:00] about what’s it worth and all that. But, you know, you mentioned about, going into business with friends and family. I’ve likened it to, you know, roommates in college, you go in with your best friend and then at the end of the semester, you guys aren’t talking to each other,
Esther Vayman: exactly.
Jonathan Hawkins: Very similar in a partnership.
Esther Vayman: I also think, you know, well, I’m financially motivated. I’m motivated by freedom and money. Like, those are my two motivators, and I guess accomplishing things. But one thing I’ve learned is that not all people are motivated by the same things. And that’s been a hard lesson for me. And so really being able to tap into what motivates your people so you can keep them and make them happy and finding ways to motivate them, even if it’s outside of your belief system I think is really important.
And that. That, I think, is why I had so many painful lessons as an employer, in part, is it took me a long time to understand that I can’t sort of throw money at every problem. Some people really are motivated by more time with their family, or [00:44:00] by the greater mission of your business, or by their relationship with you, which, you know, I didn’t really understand why a relationship with me is important at all, but it is for a lot of people who work here.
So I think really being able to understand what’s important to your people is really valuable as a business owner.
Jonathan Hawkins: So I know there are, you know, corporate America does it. I know a number of firms do it, you know, these personality tests type assessments. Do you do any of
Esther Vayman: Oh yeah, we do like, a bunch of them.
Jonathan Hawkins: helpful? What are the top, you know, I know there’s so many out there. What do you find are the helpful
Esther Vayman: We do Culture Index, we do DISC and then we do we do Wonderlic, because it has an IQ component, which the other ones don’t, because sometimes we’ve hired people who have the right personality traits, but maybe they don’t have the right
And then we do a very bottom of the funnel one. I don’t even know what it’s called. It’s this guy, Jay, I [00:45:00] work with, and it’s a very expensive test, but then that’s the last one that we do.
Jonathan Hawkins: And so everybody does this or just attorneys or staff or do you divide it up? Everybody does all of them. Wow.
Esther Vayman: Everybody does them. And so it, you know, it’s not the be all end all. I definitely have people who haven’t performed on tests the way I think they should, and they’re fabulous employees. And I have people who performed off the charts on these, and they have been terrible employees.
But I think it’s a good gauge for what you’re going to get and it gives you real good insight into their personality. Like you might think somebody’s lazy because I’m a fast mover. Like I want it done yesterday and I’m like ready to go. And sometimes people who don’t work that way to me may seem lazy.
But really, if you look at these personality tests, they just move in a very slow methodical way. There’s nothing lazy about them. It’s their process. And I think being able to appreciate Different people work differently and that different positions maybe require different skill sets has been really helpful for me.
Jonathan Hawkins: And so when along in the process of the sort of the interviewing and the recruiting, when do [00:46:00] you drop the test on them all at once or do you
Esther Vayman: do, yeah, we do DISC, Culture Index, and Wonderlic before the interview. And then after the interview, if I like them, they’ll get the other test.
Jonathan Hawkins: All right, we’re going to have to, we’re going to have to talk offline. I’m going to have to
Esther Vayman: anytime.
Jonathan Hawkins: Teach me your your process.
Esther Vayman: It’s really helpful.
Jonathan Hawkins: Well, cool. So we’ve been at this for a little while. I don’t want to keep you all day, but so if someone wants to find you if there’s an attorney in another city or another state that’s looking to maybe join a new operation and they want to find you, how can they find you?
Esther Vayman: So you can email me, although my e email box I will just warn you is super full. But my email is my first name, Esthervaandtlaw.com or then call me (678) 736-7700.
Jonathan Hawkins: All right. Well, thanks for joining us.
Esther Vayman: Thanks, [00:47:00] Jonathan. It’s always great to talk to you.