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Starting a Firm for Flexibility with Heather Nader

Are you navigating the complexities of elder law or seeking guidance on special needs planning? Dive into the latest episode of The Founding Partner Podcast, where host Jonathan Hawkins engages in a compelling conversation with Heather Nadler, a seasoned elder law attorney from Georgia. With a career spanning over two decades, Heather brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table, offering invaluable insights into this niche legal field.

**Expertise and Evolution: A Look into Nadler Biernath LLC**

Heather Nadler, a certified elder law attorney, co-founder of Nadler Biernath LLC, discusses the firm’s journey and its current structure. With a specialized focus on elder and special needs law, the firm operates with a team of dedicated professionals, including three attorneys and a six-member support staff. Heather shares how the firm has evolved since its inception in 2014, adapting to the changing landscape of legal practice and client needs.

**Embracing Flexibility: The Hybrid Work Model**

The conversation shifts to the firm’s operational strategies, highlighting their hybrid work model. Heather reveals how they’ve integrated virtual assistants from El Salvador, enhancing efficiency and catering to the modern workforce’s demand for flexibility. She candidly discusses the benefits and challenges of this approach, providing practical insights for other firms considering a similar path.

**Navigating Virtual Assistance: A Real-Time Solution**

Jonathan delves deeper into the topic of virtual assistance, exploring Heather’s experience with hiring a full-time virtual employee. Heather provides a detailed account of how her virtual assistant has become an integral part of the team, managing tasks like email correspondence, scheduling, and client communications. This segment offers a glimpse into the potential of virtual assistance to revolutionize legal practice management.

**Elder Law and Beyond: Comprehensive Legal Solutions**

Heather elaborates on the breadth of services offered by Nadler Biernath LLC, which includes traditional estate planning and specialized care for seniors and individuals with disabilities. She emphasizes the importance of nuanced legal solutions that address the unique needs of each client, whether they’re planning for long-term care or securing the future of a loved one with special needs.

**Special Needs Planning: A Multigenerational Approach**

The conversation takes a turn towards the intersection of elder law and special needs planning. Heather explains how her practice caters not only to the elderly but also to their families, particularly those with grown children who require specialized care.


Jonathan Hawkins: Welcome to Founding Partner podcast. I’m Jonathan Hawkins, your host, and today we’ve got a great guest, Heather Nadler. Heather is an elder law attorney in Georgia. But Heather, why don’t you introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about your firm, how it looks nowadays, you know, number of lawyers, number of staff, number of offices, that kind of thing.

Heather Nadler: Sure. Great. Well first thank you for having me, Jonathan. Appreciate the opportunity to share anything that I have to offer to. Attorneys who are looking to make changes in their firm or grow their firm. So, my name is Heather Nadler and I am a certified elder law attorney. My firm is Nadler Beer Nath.

We’re located in Peachtree Corners. We practice elder and special needs law, which is kind of a, an estate planning practice with a twist. Is a lot of. Trusts, powers of attorney, wills, that sort of thing like you would think of within estate planning practice. But we have a particular focus on [00:01:00] helping seniors determine their needs with regard to long-term care, and also helping families who are providing for a loved one with a disability.

So I have been practicing since 2001. I’ve been doing elder and special needs law since 2003. The current iteration of our firm is Nadler Beer, Nath, as I mentioned it was. Founded in 2014 by myself and my late partner, mark Biernaf. I had started my own firm in 2013 and mark and I knew of each other through the elder and special needs.

Law community. It’s a pretty small community in terms of areas of law, so we all kind of know each other. And Mark was interested in bringing on a partner and so he approached me about that and we worked through it and formed our partnership in 2014. Currently we have myself and two other attorneys, both of whom are associates here, [00:02:00] and we have six staff.

We have a client intake specialist, an administrative assistant, two paralegals, a director of marketing and a practice manager. So we’re a party of nine over here now with just one office location.

Jonathan Hawkins: yeah, we’re gonna dig into a lot of that. So, so let’s talk about, you got one office. Are you, do you require everybody to come in? I imagine some of your client base probably likes to come in and meet with you in person. Do you have a hybrid or tell us about that

Heather Nadler: Well, we have one employee in particular who is very virtual from El Salvador. So she is a virtual assistant that we hired through get Staffed up. That was a recommendation that was made to me. I talked to a bunch of colleagues on that was. Hesitant about it, but eventually made the jump.

And so, she is a full-time virtual employee. We also, one of our paralegals is virtual. You know, a lot of the nature of our business is a lot of drafting and things that happen behind the scenes and are very [00:03:00] amenable to being handled virtually. So she’s a virtual drafter. For the most part it just sort of.

Seems like pretty much everybody except me works from home on Fridays. Friday is a, is an intentional. No client, no meetings kind of day. So it started out as, okay, yeah, just come on in and wear whatever you want. And then people decided they wanted to work from home. We’ve got some who live not too far away, but you know, downtown and so not convenient.

So I definitely think it’s worthwhile for folks to, to work from home when they want to. One of our associates works from home another day a week. One associate has a young child, almost a, or no, just a year old. And. So she’s, you know, working from home more. So it’s definitely a hybrid model.

We do see clients, we offer clients the opportunity when they meet with us, if they would like to meet virtually or in person. I’d say a little more wanna do in person than virtual. Maybe it’s a 60 40 split or something. And that’s probably a lot of the nature of our [00:04:00] clientele, our seniors whereas a lot of the younger.

Clients might prefer a virtual meeting, but but we do have, you know, everybody in. But certainly the flexibility of working from home and we have everything, you know, set up where that’s a, an easy possibility to make that happen when people want to or have germs, we don’t want in the office.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. Well, let’s talk about the VA from El. Salvador. So, you know, a lot of folks talk about getting people from Philippines. I know that’s a big area and I think more and more people are going to South Central America. I. And that is something I think a lot of people are interested in and maybe are nervous to, to take the leap.

Tell us about your experience. How long have you had that and what do you use the person for and how’s it going?

Heather Nadler: So only since December, so it’s only been a couple of months that she has been with us. One thing and one thing that I was. That was mentioned to me as I was deciding whether to do this or not. It was recommended to go with someone. In [00:05:00] Central America because of the time difference you know, it’s more difficult to work with someone who’s on a very difficult, different time trajectory like in the Philippines.

But that’s kind of the nature. I guess that just depends on whether you want real-time help or not. I definitely wanted real time. So, one of the things she is technically. Working predominantly just for me, kind of to be my right hand in doing things that are easily done virtually. She’s in my email, she manages my email, looks at it, flags, things that need a response from me.

Makes me a list of the things that she’s flagged that need a response from me. Very much keeping me on track with things, which is wonderful. And then. Also she will, you know, do scheduling. She confirms appointments, sends out intake letters and intake forms once our client intake specialist schedules those appointments.

So we really work on obviously keeping her busy in that way. And she’s been great as far as responsiveness, eager to learn her. She’s [00:06:00] fluent in English. I’m very non-fluent in Spanish. She humors me and lets me try my Spanish out on her at times. And then we revert to English so we can actually communicate.

But it’s been a great experience with having her and I would thus far would certainly recommend it and realize why others had been recommending it to me.

Jonathan Hawkins: It. I’ve had a lot of people recommend it and, you know, I tried a virtual assistant American, but this was, you know, a couple years ago, and I found, I think it was a little bit my fault, I would get so busy that I did not have enough repetitive work at the time or tasks to hand off. And it just, it didn’t seem to work.

And my sense is that I think I can make it work better now. That’s why I’m sort of looking at it, but also I, I suspect you get better at it over time. You’re gonna, you’re gonna figure out how to better use the VA over time. I would

Heather Nadler: Yes, I would agree. I mean, and certainly it’s very cost effective. So even if there are some growing pains associated with it in the time and maybe not fully utilized at first, I mean, I still think at the end [00:07:00] of the day, it’s worth the investment and training them up. I too, we had done a not even a virtual assistant, a virtual receptionist on Fridays so that we could have a no phone day.

This was. Several years ago. And we, like you said, you’ve tried it out before and it didn’t really work. We found that didn’t really work. Having someone client facing who didn’t really know us and we didn’t give them the opportunity to know us ’cause we just wanted one day a week. Well, you know, how much time are they gonna devote to, to getting to know our practice and things.

So, I think it’s definitely worthwhile to just figure out what is or isn’t gonna work from you. And there are a lot of experiments when it comes to business development, so just chalk it up.

Jonathan Hawkins: I’ll have to check back in with you on this a year or two from now I hear some people that have two or three virtual assistants for themselves not for their other team members thinking, wow, they are busy, whatever they’re doing.

Heather Nadler: I’d like to figure out how to make the personal assistant work virtually, but I haven’t figured that out yet. Haven’t figured out how they can, you know, drive carpool from El Salvador.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. Pick up the [00:08:00] kids from from go school. So yeah, let’s go back to elder law. So, you mentioned some of the areas you cover, and I’ve talked to a number of elder lawyers over the years, and it is a. category and it can mean different things to different people. I think. At least that’s my understanding.

You mentioned you do some estate planning, but it’s really geared to elderly. Maybe. I mean, do you do estate planning also, or is it very specialized? As part of your practice?

Heather Nadler: We do you know, straightforward estate planning. One of my associates refers to it as the vanilla estate planning, and we certainly do that. It’s, and we. I end up with that. A lot of times after we work in particular like with a financial advisor who had a client with an elder law need, was pleased with our service and says, Hey, will you do this for people who, you know, don’t have elder law or special needs?

And certainly we will and we do. It’s not a huge part of our practice. One thing we don’t do is like taxable estate planning, family partnerships, LLCs, like that sort of [00:09:00] thing. We do not dip our toe into that water, but we very often do work with. Because the, especially the special needs issues occur across the board, whether you’ve got millions of dollars or barely two pennies to rub together.

You might have a loved one with special needs in your life. So even if we’re not involved in the higher end estate planning, we will still take on the special needs piece and work in conjunction with that. Estate planning attorney, who actually is a hu. Estate planning attorneys are a huge referral source for us.

So we do some of that straightforward planning, but typically it’s more in the arena of, okay, we have a child with a disability, how can we. Set up this inheritance first off, so we don’t mess up benefits and then so that someone is managing it for them and overseeing it and keeping them safe, whether that’s a family member professional combination of the two.

So that’s a lot of the planning on the special needs side, there’s a natural overlap between special needs and elder law, and that’s. The Medicaid component [00:10:00] because when we talk about long-term care for seniors, that’s when we’re looking at Medicaid eligibility. But there are about 30 different Medicaid programs in Georgia, and it’s that same overarching Medicaid that covers younger individuals who have disabilities.

So because of that, you know, Elderlock is kind of what. Started out, it’s like, okay, we’re gonna be, there’s this gonna be this new thing called elder law Attorneys came about in like the 1980s. And then special needs kind of branched off of that because there was so much overlap with that. With that Medicaid component.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, it seems, you know, I think least when I used to think about elder law, it’s, you know, we’ve got older people that are probably gonna have to have care of some sort, and we’re gonna try to. Protect their assets as much as possible. That’s how I sort of always viewed it, but it sounds like the special needs.

And so that’s sort of going up to the elder person, but you’re talking more about going down to their, I guess, grown kids that may have problems or issues that they need to be taken care of. So it sort of [00:11:00] goes both ways.

Heather Nadler: Yes, exactly. And sometimes we have the same, you know, the same family that has both issues. If we’ve got seniors who have an adult child who’s been living with them for the past 50 years and now all of a sudden they’re eighty-five and can’t provide the care that they used to be able to that’s when we really love to, to get in there as far as, and I think what distinguishes our practice from.

Others is it’s not just drafting the trust, like we’ve got the resources to say, okay what is the long-term plan here? And you know, when you can’t, not if, but when you can’t care for your child anymore or when you are deceased, what’s the plan? And that’s when we can connect them with community resources and Sure, getting the trust is.

Is part of that. But I always like to tell people, you know, the trust will be great one day, but I wanna make your life better now. So what can you know? Who can I connect you with? What resources do we need to do? What documentation do we need to get in place so that things are better?

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah

Heather Nadler: in the long term, but now

Jonathan Hawkins: I imagine that’s a pretty emotional. [00:12:00] for a parent. I mean, I’m a parent. My kids aren’t, I’m not to that age yet, but you know, I, I imagine you never lose that feeling and to think you’re gonna be gone and you wanna make sure they’re taken care of. That’s probably pretty tough. But so.

Heather Nadler: it is. And it’s good. And it’s, and the, and that’s why I feel like it’s so important to not just ask the question and have them go, oh my gosh, you know, but to have resources to guide them along that, to make it a little, never less emotional, but more feeling more controlled and more deliberate in the planning.

Jonathan Hawkins: So I guess the client journey is really important. How you take your clients through the process. There’s a big component that’s not really law, it sounds like.

Heather Nadler: Oh, absolutely. We always, and elder law CLEs and everything, you know, there are typically care managers that are presenting their psychologists, that are presenting there because we need to know that stuff. We’re definitely part social worker in our practice.

Jonathan Hawkins: So dig a little more into this. So do you charge hourly, flat fee? Both. [00:13:00] How do you sort of approach that?

Heather Nadler: That’s some other Kool-Aid that I eventually drank, which was moving to to flat fees. I had been that had been recommended to me for years, and for the most part we do. Flat fees. Now we do a flat fee initial consultation. Oftentimes that initial consultation gets credited back toward work that they do going forward, but, you know, a flat fee consultation as well as then flat fee on.

Estate planning documents, guardianships, probates all of that. So we you know, through lots of tracking and metrics have been able to kind of determine what makes sense, and have made our lives significantly easier. By billing on flat fees, I would say.

Jonathan Hawkins: And your client base? Is it the sort of thing that. You have recurring clients or is it a one and done sort of thing? Is it they come in, they, do you plan for them, do whatever you’re doing, and then you never see them again? Or is it the sort of thing that periodically they’re gonna come back with different needs?

I’m just curious about that.

Heather Nadler: [00:14:00] Yeah, it’s definitely recurring, but at the same time it’s transactional. So those recurrences may be, you know. Five 10. As I get up in my years of practice, it’s like, oh my gosh, was that 20 years ago that I met with you? And so it, it is because these, you know, the nature of this work is you use the word, it’s a journey.

And so it starts we’ve had clients come in as soon as. You know, they are pregnant and had just found out that their child is gonna have a disability and need to do this planning. On the special needs side of things the journey kind of is the initial setup. There are some benefits that are in play from the child being age zero to three.

Those benefits change between age three and 18. Then at age 18, we’re often looking at getting, you know, long-term benefits like SSI benefits. And also we need to address guardianship or potentially powers of attorney depending on what the what the nature of the disability is and what the child is [00:15:00] capable of.

Understanding. Guardianship is not always the. Immediate and only answer. Then of course through the years, people changed their mind on who it is they want to serve as the trustee, who their go-to people are. Gosh, those were our best friends back then, but now they’ve moved and we don’t really see them anymore and it doesn’t make sense for ’em to be the guardian and you know, and that’s true with any family.

But in particular with a child with special needs because you’re not just planning for, okay, who’s gonna cover us for these 18 years? You’re planning for who’s gonna cover us for these? 70 years of the child’s life. So that’s a journey on the special needs side of things. ’cause things are constantly changing.

As well as on the elder law side of things, certainly some people are just coming on the front end. They it’ll crack me up. A lot of my very active senior clients come in and they’re like, well, I’m 65. I must be an elder. I need an elder law attorney. And so the good thing at that point is, ’cause one of the things that does differentiate kind of elder law documents is under a power of attorney, under a trust, we’re gonna consider things [00:16:00] that that other estate planners might not.

And that we’re looking at, gosh, what if we need to set up a trust for purposes of Medicaid or need to do it so we can build in that? Language even for the perfectly healthy sixty-five-year-old, and then can journey along with them if a diagnosis comes, one of the spouses passes away you know, or there’s a sudden health event.

So definitely a journey. And the engagements are transactional but recurring.

Jonathan Hawkins: So you’ve been in this practice area for a good number of years. You know, just looking at the demographics, I imagine this is a growing area. I mean, you said it sort of became a thing in the eighties, maybe elder law, but what have you seen, what kind of growth have you seen generally speaking?

Heather Nadler: Well, I think the most obvious one that everyone thinks of is, oh my gosh, the boomers. You must have so much business with the boomers. And that’s very true. And certainly the demographics are working in our favor for the time being. But also there’s just increased [00:17:00] awareness around the fact that people like me exist and that awareness, I would say, has come from, the senior services industry in general that has sprung up. You know, there’s a, I love connecting clients with care managers aging life specialists. They used to be called geriatric care managers, but nobody likes the word geriatric anymore. So now they’re aging life specialists. And so these are people who, one of them has a tagline that I love that says I let a daughter be a daughter.

So that daughter can go to lunch and get nails done and go to the theater and go shopping and you know, go to the park and Braves games and the kind of things that a daughter would like to do in lieu of scheduling doctor’s appointments, picking up prescriptions, you know, so there this whole industry has sprung up and particular because.

Families are more spread out now. Everyone doesn’t live in the same town forever and ever. Amen. So these care managers can step in and really be boots on the ground, whether your family’s here or not. And so those care [00:18:00] managers are just an example of the kind of industries that have sprung up. And then those care managers know how important a power of attorney is or how important a trust is, or what are your long-term plans, or those care managers need authority to talk to your children, you know, and share information.

So, that’s one example of even besides demographics, just awareness around seniors and aging issues is rising. And the same, there are also more people living in community, like senior communities, so word spreads there. There are also brokers essentially who work with people locating the appropriate assisted living or the appropriate independent living.

So by being in relationship with all those people, which is a lot of what my director of marketing. Does goes to the senior care network events and the senior Fairs and meets these people. That allows us to provide these resources to our clients, but also serves as a source of business for this ever-growing area.

And the same sort of industry is [00:19:00] rising up more so now around the special needs or population. Where we’ve got, you know, different support groups and different living facilities and schools you know, schools are really becoming aware and doing what they call transition fairs for for kids who are, kids who have disabilities can potentially stay in the school system until age 22.

And then it’s kind of like getting pushed off a cliff. And so the schools are really having people come in and talk about some of these. Things. So, you know, sure the demographics are in our favor, but I think just the general awareness, which is wonderful all around is helping keep our pipelines full as well.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, so, so let’s go back a little bit, sort of a two-part question. What. Led you to become a lawyer. Why’d you become a lawyer? And then what? Put you on the path to do what you do now, the elder law practice area.

Heather Nadler: I I always feel like I should never answer that question. What caused me to become a lawyer? Because it’s not the most scholastic of endeavors. It wasn’t, I’ve always [00:20:00] wanted to help people in pursue justice or that type of thing, if I’m truly honest. It was. A combination of LA law, which I’m dating myself saying that, but I loved that show.

Then also it was a combination of accidentally graduating early from college and none of my friends were looking for jobs yet. And it was like. What should I do? You know, it seemed like a really good idea to study abroad for a whole year at the time and earn those extra credits until it came time to graduate.

And then I was like, well, gosh, what am I gonna do with my life? And also I’ve always been you know, as compared to math, a lot better at reading, writing history, those types of things. And so I really did think in addition to it being a respected, position and I knew I wanted to you know, have a good career ahead of me.

So law just kind of made sense in that regard. And then there was also the pillow that my mother cross stitched for me that was sitting on my bed from, you know, elementary school on that said, don’t marry a doctor or lawyer, be one. So she’ll tell you, that’s why.

Jonathan Hawkins: Nice, so, [00:21:00] so you’re an elder lawyer now, but did you start out in that practice area or did you do something else and shift into that?

Heather Nadler: So I majored in international business undergrad. And so then decided, okay, well I’ll practice international law. So I went to law school at Tulane in New Orleans trying to three years trying to study in new Orleans, which was not the easiest thing to do. But after taking a couple classes in an international law kind of thought, yeah, this isn’t really clicking with me.

I’m more like people and you know, that, that type of thing. So then I thought I wanted to do family law. Those, those classes interested me always a lot of drama, interesting cases to read as far as what was going on. But Strife is not really my thing, so that was not gonna be a good fit for me.

And then my other credit that I need to give here is Anna Nicole Smith. Because that was going on when I was in law school. All the Pierce Marshall, V. Marshall and all that sort of stuff. So my trust and estates class was very much in real time and made it seem all the more interesting. So I enjoyed that and really [00:22:00] that’s kind of how I honed in on estate planning trust and estates.

Jonathan Hawkins: So you started estate planning generally, and then you moved to the elder.

Heather Nadler: Yep. I did. I worked one summer for an attorney who did elder and special needs law and thought, okay, yeah, I like this. And then kind of found that I was good with that population. I didn’t really know, I had always. Hung around seniors. My mother was a minister with older adults and before that she taught at what was then called the DeKalb County Mental Retardation Center, which you would never call it now, but and so she had been a teacher for kids with special needs.

So I’d been around those populations my whole life and realizing that, oh my gosh, there’s, back to that whole awareness thing, I didn’t even know, I didn’t have any elder law classes in law school. They didn’t exist. And so. Finding just that mesh of things was a really great fit.

Jonathan Hawkins: You mentioned Tulane. You know, you know Mardi Gras is coming up here on Tuesday, so

Heather Nadler: is. I got a friend of mine posted look for me on the, float third rider from the [00:23:00] back, bottom row. And I was like I’ll be at work. I

Jonathan Hawkins: I grew up in mobile, which is, you know, we had Mardi Gras too, and I take my kids back every now and then. They’re trying to get me to take ’em this weekend. I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to do it, but

Heather Nadler: oh, come on dad.

Jonathan Hawkins: I know.

Heather Nadler: What will you remember, Mardi, Gras, or

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Alright, so let’s fast forward. So, eventually you started your own firm and it sounds like you did that.

Alone for a while. When you started it, well, lemme back up. Did you know you always wanted to start a firm and then when you started it, you know, how’d you know you were ready? Or did you know?

Heather Nadler: I didn’t. So it was, you know, I kind of had a, a. Back and forth with it initially. So, I had always just worked in small firms before that and had always thought I would just kind of have this natural progression up the court or corporate ladder and eventually would become a partner.

That’s kind of what I had just envisioned. But when. It kind of [00:24:00] tied in with my personal life. I think as of these big types of decisions always do. As my daughter was born, so that was 2007 when she was born, and I thought I wanted more control and flexibility over my schedule and so I thought, you know, what better to do with a newborn than start a law firm, you know, that was.

An interesting choice. But I did, so I was on my own for about three years. My son was born in 2010, and then after he was born, I thought, okay, I need to get rid of this. Managing the law side of things or managing the firm side of things and go back to just being a lawyer. So I did that for a while and then.

Once I kind of had my bearings thought, okay, let me try this again. I think at the end of the day a lot of people, regardless of the industry law or not, just think I wanna be the, for me, it wasn’t so much in, in control, it was more about, you know, flexibility and just being able to do what I needed to do when I wanted to do it, [00:25:00] how I wanted to do it.

So, I wouldn’t say it was ever an intentional thing. A lot of encouragement from my husband to do it because I didn’t really. Didn’t vision myself that way, but now I can’t see any other way.

Jonathan Hawkins: You know, that’s interesting. The kids discussion you know. Right or wrong, you know, mothers take a larger role in kids’ lives typically. And so it’s, you know, when people start firms sometimes analysis is, am I gonna be able to take care of everybody? Sounds like with you, I mean, obviously I’m sure you thought about that, but part of it was, Hey, I want to be able to take care of everybody, so I want the freedom, the flexibility, and I’m really only gonna get that if I’m the boss or if it’s mine.

Is that sounds like that sort of went into your

Heather Nadler: Yeah, very much so. And I think I was a little. Delusional about it too. Like I said, especially starting, ’cause I am the primary earner for our family. So thinking I’m gonna start my own firm and, you know, all this where my household is very equal as far as re responsibilities for kids, so [00:26:00] that made it a lot better.

My husband actually works here at the firm now, so, a family business for sure. And, but yeah, definitely it’s a very, it’s a puzzle piece and you just. Move stuff around and shift it as you need to.

Jonathan Hawkins: So, okay, so you started a firm, then you, maybe you went somewhere else. Then you went back to have your firm, and then eventually you said you brought, or you joined, you had a partner join. Tell us about how that went down, and

Heather Nadler: Yeah. So.

Jonathan Hawkins: we’ll dig into that a little bit.

Heather Nadler: Yeah, so, and it was, so it was 2013 when I went out on my own August of 2013 and I got a call I think like November or December of 2013 from Mark aff, my future partner. And he had. Been trying to track me down at my old firm and didn’t realize I had left and called and said, why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?

I’ve been looking for a partner. I’m like, well, I didn’t know I had to, you know, get your permission or discuss it with you first. And so he said, well, let’s talk. And I really, I honestly said to him, I said I’m just getting my bearings here. I just had paid a fortune for a phone system back in the day and all [00:27:00] that sort of stuff.

And I was like, no, I’m not. I’m not really gonna be interested because you just come to lunch. So we went to lunch, we talked, we had a lot of, you know. Synthesis with what we were, you know, looking for in our practices. So, it just made sense, I guess, I guess he strong-armed me, but it was a, probably one of the best business decisions I ever made.

So, can’t complain about it, but it certainly was not something that I thought was gonna, what was gonna come outta that lunch.

Jonathan Hawkins: And so how did you manage? F from being on your own and you being the boss to then having a partner, how did you sort through those dynamics?

Heather Nadler: I think like we were very aligned in what we wanted and I don’t think you have to be aligned in what you want individually for a partnership, but we were very upfront about it and it just so happened that we were aligned. Mark had a lot going on in his. Personal life as far as he had a wife with disabilities and he was her caregiver, so he had a lot going on there.[00:28:00]

I had my, you know, young family that I was, you know, interested in being very involved with. And so, both of us were aligned, but even if we hadn’t been I think as long as we were up front, it’s a lot about just setting those expectations with this person who is your. Equal slash boss who you’re accountable to who it’s very easy for resentments to, to build up with.

We never had any of that. And I think a lot of it was just because we were so upfront and aligned about it going in. You know, if he had wanted to work 80 hours a week, that would’ve been fine. We just would’ve drafted our, you know, fee splits and things differently based on that. But, it, it worked.

I just think like so many things, marriage, whatever else, communication is gonna be the key to that.

Jonathan Hawkins: I think people ask me a lot about forming new partnerships. What’s important? And I think, you know, communication, you just mentioned setting expectations is huge. For anybody else out there who may be thinking about forming a partnership, any [00:29:00] other words of wisdom or advice that you would give them as they are exploring that?

Heather Nadler: I think it would be, mark and I did work on some cases together at first, you know, co-counseled on some things. I think that was key to seeing how the others you know, the other of us worked. I am hoping within the year to bring one of my associates and I are already in discussions about, you know, partnership.

And I think having worked with someone now for what, whatever, 26 years you know, that’s kind of an ideal if you can. And I do believe in kind of promoting from within. I feel like that’s a lot less scary than just. Signing up blind with somebody. When I think back on what I did with Mark, it’s like, wow, that was gutsy, more gutsy than I realized at the time.

So I would encourage people to think about it that way. I haven’t done it yet, but I think it’s gonna work.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah.

Heather Nadler: Jonathan’s gonna make it so it works.

Jonathan Hawkins: well, we’ll see. We’ll see. So, okay, so, it sounds like at some point your partner passed away and then it’s just you again.[00:30:00]

Heather Nadler: Yep. So since twenty-eighteen, well, he had to retire in twenty-eighteen passed away in twenty-twenty-one. And but yeah, so since 2018, I guess Nadler, Bearnath is really just Nadler, but, you know, hold onto that name is a tribute to my good friend and partner.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah that’s nice. So let’s talk about what a typical work week looks for you nowadays. You’re the CEO, I guess, the owner. You’ve got a couple associates. How much of your work week is. You know, operations, administration, marketing, and client work, those kind of pieces. How do you manage all that?

Heather Nadler: My hand in the business piece is getting a lot smaller by intention. I was overwhelmed with a lot of the business side of things, trying to do everything myself, not having systems in place. You know, as someone who doesn’t even know how to work Excel, you know, I’m not the best person to be tracking KPIs.

So I have intentionally stepped back from a lot of [00:31:00] that. In particular with our most recent hire, which was the practice manager. You know, up until I had more help with those sort of things, I was trying to keep it to one day a week of nothing but firm stuff. Really it had to be two days a week of nothing but firm stuff, which really doesn’t number on your.

Productivity as far as your clients are concerned, they don’t really care if your IELTS account is balanced. So just trying to strike that balance is, has been, I think always will be a consummate struggle for me. But I feel like if I did have any pearl of wisdom to, to pass on to people, it’s get the help.

Stick to what you’re good at. And you know, I now just review reports that were created and talk about them. And it’s just, it’s. It’s changed the way everything runs around here. Once it got to that point, it’s one of those, one of those things you wish you had done it sooner.

Jonathan Hawkins: Always. I think it’s important what you just said that. A lot of lawyers, they think, you know, some don’t wanna do the legal work, they wanna do the business side. Some wanna do the [00:32:00] trial work and they don’t wanna do anything else. But I think to your point, it’s very important to, to know what you’re good at, know what you like, and do what you like and what you’re good at and get other people to do the things that perhaps, or feel like a time suck for you.

You get someone else to make the reports and you review them, that’s perfect, right.

Heather Nadler: and it’s amazing how fast they can spit ’em out. It takes me, you know, it’s like, oh really? No wonder I’ve been so overwhelmed with trying to get this done. It’s only supposed to take five minutes, and it was taking me, you know, an hour and a half.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, that I’ve mentioned this many times, but that’s how I feel about new law firm owners and bookkeeping. They always very often they go out and they say, I’m just gonna do it. I’m gonna do everything. I can’t afford it. And then they spend 15, 20, maybe more hours a month trying to. Figure out quick books and reconciling this and doing all that, when really you could have spent that time marketing or doing client work and have somebody else do it for [00:33:00] a cheaper rate and then you could review it and that, so I always recommend if you’re starting your firm, first thing you should do, get an outsource bookkeeper.

Just do it. There are plenty of ’em out there. That’s it’s money well spent. So.

Heather Nadler: I agree.

Jonathan Hawkins: Now you’ve, you know, you’ve been at it, you’ve had a partner, you’ve been on your own, you’re back on your own. What would you say is your favorite or the best part of running your law practice?

Heather Nadler: I think my favorite part is, I think I would’ve said it’s just the law. You know, getting to what. I guess maybe not running my law practice is my favorite part. You know, getting back to the point I really feel like I have hit a groove and a sweet spot at this point in time where I am just able to focus on the law.

But then as far as, you know, being my own boss and how that works, obviously just the flexibility. I can’t believe I’ve got one going to college in two years and one, you know, it’s just crazy [00:34:00] that you know where you find yourself and I’ve got this flexibility to do what I need to do when I need to do it.

Might there be some late nights associated sometime? Yeah, but I can do that. ’cause I didn’t have to be somewhere nine to five.

Jonathan Hawkins: Okay, so flip, flip that question. What’s the worst part? What do you hate the most or

Heather Nadler: Yeah.

Jonathan Hawkins: the least?

Heather Nadler: One of my least favorite things is, the HR aspect of things. I would say absolutely my least favorite stuff is what I’m enjoying being out of right now, which is the year-end payroll census, and the renewing the insurance and all that sort of stuff, which really shouldn’t be part to our point about, you know, you need to leverage what you can do.

So that was my least favorite part, but I’m glad to have gotten that. Off my plate for the most part, other than having to pay the bills.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. Yeah. So you mentioned earlier your husband is now involved with the firm. What’s that like [00:35:00] working with your husband?

Heather Nadler: Yeah it works great. For us, and I realize it might not, for some people I talk to people. And it seems like people who know it doesn’t work, haven’t necessarily tried it. I guess you don’t know till you try it, but we’ve made it work. We, he and I don’t necessarily interact a ton. And so I, I have no doubt that’s a key to part of it as well.

I feel sorry for our children ’cause there is a lot of business talk. I think neither one of them is gonna ever want to even consider for a millisecond being a lawyer. ’cause we. Talk about it, but you know, we do still manage to set it aside when it’s time to, but it’s been great as far as having someone without having a partner.

It’s almost as like, he obviously has a very vested interest in the firm and sees things from different. Perspectives as well, having more interaction with the staff. So it’s been really great just despite we, we both had hesitancies about it and we very much went into it as a, let’s just try this and see what happens.

But it’s been [00:36:00] two and a half years now, so

Jonathan Hawkins: Well, that’s great. That’s great. So, okay, let’s shift gears again. A big topic I talk to a lot of lawyers about, and I hear about a lot is people selling their law firms. I don’t think you are actively considering that, but I believe you’ve at least pursued buying a law firm or maybe you’ve pursued other opportunities.

You know, take us through maybe your thinking on that front. Is that something you obviously, I think you were interested in, at least at some point, and is, are you still interested in that?

Heather Nadler: Yeah. So I’m very open minded to it. I can see maybe it’s my business degree background, you know, it’s a. It’s an opportunity. And why just slam the door and say no way. I’ve certainly gotten calls from attorneys over the years or brokers saying, Hey, we’re looking to sell this, would you be interested?

And a lot of times I’ve said yes, and that’s the last I ever hear of it. So I don’t know. But you know, I’m not gonna say no. I would certainly investigate any opportunity. Most recently a colleague and I had looked [00:37:00] into purchasing one and gotten pretty far down the road. With it. It is a lot.

It was extremely time consuming to try and do our due diligence and figure out what we wanted out of the firm, what we wanted to buy, what our vision for the firm would be if it did become ours. And. Interactions with the sellers and all that. And at the end of the day, it just turned out that the sellers weren’t quite as ready as they thought they were.

It wasn’t a matter of money. It wasn’t some of the things that you think would typically cause a business transaction to not work out. It was more probably, I guess an emotional or a readiness issue. And so it didn’t work out. But I would certainly still be, again, I’m never gonna say no to an inquiry.

I might ask three questions and then say, no, I’m out. But you know, I think it’s a, it’s great. I think it’s really great the way the business of law has evolved. I think you know, a lot of people just kind of thought, okay, you practice for years and you then [00:38:00] you say, okay I’m 70.

I don’t wanna do this anymore. Who do I trust to give, to give my clients their name and just hand it off and walk away. And that’s not. At all the way things have to work, which I think is very encouraging for lawyers. It also changes. One of the things I learned through that process is, again, know, it gets your mind turning like well what would I have to do to make my practice saleable?

And so it definitely has changed some of the practice that we have around here. Systematizing things, tracking things, having good data. Just for when that time does come, you know, as I see it now I think mine would probably just be a gradual. Sell-off to my associate soon-to-be partner who is younger than I am.

So that’s what I envision, but you never know. And obviously having things in a saleable condition it’s an exciting opportunity for lawyers these days, I think.

Jonathan Hawkins: There’s a lot of things you said there that I like to highlight. I think’s great. I think number one, being open to it, I think. More lawyers should be open to it. I think there are lots [00:39:00] of opportunities out there, sort of like the growth of the elder law practice. I think the, there’s an aging population of lawyers out there that may not have internal attorneys or partners to transition to, and they’re either just gonna walk out and turn the lights out, or perhaps they can find a place.

To transition it to an existing external firm like yours. The other point that I think’s interesting is all the work and due diligence that goes into it, and that it may not happen. I think this happens a lot in the non-legal just business world. There are a lot of transactions and M&As mergers that are explored, but, and they go pretty far down the line and then they don’t go all the way.

I’ve known just from non-lawyer friends that. Own businesses, you know, they think, oh, this is it. I’m about to sell it. I’m about to cash out and walk out. And then something always happens and they’ve been through the process three or four times until they finally get it done. So, you know, buying a firm it’s not easy.

And I think, you know, [00:40:00] it’s good to go through their due diligence maybe, I don’t know. Don’t tell us anything, any secrets. But, you know, maybe talk us through a little bit through the due diligence process and what you learned. Going through that.

Heather Nadler: Yeah. So, as far as I learned it’s very interesting to look at someone else’s books and see how they track things and or don’t track things and trying to really get an idea. Very interesting to go through the valuation process. We did have, you know, an outside. A person, of course, do the valuation for us and determine what the value of the firm is.

Very interesting to me. What, you know, it’s not like you have to, you know, cut a check for a million dollars and hand it over the day of closing, you know, phasing out and just the. Multitude It in a lot of ways it reminded me of drafting a trust in a sense, because when clients say, can you do this?

I’m like, yeah, a trust can do anything that you want it to do within reason. [00:41:00] But you gotta decide what that is and decide, you know, what the manner is gonna be. Is there gonna be an earn-out? Is there gonna be a lump-sum settlement? Like just things that I did not, had not had any. Exposure to. So it was definitely learning a lot and I do feel like maybe it’s a good thing that one didn’t work out.

’cause I’m so much more educated now going into the next one. So, but just the time-consuming aspect of it, I mean, ’cause we had even gotten into underwriting and dealing with all of our financials and things like that. And it was just, it was a beast shopping around the loans and it was like a.

Mortgage times a million. You know, trying to get, especially coming from underwriting for me and my colleague, it was you know, all of it was a lot.

Jonathan Hawkins: And that’s interesting. Your point about learning a lot and maybe maybe you’re better for this not being the one is the old adage. You know, a lot of the, on the plaintiff’s attorneys, they say, you know, you make the money on the cases you turn down, not the ones you, you keep.[00:42:00] The other component I think is important is, and this is both for sellers and you experience as a buyer, it’s the emotional.

Piece. A lot of lawyers, this is their identity and they can’t let it go. It’s their, you know, their practice, everything they’ve built, and it’s hard for them to let ’em get, let that go. So that’s another piece. As you know, folks are out there maybe thinking about buying a practice. You gotta keep that in mind.

Heather Nadler: Yep. And I totally get it.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. Yeah.

Heather Nadler: I can see where that I plays in.

Jonathan Hawkins: So shifting again what’s, as we sit here today what’s your long-term vision for your firm?

Heather Nadler: Well, immediate, I’ve kind of already alluded to, wanna bring on a partner as far as, you know, our practice areas. I wanna keep the same elder and special needs. Definitely there’s this other interesting piece of special needs that I find particularly interesting that I am focusing my. My practice on which, and you [00:43:00] mentioned PI attorneys, and it’s actually an overlap with that, which is you know, a lot of times a personal injury attorney will get this great big settlement, but it just so happens it’s for a person who is profoundly disabled now.

And so they often, you know, the person doesn’t have capacity to agree to the. Settlement on their own. So they have to get a conservator appointed or have to go through the trial court and need to get funds placed into a trust, potentially a special needs trust. So there’s a lot of work that goes on in the settlement planning side of things.

And personally I just find that very interesting and I really like working with with other attorneys. On that and also mean you get involved with trustees and settlement planners and all that. So I really like the opportunities there. So for me personally, I’m looking to grow that part of our business.

As far as growth personnel wise, I do recognize that when I bring on a partner, they’re probably gonna want another associate or maybe a very high level trained paralegal. So we will, I think we will [00:44:00] experience some more growth, even though I’ve had a lot of growth over the, just the past few years and kind of would like to swear it off for a bit.

It doesn’t seem to be the in the cards. So I think more growth. I do not envision ever getting to a point where there are multiple offices. Again, never say never, especially with a, an acquisition or something that, that could happen. But you know, I. I like, we have a good rapport here in the office and though not everyone has to come in all the time, I like kind of having everyone together.

I think we all thrive off of the combined team environment. So I don’t necessarily see multiple locations in the future, but I will see, you know, personnel growth I think, and probably a change of office space. ’cause we’re kind of busting at the gills here.

Jonathan Hawkins: So your practice, is it state specific or is there a federal element to it?

Heather Nadler: So Medicaid is a federal program. But each little state is its own kingdom. That’s the way I apply it to clients. So, and in some ways Georgia’s a very favorable place to be [00:45:00] with elder law planning. Georgia’s pretty favorable as far as you know, the way certain assets are treated in particular like.

Retirement accounts are exempt. So that can, that takes a big chunk out of folks’ net worth when it comes to determining Medicaid eligibility. So, in some ways Georgia is favorable. In other ways it’s not availability of resources is one. Georgia is starting, you know, traditionally it’s been, if you’re a senior and you need nursing or you need long-term care and you need Medicaid to help pay for it, well then it’s gotta be in a nursing home.

’cause that’s all that Medicaid. Pays for seniors that is changing. Funding has increased for in-Home Services. So Georgia’s getting a little bit more favorable in that way. But you know, our consultations might be with a family who says, okay, mom’s in New York and she’s either gonna come to Georgia or she’s gonna come to Texas.

That’s a valid inquiry. You need to meet with both, because even though Medicaid is a federal program the states have their own little twists on things.

Jonathan Hawkins: You know, you bring up a good point there. I’ve been involved a little bit with in senior housing [00:46:00] and what we see, or what we’ve seen there is typically, you know, somebody grew up in Michigan, but they live in Atlanta now, let’s say. And when mom, when it’s time to, to put mom into some sort of care home or whatever, they don’t.

Transfer her out of her house up in Michigan. They bring her down where they are, you know, down to Georgia. Not always, but a lot of times. And you know, the population of Georgia is just growing. People are moving here. And so that’s another growth, a reason for growth. I would imagine. For you, do you see people here bringing their parents from wherever they are?

You say that a lot. Yeah.

Heather Nadler: myself. Just did it earlier this year. It was just from Savannah, so it wasn’t that far. But but yes, absolutely, and my, you know, parents have said in where they’re living, no one’s from here. Everyone’s here ’cause their kids are here.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yep.

Heather Nadler: So absolutely. And that’s a lot of times who we work with is sure we’re serving the senior, but especially if that senior [00:47:00] has already lost capacity and we’re operating under a power of attorney very often, you know, I’m really to the point now in my career where I’m working with my peers.

You know, my parents are in their eighties. When I started this 20 years ago, you know, I was working with people still. Late forties, not 50, late forties. Who, you know. So I was working with people who are older than me. So it’s also been kind of a fun transition in my practice that now I am working more with my peers because it’s, we are the ones now that have the parents or that age, which is very different than when I was 25.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. So you know, you’ve grown your firm, you’ve been doing it for a while. You’ve got two associates you may add to that you’ve got a lot of staff. What are some of the big challenges that you’ve encountered as you’ve grown and as you continue to grow? I.

Heather Nadler: The, I’d say the biggest challenge that I have always had, whether it was a one-man show, whether it was the Nine-Man show that we currently are is balancing the workflow. Because we are transactional, it’s important [00:48:00] to get the call, book the appointment, get the person in, and get the transaction started.

We’re a volume business, but trying to control that volume to the point where we still are providing excellent service, timeliness that’s one of the things that we have worked on very hard to systematize. As far as, you know, when clients come in, we meet with them, we tell them when they’re, we now have learned, we meet with them, we tell them, okay, your drafts are gonna be ready on this date.

We’re gonna send ’em to you. We’re gonna review ’em on this date. We’re gonna sign ’em on this date. Going ahead and getting everything lined up helps but it’s still hard to know. Sh and we’ve, we’re tracking the metrics and it’s very much a work in progress. How many clients should come in? In order for us to be able to support what staff do we need to support that volume and to get the work done in a timely manner.

And I don’t know if that’s always just a gonna be a thing, but I can tell you, like I said, it, whether I was a one-person [00:49:00] show or a nine-person show it, it persists. So that’s my biggest challenge for sure.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. A big challenge I see personally and others it’s investing the resources, you know, time, energy, money, whatever. I. At the right place, at the right time, you know, on one level you gotta go get work, you gotta go figure out how to bring a lot of work in, and then all of a sudden it’s all there.

Then you gotta figure out how to get it done, and then how do you balance all that? And then you’re like, okay, is it time to hire somebody else? It’s all it’s a challenge, but, you know, that’s what I like. That’s the fun part for me at least. It’s a puzzle we’re trying to solve.

Heather Nadler: Okay, good. Well come on over and solve it. Let me know once you have that formula worked out.

Jonathan Hawkins: I know. Well, cool. One other question. So sometimes it’s a hard question, but if you were not practicing law, what would you be doing?

Heather Nadler: Do I have to realistically be supporting myself?

Jonathan Hawkins: Either way,

Heather Nadler: I’ll give you two, I’ll give two answers. So I think realistically, if I [00:50:00] actually had to, you know, support myself I would probably see myself in.

I think when I got out of college, had I not gone the law school route, I would’ve gone the consultant route. I probably would’ve, I would’ve been with, you know, Ernst, & Young or Deloitte or you know, whoever it was at Accenture or whoever it was at that point in time. So I think I would be doing that.

That’s what I would like to do. I think as a mother, it probably wouldn’t be the most realistic. But I really thought it was cool when all my friends were just heading around, working in this office this week, in this office that week. So I, and they were definitely supporting themselves. So I think maybe a, I don’t know, consultant of some sort would be a good, realistic job.

If I didn’t have to eat, I would own a plant store. My my covid I call it a hobby. My family calls it obsession was houseplants. And so I have gotten very into houseplants. I have a log book, I have a fertilizing [00:51:00] schedule. I have about, we the living room is no longer called the living room.

It’s called the plant room. There are lamps everywhere which is a challenge to make it still look decent and not look like you’ve got grow lights. Everywhere. But so that I would absolutely, and I still kind of hold out hope maybe one day that I can have a little plant boutique.

Jonathan Hawkins: That’s cool. It’s like, so you’re living in a jungle inside the house or you’re building one.

Heather Nadler: I do. Yes. Our next house will have a conservatory. I’ve already laid that ground rule.

Jonathan Hawkins: Hey that’s awesome. Well, cool. Well, I appreciate you taking the time to, to speak with me today. If people want to find you, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Heather Nadler: So best way to get a hold of me would be either to call the office the (770) 455-0535 or via email, and it’s just my name, Heather at

Jonathan Hawkins: And we will put that in the show notes. ’cause I, there’s a, make sure people spell it the right way, so.

Heather Nadler: Yes.

Jonathan Hawkins: Well awesome. Well, I appreciate it. [00:52:00] Thanks for joining us.

Heather Nadler: Oh, thank you very much for having me. It’s been fun.