Episode 1: Get to Know Us & Unbundled Services
This is The Listening Lawyers Podcast presented by Solutions Law Firm. We believe that all people deserve equal access to our justice system, as well as zealous, compassionate advocacy from a knowledgeable attorney regardless of the background or previous experiences of our clients. We focus on the integral well-being of the individual, family and community as a whole by truly listening to each client and developing an individualized program of advocacy specific to his or her situation and concerns. Through this process we strive to strengthen our community and offer hope to people in trying situations. At Solutions Law Firm, we believe in compassion, collaboration and equal access to exceptional legal services.
Trisha: Thank you for joining us today, I am your host, Trisha, and I am here with Dawn and Stella, ad we are attorneys at Solutions Law Firm in Des Moines, Iowa. Today we are going to talk about how we decided to become attorneys as well as what makes us different from other attorneys. I will start by saying I have always loved languages. I started by studying Italian, then Spanish, French and Russian in school. These languages introduced me to immigrants in my own community which in turn opened the door to immigration. I knew I wanted to help people come to the United States to live, work and study so I decided to go to law school. When I was in law school, I took an immigration course and thoroughly enjoyed it. I knew that I wanted to go into immigration when I graduated from law school so that’s what I did. I started working at Catholic Charities, I helped unaccompanied minors and then I worked in private practice to help companies, families, and individuals with their immigration concerns. Since then, I have now joined Solutions Law Firm and I am not only doing immigration but I am also doing estates which also includes probate, and wills and trusts. So now you know a little bit about me, I am going to turn to Dawn and Stella and ask, “What made you go to law school and why did you decide to become an attorney?”
Dawn: Do you want to go next Stella or do you want me to?
Stella: Sure, sure. So Stella here, very happy to be here with all of you. I am an Iowa girl. I grew up on a farm on in a very small town of North English and I went to school over on the east side of Iowa at St. Ambrose University where I studied English and History. It was during my junior year, I had a history professor who was like, “Stella, you should really consider law school.” I am like, why? Nowhere, nowhere on my radar. I cannot emphasize that enough. It was not anything I was thinking about. But this professor, he’s like, “You do all these debates in class and you always do really well. You should think about it.” So, I did, I thought about it, I even went so far as to take a couple practice LSATs. But I never actually sat for the real test and when push came to shove, I didn’t go to law school. I decided to stay at Ambrose for my master’s. Which I don’t regret. My master’s took me fall, I had a whole career that I liked, but the entire time I just kept thinking, I didn’t want to go to law school, turns out. But I liked the idea of going to law school. Which by the way says no one ever. But I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Which I can’t even say that without laughing, because who want’s to go to law school, A, and why would you go if you don’t want to be a lawyer? No one! No one! But, I didn’t want to be a lawyer because I didn’t, the shadowing that I had done with really great people and when you need a lawyer you want a really good one, and I appreciate that, I didn’t and don’t like the framework of our legal system. I didn’t think that my personality would fit into it. I didn’t. And so I didn’t go to law school. But I always, I don’t know, I couldn’t get rid of it, so right after I got married, I decided to take the LSAT to see what would happen. If it went really well, maybe it was a sign. If it didn’t go well, well, it will be like, right, I made the right choice no law school. Well, it went OK, and I decided to apply. I went to law school at Drake University here in Des Moines. And you know what, I got in, I went to law school and the entire time I am like, I still don’t want to be an attorney, what am I doing? Dawn and I went to school together, so I don’t know if she really ever got in on any of that, the inner workings of my mind. But I just didn’t love the framework. What I wanted to do, what I do want to do, is focus on people and helping people. So post law school, I got into practice. I am working primarily in family law and immigration. I have branched in a few minor areas, but those are my two big ones. We are going to talk about our framework later, but I am loving it far more than I ever thought I would and I am thankful that I did end up deciding to go to law school because it is all about people. It is all about people.
Dawn: Very good. Alright, I am Dawn. I also had a really unconventional path to the law similar to Stella’s. I never wanted to be an attorney, never had dreams of being a lawyer, practicing law, nothing like that. That was nowhere, anywhere on my radar, ever. And I developed a career within human services. I have both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in human services and management. With those degrees, I worked with immigrants in several different capacities through public school systems, through county government, through city counsel where I held a term in a small town where I lived at the time. as one of the few bilingual people in the town, I did a lot of interpreting for emergency services and mental health consultations and sessions, and law enforcement, all sorts of different things. And so I had a lot of different opportunities to interact with people from different countries, from different cultural backgrounds, and really start to view the world in a different way. And have lots of interaction with our immigration system through those different creative roles that I served with before. And at one point my husband kind of started hinting, “Hey you should think about law school. Maybe you should be an immigration attorney.” And I was like, “Huh, interesting idea,” so I studied for the LSATs, took them, got a good score, but decided I would only apply to one law school because it wouldn’t require my family to move. I could just commute to that law school a couple hours away each week, come home every weekend, my husband wouldn’t have to quit his job, we wouldn’t have to sell our house. We’ve got a total of 6 kids together now and I think at the time we had four if I remember the timing correctly. So it was really a bigger deal to keep my family stable than to go to law school. I was not accepted by that law school at that time, so I was like “Eh, not going to be a lawyer, never really wanted to anyway, but that was a fun, a fun little exercise in LSATs” which is never fun, so don’t take that for face value. Then a few years later, another kid later, my husband started again, “You know I am really kinda… what about law school? Have you that about that again? It just keeps coming to my mind.” He is wonderful because he never pushes me to do something that I don’t want to do but he also doesn’t stop suggesting things that he thinks might be good for me to consider. I was pregnant with our fifth child at that time, and I was just like, “yeah, I’m not doing anything other than what I am doing right now, to be honest. I don’t really want to.” And so I didn’t. I just kept putting it off and not even thinking about it, kind of pushing out the timeline. Like “eh, when our baby’s born then we can talk,” or “Oh, when she’s not a brand newborn anymore then we can talk.” Finally she was born, she was healthy, everything was fine and my husband was like, “So are we doing this or what?” I said “Well, sure.” But once again I was picky, said I was not going to apply to the school that rejected me last time because I am petty like that, I am only going to apply to the one other law school that is in our state and then one that is in the state of Utah where I have family and where it would be easy to relocate. I said beyond that I am not applying anywhere else. So I waited until the very last possible moment to apply to those two schools. I got immediately wait listed for the school in Utah and I got immediately accepted to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. And when I say immediately, like I submitted my application on a Tuesday and Thursday morning I had my acceptance and a scholarship and everything ready to go and two weeks until orientation. So, my family found ourselves in the position where we had to uproot our entire family with a three-month-old and move to a different city within two weeks so that I could start law school. And that was crazy, it was 100% my fault because I waited until the last possible moment thinking I was gaming the system thinking I could make my husband happy by applying but that I was too late to get accepted anywhere without making anybody mad. So backfired. So I ended up at Drake with Stella as one of the oldest student in our class. It was kind of fun, we had kind of a pod of nontraditional older students…
Stella: We did!
Dawn: That we would study with. It was really, that was really great. I remember showing up at orientation and looking at all these young, fresh from undergrad students thinking, “What on earth am I doing here? This is not the place for me.” So having that core group of other nontraditional students was really helpful for me. Went through law school, nothing amazing really happened other than I got surprise pregnant with kid number 6 halfway through. That was a blast. *Laughs* Crazy! *Laughs* So I graduated in 2017 with Stella, passed the bar, been practicing now for three years, primarily in immigration law in my previous position and about two years ago I opened up Solutions Law Firm where we all three are now with the idea of representing people in nontraditional ways and trying to provide creative representation in both family law and immigration law so that we can really provide access to the legal system to people who otherwise would have a very difficult time accessing that, whether it be to cultural differences, languages issues, ability to pay, different types of need that exist in different geographical areas and different socioeconomic groups, just really kind of focusing on what makes legal services inaccessible to people and trying to come up with really creative ways to address those issues. So that’s how I got to be where I am today.
Stella: And here we all are!
Trisha: So how would you say that your services differ from traditional services?
Stella: So one of the ways we try really hard to be different in our approach to law is I think you can sum it up in one word: accessibility. One way that we have done that is we have unbundled our services. This is a growing movement; we did not start it. We were trained by some very wonderful attorneys in Van Meter, Iowa. But it is a growing movement. Our legal world is changing. And I am the type of person that I want to pay homage to the traditions that we have and the systems that we have, but we work with people and our industry works with people and we have got to evolve as people evolve and our world evolves. We are doing that by unbundling. I think about it like a menu. That what I always tell my clients. You know, depending on your issue, and we’ll use family law as an example, you know, nobody desires a divorce. It is something that usually people find themselves in that they never contemplated before. And that is OK, and people come to that point at all different areas of their life. Some people need 100% full representation. That’s fine, we’re here to do that. But other people don’t need us to do everything, they just don’t. They are more than capable. There are actually a lot of wonderful resources through the State of Iowa and the judiciary to help people through this process. So if you don’t need us to do everything, then why should you have to pay for everything? Because let’s face it, if your only option is the traditional law firm retainer, thousands of dollars, you might stay in a situation that you don’t want to stay in. And we don’t want that. So we’ve broken our services down in different components to match with the different parts of the process of divorce in Iowa. And if you’re comfortable doing something, do it! I mean, we’re happy to do it for you, but if you don’t need us to, don’t spend your money on us doing that! Use your money so that we’re doing things that you’re not comfortable doing. If you don’t’ want to figure out the filing system, we’ll file it. If you want to take a stab at drafting, and just have us review, we can do that. If you can do everything but you don’t understand service of process because you can’t find the person you want to divorce, we can help you.
Dawn: Exactly, and I think that is one of the beautiful things of unbundled services is that you can really work within a budget. But not that everyone who comes to us for unbundled representation needs a budget, because lets face it, even people with plenty of money in the bank don’t want to pay someone to do something that they could easily do all on their own. Why do that? But we do have people that walk in and they’re like “I’ve got 500 dollars and I need to get a divorce.” So we can look through all the things that need to happen in a typical divorce, talk with the client about their specific paths and things that make them the most nervous, the things that they are most concerned about, the things they feel most confident in, and we can tailor a plan within their budget to help them with exactly what they need to feel comfortable moving through the process with nothing less and nothing more. And each piece of the process, as Stella explained, that we’ve broken down and unbundled in a divorce, has a flat fee attached to it. So each client knows going in exactly how much they will be charged for exactly which portions of the process. And at any time that can change, it can fluctuate. If we get going and the client is like, “Oh, e-filing is not really that hard, I can totally do that but I am really tired of filing out forms, can you do that for me?” Absolutely. We can switch it up. Or “This process is a lot more difficult, I thought my spouse was going to be on board with everything. We talked. We agreed. And now they don’t agree, and I can’t negotiate. Can you please handle a mediation session or can you please make a phone call to my soon to be ex and try to talk reason?” Absolutely we can add that service, for a low flat fee that you are already aware of because you already got the list. So it is easy for people to see a divorce not so much as this big horrible emotional conflict that they’re going to have to survive but come out of bloody and scared and much more as a manageable process with predictable steps. They have assistance along the way in every area that matters most to them.
Stella: We are really focusing on meeting people where they are. This world is full of all kinds of people, we’re all at different places. While the end result might be, in this example divorce, how we get you there just is not the same as it is for your best friend, or the person you heard about on the street or your friend at work. There are all these stories out there, there is no one size fits all. The process, the requirements are the same. But how we get there, no, we are tailoring it to you.
Dawn: And that is really where our tag phrase The Listening Lawyers came from. In every single consultation, with every single client across every single area of law that we practice, we really listen. That is not just a tag line for us. That is really one of our overarching values. It is something that we have really engraved into our practice. We sit down with each client, we listen to your story. We listen to your hopes and your fears. We discuss your goals. What are you hoping to accomplish at the ned of all of this? What are you hoping to feel throughout the process? And we try really hard to focus on those individual needs and wants and circumstances when we are crafting that overarching plan, to stay within a budget, to meet these goals, to really listen to what each client is saying, to get them where they want to go.
Dawn: So how does the idea of unbundled services work with immigration law?
Trisha: Immigration is a little bit harder than other areas of law just due to the rules for practicing at USCIS, which is United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and in front of the immigration court. It is a little more difficult. However, we do try to be flexible and offer solutions for people who do not want to pay for a flat fee.
Trisha: That’s all for now, thank you both so much for joining me today. We are Solutions Law Firm of Des Moines, Iowa. If you enjoyed our podcast, please share it, rate it, and review it as well as subscribe! You can find us at solutionslawiowa.com and on Facebook at The Listening Lawyers! We’ll see you next week!