Episode No: 393
In this episode, Lab Coach Sara speaks with Victoria Winterberg, an immigration attorney in El Paso, about how things changed for her clients and her firm when she stopped reactively running things and proactively implemented healthy boundaries around every area of business.
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Points of Note:
- 05:10 — Business challenges before Lawyerist Lab program
- 18:49 — Setting boundaries in your law firm
- 19:45 — Why I stopped giving free consultations in my law firm
Sara is our Community Coach at Lawyerist. She is a certified life coach and has had years coaching others through their professional and personal lives. She works one-on-one with our Lab community members to take their business and perspective to the next level.
My name is Victoria Winterberg. I am an immigration attorney from El Paso, Texas. My law firm is called Winterberg Law Firm, P.C. I specialize in family based petitions and removal defense. I am licensed in Texas, New Mexico, and the Western District of Texas. I have had my law firm for five years. I am fluent in Spanish.
Transcript automatically created.
Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Lawyerist supports attorneys, building client-centered, and future-oriented small law firms through community, content, and coaching both online and through the Lawyerist Lab. And now from the team that brought you The Small Firm Roadmap and your podcast hosts
Hi, I’m Zach Glaser.
And I’m Kyle Harrington. And this is episode 393 of the Lawyerist podcast, part of the legal talk network today, Sarah speaks with Victoria winter bird about how her firm elevated, which became intentional
Today’s podcast is brought to you by Posh Virtual Receptionist, LawPay and MyCase, we wouldn’t be able to do this show without their support. So stay tuned. And we’ll tell you more about them later on. So Kyle we’ve got Lab Con coming up.
Yes. Yes. Very excited.
And this is gonna be your first experience with our, on conference, I guess,
On conference. Yep. Absolutely. First time, first time meeting the whole whole team in person and a bunch of our lobsters. So I’m really excited.
Well, we’re excited to have you there. So yeah, I, I guess we’re holding this in Atlanta and we’re all gonna fly in, see each other in person figure out who’s taller than we thought they were and all that, and get to see a lot of the lobsters in human form. So I, I’m very excited about that.
Yeah. I’m really looking forward to seeing how things work, seeing how these small, groups can come together and do some really cool things and planning for, for their features.
Yeah. So I, I guess that’s the thing is by way of explanation of lab con, we say it’s an on-conference, but it is a way for people to get together and kind of feed off each other’s energy and knowledge. And we bring some experts in to talk about what they do, some experts in marketing, some experts in, you know, document automation. We also have our own coaches that are there to help facilitate people working on their business because that’s difficult to, to kind of carve out time for sometimes.
Absolutely. And I’ve heard it’s really, really fun.
Yes, that’s that’s the other side is that we, we all go to a, you know, conference center hotel and, and get to eat together and work together. But you also get to, to work on your own. One of the things that we like to make sure of is that this, even though it is a conference where people are supposed to kind of feed off each other, it, it is introvert first. We wanna make sure that people can show up and not feel like they have to be on all the time that that can beat you up. That can even beat me up. And I, I,
Even as an extrovert, you know, I, I understand that sometimes you need to take a break.
Right? Right. So we also in LabCon, it is available to our lawyer slabs, but we also have some special guests that we invite. And so if people wanna learn more about lab con or, you know, frankly lawyers lab, they can reach out to Sarah or Jennifer. And we will put that link in the show notes, but you can also just go to Lawyerist.com and kind of find a way to contact us there, but we’ll have the link to contact Sarah or Jennifer and set up a, a little quick meeting with them.
Now here’s Sarah’s conversation with Victoria Winterberg.
Hi, my name is Victoria Winterberg and I’m an immigration attorney. I own the Winberg law firm and it’s a law firm in El Paso, Texas. We’re on the border with Mexico with, SU Paez. And I specialize in removal, defense and family based petition. So when people are in front of a judge and they’re about to be deported, that’s where I usually focus. And I also do U S C I S work, which is family based petitions when people get married.
Yeah. Well, awesome. It’s so good to have you on the lawyer’s podcast. I mean, lemme just say finally <laugh> and I it’s my personal joy to have you here because since we started working together since late 2021, I think late last year, I’ve just, I’ve watched you grow and transform and do all these incredible things in your firm. And I mean, I may be biased because you are one of my favorite lobsters in our lab program, but no, I really am proud of what you’ve accomplished. And I just know that there are other firm owners out there listening who are gonna be really inspired by our conversation today and your story. So thanks for being here. So before we begin, tell us a little bit about, you know, when you started your firm and where you were and kind of where it was before you found us here at Lawyerist.
So I started my firm in about 2017, and I knew that I wanted a lot of flexibility with my schedule, and I knew that I also wanted the day of tomorrow just to be more independent. I did not like the idea of having a boss, but the problem was that in law school, no one really taught me of course, the way that a lot of attorneys haven’t been taught either how to actually have a business and run a law firm. So I felt like if I had a lot of, things come up where I thought that asking colleagues or maybe reading a book would help me, but it didn’t necessarily get to the issue that I was having. I had to do things by trial and error, and I felt like that was a pretty painful process because sometimes things would work out really well. And then other times I was like, whoa, obviously that’s what not to do. So I, I knew that I needed a lot of guidance.
So tell us more about some of those challenges that you were facing.
I used to take walk-in consultations and I am very fortunate because I share a parking lot with U S C I S. And that pretty much is where you want to be located as an immigration lawyer. So logically I thought, well, just keep the walk-in process and just take the walk-ins as they come in. But I started to see that my days were full, just constantly interrupted and full of consultations. And that was just not a very productive way of using my time.
Yeah. And that’s so interesting because I can imagine that you really capitalize on that opportunity to be in that location, thinking like, oh, this is gonna be great. I’m gonna have a bunch of walk-ins. And then as it turned out, it kind of turned out to be more of a headache than maybe you initially expected, but what were some of the problems that were happening because of that? Other than just having a, a really busy day.
I didn’t like that. I was not able to focus on the clients that of course had already hired me. So instead of saying, okay, today, I’m going to dedicate myself to these certain cases and knock that work out the way that now I’m able to block out my time before I wasn’t able to do that because I was constantly being interrupted. So I felt like my productivity went down. And as a result of that, then it made me feel like I wasn’t getting enough done. And so I would feel kind of like anxious throughout the day. And as soon as I felt like I was getting somewhere with my work and I was making progress and I would be interrupted. So it just, wasn’t an intelligent way to run my law firm. I think that if there was someone designated as an associate to just take in the walk-in clients, and if that was something that I did in the future sure. That would work. But for me to be interrupted for me to be the only attorney in the office right now, it just didn’t make any sense.
Yeah. So it sounds like that was a big turning point for you when you stopped taking those walk-in consultations. And I definitely wanna dive deeper into that later on in our conversation where we can kind of talk about like, what that was like to make that change and what has changed because of it. But what else were you struggling with at that point?
I have always had a hard time with knowing what to do with the phone. I was grateful that the phone was ringing a lot, but the problem is that we used to have a cell phone for the business phone. So what that meant at the time was that we had text messages coming in at the same time that the phone was ringing. So we answered the line whenever it rang, but then if a second call came in, we were not able to put someone on hold and easily answer the other line. And if a call came in, then the call just never got through. So I would have clients tell me, well, I called and you didn’t answer. And so that in and of itself, just the, the phone, the way that it was operating, made everything very hard for us because I was concerned, of course, that clients weren’t having access to me. But at the same time, it just created a lot of problems with, I, I think like the pressure of feeling like you have to answer the phone in such a way, because you can’t just put someone on hold and transfer a line, for example.
Yeah. It sounds like that was creating a lot of headache and overwhelm and stress and probably made it really hard for you to focus on that high level work that, you know, only you can do, but other than those calls coming in and those walk-ins coming in, and I mean, obviously you were not hurting for new business coming your way, but what other problems did that create for you other than just a, you know, a focus issue or overwhelm issue?
Well, I think as a business person, you have to be, I think aware of the vision that you have for your law firm, not only aware of, but you have to be every single day that you walk into your office, you need to have that in mind and not in the back of your mind. It has to be at the forefront. So I think just inherently or innately, I think innately is the right word. I thought this is just the wrong way to practice law because I am reacting to things I’m not, you know, actually, okay, I don’t have a plan. And then from that plan, then this is how I deal with things to have structure to my day. And if you don’t have a plan, and if you just go based off of when the client calls and you answer immediately, I think that creates a lot of problems with the client because then the client knows, expects to be answered immediately.
And then when you’re in court or whatever you’re doing is, you know, let’s say a priority, a deadline, more important than answering a phone call immediately. Then it just creates a problematic client attorney relationship. So there’s a couple of facets of that. I think that the more structure you have in a law firm, the more breathing room you have as a business owner and the more breathing room you have as a business owner, the, you know, more, you have the opportunity to step back and then analyze and say, okay, this is working. This is not working. And this is what I need to do to change it. So it’s like, I didn’t have time to even think because I was constantly reacting. So that’s not a good place to be. And it’s a good thing to have business, but it’s not a good thing to just let the business almost run you.
Yeah. And I wanna go back to what you said in the beginning. You know, the whole reason why you started your law firm was to be able to have the flexibility and freedom to live your life and have a business that worked for you. And yet, ironically, the business came in and sort of took over and I hear what you’re saying. It’s like they say, you know, discipline equals freedom. And that’s what I think of when you say the more structure you have, the more, you know, breathing room you have, the more time you have to think about that high level stuff. I’m curious though, too, from like a client ideal client perspective, the clients that were the potential clients that were contacting you, you know, walking in, texting, calling, contacting you every which way were a lot of those people who ended up not being your ideal clients. I want you to talk about cuz it’s been so inspiring to watch how you’ve really honed in on the type of clients that you wanna work with. And then we can get into, you know, how that’s benefited your business, but like, what was that change? Like
I think that change was hard because at first I thought, well, I wanna help everyone. And I didn’t want to limit my, client pool. I thought of it, I guess, over simplistically because I wasn’t very aware of, I wasn’t, I wasn’t aware at all now that I think about it, of how intelligent it is to actually have a specific, group that you love to serve and that you enjoy serving. So this is my way of seeing my law firm, my theology, I guess you could say, if you have a law firm that you want to be happy to build and you know, to have the law firm of your dreams, you really need to know the type of client you want to serve. And very importantly, the type of client you do not want to serve. And so going back to the walk-ins, when you’re accepting everyone that walks in the door, then it’s a very broad way of seeing clients.
But the more and more you begin to see a pattern of behavior where you start to notice red flags in clients, in the intake process, and you say, you know what, that’s fine. You can go to another colleague, you’re respectful about it. You send them another way, but at the same time you stay true to yourself. So I think that it comes from a position of honoring yourself as a professional, as a business owner, and also having your priorities in line to say, I’ll, I will accept this and I will not accept that. It’s like having your boundaries with your clients. So I learned that I really like working with, the military and their families because El Paso has Fort bliss and we have a lot of military people in El Paso. So I like specifically doing parole in place for people and helping them with their adjustments of status to get their green cards.
And I specifically feel like it’s very important for me to give back to that part of my community here in El Paso. And my dad was also in the military. So there’s also like that personal part where I grew up, in Germany. Another part of that would be working with young professionals or just with people that are more structured or disciplined, whatever age they are. And I found that to be much more rewarding and helpful to the process because the more organized people are and the better that they are at communicating with me than the easier it is for me to work with them because I focus the way that I practice law. I focus on the client a lot, but then there comes a point where you need to put in the proper rules and boundaries. And usually when people are organized or they’re used to the way that I work with them, then they’re respectful of that. And then if they’re not, then I automatically understand that they’re not in the category of clients that I need to work with, but that was a hard process to go through.
Well, I’m really curious to find out from your perspective, how making those changes has impacted your business and the benefits that you’ve seen from all that. We’re gonna take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. And then we’ll dive deeper into those really awesome things you’ve been doing.
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We’re back. And I wanted to circle back to, you know, some of the changes that you’ve been making in your firm in charging for consultations in not accepting walk-ins and just this general idea of being a little more stringent in setting boundaries around your practice, around the clients that you work with. So tell us a little bit about like where you are now and how that’s changed things.
Well now thanks to lawyers and with your guidance, because you’ve been instrumental to helping me. I feel like I’m on my way to building the type of law firm that I actually want. And before coming into work, I’m actually excited to come in and I’m so grateful that I don’t need to come in on the weekends. And if I leave early during the week to do something, then so be it. I have much more flexibility, but the specific things that I changed in the law firm was of course, like you said, charging people for consultations, but now we took it a step further. We only do consultations typically on Tuesday and Thursday.
I love that. Okay. So at what point did you decide enough is enough already? We need to start charging for consulting no more free consultations. Like, what was that process like for you? How did you make that decision?
I think when I started to realize that it was taking a toll on me as a person, because I, I started to notice that I didn’t have, I didn’t feel like I was being productive back to being productive. I just got to a breaking point where I thought, okay, if the numbers go down and if we see that we have less people that hire, because they don’t wanna pay for consultation, then I finally had to understand that they probably weren’t going to hire anyway, or maybe they weren’t going to be good clients. And even though at the beginning, when we took that step and we changed the website and we changed whatever we needed to do outside on the windows to the law firm. So if people would know that now we don’t do free consultations. That was just kind of scary to be honest.
But once I <laugh> kind of took five steps back, you know, then I took 10 steps forward. And then I realized that the sacrifice and maybe the scary part was totally worth it because eventually we started to pick up again with the consultations. And ironically, I started to realize that I was actually getting rid of a lot of the clients that I didn’t really want to begin with that were, even though I wanted to help everyone, they tended to be more problematic. So I feel like I started to get closer and closer to my client base that I really wanted to serve. And then that’s how I discovered the people that actually bring me a lot of joy. When I practice law by helping a mother and a daughter, the daughter’s petitioning for the mother or the couple that’s, you know, a newly wed and barely starting their life.
And you know, so now I have much better experiences with the clients. And so the clients tend to leave me of course, better reviews and they’re happy. So they recommend me. So it’s just like a full circle. I’m happy, they’re happy. We get it all like in that good energy going. And when people are not <laugh> reciprocating to that, or if it’s not working out well, then at that point, that’s where I, now I have the strength to understand, okay, these are my boundaries. It just didn’t work out. And this is where I need to pull the plug, which was not easy, but I did.
Yeah, you did. And it sounds like it’s been a win, win, win for everyone. And I think that that’s the whole idea with creating a client centered firm. I think a lot of people mistake the idea of being client centered for just being open to whatever the client needs at any time of day, not having boundaries, bending over backwards for everyone all the time, but that actually doesn’t do anything for anyone. It’s like, you know, one of our lobsters said, and I always quote this, but if you’re paying clients new, just how much time you are giving away for free to nonpaying clients, you know, they would be upset and rightly so, because your time is valuable. And I always encourage, you know, those of you who are scared to maybe start putting some boundaries in place, are scared to start saying no to the wrong types of cases are scared to start, you know, charging for consultations.
For example, I remind them that there is enough work to go around for everyone. And those people who were contacting you initially and not paying for consultations, who ended up either, you know, not contracting with you or just ended up being headache clients. There there’s someone out there who can take care of them. And it’s not you because you know what you’re trying to build here and you know, your value and how you can help people. I’m just, I’m so proud of you. It’s been awesome to see like all these positive domino effect changes that have come out of this. And I know it’s not always, it’s not perfect, right? Like you still will have those difficult clients sometimes. So, and, and you mentioned like now, now that you’ve been practicing with setting those boundaries, it’s become easier for you to know your strength and tap into that. So what has that process been like for you? Like how are, how are people responding to that?
Hmm. I think it varies drastically. The people that I believe are good clients for the long run, they respond well and the people that are not well, then that’s when we have a disagreement, but I think it’s also relevant to point out right now that the same boundaries that you apply in your personal life is very relevant and you can still apply them to your work life. So instead of getting emotional, getting upset with the client, it’s best to just, you know, be objective about it and realize, okay, the other day, something happened to me where I thought I’m upset at this person. They’re not even my client. That’s hilarious. And then it totally made me step back. And I called the client. I wasn’t upset at her. I told her what would be acceptable, what was not acceptable, whatever was done by her husband. And I did not have another problem with her after that. So it was just a simple observation. It took being objective in order to get the result that I wanted. But if I would’ve been emotional and I would’ve gotten into a heated argument, what good would’ve that have done for me now? I’m not saying I’m always so levelheaded, but I try to be <laugh>.
Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think you’ve done a great job with that. And I think that, you know, inevitably it’s resulting in better clients, better cases, a healthier business. you having the time and space and freedom and mental capacity to focus on the things you wanna focus on and then be able to leave the weekend and go get massage and do all the things that you like to do. So, you know, for someone out there who’s struggling with setting boundaries. Cause honestly this comes up a lot for me as a coach, in my cooking calls with lawyers, it’s like, they know it’s a boundaries issue. They know they’re spending way too much time on unqualified leads. You know, they’re taking a lot of crap consultations. What is something of encouragement that you would say to them?
I would say that they need to remind themselves of how far they’ve come to get to this point to have, I think the courage to open up their own law firm because not everyone has that and not, it’s not for everyone, not everyone’s cut out for it, but I think you have to dig deep. You have to dig really deep and you have to ask yourself, like, did I go through so many years of school to get to this point to say, I’m going to just allow people to treat me this way. And it’s going to carry over into my personal life when I get home and I’m in a bad mood. And honestly you have the control over the client to say, I will or will not take your case. You can’t always withdraw from cases depending on the judge. Right. But if you’re proactive and if you’re diligent with your approach with your boundaries, then with time, you can say, okay, this isn’t working and you can kind of like foresee the problem and plan accordingly.
so that would be the first thing. But knowing your value, I think is extremely important because people waste your time and that’s the biggest commodity that you have. And another thing that I’ve discovered is that when you have a problematic client, when you’re putting so much time and effort into diffusing the situation and pretty much putting out fires is a way that I’m sure a lot of attorneys feel. And I know how that feels too, then. So much of your energy goes to that instead of focusing on what is your vision for the law firm and what do you really wanna get out of your practice? And you know, what, just sets your heart on fire. What do you wake up in the morning and say, I really wanna take more of these types of cases. I’ve made a difference in these people’s lives or whatever that is according to the practice that you have. So I think that we have to be reminded that we have control.
Yeah. I love that. So that said, I mean, how are things going with you and your firm right now, or we’d love to hear about some of the, the accomplishments that you’ve had. I mean, I just wanna brag on you a little bit because it just seems like every time we get on a coaching call, you’re like, Sarah, I did this and this and this, and I hit this number and this number and it’s just always, you know, it like you’re doing it and you set some boundaries, you made some rules, you said enough is enough already. Like I’m gonna start running my law firm my way. And it just seems like it’s paying off for you so well, so, so tell us about that. What’s going well, what are you excited about?
So I’m excited because so far this year, the way that we set everything up from last year coming into this year with the quarterlys, I’ve been really good with the first quarter. And then my second quarter, I’ve met my numbers, essentially the number that I wanted me to, you know, a certain amount of income, a monthly income. So that’s important. That’s a big thing that I feel like, you know, I look forward to meeting that goal because that means bonuses. So that’s always a good thing. then other than that, I got my one kind of on another topic, but relevant to, I got my first TV visa, which is a human trafficking visa approved for one of what I call my miracle cases. And so now I’m figuring out how to help my client’s daughter come from Columbia too. So that to me is incredible because that was my client’s dream. so I feel like I’m much more engaged with building my business, which is amazing because I, the numbers and all that, that motivates me. But at the same time, I still wanna have goals on a, more of a humanitarian, level. So practicing more humanitarian law, like the TV says, or like taking on more, complicated asylum cases. And so I’m looking forward to doing stuff like that.
Yeah. So tell us more, a little bit about that then, like what’s on your agenda for the rest of this year. What can we look forward to? Well, what can I look forward to seeing you accomplish?
So I reached out to going back to the miracle case with the TV, a victim’s advocate, that I worked with while I was working on this client’s case, because she, the lady that I worked with mentioned that there was funding for grants, for TVs. And I’m thinking maybe of hiring someone to help me write a grant, to get TV help out there, because I know that in El Paso, there’s one organization, a nonprofit that does that, but usually private attorneys do not do that kind of work. And again, I go back to the same thing I’m on the border. So I don’t understand how we don’t have more immigration lawyers doing more TVs at work, I think because it’s something nonprofits usually do. But I think that that probably needs to change. Like you can have the thriving practice, but you can also do humanitarian work within reason to balance the two of them.
Yeah. And you know, I just wanna go back to where you were in the beginning and kind of what we talked about at the beginning of this conversation, had you not have made, made the decision to start making some of these changes and put these boundaries in place and really take the reigns on your firm. Do you think that you would’ve had the opportunity at this point to pursue some of this more fulfilling work for you?
No, no way. I think I was just completely overwhelmed by the amount of things that were unnecessary use of my time. And I find that whatever I focus my time on when it’s purposeful and when I set an intention and I’m organized, then I just gain a lot more fulfillment from doing that, whether it’s my business or a specific case that I want something I’m looking forward to doing with my practice, but it pretty much comes from the intention that you have to set and the vision that you have for your law firm.
Well, we’re so excited to see what you accomplished the rest of this year and moving forward. And I just wanna thank you again for, you know, for coming on the podcast, telling your story and just thank you so much for all the work that you do in this world and you know, your commitment to your clients and making this world a better place. It is just truly inspiring.
Thank you. Thank you for all your help.
The Lawyerist Podcast is edited by Britany Felix. Are you ready to implement the ideas we discuss here into your practice? Wondering what to do next? Here are your first two steps. First. If you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap yet, grab the first chapter for free at Lawyerist.com/book. Looking for help beyond the book? Let’s chat about whether our coaching communities, right for you. Head to Lawyerist.com/community/lab to schedule a 10 minute call with our team to learn more. The views expressed by the participants are their own and are not endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said in this podcast is legal advice for you.