Updated: Nov 19
The 1958 Lawyer Podcast's Ron Bockstahler and Megan Mathias touched on these topics and more during their candid interview; their discussion holds insight into characteristics you need in a mid-market law firm.
Snag the insights. Listen here or continue reading Q & A highlights from the interview below:
It's not that I'm a superwoman- although there are days I feel like I had to be a superwoman to get through certain things. It's about hiring the right people... outsourcing the things that you're not good at. I know what I'm great at. I know what I'm not great at.
Megan Mathias is the Founder of Lopp Mathias Law; she represents business owners with challenges relating to corporate governance, start ups, employment issues, shareholder disputes, Family Law disputes, and contract issues. In this podcast interview, Megan talks about how entrepreneurial knowledge and creating a united culture is important in building a law firm which can operate as a partner in your business.
(Ron Bockstahler) Where'd you come from? And how did you get to where you're at? Let's start from the beginning.
(Megan Mathias) Well, I'm from a small town in Michigan. I'm a first generation college student. I started college at Michigan State and then came to Chicago in 2000 for law school. I was practicing at bigger firms for a significant portion of my career, but I was always one of the only females. I was one of the only females in litigation at a big firm, then I went to a smaller firm where I was still one of the only female partners. I thought, since I was higher up in the hierarchy, I would have more impact on some of the things I cared about. But, it's still hard. Law firms are like big institutions with their own culture and their own rules. I can be a "disrupter" sometimes. It wasn't how I wanted to practice. Even the marketing people would come to me and say, "We're having trouble aligning your message with the rest of the firm." I learned from all of that- I build things differently. I compensate people differently. I run my teams differently. I use different technology. In 2018, I started my own practice to do things differently and be client focused.
Legal Tech and Appealing to Big Clients
(Ron Bockstahler) Let's talk about your own practice. Because in 2020, you won an award in legal tech. What did you win? Why did you win it? What are you doing differently?
(Megan Mathias) It's the American Legal Technology Award in the Law Firm category. I've been working in legal tech for quite some time, as I sat on the steering committee for the Seventh Circuit Council on eDiscovery. It was a group that helped form the rules that were adopted by most jurisdictions around the country on how you handle electronic information. So in any litigation, it's important. Of course, data, photos, and everything has metadata attached to it- how you manage that in litigation is obviously really important. Having knowledge of these issues helped me develop a base in technology that became one of the cornerstones of the firm.
When I started my own firm, we were already paperless. I started it with a completely different business model- thinking smarter and faster and more efficiently allows me to give flexibility to my clients. And you know, there were some bumps along the way, but I think it's worth the risk. Big clients want to know that you're monitoring, you have metrics around some of your productivity, and how you bill. It's been pivotal to being able to genuinely compete with larger firms.
(Ron Bockstahler) Okay, so what exactly are you doing different?
(Megan Mathias) I started a paperless office. Everything was virtual anyway, so my lawyers can work from anywhere. One of my struggles at bigger firms is that you have service partners, all of whom I like (...) but their job is to service the work that we, the business developers, bring in. There's some inefficiency there- they're pulling significant salaries that obviously impact your overhead. Lopp Mathias Law has contracts with specialists on the issues that I need for my clients. I can still provide full service to clients, but I don't have a couple million dollars in overhead. I have staff lawyers, but I use virtual assistants. As it relates to more complex and sophisticated issues, I have vendors, which include other law firms and a network that I trust to be able to address issues that my clients need. So it's a completely different business model.
(Ron Bockstahler) So technology is kind of driving your firm vs. the old school "we need 25 people on staff" way of things? And that's working out?
(Megan Mathias) It's working well! The bigger, more sophisticated clients really appreciate it. On paper, we're a small firm. But because of our innovative business model, we are able to service larger clients on sophisticated issues and keep a reasonable hourly rate. We're small but mighty.
(Ron Bockstahler) I think you got good corporate experience by starting your own firm and working with others. Tell me more about that?
(Megan Mathias) I did. If you have a transactional relationship with your lawyer, you're just doing the task and kind of moving on. You're not a fantastic lawyer. You're just getting a job done. I say this a lot- but when clients are in it, we're in it with them. I call it Legal+ (Legal Plus). It's what we are for clients when they need more than just your legal mind- whether it's extra support, redoing policies, developing operational solutions and processes, or more. It's like General Counsel plus your COO, because you're helping- from the C Suite level- talk about strategy and all kinds of things that a regular outside counsel doesn't traditionally provide. During COVID, our clients have had to slash so much. A lot of our clients were just trying to survive. And they need you to get in the dirt with them and really dig in and figure out how to manage what's happening. I think that's when we realized: that is our superpower.
(Ron Bockstahler) Can you jump into time management for us? Because you've got so many things going on.
(Megan Mathias) I have three kids. I have my law practice. I serve on many boards and am an elected school board official, all aside from my campaign for alderman of the 45th ward. Before, I managed almost all of the above while my partner was also sick with cancer before he passed away in 2019. Being a caretaker, that was a true test on time management.
You know, now, especially compared to that, I feel like I actually do have time for everything happening, and it means you have to have the right team around you. You have to build a team.
Having Vision and Building Community
(Ron Bockstahler) Let's talk politics. You've taken on a huge challenge. You're going to run for alderman of the 45th ward.
(Megan Mathias) Yes, the community has been asking me to get involved for quite some time. I'm giving back to the community that went so far to take care of my family when my partner was sick. I want to develop a new brand of politics - just like I did with my law firm. I'm trying to learn and listen to all sides of an issue and be solutions based. I'm trying to bring that kind of leadership to the 45th ward.
(Ron Bockstahler) Let's talk about what your vision is for the 45th Ward.
(Megan Mathias) I would love to see the alderman's office focus on supporting schools. I obviously want to bring innovation to the alderman's office, too. Another issue that is really important in the work is both development and the lack of investment in the community. Supporting small businesses and getting people back to work. You've got to come in with a plan, and advocate, and work hard. I'm listening and finding ways to incorporate community voice. I know the community is hungry for it. People need to be listened to and respected.
(Ron Bockstahler) I think I'd asked you if you were up to this challenge and you said, "I was born for this"?
(Megan Mathias) Yeah, I do feel like I've been preparing, sharpening the skills my whole career for this job. Because the job is complex. It includes constituent services, managing the office, looking at metrics, legislation, answering to community's needs. It's not just me. It is the concept of public service. I'm merely a reflection of the community that will elect me to represent it. It is about serving them.
(Ron Bockstahler) Let's change gears a little bit. Let's talk about a couple of organizations where you sit on the board.
(Megan Mathias) I served on the board of the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago for many years, though I recently stepped down- their mission is empowering women and eliminating racism, both things I care deeply about. I also serve on the board of Life Span, which is an organization that is long standing, and has been fighting domestic violence and human trafficking for a very long time. I'm proud of the work these organizations are doing and to have served in those roles.
(Ron Bockstahler) Are you still working with the Coalition of Women's Initiatives in Law?
(Megan Mathias) I've been a member for probably more than a decade at this point. I sought them out because, like I said earlier, I was always the only women in my area of work. I always felt like I needed some support. As a first-generation college student, I did not have a natural network of professionals. The Coalition is about creating policies to help women feel empowered, and really break through the glass ceiling. That group was, and still is, just really amazing.
Changing the Legal Landscape
(Ron Bockstahler) I want to ask one last question before I open it up to any other things you'd like to talk about: What's the one thing in the legal profession that you would like to see change?
(Megan Mathias) Incivility is an issue. I often have to listen to somebody lying to the judge or, you know, misrepresenting what's happening without launching into a bunch of swear words.
That, and being a young female lawyer was hard. And because you're female, some people think they can intimidate you. I helped form a group called FLASH- Force of Lawyers Against Sexual Harassment. There's a lot of bias, sexual harassment and other mistreatment of women attorneys - which doesn't get talked about as much as it should. That's much worse and different than incivility, but it all plays into the category of how you're treated. The FLASH group has been working on really great articles, securing male allies, establishing pledges. This problem needs to be addressed right away. It can derail the careers of all of women. It is just another obstacle we face.
(Ron Bockstahler) Are you seeing an improvement? Are we getting better?
(Megan Mathias) I think I see a rise in awareness. I don't know if it's getting better, because not everybody reports. I do think that having more people aware of what's going on is a really important development. I try to stay positive and optimistic that as more people become aware and speak out, things will change.
(Ron Bockstahler) So, I lied. That was supposed to be my last question. But, are we seeing a crack in the glass ceiling for women, especially women minorities in law?
(Megan Mathias) We are. I mean, the metrics aren't great yet. There's a report from the National Association of Women Lawyers, for example. I've looked at it and thought, "Wow, that's brutal." But, now more than 50% of people graduating from law schools are women. There is a lot of movement towards genuine diversity and inclusion programs within law firms. Clients are now demanding it, which is killer!
(Ron Bockstahler) Is there anything you want to leave the audience with? One final thought on your candidacy for the 45th Ward, your law firm, anything you want...
(Megan Mathias) We love to help companies run by being forward thinkers. We have a full service firm that can even help run GC plus COO type work. It's my favorite thing to do these days! And as it relates to my ward- I just want to meet and shake everybody's hand in the whole ward. And listen. That's what I'm on right now- my listening tour. I want to hear from everyone. We all want to be heard and respected and I will do that.
About the 1958 Lawyer Podcast:
In 1958, the ABA published a pamphlet with an article titled “The 1958 Lawyer and his 1938 Dollar” which gives our podcast its title, and its inspiration. Prior to 1960, most attorney engagements were project based. As a result, many lawyers felt their pay scale was falling behind that of other professional service providers. For many lawyers, this article spurred them to change the way they billed for legal services and thus the billable hour was born. It is a stark reminder that change is the only constant in our world and those that do not keep up with the change often times find themselves obsolete. To be sure, the business surrounding the practice of law has continued to change since the billable hour went mainstream. This podcast is all about how law firms and their clients are adapting to a changing business world to remain viable. Your host, Ron Bockstahler, is the Founder and CEO of Amata Law Office Suites, an attorney support Services company. For more than 30 years, Ron has worked with law firms of all sizes, helping them manage expenses, implement new technologies, and strategically grow their law practice. Ron will pull from his experience and those of his guests to uncover new developments in the business world and how the legal industry is adapting to meet the changing demands of their clients. Each show will feature successful business people, politicians, judges and attorneys to provide insight into their thoughts and how they are meeting today's challenges.