Lori Vella did not start her career as a lawyer with the intention of founding her own law firm. However, after the birth of her child, she knew her priorities had to change. After spending 14 years at a law firm in Tampa, and finally advancing to partner, she decided she had to take a step back to raise her child full-time.
This decision proved fateful for Lori Vella. She suddenly felt a rush of concerns and worries for her son’s future. Her strong connections with the other mothers in the Tampa Bay area also gave her an idea of the common worries and concerns that fellow moms had for their children. She also saw a “great need for these parents to communicate, and make official, their estate planning and guardianship planning concerns.” So, she decided to use her legal background for the benefit of these parents.
Lori Vella’s law firm was born. However, with her firm, she decided that she didn’t have to do things the old-fashioned way. She knew that these days you don’t need to put on your best clothes to visit the lawyer’s office personally. You could consult with your lawyer through the internet. These new type of law firms provide the same services but with “lower overhead costs, a more casual and relaxed atmosphere, and…a place where children are welcome—not excluded.”
So, when you deal with Lori Vella, you can just call her, set up video conferences, send her an email, or email her scanned documents. However, she also accommodates clients who prefer the old-school route.
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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Lori Vella: Sure. Not being one to mix well with law firm politics, I found myself unhappily working in an environment that did not suit my personality. Buried in student debt and not fulfilled with my work, I resigned myself to my chosen path. As luck would have it, I had a baby at 40, allowing me to justify trying something new. I quit my job to experience the joys of motherhood. With a new child came scary concerns about the negative “what ifs” in life. What if I don’t survive, who would care for him? What if I’m sick, how do I set him up for another to step in? My law firm concept arose from my experience as a mother. I began to help my friends and family write Last Wills and help nominate guardians for their children, combining my own needs with my legal knowledge to develop a business that served the community.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Lori Vella: During the first two years, I contemplated other paths instead of running my own law firm. I turned in some resumes, but never actually wanted those jobs. At the start, it felt isolating, taking on a new area of law and changing my legal practice area. Not having the resources to get an expensive education, I frequented the local law library, spending weekends photocopying the legal treatises on Wills and Trusts. Luckily, the subject matter fascinated me. Over time, I built a network of other lawyers/business owners practicing in the same area of law. My practical learning grew exponentially.
The fear of failure drives me daily. If this doesn’t work, I would have to find a job, put my son in afterschool daycare, and take orders from a boss. That scares the daylights out of me! I never want to rely on another person for my paycheck. As an owner, there are no business rules or arcane policies that prevent my success. To get more money, I attract more clients. When my internal drive wanes, I lean on external sources such as podcasts, conferences, motivational videos, and audio books. Those give me the boost to keep going.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Lori Vella: Do you mean like the time I was on the phone with a potential client and sent her an immediate cash transfer rather than merely sending a money request? Lesson learned. Do not attempt two things at once especially when dealing with cash funds!
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
Lori Vella: Trust: Being a loyal brand that gives back to charitable causes, preserves the environment, and delivers stellar customer service. Wouldn’t you rather buy from a company that is doing something that aligns with your principles?
Dedication: Consistently pursuing your mission will lead to results. It can be discouraging if you do not take account of your progress. Sometimes I do not see the progress until my office manager reminds me of how far we have come. I went from writing my Last Wills line by line to using sophisticated software. We started out signing documents in my home office and now we use beautiful conference rooms. Our progress shows through our daily dedication.
Leadership: The cornerstone of providing an enriching customer experience starts with your own leadership and then flows from the happiness of your employees. If you lead well, you recognize talent and surround yourself with passionate, self-driven people. Can you imagine a disgruntled employee giving good customer service? Can you belittle your employees, or undervalue them, and expect them to be kind to a customer, or creative enough to come up with workable solutions?
Service: To continue to stay on track with our mission, we need open communication with the team. For instance, we have a list of our monthly company goals and we cheer all progress, no matter how small. As to our clients, we think, are we servicing them properly? How does it appear from the client’s perspective? What else can we be for them? Are we emailing our clients too much? Are we too busy to pick up a phone and call them? Our service continues to improve with each passing day.
Heart: Make clear the organization’s core values, not only with the onboarding of a new client, but also once they use your services. We cannot assume everyone has an amazing customer experience. I plan to send out post-experience surveys to identify and improve upon potential blind spots. While you may cringe at the negative feedback, wouldn’t you rather know before it becomes a major problem?
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Lori Vella: It is a win-win. Customers flock to your brand, your employees passionately serve, and you usually achieve amazing amounts of success. To top it off, you can positively impact the world. The word-of-mouth marketing alone can drive your success. People like buying your story and the impact your business has on the community/world makes them feel good about the purchase. Even if you are a small business, being genuine in your mission will attract your ideal client.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Lori Vella: Making the first step really easy for your potential client is crucial. When they hit your website, or get you on the phone, there should be a clear path to work with you. Beyond that, a great method is to seek the expert advice of a business coach. In that way, you will give your team better sales training. Many people avoid this step and try to go at it alone. But, if you see weak spots and your hours of personal development and self-study courses are not the fix, get more personalized, customized help.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Lori Vella: In order to be trusted and beloved, you must be trustworthy and loveable! That starts with giving back to the community, educating the public and at the forefront, treating people right. To treat customers well, focus on your employees. They need opportunities to grow and change. During hiring, it may help to value a good attitude and passion over experience. A key is listening well and allowing employees to make relevant decisions to attract and retain the best. Customers will enjoy the impact of your happy employees and solid leadership.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Lori Vella: Our Instagram handle is @AttorneyLori. We love sharing our beautiful cities of Tampa, FL and Rochester, NY. We also share legal tips and business tips/strategies for entrepreneurs and Florida/New York residents.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!