Interview of Attorney Leigh Cowden
by Kristina Schneider, Practice Success Coach
I had the opportunity to meet Leigh Cowden virtually through a Facebook group she formed called Lawyers Doing Seminars. I followed a lot of her success and she gave me the opportunity to share some of our own seminar marketing tips with the group on one of their monthly Zoom sessions. From there, she began to inquire with me about what we do and attended our Ultimate Level event in Dallas in May. I have followed her progress over the past few months and she then shared with the group about how she just celebrated one full year in practice in September and all that she has accomplished.
It has been absolutely remarkable to see the kind of success that Leigh has had in just one year! I thought others may also be motivated, inspired and also amazed by Leigh and her success, so I am grateful that she took the time out of her busy practice to chat with me. Take some notes and enjoy!
KRISTINA SCHNEIDER (KS): Hi Leigh! First of all, tell us a bit about yourself.
LEIGH COWDEN (LC): Sure. My name is Leigh Cowden and I’m an estate planning attorney out of Maryville, Tennessee (about 30 minutes outside of Knoxville). I am also licensed in Florida and New York. I became a lawyer in 2007 and, like so many other estate planning colleagues that I’ve met, started out in litigation. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a good arguer and I love to split hairs and debate topics; however, I didn’t love the negative atmosphere of litigation. I also then got into immigration, which felt like a little bit of a kinder, gentler area of law than litigation, but it still involved dealing with the court system and unhappy or sad people when it came to removals. I wasn’t happy, and I was searching for an area of law that gave me a sense of satisfaction and gratification, an inner fulfillment coming from doing a greater service to the community. That’s when I found estate planning. With estate planning, I can help keep families stay out of the Probate Courts and retain more money for their beneficiaries. Whenever I’ve completed an estate plan for one of my clients, they express such a deep sense of gratitude and peace of mind, and that’s been one of the best feelings I’ve had practicing law.
Also, an added benefit of the estate planning practice is that it’s an area that affords more work-life balance. You can get home for dinner every day, choose to be part-time, in-office, virtual. Whatever lifestyle you wish to have, you can have it. I’m a big believer in designing the life you want to live.
KS: Did you slowly transition into estate planning or did you jump in the pool with both feet?
LC: I suppose I jumped into the pool with both feet when I opened up my office in September 2022. I’m so glad that I did, too, because I think it’s dangerous to just “dabble” in estate planning. I’ve seen far too many estate plans come across my desk from attorneys who just “dabble” in estate planning and I feel like so many of them are really doing a disservice to their clients and potentially committing malpractice. From seeing plans where folks on needs-based government assistance becoming ineligible for those benefits because the proper SNT planning wasn’t done, or high net worth clients who had a need for more sophisticated planning recommendations than just a Will or basic estate plan. I also think the way I jumped two feet in with my practice is why I’ve had as much success as I have in this first year.
KS: Tell us a bit more about what kind of success you’ve had this first year since you opened your doors.
LC: I have to be honest, it certainly wasn’t an instant success with the phone ringing off the hook and people knocking down my doors to see me. However, I tracked my revenue from month-to-month, and it was certainly a clear upward trend of revenue each month. I started off with 2 clients my first month, then 8 clients my second month. I think I grossed over $72,000 as the highest revenue producing month, and I averaged the past 3 months about $50,000 in revenue.
KS: Wow! And you did that all by yourself or did you take over a practice?
LC: Nope, mostly on my own as a solo. I hired an assistant in June after attending your Ultimate Level program in May and realizing that I was at a crossroads where I could not take on more work or do more unless I got more help. That’s when I started building my team and moving things to the next level.
KS: That’s pretty freaking amazing, Leigh! What things did you do that you attribute most to your success?
LC: Seminar marketing has been a big reason for my success. I was doing some private presentations that were producing work, but I realized quickly that I could not be passively waiting for business to come in and hope for the opportunity to speak at events to bring in clients. Being able to bring in 10 to 20 people in once per week with a seminar and keep the consistent stream of clients has not only helped me create a great sales funnel for my practice, but my close rate is higher too. I disclose my fees at the seminar, and it turns a warm lead into a pre-closed lead, and now my close rate at the follow-up one-on-one consultation is above 90%.
In addition to seminars, I think it was helpful that I had a vision about my firm and what I was building from the start and what kind of exit strategy I wanted (which you guys helped affirm for me when I attended your Ultimate Level event). I quickly realized that I would need more associates if I wanted to scale this business and that I should probably not brand my firm to myself personally (I started off as the Law Offices of Leigh Cowden). So, I rebranded my firm to Vermillion Law, making it more marketable in the future to whomever will buy my practice when I retire.
KS: Vermillion Law? Where’d you get Vermillion from?
LC: Vermillion is a bright orange/red color that I really like. I actually knew someone with that last name when I was growing up, too. It was just a color and a word that I loved, I guess! It wasn’t until after I decided to rebrand my firm to Vermillion Law that someone asked me if I knew the significance of the word vermillion to Hindus, which I did not. They shared with me that vermillion powder is worn on the forehead as part of the Hindu marriage ritual and it symbolized family and protection. I don’t think I could have picked a more appropriate firm name! It was just luck that it worked out for me like that.
KS: We’ve got a lot of new estate planning attorneys trying to get their practices off the ground. Do you have any words of wisdom to pass along to them?
LC: First, I will say that you need to be prepared to put in the work at the start. I was very passionate about starting up my practice, and I think that being clear about what I wanted and seeing the results of my hard work and long hours when I first started up was so helpful. Then, once the ball started rolling, it really seemed to take off from there. I think you have to be willing to do whatever it is that has to be done, for example work a lot of hours in the beginning, to make it happen for yourself. It’s harder if you have kids at home, but you can do a lot of what I did after the kids go to bed. Creating processes, drafting documents, communicating by email. Clients are usually impressed by late emails; shows them you’re working hard. I don’t advocate doing this over the long run (work/life balance being so important), but in the beginning, I think it’s critical to just do whatever is necessary to get your practice running on systems, and grind out the hours necessary.
Second, at the start of this year, I met you through my Facebook group and you gave some very simple but practical tips on how to facilitate and make seminars work, and that was instantly successful for me when I implemented them into my own practice. I then realized that I wanted to learn more about what you guys had to offer, so I signed up for a conference you were hosting. I remember meeting you at the welcome reception at your Dallas event, and we talked about how busy I was and you told me, “You need an assistant!” I shared with you all of the fears and trepidations that I had about hiring someone and being responsible now for someone’s livelihood. Once you ran some of the numbers for me, it immediately made me realize that it was doable and that I was limiting myself and my practice by not bringing on someone. So, I immediately hired an assistant when I got back and I implemented your tips on how to train her, and she has really helped free my time up and taken so much off my plate. I see now that I probably waited too long to hire someone, but I’m so glad that I finally did! And now I’ve hired an associate and I’m loving having this team.
I also really enjoy the networking and friendships and bonds that I’ve made through the estate planning community and at your Ultimate Level event. I’ve had attorneys take me under their wing and help me on cases that were beyond my level of experience at that point. I think being a solo, it became even more important to find my tribe and to find a group to help support me. So, I would tell someone to make the investment in an Ultimate Estate Planner conference. There’s an abundance of resources and expertise shared there so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!
Also, something that I think that has been humbling for me throughout this first year is to remind myself that while over the months, my general trend was upwards, that it wasn’t perfectly linear. It was a bit of a roller coaster and that there’s definitely cycles and seasons for the estate planning practice, but those cycles are manageable and can be planned for.
KS: Thank you for that! We’re excited to see you already coming back (to Charleston in October!). Tell us, what’s next for you?
LC: I have set up a goal to hit $500,000 of revenue in Year 2, and I see myself doing this through hiring a second staff person and another second associate. I just had an associate start working for me and I’m looking forward to having him help me better service all of the business that we’re generating into the practice. Right now, I’m farming out the drafting work, and I want us to bring that in-house, as I think it will help with quality control and would also be more cost-effective. I also just met someone who works at the local television station, and the estate planning attorney they used to have on the show retired several years ago and they’ve asked me to come in and become the estate planning expert on the show, so I’m super excited to see how that helps take our firm to the next level.
KS: That’s so awesome! I’m excited to see what the future holds for you! Thank you for taking the time to share so much valuable information about your first year in practice. Congratulations and we look forward to continue to work with you and see just how far you will go!
LC: Thank YOU! Can’t wait to see you all in Charleston!
THE ULTIMATE LEVEL—PRACTICE-BUILDING & MARKETING PROGRAM FOR ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEYS
Lawyers go to law school to become great lawyers and to practice law, but without any additional training or courses on business, those who are running their own practices need help in understanding how to make their law practice successful. From how to set up systems and processes around getting work out the door and communicating with staff, to how to properly staff, train and manage employees, and then, of course, you need a solid marketing strategy if you’re going to be able to hire the help that you need and have a lucrative practice. For years, we have been helping to bridge this gap and you can learn this too with our unique program called, “The Ultimate Level”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR/INTERVIEWER
Kristina Schneider is a Practice Success Coach here at The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Pepperdine University in 2004 and was hired right out of college to work for the Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, coordinating and facilitating Philip Kavesh’s “Missing Link” Boot Camps while also providing administrative support to Mr. Kavesh as his Executive Assistant for over seven years. Through her direct hands-on experience in Mr. Kavesh’s law firm, Kristina has been able to assist numerous estate planning professionals through The Ultimate Estate Planner and, equally as important, many of their staff members, in the successful implementation of Ultimate Estate Planner’s products and systems. She is currently pursuing her MBA degree from Pepperdine University Graziadio Business School. You can reach Kristina at (424) 247-9495 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.