Taking Control of Yo ...

Taking Control of Your Practice by Setting Boundaries | Kiele Linroth Pace

July 27, 2023 | by D. Todd Smith

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This episode of the Texas Appellate Law Podcast is a deep dive into the subtle art of setting boundaries in the legal profession. Join Todd Smith and Jody Sanders as they visit with mindset mastery coach and experienced lawyer Kiele Linroth Pace, who sheds light on how boundary-setting can be the key to a flourishing career. Kiele reveals her insights on dealing with challenging clients, navigating difficult legal positions, and preserving ethical integrity. Learn how setting boundaries not only benefits lawyers but also has a profound impact on client satisfaction. Tune in to discover how saying “no” in the right situations can lead to long-term success and improve lawyers’ mental health. Whether you’re a seasoned legal professional seeking a fresh perspective or a law firm associate navigating the challenges of client interactions, this episode offers invaluable tips on achieving balance, fulfillment, and excellence in the legal world.

Our guest is Kiele Linroth Pace from here in Austin. Kiele, welcome to the show.

Thank you. Thanks for inviting me. I’m happy to be here.

Tell us a little bit about who you are, including the explanation of your name, and then we’ll go from there.

On the personal side, everyone asks about my name. It is a Hawaiian name, Kiele. The general meaning is fragrant blossom or, specifically, the Gardenia Blossom. When people hear that story, they often have the mistaken impression that I’m from Hawaii or was born in Hawaii. It’s not true, but I do have a family connection.

My mother was a child when our family immigrated from the Caribbean, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, to Hawaii. She grew up there but then met my father who was in the Air Force station in Hawaii. He brought her back to Texas. I was born and raised in Austin. I’m a unicorn. I know a lot of people think it’s rare to encounter one of us. I have lived elsewhere, but I seem to always come back to Austin. It’s a great place to be.

Work-wise, I am a recovering not only criminal defense attorney, but I was narrowly niched on domestic assault defense and boutique law firm owner. I had a fairly extensive solo practice and career. In 2015, I started making the transition to building a team and developing a firm. That was the beginning of the business coaching that led to personal development and, ultimately, a deep dive into mindset mastery. That was all because of my business development journey.

We didn’t do this at the outset, but you are a lawyer. You’ve had an extensive amount of experience practicing. Taking it back to the beginning, what is it that led you to the law to begin with?

I was influenced by a couple of mentors, like my late father-in-law as well as my aunt. This is my then-husband’s family. They are full of lawyers. Unlike me, I like to say that he was raised by a wild pack of lawyers. I knew I was interested in going on after undergrad. I have a business degree from UT and wasn’t sure if I should be looking at getting a Master’s degree in business and maybe becoming a CPA. I had considered medicine briefly, but I’m queasy when it comes to blood and stuff. That was like, “I don’t know so much.”

The law was really interesting, partly because it’s ever-changing. I had the experience of having a great college job that got too boring once I figured it all out. I cleaned up and straightened up the things that needed that kind of effort. That is my background and my experiences, as well as my influences. It wasn’t those two individuals, but that was my first access to close up somebody who had spent their career practicing law. In one case, it is a family law judge in Houston. The other is a small-town practitioner who did a lot of stuff but primarily civil work. That was it.

To me, the idea that I could go in and do so many things with a law degree was also pretty appealing. I honestly didn’t expect to practice criminal law. I thought that I was going to be doing commercial litigation. I was raised on Ally McBeal. I was all about the pretty clothes and the pretty offices. That seemed sexy to me. I ended up going the circuit as a path partly to get trial experience and partly because I still didn’t quite know what I wanted to do when I graduated from law school.

Since I took a bunch of criminal law in law school because I found it interesting, which is the only reason I took the classes, I did end up accepting a job ultimately. At first, I did a little bit of defense work because I was working with my father-in-law. He didn’t quite have enough work to keep me busy. By this point, I was living in Houston and commuting up to Livingston, which is Polk County in East Texas. My father-in-law’s buddy, who was the county court law judge in the single county court of law, found out that I had done the criminal defense clinic in law school. He was like, “Do you want to take some appointed work?” I’m like, “No. Criminal is not what I’m going to do.”

Fast forward a bit, I was getting bored. My father-in-law didn’t quite have enough work for me. I said, “Maybe I would like to take on some of those cases.” After a year of doing that alongside the work with my father-in-law, I get to know the people at the DA’s office and they get to know me. Maybe they thought they would be happier having me work for them than against them.

You were doing something right.

The person who ultimately became my boss at the DA’s office first tried to hire me as a juvenile prosecutor. I’m like, “I am not prosecuting children. No way.” Later, as I had more time to think about what I did and didn’t want to do, a different job came open. It was a misdemeanor prosecutor, which is very different in a small town, at least in that town, than it is in a bigger city.

I did not only trial court work, but I did appeals. I did handle protective orders. I represented CPS when they came into court on a termination. In hindsight, it foreshadowed the work I ultimately niched myself on doing defense work. A lot of what I was doing was domestic violence, prosecution investigation, and whatnot. It was important that it was not the criminal cases but also the protective orders, the appeals, and so forth. Some of the same things that drove me crazy about the prosecution of DV cases later on turned out to be great for the defense.

What brought you to Austin then? You mentioned being in Houston and then Livingston.

We left Austin in the first place, my then-husband and me, because of the dot-com crash. I had graduated from law school. I hadn’t sat for the bar exam yet. I did not have a job lined up, and I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do. He was in software and mostly did contract work at that point. This would’ve been in late 2000 and going into 2001. I graduated in 2000. The contract that he had at that time ended. The usual process was he picked up the phone and called his headhunter for the next job or the next contract. His headhunter said, “We don’t have anything in Austin. It is crickets here. We’ve got lots of work in Dallas and Houston.” Since he had a lot of family and came from that area, that was our choice.

We didn’t know what was going on yet. Nobody was talking about the dot-com crash. This was unusual and scary. We were like, “What is this? What’s going on?” We weren’t sure, but we didn’t have a lot of extra resources to hang on and see. We jetted to Houston. That’s where I sat for the bar exam and started my career.

I had a brief stint with Jones Mclure Publishing before I took the job at the DA’s office. That was interesting. I was working on research and writing for the Federal Rules book that they publish. The whole period of that work, plus the defense work and doing some work with my father-in-law, adding all that together, it was probably a 3 or 4-year period. By the time we got through that, I ended up leaving the DA’s office.

The next time, we both were not completely sure we were happy about our employment situation. Rather than looking for another job in that area, we continued to keep up with friends and people that we knew in the Austin area. It seemed like the economy had recovered, so rather than committing ourselves to new jobs in that area, we’re like, “Maybe we should try going back to Austin.” We still had family in the area so we decided to uproot and come back.

We stayed with my then-husband’s sister, so my sister-in-law, who is also a lawyer. It was 3, maybe 4 weeks. He got the first job. That was the thing where we were like, “Once one of us gets a job, we will move. Once we are there, the person who doesn’t have a job yet will start looking for a place to live.” It was this little inchworm thing. That was 2005. At that time, I had left the DA’s office. I was doing commercial litigation.

I had gotten a job doing commercial insurance defense first. That ended up being key in my criminal law career, believe it or not, when it comes to written discovery practice. From that firm in Houston, when we came back to Austin, the next job I had was a straight-up small commercial litigation firm here. That was a couple of years, and that’s it. From the commercial insurance defense firm, I learned a couple of things. One is I didn’t like the insurance companies and working for them and being told, “You cannot go to another site visit because you already did a site visit.” I’m like, “I know new things now.”

You were like, “I know what to look for.”

Exactly. I’m like, “I didn’t know these things when I went and did a site visit before.” The written discovery was important for later.

It’s the thing how your previous experiences, even though they don’t seem on the surface, would be relevant to something or a completely different practice area sometimes. That’s interesting to hear about the discovery aspect of your commercial litigation experience playing into criminal law.

First of all, the biggest reason I did not like commercial litigation was that I was spoiled by being in the courtroom all the time. As a prosecutor, I was in court every day. It was fun. That was the most fun job I’ve had as a lawyer. The written discovery process in commercial insurance defense wasn’t necessarily fun, but it was very methodical and systematized. It taught me how to enforce the discovery laws that came later in criminal defense.

In 2014, we had the Morton Act go into effect, which changed the landscape for criminal discovery, but it provided zero guidance on how to use it, enforce it, or even make a request under it for discovery. As far as I could tell, my colleagues weren’t using it yet. This is probably three months into it going into effect. I’m like, “How do I do this?” I started making requests orally because that’s the way they did it in these courts. This is in Austin. I’m back in Austin by this point.

I made an oral request, or some of the courts started saying, “How about you send it to us via email?” I’m in court on this day, and then fast forward a month later when I’m back in court at the next court appearance, they’re telling me I never made that request. They’re saying, “We never got that request,” or, “You made the request but you didn’t say that,” like the ambiguity and whatnot.

That sounds very familiar to us civil lawyers out there.

I bet. That’s the thing. I was like, “I know exactly how to deal with this.” I propound a written discovery request, fax it to your office, fill in a certificate of service, and then file it with the court to prove exactly what and when I requested. What was really cool about it for me is that the county attorney’s office and the district attorney’s office had no idea. They had right-hand, left-hand stuff going on where I was faxing it. I was getting my fax confirmation sheet. I was filing all this with the court, but they could barely find their own faxes. I was doing all this. I was making a record. I was making it clear what I had requested and when and going into court telling them, “Nope.”

Fast forward eight months or more, I have a prosecutor telling me and trying to tell the judge that I never requested that. I’m like, “What do I do? How about you go ahead and get out your file? Let’s get the court’s file out and see what I requested and when.” There are all kinds of things like that. There are so many war stories. It was some awesome things, but also some exhausting things, especially when I started winning some of these battles.

Having discovery hearings, at first, the DV court did not want to give me a hearing even though it said in black and white letter of the law that I was entitled to a hearing. We had this backlog of cases that weren’t getting a hearing. The prosecuting agencies were not producing the things that I’d requested. Some of the prosecutors are smart enough to start producing it regardless of what’s happening and the rest of their agency. As I start winning and getting all the things I want, what has to happen? I got to review it.

Be careful what you wish for.

Exactly. I’m starting to get overwhelmed. I’m still battling the agencies. I call this period of time, which was probably a 2 or 3-year period, the Discovery Wars.

Setting Boundaries: As I start actually winning and getting all the things I want, now I’m starting to get overwhelmed.

Eras of your career, the Discovery War period.

That’s part of what led me to be so overwhelmed that I needed to seek out business coaching to learn how to do things like hire, delegate, and create systems that allow me to do that responsibly and continue getting good results that I was getting even if I wasn’t the one doing the work all of the work myself. I was learning how to supervise and direct a team as well as build a team. That written discovery practice was hugely pivotal. There were so many cases that got dismissed on the trial docket because of all the work that had been done.

From the Discovery Wars period, you transitioned into?

2014 to 2017 was the Discovery Wars.

After that, you focused on domestic assault defense and applied what you learned.

My focus on domestic assault defense happened fairly naturally and almost organically from the beginning of hanging my own shingle. At first, I was practicing with a friend from law school for a few months while we both figured out. He was moving back to Austin from California. I had gotten laid off by the firm that I was working for doing commercial litigation at the end of a three-month unpaid maternity leave. That was pretty harsh and brutal.

I had this sense like, “I don’t think I want to go back to these small firms.” Prior to these two jobs, it was back-to-back pretty bad experiences for different reasons. My impression was small firm life was the way to go. That was going to be more family-friendly and have more reasonable expectations and whatnot than the big firms and the horror stories I’d heard from friends and family there. My experience was not good with them, especially in the context of interviewing, being able to identify the firms that have a good culture versus the ones that are going to tell you what they know you want to hear and you take the job.

Getting laid off at that firm was probably a good thing, but at that time, it didn’t feel like it. It’s what led very directly to me starting my own law practice. It was probably month four after my son was born, my first child, that my friend and I started taking some cases together. Within 3 or 4 months, we figured out our practice styles weren’t that compatible. I was going much more low volume, high quality. He was going more high volume and not necessarily wanting to put as much time and effort into each individual case. This was in late 2006. Early 2007 was when I hung my own shingle.

From the beginning, I said, “I’m only doing criminal law,” that informal law partner and I had made a mistake. I don’t know if it was a mistake to take a custody case in Travis County, and I got a sense of what Family Law in Travis County is like. I was like, “I’m never doing this again.” I got a good result from my client, thankfully, but it was like, “Life is too short to deal with these JAs. I’ll stick to criminal law. Thank you very much.”

I did that and started asking myself the question. It took to my ex’s credit. He was part of these conversations. I was like, “What kind of cases do I enjoy handling? What kind of people do I want to work with?” That was part of what was informing what we put on my website. Q&As, for example. When people are searching for an attorney, what are they looking for? What are they typing into the box?

Both of us had a software background. I don’t know if I mentioned this. My business degree was in management information systems, so I had IT. I knew how to make a website. It was a hobby pre-law and whatnot, which has come in handy. My then-husband, we were married by that point, was a software developer and did also a lot of web-based stuff. For us, it was a natural thing to be asking ourselves these questions and thinking in terms of organic marketing.

As I asked myself those questions, I realized it had to be either DWI or domestic assault because it’s a normal people’s crime, both of them. Who do I like working with? People who care about their cases as much as I do. It’s a problem. I had enough experience at this point doing court-appointed work that many of my clients did not care about their cases as much as I did and did not care about the results as much. That was a problem. It was DWI, assault, and family violence.

I ultimately got to a place with DWI where I was like, “I’m going to take the class.” Lance Platt, a former DPS trainer who went and pursued a Master’s degree and all this data, was teaching defense attorneys and certifying them to administer the field sobriety tests. That is hugely valuable if you’re doing a DWI defense at the trial court level.

I was saving $750 at that time, which was a lot of money for me at that point. I was like, “I’m going to take that class because I want to nail this.” I took the class. What I realized and concluded from the class is it’s all a bunch of junk. It’s junk science. Yet, it’s accepted by the courts. I don’t have the time, energy, or money to fight this battle. I either have to buy into it to some extent and play the game if I want to get great at this type of work or I need to say, “It’s not for me.” That was a hard decision.

By this point, I was probably already at about 85% assaultive offenses on my docket because of the way that my then-husband and I had been creating content for my website. It ended up not being that hard of a decision to finally say no. Part of that was led by when I did start doing business coaching. The coaches that I was working with encouraged me. They’re like, “You’re already on the right track with niching yourself. You might want to consider going all the way.”

Within the first six months of doing business coaching, I made the decision to stop accepting other types of work unless it was a companion case or there was some reason for us to be involved in it. If you’re calling our office with a DWI, I’m going to send you to another good attorney who handles that type of case, primarily that type of case. I really like referring stuff to specialists.

Setting Boundaries: Within the first six months of doing business coaching, I made the decision to just stop accepting other types of work, unless it was a companion case or there was some reason for us to be involved in it.

You developed your niché practice and carried on as a solo for quite some time, as I recall. At some point, you made an affirmative decision to transition. You loved coaching so much that you decided to become a coach. Is that fair to say?

It’s not exactly how it worked, but yes. In essence, that’s what happened. When I got to a certain place in my own business and personal development journey, I started understanding some things. Things became clear to me. The most important one that led to my coaching was, by this point, I had a team. We were handling high-end domestic assault defense cases. A lot of our clients were professionals and affluent people. They were people who were very effective in their ordinary lives. Yet, they find themselves in this position.

There was another little key there that had baffled me for a long time. Many of our clients are good people and effective people ordinarily. Why don’t more of them do all of the things in this list of things we typically had for our clients to help us get the best possible result? Any good criminal defense attorney is going to have some standard things and then probably some case-specific things that they’re going to recommend to their client and say, “Here are the ways you can help us. These are going to potentially maximize the result we can get in your case and/or how quickly we can get there.” Those were the things that it was like, “Why don’t more people do all of the things?”

I’ve represented attorneys, so this is a real question. I’ve represented doctors, nurses, and all kinds of professionals with my business and reputation on the line. I would do every single thing that my attorney suggested might help, but instead, I’m sometimes getting pushback from clients who are going, “Is that really going to help? That sounds like not something I want to do.” “I can’t promise you that this particular thing will, but I can tell you from vast experience.”

By this point, I had a team of badass attorneys, paralegals, and even an investigator on staff. Our collective experience was pretty extensive. Everything I had learned as a solo about what’s effective and what helps was validated by these attorneys I ultimately brought onto my team as pinch hitters initially and then became part of the whole process.

I’m going, “Why in the world would these people push back on these things?” I can’t promise you that going to do counseling, for example, at the start of the case and continuing on for 18 months or even potentially more than that, whether it is 2 or 3 years, is going to make a difference in your case. I can tell you that over time, that’s one of several factors I have seen that help our clients get the best possible results.

When I got to a certain place in my business development journey and started understanding what things had been getting in my way, that’s when I suddenly had this epiphany about our clients and what was getting in their way. It was the same things that caused them to create this result in their lives in the first place. Guess what? Probably half our clients weren’t guilty. That’s one thing about domestic assault defense. I take more so than some of the other cases in criminal law. You see a lot of people who are not guilty.

I never kept track of stats. You don’t always know for sure, honestly, but my sense of it is probably half of our clients were guilty and roughly half of our clients were not. They all had something in common. That is, they had created circumstances in their lives that led to this result, whether it’s toxic relationships. There are lots of different things there. That was the thing that was like, “They’re getting in their own way. They have blind spots.”

Some of our clients are ready to see this incident in their life as a wake-up call and make some major changes. There are those people who are like, “I’m never going to let this happen again ever in my life. I recognize that there were things I could have done and should have done differently, guilty or innocent, and that I want to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Those people were ripe for what I called at the time accountability coaching.

Since I was out of the trenches myself as an attorney, I was no longer the attorney in court every day, the attorney prepping cases for trial or being down at docket call every other week. I had the time, energy, and creativity to figure out how I could add this value-add service for those select clients. Let’s be clear. Private coaching is not cheap, so they have to have the resources. They also had to be ready to do the work. It started with accountability coaching. In other words, helping them work through that list and get as much of it done as they could. That invariably led to mindset coaching, and that I discovered is what lights me up.

I can see how you could be energized by that. If you had the experience of a lot of clients who gave you that pushback or a select group of clients who maybe took the list and said, “I want to do these things. Help me do it and hold me accountable to use your terminology of accountability coaching.” That’s great. I suppose there is some level of accountability coaching as part of what you do. As you point out, you’ve got people who are willing to come to you and then pay you for the benefit of your experience.

It’s helpful to have heard where you come from on this because anybody can come on and say, “I do coaching for lawyers,” but it’s one thing to be trained up and all that in this area. There is value in talking to someone who has lived it and gone through it. You’ve said before that you sought out coaching yourself. You saw the value in it. It’s interesting that you offered that to your criminal defense clients as an add-on service. I don’t know how many other lawyers have done that.

As far as I know, it’s a first, but I haven’t done a survey. The creative process is what I’m going to call a component of mindset mastery that’s about creating the things that you want to do, be, and have in your life. I am doing it from a much more intuitive approach than previously the way I accomplished things in my life prior to mindset mastery studies, coaching, and whatnot. The deep dive I did in 2017 was important because the original business coaching from 2015 to 2017 taught me more technical things about running a business and what it takes to have a healthy small law firm. I got stuck, and the mindset mastery or the deep dive I did there became critical to me moving forward.

To build on that a little bit, it seems like you brought this concept of mindset mastery. Is it a matter of making the decision to affirmatively do things that are going to improve your career in life rather than being reactive to things that are happening to you?

That’s a part of it. It is being intentional about what you’re doing from both a macro and a micro perspective. The macro perspective would be getting in touch with your big-picture vision for your life, work, business, law practice, and relationships. It is every aspect of your life. That big-picture vision is what I’m calling the macro part of your intentionality. It is saying, “I get to decide. If I’m not being proactive about that decision, then I’m letting things develop that may not serve me well in my life and may not be creating things in my life that I want.” It’s more than the big-picture vision.

When you hear people talk about vision boards, which are a lot of fun, a lot of people misuse them. It’s a good and fun tool, but on its own, I don’t know that it’s particularly valuable. You have to look at the micro aspect of intentionality as well. What are you doing from moment to moment, day-to-day, week to week, and month to month?

Our entire life, productivity, and everything we create comes down to those moments. We can have this big-picture vision, but if we’re not aligning our actions, thoughts, feelings, and experiences such that it’s pulling us or drawing us in the direction we want to go, then we’re still not going to create the things that we want no matter how pretty our vision board looks.

What are you looking for in a client? What is a client looking for you? What do you typically see when someone comes to you?

I don’t always know exactly what it is that they see, but what I can tell you is that what I am saying and doing resonates with them. I can’t make that decision for someone else. It has to come down to their internal sense of whether or not I resonate with them. That’s it. That’s part of the reason I do a lot of speaking engagements, even ones that are on a volunteer basis with our local bar associations and whatnot.

It’s important in the work that I’m doing to make myself a lighthouse. That way, the people who want and need what I have to offer see me, are attracted to me, and come to me. That’s the way that I do it, more so than trying to chase people down. A) I don’t chase. That’s not the energy I want in my life. B) It also comes down that I am not necessarily the one who identifies or figures out, “That’s a person I want to talk to more. That’s a person who may have something to offer me.”

I find it can go along the lines of I do a speaking engagement and then I get somebody reaching out to me via my website or LinkedIn. Usually, during every speaking engagement, I try to make it clear to people how they can reach me. I’m like, “Here is the way to connect with me if you want to know more, if you have questions, etc.” I’ve changed that process a little bit over time to protect my time more. I used to always do, for anybody who wanted it, a free 30-minute call that I called a strategy call if they had additional questions and whatnot. I’ve been finding with the speaking engagements that I need to shift more to a one-to-many situation.

What I’m doing is encouraging people that if they get on my website and are looking if they want to work with me, then I want them to do a little more homework first. If you haven’t attended one of my speaking engagements, for example, “Here are some things you can do. I’ve got the UT law CLE workshops. You can go do one of those or follow some of the stuff I’m doing on social media.” What I don’t want to do anymore is get on the phone and spend an hour with somebody on a call when it turns out it’s not a good fit. They have no idea that private coaching is a significant investment. It requires time, energy, and money.

Back to your question about who I am looking for, I’m looking for people who are ready to do the work. They have gotten to a place where they are like, “I want to make a change.” It’s critically important to me. Typically, we are talking about law leaders. This was an epiphany. I love helping attorney moms. The next step that was important in my transition to focusing on lawyers was my local attorney mom group. It’s called MAMAs Austin. It is a very active, wonderful group. I’ve been a member since my older son, who is 17, was probably 2 years old. I’ve stepped into leadership because I am on the board.

Early in the pandemic, we had posted, because we have a very active Facebook group, about how all of the stressors for attorney moms got exponentially worse because of the pandemic. They were having their kids at home and recognizing when they were posting wanting tips and help with, “How can I manage all this?” Like everybody else, I would throw in my favorite two cents about some of the strategies that I find helpful.

There was one post in particular. I don’t know why this one bothered me the most. It was when I realized this response was pretty superficial. I know how to solve this problem because I solved it for myself. I understand and recognize, by this point, the tremendous value of what I’ve created for myself here in changing my job, my experiences, and my life.

I was going from being completely stressed out, like attorney mom guilt, anxiety, overwhelm, burnout, insomnia, and all the things, to being at peace more often than not. I am having peace of mind, learning how to navigate more effectively, and enjoying the life I’m living while I create the things that I want in my life. Somehow, I was holding something back and throwing in these little tips. When you’re responding to a Facebook group inquiry, question, or whatever, there’s no way to convey the substance of this because there’s a lot to it. That was the beginning.

I ended up on the phone with one of my friends, having a connection call. She’s the founder of that group. We were chit-chatting about that. She asked me, “Would you consider doing a workshop for our group? Come and do a presentation, maybe a one-hour lunchtime thing.” That was the beginning of it. For the longest time, I was focused on attorney moms.

It was not long ago that I realized this. It was because of a specific person who did exactly what I said before. It was the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association that I had spoken to. The very next day, I got a message from my website from somebody who is the owner of a small to mid-size law firm saying, “I’d like to talk to you about potentially coming in and training and coaching my leadership team.” That began a series of conversations where I was like, “I’d be happy to talk to you about that. That’s something I could do.” It was figuring out what that would look like and whatnot.

As I was chewing on it, I had this epiphany at one point because this person seemed pretty ideal also, even though he is not an attorney mom. I was like, “What is it that makes him ideal?” I don’t mean that he wants to hire me. I’m talking about the dialogues that we were having. He seemed ready and willing. Part of the thing that was refreshing about some of the women I had been talking to in the last couple of years was that he was so ready and willing to commit the resources to this necessary training.

The epiphany went along the lines of the reason that I was ready, willing, and able to invest such an extraordinary amount of time, energy, and money into my business and personal development, not because I’m an attorney mom. It’s because I owned a law firm. The stakes were very high. This is my livelihood. By this point, I have a team, commercial leases, and all kinds of things that I’m maintaining. It’s critically necessary that I figure out how to make it work.

When I realized that part of the problem was my personal development and that was part of how I got stuck, it was a mindset thing. You can bet I’m going to make it a priority. I’m going to go down that path and whatnot. The thing I realized was a missing component for some of the people. As much as I would love to help them, what was missing in terms of being able to coach them, they were not ready. They may never be ready, willing, or able to invest those kinds of resources in it. The other piece is I created a mastermind group that is a better fit for folks where you do what you want. If you invest in private coaching, you better do it.

You got a direct accountability partner.

Part of the accountability is your pocketbook. That was certainly true for me when you make a significant investment. If you’re working with a good coach for private coaching, it’s a significant investment. You can’t afford to blow it off, not show up, and not do the work. That was part of the key. I’m still figuring this out. I’m still very much in startup mode with my coaching practice. I’m celebrating because it’s been about eighteen months, maybe a little more, since I made the decision to take a leap of faith and shut down my firm.

Setting Boundaries: Working with a good coach is a significant investment. You can’t afford to blow it off. You can’t afford to not show up and not do the work.

I have one criminal case left. I’m like, “It’s scary.” It’s not just a criminal case, but legal. That’s it. It’s almost completely done. It’s all about the coaching. Part of that is walking the talk. When I realized that continuing to run my law firm was keeping me from doing what I needed to do and launching my coaching practice, I realized that was what I had to do. I had to shut it down.

You had to burn the boats.

Not everybody has to do that. I’m jealous of the people who can do a little side hustle and grow it. For me, that was holding me back.

In the legal industry, who can do that?

Maybe you’re right.

It plays to your observation. In practice, you like to refer to specialists. It’s hard to imagine someone having great success doing a side hustle in the law. We all know the law is hard. You got to hustle to make it and keep it up. It sounds to me that what you’ve done is you’ve shifted but you’ve continued to niché down. You’ve decided, “Instead of practicing full-time domestic assault defense, I’m going to do this other thing that I really like and help other people learn from what I learned.” That’s way cooler.

We’ve had other lawyers on the show before who are non-practicing now. They’ve moved on and do various types of consulting work. I’m always interested because something to consider is what is life after law going to look like for lawyers. I admire people who have decided, “This is the other thing I’m going to do. I’m going to build on the experience that I gained all this time as a lawyer.” You can get a life coach or a business coach as a lawyer, but is there anybody better suited to coach a lawyer than someone who’s been through it?

That’s probably true. There is one thing I want to make sure we touch on here. We will be doing a lot of lawyers a disservice if I leave any impression that you have to leave the law in order to completely change your experience, your job, and how it feels in what you’re doing. Before I decided to go down the coaching path, I had managed to improve it significantly through the work I was doing.

When I started going down the mindset mastery path and doing a deep dive into that, I learned a different way of approaching and problem-solving. I am approaching the creative process, creating what I want to do, be, and have in my life, in other words. That did make a huge difference. Prior to that point, success for me was always this endeavor of pushing a boulder uphill to learn things, do things, and figure things out. That was not just law. That was even before law, but especially in law. That was the initial days of my business, too, even after I started business coaching for the first couple years of it.

Making that shift and making that transition allowed me to get in the flow of things where the decisions that I was making were more intuitive. They were more based on what felt good and what felt right, as hokey as that may seem to folks on the other side of this path where I started, where everything needed to be concrete, and where the idea of anything woo was extremely off-putting to me. At that point, I didn’t have the tools to do it the way I did it in the later part of my legal career.

At this point, I was working with a private coach myself. Here’s a tip. There was one thing or one question he taught me to ask myself that became super pivotal. It enabled me to change my job over a nine-month period. This is something more for people who have their own practice than if you’re working for somebody else. You can do similar things when you’re working for somebody else, but that somewhat depends on the system in which you’re working. Since I was the boss, it was my law firm, and I had a team, I was in a position where I could make changes.

The question was this. Anytime I started feeling like things were heavy and hard, he said, “Ask yourself, ‘What would this look like if it were easy and fun?’” That’s it. I didn’t have to know the answer right off the bat. In terms of mindset, the fact that I was asking myself that question, it’s almost like I was giving myself a task that my subconscious mind couldn’t help but pick up, think about, chew on, and start having little ideas here and there. Sometimes, they were small things and adjustments. Other times, they were bigger things and ideas that I would implement.

Start paying attention when you hear that answer or response of, “What if I did this?” or, “What if I did that?” Over about a nine-month period, my job became so much better. There were still challenges. There were still difficulties, but it was a transformation where I was running my law firm, doing my work, and enjoying it.

How much of this boils down to psychology? You talk about mindset mastery. It’s almost like you’re tricking yourself into looking at things a certain way.

Some of them are hacks.

I hate to use the word hacks because it implies you can do something with 1 or 2 steps and you’ll fix everything. That’s not the case generally.

There are coaches in the industry that you’ll see their little workshop or whatever where they do that. They’re like, “There are three simple steps to blah di dah.” They are implying that everything is going to be smooth sailing after you do their 4-week workshop, 6-week workshop, or whatever. That’s irresponsible.

It is true that there are certain little tricks like what you described that can make a big difference in how you view your work, your life, etc. There are little hacks like that that do help, but they’re not the be-all-end-all solution.

Correct. It’s important to learn how we think and how we work. For me, that’s four building blocks to mindset mastery. This is the survey workshop that I do, Mindset Mastery 101. That was the first workshop that I did for MAMAs Austin, the local attorney mom group. The challenge there was trying to figure out how to do a one-hour workshop where I could provide meaningful information about what it all was.

Can we run through those building blocks really quickly?

Sure. The first one most people have heard of is mindfulness. That starts with learning the basics of meditation. Where a lot of people don’t make the connection here is that’s only the starting point. You learn the basics of meditation. I feel like it’s so that you can take and continue practicing also. Doing a daily meditative practice is helpful. It can be a minute, 3 or 5 minutes.

I typically don’t do more than five minutes. In the very early days, if I had to be in court, we’re talking one minute. On days I didn’t have to be in court, it was three minutes. I couldn’t see doing more than three minutes for years. It was relatively not long ago that I decided I was going to try doing five minutes as my typical daily meditation.

With learning the basics of meditation and practicing it, the point is not that practice but having the tool to take into your day-to-day activities. It is taking meditative practice into the task you’re working on into the conversation you’re having with a person, especially if it’s a challenging person and so forth. It’s like sitting in traffic.

A lot of people overcomplicate meditation, too. It’s very simple. I always know they’re doing this if they go, “It’s so hard because there is so much chaos. I’ve got so much stress going on. I don’t have the time. It is so hard to do it, so I don’t prioritize it.” That means they must be thinking that you have to stay present. They’re like, “It’s hard because I can’t do that.”

That’s not what meditation is. Meditation is the practice itself. In other words, it is simply choosing to focus on something that’s in the present moment. That might be your breathing. In fact, some people will do breathing. They stay focused on breathing and then come back to breathing. I prefer to let my mind go from breathing to the way that my body is pressing into the seat beneath me. From there, I might go to the feel of the air on my skin, noticing whether it’s still or if there’s a breeze. Maybe there’s a fan if I’m sitting inside, whether it’s warm or cool, etc.

It is sitting there noticing what’s going on in your present circumstances, whether it’s your breathing or whatever else you’re choosing to focus on. Your attention wanders. You get distracted by a thought or a feeling. First of all, A) It is noticing that it’s happened. B) It is reminding yourself that that’s okay and normal. It’s part of being human. It is part of the practice. There’s no need to feel upset about it or like you’re doing it wrong. It’s part of the exercise. You notice that it’s happened. Let go of the thought or feeling that distracted you, and then turn your attention back to whatever it is you’re choosing to focus on. It’s that simple. It’s that practice.

It doesn’t matter if you get distracted ten times. That doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. The fact that you noticed that you got distracted and then turned your attention back to the present moment or whatever it is you’re choosing to focus on, that’s it right there. That’s the practice. The more you do that and the better you get at it, the better you get at staying present when you choose to stay present.

Here’s where the magic comes in. It makes you more effective at whatever it is that you’re doing. You’re more present for the people you want to be with, whether that’s your family, clients, or a challenging person. You want to make sure you make the most of the time you’re with them. This might be a client, a difficult opposing counsel, or something. That’s it right there in a nutshell.

What’s cool about it is you’re staying present here as opposed to getting caught up in past remembrances or things that are already gone. They’re not here. They’re not even fully real because of the way perception works and memory works. What is in your head about something that’s gone in the past isn’t truly reality, nor is projecting into your future worries, what might happen, and so forth. What’s interesting about lawyers is we have to do some of that as part of our jobs to be effective litigators. We are issue-spotting and dwelling on what went wrong and what might go wrong in the future.

Here’s the cool thing about mindfulness practice. It is one of the bit most powerful tools for finding and maintaining peace of mind. You are releasing anxiety and all of these negative thoughts and feelings. It brings us almost instantly to the center and allows us to let go of all the negative feelings that are dragging us down. That’s mindfulness.

Setting Boundaries: Mindfulness brings us almost instantly to center and allows us to let go of all the negative feelings that are dragging us down.

Identify for us, if you would, really quickly the other three building blocks of mindset mastery.

Acceptance is also called surrender. I’m not going to spend as long on it. The basic thing here is learning to be okay with the fact that you are where you are or who you are and the other people you’re dealing with are who they are. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are giving up the right to change things that you can. Sometimes, people will get confused and go, “Does acceptance mean that I’m going to change it?” No. In fact, it’s the first step in changing it.

It is understanding and recognizing where you are, being okay with that, and saying, “It is where I am,” rather than pushing back on it, which doesn’t help us or serve us well. Acceptance and surrender are another one you could do a deep dive on. That’s a whole component. There are practices. My favorite resource on that particular one is a book called Letting Go by David Hawkins. It teaches you a really simple practice for learning to accept things and let go of thoughts and feelings that don’t serve us well. That’s the second building block.

Number three, in the coaching industry, is called personal responsibility. I like to call it self-empowerment. It’s not because I have a problem with the term personal responsibility, but I do find that a lot of people, especially it seems like in lawyer groups, think we’re talking about blame when we talk about personal responsibility. We’re not talking about blame at all. We’re not talking about whose fault it is that we are where we are. Rather, it’s about who gets to take responsibility for changing things. When it comes to our own lives and experience, nobody else is better suited to doing it to making whatever changes it is that we need to make. For most people, we are the only ones who truly can make that change.

Another component of personal responsibility is learning to understand that we can change our experience with the exact same inputs. It is the same experience and the same things happening, but we get in the driver’s seat of what’s going on in our own minds and we can change our experience. We’re having a better experience with the same people, the same situations, and so forth. It’s called personal responsibility but I think of it as self-empowerment. It is because we are giving ourselves the power to create what we want in our lives to recognize, “If there’s something I don’t want in my life, I’m the one who gets to make the change. I’m the only one who can.” That’s the third building block.

The final one, which I’ve already talked about some, is the creative process. It is learning the basics for how we go about making those changes once we’ve decided we want to. From a more creative, intuitive perspective rather than competitive, it is the way that tends to drag us down and feel like we’re pushing a boulder uphill.

That’s super helpful to get that big picture. I know we could spend a lot of time talking about each one of those.

There are things that I didn’t touch on gratitude and where that fits in. There are so many things and tools like journaling and whatnot. Having that framework helps me understand. Some things address more than one of those building blocks, but that’s how I view and teach it.

One other thing that I wanted to ask you about, which I know you also do as part of your speaking gigs, is you talk about boundaries. It’s something I would like for our audience to read you talk about for a few minutes because it’s something that we don’t often give ourselves permission to install or enforce. Let me kick it over to you and let you launch into that, if that’s all right.

There are a couple of things I want to say about boundaries. First of all, we are doing a service not only for ourselves but for others when we set appropriate and healthy boundaries. We’re giving them a roadmap for how we need to be treated to function well and also to be happy to have them in our space. When we learn to set effective boundaries, other people can trust us more to let them know if they ask something of us and we’re not okay with that.

It’s something I’ve taken to telling people more often since I’m better at setting boundaries. You can trust me to let you know if I have a problem with that going forward in the future. People tend to appreciate that when you get good at it. In the idea that we’re being selfish when we set boundaries, it is the opposite. It can be challenging, but everybody benefits when we learn to set healthy and appropriate boundaries. It could be critically important.

Staying on the theme of law, you guys are appellate attorneys. I’ve done some appellate work. I know that there are going to be areas where this comes up in appeals as well, especially at the trial court level. That’s what I can speak to more. In the early days of my practice, I didn’t understand or realize that I could or should set boundaries with specifically court staff and judges when it comes to scheduling. I was in court almost every day. I’d have a court coordinator or a judge throwing a date at me for a contested hearing, trial, or that sort of thing. If I had a hard conflict, I knew I had to address that and get that cleaned up.

What I didn’t even have the experience or the wisdom to understand at that point is that to be the most effective lawyer, I needed to do a better job of setting boundaries for other things, too, like having time to do my out-of-court work. If I’m in court all the time, there’s a whole bunch of work that needs to be done in order to get the best possible results for my client that I can’t do. Also, having a life, time to rest, recharge, feed myself well, spend time with my children, go to the doctor, and all of those things. It was much later than it should have been then I would’ve liked for it to have been in my career that I realized I could and I should decide.

When I was a sole practitioner, much less the owner of my own law firm, I was empowered to sit down with my calendar and say, “How am I going to function best? How am I going to thrive? How can I map out the best use of my time on the weekends and the evenings?” Evenings and weekends became something I was protecting for my family, myself, and personal purposes, a day for business and personal development things. That became my Mondays. It is time for doing that out-of-court work, returning phone calls, having client appointments, and whatnot. This became critically important.

I do a workshop on setting boundaries. That can be a process in itself because it’s ongoing. You are learning how to A) Identify that you need a boundary in the first place and then B) Going, “What does that boundary look like? What should I set my boundary around?” It is then the process of doing it because that can be a trial and error thing.

When I first started setting boundaries with court staff and judges, for example, I didn’t realize that there were certain words and language that were almost like magic words that would make this easier. For example, vacation. I was trying fancy things like, “This time, I’m not available because of this, that, and the other.” I’d get pushback from a judge or court coordinator and be frustrated. I then realized that they understood the word vacation. Some of the things that I was trying to describe differently slotted pretty easily into vacation. Once I started using that magic word, they didn’t give me any trouble with it. It is those kinds of things where you have to make some adjustments.

Since I did domestic assault defense, I spent a lot of time in Court 4. In Travis County, that’s our domestic assault court. There’s no way that I could take Friday as my primary day for doing business and personal development because that’s when we had the biggest docket when it comes to court appearances, contested protective order hearings, and things like that. Unless I wanted to change my practice area, Friday was a necessary day for me to block off for court. It is those kinds of things.

Those are all interesting thoughts about boundary setting, especially setting boundaries with courts. Since I’m away from solo practice and I’ve been back in a law firm for a few years, we have young lawyers here in the office trying to spend some time mentoring. Also, we have clients. I’m thinking about how those lessons about boundary setting can apply. Let’s maybe talk first about the young lawyers in our office when they’ve got a senior partner beating on the door at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon about that project that suddenly has become an emergency. Do you have suggestions on how those folks might deal with situations like that?

Yeah. You’re hitting it on the head in terms of one of the most challenging situations that lawyers can find themselves in when it comes to boundary setting. People want the answer to be different than this. Sometimes, you can effectively set boundaries in these situations. Sometimes, part of boundary setting is deciding what you’re available for and whether or not this environment, the people that you’re working for, and this firm with its policies is a place for you.

Setting Boundaries: Sometimes part of boundary setting is deciding what you’re available for.

The reason I’m saying it that way is because it can come to that. We all know that instinctively. Sometimes, I find some of the lawyers that I end up talking to want to be, “What if? Surely there’s a way I can make this situation work.” There may be, but what I’m going to suggest to you is that when it comes down to setting effective boundaries, part of what you’re looking at is what is important for you to thrive, enjoy your work, be productive, and not be stressed out all the time.

Before you decide how you’re going to address setting the boundary, it is important to decide how important this is to you. Is this a deal breaker? Does this come down to one of the things that I’m not available to be treated in certain ways or do certain kinds of work? Maybe you are, and maybe you aren’t.

The process that I teach for setting boundaries is that’s something you should be looking at and thinking about. You don’t have to make this a hard and fast decision necessarily on the front end, but at least you are giving some thought to, “How important and how critical is this boundary for me?” The reason is that when you decide how you are going to go forward and start communicating that boundary, what you are going to say about it, and so forth, if you find that the people that you are dealing with are not receptive and that you try and give that effort, which, in a firm, hopefully, you’ve got besides the person that you’re talking to that you’re dealing with, you can try setting a boundary with that person.

You and I both know some people are receptive and some people are not. If that person happens to be your boss or somebody with a lot of influence in the firm and you’re not, then it may be a challenge that is not navigable. I’m not saying give up at that point. I am saying be aware that you have to be clear on how important this is to you.

In a firm, I would suggest that if you try setting the boundary with the individual or you might think about it in advance and go, “That’s not the best way,” because of the individual or the circumstance, maybe there’s somebody who is a better choice for you to go talk to first. This partner might not be the person who has the authority over the associate. That would be the best person to have. It may be that in a larger firm, you’ve got somebody in HR that you can go talk to and ask for advice. That’s part of the thing.

It’s impossible to give people in a general context like this the right advice on how to handle this. If I’m talking to an individual and we’re talking about the specifics and circumstances, then I may or may not be able to make suggestions about, “Have you thought about this? You might want to approach that.” Let’s be clear. It would always be the person in the situation who is best suited to deciding what the right approach is.

As a coach and a mentor, I make suggestions. Oftentimes, I’m asking questions more than I’m giving advice. I am helping them find the right answers because they usually have a lot more knowledge and understanding of the individuals and circumstances even if they’re not necessarily thinking about the right things yet. If I try to come in with my own background and my own experience and tell them what to do rather than helping guide them toward the answer, then there’s a danger that I’m projecting my own stuff onto them.

They also have to take ownership of the solution. It’s one thing to give this list of things you recommend. You were talking about early on when we began this conversation about your clients and your practice. In the end, I wouldn’t think that the best coaching clients would be the ones that said, “Tell me what to do.” They would have to be bought into the whole idea. It really is an idea of mindset mastery that probably starts with a mindset shift. These are the things that can make your life better. Boundary setting is one of them, but you have to be the one to decide what you want your boundary to be and how you are going to enforce it.

In our Calvert Inn experience, my team this 2023, you probably recall that we did a presentation on boundary setting. I was excited to do that in that context because of my whole team of lawyers of various different practice levels and also practice areas. We had people who were in law firms, people who were judges, and judges at different levels speaking on this issue. One of the things that I found interesting and rewarding was learning from other lawyers what are the specific challenges they’re having, how they are resolving them, and how they are going about this.

Judge Thomas and I were both the criminal law voice on this topic for our team. We talked about a specific experience he had when he was a prosecutor in the county attorney’s office with a very challenging individual. His experience with that individual was such that most people probably would’ve had a real hard time with the way that person was behaving toward him at the time, but he didn’t. The way that it impacted him was different than it would impact a lot of other people. That’s important because it affects whether or not he needs to set a boundary. If so, how and what would that boundary look like?

The same behavior that might be problematic for one person may not be problematic for another. It is the way that somebody speaks to you, whether or not they’re asking you to stay after your normal departure time. It is all kinds of things that it has to come down to how that impacts you and what your experiences are around it.

The other relationship I can think of, and I mentioned this, aside from boundary setting for newer lawyers with senior lawyers in the office, is every lawyer in practice or a firm has some issue probably with boundary setting with clients. Jodi could, too, speak from experience on this issue with clients texting you on a Saturday, Sunday, or in the evening and wanting a response.

I’ve spent some time studying this issue myself. My two cents on it to throw out there, and we can talk about it a little bit more, is if you make the boundaries clear, clients will generally respect them. It’s important to make them clear because if you engage them in the text exchange on a Saturday, then that moves the boundary marker at least implicitly. There are lots of other things that clients can do to push boundaries. In the end, and offer your two cents on anything specific to client relationships, the same general principles apply to almost any relationship when working inside the legal system.

That’s true. Clients can be one of the most challenging areas for setting boundaries for most lawyers. It’s also a relationship that lends itself the most to setting boundaries, and here’s why. When clients come in, they expect to get new information and an orientation almost. One of the questions I recommend asking when you sit down to set boundaries is, “Who’s the target audience?” We’re having this conversation and saying, “It’s the clients. You have to set boundaries with the clients.” it’s like, “Kind of,” but it’s a trick question. What I found is once I identified what my needs were and then the boundary I needed to set in order to address those needs, I was the biggest culprit, not the client.

Setting Boundaries: Clients can be one of the most challenging areas for setting boundaries for, but it’s also a relationship that lends itself the most to setting boundaries.

You’re making exceptions to the boundary.

Exactly. Are you making the exceptions and calling the client or returning their phone call in the evening or on the weekend and then resenting it? I was the one that had to buy into and believe in my rights and duty to myself and my family to protect my time and to take care of myself. This is self-care and whatnot. When I bought into it, the clients were usually not so challenging.

There are two tools I would highly recommend. You already alluded to one of them. You said calling clients and doing messages outside of business hours. That’s why you should use the scheduling feature for emails and text messages. If you’re working outside of your normal work times, even though it’s no skin off your nose, even though you’ve chosen to make an exception, if there’s not an urgent need for this message to go out this evening on a Saturday, then schedule it for Monday morning.

The irony is I did that. We’re recording this on a Monday. I used that feature over the weekend to do that very thing. I haven’t really thought about the text messaging part, but that’s something I need to look into also.

It makes a big difference when you are respecting that boundary of not communicating with clients outside of business hours unless there’s a real need to, and then I apologize. This is an exception to my general rule. My general rule is to stop apologizing. For most things, stop apologizing. For this, when I call them outside of business hours, even though I realize they are probably not bothered by that because it is an exception to my general rule regarding work time, I will apologize. I’m like, “I am so sorry for bothering you on the weekend, but I knew how important it is for you to have this information before Monday morning. I decided to check,” whatever it is. You fill in the blank there. You’re sending the message that this is an exception. It’s an important exception. That’s one.

The other one is written guidelines. That was one of the most powerful things that I learned to do. This was before the mindset work in something I do have to give credit for the business coaching that I did. One of the things I learned to do was create a set of written guidelines for new clients that help orientate them on how to communicate with your team and what defines an emergency when they call.

When they do have an emergency that fits that definition, how they should engage that, what the process is, what they should say, and what they should do. Should they text, or should they call? That’s going to be very team specific. That’s not the only area. Written guidelines for new clients are fantastic. It was like AKA how to be an A client or something like that. The people who were my best clients loved getting this. They wanted to know.

Especially the ones who are rule followers, you’re setting the rules so you know, “Here are the lanes. Let’s not go outside the lane either way.” That makes a lot of sense.

The ones who were not as much, I didn’t email this to them. They would probably get it in 2 or 3 different contexts. I’m trying to remember when we first gave it to them. I would send that to them as an attachment after they signed their fee agreement and made their initial payment so that they’ve officially retained the firm.

The welcome message included the new client guidelines. When we had our first sit-down face-to-face consults, which some firms are probably doing via Zoom but back then, it was face-to-face, I would have certain portions of that document that I would have tabbed and highlighted to pull out and talk to them about, like the definition of an emergency.

I’m sure you could even go farther. It depends on the timing of when you share that with them. You could even build that into your engagement agreement and say, “This is how to work with us. This is how to work with me.” You can always point back to the engagement agreement and say, “This is part of our engagement.”

Not only could you, but you probably should at least allude to it in some context. You have to decide on the front end when a client should be fired and what takes them to that point. There are points along the relationship where maybe you can rehabilitate them. They’ve engaged in some conduct that’s not okay with you in terms of how they’re treating you or your team, not paying their bill, or whatever it is. It’s important to give some thought to that, like what behavior constitutes getting red rubber banded? What happens? When is it a done deal where you are like, “You’re fired. You’re gone. You’re out of here. If there’s money in the IOLTA account, that goes back to you. We’re fine with that.” Communication is an important one.

As we are going beyond the time that we had allocated, there’s one other area that I wanted to ask you about in terms of boundary setting. It has to do with working specifically with clients. That is clients who want you to take indefensible legal positions, whether it be in briefs or in court. Clearly, your ethical obligations prevent you from doing that, but I assume the same principles can be applied to that.

You can have as one of the conditions, “Working with us or working with me, you’re the client and you make final decisions. I’m not going to take a legal position that I don’t think is defensible or that I don’t think is in your best interest.” You could massage the language. Have you seen that issue in coaching your clients specifically?

Not as much. It is something that has come up. When I think of the examples where it’s come up, it’s more often when I think about legal, in other words, my work as a lawyer and conversations that I sometimes had to have with clients. I would modify the statement that you made. I don’t think they are the final words on everything. There are some areas. It’s helpful to clarify for them, “These are the areas where you get to decide, and they’re absolute. There are some areas that, as a lawyer, it is my job to decide. How I communicate with opposing counsel is one of them, when, etc., whether or not I am honest with the court.” That is candor to the tribunal.

There are things in criminal law that would come up sometimes where clients want you to engage in conduct that’s not even necessarily something that is absolute. Candor to the tribunal is very clear about what our duty is there in a lot of situations. I also took it to the point of being professional, cordial, and civil. If there’s not a strong reason, for example, to oppose a motion for continuance because somebody is having a hard time with family or whatever, then I’m like, “No, client. You do not get to dictate how I conduct myself with other lawyers.”

In our practice, the lawyers who know what they’re doing follow the standards of appellate conduct in addition to the Texas Lawyers Creed. Part of that is you will not oppose a reasonable request for an extension or a continuance. That is one area in which a lot of us in our practice area would say, “I don’t even need to talk to you about this,” when it comes to a briefing extension deadline.

Thirty days is a quick turnaround, especially if you’re new to the case, to try to get a brief done after the record is complete. That’s one area where, for me, it’s absolute. I’m like, “Don’t give me a hard time about agreeing to an extension because that is within my purview. It’s an ethical obligation that I have to not only the legal system generally but to opposing counsel in the courts so as to not oppose a reasonable extension request.” I would put that on the list. By all means, I did not mean to imply that the client always has the last word on everything. What I went through is a good example of that. They do not.

You’re right. That’s an area. I’m trying to think back to my fee agreements. I don’t think I had something specific to that in the fee agreements, but I had some conversations with clients where I’m saying. “That’s not something you get to decide. If that’s important to you, then there are other lawyers.”

That’s exactly right. Maybe a last point to cover here is the kinds of things you’re talking about in terms of boundary setting. Are there ways that you can best ensure that you have a long and productive career as a lawyer? You can Google and pull up statistics on lawyer mental health. You don’t have to look very hard to find instances in which lawyers have self-destructed or had issues with substance abuse and other bad self-destructive behaviors.

Honestly, in part, it’s because we aren’t good at setting boundaries with clients and courts. It means if we’re not good at doing that, we take on additional stress that we shouldn’t have to take on. This is a great method for helping to manage stress in a profession that’s already stressful enough without difficult clients, judges, and legal issues. Presumably, you’re getting paid and getting paid well to solve a client’s legal problems, but you need to be able to say when enough is enough at some point.

I agree. That makes me think of a client who shared with me. It hadn’t even occurred to me until we had this conversation that there are also medical benefits. She has a condition. It started with a situation at work where she needed to set boundaries with somebody who was employing her. This goes to the associate question that you had.

In her situation, she had two different partners that she was doing work for. One of them was her primary supervisor. The other one was one for whom she was doing some additional work for and had a tendency to engage with her in ways that were very stressful. The problem is that when she had the stressors going on that were ramped up, it was causing her some medical problems. She has an actual serious diagnosed medical condition.

When we first started working together, one of the things that she had a lot of questions about and that we talked a lot about was setting boundaries. I helped her with that. It’s important to me not just to help people by giving them advice about this situation but teaching them the process they can use going forward. It is for them to have autonomy and independence in handling these situations better for themselves going forward in the future.

What was really cool and validating, and I remember getting goosebumps when she told me about it, is the work that we did and she did. As a result, she ended up having a major uptick in her health, her actual test results, like white blood cell count and that kind of thing. It was because she had reduced that stress by setting healthy boundaries.

In some cases, she had to make a tough choice. Thankfully, the one partner was supportive, but it meant making a change in how she was working with that firm. She went from being on regular payroll to being a contract attorney. That was appropriate and helpful for her. In her case, she ended up turning that into her own little business, which is great. She’s thriving. She’s got multiple employers. She is not overly dependent on one. That’s not the right solution for everybody. However, the way that you engage the creative process, make these kinds of decisions, and point yourself down the right path, that’s what led to the right answer for her.

As we’re reaching the end of our time here, our tradition is to wrap up with a tip or a war story. I know we talked about a few ideas before we started recording. I was wondering if you have something you’d like to offer in addition to all the great stuff you’ve already given.

I do. This is a really simple one, that I was surprised when I started using it by how effective it is. I call it the one good thing. The opposing counsel would be the equivalent in Civil Law. However, I’m thinking of a particular prosecutor where this person is an ass, honestly, and tough to take and deal with. It was the coach I was working with at the time.

Wherever it is I picked at the tip, the idea is this. You can find with a challenging person that you’re dealing with one thing that you can genuinely appreciate about that person. Stop for a moment, and let me assure you that no matter how challenging you find this individual, I promise you if you put your mind to it, you can find at least one thing. It can be something superficial. In my case, it was that I had reason to know that he was a good father. It might be that this person, maybe he is funny on some particular point. I don’t know. I’m sure that a person as smart as all of your audience members can find something. Do that, take my word for it, and find the one good thing.

Once you do that, it can diffuse it. When you find yourself getting frustrated and triggered by the person, you step back and think about that one good thing. If you haven’t thought of the one good thing yet, try doing it right in your mind rather than thinking about the next point you want to make in the argument you’re having with the person. If you focus on that one thing that you appreciate about the person instead of the things that you don’t, it can transform that relationship, especially if this is someone you deal with over time. That’s it.

That is great. I appreciate that. That’s one of those things that’s so hard in the law because you are always adversarial to somebody.

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About Kiele Linroth Pace

Kiele Linroth Pace is a success mindset coach, consultant, and serves as Special Counsel for select law leaders who are ready for change but pressed for time by taking things off their plate so they can focus on more lucrative and impactful activities to get the results they want faster in law, business, and life in general.

Kiele’s passion is helping law leaders and other ambitious high achievers who are successful but unfulfilled find peace of mind and navigate more effectively so they can enjoy the life they have NOW while creating the life of their DREAMS.

Prior to winding down her law firm to focus on coaching, Kiele was the owner and Chief Legal Strategist of a boutique criminal defense firm where she directed and supervised a badass team of attorneys that defended good people whose lives had been turned upside down by an arrest for domestic assault.

Kiele’s work is rewarding, fulfilling, and she is in the driver’s seat of her schedule and her life. But it wasn’t always that way. By the end of 2014, Kiele was struggling under the weight of a successful solo criminal defense practice. She had earned a 97% dismissal rate over a six-year period, which was phenomenal by any measure, but she was overworked, overwhelmed, and the stress was killing her. Looking around at older lawyers in her community wasn’t encouraging. Many of them were jaded or burnt out from decades of subscribing to the doctrine of sacrifice.

Determined to find a better way, Kiele sought help through business coaching, which led to personal development and ultimately, to mindset coaching. It was a difficult and sometimes painful path but allowed her to transform her business and quality of life in ways that she previously wasn’t aware were possible.

Now that Kiele has found herself and her purpose, she is passionate about helping others who are stuck in a similarly painful place find their own path to success and begin living their best lives.