Welcome back to the 288th episode of the Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today’s podcast is Patrick Kilbane. Patrick is a Partner and the Director of the Divorce Advisory Group for Ullmann Wealth Partners, an independent RIA based in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, that oversees $800 million in assets under management for 350 client households.
What’s unique about Patrick, though, is how he stepped away from a successful career as a family law attorney to transition into becoming a financial advisor who specializes in divorce, with a unique value-add of being able to work collaboratively with his former legal colleagues to provide support services for new clients going through a divorce process.
In this episode, we talk in-depth about how and why, after almost a decade of practicing family law and helping clients through divorce, Patrick made the transition to a financial advisor to better help his clients navigate the financial challenges that come with divorce, how Patrick leverages the professionalism, trust, and the connections he built as a lawyer to gain referrals for him and his advisory firm, and, while he doesn’t give any formal legal advice to his clients, how Patrick is able to utilize his knowledge of the law to offer specialized assistance to divorcing clients so they can better prepare for meetings with their lawyers during divorce proceedings.
We also talk about how, after reading Rich Dad Poor Dad while in college, Patrick realized his interest in personal finance and the ways passive income can impact one’s life (going so far as investing his excess student loan money into a Vanguard S&P 500 fund), how Patrick tired of the grind as a lawyer (especially dealing with divorcing clients when they’re at their worst) and the immense pressure he felt as a lawyer to bill thousands of hours a year to clients (and be collecting on those bills), and why Patrick walked away from his law practice, just two weeks after becoming a partner at his firm, so he could pursue a career as a financial advisor… while still retaining his status as an accomplished lawyer.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Patrick shares why, even though he is appreciative of his years as a lawyer (as he could not be where he is today without it), he wishes he could have begun his career as a financial advisor much sooner in life, how Patrick understood that despite being an accomplished divorce lawyer, it was incredibly important to have a mentor who could guide him as he transitioned into his new career as a financial advisor, and how Patrick has lived a philosophy of trying to give his best effort every day to help his clients realize their financial goals, with the confidence that when you work hard and do your best each day for your clients, your own finances tend to get taken care of, too.
So whether you’re interested in learning about why Patrick decided to change careers after many years as a successful divorce lawyer, how Patrick utilizes connections and trust he built in his former profession to build his financial advisory practice, or why Patrick feels he can better guide his clients through the worst of times as a financial advisor rather than as a divorce lawyer, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast, with Patrick Kilbane.
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Michael: Welcome, Patrick Kilbane, to the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Patrick: Thank you, Michael. It’s great to be here.
Michael: I’m really looking forward to the discussion today and talking about this interesting journey that I know you’ve been through, and I’ve seen cropping up more and more lately, which is those who come from the legal profession, having been practicing attorneys, into the financial advisor world. And I know you’ve lived a version of this journey. You went from divorce and family law into financial advice. I have also seen a number that go from the estate planning role, estates and trusts, into financial advice as well. And I know some of that is just there are challenges in the legal world these days, I think, particularly in the estate world, as the rise of LegalZoom and such, force estate planning attorneys into fewer and fewer very affluent clients. And there’s a lot you can do in estate planning with affluent clients, but there are only so many affluent clients relative to the number of practicing estate attorneys. And I know family law has got some of its own challenges and dynamics of just the messy client situations you deal with. And so I’m excited to hear more of this journey of what’s it like to go from the legal profession to the financial advisor profession. Just from the lawyer’s perspective, why do you make that leap, and what’s so appealing about the transition from the law side of the business to the financial advisor side of the business?
Patrick: Absolutely. That’s a great question. There’s a lot to unpack there. I’ll tell you, if you haven’t litigated, especially litigation in the family law context, people often say about people going through divorce that they’re really good people on their worst behavior. In a criminal law, it’s really bad people on their best behavior who are going through a criminal trial.
Michael: Interesting distinction, right.
Patrick: Yeah. So when you’re litigating, your entire day from the time you get up until the time you go to bed is negative. You’re getting letters, motions, other court pleadings where your client is being accused of doing something wrong, violating a contract, not doing something that they agreed to or that they were ordered to do. And imagine being in the divorce context where somebody is trying to take your kids and/or take your money. It’s a very negative day. Adoptions are some of the only really positive happy moments that you have in a family law case.
So I just saw some financial advisors that I worked with, that I would refer my clients to, at the conclusion of their case, that it was like, “Wait a minute, I’m doing all the hard work here. These people get to take over working with my client when they’ve made this unbelievable metamorphosis.” And I would run into my clients two, three years down the road, and they’re a completely different person. And my time with that person was maybe a year, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer, and then the wealth advisor gets to have a relationship with that client, assuming they’re doing a good job, for decades maybe. And I was like, “Wait a minute, I think I fit in that mold way better than I do in the litigation and dealing with the negativity all day long.”
Michael: That’s an interesting framing. Divorce, you only get them short-term and basically at their worst. The advisor gets them long-term, transformed, I guess, either at their best or becoming their best and growing and evolving into their best. I never really thought about that kind of juxtaposition.
Patrick: Right. And so, now, for the last almost decade, as a wealth advisor, I’ve been able to participate and help usher in my client into that next chapter, into reimagining what their life is going to be and giving them the confidence that they can do it, they can start over, and they can have their own advisory team, and they can do things the way that they want to and the way that they envision the next phase of their life going. So I’m telling you, it’s been a blast, and I’m so grateful to be able to have made that transition.
Patrick’s Journey Toward Becoming A Family Law Attorney [07:19]
Michael: So give us, then, a little bit more of the contextual back story of just what was your path into law in the first place. How did you get started? Was it divorce and family law throughout? How long were you in that side of the world? So, what was the lawyer journey for you?
Patrick: Yeah. So the lawyer journey, I knew since I was eight years old that I wanted to go to law school. When I was eight, that was the George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis presidential election. And I was just fascinated and captivated by the debates and the conventions, and I told my dad, “Hey, I want to get into politics. This looks like fun.” And he said, “If you want to get into politics, you have to go to law school, because most of the members of Congress and people in the executive branch, certainly, the judicial branch, they’re all lawyers.” So I said, “Okay, fine.” I had a one-track career. I knew I was going to go to law school.
Michael: Because you literally wanted to go into politics or because you just wanted to debate on the stage?
Patrick: No, because I really was fascinated and captivated by the politics. And so I said, “Okay, I want to do it.” And then the summer between my second and third year in law school, I actually did an internship in Washington, D.C. So I was able to look under the hood, and I thought, “Oh, my gosh, who in the right mind would want to run for office and be a part of this?” But law school was certainly a great way to understand how our government works and why it works that way and how laws are made and how they’re interpreted. So I moved to Jacksonville, Florida, after I get out of law school, and I singled out the law firm that I wanted to work at. And I interviewed with them. They liked me, and they said, “Hey, while you were off doing that internship in Washington, we filled all of our hiring needs. But if something opens up, we’ll call you.” And I’m thinking, “Yeah, okay.” Yeah.
So anyways, two days after I interviewed with them, they called me up, and they said, “Listen, we weren’t kidding. We really liked you, and we want you to be a part of our firm. And we have been crunching some numbers and evaluating our workload, and we think that we have the work to justify hiring a family law associate attorney. What do you think?” So I have the long pause and cover up the receiver on the phone and go, “Good God, who grows up and wants to be a divorce lawyer, right?” That was never something…I thought trusts and estates or maybe corporate transactions.
Michael: So you never came to this with the journey of, “I want to be on a path to divorce law.” That was the offer that came after you decide you didn’t want to pursue the internship you did between the second and third year of law school.
Patrick: Correct. Correct.
Patrick: So, yeah, and I thought about it, and I’m thinking, “I think I have the skills to litigate. I think I could be pretty good at it, and I know that most litigation associates, people who work in the commercial litigation, they’re just thrown in a conference room and their job is to just help the senior partners deal with discovery, answering interrogatories, combing through banker boxes of documents.” But the family law experience would give me the opportunity to get into the courtroom right away and use those litigation skills that I developed in law school and felt that I were better suited for my skillsets. So I said, “Okay, I’ll give it a try.” And they said, “All right, and through attrition, if you want to move to a different department, we’re not going to make you…we won’t keep you in family law forever.”
Well, fast forward 24 months, we’re in the great financial crisis, and the litigators were, essentially, the only ones that were generating revenue for the firm, because the commercial real estate transaction attorneys weren’t doing anything. The land use and zoning attorneys, if you remember, their work had dried up. So I’m a third-year associate doing divorce work, and the top-shelf attorneys in town, because people couldn’t afford to pay their rates, some of those cases that would normally go to them were coming to me at $150 an hour cheaper.
Michael: Right. Because I’m just envisioning, financial crisis, economic distress, financial distress, I haven’t looked up the statistics, but I’m going to guess there was a rise in divorces in the middle of the financial crisis when all that financial stress and the rest is happening. So crisis is on, real estate grinds to a halt, divorces spike, and you’re a divorce litigator in a town with only so many divorce attorneys. So at some point, the business starts rolling down.
Patrick: Yeah. And I had to grow up fast. I was litigating against the big boys, the ones who have been doing it for 30, 40 years, who had the reputation, who knew all of the judges, and I did it. It really accelerated the trajectory of my legal career. And I learned some really, really unbelievable financial lessons during that crisis. I saw the people who had no income and somehow own five houses and qualified for five mortgages on these houses. And I’m in my late 20s, looking at this, going, “It’s a no-wonder the financial system is imploding.”
Michael: Because you’re actually seeing the people who then show up in a divorce, trying to figure out, how do you divide the divorce estate of five houses that are underwater because they were all offered with no-doc loans, and it’s just a total mess. And you’re supposed to split it between two unhappy separating spouses.
Patrick: Yeah. And, Michael, I had to go find real estate agents that got certifications in distressed assets. Remember, this was when homes were being short-sold and all of those challenges. We talk about equitable distribution or dividing community property at that time. A lot of it was dividing debt and figuring out the most optimal way to apportion the debt, not the most optimal way to apportion the assets. And it’s so funny. I see how hot the real estate market is right now, and I’m thinking, “Gosh, 12 years ago, some of the properties that are selling as soon as the sign goes in the ground, you couldn’t give those properties away.” So it’s really interesting and a lot of great lessons, but I’ve always had that interest in personal finance. I studied business and finance as an undergraduate, and when that opportunity came to do it, I felt like, “This is my calling.” And I’m able to take all of those skills that I learned as a lawyer and a litigator and transferred them to assisting my clients on the wealth management side.
Michael: So, can you paint a little bit of a picture, just for those of us who are just wholly unfamiliar with the reality of being an attorney? What does that business look like? How are you generating revenue? How do you get paid? Because, later, I imagine we’ll talk about what it’s like to work and build a practice and earn a living in the advisor world versus the legal world, but not many of us know the legal world. Just how does that work? How was it operating for you running a family law practice within a larger law firm in Jacksonville?
Patrick: You just asked me the best question that’s anybody’s asked me about the legal business, and I feel like if this discussion that you and I are about to have, if aspiring law students have this discussion, I think a lot of them would make different career choices.
Patrick: So the business of law is unbelievably challenging. You talk about what people see and what people do behind the surface. The law practice is a grind. So I moved to Jacksonville from South Bend, Indiana. I went to law school at Notre Dame. So I moved here, and I know nobody in town. So the way that you get paid as a lawyer is by sending your client a bill for the time that you spend working on their case. If you’re at the law firm and you’re going to lunch, or you’re in some department meeting, or you go to a board meeting after work, none of that counts. Firms, back in the day, would want to see their associates bill hours.
Well, the second law firm that I went to work for, they didn’t care how many hours you billed, they cared about what you collected. So as a young lawyer, you have to figure out, “Okay, is this client going to be able to pay their bill? If I do work and I send them a bill, are they going to pay it?” You hear about the word retainer. So a lawyer asks for a retainer at the beginning of the case, because they want to have some money set aside in their trust account to bill again. So that way, they’re not having to constantly ask their client for money. Well, a lot of people, they’re not companies, they don’t have a corporate checkbook to pay their lawyer, so you really have to stay on top of the money that you have in your trust account and ask them to replenish it, otherwise, you’re going to be constantly reaching out to them to ask them to pay their bill.
Michael: And so I got to ask quickly because, I don’t know, I just sort of come from a world where you incur a bill, you pay it. Typically, when you incur a bill for professional service, you pay it. And I feel like, right or wrong, if there was one person I was not going to try to stiff for a bill as a service provider, it would be a lawyer, because it kind of seems like if anybody’s ever going to sue me for not paying my bills, it would be not paying the bill to my lawyer. So, is it that big? I guess I’m just wondering, is serving clients where you send an invoice, they don’t pay it, that big of a problem in the legal profession? And if you’re all lawyers, why can’t you solve this?
Patrick: Yeah, no. It’s a great question, and it does become a problem. Again, think back to the financial crisis. If you were estranged from your spouse and you’re trying to make the mortgage payment, pay the credit card, feed the kids, make the car payments, make the private school payments, and then you lose your job, well, what priority does that invoice from the law firm take? What creditor position do they have? So, yeah. And I’ll tell you, I don’t want to generalize about my former profession, but there are a lot of lawyers that just aren’t good business people, because they want to go in there, and they like to do the work, and then they think, “Oh, yeah, I’ve got to actually also collect the money.” But it’s different from a doctor’s office. You can’t move two steps without them saying, “Give me your insurance. Give me your credit card. Update your information.” The law practice is just not like that.
Michael: Interesting. So just doing legal work and getting nonpayment is a real-world ongoing challenge in law, and I’m going to guess, some areas of law probably struggle with this more than others. I’m going to guess the estates and trusts attorneys. If you’re planning for something with a high net worth estate, they’re probably good for their legal bill.
Michael: But I’m sure, if you’re working with bankruptcy, you got to be careful, because they’re going through bankruptcy.
Patrick: You’re right.
Michael: And I’m going to imagine, in this context, you have a very wide range of financial wherewithal when you’re doing divorce and family law. So I guess that becomes part of the process, literally, when you’re deciding what clients to take is, “If I take this client, do I think they’re actually going to be good for the bill at the end?”
Patrick: Right. So as a young attorney, you have to learn how to manage your practice, collect your bills, screen your clients. Another thing is if a client gets an outcome that they don’t like or they don’t think, then they’ll just say, “Well, I’m not going to pay for that.”
Michael: And so, then, what your remedy as a lawyer is to sue your client for nonpayment of your bill. Does that happen?
Patrick: It’s one of them, but it’s not fun. And, look, luckily, I didn’t have to deal with a lot of those situations. But when you’re practicing, like when you go to the doctor, you don’t really dispute. You’re not sitting in there with your doctor who’s taking your temperature and listening to your heartbeat, disputing your bill. But with a lawyer, you’re kind of in that situation. So your remedy is you say, “Listen, this isn’t going to work out. I need to withdraw from your case. You need to find a different lawyer.” And then you eat one month’s worth of services rendered to that client, something like that.
Michael: It’s interesting to me just in this context now of things we take for granted in the advisor side of the industry. For better or worse, in a world you worked on commission, granted you got to actually get to the sale and transaction to get the commission, but once the client buys the thing, they bought the thing. So you already get paid, because at that point, the money doesn’t come from the client, it comes from the company. And even when we work in an AUM model, I’m not providing services until I’m actually managing assets, and the point, I’m managing assets, I know I’m getting paid because I’ve got the assets on my platform, and I’m going to bill right from the assets.
So we still have to manage our billing process, but this whole idea of being in a realm where you could provide a significant amount of professional services and literally run the risk that clients just say, “No, I don’t feel like I got the value,” or just don’t feel like paying, and don’t. We don’t have a collections issue in the advisor world that you’re painting a really interesting picture of in the legal context.
Patrick: Yeah. And it’s a beautiful thing. And then, because the phone just doesn’t ring and people aren’t just throwing work at you, so on top of working 12, 13 hours, then you got to be active in the bar association, active in community organizations, to do all the business development work that financial advisors and wealth managers have to do to get new clients.
Patrick: So, you think about that. That’s a long day, and that means that if you didn’t get to that work or you need to bill more hours or collect more fees to hit your monthly budget, you’re doing that on Saturday and Sunday to catch up.
Michael: So out of curiosity, just because I’m trying to imagine how this may translate to the advisor world, was there a benchmark of how many billable hours you were supposed to be generating or you were trying to generate? And I just don’t even know how that gets measured. Is that X hundreds or thousands of hours per year, or is that a monthly billable hours? Is that a weekly billable hours? What kinds of targets did you have?
Patrick: Yeah, great question. So I think that varies by geographic region of the country, by practice area. You hear a lot of…I think if I had to draw a best-fit line, you’d say young associate attorneys are expected to bill about 2,000 hours a year.
Michael: Bill 2,000 hours a year.
Michael: Because I’m just 40 hours a week, times 50-ish weeks a year. There’s about 2,000 working hours a year if all, in total, and that doesn’t include professional development or business development or management meetings or team meetings. That counts nothing. Getting to 2,000 billable hours is like you work a full time client-facing job with every hour of a 40-hour week, and then you do all the other things it takes to be a professional on top of that, in whatever spare time you used to have before you do the rest of what you need to do just to be a practicing professional.
Patrick: That’s correct.
Michael: And I’m just thinking of that in the context of our advisor world, even highly productive advisors are 50% or 60% of their time is client-facing, maybe 70% if you count business development, and they’re really leveraged up, which, on a regular working year, super active advisors maybe get 1,400 client-facing hours, that would be the equivalent of billable hours in a law firm. And you’re starting at 2,000.
Patrick: Right. And, look, when you get older and you progress in your career, you do things more efficiently. That’s why your hourly rate goes up, and the number of hours that you’re expected to bill a lot of times may drop a little bit.
Michael: So, what does a little bit mean? When you are several years into your practice means that it goes from 2,000 to 1,800, or it goes like…
Patrick: Correct. Yeah, exactly.
Michael: Okay. So it’s not like it goes from 2,000 to 1,000.
Michael: Right. Okay. So intensive focus on client-facing. Again, just 1,800 billable hours, even at that level, you’re talking about almost all of every day of the week doing things that you can directly attribute to and, therefore, bill to clients. That 1,800 hours is more than 7 hours a day of actual client-facing or client-specific work that you could tag a billable hour task to.
Patrick: That’s right.
Michael: That’s a lot by financial advisor standards.
Patrick: Yep. That’s phone calls, emails, drafting briefs, legal memoranda, phone calls with opposing attorneys, meetings with clients, meetings with your staff, preparing for hearings, trials, etc.
Michael: So that, just I’m envisioning, in practice, not only do you have all this super-intensive hourly billing work, but you’re basically doing it with rather unhappy people. Because there are just divorces that go well and divorces that go less well, but the pleasant happy ones don’t hire divorce litigators. So, I’m assuming you have all this intensive work of, I guess, as you said earlier, people at their worst.
Patrick: Yeah. And I would say most cases, they’re not the War of the Roses that you think of where people are hanging from the chandeliers and drawing the line in the middle of the floor. 90% to 95% of these cases are going to resolve without the court having to do any work. You go to mediation.
Patrick: Maybe sometimes it takes a couple of days of mediation, but eventually, you get a deal done. And I think that happens for a number of reasons. I wrote a book, which is called “Move Forward Confidently,” and I described this process in detail and argued that the mediation day is the most important day in somebody’s divorce case. Because, look, our judges are great. They work very hard. They’re overworked. They don’t have the resources to adequately dig into every case and do their job. So when you’re at mediation, you’re with a neutral third party who’s trying to help you reach an agreement. Neither side is probably going to be happy, but they are able to use and employ some self-determination in how their assets are going to be divided, how custody of the kids is going to be shared, and how all that’s going to work. And almost as equally as important is it gets people off that litigation treadmill, and it turns off the spigot of the legal fees that they’re paying to the lawyers.
Patrick’s Journey From Divorce Lawyer To Divorce-Specialized Financial Advisor [27:17]
Michael: So I think you’re painting now a good picture of just the pain and challenges of the legal world. So help us understand now what was the actual pathway to the advisor world. Were you doing this as a lawyer? Had you had an interest in the advisor side where you’re doing this as a lawyer and seeing what the advisors do and said, “It kind of looks like the grass might be greener over there?”
Patrick: Yeah. My interest in personal finance started when I was in college. My father had the Robert Kiyosaki “Rich Dad Poor Dad” books in the house, and I read them. And I learned about the concept of passive income, and I thought, “Man, wouldn’t that be great if I could earn money when I’m sleeping?” So I had the mindset to start out and do that and I bought a Vanguard S&P 500 or the Admiral shares, whatever it’s called, back then, when I was a junior in college. And then, when I was in law school, I took the excess student loan money that I had at the end of the year and then invested that. Dividends reinvested. So I started very early in my 20s investing. And my now business partner, who was my boss, I represented him and his divorce in 2008. And I think I mentioned to you earlier that, whenever I would represent somebody that needed a referral to an advisor, I would send them to him, and I got awesome feedback.
So he took me to lunch on April Fools’ Day in 2013 and was gushing about the professional success that he was having coming out of the financial crisis and how happy he was with the growth of his business, his team. And I jokingly said to him, “Well, if things are doing that good, why don’t you hire me?” And he said, “I’d love to hire you, Pat, but you’re never going to quit practicing law.” And it really sparked something when he said, “I have all of these clients and prospective clients that are going through the divorce process. You’ve got the fundamental understanding and education to do this work, and I think you can really be an asset to the business by working with the people going through divorces and getting them on the right path.”
So we negotiated for a few months. I’m a partner at my firm. I checked that box. And then, two weeks later, I quit. And then, at the beginning of 2014, I joined the wealth management business and have been there ever since.
Michael: All right. I do have to ask quickly, just that comment you made of, “I’m a partner at my firm, check that box, and then, a few weeks later, I quit.” So I guess, just a brief interlude, help us understand what partnership means then in a law firm context. In the advisor world, we usually escalate someone to becoming a partner because they’ve got a material number of client relationships they’re managing on an ongoing basis. And frankly, it’s sort of half, “You helped to build this so we’re going to let you have a piece of the equity,” and half, “We need to give you a piece of the equity because that’s kind of a golden handcuffs because, otherwise, you could walk away with all these clients, and then the business wouldn’t have the revenue.” Partnership is a super retention-y-oriented thing in the advisor world. So, is that different in the legal world of what it means or what expectations are about staying or not when you become a partner?
Patrick: So yes and no. I think, generally, partnership in a law firm is very similar to partnership in a wealth management firm. However, law firms have gotten creative. As some of the equity partners didn’t want to dilute their shares, they created junior partners and non-equity partners, and the like. And they created multiple levels of partnerships, which sounded great, but then, when you saw the compensation and what you were being asked to do, it really wasn’t much different than being an associate. And, look, I had already known that I was going to make the switch, but if you’re working at a 300 attorney law firm, you want to make partner. And let’s say this venture into the financial world didn’t work out, what was I going to do, go back to a law firm and I didn’t promote to partner? Then somebody that I was talking to would be like, “Why didn’t you make partner? What happened there?”
Michael: Oh, interesting. The escape valve back to the legal world is just, “If I do this financial advisor thing and it doesn’t work out, I can go back to my former profession,” which a lot of people do when they’re evaluating becoming a financial advisor. So part of the fallback safety for you is, “If I make partner at the firm, then that’s on my resume if I’m ever trying to get back into the legal world in the future. And, hey, at the end of the day, they have 300 lawyers. They’ll be okay if I don’t stay.”
Patrick: Yeah. And so, look, I still have an amazing relationship with my former law firm because I’m not competing with them, and I’ve actually referred them a ton of business. And by making partner, it brought that safety net up higher. I’m taking a risk in going into a totally different industry and putting my faith into somebody who I had a long-term professional relationship with, but I never worked for him. I wasn’t in the trenches with him. I didn’t know what to expect. He didn’t know really what to expect. So I felt more comfortable promoting to partner and then leaving with that on my resume than just leaving with a few months to go before I actually made that happen.
Michael: Okay. Makes sense. So now, help us understand, how does that transition into financial advisor world work when you were a practicing attorney? How does that switch happen?
Patrick: Yeah. So like I said, a number of years, my now business partner, I represented him in his divorce, and I think he saw a lot of the same transferrable skills that make a successful advisor. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and I think one of my greatest strengths is my customer service. If you call me, if you email me now, if you text me, you’re going to hear back from me pretty quickly. Glenn is my business partner. I think Glenn’s frustration with lawyers is sometimes you call them and you may not hear back for three or four days. And he could just never understand. In his business, that was completely unacceptable.
That’s not the way that you take care of a client, and I think I was always pretty good, Michael, about the out-of-office messages. So if my clients called or emailed, they knew that I was unavailable, why I was unavailable, and when I was going to become available. And I always, instead of my assistant or paralegal picking up the phone when somebody asks for me and they say, “He’s not available. Do you want his voicemail?” no, I had them set an appointment so they knew exactly when we were going to talk so they didn’t have to keep calling me back or I didn’t have to play phone tag with them. We had a set time when they knew they were going to talk. I think it made for happier clients, it served them better, and they knew that I was being attentive to somebody else, and they were going to get my undivided attention very shortly.
Michael: Interesting. So Glenn literally experiences, in working with you, and realizes, “Okay, Patrick actually gets good client service expectations. This can translate into our advisory firm as well.”
Patrick: Yeah. And I think he saw the type of cases that I was getting, he saw my business development skills, he saw that I was somebody who was able to develop trust. When you’re working with somebody in their divorce, you learn…we get all the tax returns, the brokerage account statements, and you hear all sorts of other things that you wish you didn’t hear sometimes. We’re almost privy to more information, as divorce lawyers, than you would ever be as a wealth advisor. And so I think I had a reputation for keeping clients’ confidences confidential. I developed a business. I was organized. Good customer service, great reputation with the judges and the opposing attorneys. And Glenn said, “Yeah, let’s get him licensed, and I can teach him the substance. He’s learned different areas of law.” I didn’t just litigate family law. I litigated other things. It’s constantly learning. “You have almost more designations than anybody else, and you know that, if you want to learn life insurance, you crack open the books, and you take the test, and you earn that certification.” So I think he felt like I had the fundamentals, the blocking and the tackling, and get me up to speed, and be in meetings with him, and learn our process, and learn the substance of the wealth management. And he thought that I could do it. And I think it’s worked out pretty well.
Michael: So, what was the actual half? I guess, take us back. You give notice to the law firm, you decide you’re going to get going with Ullmann. And so, what happened? What did you actually do to get started as highly experienced attorney, complete newbie advisor, time to get a career going?
Patrick: So it took me probably a month and a half to close down my practice. I finished some cases that I thought I could reasonably finish. I didn’t just tell the law firm, “Hey, I’m out of here in two weeks.” I made the commitment that I was going to be around for at least two months to get some cases finished and then take some of the clients that I knew their cases would take a little bit longer and get them to the attorney that I thought was the best attorney to handle their particular case, whether that was somebody in my firm or somebody outside of the firm. And so my last day of practicing law was Black Friday of 2013, and then I thought, “Gosh, it’s the month of December. I’ve got family coming in, I wanted to go visit my elderly grandparents, I wanted to go on a vacation, and I wanted to hang out with my five siblings who were all coming to town over the holidays.” And so I really took kind of a month-long sabbatical before I started the new career.
And then, when I started at Ullmann, I would work during the day, I would get to know the clients. Of course, I’m not licensed, and we were with a broker-dealer at that point. So I would come home from work, and I was studying for the 7 and the 66 and got those licenses. And then I also studied for and obtained a certification with the acronym CDFA, which stands for certified divorce financial analyst.
Michael: So, what did you arrange from a compensation perspective as you were getting going? Was the firm giving you a salary or spotting you with dollars, or was this the decision, “I’m going to come in from scratch, and I’m starting from zero, but I’ve got existing relationships and reputation, I think I can build a client base and build revenue relatively quickly?”
Patrick: Yeah. So it was salary and bonus, and the bonus was discretionary, “Let’s look at what you’re bringing in, how you’re progressing. Did you get licensed? Are you adding value to the firm?” And so, yeah, all of those things happened, and they continued to invite me to come back to work year after year. So…
Michael: So, how do you think about salary and that opportunity in the advisor business? I don’t know where they started you, but I’m going to guess it’s lower than what you’re billing as an active family law attorney that just made partner. So, how did dollars match up, and how did you think about just the financial transition of that?
Patrick: Yeah. Luckily, I was at a time where I lived below my means. I did take a pay cut. But I felt like practicing law wasn’t a challenge for me anymore. Certainly, you deal with novel issues from time to time, challenging personalities, but there are only so many spots on that checkerboard when you’re trying a case. And I felt like I’d gotten pretty good at it, and I was ready for a different challenge. And as we previously discussed, the entire week was negative, so the delta between my compensation as a lawyer and what I was starting out at as a wealth advisor, you cannot put a price on the happiness of going from a job where you’re helping people accomplish their goals and dreams versus helping people try to minimize the collateral damage of the breakup of a family. That compensation wasn’t the driver for me.
Michael: Interesting. Interesting. So you start getting trained, you get familiar with the clients, you’re studying for you 7 and 66, you get your CDFA. So, two things, how did the client part get going, and at the end of the day, were you supporting clients of the firm, or was the whole point Patrick’s going to come on board and eventually get his own clients and build his own client base?
Patrick: So we’re an ensemble practice. Currently, we have five advisors. And when somebody comes on and becomes one of our clients, they’re a client of the firm. I don’t have my own book of business. If I left today, I don’t bring anybody with me.
Patrick: So I was there to build service and plan our client base. And one of my abilities is I generate business. I had a lot of relationships in the legal world and some friends of mine who hadn’t had an advisor, and they said, “Oh, well, we need an advisor. You’re just getting started. Let’s give you and your firm a try.” So I had a number of people who were just loyal, wonderful friends who really gave me that initial boost out of the chute. And then lawyer friends of mine, judges, well, the judges can’t refer anybody, mediators, and other lawyers, and lawyers on the trust and estate side, and CPAs that I worked with, they knew I had the family law knowledge and expertise and experience. And had referrals coming right out of the chute.
How Patrick Gained Referrals And Trust By Leveraging Connections From His Former Profession [41:43]
Michael: So, how do you just go about, I guess, communicating it back to them? At some point, if you want to get referrals from them, they do have to understand, “Patrick’s actually not with such and such law firm anymore. He’s with an advisory firm now. He’s doing a different thing.” So, just how did you go about going back to everyone that you knew when you were wearing your lawyer hat to say, “Hey, I’ve got this new thing now?” Is that a social media announcement? Do you send a letter? Is that, “No, I did 50 lunch meetings,” and just loaded up the calendar? How do you actually get the word out and get that referral flow starting?
Patrick: Yes. The answer is yes to all of those things. I did all of those things. Loading up the calendar, emails, lunches, breakfasts, dinners, board meetings, other things that I’m involved in. Yeah, I worked really, really, really hard. Some people got it right away. Some people, some of my professional relationships and friends, it took them a while. And they thought, “Well, hey, this guy was pretty successful as an attorney. How long before he just goes right back into practicing law? Is this wealth management thing going to actually work out?
Michael: Is this a thing or just a phase? Let’s wait and see a little.
Patrick: Exactly. So three years passed, then I’m there for five years, then six years, and then I think some people started to say, “Yeah, he’s staying there. He likes it. He’s having fun. It’s working out. Let’s learn more.” Just this week, just yesterday, in fact, I had a friend of mine who I had cases against for 17 years, and he came to an open house that our firm had in the fall. And with all the recent volatility in the market, he’s been calling and texting. I gave him some advice, and finally, I said, “Why don’t you just come in for a second opinion? No obligation, but just let me see what your advisors have you doing, and we’ll tell you, ‘Hey, you’re on the right path. You don’t need to make any changes. Or maybe you need to make a tweak here or here. Or, look, I think you need to reboot and change course.'”
So, yeah, some of those seeds that have been planted, Michael, over eight-plus years are starting to sprout. Some of them took right away, and some of them took a little longer. But it’s been a lot of fun.
Michael: So, what was it that made the early things take early? As I’m sure you’ve seen over the years from other advisors entering in the profession, including some people that do career-changing, a lot of people struggle to get much business flowing when they first do a career change, I think, because a lot of the sort of the perspective that you shared, people from your old profession for a while, “We’re just going to kind of see if it sticks for a while before we go. I’m not really sure if you’re going to stay in that new thing or boomerang back here.”
Patrick: Another great question. I think, and I thought about this a lot, I think there are some people that you have such a deep relationship with, and some of them have watched you from afar, and they just say, “Look, I believe in you. I trust in you. I want to work with you.” And I know you’re young or you’re inexperienced in this area, but I’ve known of the people who run your firm, the partners in your firm, and I want to work with you all.” And some people, you don’t even have to sell. It was just, they trust you, “Let’s go. I trust you implicitly. Let’s do it.” And then there were some other people, it took them a while, “Hey, you didn’t work at Merrill Lynch,” or “You didn’t go through Morgan Stanley’s training program.” So it took a little while, it took a little longer to earn that trust. And I thank God for my friends in the legal profession.
One of my favorite meetings, there’s a boutique divorce firm in town, and they had a few attorneys in their office, and they get a lot of the best work. And so I brought my boss, and we went to have lunch with them, just wanted the opportunity to work with their clients if they represented some high net worth person who needed an advisor. Well, two to three partners of that firm became clients. They asked us to manage their 401(k), and then they started sending us their clients. And that was in the third month of me making the transition.
Michael: And so I guess I’m wondering, what were you doing in your prior world that you had the depth of relationships that there was so much trust they just said, “Patrick, it’s a new thing for you, but you’ve been good. We trust you. Let’s get going?”
Patrick: I think, as we’ve talked about several times and you’ve remarked, there’s a lot of ugliness and high emotions in family law cases, and I think I’ve got a pretty calm demeanor. I think I was professional. And even though I was in conflict all the time, with opposing counsel and the opposing party, I think I did a really good job of treating them professionally and trying to, obviously, serve my client’s best interest but also try to figure out the most efficient way to solve the case, not churn it, get the kids out of the system, and get the people moved on with their lives. And I think the judges and the opposing attorneys that I worked with appreciated that. And I think it transferred into the wealth management business.
Michael: So, what came next in the transition? I’m sort of envisioning, stage one, just you got to get the license and get up to speed, stage two, you go back to everybody you ever knew in the former field and you do the meetings and the lunches and the coffees and the catchups, and all the different ways to communicate, “I’ve got this new thing that I’m doing.” And a few of them sent you some business, and the rest kind of do the “wait and see” thing for a while. There’s sort of a wave of that, and then you’ve talked to all the people you’re going to talk to. You told them. They sort of make their decision about whether they’re going to start referring to you or not. And then you’re just kind of into the new grind of growth and business developments in this new world. So I guess I’m wondering, after you got through the initial wave of “I’m going to call everybody I knew in my former profession and see what I can shake loose,” and you just get into the ongoing “Now, I’m a financial advisor that needs to do some business development,” what was the strategy? What was the approach for you at that point?
Patrick: Yeah. Well, and I’ll get to that in a minute, but everything in between was meeting with clients and review meetings or being part of those initial meetings, maybe from people who were referred to the firm from other sources, and getting to know them, and being involved in preparing their initial plan, learning how our internal process worked. And my now business partner, when I started with him for the first three or four months, I didn’t have my own separate office. I sat in his office, and I listened to him on the phone all day long. I learned by osmosis from him. And like you said, the strategy was, okay, I looked at where the firm was getting business from. So, obviously, you want to do a good job of getting to know those referral sources if I didn’t know them, but then I would say, “Look, from family attorneys, estate planning attorneys, CPAs, here who I think are the best-of-breed. Here’s who I have really good relationships with. Let’s focus on developing relationships with these five or six different firms.”
Maybe my world and Glenn’s world overlapped sometimes, but a lot of times, it didn’t. And he was working with some firms, I don’t want to say whether they’re law firms, CPA firms, whatever, but he was working with some firms, and I said, “Let’s change our focus, and let’s go meet with them. We’ll go together, and let’s introduce the firm to them,” because a lot of these people, Michael, didn’t even know what…then it was called Ullmann Financial. They didn’t even know what we did. They didn’t know what our investment philosophy was. They didn’t understand the depth that we got to know our clients and just the holistic and comprehensive approach that we take to managing our clients’ wealth.
So I think spreading that message, it was easy to get Glenn in front of these people. I could get the meetings because the people knew me and trusted me, and I could walk in a law firm and just go right back to the office. I wasn’t stopped, “Who are you? Why are you here? What is this about?” So I think that’s what really propelled the acceleration of the professional trust and the relationship that our firm started to develop with some of these firms that I would describe as being best-of-breed.
Michael: So, then, what does that business development process morph into you on an ongoing basis?
Patrick: That’s a really good question. My firm, we are a Focus Financial Partner firm. I think my business development strategy has been very informal, and what I’m working on right now is trying to figure out how to systematize it, how to measure it, how to make it more efficient, and how to go deeper. And how do I make it bear more fruit? So that’s an ongoing process. But I’m working with some of my Focus partners on trying to figure out how to make that more systematized and analytical.
Michael: So, what do you feel is the gap so far? Because the firm is growing, so it sounds like some of it is shaking loose and working okay.
Patrick: Yeah. But you know that no firm ever grows fast enough, right?
Patrick: Or large enough. So I think it’s being more mindful and following up, and tracking it, and looking at, well, “What referrals did we get from this source? How much revenue per client? What did we send them? What kind of results did they get for our clients? What kind of results are we getting for their clients?” And then, when you put the data down on paper, because, again, when you’re a lawyer, as we just talked about, it is so hard. Can you imagine trying to track all your business development work as a lawyer after what I just described? And I think doing this in the wealth management space is going to allow me to take a step back and say, “Okay, I’ve looked at all these meetings I had. I’ve seen the results that our firm has got from these meetings.” Now, it’s going to help me be more intentional in focusing my efforts on which relationships are bearing fruit and then go to somebody that I’ve been working with and think I have a good relationship with and say, “How do I become top of mind for you?”
How Patrick Incorporates His Law Expertise Into His Specialized Financial Advice [52:08]
Michael: So help us understand the actual role from the advisor side within the firm? I know you’ve got a title of leading the firm’s divorce advisory group, so obviously, you had a little bit of a connection to the divorce world, the prior career. Now, you’re doing this from the financial advisor side. So, what does the firm do with divorce clients now that you’re not wearing a family law hat, you’re wearing a financial advisor hat?
Patrick: Great question. So we’ll have a prospect that’ll call us because they’re thinking about going through the divorce process. And I’ll meet with somebody, and a lot of times, I will be the one who makes the recommendations on what lawyer did I think is going to be best for them. So I normally give them a few names, two or three names, and I want to know what their goals are, certainly, what’s the jurisdiction that their case is in. What county is it? Because that makes a difference. You want to have a lawyer that’s in front of the judges in that particular county. Some lawyers are really good with custody cases and bad with numbers. There are some lawyers that only want to deal with the financial cases and want absolutely nothing to do with the kids. And then you’ve got cases with both, so you want to have a lawyer that is really good on both sides of those cases. So I’ll help them make that determination.
And then, look, somebody going through a divorce, a lot of times, they’re not even thinking about who’s going to manage their money at the end of the case. So the way we work is we say, “Look, if you want us to be involved and help you with your divorce litigation and work with your lawyer, helping you put together your financial affidavit, helping you come up with settlement scenarios and projections and what those are going to look like and how much investment income your portfolio can spin-off on a monthly basis, how much money… If you get what your lawyer tells me that your case should settle for, what’s going to be your monthly budget to run your life? If you want us involved in that and you don’t want to think about us managing your money at the conclusion of the case, you can pay me a flat fee.” And then the flat fee will depend on how much time I and the lawyer think I’m going to be involved in the case.
And then there are some people that say, “Look, I need you to help me manage my money at the conclusion of the case. I want you and your firm to manage the money.” So they’ll sign our wealth management agreement, and all of those litigation support services that I just described are included in their asset management fee.
Michael: And what kind of charge, I guess, if they’re doing this as a flat fee, because you don’t know if you’re going to be working with them thereafter, what kind of flat fee do you charge for, I guess, as you’re framing it, litigation support service?
Patrick: Yeah. So again, depending on the involved in my case. If the lawyer wants me to be involved in attending mediation with them, if I have to be deposed, if the case is going to go to trial, just trying to ballpark how much time. I think the smallest fee that we’ve quoted on a flat fee is $2,500, and I think the largest fee that we’ve ever received is $15,000.
Patrick: And that takes them from the time they hire us through the conclusion of once the judge grants their divorce. So they’re not getting a monthly statement. They don’t have to watch the clock every time they call and email. And we’re just involved to help them. And I want to be very clear, in this role, I’m not giving any legal advice. I’m helping them understand the process. I’m crunching numbers and developing settlement proposals and scenarios for their lawyer, showing a projection of imputed investment income, if that’s what’s going to be required in helping them.
Some of these people, Michael, I’m sure you and your firm have worked with them, they have one of those credit cards with an unlimited amount, and they swipe, and they have no idea how much it costs to run their life on a monthly basis. So I may be involved in going through and looking at all of their spending sources, and today, that includes Apple Pay and Venmo and PayPal, and all these other ways that money flows out that people don’t even know about. And then trying to help them understand how much their life costs on a monthly basis.
Michael: So I understand kind of the framing of, “We work with people that are going into a divorce. We provide this support process along with them, help them navigate, help them work better with their attorney, do some of the divorce analytics that may be necessary in the process.” So I guess I’m wondering, where do these clients come from? How do you get these opportunities? Because if the whole framing is they’ve realized…they’re thinking about going through a divorce process, and then part of what you’re going to do is understand their situation so you can refer them to the right attorney in the right county that has the right background of whether it’s more financial or kids or a combination. You can’t get that referral from an attorney because you’re pre-attorney, you’re the one that’s sending them to an attorney. So, how do you get in front of these prospective clients in the first place? Where are the opportunities coming from?
Patrick: Yeah. Well, so I want to back up and be very clear, not every person comes to me pre-going to a lawyer.
Patrick: So a lot of times, a lawyer will meet with the client and say, “Hey, you need to plan. You’ve got a lot of money. You need a new CPA. I want to bring Pat and his firm in on the case because we might need him to testify. And you need to get set up, and we need to get them involved right now.” So a lot of them come from that way, and then a lot of people that I’ve helped through the process, maybe they’re on a tennis team, and one of their tennis partners is going through a divorce, and my name will be shared in that group. And as I mentioned before, I wrote a book, and the book has started to make its way around. And people will call me, even from different states and say, “I want you involved. I like what you do. I like your experience. I need your guidance through this process.”
Michael: Interesting. And so I guess, as I view it, it’s just kind of the immersion effect when you go really deep into a unique kind of specialization area, because I’m envisioning someone who has the legal, actual lawyer, legal background and experience, to help support through divorce but is in a purely advisory consultative role because they’re not actually your counsel. That’s a unique thing unto itself. So you’ve got an unusual specialization that some people can find their way to you, some people get referred to you, you’re immersed into that community. So at some point, the reputation is kind of out there that it sounds like that’s part of how it’s coming together. You’re making yourself known for a particular thing, in how you interact on divorce.
Patrick: That’s right, yep. And I think, as a firm, we are really highlighting this service and expertise, because it’s very unique. There are other advisors who hold themself out, and they get their CDFAs. But I just don’t think there’s any substitute for somebody who’s been in the trenches and litigated these cases for a decade.
Patrick: I know how it works, and I have to take continuing legal education, and I stay on top of it. And every once in a while, I throw my hat in and do a case pro bono.
Michael: And so you actually remain a nonpracticing attorney.
Patrick: Maybe I’ll take one case a year and don’t get paid for it.
Michael: But as opposed to, I think, at least, some states, there is such thing as being, literally, a nonpracticing attorney, “I have my JD, I passed the bar, but my license is not active.”
Patrick: Sure, yeah. You’re right.
Michael: You have kept it active in that context?
Patrick: Yep, yep, yeah. In Florida, you can elect to have inactive status. But, no. Yeah, I keep my bar license active. And you know what, I probably will for the rest of my life. It was challenging to get. I’ll have a death grip on that thing and never let it go.
Michael: Well, so, are there complications? I know, some states, there are limitations of lawyers crossing over to advisory firms and just the legal ethics limitations of representing clients and also being affiliated with an advisory firm, I think, basically, any non-law firm. How do you manage that dimension of it?
Patrick: Yeah. So it’s very clear on our ADV that we’re not providing any legal advice. And when I talk to clients, I’d probably remind them in every phone call, “I’m not giving you legal advice.” And if they ask me a question that I think is calling for an answer that approaches legal advice, I’ll say, “No, that’s a question for your lawyer, Michael.” But I would also ask Michael A, B, and C.
Patrick: Because I know the answer, but I don’t ever want to be in a position where I’m seen as giving legal advice, but I want to point them in the right direction. And if they’re going to have a meeting with their lawyer, a pretty big meeting to prepare for a hearing or a mediation or a deposition, I can do a lot of the work to get my client organized to make that meeting with their lawyer more efficient. The lawyer appreciates it because the clients prepare it. I know what the lawyer is trying to do in that meeting. The client appreciates it, because they don’t have this anxiety of they’re going into some stuffy law office, they don’t know why, they don’t know what they’re supposed to do. If I can get them ready to go, I think I just support, kind of the ombudsman between the lawyer and the client in these circumstances. And it works pretty well.
And one other thing is I would bring in a financial advisor from time to time in my cases, and some of them don’t…they want to be advocates, and they want to say, “Well, you need $40,000 a month to live,” and that would make my job harder, because I knew there was no way I was going to be able to get a sufficient amount of alimony or assets out of these facts to get them $40,000 a month. So I think the lawyers know that I know my lane, and if I wanted to be an advocate, I’d still be an advocate. But I don’t want to be an advocate anymore. I want to be there and support the lawyer and the client and stay in my lane.
Michael: And so, when you’re running that divorce lane, I’m just wondering, how do you translate that into an advisory client or a traditional, “We’re going to manage your portfolio on an ongoing basis,” a holistic wealth advisory client? How do you make that turn if you’re starting out with someone in a more divorce context?
Patrick: So I think, when we first meet with a client, we tell them, “Hey, we are a wealth management firm. This is one of the services that we provide. We would like to manage your money at the conclusion of your case, and this is what we do.” And 95% of those people say, “Yep, I need you. I want you to be my advisor. I don’t know anybody. Let’s do it.” And so there’s really no…
Michael: Interesting. So, it’s not necessarily, “We’re going to do all this divorce work,” and then, at the end, we’ll make a pitch to do advisory work with them and hope they make the transition and stay on. You’re actually just saying out right up front, “We’re an advisory firm. We do advisory work. Part of what we do is this particular divorce specialization. So we’d love to work with you now in the divorce and when you get through it thereafter.”
Patrick: Yep. And if you’re not…
Michael: And that’s just how it’s set up from the start.
Patrick: Right. And if you don’t want to make that decision now, that’s fine. You can pay us a flat fee to get involved, and hopefully, you’ll see the value that we provide. You’ll learn to trust us. You’ll feel comfortable. Because, look, you know from doing your work as an advisor, when a happily married couple comes in and they tell you what their goals are and what they’re interested in and what they’re trying to do, you can flesh all those things out. If you meet with somebody who’s going through a divorce, they’re having trouble trying to figure out what next week is going to look like.
Patrick: So I’m very sensitive to not start asking people what they want to do in five years, because they got to get through their divorce first.
Patrick: So let’s say that they want us to manage their money, okay, we are building that financial infrastructure as the case is evolving and we kind of have an idea where it’s going to settle. So accounts will be opened up, and so on, and so forth. Then when the divorce is finished, then we’ll sort of say, “Okay, let’s start over. Now, let’s go through all of those initial questions to get to know you, to figure out what your goals, what your interests are, what you value, who are those people in your life that are meaningful to you. Now, we can start to envision what chapter two of your life is going to look like now that you’ve got the divorce in the rearview mirror.”
Michael: Interesting. So, what’s been the biggest difference between practicing law and being an advisor?
Patrick: The biggest difference is there’s no emergencies in the financial services world. Emergency motions get filed, nights, weekends, petitions for domestic violence. There are some nasty things. And of course, in the advisor world, I would think the closest thing to an emergency you have is when somebody passes away. You got to be all hands on deck at that point. But from a time sensitivity standpoint, it’s really not…it’s a family emergency for sure, but it’s going to take some time to get those things sorted out. But I feel like I’m able to take a breath and really spend more time getting deep into the work where, as a lawyer, I think any lawyer will tell you they feel like, a lot of times, you’re just playing Whac-A-Mole, because there’s so much coming at you all the time.
Michael: So, is there anything that you missed about practicing law compared to being an advisor?
Patrick: Michael, I would tell you that anybody who’s a litigator loves to be in the courtroom and loves to litigate, just like probably any professional athlete would tell you that they love to play the game, but they don’t want to do the ice baths, and the weight lifting, and the stretching, and the massages, and the dieting, and the training table. It’s the same thing with practicing law. If you go in the courtroom and litigate, that’d be the greatest job in the world. But I think the wealth management and the financial planning, it’s not adversarial. I’m in there with a couple who’s trying to get their kids to college or trying to save for whatever they want to do for the grandkids or take some trip. That’s fun. That’s a lot of fun. And I have those positive experiences all day long. And then, when the people that you’re working with are some of your very best friends and family, you’re like, “Wow, I get to help people save, help them reduce their stress and anxiety, maybe help them through a divorce.” And it’s a very, very positive week.
Michael: So, what was hardest for you in the transition from going from the legal world to the advisor world?
Patrick: The hardest thing is what other people think you should be doing. There were a number of people that said, “I can’t believe you’re leaving the law firm. You went to law school. What do your parents think about that?” And it’s what other people’s expectations of you, and I just…and don’t get me wrong, there are a number of people that were supportive also.
Michael: I’m just wondering, was that because you were leaving the law firm, or was that because you were becoming a financial advisor? I don’t know. Advisors get a bad rep in some parts of the world. I don’t actually know what, lawyers in the world, you are coming from think of, “Patrick’s going to go become a financial advisor.”
Patrick: Yeah. When you think of some of these professions, like doctor, lawyer, maybe priest, I don’t know, but when parents say, “Oh, my daughter is a doctor,” or “My son is a lawyer,” people would say, “Wait a minute, you’re a lawyer. That’s really awesome. And you just made partner in a law firm, and you’re leaving it?” It didn’t matter that I was going to be a wealth advisor. You could say, “I’m leaving that to go do,” fill in the blank, and a lot of people just couldn’t understand it. They’re like, “But, yeah. But partner at this firm is so prestigious, and you’re making this salary.”
But life’s short, and you got to be happy, and you got to…when you go through life, and I think all of us, to some degree, are kind of building the plane as we’re flying it, right? And you learn what you really think you’re good at. Or, how do you change your golf swing from when you were 20 and you could swing of your backside versus having a more efficient swing so you could play longer? And I think that latter part was true for me. I was going to burn out, and I saw a number of people, lawyers who had heart attacks and were overweight, and type II diabetes, and all these things, and I just knew that maybe I might end up in that track because I just was so busy and doing it all the time.
The Surprises And Low Points Patrick Encountered Transitioning From Lawyer To Financial Advisor [1:09:16]
Michael: So, what surprised you the most about building the advisory business once you’ve landed on this side of the business?
Patrick: Yeah. What surprises me, I think everybody would say compliance, right? I think so much is changing. Fee-only, fee-based, going from the suitability standard or the fiduciary standard, and whether the Department of Labor was going to implement their rule. I think just the day-to-day business and how things are done, it’s always rapidly changing in financial services where there really wasn’t much changed in the legal world at how things are done, right? You have a phone, you have email, you have Microsoft Word, you have your Dictaphone, you go to the courthouse. Not much really changed at that, but just, yeah, coming from that world to the wealth management world and what the SEC is interested in this year, you don’t experience that practicing law.
Michael: Interesting. So, what was the low point for you?
Patrick: This is not a cop-out, I promise you, but I don’t think there’s been a low point. What I may have thought was a low point may be experiencing COVID, but really leading and being out in front and talking to clients and helping them understand that this is part of investing and this is what happens in harvesting losses, rebalancing the portfolio. Some of those accounts, in 33 days, we rebalanced 4 and 5 times. And when we harvested those losses and then clients in 2021 sold commercial real estate, and their CPA said, “Great news, your tax liability is way less because your advisor harvested $250,000 in losses and just to offset all your capital gains.” They’d write me and they say, “Oh, my gosh, what a blessing that was?”
So I’ll tell you, one thing that I learned from that is, when I meet with my clients, I tell them all the things that we’ve done for them since the time they were here last. So, because some of them may think, “Oh, well, would you four times a year or twice a year, or whatever?” but I say, “No, these are all the things and these are all the conversations that we’ve had,” most of them, they’re looped into. But I think the COVID drop in 33 days, or whatever it was, that short period of time was really stressful. But I learned a lot from it and really took what could have been a low point into really positive.
Michael: And so, how do you track this world of just all the things you’ve been doing for them since they’ve last met? Is that like you pulled, you looked up in your CRM system, you’ve generated a report? Just how do you actually wrap your head around that?
Patrick: So we use Wealthbox as our CRM, and our firm is really diligent that any time we do anything for a client that we put a note in Wealthbox. And so part of my process when I’m preparing to meet with a client for a review is I go back, I see when their last review date was, and I go through all the notes and read and see when trades were made and when their account was rebalanced and when we harvested losses, if 2021, we weren’t really harvesting any losses. And just say, “Look, these are all the things that we’ve done. This is when I’ve talked to your CPA. This is why. This is when we’ve engaged with the estate planning attorney. This is why. This is when I talked to your property and casualty person about getting an umbrella policy in place and how much.” So I think they appreciate that.
Michael: Interesting. And do you turn this into some sort of report or deliverable thing, or just you make your notes and bring it up in the conversation when you meet with clients to let them know, “Here’s what we’ve been doing?”
Patrick: Right. Just bring it up in the conversation.
The Advice Patrick Would Give His Former Self (And Attorneys Considering A Career Transition Into Financial Planning) [1:13:01]
Michael: Okay. So, what do you know now about advisor business you wish you could go back and tell you 10 years ago when you were still just sort of thinking about this?
Patrick: Why didn’t you get into the advisor business before you went to law school? That’s what I would tell myself. But, Michael, I’m grateful for the time that I spent at the law firm and going to law school. I think it’s given me the ability to differentiate myself and our firm. And I wouldn’t be where I’m at but for that experience litigating the family cases, going to law school, and really grinding as an attorney.
Michael: So, what advice would you give to other attorneys that are maybe thinking about this transition?
Patrick: It’s hard to do it on your own. I don’t think starting from scratch by yourself is an option. Luckily, I had a great relationship with Glenn Ullmann, and I was able to hook on to him, and he was able to hook on to me in some ways. And he had built the infrastructure. I joined him in 2014. He started his firm in 2002. But before that, he was with Robert W. Baird and Smith Barney. So he had significant experience. I was able to have a really, really awesome mentor. And I think that’s how I would boil down the advice. If you’re going to strike out and start something new, find the best mentor that you possibly can.
What Success Means To Patrick [1:14:25]
Michael: So this is a podcast about success, and one of the themes that always comes up is just the word success means very different things to different people. And so you’re on this wonderful path for building a successful advisory firm after you’ve gone all the way to making partner in a law firm. And so I’m just wondering, how do you define success for yourself at this point?
Patrick: I’ve always been a believer that if you work hard and do the right things and do the best you possibly can each day for your clients, that you’re going to get taken care of. I don’t have a goal of “I want to earn X” or “I want to retire at this age.” I really believe that success, for me, is showing up and doing the best that I can with every single client that I have. That’s what I care about. I can’t control the market, but we can make sure that we get our clients in the best possible portfolio that’s going to help them achieve their goals. And if we’re going through a period of time that we’re going through right now, make sure that the portfolio is doing what it’s supposed to do. I’ve never ever been driven by a monetary goal.
Michael: Very cool. As noted, sort of the irony of the reality of that is when you stay that focus on clients and build such relationships and reputation with clients and serving clients well, that’s what ended out bringing some of the referrals and the relationships from the folks you knew in the legal world into the business you’re building in the advisor world.
Patrick: No question, no question. That’s the collateral benefit. But anybody who says, “I want to go to law school because lawyers get paid a lot of money,” or “I want to be a partner at a wealth management firm because I think they make a lot of money,” those are the wrong reasons to do anything. If you know a good surgeon, they’re not motivated by money. They take that Hippocratic Oath, and they want to make sure that they can help their patient heal and get to the heart of whatever is ailing them and get them fixed. And it’s the same thing if you’re a professional. Look at you. Who in the right mind would take all of the tests and get all of the certifications that you have if you just weren’t totally passionate and engrossed about wealth management and financial planning?
Michael: Yeah. Amen. Amen. Well, thank you so much, Patrick, for joining us on the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Patrick: You’re welcome, Michael. This was great, and I really appreciate you inviting me to come on. And just wish you all the best.
Michael: Absolutely. Thank you.