THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 154
Interview on 01.07.2022

Hosted By
Erik J. Olson

Featuring Attorney

James Ruggiero



Managing Partner of
Ruggiero Law Offices LLC

About James Ruggiero

James (Jim) Ruggiero, Jr. is the Managing Partner at Ruggiero Law Offices LLC.

James has more than 30 years of legal experience serving residents of Chester County. His practice focuses on estate planning, elder law and business law. In Estate planning, it involves the preparation of wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney for financial and healthcare matters and living wills. While in the elder law practice, he offer advice to enable older adults to control their life and preserve independence as long as possible. As a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorney's, he offer his clients specialized services and resources such as geriatric care managers as well medicaid planning. And in business law practice, he focus on corporations, buy-sell agreements and real estate.

Learn from his expertise and what trends are helping grow his firm on this episode of The Managing Partners Podcast!

Watch the Episode

Episode Transcript

Erik J. Olson:
Hey everybody. It is Erik J. Olson for another live episode of the Managing Partners podcast. On this podcast series, we interview America’s top managing partners to find out how they started their firms if they’re the founder, how they’re growing their firms and how they are keeping their case pipeline full. Today, I have with me from Pennsylvania, Jim (James) Ruggiero, did I get it?

James Ruggiero:
You got it. Good afternoon.

Erik J. Olson:
We had to practice that last name. Thanks for joining us. I appreciate it. Let me tell the audience a little bit about you. Jim has more than 30 years of legal experience serving residents of Chester County, Pennsylvania. His practice focuses on estate planning, elder law, business law, and real estate. Once again, thanks for joining us and welcome to the Managing Partners podcast.

James Ruggiero:
Eric, thank you very much for having me on your show today. I’m really looking forward to talking with your audience.

Erik J. Olson:
Oh, cool. Yeah, I appreciate it. If you would tell us a little bit more about yourself and the firm.

James Ruggiero:
Well, thank you. I was lucky enough to start my law practice in 1990. I was dumb enough to start my law practice in 1990. I had just graduated from law school, single, not married yet. So, I thought give it a whirl. And now I have the luxury looking back and saying, “Wow, I had a good idea, 31 years ago.” And I’m blessed truly because I get to work for myself. And I had two grandfathers who worked for themselves. So, I consider myself an entrepreneur who practices law, who’s got a business, it provides legal services to the public. And our firm is family owned and operated. I have had my children work in the firm before they went off to college and my wife has worked with me for the last decade. So, it’s small law with a small L, it’s not big law that you see on TV.

James Ruggiero:
We work with, the people next door. We work with our neighbors. We work with the people the town we live in. So over the years, things have evolved and what we do as a firm. And so started out as a general practice law firm. Today, my focus and concentration is on estate planning. And offshoot of that is estate administration, trust administration, elder law, because we’re all getting older and-

Erik J. Olson:
Speak for yourself.

James Ruggiero:
Yes. Well, I understand, 21 again, right? Or 29 again. The practices that we help the public with are more collaborative with our clients versus confrontational in handling litigation with opposing parties. Sometimes that’s part of what we do, but I like to tell people I’m a problem solver. I don’t know what problem you’re going to have when you come in. You might not know what problem you have when you come in to see us. So, our per practice involves doing good bit of homework before you come see us, so that you give us information, so that we can get a sense of your family. And we’re able to talk to you and discover what we think you should be talking about in addition to the concerns that drive you to come see us.

James Ruggiero:
So, we have right now, another senior partner in the firm, we usually have another associate, blessed to have a second office up in Center Valley. So, we serve not only the Delaware valley, but the Lehigh Valley over the last decade plus in the Lehigh Valley, but 31 years in Delaware Valley. So, we have a diverse set of clients, a diverse set of issues that we help people with.

Erik J. Olson:
Well, congratulations on 31 years in business. That is not easy to do. You’ve seen a lot of different economies, cultures that have changed in the United States. As a fellow business owner, I know it could be incredibly frustrating at times. So, 31 years is very impressive. I’m definitely impressed. You’ve done very well there. You mentioned starting off as a general practitioner, and that is something that has come up in other interviews on the Managing Partners podcast, is that a lot of the people that we interview start off as general practitioners and then found their way into either one practice area or a main practice area with a couple of offshoots that are very tightly related. Have you over time changed niches, like from where you’re at now, or was it general to what you’re doing now?

James Ruggiero:
So, I had to help a business advisor. I wrote a business plan in the nineties that I said I wanted to manage and run a boutique trust in the state firm and followed that blueprint and here we are today. So, it evolved because I didn’t know I was going to become, all those letters after my name, Esquire means I became a lawyer. My seventh grade yearbook says, “Golden life being attorney”, blamed that on my mom. She was a legal secretary for a judge. So, I grew up around the courthouse. AEP stands for Accredited Estate Planner and EPLS stands for Estate Planning Law Specialist. My brain works in a way that I love to do planning, but that was an evolution. It was not something that necessarily, I certainly did not know that when I got out of law school, but I discovered the niche that is, estate planning in 1994, from the perspective of my wife gave me a book called Stocks For The Long Run.

James Ruggiero:
And I read about the wealth transfer that was going to occur as the greatest generation transfer their wealth to the baby boomers. And it stuck on me that this is nice work to do, helping families transition wealth from one generation to another, on an estate planning side and help them keep as much of their hard earned money as possible. And I use a small W there for wealth, not a large W. We’re working with the middle class primarily in our planning. So, it evolved. The term elder law did not exist when I started practicing law. I know I’m a dinosaur. By the way, fax machines did not exist when I started practicing law. That’s how long it’s been going on when you start to say, looking at all the changes, now we’ve gone from the attack fax to the attack email, to the attack text.

James Ruggiero:
And this is why I like planning and helping with administration versus just full blown contact sports that litigation can be.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s great.

James Ruggiero:
So, how we get different clients, I think is something that your audience wants to know as a managing partner. What different ways do we get new clients? How has that evolved? 30 years ago it was placing an ad in the yellow pages. Okay. Today, it’s a broad swathe of direct marketing to the public using webinars or cells, presenting out in public, doing public speaking, writing, advertising, and print publications. The best way we get new clients today, prior to the pandemic, was referrals from existing clients, referrals from existing advisors and other disciplines that we work with through the estate planning councils. But today, the world is coming to us through the worldwide web. The internet is how we’re getting new clients primarily. And I would tell you before the pandemic, 20% of our clients came through our internet marketing efforts. Today, 80% of our clients come through internet marketing efforts.

Erik J. Olson:
To me that’s incredibly interesting because when it comes to the internet world, it doesn’t feel like anything has changed for me. We always did video calls before the pandemic and whatnot. I guess, we’ve had this ingrained in us individually at our agency and then also at the agency itself. So, I’m actually quite surprised to hear you say that it has changed that drastically as a result of the pandemic. So, when the pandemic first started, did you see a drop in the demand and then you had to adapt to the changing environment and getting leads digitally?

James Ruggiero:
So, we saw an increase in demand for our estate planning services as a result of the raging pandemic, because people were worried about death and dying and took it more seriously lots of times. I have a tough job. I’ve got to talk about death and taxes. So, two topics that people really don’t like to spend a lot of time thinking about. We know people spend more time planning the average vacation than they do their estate plan. So, I saw, sorry, an opportunity that was going to come about from the lockdown. And we doubled down on our marketing efforts through the internet. And actually we made a 10X increase in our spend and-

Erik J. Olson:
Good for you.

James Ruggiero:
Internet advertising and search engine optimization because no one was going to be traveling around talking to their neighbors, going out in public, seeing people in their normal channels that they normally do to get referrals and recommendations. So, I knew they’d have to go do a Google search.

Erik J. Olson:
Is that something that you concluded fairly quickly into the pandemic?

James Ruggiero:
Yes. Right at the outset. I have to pat myself on the back for that one because I’m like, “The world is about to change and I don’t know how it’s going to change, but I can make a couple educated guesses.” And we made a few moves during the pandemic that were very good for our firm and our family.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s incredible that you saw that coming because it took the rest of the world many, many months to figure out what they were going to do. Nevermind. Actually do it. So, the fact that you responded, that you saw it, analyzed it and responded very quickly, that’s incredible. And I’m sure that’s not the first time that you’ve done something like that. That’s why firms stay in business for 31 plus years, right. Because you took quick action and you saw the opportunity.

James Ruggiero:
It was a totally fear based response though. I was so scared. I’m like, I have to do something because I got shut down and sent home. And I went to my office every day for five, six days a week, met people in person every day for 30 years and all that got cut off.

Erik J. Olson:
Wow.

James Ruggiero:
So, I’m like, “Oh my God, what can I do?” And that was the only solution that I saw that was going to help us stay alive. I didn’t know whether it was going to work or not. I didn’t know what was going to happen. And I have to tell you that the results far exceeded my wildest dreams. We were able to stay open, grow, add staff and position ourselves for the future.

Erik J. Olson:
Are things changing back to the old normal when it comes to in-person events, referrals, things like that?

James Ruggiero:
So things are changing back to normal with regards to in person events. We are a relationship business. So, people want to sit in a meeting room face to face. And so, I feel better that I’m back face to face with my clients, but we’re still doing now video calls as we learn. And we can do a lot of work through video. And, some of is more beneficial in my opinion. So, things that we changed aren’t necessarily changing back and that’s a good thing. We’re doing a lot more things digitally than we would using the US mail as an example. And we are still seeing the results from the changes in our marketing stand up. And I think the in-person connection hasn’t come back yet, because the pandemic’s still going on and people are still leery of things. We’re not doing those in-person events yet.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Well, congratulations on seeing that. If there was one thing that you could change about your marketing, let me restate it actually. What is one thing that is working well for you right now? And what is one thing that has not worked well that you stopped doing? You said before, the yellow pages stopped working, but that was probably many years ago. How about something more recent, something that didn’t work that you stop doing and there’s something that is working very well for you right now?

James Ruggiero:
So, I will tell you that using a chat feature and the nature of what we do, has not worked very well. We really can’t use an automated chat feature that a lot of businesses try and provide. What has worked well is going to a live answering system that screens the calls through our search engine optimization and then gets it to us, that we are able to use some folks out of the office to do the initial calls, inquiries that come into our website. So, rather than my staff being bogged down with the initial inquiries, we’ve got external staff that are able to take that and then get it to us. And that has helped with our success, in my opinion, that is working really well because we always sat by the phone, nine to five and waited for the calls and had a 24 hour answering services when reach out to us. Now, we have live individuals, take the calls for us that know enough about us that are able to help screen the calls and get them to the right person.

Erik J. Olson:
What kind of screening are you doing? This is a qualifying potential clients, right?

James Ruggiero:
Yes. Questioning them about the area of law that they’re calling about. We’re getting into details about the geography. Where are they calling from? What I will tell you what has changed since the pandemic is, we get calls from all over the United States for local problems in the Delaware Valley and the Lehigh Valley where before we would’ve local calls with regards to local problems. So, I’ve got clients from France, I’ve got clients in all different states, I’ve got people that reach out because of the worldwide web. They can locate us from anywhere in the world. So, we have to make sure it’s the right practice here, because we don’t do general civil litigation. We’re not handling criminal defense work. We don’t handle random things. I like to say I’m a recovering litigator, only happens in the orphan court. I’m staying out of the courthouse and the courthouses were shut down. My friends who were the litigators really were hurt hard with the pandemic.

Erik J. Olson:
Definitely. Yeah. So, when someone calls in or they submit a form for you, at some point, it gets to you or your staff and there’s perspective client that you start interacting with, but there’s usually this period of time between then and when they become a client and you start working with them, what are you using to track those perspective clients? What tools in particular are you using?

James Ruggiero:
So, we have a CRM called Daylight, which is Mac based. So, perhaps it is equivalent to Salesforce and Cleo for lawyers. But when the call comes in, we get an email. Then our director of marketing reaches out and will set up a call with the prospective client. And it’ll either be an initial 15 minute call or it’ll be a lengthy initial consultation. So, depending on the nature of it, we’ll know how much time the calendar for that. And from there, we open up an electronic file in Daylight, we create a prospect file. And so, it tracks the client, potential issue, the time they called, when the next call up is, and when we have that phone call or that video conference or that in person meeting, then we’ve either won the opportunity or lost the opportunity. We track the wins and the losses. And I hate to lose.

Erik J. Olson:
I like to [inaudible 00:17:09]

James Ruggiero:
So, from there we go on assuming we’ve won the opportunity. Then the physical file gets open and engagement letters created and shipped out electronically. We used to send them all out by the US mail, we don’t. So, our onboarding time has been narrowed greatly due the internet and technology, where we realized that we can have initial consults over the internet. And then that next day, within 24 hours, we can get out an engagement letter and an invoice to a client where they can go to our website and pay electronically by cheque or credit card that never happened pre-internet. For 30 years, we only took cheques. Because I don’t like to pay 3% to Mr. Visa.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s right.

James Ruggiero:
And Mrs. MasterCard. But at the end of the day, you just have to capitulate to the system as the world is all Cloud based today.

Erik J. Olson:
Yep. We were talking about that a little before we started to record. Without the internet, you can’t do a whole lot with these computers anymore. Can you?

James Ruggiero:
No, we cannot. So that’s why having people go to our website at www.paolilaw.com is so important. So, they can get that information, how to reach us electronically through our form on our website or call us directly. And we love to talk to people. The best way for me to connect with a viewer is to have them contact our office by phone and set up a call by a video or phone with Jim or an in-person meeting. Because at the end of the day, you’ve got to meet me. You’ve got to decide. I like Jim. And we’ve got to decide we can have a good relationship together because it’s about working together with our clients. So, there’s a trust factor that is gigantic. And, people hire lawyers because they want them to do a good job, but they have to tell them confidential information and it’s hard to break the ice sometimes. But once it’s there, I’ve got clients for 31 years today, I’m proud to say, that we like to keep our relationships going for a long time.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s really impressive. Well, congratulations on 31 years in business and thank you for being our guest. All right, everybody, if you would like to check out more episodes like this, you can see our entire backlog of about 150 episodes at this point at arraylaw.com/podcast. And if you are a managing partner looking to improve your digital marketing, that’s what my company Array Digital does. You can find out more about our website, SEO on advertising and social media services at arraylaw.com. Jim, appreciate it.

James Ruggiero:
Thank you for your time today. Appreciate it as well. And everyone can check out us out on the web or use their cell phone to actually make a phone call (610) 889-0288 as our main number. Have a great day, everybody. Bye.

Erik J. Olson:
Bye Jim.

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