THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 168
Interview on 02.24.2022

Hosted By
Erik J. Olson

Featuring Attorney

Jacqueline Harounian



Managing Partner of
The Law Firm of Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, P.C.

About Jacqueline Harounian

Jacqueline Harounian is the Managing Partner at the Law Firm of Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, P.C. in Carle Place, New York.

Jacqueline has performed extensive pro bono work for The Safe Center, and has raised awareness and funds for a range of social and legal causes on Long Island. Among her many exceptional achievements over 20+ years of practice, she was chosen to the Super Lawyers list for seven consecutive years, and also twice selected to its most prestigious list -- “Top 50 Women Lawyers” in New York, as the only Long Island matrimonial lawyer.

She lectures regularly to attorneys, mental health professionals, accountants, and women’s groups, and is a sought after speaker for a range of topics including financial and legal empowerment, religious divorce (Islamic Mahr, Jewish Gett), sexual and cyber- harassment, intellectual property, intellectual property, parenting issues, negotiating skills, and mental health/addiction issues.

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

Watch the Episode

Episode Transcript

Erik J. Olson:
Hey, everybody. It is Erik J. Olson. I am your host today for The Managing Partners Podcast. On this podcast series, we interview America’s top managing partners to find out what they’re doing to run their businesses, grow their firms and keep their case pipeline full. And today I have with me Jackie Harounian. Hey, Jackie.

Jackie Harounian:
Hi, Erik. How are you?

Erik J. Olson:
I’m doing well. How’d I do with that last name? Tell me the truth.

Jackie Harounian:
You did great. Perfect.

Erik J. Olson:
All right. I practiced a bit so. Well, cool. Hey, Jackie, if you would, tell us a little bit about yourself and your firm.

Jackie Harounian:
So as you mentioned, I’m Jackie Harounian. I’m the new managing partner of Wisselman, Harounian Family Law. We’re a family law and estate planning practice in New York, just outside the five boroughs on Long Island. And I’ve been practicing family law for more than 25 years, exclusively family law. And what’s interesting about my experience, my career is I actually started out in this very same law firm as a law student, and eventually transitioned to associate and then partner and now managing partner. We have 11 attorneys and mediators. Our practice is growing. And you’re listening to me now in early 2022, I would say probably most family law practices in the country, if not beyond that are growing at this point because of the demands for family law and estate planning.

Erik J. Olson:
Well, number one, congratulations on working your way up there. And then also, congratulations, it sounds like this is a recent change and a new position. How long have you been in the position?

Jackie Harounian:
It’s very recent. Thank you. It went into effect at the beginning of this year, so it’s only been a couple of weeks. I was starting to take on management of certain areas including marketing last year, but my firm is in transition, and I’m very excited about family law. There’s been a lot of changes during the pandemic, and of course it’s very exciting to lead a team, such a great team that I’m very proud of because there are so many people that need our help right now.

Erik J. Olson:
Absolutely. Yeah. Crazy times with COVID spiking now in January 2022. But also for anyone that’s listening or watching that’s not familiar with family law, there’s seasons to family law, busy seasons and slow seasons. Do you mind explaining a little bit about that and what season we’re in now in January?

Jackie Harounian:
Yeah, I mean, it is pretty well established at this point that following Thanksgiving and Christmas, we have a busy season. So that’s really January, February, where a lot of people will, either because of New Year’s resolutions or maybe less than happy times with their family during the holidays, they will decide that in the early part of the year, they’re going to ask questions of a family law attorney. So we are very busy. But we’ve been busy throughout the pandemic, and there’s lots of reasons for that. I mean, in my local area, the housing market is very strong. A lot of areas outside the city with homeowners, we have seen an uptick because people will decide to sell their homes or buy homes, and that causes a lot of family transition. And just in general, the closures of the courts, quarantine, domestic violence, lots of different reasons and triggers for why family law has been busy for at least the past year and certainly right now.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. It’s certainly booming. Yeah. Family law, estate planning. I know personally I went through that process about a year ago. I don’t know if it was triggered by COVID happening, but for whatever reason, it was the time. And I would imagine that a lot of people are kind of thinking little more long term about what’s happening in the world and how that affects them.

Jackie Harounian:
For sure. Yeah. I think it’s part of an overall trend, where I think maybe financial planners and accountants are advising their clients also to be a little bit more proactive about financial planning. We’re doing more prenups than ever before, more postnups, estate planning, definitely covers that too. It’s always a good idea to try to be proactive, sit down and make some plans before things get out of hand. And I think a lot of people have learned that during the pandemic, those bad outcomes that happen because people didn’t really have a plan.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. I agree 100% with the statement about planning your life, not just in the family law arena, but the more you can plan it, the better off you’ll do. So I’m with you 100%. So speaking of planning and maybe planning for growth and planning for getting clients, what are the different kinds of ways that your firm goes about getting new clients?

Jackie Harounian:
I’m very happy to say that the vast majority of our cases come to us by referral, which is saying a lot in family law, because it’s very common for people, even if they have the very best attorneys and even in amicable divorce situation to really not feel so great about the court process, about their judge and about their attorney. It is such a negative process, and so it really is very gratifying for me to be able to say that we get most of our clients by referral, most of them from former clients, from other counsel that don’t practice matrimonial law, from judges, financial advisors, and a lot actually from mental health professionals. But family law is unique in law, in the sense that we don’t usually get too many repeat clients and we don’t have corporate clients. So we do have to for sure market our services. We have, as I said, 11 attorneys. They need to have cases coming in.

Jackie Harounian:
And we do that in various ways. Some of it, we just revamped our entire website. I love it. It looks great. It’s lawjaw.com. I’ll just give an early plug for that. L-A-W-J-A-W dot com. We worked with a great company, designed it. I think it looks really fresh. And one of the trends with websites and with marketing is to have interactive websites. So people pay online. I want them to be able to submit documents online, so that we can maintain their privacy. And above all, just to have our website to be a resource, with guides and information and support calculators and everything that anyone would need to find out about family law in New York. And so they can know a lot about the process even before they start. And a lot of people, even if they are referred, marketing is important. They want to look and see what’s going on with the firm on Instagram, what’s happening on LinkedIn. So having a polished presence, having a good marketing message I think is exceedingly important.

Erik J. Olson:
Agreed. I mean, there have been many times where I’ve received a referral to a company, and then I’ll go do my research. I usually do. I don’t just trust the referral blindly. So I’ll go do a little research. And what I see online, I’m like, “Eh, I don’t …” And so then you really, there’s a pro and there’s a con. And so you go into the phone call, even though it’s a referral, it’s not a shoe in, right? So I agree with you. You still have to do, at a minimum, a basic amount of marketing, have a nice website, be alive on social media, be answering the questions that people have. Otherwise, if they do their research before they call and they don’t like what they see, they may not follow up.

Jackie Harounian:
Oh, yeah. I mean, without a doubt, I mean, family law, all law, it’s really an art and a science. It’s not just knowing the material. It’s not always the smartest lawyer that has the most successful business. It’s communicating with your client, with opposing counsel, being able to express yourself in front of a court and be passionate and persuasive. And so I do a lot of speaking engagements. I put out a lot of content on video, on LinkedIn, in various places. I’m a part of panels.

Jackie Harounian:
Basically, if someone invites me to speak, and I think I can really contribute something that’s meaningful and helpful, I’m going to show up, my other attorneys here will also show up, and we will provide information and awareness. And there’s some areas in family law where that’s extremely important, especially domestic violence, financial literacy for clients that really are behind the eight ball when they start their cases. Whatever we can do to put out accurate information and resources to help clients be safe and help them really stay on top of their finances or legal matters, that’s really where estate planning comes in, I’m happy to do it, and it has definitely helped grow the business.

Erik J. Olson:
Nice. When someone comes to you finally, and they make contact, I’m sure you have a consultation, but usually there’s a period of time between the consultation and when they actually sign and you start working on their matter. That period of time, do you have some sort of nurturing process in place?

Jackie Harounian:
Yeah. I mean, we have to keep clients’ privacy in mind in family law. So unless a client is really inviting us to get back in touch with them after a consultation, I don’t really send them things. We do have a newsletter. We stay in touch with people who ask for our newsletter. Again, most of the people that are coming in here have already been referred here, and most of our consultations are on Zoom. I would say, no, probably half and half, half are virtual and half of clients are coming in to meet us. And so we always want to make a good impression. We want to stay in touch with them if they have follow-up questions. And the other thing I should mention is we have a free consultation and we always have. So we get a lot of people that come in or virtually speak to an attorney, and we know that they can’t afford to hire us.

Jackie Harounian:
But again, one of my ways of giving back is by helping people that can’t necessarily afford an attorney. So I have no problem giving free advice, connecting people, resources, giving them some information about child support or simple issues. If they want information from me, I’m not necessarily going to charge them for it. And you know what? It leads to referrals because people will say, “Jackie Harounian and her firm, they helped me, and they didn’t charge me, and they gave me information that was useful.” And that will lead to referrals. And I just think it’s good karma to … We are in a helping profession, family law is a helping profession. We’re here to help people if we can. And it’s not always about making money on a case.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah, no, that’s great. I mean, certainly if you can win the trust of a client, that’s awesome. If it’s not going to happen, the best thing you can do in my opinion is give them advice, like you said, and connect them with someone else that maybe is a better fit, maybe more economical, just a different path for them to solve their problem. And it’ll eventually come back. So I think that’s a really, really good philosophy.

Jackie Harounian:
Yeah. I really agree with that. Sure.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. Nice. Cool. So you said 11 attorneys, is that correct?

Jackie Harounian:
Yes.

Erik J. Olson:
You’re actually very new at this point to the position. I’m sure you have a ton of ideas.

Jackie Harounian:
I do.

Erik J. Olson:
Is growth one of those ideas?

Jackie Harounian:
It is. Growth is important. We want to build a team that can really serve a market that’s diverse. So we have actually added an attorney who speaks Spanish. We’re looking for other attorneys that can connect with other communities, culturally, in terms of language. We also serve clients that are looking for fertility law, surrogacy, same sex marriage and divorce, and one of our attorneys also is gay. So we are looking to have our clients be able to connect with our attorneys. And that is really very important because as I said before, it’s not just about the legal knowledge. It’s about really communicating with the client, and a lot of that comes from connecting with the client and understanding where they’re coming from.

Jackie Harounian:
And we do have a growing practice in fertility law, and that really is a big thing in New York. It’s just starting. It’s for parents that are single, it’s for older parents that can’t conceive, people that want to hire surrogates for various reasons. And so family law is always changing because families are changing. And I also have a little bit of a niche practice in something called religious divorce, and so I have expertise, and I speak nationally on topics relating to Jewish divorce, Islamic marriage contracts, Catholic annulments, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’is-

Erik J. Olson:
Oh, wow.

Jackie Harounian:
… something I’ve always been interested in. And I’m also bilingual. I speak Farsi. My parents were Middle Eastern immigrants. So I do have that interest in the cultural aspects of divorce, traditional marriages, what that really means in terms of the stigma and how painful it is to separate, when you’re from a background that doesn’t really believe in divorce and doesn’t make it easy to separate. So I have a following with that too.

Erik J. Olson:
I hadn’t heard of that niche before, by the way. That is really interesting. And I’m sure that there’s a lot of details and a lot of cultural issues that have to be discussed as well.

Jackie Harounian:
For sure. For sure. And people can find me. I mean, there aren’t that many people that really understand those issues the way that I am, because I’ve done so many of those cases, but this is also something I can do with marketing, marketing that unique aspect of my practice. And for all of our attorneys, we have attorneys that specialize in parental alienation, we have attorneys that have more expertise with businesses and tax. And as I said before, we’re growing our estate planning department. And where I see growth in the next few years is definitely with estate planning. We want to offer that to our existing clients. We want people to know about the importance of estate planning, and that provides a bridge to family law with postnups and prenups, as I mentioned before, proactive agreements. I’m thinking we’re going to see more of that. I think this is just the message is starting to get out there, how important it is to do that.

Erik J. Olson:
Hmm. That’s great. I like that a lot. When it comes to marketing, what is something that seems to be working very well for you right now?

Jackie Harounian:
So as I said, and this is something that maybe I can even learn from you and your company, and I’m doing my own research to see what else is out there, I am very new in this position as managing partner. We are not doing anything online or with the internet in terms of SEO or Google marketing at all. We did before, but I’m not doing it right now. I do think at some point later in the year, I would consider stepping my toe back into that SEO marketing. For now, thankfully we’re quite busy, and I’m not really looking to spend that. But there’s other ways I’m looking to find, see if I can leverage technology.

Jackie Harounian:
As I mentioned, I want to upgrade our website, so that clients really can have an interactive experience and we can streamline our own office functioning. We are going paperless little by little, more and more. We are dealing with DocuSign and other types of technologies that reduce paper. And privacy is very important. I would like to reach a point where we can really assure clients that the documents they send us, their tax returns, everything is really going to be secure. And I am concerned about security. There’s been a lot of hacking. We get emails, I mean, almost every single day. And it’s scary what’s going on there. I really want to make sure that we are protected and that our clients are protected.

Erik J. Olson:
Well, I think step number one is to have the awareness of the risk that’s there and the privacy expectations and, frankly, the vulnerability, whether you know what the vulnerability is or not, but the fact that there could be one, right? Because yeah, I mean, certainly in family law, it’s about as personal as it gets, right?

Jackie Harounian:
Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Erik J. Olson:
And what’s happening with you, your family, like you said, taxes, tax returns, you don’t want those things getting out unless you release them yourself.

Jackie Harounian:
It’s credit card statements, it’s photographs sometimes are you wouldn’t want them to fall into the wrong hands. It’s a lot of things that are very, very sensitive.

Erik J. Olson:
It’s personal.

Jackie Harounian:
And hiring a family law attorney, it’s almost like talking to a therapist. There’s a lot of private detail, there’s a lot of shame and a lot of embarrassment. And our job is to help them transition into the next stage of their life. So it’s really a position of trust and take it very, very seriously. And I’m hoping that we can be the firm that people think of first, when it comes to family law on Long Island, that we’re really going to take care of our clients.

Jackie Harounian:
We also have a social worker on staff. We’re the first firm that I’m aware of in the New York area that has a full-time social worker on staff. So we can make referrals, help our clients get to therapy, find a substance abuse counselor, even a marriage counselor because divorce is not the answer for everyone. Maybe they need some help finding closure on where the marriage is at. So this is an increasing part of our intake with clients. We want them to know that if they need help in terms of a mental health professional, we’re going to help them with that.

Erik J. Olson:
Well, that’s great. I hadn’t heard of that either. That’s really smart. I like that approach a lot because like you said, maybe divorce is not the answer, right?

Jackie Harounian:
For sure.

Erik J. Olson:
So give people options. Really the goal, excuse me, is to make their lives better in one way or another, right? Solve the problem at hand.

Jackie Harounian:
Yeah. Listen, clients that come in that are angry and have unresolved emotion or are dealing with a mental health crisis, either depression or bipolar disorder or alcoholism, they need to deal with that before they start entering a courtroom. So it really is the right advice to tell clients sometimes, “Slow it down. You don’t necessarily need to file right now. Why don’t we make sure you are at your best, or your child is dealing with something, we’ll help you deal with that.” And I am proud to say, I’ve saved a lot of marriages. I probably have a higher rate of couples reconciling in my office than maybe other family law practices. Part of it is my own traditional background, and the other part is I think I have a responsibility to present options with clients, and they’re not necessarily ready to divorce or maybe not right that moment. So they need to hear that. They need to hear that there are options. It’s one of the things that we like to offer to our clients.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s excellent. I really like that a lot. All right. Last marketing question, and then we’re going to wrap it up. Is there something in marketing that you’ve done, say in the last couple of years, that just didn’t really work? Maybe it used to work and then it stopped and then, but yeah, what’s not working for you guys? What have you walked away from?

Jackie Harounian:
Well, I mean, I think it’s going to be a very obvious answer, but I think we used to do a lot of live format networking events. We used to do a lot of live speaking events with food and catering, and we used to charge for credits for mental health professionals to come in, and that’s not going to happen again. We’re not going to be able to do those live meetings anytime soon. The virtual format is working very well for presentations. And so that would be my first answer, but it’s obvious because of the pandemic.

Jackie Harounian:
And my second answer would be spending too much money on SEO marketing and Google. It’s not my interest to be on the first page of Google at an exorbitant expense if it doesn’t really generate the type of clients and the level of clients that can afford our services, quite frankly. I mean, when we used to advertise our free consultation on Google and put money behind it, we got questions all over the country, people asking us questions. And of course I didn’t want to not answer questions. So I really did waste a lot of time, and our attorneys did, trying to serve a client base that we weren’t really helping ultimately, other than to give them free information. I’m looking to have more face-to-face relationship-based marketing and to connect with clients in different ways, in a way that really serves us and serves them.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s excellent. Well, this has been really great, Jackie. If someone would like to reach out to you and ask you questions, or maybe they have a referral for you, what’s a good way for them to get in touch with you?

Jackie Harounian:
That’s great. I’m very easy to get in touch with. My website again is lawjaw.com, www.lawjaw.com. Our office number is 516-773-8300. We do have a 24-hour service. You can always reach an attorney 24 hours a day in the event of an emergency. And I connect with a lot of professionals and referral sources on LinkedIn. So my LinkedIn address is linkedin.com/in/jacquelineharounian. And I’ll spell it out because it’s not the easiest to spell, J-A-C-Q-U-E-L-I-N-E H-A-R-O-U-N-I-A-N.

Erik J. Olson:
Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Jackie. I appreciate it.

Jackie Harounian:
My pleasure. Thank you very much for inviting me to speak. And maybe you’ll invite me back one day, and I’ll have more to say about managing partner and really where it’s headed.

Erik J. Olson:
A follow-up. I like that. All right, everybody. If you would like to check out other episodes like this, head over to our website at arraylaw.com/podcast. We have over 150 episodes, and they’re organized by practice area and by state, so you can find exactly what you’re looking for. And if you happen to be looking for digital marketing for your law firm, at arraylaw.com, we describe all of our services. The name of my company is Array Digital, and you can find us at arraylaw.com. Jackie, thanks so much.

Jackie Harounian:
You too. Thank you so much, Erik. It was amazing. Thank you.

Erik J. Olson:
Okay.

Jackie Harounian:
Bye.

Erik J. Olson:
Bye-bye.

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