THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 172
Interview on 03.11.2022

Hosted By
Kevin Daisey

Featuring Attorney

Sandra Kelly



Managing Partner of
Ray, Robinson, Carle & Davies Co., LPA

About Sandra Kelly

Sandra Kelly is the Managing Partner at Ray, Robinson, Carle & Davies Co., LPA in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sandra's practice consists of litigation, both for plaintiffs and defendants. In addition to handling maritime cases related to the Jones Act, LHWCA and other shipping-related matters, she is a FINRA arbitrator, hearing cases related to breaches of securities law. She has acted as a legal commentator for the local Fox8 News affiliate and has spoken on maritime and collection issues. She has been recognized as a Proctor in Admiralty by the Maritime Law Association of the United States and has received the highest possible rating from Martindale-Hubbell. She has been listed in Best Lawyers since 2013.

Sandy is a published author for various Thomson West trial manuals, serves on the boards of several non-profit institutions and has been a longtime member of a judicial rating coalition whose mission is to elect qualified individuals to the Ohio judiciary. In Legus, an international network of law firms, she serves on the marketing committee and is a past Advisory Committee Chair. In 2016 Sandy was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, which has over 6,000 members.

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

Kevin Daisey:
Okay. We are live. Thank you for joining us on another recording of the managing partners podcast. I’m Kevin Daisey, I’m your host. I’m also the founder of Array Digital, where we help law firms grow their case pipeline by using digital marketing. So I have a special guest today coming out of Cleveland, Ohio. Sandra Kelly, welcome to the show.

Sandra Kelly:
Thank you.

Kevin Daisey:
So first question, like I always ask is, really want to know your story, how you became an attorney, and how you ended up where you are today, so if you would give us the story, give us the quick-

Sandra Kelly:
Sure. I am very much a nontraditional pathway to attorney. I went to Ohio State. I really love landscape architecture. I used to have a business when I was young. I got a degree in horticulture and agriculture education. I wanted to teach horticulture at the college level, preferably at Ohio state, and unfortunately there was not a job to be had when I got my master’s degree. So during my master’s degree, I took a number of MBA courses, including a law course, and I had never been exposed to the law. I have no family members in it and I got an A in the course. I got BA in the course.

Kevin Daisey:
BA.

Sandra Kelly:
The professor was the chairman of the department and he came to me and he said, “I see you’re in grad school.” But he’s like, “I think you have an affinity to this.” So he said, “If you ever decide, you want to go to law school, let me know. I’ll write a recommendation letter or two for you.” And I’m like, “Yeah.” I kind of filed it away. And I’m like, “Oh, that’s really nice.” And then of course couldn’t find a job. So I tried desperately to make my horticulture dreams come true. They did not. But I went back to this professor, he wrote me a wonderful recommendation and I got into Pepperdine law school with it, and I got a substantial scholarship because I really had no money to go to law school. And at that point the looming loans were consideration. So Pepperdine gave me a 50% ride.

Kevin Daisey:
Oh wow.

Sandra Kelly:
So I proceeded out there and have really never looked back, but it is definitely a different then what I envisioned really growing up.

Kevin Daisey:
Well, I mean, truthfully I’ve had a lot of great interviews on this show, and there’s definitely the ones that are born and then became an attorney, but, or their grandma said they had to be one or their family is attorneys. But there’s a lot of young folks that have a similar story I think, that weren’t really sure. Tried to go a different path and ended up somehow crossing the law path and deciding to jump on that. So I’ve heard quite a cool, lot of cool stories. Like one guy was a mechanical engineer and then he’s now a patent attorney, which makes a lot of sense, but-

Sandra Kelly:
It does.

Kevin Daisey:
It’s helpful for sure. But, so I think it’s pretty cool to hear the different stories, and your story is unique as any of them. So tell us a little bit more about the firm and everything from the [inaudible 00:03:28] Ray Robinson law looks like it has a rich history and has been around for quite a long time. So tell us a little bit about the firm and the history of that and what the price area, what the focus is.

Sandra Kelly:
Sure. By history, we are now the oldest continually operating firm in Cleveland.

Kevin Daisey:
Wow.

Sandra Kelly:
[inaudible 00:03:51] had beat us and then they kind of exploded and went their separate ways. So we have been in existence since the 1870s. By history, we are an Admiralty maritime firm. So we were in basically the same building as all of the giant freighter companies, that a lot of them were headquartered here in Cleveland in the 1870s, in the Rockefeller building. And likewise, our firm spent, I think, 40, 50 years in the Rockefeller building, representing all of those companies. As the younger generations came up, we had a Chicago office for about 40 years, which was wonderful. I practiced in Chicago quite a bit as a young associate going over and assisting our senior attorneys there in a number of federal court Admiralty cases. So it was a varied practice.

Sandra Kelly:
We go anywhere on the Great Lakes. So I would be in Duluth in January, I would be in Buffalo during snow storms, you name it. If it was a coastal Great Lakes port, we served it. And we had a number of attorneys that were, practiced in federal court. We also made it to the US Supreme court on a number of Admiralty issues. Before me, every one of our senior partners had appeared in front of the US Supreme court. And that was back in the 50s, 60s, 70s, when Admiralty issues were of interest to that court. And it was kind of easy to get in there and get an issue heard. So that’s a very rich history. The predecessor firm was Ray Robinson, Carl Davies, and Snyder, all preeminent attorneys. We’ve morphed, like most have, into the two name genre, Ray Robinson, way easier for the receptionist say, but in any event, many of our partners have retired or have died.

Sandra Kelly:
And I was the youngest partner by 14 years. So probably there was always the view that eventually this was going to end up to be my baby. And I became managing partner, the youngest they ever had about five years before the major partners had retired, they made me managing partner and yeah, it’s been a wild ride. We now do probate and estate work. And we do a lot of, interestingly, unclaimed funds cases for large estate. We have developed a practice in that and that’s a multi-state practice where I get to work with a lot of other really cool lawyers and other states putting these claims together. And then finally we do a lot of surety bond work. So we work for the surety companies that bond out criminals, and we handle the larger bond forfeitures and that type of thing, and I do that all over the state and we just got a case accepted to the Ohio Supreme court. So that’s pretty cool. I have never been in the Ohio Supreme court before. So lots of really interesting things in the generation of the firm.

Kevin Daisey:
That’s excellent. Well, that’s really cool. Thanks for sharing that. And kind of the history of that, and how things have kind of changed and morphed as well. And the two name thing is, I think I have, we have law firms as clients, and there’s some that I still have to go, “What is the name of the, whole name of the firm?” It’s hard to say some of the last names. And you got four or five sometimes. It gets a little ridiculous, but-

Sandra Kelly:
Ours was ridiculous. And of course I’m never going to be named in it because nobody knows Kelly. They all know Ray Robinson. So we’re smart enough to know, you stick with what your market knows.

Kevin Daisey:
Yep. That’s good. No, I like that, what you’ve done with that, and so next question, maybe related to marketing, but, so you’ve kind of gotten into some new areas and so what it really has worked well as far as getting clients and, especially in those new areas, but what’s worked well for the firm, let’s say since you’ve been managing partner, what are some of the things that you’ve done that have worked well to get your name out there or to pick up new clients, especially if you’ve moved into this new space and kind of rebranded?

Sandra Kelly:
Absolutely. Probably one of the best things that I’ve done is, we’re in a non-competitive legal network of worldwide lawyers called Legus Law and we get our own territory, so you’re not competing with other attorneys within that sector, but yet we have a ton of cross referrals going on. So I can be asked, “Do you know an attorney in Germany?” And I do. And I’ve met him and he’s vetted and he’s great. And that’s been a tremendous widening of our catch if you will.

Sandra Kelly:
We’ve been with that network for 25 years. We’ve never, we’ve been approached by many other bigger networks with a wider reach, but this one works for us since we’re a small to medium firm. Our firm is morphed to where we have three attorneys, but we work with many, many more. So if we have a particular case, we now will associate, if I have a big maritime case, I have a big maritime death case right now. I’m associating with Annapolis, Maryland council on it. We pull in talent from all over the country because the most important thing for us is to be successful for the client. And we want to go into this and be winners coming out. So we’ve really kind of gotten into loose associations with other law firms and it has paid off in spades. And I think the cross referral is what keeps a law firm vibrant. And it’s not the old stayed where everybody does the work within the law firm and you pass it down to the associates and you don’t associate with other firms. I think that’s shortsighted in this day and age.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. Yeah. Bringing the best resources you can. Right. So to get the job done and, and get it done right. So, excellent. Well, I think that’s great. And so what was the name of that group again for anyone listening?

Sandra Kelly:
It’s called Legus Law. L-E-G-U-S L-A-W. If you go to our website, it’s all over our website. But they are wonderful, and in fact, have a couple of open jurisdictions in the United States. So if anybody visits our website and goes to Legus law, and you’re in open jurisdiction, please get in touch with me, I’m on the advisory board and I can talk to you.

Kevin Daisey:
Excellent.

Sandra Kelly:
Making that go further.

Kevin Daisey:
Awesome. Yeah. Anyone listening, please reach out. And her website’s just below. So it’s rayrob.com. It’s nice and sweet. Short. I like it.

Sandra Kelly:
It’s short.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. Some of the website addresses that come on here pretty long. So that’s good to have a nice short, but yeah, you can check her website. It sounds like you can access that group through there. And it looks like I see in the bottom corner of your website, you have a logo for it. So yeah. Check that out, check out her website and you can find out more about her firm, more of the history about the firm as well through the website. So what’s really, the plans, obviously COVID is around still, things have been a little bit different. Are you in the office, virtual at home? Hybrid model? What are you guys doing?

Sandra Kelly:
We, I come to, as a managing partner, I come to the office at least for a few hours every day, because we are still getting receipt of original documents that we need to file with courts. Even if it is e-filing, we’re still needing signed documents. We have three excellent full-time employees, and then we one part-time paralegal and we let them work remotely. They take turns coming in the office, and our office model, we’ve greatly reduced, actually prior to COVID we greatly reduced our kind of office footprint. Because we were spending a lot of money in rent, and there just wasn’t really a good reason for it. So having reduced it makes us kind of leaner and meaner. My off council attorneys will come in the office when we need to consult. Otherwise sometimes I meet them at a Starbucks, I meet them at their houses, and we just may maintain a very kind of, there’s no rule. It’s whatever is seem to be working.

Sandra Kelly:
I mean, sometimes let’s be honest, zoom meetings don’t work, and you need to sit side by side when you’re calculating things or looking at very complicated issues. It’s good to be in the room and` be live. So we haven’t eliminated that. I don’t see law firms eliminating that because I think the effectiveness will suffer. Zooms are wonderful for routine sorts of things. I don’t think zooms are wonderful for depositions. I’ve done them. For mediations, I’ve done them. I don’t like it. You can’t read body language, and that sort of thing. So I really, I enjoy the modern hybrid kind of model that we’re all kind of tripping into due to the pandemic. And I think we can take advantage of that to make it less expensive for our clients, more efficient for us, but yet not lose personal touch?

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah, no, I think so too. And that’s kind of what we’ve gone, as my firm, which we do marketing, but, we were moving more virtual before the pandemic as well. And we do digital marketing, so-

Sandra Kelly:
Right.

Kevin Daisey:
A little bit different, but of course, since COVID all our hiring has been pretty much remote folks because we don’t have the best talent, and not always local, unfortunately. So-

Sandra Kelly:
But you don’t necessarily need them to be either. I mean, if you want to get the best talent and they’re in LA and you want that niche, kudos to you.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah, exactly. So it’s been helpful, but we still have an office. I’m in the office today. We have a few folks here, much of our leadership team and it’s something about sitting around the table, we’re having a really serious strategy meeting, where the company’s going or ideas that we have. Sometimes it’s just helpful to sit in the room and get it done. Definitely had a lot of attorneys say that, a lot of trial attorneys, they do not like the zoom stuff. They want to be in front of people, especially if it’s a jury and stuff like that. So it’s, they feel handicapped if they can’t be in the room.

Kevin Daisey:
But I’ve also had a lot of folks, there’s a lot of efficiencies that they can try, have more cases in the state further away than where they were just focused on their city. So it’s, I think it’s pros and cons. I think the hybrid model will be probably what’ll stick around most, so. Well, that’s working here, but I like your approach to it. Whatever’s working. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. And then of course, keeping your expenses down and not having to have a big fancy office in the best location in town, I don’t think it’s necessary. So.

Sandra Kelly:
Yeah. You’re going to pay for a conference room, square footage every month to Zoom with your clients? What? Yeah. Makes no sense.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. Good point. But yeah. I mean, figure, some of the big flashy firms or the PI firms that have the big beautiful offices, I assume that cost is being passed on to the clients somehow or another. So.

Sandra Kelly:
Of course it does.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. It’s got to be right? So what is the plans for you, for the firm? What are you thinking, coming out of COVID, hopefully things will settle down, but, business as usual, but what’s kind of your plans for the next couple years. What’s next? Are you bringing on more attorneys? Are you in growth mode? What’s [crosstalk 00:15:42]?

Sandra Kelly:
I don’t know so much that we’re in growth mode. I like the two attorneys that kind of captively work for me now, but like I said, we have some big cases where I have associated other, one set of attorneys in Huron, which is about an hour away, so I see them every couple months and we talk about the case, they’re wonderful to work with. So I see developing that relationship with them further because we just kind of vibe. I think my apprehension in bringing on laterals is you have to feed constantly, and I tend to be the vast majority of the rainmaker in the firm. So I get the business in and then, I kind of give it out as it is. So, and the other attorneys enjoy not having to do marketing or rainmaking. They would rather do the work. So we all have our role.

Sandra Kelly:
So in two to five years, I see more relationships developing with like-minded firms that like to partner together. I mean, I think the big thing in partnering with a firm in the future of it is, the client does not get double charged. You each bring your unique spin or talent to that case and you make sure that you’re not duplicating your efforts and the client quickly sees, “Wow, I’m getting a really good bang for my legal buck.” And that’s what keeps them coming back and referring you and your law firm to other people.

Sandra Kelly:
So I kind of see that in the future. I don’t see myself with baby lawyers, but, I say that and then there, the perfect baby lawyer may land in my lap and I say, “Okay, yeah, we’ll bring you on.” But to not have that pressure of having to feed a giant machine, just has made the practice of law fun for me again. It wasn’t fun for a while. And it is fun for me. And I can also say, “We don’t gel. I don’t really think I want to take your case on, let me refer you to this person.” And I have the freedom to do that. A few years ago-

Kevin Daisey:
You were just saying “I got to take it because we need-”

Sandra Kelly:
[crosstalk 00:17:54] Didn’t have the freedom cause I had answered others. So.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah, I think that’s great. You got to do you and do what you want to do. But I think that’s a cool approach, and I think, yeah, when you have all those folks underneath you, you got to take care of them. You got to deal with all those other issues with the, that comes with having a bunch of folks underneath you, that work for you, and then yeah, you got to feed them, and I think, some firms, each attorney, I mean, they’re basically their own business owner. They got to bring in their own business or they’re looking for the firm to feed them and bring in the business for them, so, and that can come at a big expense, but a lot of what we kind of do, we do just marketing for law firms. So we try to help drive that. So the firms that are in growth mode, it’s a concept, feeding the machine if you will. So, but hey, you got to do what you want to do, and I appreciate you sharing, kind of your perspective and where you want to go out. So. Well, is there anything else you wanted to share with anyone else as we wrap it up?

Sandra Kelly:
I kind of think we’ve covered it.

Kevin Daisey:
And you’re in Cleveland, Ohio. You said it’s, I think… we’re in Virginia so, same kind of climate we got going on. It’s fall everyone. Winter’s approaching quickly.

Sandra Kelly:
Fall, y’all.

Kevin Daisey:
It’s fall, y’all. Everyone listen. Please check out her website, rayrob.com. The easiest website address I’ve had on the show. Appreciate that. We learn more and connect with her. I think check out what was the name of the group again?

Sandra Kelly:
Again, it’s Legus Law, L-E-G-U-S L-A-W. You pop that into your browser and it’ll pop up and it’s worldwide. We have, I think we’re at 83 firms worldwide and-

Kevin Daisey:
Oh wow.

Sandra Kelly:
We do have some open jurisdictions, but again, contact me, and, I think they’re a wonderful group and it’s a wonderful source of referrals.

Kevin Daisey:
Excellent. That’s huge value. So everyone, yeah. Check out her website, check her out and connect with her. Is there any other way to connect with you other than that? Use any social media, LinkedIn?

Sandra Kelly:
Yeah. LinkedIn. Sandra Kelly, Ray Robinson, both of them pop up on LinkedIn on our website. We have the good old fashioned telephone for people who want to pick up and chat.

Kevin Daisey:
What’s that?

Sandra Kelly:
I know. What is that? But we do use Facebook, but probably not to the extent that we should, but I think LinkedIn’s pretty well developed and sure. Or drop us a line off the website. We have a chat page.

Kevin Daisey:
Okay. Well everyone, please do that. Reach out to her if you got any questions or just want to connect, or possibly have any referrals that you can work on together. So check out this. So Sandra will have this up on our website soon. A copy of this episode will also be up on our podcast, YouTube, it’ll be shared on my LinkedIn. So you can be able to check that out soon as well, but go to rayrob.com\podcast. Sandra will be featured up there soon. We also have the managing partner’s newsletter. So this goes out, I might be wrong, might be weekly. Thank you for, I don’t know weekly or every two weeks at this point. But it’ll feature a couple episodes, the upcoming episodes each week, plus some other really cool stuff. Law related marketing and other cool things in that newsletter.

Kevin Daisey:
So if you’re on here as a guest, you’re automatically entered into that. So Sandra, congratulations.

Sandra Kelly:
Thank you.

Kevin Daisey:
But if anyone’s interested to join that, reach out to us as well, and it’s got some really good content. It features some really amazing managing partners and Sandra will probably be featured on that soon. And then if you need any help with marketing, websites, stuff like that, that’s what we do. We help law firms, whether it’s just presence and professionalism, reputation, or driving leads and traffic, we kind of handle all that stuff. So if you need anything like that, reach out to me or go to rayrob.com and we’re happy to help you. Sandra anything else before we go?

Sandra Kelly:
No, thank you. It’s been such a pleasure meeting you.

Kevin Daisey:
Yes. Thanks for sharing your story. I like to hear everyone’s journey to how they became an attorney and it’s cool to have those ones that are not traditional, I guess, if you will. So, appreciate you sharing that today.

Sandra Kelly:
Thank you.

Kevin Daisey:
We’ll say goodbye everyone. Thank you for being on another episode and listening to us today and we’ll talk to you soon.

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