In today’s episode of the How and the Wow Podcast, come learn what horses, barns, and four legged friends have in common with practicing law in Pennsylvania.
Julie Anderson, the Owner of Trinity Elder Law and Estate Planning has a lot to share. This is part one of two episodes featuring Julie.
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Meg Garavaglia: Hi, and welcome to the How in the Wow podcast, where we speak with successful attorneys about the relationships that have supported their journeys to a thriving practice. So my name is Meg Garavaglia, host and founder of Woven Legal, a legal staffing company matching busy attorneys with high caliber paralegals on a fractional basis.
So they can reclaim their workdays and I’m excited to introduce our guest today is Julie Anderson, owner of Trinity Elder Law and Estate Planning LLC in Renfrew, PA. Julie is certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation and her practice is dedicated exclusively to elder care and special needs planning.
She is a frequent lecturer on topics including Medicaid planning, tax based estate planning, and the estate administration process. Welcome, Julie. Well, thank
Julie Anderson: you for having me, Meg. This is exciting to be speaking with you today.
Meg Garavaglia: Thank you. Is it a beautiful day in your neck of the woods? It is.
Julie Anderson: I like to say the sun always shines in Renfrew, but it is a particularly lovely day here in western Pennsylvania.
Meg Garavaglia: Good stuff. And you are, how far outside of Pittsburgh?
Julie Anderson: So, we are about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh. Gotcha. Okay. And
Meg Garavaglia: having grown up in the state, I definitely am familiar with that area and it is beautiful. So, we are going to jump right in. I should say too that you and I met a number of years ago. You were our client on my roster when I worked for a virtual staffing company placing VAs.
And it was my pleasure to meet you then. And you were… Transitioning from a job in a firm, and it was really exciting when you would call on your lunch break to discuss our services and how we were going to go about, you know, finding a virtual assistant for you. And so it’s been a particular pleasure watching as your firm has grown and, you know, fast forward, I’ve left that organization and.
Um, I caught up with you and was grateful that you agreed to speak with us. So it’s been a fun before and after kind of a perspective. So what inspired you to start your own business and what challenges did you face in the early days?
Julie Anderson: So what really inspired me was wanting to serve the clients and the families better.
So I was a partner in a general practice firm and you know, my, my partners did all kinds of different things and the staffing needs, the physical environment, just, just about everything for an elder line estate planning. Law office, at least the way I wanted to do it in the way that I thought was best for our clients was much different than what really is helpful in a general practice firm.
So it was really driven by wanting to to do better and serve the clients better and also have the freedom to make my own decisions and make choices that I thought served my clients better without having to, you know, consult with anyone else or struggle to explain why I thought that was a better
Meg Garavaglia: choice.
Excellent. So really client focus was the impetus that made you You know, and just wanting to bring the best services possible to your clients, that was the springboard for you to open your own firm.
Julie Anderson: It was, and I will add to that though, um, you know, I wanted to build something not only that served clients well, but that eventually, you know, I could not only have as a source of income for me, you know, during my working years, but possibly also have a firm saleable at some point, and it was pretty clear to me that that wasn’t the mindset of my other partners in the general practice firm.
So, yeah, it was a dual purpose. Probably number one was just serving the clients better. Um, but that, you know, really fed into them having something that could be a value later on in my career because eventually I am going to retire not anytime soon, but eventually.
Meg Garavaglia: Right. And making, it’s like buying a house versus renting, right?
I mean, probably not. Yeah. An exact analogy, but I do like that as well. And did you have any entrepreneurs in your family? Because let’s face it, you know, setting out on your own in the way that you have, that is an entrepreneurial effort. So. Did you have that background?
Julie Anderson: Yeah. So I actually made the comment many times in my head that I was somewhat uniquely situated to be doing that.
I didn’t maybe have a traditional, um, entrepreneur in my family, but my father actually was self employed as a, a horse trainer. So he had a farm and trained horses for the public and. A tremendous, tremendous amount of work and you know, just a lot of different pieces. He never really scaled his business, so he was always in the day to day of, you know, what I would think of as operations in terms of securing the insurance, dealing with any staff he had, and the actual substantive work.
So that kind of hard work and that idea that You know, if it’s something you’re passionate about, even if it’s difficult, you can make a go of it. Um, definitely, I think it was helpful. Much different, as you can kind of imagine. Um, Sure. Practice of law and training horses aren’t really very similar in many ways, but there are some things.
I bet. That, you know, have a surprising amount of transference. So that was definitely helpful to have at least that in my background, even if it was a little bit non traditional in terms of the entrepreneurial background. It isn’t like someone started at another law firm or company, but it definitely was helpful.
Meg Garavaglia: I agree. My dad had a hardware store. I think I probably shared when I was growing up and just. Watching the possibility, I think it was just the possibility that it could take root was enough to, you know, again, like you said, hardware and law firm staffing is not very relatable, but there are things that intermingle.
So would you say you got your work ethic from your dad? Probably your mom too, but it sounds like. You know, horse training, I can’t even imagine, was hard work and took discipline and early mornings, I would imagine.
Julie Anderson: Yeah, early mornings, late nights, and, you know, commitment to the animals because they, they can’t speak, at least not in English, so.
Definitely, I think that’s where my work ethic came from. Also, you know, based on the particular area of the law that I practice in, um, elder law and estate planning, some of our clients aren’t as able to communicate verbally, you know, people that, um, may have a cognitive diagnosis or other. Challenge.
And so we’re helping their families sometimes help them.
And so there is a surprising amount of transference in that regard and patience. So that’s, that’s a huge thing that I would say that being around the horses in my dad’s business taught me that is definitely something that transfers over to dealing with our clients and, you know, helping them deal with sometimes their elderly family members.
Meg Garavaglia: that compassion. I mean, that’s a great bit of insight what you just provided because I would not have ever made that leap. But, um, I think you’re right. Just, you know, exercising, tapping into that compassion to try to understand. Yeah. So what challenges can you think of that first year? I heard when you stepped out into your own firm.
Julie Anderson: so I was fortunate that I knew that this is what I wanted to do for quite some time before I actually made the move. I had to do everything to set up the new firm while I was still working in the day to day of my old practice arrangement. So that’s where having a virtual assistant was incredibly helpful because that person Really just managed a lot of those small, but really important things to put some of the administrative and kind of structural parts in place.
So that was extremely helpful then in terms of, you know, communicating. to existing clients and referral sources. It didn’t turn out to be a super significant challenge, but it was definitely a concern that I had that, you know, referral sources would not necessarily follow me, if you will. So it was really just a matter of communicating that and making sure that they understood, you know, that I was still doing the same.
The same type of work, but even now in a position to do it even better. And so that actually ended up, you know, really being a good thing. And it was really well received to be, you know, a specialized firm instead of a part of a general practice firm.
Meg Garavaglia: Excellent. Okay. And. What did you hope to do differently than what had been done in the more general practice?
You kind of touched upon that. But if you could just kind of elaborate, was it more about the processes in place, the focused approach? Can you elaborate? Or
Julie Anderson: so part of it was more of the processes and and, um, you know, being able to spend more time with clients, um, and being able to offer some different services.
And a lot of it was also just in staffing. So having more staff that could really be able to meet more of the client’s needs. So, you know, one of the things we really focus on and identify as a difference of this firm relative to Maybe even some other elder law or state cleaning firms is that we really try to focus on the whole person and holistic cleaning and making sure that whatever we’re doing for someone fits their whole life.
And so that is more involved. We’re going to get to know the client better. It takes more time and it requires more staff in order. To do that. Yeah. So that was probably the biggest difference I was able to implement between the general practice firm and then a standalone specialized firm. I love that.
Meg Garavaglia: And I think we’re really aligned in that way. I feel and felt the same way. It was great to be able to kind of direct our approach to, we’re starting to call it fans first. Based on a gentleman that I just saw recently. Have you heard of the Savannah Bananas? I have not. I know. Well, I will send you a link afterwards because they, I went to a presentation that this guy did and he was a ball.
He is the owner of the Savannah Bananas and it’s a baseball team who has I mean, just the coolest organization, like, instead of having a hip dance team, although I’m sure they’re very hip, maybe more in the literal sense, they have the Banana Nanas dance team, which is senior, senior citizen dance team, and then men felt left out apparently, so they have the Mananas and the, uh, The mascot is called Split, and it’s just a hoot.
So, anyway, really witty and very, very fun. But, okay, can you share some of the most, you know, significant lessons or problematic situations that you look back and thought, oh my gosh, we are going to do it differently, or wow, did we learn a lot from that experience?
Julie Anderson: Hmm. So, that’s a tough question. Probably the first thing that pops into my mind, to be honest, I would have made that move.
Sooner pondered it for too long, and I wouldn’t necessarily say to my detriment, but I actually had a client at one point when I was in the general practice firm, ask me, so when are you going to just go out on your own and have your own firm? And I thought, Oh, I think that’s a sign that I should be. I love that.
I should be moving this along. If my clients are seeing that. Uh, you know, I’m not supported in staffing and, and in other ways, that tells me that I’ve, that I’ve maybe waited too long. So, you know, I think it’s a little scary to, to go out on your own and to take that leap, but I have learned, you know, I would rather be a little early than too late.
And so. That’s probably another kind of just general big takeaway is don’t sit around and ponder things and overthink things so much that you are behind, you know, whether that’s staffing, either on the hiring side, or, you know, sometimes, unfortunately, that can be on the termination side as well, you know, if you wait way too long to terminate someone who is upsetting your office culture, that’s So, yeah, I think that’s That’s really not good.
So, right, you know, action moving forward when you need to, instead of excess pondering is probably the biggest thing that. That I’ve learned, and it’s still obviously a work in progress some days, but I think that’s really, that’s probably my biggest takeaway from the last five and a half years. I
Meg Garavaglia: cannot believe it’s been five and a half years.
Wow. And yet we look just as young as we did then. So what role do you think, uh, innovation and creativity have played? Since owning your own firm, because I sense a real creative bent in you that may not, you know, when people first meet you, they may not
Julie Anderson: recognize that. Well, I think that’s because to be honest, law school kind of drives that out of you.
So it takes a bit of time to recover that if it’s something you started into the process with, but it’s huge really. And that just goes to, I think being an entrepreneur, um, you have to have ideas and then you have to Move forward with them. So, uh, whether that’s just a different way of communicating something to a client or, you know, a larger scale project, creativity and innovation are really critical when you’re trying to, to grow and develop your practice.
So one of the things that we just did recently, which was a pretty significant change was we spent the first five years of The firm’s existence in a really traditional office space and it served us well, but I had the opportunity to move the office to a much different location. And some people thought I was a little, a little crazy because it is about six miles outside of our closest town in business district.
And it’s. Basically, it’s in a barn. No, it doesn’t look like a barn any longer. It’s actually been renovated to where it looks like a very traditional office inside, but it’s in a very quiet country location where there’s lots of mature trees and green grass and it’s very peaceful. It’s very calm. But the, the interior too is different.
It is not a traditional kind of formal law office, because that’s not the type of cases that we handle. And that’s not why people come here. They’re coming here because they’re having, you know, really significant kind of human level challenges. And we’re talking about, does mom need help in the shower?
Does And dad able to address himself and so sitting at a really formal table just doesn’t Help have that conversation So that was definitely something that was different and has worked extremely well so far, but it is not a traditional space on purpose, but it definitely was something that, um, was intentional, but very, very
Meg Garavaglia: different.
I love it. It sounds amazing and I cannot wait for pictures and I believe you’re going to send some pictures if I recall. Yes. Good. We can’t wait to see the space. I loved what you said when we had talked at a, an earlier time about the experience that you envisioned clients having when they came into your new office space and You know, can you just describe that vision a little bit?
Julie Anderson: Sure. So it is designed to be much more comfortable and to feel much more home. Like, so we don’t have a traditional conference room table. We actually have a repurposed table. Actually, we also have a. Uh, little kitchenette that is accessible to clients so we can just step out of the conference room, get them a cup of coffee, water, whatever they need, um, so it is to definitely be more like sitting across the kitchen table with someone talking to them about how they’re doing, caring for their parents or how their parents are doing.
What I would say is very calm in terms of the decor. We don’t have a lot of wall hangings or kind of clutter, if you will, about. Right. So, you know, we do serve a lot of clients who have some. Level of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, or dementia. So we wanted to be very mindful of the space for them. And down to having contrasting color floors.
So if they use the restroom when they’re here, that that’s not a extra challenging experience for them. Everything is ADA compliant. So we have lots of space for them to navigate. Yes, the bathroom is gigantic, but it’s It’s what we need it to be calming on purpose, you know, blue color scheme, which again is designed to be positive, but also calming instead of loud or, you know, kind of, um, over stimulating to folks.
Meg Garavaglia: love that, especially I love the kitchen table approach because for me, I grew up in a big family and the best conversations happened at the kitchen table. We had a dining room table and that was fun for, you know, big dinners and things, but the kitchen table was where things got real and authentic.
And I, I love that. And I’m sure you have plenty of those types of conversations right there. Um. You got to tell me about the dog aspect of your practice. I just am so intrigued by that. And I know that listeners will want to hear all about that. So yeah. Can you share
Julie Anderson: how that works? So a couple, couple of ways that that is, uh, really relevant to the office space, actually.
So we do have flooring that is dog friendly, so it’s also just kind of. Durable and, you know, pretty, but it’s, um, something that can be cleaned up easily, whether someone spills a cup of coffee on it or someone brings a dog and they have an accident because that does happen. We are what I would call dog friendly office.
We used to let folks bring their dogs if they wanted to at our old space, but it really wasn’t well suited to that. This definitely is. So we also do, um, what I call four legged family member planning. So it’s a different approach, um, to estate planning for pets. And that’s focused, you know, in the past, primarily on what happens to your dog, your cat, whatever your family member might be when you leave us, well.
That’s important. I would never say that it’s not. However, what we have found is that the, the bigger issue is what happens to your dog or your cat if you can’t take care of them as well at home, or if you have to transition out of your home into a care facility, a lot of people have to give up their animals.
And, and, you know, I think about that and why would you in your kind of darkest hour, you know, your, you know, Time to feed. Why would we separate you from something that is a source of support and joy? That sounds terrible.
Meg Garavaglia: Fantastic. And that is, I mean, right there is enough of a reason to open your own firm, you know, just trying to implement that approach.
I think it’s amazing. You know, I have to ask for anyone who is a cat listener or cat owner who is a listener. Um, yeah. What do you. How do you handle that?
Julie Anderson: So, certainly, we do not discriminate between cats or dogs or, you know, any kind of four legged family member. I have an orange cat that actually lives at the farm.
That’s where he chooses to be. He doesn’t want to be your cat. Um, you know, they have some of the same challenges in terms of, you know, folks, maybe not being as able to care for them at home. If you’re, if you’re sick, cats are a little less high maintenance than dogs. So that. Isn’t quite as big of a struggle, but the same issue results where if you have to transition to a care facility, we want someone to either be able to maintain your cat and if they’re, if the cat’s amenable to coming to visit, or there are some facilities who would let you bring your cat with you, and then the idea would be arranging for some assistance to make sure that it’s safe.
You know, the cat is well cared for. It’s not difficult for you to address that. And you know, transportation, if they need to go to the vet, et cetera. So, you know, we, although we don’t have an office cat, we only have an office dog. We certainly do like cats here as well.
Meg Garavaglia: Excellent. I love that you said you don’t discriminate.