Lori Beight, Kristin Gaston & Kaitlyn Metscher, Cascade Legal Planning LLC
An estate planning firm in the Pacific Northwest, Cascade Legal Planning, LLC, is steadily growing—and thriving—thanks to an innovative approach to client service, powered by legal technology. Since 2015, Cascade Legal Planning has leveraged Clio’s cloud-based legal technology to build the kind of practice its founders envisioned; today, the firm uses the entire Clio Suite of products, services, and app integrations to offer exceptional estate planning representation and make a difference in clients’ lives.
A small firm making a big impact
In 2015, estate planning attorneys Lori McLaughlin Beight and Kristin Gaston founded a small law firm in Portland, Oregon, with a desire to do things differently. Their plan was to put exceptional client service at the heart of their practice, and to leverage advances in legal technology to create an efficient and profitable business model.
Four years later, Cascade Legal Planning, LLC, is growing steadily thanks to a stellar reputation, a commitment to innovation, and a systematized growth strategy.
“We know that year-over-year, we’ve done about 30% growth organically, using all of our technologies and processes—and we can track that over time,” says Lori.
“So when we sit down to do our strategic planning and goal-setting, we know we’re going to grow by 30%, just by doing what we’re doing.”
True to their initial vision, Lori and Kristin have made personal, compassionate service the foundation for Cascade Legal Planning’s success, and they’ve utilized technology—specifically, Clio’s end-to-end, cloud-based legal software—as the engine that propels the firm forward.
“I can’t think of a way that Clio hasn’t improved our ability to provide exceptional client service,” Lori says. And the impact of that client service is what makes Cascade Legal Planning so profitable.
Driving growth with client service
“Jokingly, a friend and an attorney we share office space with told us, ‘If I hear another client profusely thanking you again, I think I might throw up,’” says Kaitlyn Metscher, the firm’s legal assistant—and the staff member responsible for finding new legal software that helps the practice run smoothly.
“All our work is relationship-based,” Kaitlyn adds. “Client service is more than offering coffee or water—it’s ensuring clients are heard, and most importantly feel safe to reveal details they may have never told anyone else. We have to earn a client’s trust before we can adequately plan for their estate.”
A different kind of practice
Kristin says that unlike other estate planning firms, the typical firm-client interaction at Cascade Legal Planning is not a transactional one.
“Some people leave here saying, ‘I’ve never had an attorney give me a hug before.’ I think we stand out for that reason,” Kristin explains, “That different type of relationship we have with our clients keeps them coming back.”
According to Kristin, the firm’s emphasis on sincere personal interactions yields revenue-driving results: More than 60% of Cascade Legal Planning’s new business comes from word-of-mouth client referrals.
“This is a multi-generational, multi-decade connection that we have with these families. That is qualitatively different, and I think that shows in the referral rate that we get,” Kristin says.
In Lori’s eyes, this isn’t an accident—she, Kristin, and the firm’s staff go to great lengths to create an environment and client experience that differs from clients’ expectations of the ‘typical’ law firm.
“Being really deliberate about lowering the barriers for people coming to see a lawyer has been really important to us,” she says. “We actively cultivate a more personal, more informal atmosphere in our office.”
“As intense as these conversations can be, having them in a relaxed environment—with humor and a real genuine connection—makes a huge difference.”
An eventful week
When asked for specific examples of times when Cascade Legal Planning’s dedication to client service shone, all three women thought of the same week earlier this year, when the firm handled five emergency “deathbed” will signings.
“Most estate attorneys say it is impossible to create an estate plan in 24 hours, have it signed, and legally executed,” Kaitlyn recalls.
“Well, this one week, we got multiple, frantic calls from children or spouses saying their loved one was dying—literally laying in a hospice bed, with days to live. They had no estate plan, no medical directives, they were freaking out because they didn’t know what to do.”
“We were able to turn around estate plans in less than 24 hours, go to the hospice or the client’s home, and get the plans signed in time. That’s really where you see that sense of relief—they can go back to being with their loved ones, and they don’t need to worry about signing legal documents.”
Lori says that weeks like that one inspire her and give her “a profound sense of importance,” knowing her work is important. She also says that delivering for her clients in those types of situations is only feasible because of the ways in which the firm has incorporated technology into its practice.
“We had five bedside hospice signings in one week,” she says. “It wouldn’t have been possible to turn them around quickly for our clients without Clio.”
“With the Clio Suite, we were able to generate multiple documents at a time, securely store them, and share them with our clients’ financial advisors—all in record time.”
Innovating with technology
Before Kristin and Lori joined forces—back when they were both solo practitioners—they used Microsoft Excel and other basic computer programs to organize their practices.
“It was clunky, time-consuming, and inefficient,” Lori says.
“Excel couldn’t do everything we needed it to,” Kristin adds. “We each individually outgrew what Excel could do for us.”
Lori says she realized that she quickly needed to improve the quality of her work because she was attracting lots of clients with sophisticated needs, and the only way she’d be able to deliver would be to augment her capabilities with new legal software.
First, she tried WealthCounsel, legal document drafting software for estate planning attorneys, and found that helpful. Then, she decided to look for legal practice management software that could integrate with WealthCounsel while also creating even more efficiencies.
“I tried one of Clio’s competitors first. It was clumsy,” she recalls. “So Kristin and I became partners at the beginning of 2015, and we were looking at options.”
“When we discovered Clio, it was really exciting,” says Kristin.
They attended the Clio Cloud Conference together, and it was a pivotal moment for the firm.
“We were so impressed with the responsiveness of the tech team when we came in. It was just a no brainer to implement Clio at our firm,” Lori says.
“When we put Clio Grow, Clio Manage, and WealthCounsel together, we experienced exponential growth, year-over-year, by continuing to increase our volume based on our ability to be really efficient.”
Open to new solutions
According to Lori, Cascade Legal Planning’s adoption of technology differed from the mentality at a lot of other law firms.
“The willingness to iterate, and try using new tools—that’s not typical in the lawyer profile,” she says. “Lawyers tend to be risk-averse, and we don’t like change. We think, ‘We’ve always done it this way, it works for us!’”
“So it’s amazing to be able to say, ‘We’re not 100% sure changing this will do everything we want, and this won’t be perfect the first time we try it, but we’re willing to try out something new, evaluate it, and make changes until it does what we want.’”
That’s the firm’s mentality—and it’s working. The founders empower Kaitlyn to research new technological solutions, evaluate how they can streamline firm operations, and implement them if there’s a fit.
“I’m always looking for new technology to alleviate some of my tasks,” Kaitlyn says.
“That’s where we really see the benefit of legal software—the growth that we’ve seen using Clio has allowed us to stay relatively small and nimble, but still accomplish a lot and have substantial growth without having a team of 15 support staff.”
Thriving in practice
Additionally, Lori feels that technology benefits the firm by allowing the attorneys and staff to feel that they’re doing meaningful work while still enjoying their lives outside the office.
“I don’t think the definition of thriving in the practice of law is about making a lot of money anymore,” she says. “It’s about being really good at what you do to make the world a better place—and you do that by really focusing on the needs of the people you serve.”
“I feel like we are able to thrive as lawyers because we have tools like Clio that allow us to meet client needs in a way that is unprecedented in our industry.”
Utilizing the full Clio Suite
It’s not an understatement to say that Cascade Legal Planning uses Clio for, well, just about everything. From the first steps of client intake, all the way through to creating estate plans, following up with clients, managing billing, tracking payments, and more—Cascade Legal Planning runs on Clio.
For instance, the firm will use Clio Grow to send out a client questionnaire, and this helps gather client information, which can be exported into Clio Manage. Once in Clio Manage, the firm can sync that information with WealthCounsel or other software solutions available through Clio’s App Directory. This enables the firm to seamlessly draft an estate plan—and provide exceptional client service.
Here are some specific ways the firm uses Clio’s products and services to power its growth.
“Clio’s cloud-based legal practice management software is essential to making our response time quick, and keeping everyone on the same page,” Kaitlyn says. “Clio Manage is our central hub that talks to all our other applications. Without the connectivity, we could not turn around a deathbed signing in as little as 12 hours. Clio keeps all of our firm members connected.”
“We use the Calendar feature to track our appointments,” she adds. “If a client has an emergency, our assistants can easily re-arrange schedules so we can coordinate all the moving parts. It is remarkable.”
The firm houses all its client documents in Clio Manage—if, for instance, an executor calls frantically from the hospital, any member of the firm can instantly share the appropriate documents.
The firm uses Clio Connect, which comes with their Clio Manage subscription, to provide a secure portal through which Cascade Legal Planning can share information securely.
“Clio Connect in particular is really excellent at allowing us to collaborate with other trusted advisors,” Lori says, which is important because a significant portion of the firm’s growth comes from networking with professionals who assist their clients with functions outside of estate planning.
“I love using the Clio mobile app as well,” Lori says. “It’s improved our mobility, allowing us to be effective at doing work even when we’re not in the office. I can bill on the fly while I’m waiting at a doctor’s office with my kids, or I can send a secure link to information for the sale of a client’s house—while I’m waiting in line for coffee.”
Additionally, Kristin says the Clio Suite provides the firm with the reporting and data resources needed to better understand clients, the firm’s performance over time, and other important metrics.
“We love the data collection part of Clio—it has been really important for us to track a lot of information,” she says. “You outgrow Excel really quickly when it comes to keeping track of who referred you, and how much people paid you. So there’s a wealth of information in Clio that we’re able to mine when we need answers.”
Kristin says: “When I first started with these ladies a few years ago I used to say, ‘Clio just needs to add legal client intake software—and then that would be the perfect solution.’ And at the 2018 conference, when Clio announced that they were adding Clio Grow, it was like, ‘Ok, now it’s going to happen!’”
“Clio Grow is light-years ahead of anything else that’s out there, and I see that potential that I’m really excited about.”
Lori adds that Clio Grow has been helpful because it has greatly reduced the amount of time required to complete certain front-end tasks. In the past, receiving inquiries, scheduling appointments, sending and receiving documents, and confirming appointments was a time-consuming process.
Now, with Clio Grow, the firm’s staff can quickly process inquiries, run conflict checks, send out pre-programmed emails, and use Acuity to schedule appointments.
“Clio Grow has made our front end way more efficient,” she says. “And one of the things we know is, if someone inquires and then we don’t get back to them right away—they go to a different firm.”
“There’s a lot of competition (in our market), so being really responsive to client needs to get them in the door is how we end up being able to provide service.”
Part of many Clio Manage users’ subscriptions is Clio Payments, powered by LawPay, which enables firms like Cascade Legal Planning to accept credit card payments from clients, set up payment plans, schedule automatic payments, and more.
According to Kaitlyn, the firm members use Clio Payments, and Lori says, “It’s been really easy.”
Kristin adds: “With Clio Payments, we have the assurance that we don’t have to spend the time asking clients to send a check, or make a payment every month—it’s automatic, and that allows our clients to have a plan that’s more affordable for their budgets, and more accessible.”
“And one of the benefits of having 80% of our work be flat-fee billing … is that we do almost no billing. Even when someone is on a payment plan, we don’t have to worry about generating a bill for them every month. That’s a huge time-saver for us.”
Seeing the difference
For Lori and Kristin, Clio and the other software applications they use have a profound, tangible effect on their business.
“Being able to do more things without hiring more staff is a very quantifiable metric,” Lori says. “The people that we have here are each able to do significantly more because of the combination of technologies that we have. We run our reports out of Clio, we use it as our database, we use it for our marketing efforts. We also store and share documents and save time during billing and collection.”
“We can help more people because of Clio. It takes fewer of us to do it, and the work itself is more systematized, more accurate, and more accessible.”
A pair of stories
When asked about the impact that technology has had on the firm, Kristin thinks of a friend of hers who is a lawyer at a larger, more “old school” estate planning firm.
“She and I are constantly comparing stories, and she’s blown away by the opportunities that we have here to try new software, reach out to clients in a different way, and store documents in a new way,” Kristin says. “Whereas she is still writing down her time on a slip of paper and handing it to a person to type into a program. And she has tried to bring a few new changes to this group, and it’s like banging her head against a wall.”
“I’ve gotten so used to our flow here about trying new aspects of the program, or bringing in a new third-party app to work with Clio … I forget how convenient we’ve made things for our clients, and when I talk to my friend, she’s just stunned by how slow things are happening at her firm, and she’s seeing how that doesn’t feel like it’s providing a service to her clients.”
“At her firm, the phone message is written down on a piece of paper, it’s walked down to her office, and then she has to have someone else make a call back to look at a paper calendar to see if it can get scheduled. She gets frustrated by it all.”
“And,” she adds, “to see it from the clients’ perspective, they also feel that it’s inefficient and there isn’t as much personal attention.”
Expounding on that thought, Kristin remembers one client who needed probate work done in Oregon, even though he was based in Washington. When the man initially contacted a different estate planning firm in Oregon, the firm he spoke to said he needed to mail or fax them all his paperwork, and that he had to pay by check. This was not the kind of experience he wanted, so he contacted Cascade Legal Planning.
“Because of Clio Grow, our online questionnaire, Clio Connect, and all the other features of Clio Manage, he chose our law firm over this other firm,” Kristin says. “Before he was even officially a client, he realized, ‘This is the firm I need to go with to handle my father’s estate.’ He was grateful from that first phone call.”
Shaping the future
At Cascade Legal Planning, client service is a labor of love—and a sound business strategy.
To Lori, practices like Cascade Legal Planning represent the law firms of the future because they satisfy clients’ wants and needs while leveraging technology to work smarter and more efficiently.
“I love this work. I love Clio,” Lori says. “The way we do business as lawyers today is so much more fun than what it used to be, and that absolutely has to do with having cloud-based legal software, like Clio, that isn’t just a standalone solution but … allows us to input all of the information about our clients in a single place and then export that information for use with other software apps. It’s faster. It’s more efficient.”
Or, as Kaitlyn puts it: “Clio allows us to be the rockstars that our clients deserve.”