Justin Stivers of The Probate Law Firm received his law degree in 2013 from the University of Miami School of Law. His law firm exclusively handles probate and estate planning. He strives to create a comfortable environment for clients, where they can discuss difficult topics and advocate for themselves with a trusted, knowledgeable resource.
Lawyer Minds: How did you get involved in probate law?
Justin Stivers: There are no lawyers in my family, and in fact, I am the first to graduate from college. Probate was not a word I had ever heard before attending law school, and even in law school, the most relevant course I took was Trust & Estates, but even that course rarely mentioned probate. So, it was not something I was familiar with prior to or probably even while in law school. I first learned about probate after becoming a licensed attorney.
I was working with another attorney, and he did primarily real estate closings. For those who don’t know, when a person buys a home, they have to get title insurance. There are title companies that will look at the history of the property to make sure there are no liens or any issues with the chain of title—extremely boring stuff. But often, we would learn that the owner of the property had passed away, so probate was necessary before the sale could go forward. So that was probably my first introduction to the word probate.
I realized that there was a lot of opportunity to help individuals in the areas of probate and estate planning and very quickly gravitated towards opening my own law firm dedicated exclusively to those areas. So, I guess you could say that I just sort of fell into probate law.
Lawyer Minds: Your law firm is active on multiple social media platforms. What benefits have you seen from that activity, and what tips would you give to firms just starting out online?
Justin Stivers: I get asked a lot about social media. People usually tell me one of two things: 1) I’m not as active on social media as I should be, or 2) I don’t do social media. In my opinion, social media is not an option. You have to be on it. But here’s the thing, you have to have a strategy. There is so much to social media that I could talk on this for hours, but I’ll try and be brief, which is hard for lawyers.
There is paid, and there is unpaid. Everyone should be putting unpaid content on social media. It’s like this: most attorneys get the value of networking, joining bar associations, getting involved, and attending events. From attorneys practicing for 20+ years to new attorneys, all of us attorneys know there is value in getting out in public. Social media is a way for you to amplify your networking abilities.
I have taken the approach of putting law-related content out there with my personal content. Your prospective clients and your referral partners are likely looking you up online. Whether you want to accept it or not, if people look you up and you are a ghost on social media, or your last post was in 2012, it makes people suspicious. It’s just the way it is. So, you need to have content out there for social proof. The content I write and put out there is to let people see what I do and help them feel comfortable contacting me if they need my services. A lot of attorneys get direct referrals, but most of us get internet leads as well. It helps my credibility when a potential client has looked me up on all these social media pages and knows that I am legitimate. It builds credibility before we even speak.
However, I think one of the greatest benefits of social media is that it allows me to share my life and content with my already existing network. Again, most attorneys know that networking with other attorneys and referral partners is vital. But it’s impossible for us to go to coffees, lunches, and happy hours every single day to maintain that top-of-mind awareness. So, putting content out there is a way for other people to see me without seeing me in person.
And I know most attorneys are going to say but, “but what is the ROI”? I can tell you that I continue to get direct business from social media platforms—no doubt about it. But I would say that to some extent, you can’t look at social media for direct ROI. Now, if you are doing paid social media, that may be one of the metrics you pay attention to, but as a whole, I don’t look at social media for direct leads and clients. I look at it as a simple and easy way to get my message out and there and reach new people but also deepen the relationships I already have.
The biggest piece of advice I could give to people just starting out online is to be consistent. One post a week, or even a day, isn’t going to do much in the grand scheme of things. But I can guarantee that you will see results if you post consistently for long periods of time. Just keep putting content out there. And secondly, don’t overthink it. There are literally billions of people on social media. I hate to break it to you, but the post with you and your family at Thanksgiving is not going to go viral and get you new business. But it does make you look more credible, show that you are not just an attorney, and will help keep you top of mind with people who already know, like, and trust you.
Lawyer Minds: Working in probate law, it’s safe to assume you come into contact with an array of emotions on a daily basis. How do you deal with family members who are upset? Have you ever encountered dishonest family members?
Justin Stivers: I think it is safe to say that we are dealing with family members who are upset on a daily basis. Sometimes it is because they are fighting with their siblings or some family fight that has been going on long before the person passed away. But a lot of time, people are just upset because the parent or loved one died. I get it. It can weigh on you. Frankly, I think most attorneys, regardless of their specific practice area, generally deal with clients who are upset. They are getting divorced, got arrested, or were in an accident. Attorneys have to deal with sensitive topics for a living.
I try and put myself in my client’s shoes. I know that their anger, sadness, or frustration is not necessarily directed at me. It is just a sad situation all the way around. So, I try and understand where they are coming from. Having empathy and compassion is a prerequisite for working in probate law. I have several employees, and everyone one of them exhibits these characteristics. I think that helps us as a team when we are dealing with a particularly difficult client.
From time to time, we encounter dishonest family members. The good thing about probate law in Florida is that the law is pretty black and white, so it is pretty hard for someone to scheme the system. Yes, it happens, and that is where litigation attorneys make their money.
Lawyer Minds: Has practicing probate law changed you in any way?
Justin Stivers: I think it has made me more aware of the importance of maintaining good relationships with family members. I am very grateful that I have a family that has remained pretty close over the years. I have three sisters, and all of us are friends, and I personally could never see things getting to such an extreme that we would fight over any inheritance in court. But… I see it all day. So, I think I place more time and energy in maintaining good relationships with my family because it is heartbreaking to see how families can get ripped apart after the death of a loved one.
Lawyer Minds: Personally, what do you consider to be one of your major professional achievements?
Justin Stivers: I am immensely proud to have started my law firm only a few years ago and grown it to where it is at now. As a law firm owner, I wear many hats. I am a marketer, a CEO, director of human resources, and an attorney. It can be exhausting, but I absolutely love it.
Lawyer Minds: Do you feel there are too many or too few individuals currently entering the legal profession?
Justin Stivers: I am always surprised at how many lawyers there are. But from what I can tell, most attorneys seem pretty busy, so there appears to be enough work to go around. I don’t know that there is an ideal number of attorneys, but I would like to see a different type of attorney being produced by law schools. Law schools place such an emphasis on getting the best grades and working at the top law firms. There is nothing wrong with that. But I think there should be a greater emphasis on teaching young lawyers how to run and manage their own law firms. There are so many small law firms out there that are struggling, frankly, because they started their own firm and thought that by just doing a good job, they would get more clients. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Like it or not, law firms are businesses, and many attorneys are ill-equipped to run a small business.
Lawyer Minds: What questions would you tell a new client to ask their probate attorney?
Justin Stivers: I am a big believer in being hyper-focused in what you do. Just like you wouldn’t go to your general physician for heart surgery, you probably shouldn’t go to your bankruptcy attorney for probate. Just because they have it on their website doesn’t mean they actually practice it. Find out how many cases they have handled. A lot of probate is about following up with the clerk and calling financial institutions to liquidate accounts. Unless your attorney has the time to do that, chances are they need a legal assistant or paralegal to help. So, make sure they have the resources necessary to dedicate time to the case. But the biggest thing is probably reviews. Read their reviews online. If they don’t have any reviews online, that could be a red flag.
Lawyer Minds: To wrap up, what’s one thing you’d like to share with readers who aren’t lawyers?
Justin Stivers: Avoid probate. I am a probate attorney, and I am telling you that you want to avoid probate. Your kids might not fight, and everything could go smoothly, but still… it is a burden for your family. When your kids are trying to hire an attorney, sell a piece of real estate, pay your creditors, or liquidate bank accounts, it takes a mental toll on them. They are unable to process your passing, and I know how stressful it is on them. Take the time to create an estate plan that protects you now and your family for years to come.
Lawyer Minds would like to thank Justin for taking the time to share his insights with our readers!