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Starting, Acquiring and Merging a Firm with Caroline Johnson and Christen Ritchey

Welcome back to another episode of The Founding Partner Podcast! This week, we’re diving into the inspiring story of two sisters who have taken the legal world by storm. Meet Caroline Johnson and Christen Ritchey, the powerhouse siblings behind Johnson & Ritchey Family Law, a firm that’s redefining work-life balance in the legal industry. Based in Boca Raton, Florida, these sisters have a fascinating journey, from starting their own practice to navigating acquisitions and finding their true calling in family law.

**Building a Firm with Heart and Hustle**

Caroline and Christen didn’t start off with the intention of becoming attorneys. Christen was on the pre-vet track, while Caroline was a psychology major. However, life had other plans. A summer internship and a nudge from their mom led Christen to law school, and Caroline followed suit. They even attended the same law school, two years apart, and dreamed of one day practicing together.

Fast forward to 2014, both sisters, pregnant and seeking more flexibility than their current firm could offer, decided to branch out on their own. Despite the risks and the uncertainty, they were determined to create a firm that not only provided exceptional legal services but also championed a healthy work-life balance for its employees.

**The Growth Game: From Closet Office to Community Cornerstone**

Starting with just a tiny office space and a shared vision, Caroline and Christen set out to build something special. They learned the ropes of running a business the hard way, with accounts receivable lessons and the challenges of wearing every hat in the firm. However, their commitment to providing top-notch family law services never wavered.

As the firm grew, so did their team. The sisters strategically hired support staff and associates, always with an eye on maintaining the firm’s culture and values. They even brought on a business coach to help navigate the expansion, ensuring that their growth was sustainable and aligned with their vision.

**Cultivating a Culture of Joy and Job Satisfaction**

For Caroline and Christen, the firm’s culture is paramount. They have worked tirelessly to create an environment that’s not just about billable hours but about enjoying the work and thriving in it. They’ve managed to keep their team’s goals achievable and salaries competitive, all while promoting a genuine sense of balance and well-being.

The sisters have also been open about their business metrics, fostering transparency and trust within their team. This approach has not only helped them retain talent but also attract those who share their ethos of work-life harmony.

**Tune In for More Insights**

Caroline and Christen’s story is a testament to the power of vision, determination, and sisterhood. Their journey from a cramped office to a flourishing family law practice is filled with valuable lessons for any aspiring entrepreneur or legal professional.

To hear more about how these sisters have navigated the complexities of the legal industry, managed business growth, and maintained a culture that keeps their team happy and motivated, listen to the full episode of The Founding Partner Podcast. Join us as we explore the ins and outs of building a successful law firm with Caroline Johnson and Christen Ritchey. [Listen to the episode here](#) and be inspired by their incredible story! 

Jonathan hawkins: [00:00:00] Did you have clients when you started or was that something you had to go get?

Christen Ritche: That, so that was interesting. We actually thought the, we were terrified, right? Going out on our own. Cause like Caroline said, it had to work. We had to make this work. We thought our fears were we wouldn’t have enough work or could we do the work without you know, someone overseeing us.

And was, would our quality suffer and those sorts of things. Turned out we had plenty of clients, like the family law clients really came with me. Our old firm actually doesn’t do family law now. And they refer to us and we refer civil litigation to them. So it worked out, you know, for everyone. So a lot of clients came with us.

And then we were getting referrals from former clients and professional sources. Our biggest challenge. Was our accounts receivable? I think Caroline looked at me at one point and said, do you realize we could purchase a small home with our accounts receivable? So we realized we, you know, our quality of work was good.

We were getting clients, but we were terrible business women.


Jonathan hawkins: Welcome to founding partner podcast. I’m Jonathan Hawkins, your host and excited about this week. This is a first for the podcast. We’ve got two guests on at once, so we’ll see how that goes. But I think it’s going to be fun. We’ve got Kristen Ritchie and Caroline Johnson with us today. So why don’t you guys introduce yourself?

Tell us a little bit about your firm and what you guys do.

Christen Ritche: Sure. Thank you so much for having us, Jonathan. We’re really excited to be a guest on your podcast. I’m Kristen Ritchie. I am a family law [00:02:00] attorney. I have my own firm with my sister Caroline here in Boca Raton, Florida. It’s called Johnson Ritchie Family.

Caroline Johnson: Yes, I’m Caroline Johnson. So excited to be on today. Our firm is a wide range of family law services. So I had the litigation department. I’m usually in court. I’m Kristen handles the collaborative and the cases more focused on alternative dispute resolution. So from aggressive to collaborative, we handle it all.

Jonathan hawkins: Nice. So I’m really excited about what we’re going to talk about because you guys as a firm at least my understanding that you’ve done a lot. So I’ll do the highlights and then we’re going to go through all of this. So you started at, well, you were with the firm, then you started your own firm, then you sort of acquired a firm, then you were acquired by a firm and then you went back out on your own.

Is that about right?

Christen Ritche: You got it.

Jonathan hawkins: right. I want to talk all about that stuff and you guys are sisters. So I want to hear about that dynamic as well. So let’s start at the [00:03:00] beginning. Well, let me ask this. Who’s the big sister.

Christen Ritche: Me?

Jonathan hawkins: Okay. There you go. All right. So tell us about your journeys to becoming a lawyer how that all went down.

I assume Kristen, you became a lawyer first, but you never know. So tell us about that.

Christen Ritche: I did. I was actually pre vet in college. I was an animal science major. I was going to become a veterinarian. One summer I went and worked at a vet’s office and realized I hated it. I love animals, but I do not want to be a veterinarian. So my mom suggested, she had a friend who was a judge. She suggested law school.

So she got me an internship with the judge and I loved that. And interestingly, you don’t need any particular major to go to law school. So I kept my animal science degree because I enjoyed that, applied to law school and here I am,

Caroline Johnson: Yeah, and then I was majoring in psychology in undergrad, and I actually did [00:04:00] undergrad in three years. So I caught up. I was two years behind Kristen in high school and undergrad until I graduated. So in law school, we actually did two of the three years together. So I don’t know how I switched over. I think I probably very similarly.

My mom, you know, suggested that I, you know, follow Kristen to law school. And I was like, all right, fine. I’ll go to law school. And then I ended up loving it. I love everything about it.

Jonathan hawkins: Did you guys go to the same law school?

Christen Ritche: we sure did.

Jonathan hawkins: So you guys controlled that place, I bet.

Caroline Johnson: Go

Jonathan hawkins: Okay, so, so, okay, yeah. So, Kristen, you got out, I guess, a year ahead. Did you go straight into family law?

Christen Ritche: I did not. I was actually doing medical malpractice defense work at a large litigation firm and the fam, there was a family law department at the firm and the associate for that department went out on maternity leave, they needed help. I was like, Hey, I’m here to help. And so, I stepped in and I fell in love with [00:05:00] it.

I didn’t know I would love it, but I love the handholding. I love the listening. And that was in 2007. And I’ve never looked back.

Jonathan hawkins: You know, I started out in Med Mal defense also.

Christen Ritche: Oh, did you?

Jonathan hawkins: I did not like the medicine. I was like, get me out of here. If you don’t like the medicine, you can’t stick with it.

Christen Ritche: Exactly.

Jonathan hawkins: Okay. So you’re at a big firm, you got into family law. Caroline, did you get at the same firm or did you go somewhere else?

Caroline Johnson: I actually started as a prosecutor and I love it. And I loved it. I fell in love with the courtroom. So then I switched to civil litigation and we did all litigation. And it was great. But when Kristen and I went out on our own in 2014. It was mostly family law that was calling. So I had been doing family law the whole time I was with the civil litigation firm.

It just wasn’t only family law, but then when we went on our own and family law clients were who was calling, I said, you know what, if we’re going to do this, let’s just become great at it. So the area of law kind of found us and we love it.

Jonathan hawkins: You know, I [00:06:00] hear that a lot. It’s sort of people fall into or back into sort of. Their practice area instead of sort of some know exactly what they want to go get it. But others that just sort of fall into it. But, okay, so now eventually you guys started your own firm. Were you practicing together before you left to start your own firm?

And then how did you end up coming together at the same firm?

Christen Ritche: So we actually did, that was sort of a goal of ours, even all through law school was to end up practicing together, whatever that looks like be together at the same firm. So we were at the same firm. Back in 2014 litigation firm I was handling family law. Caroline was doing family and all sorts of litigation.

And at the time we decided to go out on our own, Caroline was pregnant with her third child. I was pregnant with my second child and we just realized we needed flexibility. Like the firm, great firms still, you know, operating here. We’re still in great terms with the attorneys there, but, you know, It was more that sort [00:07:00] of old school mentality.

You need to be at your desk. You need to work and they wanted to give us flexibility, but it just wasn’t the flexibility we really needed as working moms. So we decided to go out on our own. We had a vision of this mythical work life balance, you know, and we were gonna make that happen. And and that’s what sparked it all.

Jonathan hawkins: So that had to be, I mean, you guys both were pregnant when you went out on your own. I mean, that’s, Sounds sort of scary. What was going through your mind? How did you get the confidence to do this and say, we’re going to do it.

Caroline Johnson: I think we just knew that if we erred on the side of work life balance, we wanted to err on the side of life. So we knew it was time. We wanted to see, I had an older child that I had been working kind of around the clock and I hadn’t gotten to see some of those milestones that I would have loved to be a part of.

So I think we knew it was [00:08:00] just time that we had to make this work. It wasn’t an option to not make it work. We were going to go out and we were going to do this for ourselves, for our family, you know, and it just was the best decision. Yeah. But I think the biggest. thing was deciding whatever it takes, we’re going to do that.

Jonathan hawkins: And when was this, how long ago was this when you guys started?

Christen Ritche: 2014. We’re coming up on 10 years.

Caroline Johnson: yeah.

Jonathan hawkins: Nice congrats.

Caroline Johnson: Thank you.

Jonathan hawkins: Okay. So when you went out, was it just you two? Did you have staff? Did you have other attorneys?

Christen Ritche: It was the two of us. We rented a little executive suite, which was no bigger than a closet. The two of us in this closet. But we had a mailing address and we had a conference room we could meet clients in and someone answering the phone. So, it We looked the part.

Caroline Johnson: It really was the old server room for the executive suite. So it really was a closet, basically, that we squeezed two desks in. Yeah, I

Jonathan hawkins: [00:09:00] so did you bring clients? Did you have clients when you started or was that something you had to go get?

Christen Ritche: That, so that was interesting. We actually thought the, we were terrified, right? Going out on our own. Cause like Caroline said, it had to work. We had to make this work. We thought our fears were we wouldn’t have enough work or could we do the work without you know, someone overseeing us.

And was, would our quality suffer and those sorts of things. Turned out we had plenty of clients, like the family law clients really came with me. Our old firm actually doesn’t do family law now. And they refer to us and we refer civil litigation to them. So it worked out, you know, for everyone. So a lot of clients came with us.

And then we were getting referrals from former clients and professional sources. Our biggest challenge. Was our accounts receivable? I think Caroline looked at me at one point and said, do you realize we could purchase a small home with our accounts receivable? So we realized we, you know, our quality of work was good.

We were getting clients, but we were terrible business women.

Jonathan hawkins: [00:10:00] You know, that’s huge. I know some family lawyers that, you know, I ask them what sort of collectability or collection rates do they have and they’re like, it’s almost a hundred percent. And I’m just like, wow. And I think they learned that’s, that didn’t start that way. So, so yeah, that, that is one of the things, you know, you have to make sure you can pay the bills.

So, so let me ask this. You said your old firm doesn’t do family law anymore and you were terrified and all that. Did you have an idea that if you left, they would start sending you the referrals or did you have some concerns there that they were gonna get mad and hate you and all that kind of stuff?

Caroline Johnson: think we were definitely concerned. It’s I mean, whenever you’re ending a business relationship you’re nervous. I felt like, Oh my gosh, I’m letting you down. There was this feeling of I’m so sorry I’m doing this, but I have to go do what’s best for me and where I am in my life. So I think we were definitely nervous.

But I, you know, I think we also knew we had other [00:11:00] Friends, we grew up in this community family we have a network here just by virtue of living here so long. So I don’t know if we necessarily really thought we were going to get the referrals when we left. I think we were more concerned, yeah, they’re going to be upset that we’re leaving.

But it worked out great, I mean, and Kristen stayed in great contact with them, and It’s been lovely. I think it’s an added bonus that they sent the referrals to us. I think we were not depending on that in any way when we made the decision. I think we were surprised that it worked out so well,

Jonathan hawkins: So, so you go out, you don’t have a problem getting the clients. It sounds like you had a little bit of runway to learn how to operate the business. How did you guys go about learning that? And you know, what resources did you tap into? Was it just trial by fire or did you lean on others that had maybe gone before?

Caroline Johnson: both.

Christen Ritche: learn from your mistakes. When we’ve actually put on a seminar for the [00:12:00] Palm Beach County Bar Association about, you know, learn from us. If you’re going to start your own law firm. Don’t let your I. T. People own all of your passwords and just little things that you know, like get your retainers, make them replenish.

You know, don’t operate on credit. Just all kinds of things we learned. But I think the most pivotal and the thing that really pushed us along the most was hiring a business coach. And I don’t know that we would be where we are today without it.

Caroline Johnson: And I would add to that, I think that to go out on our own, how to just stay Kristen and I, and it was a smaller operation, the things we learned just by trial and error. Like we got really good at running the business and staying on top of our accounts receivables. But the business coach was just instrumental in being able to grow and expand it.

I think they helped us so much. So that’s why I said both. We learned a lot. Sometimes the business coach would tell us stuff and we’re like, Oh, we figured that out [00:13:00] when this happened. Like we had kind of learned that lesson along the way. But they were so absolutely pivotal in taking us to a larger firm.

Jonathan hawkins: Okay, so two questions about business coach. I’ve hired plenty of coaches over the years. I’m a big believer, but. First thing is what led you to decide you wanted to do that? And then a question I get a lot lately, there’s, you know, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, there weren’t that many business coaches today, they’re everywhere. And it’s like overwhelm. How do you choose the right coach? I get that question a lot and I’m, you know, I’m not exactly sure how to answer it, but take us through sort of your thought process and your decision making to hire one in the first place, but then how to choose one.

Caroline Johnson: You want to hear? I was going to yeah. So I think Kristen walked in one day to the office and she said, I want to grow. And that was it. Right, Kristen? There wasn’t any, anything else. There was no plan. [00:14:00] There was no like grow into what? It was just, she had

Christen Ritche: to share the work life balance with more people, right? I wanted to spread it. So,

Caroline Johnson: she just had this dream that I’ve been along the ride. It was great. But about the same time that she did that, someone was talking to me about how their business coach had just been amazing, had just taught them things that they couldn’t have taught themselves and had just made them, you know, not a better lawyer, a better business.

And so, when it came to choosing the right business coach, I feel so fortunate that I got to talk to someone who had actually had that specific coach who was in the same industry and it was an industry specific coach who, You know, she could tell me, here’s what they did for me. Here’s how they held me accountable.

Here’s kind of the process, what the [00:15:00] meanings look like, what the forms they’ll help you create look like. I mean, so if you can talk to someone who’s utilized that business coach and see what they’ve done for them, I think that was just great. I mean, I feel lucky that I didn’t have to vet business coaches, right?

Like one was referred to me by someone who was telling me how great they were. And then Kristen immediately jumped on board. Because she wanted to grow.

Jonathan hawkins: So, yeah, you know, business code, the right one can really accelerate. So let’s unpack the, I want to grow. What was that? You know, you came out for flexibility and as you know, I’ve gone and am going through sort of the growth you start to lose some of that flexibility. So what were you thinking, Kristen?

Christen Ritche: Well, like I said, I thought we had something pretty special and I thought we needed to share it. I we did. I had this vision in my head of being sort of like the Amazon workplace for law firms, right? The people [00:16:00] are, where’s a Google, you know, where it’s just like a fun, cool place and people get good work done, but they rave about it and they love it.

And in my head, I was, I still, we’re going to have this wonderful complex and it’s just going to be somewhere people want to come and be in work. But also on the business end of it, I learned about leveraging, right? Like when we went out on our own, it was terrifying, but we also did some, what we call associate math.

And we realized in order to make the amount of money that we were making at a firm, we needed to build and collect. day. And we were like, Hey, I think we can do that. And we are very transparent with all of our associates and our paralegals and our employees about, about that. We don’t ignore it. We don’t hide it.

We don’t act like that’s not, I mean, they can all do math. So, and then we work with them on why we, you know, what their salary is, how much their billable hours are, whatever, that kind of thing. But I was, I learned leverage, right? I was like, Hey, Maybe I could actually have more [00:17:00] flexibility if I don’t have to do all the paralegal work and I don’t have to do all the e filing and I don’t have to do the bookkeeping, which I’m not even good at with my Excel sheets.

Maybe we should have someone who knows how to work QuickBooks. And you know, and that frees me up to do what I want to do, which is the collaborative work. And I do enjoy some of the firm administration. I’m the vision person. But I don’t necessarily execute well, so I needed help with that. That was kind of where my head was.

Jonathan hawkins: Okay. So you decide you want to grow. You guys hire the coach, you’re all on board. So. You go from just the two of you sort of take us through sort of the next, you know, how did you begin to grow? What was the next hire? Was it paralegal? Was it attorney? What was next?

Caroline Johnson: It was this like paralegal slash firm administrator. We actually put a lot on. You know, it was slow. I was not as quick as Kristen. I’m very analytical. You know, execution [00:18:00] is my jam. I’m like, how are we gonna do this? What’s the game plan? Where are the numbers? So it started with support staff, but like it was natural and organic.

We, we hired one person. We realized, wow, we can make their payroll every two weeks. No problem. Then we hired an associate and we realized we had enough case work for the associate. Then there’s three attorneys giving one associate work. So we’re like, okay, she’s not just meeting her goals because she’s Looking at the productivity of the team, I think is critical in determining if it’s time to hire someone new or not.

You have goals that you anticipate generating income off of. And if someone is not meeting that, it’s hard to say, Oh, well, then let’s hire another one at this time. But if someone’s, there’s work not getting done because you have too much work for that person. That’s when I say, Oh, we need another associate or we need another paralegal.

Okay. So for me, it’s [00:19:00] very data driven. Kristen is more like, I love this person. Like, let’s find,

Christen Ritche: I met a person. Let’s hire them. They’re a good person. Let’s put them on the bus and find their right seat.

Jonathan hawkins: You know, I feel you, you know, it’s sometimes the really good people are hard to find. And when you find them, you’re like, all right, I got to make a spot. But at the same time, you got to make the payroll. And so, and then, you know, sort of the When, you know, the chicken egg thing, when do you hire, do you wait until everybody’s overwhelmed or do you hire a little bit earlier in the process?

So how have you guys figured that out? You know, what are you looking at? And you said you’re data driven, but is it a certain percentage that they’re full or they’re overworked? When do you guys pull the trigger?

Christen Ritche: We keep a a chart. And Caroline is fabulous. She is so good. She’s like understating her analytical skills. skills and how she keeps track of this. We pride ourselves on people’s billable goals. I call them, she calls them requirements. That’s the difference between us. We keep, we pride ourselves on, those are low relatively speaking with other [00:20:00] firms in the area and the purpose being work life balance.

Like we want everyone in the firm to have, not me and Caroline off having a work life balance while everybody’s grinding. Right. So they’re pretty low. and we pay well, so we expect them to meet it. So every week we get a report on the billable on how much everybody’s bill. I mean, the metrics are easy.

It’s math. It’s numbers, right? And so she’s got this Excel sheet that projects like, here’s what the billable goals are. Here’s their hourly rate. Here’s what we’ll make. Here’s the, you know, percentage realization because we’re not completely immune to the fact that we’re not collecting everything, even though we hope to.

And this is the revenue. And then when people are, when those billable goals, when people are, seem overworked, seem stressed, they’re meeting their goals and exceeding their goals. And. You know, we all feel like we can’t get to it. I think that’s about the time that we start looking. However, I do sometimes come to Carolina.

I’m like, this person is looking [00:21:00] and they’re wonderful and I don’t know whether we need them or not, but let’s please give it a try. I’m not asking you to think of paying a salary for a year for this person. Just think of three months. Let’s bring them on for three months. Can we cover it and see if it works?

Please let us try it. And she usually says yes.

Caroline Johnson: we have created spots for people.

Jonathan hawkins: So, so it’s clear that, you know, culture is a huge thing for you guys. I mean, flexibility, culture, all that. So, I imagine that you’ve got a reputation around your area for that. So I imagine people probably want to go there, so you probably have that. Hopefully that’s a a problem for you or an opportunity, we’ll call it. But talk a little bit about the culture. Obviously you don’t want people overworked, but what are some of the other things you guys have done to make it sort of the fun place you want it to be?

Caroline Johnson: Oh, I love this. So there’s, so we do on Fridays at four, we shut down and we do it like an office happy hour or, you know, it’s [00:22:00] just time where we’re together reflecting on the week, but it’s not talking about work. We actually, right. Someone introduced us to the concept of pals and wows, where you go around the circle and you say the pal, which was the worst part of your week and the wow, what was the best part of your week?

And I don’t know where they got that from. So we borrowed it from someone. So we spend that time together. It’s like a bonding time. It’s it’s important to us to just have time where we’re, you know, we handle high stress cases. People going through a family law issue are usually very stressed. So we want to be a source you know, of encouragement for them.

And we also want to take time to de stress together. We can’t just, so that’s one thing we do. We try to do like outings. We went to a Snoop Dogg concert, the whole firm, a few months ago. So we try to spend time together where it’s not just work. But really what we want people to feel is empowered to do their [00:23:00] best work.

And if that’s at your home, on your couch, in your pajamas with a laptop, and that’s how you want to knock out killer quality legal work, go do it. Where we we’re not, where you work, where you want to work. You know, if the client wants to meet in person, you’re coming in person because, you know, we want our clients to be happy.

But we, I think it’s the flexibility. You want to be in office, we have an office for you. You want to be home as long as you get what your work done and to the client. I don’t care if you do it at 11 o’clock, you know, when the kids went to bed and you’ve got to spend time with your family uninterrupted and then you knocked it out when it was, when it worked for you and your life.

So I think maintaining that bond, we feel like a family. I genuinely think of everyone who’s part of our team, this family. And then allowing them to really make their own work life balance is kind of, that sums up our firm culture, I think, pretty

Christen Ritche: Well, in. And the [00:24:00] office space, right? Like, we have a very formal conference room as we should, but then we have this other conference room. We call it the inspo room and it’s got a living wall and orchids and it’s just white and golds and pretty. And then we have an area that we call the living room and it’s got couches.

And then we have an area of like a kitchenette with We’ve got high boy tables and we’ve got treadmills you can walk on and put your laptop there and we also have a ping pong table which is very symbolic. So things like that and if the kids are off school that’s okay we can stick them in the living room with YouTube on or whatever you know movies on or they can play ping pong and so just like I said we’re very family oriented family environment.

Jonathan hawkins: That’s pretty cool. I was going to ask if people can bring their kids and that’s cool. You’ve got these areas where they can sort of sit. I know my kids over the years when I was working at bigger firms, you know, you got the snack closet, they love that thing. It’s like,

Caroline Johnson: Yeah.

Jonathan hawkins: but yeah, that’s really cool.

You got [00:25:00] a place. What about dogs? You guys bring dogs or are

Christen Ritche: Oh yeah.

Jonathan hawkins: okay. Yeah.

Christen Ritche: Well, there’s a whole study on you know, pets in the divorce world. And so it’s encouraged to, to have at least dogs.

Jonathan hawkins: you’ve got therapeutic animals in an office. That’s awesome.

Jonathan hawkins: Okay. So you guys are growing, you decided to grow at some point I believe you sort of, I’ll call it acquired a practice or explain what happened and how you consider, was it acquisition or a merger or whatever it was.

Caroline Johnson: Kristen, do you want to talk about that or you want me?

Christen Ritche: that’s fine. Yeah, we we’re approached by a colleague in our area. He’d been practicing for 35 years. We knew him as opposing counsel on cases. We knew him as a colleague [00:26:00] in networking groups. And he took us to lunch one day and he said, listen, I’m going to sell the building where my practice is, but I’m not ready to retire.

I’m succession planning. And he just threw it out there. What do you think about me joining your firm? And sort of. Finishing out my remaining few years with you guys. And it was just a no brainer. I think we said yes at the table, right, Caroline? Like we didn’t even have to think about it.

Caroline Johnson: He was such a well respected lawyer. He was so great. And it made sense. It really just made sense to do it. He was retiring and he had wonderful clients that he wanted to make sure got in good hands when he did that. So I think of it more as a merger. I kind of look at it as a merger, but we knew we were going to unfortunately have to be practicing law for a lot longer because I always say, you know, I got 25 more years left and then, but he was getting ready to retire.

And Take it easy. So [00:27:00] it just made sense to do that. And I think having the business coach at that time helped walk us through it, the paperwork, everything. And we also have great corporate counsel. So, I mean, besides just the business coach, you know, we took everything to our corporate attorney and they signed off on everything.

So it was great.

Jonathan hawkins: You know, the merger, the acquisition, I think that’s a good way to, to grow it, it’s, but there’s some challenges. So I want to talk about that. So you guys, culture is important. You know, you guys have set the culture and then you bring in this outside influence into the culture. I don’t know if it was just him or if he brought others with him, how do you make sure that the culture you guys want sort of gets maintained?

How did you work through that?

Christen Ritche: Well, so we knew him. really well, I guess. So, and he knew, I mean, there was a reason he asked us. He probably could have asked any, I know he could have, like, we got calls. What? What? Now I want [00:28:00] to join your firm. He’s joining you guys. Like, I know he could have asked others. So he knew what he was getting into.

And you know, he’s such a teddy bear at heart, but he was such a tough litigator. But he really, he gave us some real street credibility, I feel like. And some confidence because he believed in us. And so that’s actually when we moved out of the executive suite, he didn’t fit in our closet. So we moved and we got our own freestanding office and I think he really loved it.

I think he loved the culture. He, I mean, he had, he, you know, his standard poodle was in the office every single day. And I don’t know that he was doing that at his old firm. I think he kind of enjoyed that. And that’s what he wanted for the last few years of his career.

Jonathan hawkins: So, when he came, you said he gave you some street cred, did that, and you said people started wanting to come, did you start growing faster, or how did you throttle that, or measure, you know, take measured steps, as opposed to, hey everybody come on in.

Caroline Johnson: We did. We started growing [00:29:00] faster. People did want to join and we had a higher work So, you know, when we were talking about seeing how much work everyone has before hiring, I mean, it just felt very comfortable to bring more people on. The more lawyers and the more paralegals, I feel like the more firm administration, right?

Every person you bring on, there’s another personality you’re adding to the team. There’s documents that need to be completed. There’s just more. for each person on the team. So we grew the firm admin side. And then he brought a paralegal who was wonderful and she just fit right in. It really, it was a great fit.

There were things, his office culture was different than ours. He was used to everyone working in the office five days a week and you know, long hours. And so, he adjusted and we adjusted like Chris and I would come in and have in person meetings because he expressed that was what he liked best.

And so we did that. We, there [00:30:00] was compromise and there’s always going to be compromised when you’re growing, but especially if you’re bringing in a partner, another voice that’s weighing in on decisions. And so, we definitely learned to compromise and he definitely, I think, compromised. More because like Kristen said, he signed up for this.

Like we were very focused on creating a different work environment maybe than he was coming from. And that lots of people that we were coming. I started with you beat the boss in and you don’t leave till after the boss leaves. That was kind of always the expectation. And then, you know, as time became more valuable to me, that’s when I realized.

can be really efficient and not take really long lunch breaks. And you know, I can get my great quality work done in less time than it takes if I’m just efficient about it. So that was, [00:31:00] that’s a big part of creating this work life balance. So he was coming kind of where we were coming from. So it was just compromise figuring out how to match our personalities And listening to each other.

What do you need? What’s important to you and where can you compromise and figuring out how to make that mesh?

Jonathan hawkins: Well, it’s good that you guys were able to make it work. Sometimes there are folks that can’t make it work. That’s part of what I do as part of my, you know, our firm is partners breaking apart. But a couple of things, you know, just to point out you know, you guys decided to grow, you know, I think that’s, you know, I think most firms that grow, I think it’s a decision usually I mean, maybe it can be accidental, but I think you got to decide to do it.

You got to want to do it. And then the other funny thing I’ve just found in life is once you sort of decide that the universe starts helping you along the way, and it sounded like this guy just, I mean, it just happened. I mean, I think you guys were building something that caught his [00:32:00] attention. So it’s not like it just happened. Completely accidentally, but you know, you guys decided and then it started to happen. So, now eventually you guys, so you’ve merged, you’ve acquired or merged with a firm and then eventually someone approached you to maybe merge with them. So before we get into that story at that time and tell us when that was, but what was your firm like at that point?

How big was it? How many attorneys When you got approached.

Christen Ritche: we had, I told you we’d gone out and gotten our own office space. We had already outgrown that. So we had moved from the first floor to the fourth floor of the building we were in. And we were in the process of expanding into the office next door. So we were on like second expansion of physical plant space because of our growth.

So we had the three partners. We had two associates, we had just hired one that was coming on like right around [00:33:00] the time as the merger was happening. She hadn’t quite come on board yet. We had the three paralegals. Was it three or did we have four? Oh, three paralegals at that time. We had our receptionist, we had the office manager, right, Caroline?

Am I missing anybody?

Caroline Johnson: no, I think you’ve got it. Oh, we had our social media

Christen Ritche: marketing guru,

Caroline Johnson:So yeah, that

Jonathan hawkins: guys were getting pretty big. You guys were getting pretty big. Okay. So then a firm approaches you. Tell us about that. You know, I guess, you know, you don’t have to name the firm, but you know, you guys are a local firm, right? You have one office sort of give us the description of this firm. Was it a bigger firm in your market?

Were they coming from another place?

Caroline Johnson: They were a large firm from out of town. I mean, they were in a different state and they were a much larger firm and they were, I mean, an incredible firm doing great work, huge team. I couldn’t even give you how [00:34:00] many attorneys they had off the top of my head, but

Christen Ritche: like 75 and they’ve grown since then. I mean, they are expanding and they are doing well. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah,

Caroline Johnson: they are,

Christen Ritche: have over a hundred now.

Caroline Johnson: And just great people that we got to know that we got to know everyone on their team and everyone on their team had been there forever. Right. I mean, they had just a and we sat down with them and how do you like it? So it was awesome to see this firm that had started smaller and just really grow so much and it was like inspiring to us.

We were like, okay, well, that’s next level. I mean, that’s like next level. So we were very intrigued right off the bat.

Jonathan hawkins: And so, so they found you how did, what was the overture? How did they reach out to you?

Christen Ritche: Yeah, they were so they were looking to expand into the Florida market. It’s not surprising. Everybody wants to be here now, right? And so they wanted a Florida presence. And [00:35:00] A headhunter actually put it together got us in touch and they weren’t just looking at us, they were looking at others.

And it actually, it’s funny because they don’t do family law. That’s not what they were looking to do here in Florida. But they were just looking to establish an office and so they were, I think it was interesting the way they went about it. They were looking for people that they liked. less than, you know, the area of law that they were looking.

They were like, we can bring on the area of law. We want to be sure we like the people. So, that’s, but, you know, we just met them through a headhunter. That’s, it was not, we didn’t know them at all before that.

Jonathan hawkins: Okay. So this is I think 2022 ish when you guys actually went through with it. So, I know that is a, quite a process. I mean, there’s the legal stuff and you got to explain to your team what’s going on. Then you’ve got to do all the Logistical stuff, you know, the, probably the computer systems, all of that, which is a heavy lift on top of just practicing law and do what you got to do. [00:36:00] So how long did the transition into the firm take?

Caroline Johnson: I mean, we kind of jumped in. I mean, there was a lot of, like you said, the planning and kind of going over documents and drafting and negotiating type before it actually happened, the merger. But then as soon as we merged, we kind of jumped in. We were off and running. I mean, cause we were, you know, a fully functioning law firm in South Florida.

So it was really like a rebrand a firm name. But we had our clients, we had our staff, we had our team. So, I mean, it was, you know, emails were changed quickly. Email, accounts address website. It wa it. I think there was a lot of planning that went into it that ne not necessarily Chris and I were doing right, but, so once we actually merged and it was done, it was quick.

Jonathan hawkins: Okay, so shifting gears a little bit it’s clear from hearing you today I mean you guys work really well together. You’ve got different strengths that and you complement each [00:37:00] other But what’s it like? Working with your sister. I mean you guys have known each other your entire life All right.

Christen Ritche: Oh, it’s so on the one hand, it’s, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s the best thing in the world. I mean, when she does well, my nieces and nephews do well, or my niece and nephews do well, right? Like I, all I want is success and good things. And We trust each other implicitly. There’s no question.

We have to get through difficult conversations because we’re sisters and, you know, that’s an ongoing relationship well beyond the firm. But it’s funny sometimes because our office discussions and difficult conversations can get a little unprofessional. Quickly. You know, I think we might yell at each other more than others and turn and look and you’re like, you’re hurting my feelings right now.

Like what business partner talks to the other like that. And we have some of our office staff prides themselves on being able to mediate the sister fights in couples and [00:38:00] it doesn’t happen often, but when it does escalate, it’s funny because we take things more personally, I think, because we’re sisters.

Caroline Johnson: Yeah. We talk like every day in the morning, we’re on the phone when we’re driving the office. So most of our discussions actually we try to not have in the office if it’s a difficult topic because it’s just, you know, it’d be better to not do that. But it’s really funny how it can go from You know, well, I disagree on the bottom line item on that budget item to, well, you were so mean back in eighth grade when that happened So when she said says unprofessional it means we literally will go from like sometimes we’re talking about the business to you know Our real life relationship outside of sisters But the best thing is we know 100 we have to get through every hard conversation Like we are going to be family long after we’re business partners.

I mean, forever. And so, we are just, you know, we are I just [00:39:00] can’t say how much as a skeptical person, as a person who trust doesn’t come easy to like being partners with my sister, who I trust implicitly, like for me, that is huge. So finding someone you trust, I don’t know how you can have a partnership without trust.

So that is Even though we might fight and it’s really funny because we don’t like yell like raise our voice, but we it’s like a bicker It’s like, you know a sibling bicker instead of You know, it’s probably what you would picture two business partners having a discussion But the team all laughs they roll their eyes.

They’re like the sisters are Disagreeing and we are polar opposite like I mean everyone has said that about us our entire lives like we’re like My weaknesses are her strengths and vice versa. Like we could not be more different, but I think the dedication and determination to make it through the tough talk is something that is just makes it a really strong [00:40:00] partnership.

Jonathan hawkins: cool. A pretty special that you guys have you know, siblings, it could go either way and you guys it’s going the right way so that’s really cool. So you guys have done it all. Really? You started at a firm, you started your own firm, you acquired a firm, you merged into another firm, and you started a firm again, you’ve done it all. What’s next as you look, you know, 10, 15, 20 years from now. What’s the vision that you guys see for what you are building and continue to build.

Christen Ritche: Oh, again, I want to hear what Caroline has to say about this.

Caroline Johnson: I while I was very hesitant in the beginning, when Kristen came in and said, I want to grow and, you know, I have gone with her and I love it. I genuinely think that. There is a great way to practice law that is different than what we were doing. And so I’d like to offer this opportunity to more people.

I do want to grow. I see us getting bigger. We [00:41:00] have partners. We’ve brought on like great members to our team who want to grow in their career, who are, you know, taking the lead and becoming. the next level of, you know, managing attorneys, watching over associates that we can bring in. We always have interns.

So I think just, you know, I don’t know exactly how far it will go, but I think organically growing the way that we are we’re just going to keep doing it and bringing amazing people onto the team who have a similar vision. What about you, Kristen?

Christen Ritche: All right. Well, I have a few things. So one, I would like for us to purchase the compound so we can grow like physical plant can grow bigger to the, to what I want. You know, this is a beautiful, wonderful space, but at some point I’d like to own that and be able to like really make it ours more permanently.

I’d like to see us expand practice areas just a little bit, not a lot, like family law, something complimentary, like appellate law, because a lot of times after final [00:42:00] judgments, they’re appealed. And then I would like to see us expand geographically. Like I’d like to see a Miami office and maybe an Orlando office.

And I don’t know, these are the visions going on in my head.

Caroline Johnson: And someone has

Jonathan hawkins: You hear that, Caroline, you hear that,

Christen Ritche: Can you execute all

Caroline Johnson: I got it. I took notes.

Jonathan hawkins: you know, that’s cool. I think that’s really cool. I love, I’m a big vision kind of guy. I love it. And so, you know, you’re looking geographically, well, I guess, you know, You can’t do it all at once, but you know, you’ll grow where you are for sure. And then do you have any ideas or have you taken any steps to grow geographically yet? And then

how are you going to manage that?

Christen Ritche: Don’t get scared, Caroline. I’ve been looking in the Miami area and it’ll probably be something like an executive suite, a little closet like we had when we started here there, but just to have the presence. somewhere we can meet clients. And I have some colleagues in the area. I think it looks like joining the ends or the [00:43:00] chambers down there and that kind of thing.

So yes, taking small steps, I won’t do anything or spend any money until Carolina signs off on all of it. Wait, what was the rest of the other part of your question? I’m sorry.

Jonathan hawkins: Well, before we move on, if there’s anybody listening, that’s in Miami, that’s

interested, then they need to reach out, right?

Christen Ritche: absolutely. Please.

Caroline Johnson: I I support the vision of growth. I really do. I, we talked about Orlando too. So, I mean, Florida family law, it’s through the state. I mean, we’re applying the same law. So, What’s really neat about being the partner is once you have the team in place, like when Kristen and I go on vacation, the firm runs.

I mean, it’s in place. There’s great attorneys here and a great support staff to help them do great quality work. Don’t get me wrong. I’m never gonna stop doing trials, but so I feel like we can. It is realistic that we could grow and oversee if we get the right team in place in different areas because, [00:44:00] you know, we really have dedicated ourselves to knowing this area of the law.

So, you know, finding the right team to implement it and kind of expand, I think, is realistic and I’m on board with the vision.

Jonathan hawkins: all right. Well, you know, Florida is a huge state and it’s growing, so lots of opportunity.

Caroline Johnson: Agreed.

Jonathan hawkins: that’s awesome. So, okay, another question. You get to go back in time or maybe you talk to another lawyer who’s thinking about starting a firm. Any advice you’d give them?

Caroline Johnson: Oh, so much advice. So much. What do you got, Kristen?

Christen Ritche: I have a whole list. Like, I have a friend, she’s practices in a different area of the law, and she was debating whether to switch firms or go out on her own. So, I literally made her a list. I think there were 22 things on the list. Like, of the things that you need to think about and to do and to execute on.

But, from, like I said, as small as, like, don’t let your IT people hold your passwords. Like, you need to have access to your stuff [00:45:00] to you know. But, I think the main thing is have a plan. Have a roadmap. You can’t, you’re not just gonna, you know, you wouldn’t get in the car to go to some destination you’ve never been to before without planning your route.

You need to approach business the same way. You’re not just going to get to the end. And once you have a plan and you started executing, like you said, you can manifest things and opportunities will show up. But you got to have like some direction and focus somewhere.

Caroline Johnson: Yeah,

Jonathan hawkins: about you, Caroline?

Caroline Johnson: I think the biggest thing is to take advice from, if it’s not a business coach, it’s a colleague who went out on their own it’s talked to people who have done it. Because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There is a lot of helpful information. How much should I be planning on making off of my employee?

There’s an answer to that. Someone can tell you, you know, how do, what’s the best way to stay on accounts receivable? When is it time to hire? When did you find out? So I think exactly what this whole [00:46:00] conversation is. We go out to lunch with people all the time who are interested in going out on their own and we want to see people succeed.

There’s plenty of cases. We don’t need to corner a market. There’s plenty of room for success for everyone. So we want to encourage people to do it. But I think the best advice is talk to people, ask questions. That was, that’s what I’d say.

Jonathan hawkins: Yeah, that’s part of the point of this podcast is to, you know, talk to people at different parts along the journey, which is why this was such a fun conversation because you guys literally have sort of done it all. You’ve done sort of the entire life cycle but you’re not done yet. So that’s good. So thank you guys for joining us. If anybody out there wants to get in touch with you, what is the best way to find you or get in touch? so much.

Christen Ritche: absolutely. If anybody, I love this podcast. Like what a fun topic, what a great moderator. You’re amazing at this. And we are available and happy to help if you’re looking to go out on your own, or you have [00:47:00] questions you’ve gone out on your own or anything like that. The office number is 561 392 4400.

My email is crichey at jrfamilylaw. com. That’s C R I T C H E Y. And Caroline’s is cjohnson at jrfamilylaw. com. Happy to entertain any questions. Are you still there?

Caroline Johnson: And our,

Jonathan hawkins: on social media?

Christen Ritche: Oh yeah.

Caroline Johnson: Yeah, we do. Our website’s JRFamilyLaw. com. And we have Instagram and Facebook. I don’t know that I know those handles off.

Christen Ritche: LinkedIn.

Caroline Johnson: I don’t know that I have them off the top of my head. But if you look up JRFamily, it’s going to take you to us. So, we’re happy to help and happy to answer any questions.

Jonathan hawkins: Well, cool. Thank you guys again. This has been real fun for me. And I can’t wait to see what you guys do.

Caroline Johnson: Thank

Christen Ritche: you so much, Jonathan. It’s been a real [00:48:00] pleasure.