Immigration attorney Amanda Shaffer, with The Shapiro Law Firm LLC, used COVID lockdowns to hone marketing skills and cement relationships with clients, and her firm is on track to have its best year ever.
If you had to pick one word to describe immigration attorney Amanda Shaffer, it would be “confidence.”
Amanda is very optimistic about 2021, and she is confident that her firm will see enough growth to hire their first full-time employee and she’ll reach her goal of upgrading to an office with a view.
And she’s earned the right to be confident: in 2020 Amanda put in the work to set the stage for her firm’s biggest year ever. Even while much of the city is still shut down, Amanda’s firm has already seen a big increase in new clients from the efforts she put in last year.
Amanda recently sat down with Law Firm Suites’ content manager Megan Hunt to discuss how she used extra time during COVID lockdowns to hone her marketing skills and cement relationships with clients and referral sources.
You can watch the interview here (or read the full transcript below), where you will learn:
- How being adaptable and getting outside her comfort zone yielded big returns for Amanda.
- Why the extra time created by COVID lockdowns gave Amanda the space needed to be persistent with new marketing initiatives, giving them enough time to become successful – a lesson she will take with her when courts open and she starts to get super-busy again.
- How Amanda’s isolation and a feeling of abandonment encouraged her to seek out new networking opportunities, virtually, which resulted in new friends, referrals, and a support network.
- How “meeting clients where they were at” cemented Amanda’s relationship with them.
- When Amanda started meeting clients in person again, and how she had been able to do it safely.
Megan: Good morning. My name is Megan, as you know, and I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to join me on this call to discuss how COVID has impacted your business in 2020.
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Thanks a lot.
Megan: It’s no problem. Thank you for joining. We really just want to get the community involved and just really see how everything has been going for people here at Law Firm Suites. The easiest question of the day is can you state your name and your practice area and what law firm you’re with?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: My name is Amanda Brooke Shaffer. I’m an attorney at the Shapiro Law Firm. We practice immigration, family, criminal law.
Megan: Okay, great. How would you characterize your practice during the pandemic and how was it doing?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: I characterize it as doing well. At first it was a slow go back in April when everything first shut down, but then I turned to some different means of marketing online and I think we’re going to end up having a better year this year than last year.
Megan: That’s awesome to hear. As the news started to unfold about the pandemic, at what point did you realize that COVID may have impacted your practice?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: We realized that COVID was going to have a major impact back in March because that’s when everything shut down and I actually moved my chair, my office computer, the printer, all to my apartment. That’s when we knew this is going to be a while. It’s not going to be like business as usual for a long time.
Megan: Okay. When did you start coming back into the office?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: We started coming back to the office, I think September, kind of a blur. Towards the second half of the summer, started coming in twice a week – sorry, Monday through Wednesday. Then I started coming in twice a week in September, and now I’m back to four times a week. I’m just not coming on Fridays.
Megan: Okay. When did you start seeing changes and what were they?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: What kind of changes do you mean?
Megan: Changes in your practice, like you stated before that you noticed that – you assumed that it was going to be a hard time. When did you start realizing that that was actually the reality?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: We realized that these changes and things wouldn’t be normal back in about April – March/April, and that we needed to make changes. I started exploring social media marketing. We already have a website. We were already on like Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and stuff. I did videos, but I never did live videos. I never really talked to other colleagues that much about marketing. I joined some groups, so that’s when we really started our efforts. By April, the phone got quiet and we got nervous and that’s when I started exploring.
Megan: Many lawyers realize that they would have to pivot in a way that worked for them. How did you pivot and when did you start making those big changes in your law firm?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: We pivoted again in probably I’d say April, maybe early May, because I had a bunch of work to finish. I knew that there was an end to that and we weren’t getting new clients. Our clients were used to coming to the office and they couldn’t do that. It was a hard switch to get clients used to phone and video, because they just like coming in and it makes it easier in some respects. That was when we started to really look at what else we can do and make the changes and I noticed my colleagues as well, they also were doing the same thing at around the same time.
Megan: Many lawyers had to make changes to their marketing strategy. Just like you said, you guys as well. For example, like traditional networking basically went out the window with social distancing. So how did you change your marketing strategy?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: We changed our marketing strategy by first creating one, because we didn’t really have one, because we were very big on client referral. That was our thing. We still are heavy on the client referrals, but like I said, those clients are used to coming in and we also knew that we had to expand because people weren’t working; they weren’t making money, you needed a wider audience. At that point is when I started – I learned about Facebook Lives and that’s honestly one of the key things for me since the pandemic started to really get business. People love the live videos and they’re easy to do. I found streaming software. I entered a group chat with other immigration attorneys across the country and we were all solo or small firms, and we share marketing tips and ideas, and we watch each other’s lives and support each other.
I even did a secret Santa with these girls, I never would’ve thought I’d find a group like this during a pandemic. Even though we didn’t have traditional networking, we still ended up networking. I found a really solid group of girls, and I don’t know if you’ve seen on our Facebook page, I did a Facebook Live on marriage. I did that with one of the attorneys, and then I did Facebook Live called ‘Lawyers without Filters’. It’s a little less about law, but it’s more of a focus on female professionals and issues they deal with and all those girls were also in the legal marketing group. I found a very nice community that’s very supportive and that’s been a huge help because, when you go live, it’s a little intimidating because sometimes there are things happen and that’s why people like it. It’s real, it’s authentic, but you need a little bit of motivation. You have to figure out your lighting and the camera and all these things. So it’s been nice to have that community to support me.
Megan: That’s great to hear because one of the things that made us think about you was I believe you posted some of your Facebook Lives to the Law Firm Suites web page on Facebook. We were like,”Oh, okay, they’re getting their stride and trying to figure it out.” That was one of the reasons that we actually reached out to you guys, because we were like, “Not a lot of people are thinking of using it as an avenue to get their name out there and get their law firm out there”, because this year it’s really been about self-promoting. I know you already hit on this, but can you share an interesting marketing tactic you started doing since COVID to gain more clients, and has it succeeded? So from your Facebook Lives and all the things that you have been doing, have you seen that make a change in your business?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Yes. The biggest marketing tip I can give is do the Lives; do them consistently. I haven’t done them in a week or so, because I had foot surgery, so this is the first time I put makeup on in two weeks. Essentially if you do them – we were doing a once-a-month question and answer session, which we’re going to continue where we pick a topic. We might do a general, but we pick a specific topic like permanent residency, or naturalization or removal proceedings. I try to do four times a week in the afternoon, what I call notable approval, which is where I talk about a case and that can last anywhere from three minutes to 10 minutes. The biggest thing you want to do is consistency. Now the one thing I’ve found out is having a consistent time every day doing it, so people know to tune in and that will help us get to the next level. At this point, the biggest thing I know – I don’t know if I’m cutting into another question, that I know we can improve on, is the consistency and better targeting our audience, which I haven’t figured out yet.
Megan: That’s good to know. I watch a lot of YouTube influencers and recently someone was posting, “What’s the best time for you guys to log in?” They did a poll. I thought that was interesting because they were engaging with their target audience and gauging, “You’re more likely to log in at 4:00 PM than 12”, and then they made that change. A time of the day is really important because especially if you’re getting a big following, you want people to come in like, “Amanda’s going to be on at noon. Let me get myself together.”
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: I’ll also add to that to not get discouraged if you only have a few viewers, because when I do not advertise in advance, there’s not many people, especially since I don’t have the same time every day, but it’s what you do after with it. You get this video, you save it, you post it; you post it everywhere, you can boost it or advertise it. That’s really where the most views come in. It is a little discouraging. At first, you have like two viewers and no comments and you’re like, “All right”, but again, number one those are the ones I’m doing questions and answers. If you’re doing questions and answers, you want to probably advertise in advance or do it consistently. Otherwise, just know that once it finishes, your work isn’t done; you have a lot more to do with it. It’s a big job, but if you do it right, it’ll work.
Megan: I would love to actually get some of those videos and then we can probably highlight them on our blog as well. That way you’re getting more exposure with what you’re doing, so at the end of this just take some time and if you want, just email me some of those videos, because we can link it and link back to Aaron and your website and help you out.
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: It’ll tell you, which are the most popular ones I can send those over, not a problem.
Megan: What’s something that you’ve tried during COVID but it failed or it didn’t work out the way that you planned it to?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Something I tried. I would say – I’m on Instagram – I started our Instagram because of COVID. It’s so many social media apps out there. It’s a lot and we’re on LinkedIn. I stopped doing Google, my business ads, not even the paid ones, like you can do posts now on Google by business. If you’re not going to pay, the competition’s too big. Instagram, I would say, I don’t think our audience is on Instagram. At least, I haven’t found our audience on Instagram, so that hasn’t taken off, but it could also be because I focus more on Facebook, so I don’t post everything on Instagram. It’s easier to use with the computer and Instagram, you can’t use it on the computer. I do know some attorneys who’ve been successful on Instagram, but I think that you have to look at who your target audiences and that will tell you where to focus. I mean, we’re on YouTube too. We do fine on YouTube, but most of our clients that come from online either found us on our website or on Facebook. I’ve just put my energy towards that, but I never found it to be worthwhile to put my energy towards Instagram or Twitter.
Megan: Do you promote your website anywhere, or is it still just the word of mouth and you just give a business card?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: It’s everywhere online. Everywhere that we are, our website is and I try to make sure that it’s all clickable links so that people can easily get there, but I don’t pay to promote the website in any way.
Megan: Okay. During your downtime this year, what have you done to optimize your practice in any way, or get things done that you’ve been putting off for a while?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: During my downtime, I fixed up our forms, because in immigration, we have a lot of forms people fill out and I’ve automated those forms for us with a questionnaire. Instead of writing – some benefits, you have to file like six forms. Instead of writing someone’s name over and over and over, you write it once here and it fills in, but they change the forms on us all the time, so it’s annoying. I had to go back and change all the forms out and it’s hard to do, when I’m doing all my other work. I had time to sit down and do that. I also had a lot of time to brainstorm and really think about how are we going to take our practice to the next level? As you know, I am excited to get an office with a window, hopefully in 2021.
But basically, my downtime came to learning about different ways to go about the Lives, I bought a nice camera, I bought lighting, I got all different things to make the Lives appear nicer and more professional. I learned about stream yard, which is what we use to broadcast to different places at once when I do the Lives. It was a big learning curve, for sure. It’s not hard stuff, but you just have to sit down and learn it and I did have that opportunity because of COVID, because business quieted down for a little, but once I got the hang of it, it really did pick back up.
Megan: Okay. That’s great to hear, because the next question is actually, how has COVID-19 positively impacted your practice, or how your practice was affected in your personal life?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: So COVID-19, this has been a really weird year for me, I think for everybody. I was supposed to get married in May and COVID killed that. I’m still getting married, but we have to wait a little longer. I’ve had a very up and down year for sure, but really I would say, “Sorry, what was the question again?” I blanked out.
Megan: It’s cool. I said how has COVID-19 positively impacted your practice in your personal life?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Okay. My fiancé, he’s a financial analyst. He also was working from home this whole time and we live in Manhattan in a small apartment and it actually made us closer. I know there are some couples now that are getting divorced, or not getting married who were supposed to. I do divorce law, so I know that, but it gave us an appreciation for how much each other works and what we do. It’s different when you see it. When he’s working until 11:00 PM and he’s here working and I see him sitting there and working, it’s just – psychologically, it’s different. Personally I would say, despite not being able to see friends and stuff, it has brought at least me and my fiancé closer.
In terms of our professional life. I would say that, it did open me up to try new things, into pivoting. The Facebook Lives, we’re totally going to continue going forward. It’s really opened me up to a new group of people to share ideas and be really supportive for one another. I always liked to take negatives and turn them into positives if I can. I’m an opportunist in that way. I feel confident saying that I made the best of COVID-19 that I could for our practice, so I’m happy with that. But going forward next year, it also puts us on a certain path where our clients are now more used to doing videos or phone calls. They don’t have to come in, where you get to do virtual court now, which saves so much time. Instead of me going to court, sitting there for three hours to get called, I get called on time and it lasts for 15 minutes, so those changes, I hope stay. If they do then, our practice will continue down this path. I don’t want to go back to where I have to go to courts all the time, but that remains to be seen of course.
Megan: A lot of people have said courts going virtual has been a game changer. It’s been a game changer and I don’t have to deal with courts, but I’ve seen you guys coming in stressed like, “Oh, got to go stand in line.” It’s good to hear that’s actually something that has made an impact. You come into the office, now about four times a week, when you come in, how are you keeping safe and do you feel safe overall?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: When I’m in my office, I don’t wear a mask when I’m alone. We used to meet with clients in our office, but now we’ll only meet in the conference room and we make them wear a mask and we wear masks. Obviously we have the hand sanitizer. I’ll say this. In March, before we shut down, I was paranoid. I was cleaning things every day and I was doing it at home too, but I got over that. I would say, I do feel safe cause otherwise I’d be doing it. I also have this little key ring where I don’t have to touch the doorknobs. I don’t have to touch handles. I use that for everything. I don’t have to worry about washing my hands all the time. I feel safe.
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Where we are in 655, it’s pretty quiet. It’s not where everybody else’s. There’s not as many people coming in and out, that’s the biggest thing. If we didn’t have the conference room, we’d have a problem because I’ve thought about getting a plastic thing by my desk, but it’s about air circulation and there’s just no air circulation in my office. It’s an eight by eight or whatever it is. I would say overall we feel pretty safe. It would be nice to have a little more air, like natural air flowing through, but the way the building is, I don’t think that’s possible.
Megan: Right. Has coming into the office helped with your productivity or business development?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Has coming into the office, helped with our productivity and business development? Yes, and no. I think I’m more productive at the office, because there’s no distractions. At the same time, I have to – even though I’m on the Upper East Side, it still takes me time to get back and forth to work. The time I’m going back and forth to work, I could spend doing other things, so when I’m home, I’m a little more productive during those hours. I think it evens itself out. In the past when I tried to work from home, before COVID, I did nothing. So I learned how to focus myself and do it properly, but in terms of like business development, again, our clients, even with COVID, they still want to come in. We still have to say to them, “Unless you need to come in, we don’t need to see you”, but it’s hard, especially when you have clients who don’t speak English and we don’t speak other languages, having that language barrier, it’s easier to be able to just point to some things in front of you. “Sign right here instead of signing box 1a”. It still is a key piece of our practice that we’ll never be able to completely work from home or completely be virtual.
Megan: You have mentioned that you are meeting clients in person and you’re just taking the proper precautions to do that. How do you gauge who do you meet in person versus who you can just handle virtually? Do you feel like you have more virtual clients than in person clients?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Do I have more virtual clients than in-person? I haven’t really thought about that. Probably more virtual now, I think. How do we gauge who to bring in? Well, we always offer the video and phone options and if they – it’s hard to say, it’s dependent on each person. There’s some people that don’t want to come in at all, so that makes it easy. There are some people where we try to do it over the phone or video, but it’s just too much of a challenge and we’re just like, “Fine, come in.” If we’re trying to explain to someone on the phone and they don’t get it, we’ll have them come in. There are some people that are afraid to talk on the phone. We deal with a lot of domestic violence victims, for example. I had an email this week where the person was like, “Look, I don’t want to talk on the phone about this. Can I come in?” I knew why, and of course someone like that, you’re going to let them come in because of the situation. I’ve had other clients that are used to coming into signing applications, that they’ll understand how to print it and sign it and scan it. That’s because immigration started accepting photocopied signatures, they never did. We always needed the original, so they didn’t want to wait the extra day to mail it. They want to just come in, so you had it. That made it easier too, to be able to say, look, you just have to sign this, you don’t need to come in, but if it fails the first time, like the person can’t sign it in the right place or has a million questions that I can’t answer in the email, then I might say, “Hey, you should come in and we’ll just make this easier”.
Megan: I know it’s like a personal choice –
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: One second. Joey? Sorry, dog was drinking too much water.
Megan: You’re good.
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: That’s something you deal with now when you’re at home.
Megan: That’s why I was like, “Can we please reschedule?” If we did this yesterday with my daughter, it wouldn’t have worked.
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Aaron’s at home today and I could have met with my nephews. They’re six and three; they’re nuts.
Megan: Yes. Working from home. It was like, “Okay, is it nap time? Let’s get really productive during these quiet hours.” It’s a challenge, but it’s nice because you still get to be with the ones you love. Maybe you find that balance. I got so close to my kid during the quarantine. I was like, “Yes.”
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Amazing. They love that we’re home.
Megan: Yes, I bet. Ours did too, but I know for people, it’s a personal choice, whether they come back into the office or not, but what advice would you give to someone about coming into the office on a regular basis based on your experience?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: The advice I would give is you have to do what’s right for you. It’s going to be different for everybody. There are people depending on the area of law you practice, depending on what your clientele is like, where they don’t need to have people come in. I honestly would prefer that people don’t come in because I think that right now, it’ just not necessary. I allow it more out of convenience to my clients because I want business and because I know there’s certain struggles we can’t overcome on the phone or video with those clients and it just makes everyone’s life easier. If you don’t have to have people come in, don’t, because there’s no reason to it. Do it on a case by case basis.
There are certain attorneys that I know that never meet with clients face to face. They don’t have to and that works. If you have certain populations, like domestic violence victims, like I said, or asylum cases that we also do, then you’re looking at populations that are going to be less reluctant to want to talk on the phone. They want to meet you face to face, know that they can trust you. Some people end up going for the video option, which is good, but some people can’t because they’re in the home with the person. Don’t be afraid to have people come in, as long as you wear your mask, have the hand sanitizer. Just be smart and you’re going to be fine. Knock on wood somewhere. I’ve not gotten COVID. No one in my family has gotten it. I assume they would have told us if someone in the Suite got it. As far as I know, we’ve been doing a good job, keeping safe and you can too, but don’t bring people in unnecessarily.
Megan: That makes sense. That’s good advice. What are one or two things that motivated you to push forward during the pandemic?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: One or two things that motivated me. I would say, I do immigration law, obviously, and our current President has been very rough on immigration law. I know a lot of immigration lawyers, especially when the courts closed that either had to give up, or just wanted to give up. So part of my motivation was these people need lawyers; they need lawyers who care and are going to work hard. Those people are still out there even though their courts are being postponed, they still have court. I need to be there to help people especially, and also my – God, I need a drink of water. Oh, I have one. Sorry.
Megan: Go ahead.
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: I’m staying with the Live, you just got to roll with it, but just my overall drive to succeed and do well, that hadn’t changed. It was just about refocusing that drive and trying really just opening myself up to trying different things.
Megan: That’s a good way of putting it. You can see your passion for immigration law. I’m also curious to know how you stayed in touch with, or leaned on your attorney colleagues, during the pandemic outside of Law Firms Suites and inside of Law Firm Suites?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Inside of Law Firm Suites, we’ve always had a great community. There are some attorneys that we’ve known for a decade now, that we will refer cases to like Bob Washuta, he’s a good example. He’s been there since I’ve been there. He does personal injury. We get increased personal injuries, or a client has an issue, we send to him; he’ll send us any immigration stuff. That continued just as normal throughout the pandemic. Like I mentioned earlier, in terms of colleagues outside of LFIS, I never had a community. I knew some attorneys, but I wasn’t a huge networker. I joined AILA, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, I don’t know if I felt the need to join before. That opened me up to more people too. I found a community of ten female attorneys that all do immigration law and having that, that’s what really been, I think, the game changer for me, because whenever I was feeling either a little hesitant, or lacking confidence in doing something, or frustrated with results, I would talk about it with them and either I’d see, “Look, they’re having the same problems or they’re having the same problems and now they’re not”, or they’d give me a tip and it’s really helped me get through some of that hard times.
Megan: That’s so good to hear though, that because of social distancing, you couldn’t get with people, you were still able to get with people. I feel like a lot of attorneys and just a lot of people in general felt really alone and isolated during the pandemic. Hearing that you were able to step outside your norm and outside your box to reach out to other people is really tickling to hear. I’m happy for you.
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: We even did secret Santa with each other.
Megan: Good to see you build bonds. That’s amazing to hear – amazing. Can you share a funny or interesting anecdote that happened in 2020?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: In regards to business?
Megan: Business or personal? It doesn’t matter.
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Funny anecdote. I have to think about that one. I’m sure I have. Can we come back to that one?
Megan: Yes, we can. The next one is what is your outlook on 2021? It’s the end of the year, you’re planning your goals. What do they look like?
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: It’s very positive. I feel very strongly that in 2021, we’re going to have to hire somebody because we’re going to get to a point where we can’t handle it all ourselves. We’re going to continue to grow. I’m trying now to learn more about analyzing our results on social media, so not just putting money towards something, seeing how it does and then moving on, but seeing how it does and why it did that and how I can improve it. That’s the next step, I’m getting into that. I actually think if I’m targeting right, it will be a huge difference. I only see good things coming. The immigration courts will open back up again here eventually. We don’t know what that’s going to look like, to be honest. It’s a little scary. They’re going to be closed now since March and they were a mess before March. I’m really – fingers crossed – hoping that the New York courts get more virtual court capabilities so that we can continue it because, again, it’s just such a difference when you get called on time and you don’t have to sit there and wait, and you can devote yourself to other things. The three hours that I’m sitting in court, I can’t sit there really and do work, it’s hard. I think if those things can stay the same, that will be positive, but overall, I think we’re just going to continue to grow and build on what we have started here in 2020.
Megan: That’s good to hear that you guys have a positive outlook. We’ve had a couple of attorneys who, like you guys have changed the way they’ve done things during 2020 and grown and they’ve moved offices within Law Firms Suites and have expanded and it’s like, “Wow, okay. You guys are really pushing for it.” I’m interested to see how their 2021 pans out and I’m really happy to hear that you guys have a positive outlook for your 2021. That’s good to hear it. This has been a really good call, Amanda, and I really appreciate you doing it with me.
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: I got your funny anecdote.
Megan: Oh, okay.
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: But it’s something. We have our therapy dog Goldie, that Aaron was bringing every day and so when Aaron adopted her as a puppy, literally from day one, she was coming to the office every single day and seeing me. When the pandemic hit, I went a couple of months without seeing her, and the first time I saw her, she got so excited, she knocked me over, she was kissing me. It honestly made my heart grow like three sizes. It was so adorable. Now what’s crazy is when she finally came back to the office, she was completely normal and calm. She knows that this is the office. I got to be normal, but when I go to their house, she goes nuts. It’s really heartwarming for me because I love dogs. That’s my little funny anecdote.
Megan: It’s a nice one. I love seeing the dog in the space because every time I see Aaron with her, I’m just like, “Oh, that’s a dog.”
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: It’s a therapy dog.
Megan: Well, those are all the questions I have, Amanda. I told you it wasn’t going to be a long call.
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Aaron wasn’t here, because I’ve been doing this stuff anyway. He hasn’t.
Megan: I figured, I mostly see Amanda on the Lives and I wonder, but I just figured he would show up in his hat – Aaron in his cowboy hat. I’m going to let you go, but I just want to say again, thank you so much for taking the time out to do this interview. I really, really appreciate it.
Amanda Brooke Shaffer: Sure thing.