Episode 117 — Elise Buie — Running a Virtual Firm with Engagement and Accountability
A virtual-first workforce was practically unheard of before the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Some organizations, however, knew that this was the key to success long before the pandemic put millions on indefinite remote work schedules.
Elise Buie of Elise Buie Family Law, PLLC is one of them.
From day one, Elise saw the value in empowering her team to work remotely and flexibly, allowing their best work performances to shine through each day.
On this episode of The Game Changing Attorney Podcast, Elise and Michael sit down to discuss:
- The genesis of one of the most successful completely remote law firm
- Why work-life balance is B.S.
- Why culture is so important to a law firm, and how a regular culture call will protect what you’ve built
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They grow up so fast. “I was very young when I became the leader of my family. My grandfather had a stroke, then six months later his daughter, who was my mother, had a stroke, and I was newly married. I took over caring for both my grandparents and my mom — all while in law school. I even got pregnant while in school. I was 21 when all of this began, so it was a lot to take in at such a young age. It sounds silly, but learning to lead myself was extremely powerful. There were a lot of lessons learned and mistakes made, and I think of that as some of the biggest things that shaped who I am today.”
An unfair fight. “When we have people who are minorities and are often marginalized groups who are getting arrested at higher levels, they get put in these defense situations and appointed counsel — and those appointed counsels don’t even require a certain level of experience. I’m not saying they’re bad attorneys, but they shouldn’t be representing someone in a capital case. When a prosecutor would gain a conviction, it wasn’t a fair fight. I believe that we can’t kill humans unless we’ve given them a fair fight. I’m not a massive fan of the death penalty in general, but in my world, if there’s at least a fair fight, I can understand it intellectually as a fair process.”
There are no winners in divorce. “The American court system is set up so that somebody wins and somebody loses, but the reality in family law is that everyone except the attorneys lose. I wanted to create a win-win-win model in family law so that each parent could win in the process and work to their strengths as co-parents. Divorce is here to stay whether we like it or not — and I don’t like it one bit. Since it’s here, let’s figure out how to make it psychologically okay for everyone involved.”
It’s a miserable life. “Lack of communication is what leads to divorce. Women are miserable in most marriages. They are walking around with oodles of resentment about what’s going on in the home — what they perceive to be real inequities — and it’s a problem. These couples can’t communicate, and it usually leads to the women in the marriage wanting a divorce, and the men in the relationship are absolutely befuddled that they want a divorce. They believe it’s coming out of nowhere, even when they haven’t had sex with each other in 10 years — and they really think it’s coming out of nowhere?”
A schedule that works for everyone. “Our law firm doesn’t have set working hours. Personally, I wake up at 3:00 AM and do my best work from then until 8:00 AM. That’s because I was to get the best out of me, and I want my team to do the same. Such flexibility, however, requires intense amounts of communication. We’ve got to know when you can be reached, when you can’t, when you’re going to be able to get something done. I can’t hire people who aren’t grown adults and don’t have a super strong sense of personal responsibility.”
You have one life. “Work-life balance is a bunch of B.S. in my opinion, and that’s why I call it life-work integration. When it comes to what we do, we all work to fuel our lives. A person who says all they care about is work is lying. All of our personal lives matter because those things are what drives our work. Most of our staff is female, and they’re dealing with a lot in and outside of the office. In fact, they’re typically the leader of their households. We provide an environment where they can thrive doing all of those things.”
Keeping the engagement strong. “I don’t think of entrepreneurship as a safe career. All hell could break loose at any minute, and I have to be able to trust myself that I can build a stronger team with the culture in mind in the future. Being a fully remote office, we have to do things differently to ensure we have total team alignment on values. We use Slack differently than most offices. We have very specific work-related channels as well as social channels. We have a book club, we have cooking classes, we have meet and greets, and we have countless virtual events. We get to know each other on a personal and vulnerable level.”
Personal achievements. “I have six kids from 20 to 30, three girls and three boys — all exceedingly successful young adults. None of them are sheep and have their own thoughts and opinions. At one point we had seven pets. I thought I had a normal energy level, but I’ve come to realize that I have an abnormally high energy level. Our family was like that, so we became like that as well. There was a lot of self improvement that was made over the years.”
What does being a game changer mean to you? “It means having an impact on bigger issues. For me and my firm, that’s creating an environment that allows the entire team to work how they work best. When it comes to my passion for fair play, that helps create a stronger society full of game changers as well.”
RESOURCES & REFERENCES
The death penalty
New Orleans, LA
Elise Buie Family Law, PLLC
Radical Candor by Kim Scott
Fair Play by Eve Rodsky