Thumbtack gave immigration lawyer Irina Ribeiro the confidence to start her own law practice, after seeing the reliable source of clients it provided to her previous law firm. Irina takes a unique approach to Thumbtack customer introductions, using messaging to offer initial consultations for free and refine her understanding of what customers need. She takes particular pride in helping people who are in vulnerable situations. Here’s the story behind more than 100 hires and 40 positive reviews for the Law Office of Irina Ribeiro in San Francisco.
What has your experience as a lawyer on Thumbtack been like?
I found Thumbtack in 2014 when I was a partner in another firm. Right away I realized what great marketing potential it is for lawyers. In 2015, I started my own practice. Even at my old firm, Thumbtack had always been half if not more of where our clients came from. When it made sense from a business perspective for me to branch out on my own, I was able to shift my profile with me and take my reviews with me as opposed to starting out with a new profile. It was key to be able to shift those reviews. I appreciate that Thumbtack lets the individual change their business and maintain their professional profile.
I felt comfortable going into private practice because I knew I had Thumbtack as a referral resource to lean on. Without it I would have waited longer to go out on my own. It usually takes at least five years to build clients, but I only worked as a partner with another lawyer in a private practice for 3 years before going solo. Prior to that I had worked as a lawyer at a large firm down in San Diego.
You have staff, too, don’t you?
Yes! Thumbtack is huge for being able to afford help. Right now I have two part-time paralegals.
Before, that was a cost that I shared with another attorney. Thumbtack helped me be able to afford my own office and staff in San Francisco.
How many of your clients are from Thumbtack?
At least half of my clients are from Thumbtack. As Thumbtack has grown I have also grown.
How do you request reviews?
I am really careful about requesting reviews, because the immigration clientele is a really vulnerable group. A unique service I offer is the opportunity to message—free of charge—with me as an immigration lawyer through the Thumbtack platform. It’s nice to talk to someone for free to build their trust and show them I’m not out to take advantage of them. Thumbtack is a great way to connect with people and chat back and forth prior to an official consultation. Many times they just need information I can answer via messaging. This saves them the $300 per hour attorney fee for a consultation.
If I do offer that service, I may say, “If you found this was helpful you can leave a review for this free consultation.” Usually to talk to an attorney a person has to go through a secretary, a paralegal, a questionnaire, and I realized since I was providing this pro bono service, it was okay to invite them to leave a review.
At the very beginning I didn’t even ask anyone for reviews, I didn’t know I could. Fortunately, Thumbtack would prompt people. At one point I remember looking and seeing I had 12 reviews and thinking, “Oh yeah, I’m killing it.” Then I realized that I could ask for reviews.
What have you learned about working with immigration clients on Thumbtack?
It’s been a big learning curve. There were a few hard lessons. At first I responded to every request. I had just moved to the Bay Area and joined as partner at a small law firm. I had student loans and I couldn’t afford not to take jobs. But the more people I connected with through Thumbtack, the more I realized that most people didn’t know what they wanted.
For example, someone might say, “I really want to become a citizen,” but they have no documentation that they’ve ever been inside the United States. So really their first step is a visa application. An attorney who doesn’t talk with them through messaging might quote them for a naturalization service when really they need a different service. I’ve learned to ask the client directly to learn what they really need.
Immigration cases are really unique and you have to do tons of research to prepare. For me, understanding the case prior to meeting with a client is critical to making that first meeting effective.
How do you calculate your Thumbtack ROI?
Other marketing associations require lawyers to pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for membership. Then, any clients you land as a result, you have to pay a commission of your fees to the association for providing that specific lead. Thumbtack is really unique for lawyers. My return is always going to be a greater than my investment because Thumbtack is so fair in their pricing. I don’t calculate the specific cost of each quote, but it’s worth it to me.
So often with immigration it’s a crisis that spurs them to action. Hiring legal help is expensive, so people don’t do it until it’s an emergency. All of a sudden their visa is expiring and they need help right away. As a result, I notice that quotes I’ve sent in the past that someone didn’t act on, they may respond months later needing help right away. So if it feels like people aren’t responding, be patient.
Any words of wisdom for others considering starting their own practice or business?
Don’t listen to yourself. I remember when I first realized I had to pay myself—after being an employee for so long—and every morning I would wake up in fear, thinking of everything that could go wrong. Those are good instincts to have, but if you overthink it before you have a chance to succeed, you’ll defeat yourself. So take precautions, but be courageous. I made separate accounts, one for living and one for the worst case scenario which included my rent for six months. It’s good to take those precautions, but you’ll almost always prove yourself wrong. Be cautious, be prepared, but don’t give into the fear or you will defeat yourself.
In immigration law, someone is always in crisis. Work-wise, I would like to bring on a full-time support staff. I’m also learning how to make time for myself and do fun things besides just work. I love rescuing dogs…and eventually I’d like some time to garden.
Which jobs are most unique for you?
All my cases are really unique. For example, there are a lot of really young people out here who have come on student visas and they’re hoping an employer will want to hire them. But they’re in a vulnerable position and can lose their visas if they make mistakes. At the same time, it can be a scary thing for them to talk to an attorney. Thumbtack allows me to message back and forth and give those students who might not necessarily hear from an attorney or hire one the opportunity to interact with one. I let them know how to safeguard their opportunities. When people are far from home, they lose that protection and guidance they’d normally receive. If they don’t have family or close friends nearby, they’re just winging it. Everyone needs guidance. Thumbtack helps me offer them some.