There is no straightforward path to becoming a lawyer. Some dream of becoming a lawyer at a young age, some follow in the footsteps of their parents, and others simply wish to make a profound impact on the world. For Kass — she saw becoming a lawyer as a logical next step to helping her elderly patients she interacted with while doing social work at the hospital.
Every PracticePanther user has a unique story, and we’ve set out to tell them in an effort to share best practices, provide perspective into different practice areas, and display the fantastic work that our customers devote their lives to. Check out the full interview below as we chat with Kathleen Day-Seiter, and learn more about how she practices law with the help of PracticePanther.
Name: Kathleen Day-Seiter
Practice Area: Elder Law, Estate Planning, Trust Accounting
Read the Full Transcript of This Customer Spotlight
How this lawyer started practicing elder law
This transcript has been edited for context and clarity.
Colin: Hello everyone and welcome to this special customer spotlight for PracticePanther. I’m Colin Li, Chief Growth Officer here at PracticePanther. One thing that I’ve noticed is we work with a ton of amazing customers and legal professionals each and every day, and there are tons of lessons to be learned from them. A lot of these insights are important to us, so we want to make sure we share them to our broader community. Today we have Kathleen-Day Sieter, or Kass as she likes to go by. Hi Kass!
Kass: Hi, nice to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Colin: Thanks for being with us. So quick thing on Kass, she’s been practicing law since 2006, and she currently runs her own firm in Alameda, California. She’s really had an amazing career journey that we wanted to jump in and explore with her today. From being a social worker for over 20 years to living abroad in Germany, to currently practicing Elder Law, Kass just has a ton of experience and learnings from the industry, and we just love spending time with her. So Kass, thanks again for joining us today, we’re thrilled to have you on the show, and we’re really excited to be sharing your story.
Kass: Thank you, thank you again for having me. I have to say a big part of my practice right now has to do with the technology that is out there these days, and I could not do my practice without PracticePanther. When I think about how I did it before PracticePanther compared to now, I realized that there’s no way I could be doing what I’m doing now — as much work and as many clients as I have now.
Colin: Well, that’s just music to our ears and we really appreciate the feedback. So you come from a very unique background. You were a social worker before you started practicing law, and I wanted to just ask you how has being a social worker prepared you to become a lawyer, especially in the Elder Law space?
Kass: That’s a really good question. I did my Master’s of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley, the gerontology track, and at that time, they actually had a joint MSW JD program. And I thought, Who would do that? Why would you do that? And of course, we had a law class in the program which was fascinating. So I got out of school, I had great jobs. I was in the Tenderloin in San Francisco, working with low-income seniors and disabled individuals, and then I ended up doing medical social work in hospitals.
What I was doing a lot with the clients or the patients was I was talking to them about public benefits and a lot of it had to do with laws and how they would qualify and what they were going to have to do in order to apply for the benefits. But not only that, the different programs that are out there, and I found that I was giving them information that was just bordering on that. It was all legal information, and I could only go so far. So one day I was walking down the hall at the hospital, on the floor where I was working, and I looked into the room and I saw an elderly gentleman who I knew was dying, and his wife was sitting there next to him, and I knew that they had been married for 50 years.
And my heart just dropped and I thought, I don’t know if I can do this the rest of my career. And that’s when I thought I’m going to make a change. I was talking to a nurse there at the hospital, and she said, “Have you thought about law?” I thought, maybe I’ll do a PhD. And she said, “Have you ever thought of Elder Law?” I said, Oh, that’s great. I looked into it and of course, I immediately just went in that direction, which has been a fantastic career.
What happens is that when I see my clients, I end up doing a lot of social work with my clients because I’m trying to look at the whole picture — not just the legal aspects — like what is right for this individual person, what’s right for the family, and how can I best use all of my knowledge and things are out there for this person so that he or she can have a better life.
Overcoming challenges to growing a law firm
Colin: That’s really inspiring, Kass, and I think what strikes me about when we first started talking and really a big reason why I wanted to bring you on the show is you lead your firm and you’re practicing your career with your heart. That’s very honorable and very rare. And it’s certainly inspiring.
When you were starting off — and you run your own practice now — tell me a little bit about starting your own firm. You got the specialty in elder law and estate planning, which much of our audience does as well. What are some of the big challenges of starting your own firm?
Kass: Well, of course the challenges are wanting to do everything right to begin with, and only having limited resources. Most of us start our own firm on a shoestring, and we’re trying to figure out how we can do as much as we can with a little as possible. So that’s one. And also, when you start your own firm, you’re looking for staff — who can I find who’s going to have the experience that’s going to help me and at the same time, I don’t have to pay them all of my annual income and the whole thing. There are a ton of options when it comes to technology these days. You have to think about exactly what you want to accomplish. This option is gonna cost this much money, and this thing is gonna cost that. It would be wonderful to have it all, but unfortunately, you can only make choices that are going to fit within your budget — so as a solo, of course, we’re all faced with that challenge. Can I find a good staff and can I find all of the resources that are going to help me do the job the best?
Colin: Amazing — tell me about the journey. Obviously, you’re a customer of ours, so we’re very grateful that we were able to find each other and help you with that challenge of “what do I do as an entrepreneur for my own firm.” So how did you find us, tell us your origin story of using PracticePanther.
Kass:I had a goal to be able to work remotely for at least four weeks at a time. I lived in Europe, in Germany for six years, and I’ve lived on the East Coast. Our family travels a lot, we’re often in Europe and we’re often here in the United States, so my goal was to be able to work remotely for four weeks out of the year. I didn’t have to go on vacation — when I’m on vacation, I want to go on vacation, but I want to be able to work remotely. I knew that PracticePanther was going to be the way that I was going to get there. I want to be able to go someplace and have my whole office with me in my computer, and PracticePanther allows me to do that. I have all of my notes, I have all of my emails, I have all of my files, everything is there within PracticePanther with some of their integrations, and it just works beautifully.
How PracticePanther helps solo law firms
Colin: It’s really great to hear that. At what stage of your firm did you discover PracticePanther? Was it at the very beginning? Did you go through some trial and error beforehand and what pushed you over the finish line?
Kass: Well, I had actually been with another firm prior to starting my own going solo. It was at that other firm where I had discovered PracticePanther after doing a lot of research and going through different testing with other practice management softwares, and it was PracticePanther that really stood out. What I really loved about it is it’s so easy — and for me, so intuitive, it’s just easy! The other thing that I really like about it are the templates. Though many of us do use drafting programs, they don’t always have templates.
You want a letter to the Assessors Office or the recorder’s office, or to the beneficiary, or to a client — those are not necessarily in the drafting programs. I can’t tell you how many templates I use. The coding to do the templates are so easy with PracticePanther, it’s mechanical, you follow the steps and you do your template or your letter, you put in your coding and boom, you upload it, and it’s like magic. I love it.
Colin: You know, 2020 has been a really trying time and really, it’s changed everything. Whether you’re an attorney or just a man on the street. How has your business been impacted by the pandemic? I know you mentioned that one of the things that you’re already well equipped to do with PracticePanther was to work remotely, but how has 2020 kind of changed the way you run your business?
Kass: Prior to the shutdown or the shelter-in-place order here in California, I had two part-time employees and of course, with PracticePanther, everything’s integrated, so we can all see each other’s files and whatnot. And unfortunately, I had to let them go, I had to lay them off. So I was alone for the most part, but I feel that PracticePanther is like having a full-time employee. For my annual fee, whatever it is, I have a full-time employee right there who is always ready to do the work that I need to have done. I don’t have to pay any of the employment taxes, I don’t have to take care of all of the other required notifications. So for me, PracticePanther is like my other employee, and it’s just fantastic. It doesn’t matter how many employees you have, I think PracticePanther is like my number one employee, I can’t do it without PracticePanther.
Colin: We do appreciate your feedback! So you mentioned document templates, and that’s certainly one of our favorite features here at PracticePanther. In September, we launched another pretty big feature that we’re proud of, and one that you use from what I understand after talking earlier, and that’s PantherPayments, our all-in-one online payments functionality that’s built right into PracticePanther. I just wanted to see how has PantherPayments worked for you?
Kass: Well, it’s all in the background, I don’t even have to think about it or know what they’re doing, it just works beautifully. I send my statements to the clients, and they click on pay now, and they either do an electronic transfer or they pay by credit card, and boom, it’s in my account, whether it’s in my trust, account or in my operating account. It’s just so smooth, and I get a notification from PracticePanther that says, “You have a payment.” I love those notifications! Of course, they’re great and my clients really appreciate it also. Of course, I accept checks and some clients prefer that, but most of my clients are just so happy to have that pay now option at their disposal.
Colin: I’m really glad you’re getting value out of it. One of the big trends here is just, with everyone remote, you can’t go pay in-person, everyone’s got these business offices everywhere and it’s just hard to transmit payments from one party to another these days.
Kass: And this makes it easy, it’s really easy!
New year means new goals
Colin: It just makes it easy, yes! I’m really glad you’ve been able to find value out of it. Ok so having made it through 2020, I know you’ve had to downsize staff a little bit, and still kind of be very resilient with PracticePanther as well as yourself. What kind of habits are you looking at or how are you thinking about 2021?
Kass: Well, I probably want to continue and refine what I’ve been doing. For example, I’m pretty much a paperless firm, which means my files are very, very thin. I just scan everything and it goes into my box, which of course goes into my PracticePanther files. Because of the integration, I want to continue to do that, to continue to be even more paperless, if possible. One of the things that has really helped me with the downsizing are the workflows, the workflows in PracticePanther are amazing, which I have the sense that a lot of people don’t really understand how they work. But it’s really great when I have a client that says yes, I want to work with you, I can do a workflow that says this “person A” would like to engage our firm. The workflow says, “please send out engagement letter, send out any consents, send out the questionnaire,” and boom, all of these notices get sent out and it says, “This is to be done within this period of time,” and then we just go and checks the box that says completed, completed, completed.
That workflow is just fantastic. When I have my draft sent out to my clients, I do another workflow — set up an appointment to review the drafts, and it’s just fantastic, so that workflow is really helpful and it’s helped me a lot this year to keep us on track with all of our different cases.
So another thing that I have found that has really helped, it would have helped before, but I really discovered a lot of it here in 2020 — particularly because of COVID and the pandemic — let’s just say you have Joe Smith as a client and you want to talk to somebody else in your firm regarding Joe Smith, rather than send a message in some other format, you can send it directly within PracticePanther.
Let’s say you’re sending it to Sally, you go into your PracticePanther folder, you want to send a message over to Sally and you just send it within there, and it’s all kept in there, so all of your notes and all of your communications within your firm are kept within PracticePanther. It makes it really easy, so I don’t have to go into an email and send something to somebody in the firm, it’s just all within there. The tasks are also really, really important, the tasks and the workflow work together, but if you just have a one-off task that you want to go in, it just makes it so easy.
It’s in there and then everybody sees, “Oh, I have to do this, this, and this,” and those are the things that have really helped me keep going during the pandemic, and I just want to refine those things as I go, which I think we just always have to refine our practices no matter what.
Colin: Absolutely. You heard it here, workflows and tasks, you can do so many different things with them, it’s like having an extra helper. What’s your thought on whether remote work is here to stay, or are we going to go back to normal?
Kass: I hope it’s here to stay, because I want to go to Portugal! I have been to a lot of places in Europe, but I’ve never been to Portugal, and I want to go to the beach in Portugal! I actually have a 95-year-old client who I’ve met in person before the lockdown, but since then, we talk by video and she’s fine with it! I don’t see why we couldn’t continue.
Insider tips and tricks for new PracticePanther users
Colin: I totally agree. Lastly on the product side, I know you’ve had various experiences with PracticePanther, whether it’s in a larger firm, or with your own solo practice, and many people use PracticePanther in so many different ways, especially new users. Everyone has their different workflows.
What are some recommendations you have for someone who’s in the market for starting their own firm or looking to adopt a new practice management software or just starting out with PracticePanther? What kind of tips do you have for them?
Kass: When I first got PracticePanther, what I would do is I would go home, have my dinner, do whatever, and as I settle down, I would actually go on the videos and the tutorials in PracticePanther. I just learned so many little tricks that just made my life so much easier and I was like, “Oh wow, this is cool. It does this too. It does this too.”
I also highly recommend for people to have the subscription where you can have unlimited support. I find the support staff to be very helpful, and they always figure out how to solve my problem, and it’s just so worth it to have that. I don’t know how people do it without it, to be honest with you, because it’s tech, there are going to be glitches that come through and whether it’s through an integration from somebody, or your computer, or your own unfamiliarity with the program.
Colin: Just closing out. Any parting thoughts or advice for attorneys out there on how to run their practice? We have a lot of estate planning attorneys out there, both in our customer base and just like out there who are thinking, “How should I think about my practice going into 2021.” Any kind of last minute advice?
Kass: Oh gosh, I can remember studying for the bar, somebody said it’s never good to predict the future, so it’s hard to know! One thing that I can say is that when you do get practice management software, it can be very overwhelming at first, and what I tell people just keep going, piece by piece, figure out each piece, and then you will be so happy. I think that I probably use a good 90% to 95% of what PracticePanther offers. I’ve been told that some people only put the names and contact information and do nothing else in there — so I think it’s so worth it just to slowly build up that knowledge base about your practice management software. Even though it feels overwhelming, don’t let that stop you because once you figure it out, you realize how much time it saves you and how much more organized you are, and it’s totally worth it to get over that learning curve. That’s what I would say.
Colin: Absolutely, you heard it here — you put the time in upfront to get over the learning curve and it’s going to pay off in big dividends. I couldn’t thank you enough, Kass, I want to just make a quick plug on your practice!
Please visit Kass’ website at daysieterlaw.com. Kass is just an amazing human being and an amazing attorney. We’re really proud to have her as part of our PracticePanther family. And secondly, I think just having her practice with a full heart and all that experience, it’s an amazing addition to the legal industry. We’re really, really excited and grateful to have you Kass.
When we’re talking about PracticePanther, we really want to bring our customers value, and as an organization, one of the things that we believe in is our own values and that’s a people-first mentality. We think about our customers first, our teammates first, and no one reflects that better than you. So we just think the world of you.
Kass: Thank you. Thank you, Colin. Thanks. Well, I just want to say that I have so many wonderful colleagues, estate planning attorneys, many different types of attorneys who really care so much about their clients, and that’s why we’re in this business. We’re not here to make a lot of money, we’re here to actually serve our clients, and so I feel honored to be able to call many of these other attorneys my colleagues.
Colin: Amazing, awesome. Thank you so much for your time today. Again, this is Kass, everybody. Once again, the website is daysieterlaw.com. If you have any referrals, please bring them Kass’ way, she’s wonderful. She’ll take care of any elder law needs and estate planning.
That’s it for our show today, I want to thank our guest and just make sure if you’re interested in learning more about PracticePanther and some of our new releases or some more new product features, go to PracticePanther.com to learn more. I’ll talk to you next time!