Leveraging Relationships with Mika Domingo

In this episode, Alay Yajnik and Mika Domingo, owner of M.S. Domingo Law Group, discuss how Mika built relationships that she was ultimately able to leverage to build her book of business:

  • Serve your clients incredibly well. It’s the best advertising.
  • Reach out to your connections…both business and personal. Talk with them. Become a master listener, and listen to what their concerns are. Then, try to help them or connect them with someone who can.
  • Leverage activities you’re already involved with, such as a social club or activity club.
  • Become a thought leader by speaking about technical aspects of the law that interest you.
  • Get involved with a bar association and build relationships by collaborating with your colleagues.
  • A good business coach will help you leverage your relationships, choose the best organizations, and put together an approach for how to leverage both.

Alay Yajnik: Welcome to Lawyer Business Advantage. This podcast is dedicated to helping attorneys earn more money, get better clients and spend more time with family. I’m your host, Alay Yajnik, founder of Law Firm Success Group. Smart Business guidance for small law firms begins in 3…2…1….

Alay Yajnik: And I’d like to welcome to the show Mika Domingo, the founding attorney with the M.S. Domingo Law Group. Mika, welcome to Lawyer Business Advantage.

Mika Domingo: Thank you, Alay. I’m very excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

Alay Yajnik: Delighted that you’re here. And tell us a little bit about your firm and the areas in which you practice.

Mika Domingo: M.S. Domingo Law Group helps individuals protect their assets and loved ones in the event of incapacity, disability or death. We prepare wills, trusts, advance health care directives and powers of attorney. We also represent individuals in probate and trust, administration and litigation matters. So these include will contests and will defenses, breaches of fiduciary duties, breaches of misconduct, probate litigation, improper execution, undue influence, elder abuse, fraud, removal of trustees, removal of executors and creditors, claims against the estate. M.S. Domingo Law Group is located in Walnut Creek, California, and we represent clients in both Northern and Southern California.

Alay Yajnik: Awesome. And so I understand you do a lot of trust and estates type of litigation. Are there other practice areas that you that you do as well in your law group?

Mika Domingo: Yes. About two years ago, we started taking cases, auto collision cases. So we do have that as well.

Alay Yajnik: So how does auto collision fit in with trust and estates litigation?

Mika Domingo: Totally unrelated to trust and estate litigation! And the reason why I started doing some of these cases is because I have some colleagues or referred cases to me who were really seeking me out for the civil litigation experience that I’ve had. And so I was very limited in what I wanted to take initially those cases that that were strict liability cases. And that’s worked out well. Whenever I get any cases that have to do with med, mal and complex cases, I’m sure to refer those cases to my colleagues who focus primarily on personal injury cases.

Alay Yajnik: I think it’s terrific that you are such a highly thought of litigator that people are willing to bring you those kinds of cases, cases which are outside the trust and estates realm. But I really want to hear about some of the reasons why you started your own firm, because it didn’t have to be that way.

Mika Domingo: Right. So I started out as a litigator. I served as a deputy attorney general for the attorney general’s office in Sacramento. This was during the time our vice president elect, Kamala Harris, was the attorney general for the state of California. It was an incredible experience. I really enjoyed my work there. I had the opportunity to work on constitutional law matters, Eighth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, First Amendment issues. The training was foundational and allowed me to hone my skills as a litigator. And I really enjoyed the mentoring also from the supervising deputy attorney generals. However, I couldn’t sustain the five hour a day commute via the Amtrak. I didn’t like to drive. And so I took the Amtrak from home and the five hours was just very exhausting.

Mika Domingo: I took the first job available working for this private firm that was fifteen minutes away from home. And at that firm I learned about estate planning, real property, business law, and I handled some litigation matters, but not quite enough. I worked ten to twelve hours, five days a week and another eight to ten on the weekend. I appreciated the exposure, though, to those newer practice areas.

Alay Yajnik: That is really something! So that commute, that five hour commute, must have been brutal and I totally see why you would step away from that to something so much closer to home. And then sounds like iwhen you were working at this other firm, you learned so many different practice areas. What was it that made you decide to leave that firm and start your own law firm?

Mika Domingo: So the experience was very valuable to me because I was able to get exposure to trust and estates and work with attorneys who have been in the business for 30, 40 years. But the hours were long and the conditions really not ideal for me. And it wasn’t really conducive to both my professional and personal growth, and I wanted more flexibility with my time and autonomy over my own cases. As you know, before becoming an attorney, I had worked in other industries, including publishing and finance. I ran a publishing firm and worked as a finance auditor and also engaged in various small business ventures. And my family also runs a small corporation, real and a commercial property rental. So I was always looking – and I still am – I’m always looking for opportunities for growth. I enjoy doing project management, building and motivating a team. I like running numbers in my head, managing finances, building something new, taking risk, well-calculated risks and challenging the status quo. So launching my own practice made a lot of sense to me and the idea of being my own boss again really energized me.

Alay Yajnik: And so when you did that, you stepped out, you started your own law firm. It’s another challenge for you to tackle and well in line with your interests. And then you realized, well, OK, now I’ve got to bring in the business. And you’ve been successful at that. You’ve hired staff as a result. How have you built your book of business over the years?

Mika Domingo: You’re absolutely right about the challenges, definitely challenging and exciting at the same time. So the first thing I did was leverage my existing personal and professional networks.

Mika Domingo: As I mentioned, I had worked in finance as an auditor and my mother ran a very successful international CPA bookkeeping firm. So I had access to professional CPAs, bookkeepers, business owners. So I reached out to contacts and anyone with a vast network to let them know what I was up to. I was fortunate to have had 12 estate planning clients on my first week from a CPA attorney power partner who was actually one of my mom’s mentees. I reached out to past mentors and colleagues who work in various industries to start planting seeds, and I received a tremendous amount of support from lifelong contacts and most of whom I had known for two decades.

Mika Domingo: So I dialed in on my various connections and really focused on serving them well, because I knew that I needed to have that foundation, and I needed to make sure that whoever I served came back, which they did. They came back and brought their family and friends. So I had a decent flow of clients coming in. Of course, I knew that was only the beginning and I needed to have a strategic plan.

Mika Domingo: But I have to say, as far as what I did initially, I didn’t necessarily subscribe to those traditional methods of marketing: direct mailing newsletters, blogging, search engine optimization, Internet marketing. But as I grow my practice, those areas I’m looking more into.

Mika Domingo: But the second thing I did was focus on being a master at listening. I was fortunate to have had over twenty five years of experience serving on leadership roles and volunteering for both nonprofit and for profit organizations. So reaching out to my contacts, as I did in the past, was really nothing new. So over the past two decades, I’ve developed relationships with individuals who do just about anything you can think of. They’re really from so many different worlds. You know, the social workers, crisis counselors, CEOs of high tech companies, restaurateurs, bankers, educators, retail owners, Broadway actors, publicists, policy makers, CPAs, engineers, doctors, web developers, news and media professionals, composers. Our managers, advertisers, officers of the court, just the list goes on.

Alay Yajnik: That’s amazing. How on earth did you manage to connect and build relationships with so many people?

Mika Domingo: So quite a few of my contacts are centers of influences in their industries. My general approach, when connecting with both people I already know and people who are introduced to me is to really focus on listening. I learned this in theater, of course. Think about it. When you meet someone for the first time, you either attract or repel. Right? So, of course, it’s helpful to have some of those skills, those basic skills that we learned in some of our leadership conferences where you learn about somebody’s personality so that you can have a sort of a way to approach people, because that’s an integral part of communicating, right, is listening. So when I reach out to individuals I’ve known over the past two or three decades from different aspects of my life and and my family and my siblings who are also very, very social and involved in their own industries. When I reach out to them, I always focus on listening to understand what their concerns are so I can figure out if I have a solution for them or if I know somebody who has a solution for them. So I’ve been known as a listener rather than a talker, although if you ask my immediate family, I’m probably most often the talker. So I’m someone who’s just genuinely interested in issues that concern others I’m interested in and not just the the industry I work in, but in in theater and sports and all sorts of things. And so that’s why the connection, if you look at I’ve listed those connections, they come from different industries.

Mika Domingo: So I just listened intently and make sure I take the each moment to absorb what’s going on before formulating a response, because I know that communicating in this way really has an effect on one’s credibility, trustworthiness and authority. I focus more on it. It doesn’t really matter where I am. If I’m at a football game or friend’s concert, I have a lot of friends who are in opera and Broadway or movie directors. Doesn’t matter where I am, my focus is on how I can be in that moment with whoever that person is and listen and even provide resources, if I can, and help deepen and develop those ties between the individuals or between businesses and create a win/win situation.

Mika Domingo: So listening intently leads me to focus more on other people who had to understand what they’re about, what they might need if I can help. So I like to think of myself as the one who leads and and moves people to action. So I’m oftentimes a facilitator and I like to think I’m the facilitator of the transaction. And if I can’t do it myself, I know somebody who can do it for you.

Alay Yajnik: I think there’s a lot of things that you that you just rolled out there and oh my gosh, for starting a law firm, you have put in place several great things for people to internalize and put into action as they’re starting their firm. First off, talking to everyone that they know, professional, personal, it doesn’t matter. Even if they don’t have the the sphere of influence that you do, Mika, they can certainly talk to everybody about what they do and potentially get clients that way. And I think it’s amazing that you got 12 estate planning clients in your first week. But given your network and your genuine interest in helping people, they are also going to be genuinely interested in helping you. So I’m not surprised at those results either, and that those results have continued to build. The second thing you mentioned is the value of listening with the intent of helping people. Now, it’s one thing to just listen and smile and nod, but you’re thinking about, OK, how can I help this person? What do they need right now? And whether I can do something for them or I know someone or something that they can take advantage of. How can I connect them with that? That’s awesome.

Mika Domingo: Absolutely. And and so by my second year, I hired a business coach, Alay Yajnik, who helped me with business development. And you remember this. So we zeroed in on my vision plan and tangible steps to achieve my goals and looked at other areas of improvement. I remember there’s this acronym I learned from you and it’s called SMART. Do you remember that? Specific, measurable, aligned, realistic, time bound.

Alay Yajnik: And you remember! That’s awesome!

Mika Domingo: I remember a lot of those graphs and pivot tables and, you know, time management tools, so I use those tools I learned from you and it’s been incredibly helpful and really has yielded results. So as a business person, I understand how critical business planning is. And with smaller companies, with limited time and personal resources, this is often overlooked. And so I, I have really benefited from working with you. And I know that having a roadmap is a critical step, especially when there are unfamiliar areas to explore. If you remember, we looked at all these other things I could be doing. Right.

Alay Yajnik: A lot of things you could be doing. Yes.

Mika Domingo: Absolutely. And one of them was being a thought leader, which had not even thought of before we started working together. And since then, I have done, not a lot, but several presentations with various organizations on topics relating to trust and estates, launching my own practice, managing caseload and so forth. So I also attend a lot of lectures and listen to podcasts to learn from others. You also remember we look at the activities I’m already involved in.

Alay Yajnik: That was quite a list.

Mika Domingo: Yes. And the idea was you wanted me to leverage those connections. So, for example, my husband belongs to a golf club that does monthly tournaments, so every golfer in his club has his own professional and social connections and can potentially share resources. And this year – I haven’t told you about this yet. I started my own golf club.

Alay Yajnik: You did! And we talked about that. You mentioned you were thinking about it. So you actually went ahead and did it!

Mika Domingo: I did, yeah. We started officially our first round was in August. And I am expanding. I have a lot of colleagues who are interested in joining. I actually have some business owners who want to sponsor my first tournament.

Alay Yajnik: Congratulations. That’s wonderful!

Mika Domingo: Yeah. Thank you. And thank you for the encouragement. So we’re looking at at the end of next year or maybe even twenty, twenty two. As you know, the pandemic has placed restrictions on get togethers, but golf is one of a few things we can continue to do and to be out in nature and continue to connect with others from a distance. Everyone wears a mask when we play. And, you know, you have several foursomes actually, because there’s a lot of us now. So I’m having to book all the golf course and book four to five different slots. And I think it’s a win/win because we love the game. My husband and I and my family, my dad loves it, too. And we love to connect with others. So I’m really excited. And I know Alay, we also looked at my involvement with bar organizations.

Alay Yajnik: Yes. I was going to bring that up. Yeah. Tell us more.

Mika Domingo: So through the bar organizations, I’ve worked with some of the most well-respected attorneys and leaders in the county who have supported me from day one. James Wu, a colleague and good friend who is an employment attorney and past president.

Alay Yajnik: Yeah, I know James really well! In fact, this is this is kind of funny. And James, if you’re listening, you’ll get a chuckle out of this. So I’ve interviewed some amazing guests on this podcast. Even though it’s pretty new. We just recently exceeded 600 downloads, which is kind of neat. But the top downloaded podcast out of all of the 15 or so that I’ve done so far is the one that I did with James where James talked about Bar Association leadership.

Mika Domingo: That’s awesome. That’s fantastic. Wow. Yes. And so those connections to the bar and friends that I’ve had for a long time, Natalie DeCourtaso, who an estate planner and also co-counsel for some of my cases, is also Commissioner Gina Dashman, who worked for a large firm, and Tim Heiden, who also practices trust and estates. And these are my core, my key power partners and mastermind partners. And it’s been amazing to know them and to strategize with them, share ideas. I’ve served on numerous boards over the past decades and over the past 10 years, I’ve served on boards both in Contra Costa County, Alameda and San Francisco counties.

I’m still currently on the Contra Costa Bar Association and California women lawyers serving on several committees. And within those groups, I’ve worked closely with attorneys and other professionals and develop relationships with them.

And so one of the questions that I have for you, you get involved in so many organizations and because you have a lot to contribute to those organizations, they all want you to do more. They want you to take leadership positions in organized activities. At the same time, you have to bring in business for your firm. You have to manage your team. You have to do the client work. How do you manage to balance your time between all of those things?

Mika Domingo: Managing all the things I want to do has always been a challenge. As you mentioned, I am interested in so many things. It’s it’s easy for me to say yes. Right. To request for help. And I’m passionate about the organizations I belong to. So oftentimes they spend a disproportionate amount of time on volunteer work. In the past, I’ve done 20 to 30 hours a week on volunteer work and maybe only 20 on my firm. And I know you’re going to say something here I can see it! And 10 to 5 on teaching, but this year I’ve done a lot of reflecting and decided to scale back a bit on my volunteer work and prioritize my health and my business. So that’s changing. 2021 is going to be a different year, of course, for most of us. For all of us, it better be.

Alay Yajnik: We’re all looking forward to 2021!

Mika Domingo: Yes!

Alay Yajnik: But it can get really overwhelming. And I know one of the first things we did, we’re working together as we looked at where you were spending your time and so much of your time was going into so many of these worthy causes, but it wasn’t really driving business to your firm.

Alay Yajnik: And so talk a little bit about some of the changes you made there so that your activities where you were spending your time was was resulting in business for your firm.

Mika Domingo: So as far as the organizations I have worked with, we we kept track, right? With a pivot table of where the yield was, what was going on there. And what I did was just communicated with some of the nonprofits that I was not going to be able to do some of the more taxing projects. And if I know that, for example, for one particular organization, I’m spending 10 hours, 20 hours a month and I have 18 other organizations to volunteer for. So I focused more on the centers of influence, the power partners, those who tended to reach out to me on a more frequent basis for help because it just made more sense. If I make myself more available to those power partners, then they tend to come back and not go somewhere else. So I just sort of reconfigured things so that my energy was just not spent on so many organizations. And actually this year has been – the last quarter – I’m spending a lot of time on that and just communicating it with some of the organizations. For example: well, if I’m not able to do this holiday virtual event that you want me to work on, which I’ve worked on in the past and I spent 20 hours, I may it may sponsor it, you know, give some assist financial assistance so that I’m still there.

Mika Domingo: I’m helping. And as far as how that helps my business, then my firm is a little bit more visible. Because a lot of the work, quite honestly, that I do there, just work that they are impactful, but nobody mentions it. Right. Except, of course, those projects that that I participate in where I serve as chair or president of an organization, then you have a little bit more visibility.

Mika Domingo: But as far as the organizations that I’ve volunteered with what I’ve done is sort of combined one of the tools that I learned from you, and that’s being a thought leader. So I volunteered to speak at their events so that if I’m there, I’m taking space, I’m taking time. I’m also communicating with them what I can do, what my firm can do for them. So it could be a realtor association, a theater group. It could be one of my spiritual groups, it doesn’t matter. I make sure that the time spent with each organization is is worth my time and could potentially yield results.

Alay Yajnik: And what I love about that is you haven’t just cut off all of those organizations. You’re still involved with a ton of organizations. You’re doing a lot of great work in the community, just maybe not spending quite as much time doing all of that as you were before and instead doing other things like sponsoring activities, contributing funds, or stepping down from a leadership role and dialing back your your involvement a little bit. So you’re still able to keep involved. You’re doing a lot of good work in the community. You’re doing a lot of great work with Contra Costa County Bar Association, but you’re still able to focus on the relationships that are bringing in the cases for your firm, because let’s be honest, you’ve got to take care of your firm, too, just like you take care of your health and the community.

Mika Domingo: Absolutely.

Alay Yajnik: Wonderful. Well, Mika, thank you so much for for spending the time today. I’ve got one final question for you, and that is: what excites you about M.S. Domingo Law Group as you think about the future?

Mika Domingo: Great question. I’m very excited to continue, of course, serving my clients to take on more litigation cases and collaborate with other attorneys. I want to improve our marketing strategies and visibility in various networks.

Mika Domingo: I had some practice doing that in using our our platforms because of the pandemic. So we’re doing quite a bit of presentations online. And also M.S. Domingo Law Group is looking to hire. So we’re looking to hire a paralegal and an associate. We’re looking for a paralegal who has at least five years of related experience and an associate with at least three years of litigation experience.

Mika Domingo: And also very excited to launch my own podcasts in 2021 and to expand my golf club. So I hope to see you there when we have our tournament. It’d be great to see you.

Alay Yajnik: Well, I would love to participate. My drive is about 400 yards. But the problem with it is it always hooks at a 45 degree angle and goes out of play. So if I do 18 holes, I usually lose about 20 golf balls.

Mika Domingo: Oh, wow. Yeah, 20 is a lot.

Alay Yajnik: It’s about one per hole. But I’m happy to come out and knock a few out out of play for you.

Mika Domingo: That’s great. That’s quite a distance tale. Yeah.

Alay Yajnik: Yeah. Now if I can just get it straight, that would be really good, right.

Mika Domingo: My shots tend to be straight and short, very much consistent with who I am.

Alay Yajnik: At least they’re in play and they’re moving towards the goal, which is also consistent with who you are as well. Mika, thank you so much for being on the show today.

Alay Yajnik: And if people wanted to reach you and talk about your golf group or your upcoming podcast or just wanted to get in touch or potentially apply for that paralegal or that associate position, what’s the best way for them to reach you?

Mika Domingo: The best way is two ways: call me. My number is 925-891-5006 or you can email me at mika@msdomingolawgroup.com.

Alay Yajnik: Thank you, Mika. Thank you for being on the show. It’s always terrific to have a client on the show. I appreciate all the kind words and all the advice you’ve given to our listeners. Thank you.

Mika Domingo: Thank you, Alay.

Alay Yajnik: And that’s a wrap for this episode of the Lawyer Business Advantage podcast. One thing that would really help both us and other new potential listeners is for you to write this show and leave a comment in iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you tune in to listen. And I want to hear from you. So connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know what you think of this episode. And if you are a solo or an owner of a small law firm and you’re looking to earn more money, attract better clients or reduce your stress, we would love to talk with you to see how we can help request your free law firm assessment by visiting lawfirmsuccessgroup.com. Again, that URL is lawfirmsuccessgroup.com. We look forward to talking with you soon. Thank you for listening. My name is Alay Yajnik. Until next time, remember, you CAN seize freedom. You CAN embrace happiness. You CAN build your Perfect Practice.

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