Ashlee Hall: The ‘Observant’ Leader Helping Navigate the Complex ERC Landscape

The 10 Most Inspiring People in Legal Services in 2024

Ashlee Hall, a luminary of the legal industry, embodies adaptability, resilience, and great leadership. Throughout her professional journey, dotted with challenges, she has seized opportunities to learn and grow, illustrating how to thrive despite less-than-favorable circumstances. Her ongoing battle with young-onset colorectal cancer further underscores her indomitable spirit. She continues to lead by example, even while undergoing her treatments.

An “observant” leader, she currently serves in dual roles: Chief Product Officer and Head of Legal Operations at Figure Financial, Inc., and Owner of Hall Law Group, PLLC. She has extensive experience in the employee retention credit (ERC), which she leveraged to help Figure Financial establish its ERC service line. In short, she is the resident ERC expert at the firm. Ashlee also has several other things in the works, which she plans to reveal when the time is right. “I learned a few years ago not to limit myself, and amazing things can happen,” she says.

She also loves to learn and is passionate about teaching and influencing others even more. Ashlee considers it a great recognition when a member of her team lets her know that they learned something from her.

 Connecting with People at Figure Financial

In February of 2022, Ashlee joined Figure Financial, a tax credit specialty firm primarily focused on ERC, ERC support, cost segregation, and R&D tax credit. The firm, according to Ashlee, strives to be a top-notch tax credit specialty firm that fills a gap in the marketplace for small businesses, CPAs, and other providers.

She arrived at the firm to help develop its ERC service line and ensure compliance with the complicated statute and IRS guidance. Prior to joining it, she served as Tax Senior Manager at a big four public accounting firm, where she was tasked with digesting new tax legislation as it was announced in order to build new service lines. It included the ERC, which was originally introduced in early March 2020 to help businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since its introduction, Ashlee has almost exclusively practiced in the ERC space. She also has prior experience in tax controversy and tax strategy, both of which are tax services that require specialized knowledge or experience.

“The theme of my career has been to pivot, become an expert in new areas very quickly, and be able to flip that knowledge into layman’s terms for others to easily understand,” Ashlee points out. “These skills have served me well in every position I’ve had during my career, no matter what the subject area.” Specifically at Figure Financial, her skills have allowed her to identify new service areas where there is a gap in the marketplace and a need for clients to have access to a reputable provider.

When she was working in public accounting, Ashlee felt her life was a “bit constrictive” at times. It was an amazing opportunity but felt very corporate and bureaucratic, she says. As someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, she immediately connected with the people at Figure Financial on a personal level. “We share the same values and outlook on life – and we all hate to micromanage and be micromanaged,” Ashlee says.

Contributing to the ERC Space and Industry

Ashlee believes that when she shifted her focus to a specific tax credit, the ERC, it marked the beginning of a new era in her career. It is complicated and was often misunderstood – still is – and CPAs didn’t have time during their regular busy seasons to stay up to date with all the updates and nuances, she explains. Also, initially, it was a credit primarily taken by large businesses due to the PPP loan interaction rules. “This all changed with a piece of legislation passed at the end of 2020,” she points out.

With nearly a year of exclusive experience in managing ERC-related engagements, Ashlee found herself in a “unique position” to apply that knowledge to the small business world, whereas other practitioners in this space were starting from scratch.

Since its introduction in 2020, the ERC has undergone numerous legislative updates, enhancements, and expansions, and Ashlee has sought to stay on top of every single one. About a year ago, she began to focus on staying active on LinkedIn with ERC-specific updates and has garnered quite the following.

“No matter what I was doing when new guidance or an IRS press release was announced, I paused to quickly review and flip that content into something easily digestible,” she says. She began posting regularly without the expectation of gaining clients or building her business. Her sole aim was to share her knowledge. “I’m now part of what feels like this small corner of the tax world that I didn’t know existed,” Ashlee shares. “I’ve also made some really good connections that I would not have otherwise made!”

Early in her career, Ashlee received an invitation to present a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) program at her local bar association. It was something outside of her comfort zone. But she was aware of the growth potential it offered from prior experiences, and so, she hesitantly accepted the invitation. Since then, she has presented countless CLEs (and CPEs), which she believes has meaningfully contributed to the legal industry. She excels in this space because of her ability to quickly digest new tax codes and guidance and convert them into something that a non-tax person or client can understand.

Overcoming Major Roadblocks

During her professional journey, the first major roadblock Ashlee encountered was when she moved to South Carolina from Oklahoma, her home state. Upon graduating from the University of Oklahoma College of Law, she secured a position in an oil and gas company. But in the state that she moved to, South Carolina, the oil and gas industry essentially does not exist. “Add to that the fact that America was on the verge of recession and no one – I mean, NO ONE, was hiring lawyers in my new state,” Ashlee recalls.

She was forced to hang a shingle and start taking divorce clients because they happened to be who were calling her office. She shares that she did not attend law school to practice litigation. So, she learned the hard way, when a judge told her, that she happened to break out in hives when speaking in front of other people.

“As a reluctant early 20-something, I saw myself as the last person someone would want to pay to have to represent them in court,” Ashlee recalls. “However, I quickly found myself facing this very thing – in a practice area that was new to me no less – at the very beginning of my career.”

In the new state, she had to face her first professional challenge head-on, as, for her, it was a “make-or-break”, “do-or-die” type of situation. “I am very grateful for it in hindsight,” she says.

Ashlee may have only practiced in that space for 5 years before transitioning to a non-litigation tax firm back in her home state, but, according to her, the challenge was worth it. Reflecting on those years, she feels that she grew significantly, both professionally and personally, and made valuable mentorship connections. She eventually grew out of the hives as well.

Ashlee remembers striving to be the first to show up to court, at least 2 hours early, in order to network and eavesdrop on other lawyers’ conversations with their clients. She learned a lot and got quite a bit of business this way. “It was the business none of these other, more seasoned lawyers wanted, but it was business nonetheless, so I took it,” she says. “And as a “baby attorney” I welcomed it.

Ashlee eventually grew out of the hives as well.

The Fight with Cancer

Success often acts like a veneer, masking the tough times. Ashlee’s ongoing battle with cancer would have remained hidden behind her numerous achievements and her smile if she hadn’t chosen to share them.

In 2022, at age 40, Ashlee was diagnosed with stage 3c rectal cancer. The journey that followed was the most challenging time of her life, marked by 8 brutal rounds of chemotherapy, 28 rounds of chemoradiation, and two radical surgeries. At the time, the “curative” treatment, her doctor said, was successful. But, five months following her second surgery, she was informed that her cancer had returned and metastasized to her lung. She is now a stage 4 cancer patient.

“I worked throughout my treatments and have shared my story in the hope of providing hope for others and raising awareness for young-onset colorectal cancer, which is quickly becoming the #1 cancer killer of those under 50,” Ashlee says.

She and her husband host a mountain bike race on their property to raise awareness of this awful disease and to benefit a local family undergoing colorectal cancer treatment as well.  Ashlee informs that they recently held their second annual race – “it was a great success.” For those interested, future event information can be found at www.twistedoaktrails.com.

Responsibilities and a Typical Day

At Figure Financial, Ashlee leads the legal team and oversees the government order quality control process for the firm’s ERC service line. As Chief Product Officer, she is also responsible for the overall service lines from a legal standpoint. This includes ensuring the accuracy of marketing and training collateral used by the sales team and helping the accounting and legal teams understand the nuances of the firm’s various tax credit services. She also identifies new services for Figure to offer to clients.

Much of what Ashlee does involves marketing, brainstorming, and strategizing. She loves this aspect of her responsibilities. She also enjoys putting on her legal cap to ensure they provide stellar legal service to their internal clients as well as external ones by staying on top of the latest tax and legal updates.

Ashlee starts her day by checking her emails and Teams messages from the night before or that morning. She then checks her calendar for internal or external calls, reviews challenging client issues that may have arisen, and provides her advice on how to resolve them. She also makes sure to stay on top of the news for IRS and Congressional updates. Occasionally, she watches Congressional sessions live or updates her LinkedIn followers and the executive team about new developments that could impact their operations.

Ashlee works from home and leads a remote team. According to her, it is easy for them to become demotivated and distracted if one does not set goals or hold each other accountable, especially when one charges fixed fees rather than tracking and billing hours. She, therefore, holds regular check-in meetings with her team and establishes weekly goals.

“We also like to have some fun during our weekly calls, celebrate holidays, enjoy virtual happy hours, provide flexible time off and flexible work hours, and do other activities,” Ashlee says.

Maintaining Work-Life Balance

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Ashlee, like many professionals at the time, began working from home. This was a big transition for her, as she was a “typically out-the-door, dressed-in-a-suit person, meeting with clients by 8 a.m.” And, when she left the office, she “legitimately switched gears” and left the work there.

Now, as she works from home, she cannot leave the work at office. “Working from home means your computer is always there, the files could theoretically always be worked, and you technically live in your office,” Ashlee explains. This makes it difficult to maintain a work-life balance.

Ashlee shares that it took considerable effort for her to change her mindset and really turn off her “work brain” when it was time to step away. She tries to strike a balance between her personal and professional life by taking breaks regularly, making herself go for a walk or sit outside, and turning the computer off when it is time to step away.

“It still takes effort for me to not feel guilty at times when after a long day I’ve logged off but feel that nag to check my email,” Ashlee says.

Success Means Work-Life Balance

Ashlee’s definition of success has changed over the years. It has looked different at various points in her career, she says.  At some points, success, for her, meant securing a much sought-after job, while at other times, it was about securing a promotion, winning a court hearing, or engaging a client following a proposal.

“I also think that for many, success can be achieving a work-life balance,” she points out. “As I get older, and especially as a parent, this becomes much more important.”

“It has not become easier to say, ‘no,’ but I have become better at recognizing when I need to and what the trade-off might be,” Ashlee adds.

Message to Aspiring Leaders

“Keep an open mind,” Ashelee tells aspiring leaders. “Whatever your plans may be, be willing to pivot, and step outside of your comfort zone.”

She also advises them to view each position as a learning opportunity to build upon, even if they are doing something they don’t like or don’t prefer doing. It is because, she points out, one never knows when it might become relevant.  For instance, Ashlee’s early litigation experience comes in handy when she is reviewing contracts; she has seen firsthand what happens when good relationships go bad. “I never would have seen it that way back when I was a young, reluctant litigator (with hives), but in hindsight, I’m incredibly grateful for the experience,” she says.

Ashlee encourages aspiring leaders to use every opportunity to learn something. It is because, she explains, clients sitting across from them will usually assume they know what they are talking about, even when they are at the start of their career unless they demonstrate to them that they don’t.

In her message, Ashlee also highlights the important role “trust” plays in a client relationship. “People have all kinds of preconceived notions about trusting or distrusting lawyers,” she says. “Once trust is violated in an attorney-client relationship, it’s almost impossible to get it back.”

She recommends returning calls in a reasonable time, ideally within the same business day – not more than 24 hours later at most – showing up on time, replying to emails, communicating even – and especially – when there is no update, do what they say they are going to do. “Clients will appreciate you if you do all these things,” she says.

“Lastly, don’t be afraid to walk away from a bad client relationship, as long as it’s done professionally and within the ethics rules,” Ashlee adds. “Usually, you’re doing both parties a favor in that situation.”