Oscar Michelen

Intro to the series

In this episode, Oscar and Scott talk about their backgrounds, their law practices and what led them to develop this podcast. Both hosts discuss how their prior practices began floundering after long periods of success and how they had to retool and reboot their own businesses.

Episode transcript


INTRO:                      Welcome to Reboot Your Law Practice: two lawyers, a podcast, and a plan to help any solo or small firm, hosted by Scott Limmer and Oscar Michelen.

SCOTT:                      Welcome everyone and welcome to Reboot Your Law Practice, two lawyers, a podcast, and a plan to help any solo or small firm law practice.

OSCAR:                      Hi, this is Oscar Michelen and together with my podcast partner, Scott Limmer, we’re going to be discussing the business of law and how small and solo firms can change and adapt to the current environment. Scott, let’s start right away with the question, “What happened to those days when a good lawyer could have a nice, successful practice just by putting up a shingle and waiting for clients to come in through the front door?”

SCOTT:                      What happened to those days, Oscar, is those days are over. I know when I started my practice, that’s what happened. I know when you started your practice, that’s what happened. It is not possible anymore and the reason it’s not possible is because our business is changing. A lot of lawyers don’t understand the change or don’t want to admit that there is a change, but the practice of law is changing.

OSCAR:                      I think one of the things that lawyers have to realize is that change is natural, change is inevitable, and other businesses and professions are changing as well. Look at the way doctors have to practice medicine today. It’s much different than it was, let’s say, 10 years ago. Manufacturing, a lot of it is being outsourced. It’s being trimmed down. It’s being reduced in scale. Sales of all kinds of retail products have had to go to the digital marketplace and that means a different form of marketing, a different product price, a different sales point, all of that.

SCOTT:                      And let’s talk about the industry that has had the least foresight in how to run their business, and that would be the music industry. The music industry was once a thriving business where people bought records, cassettes, and CDs, and now people get all their music free off the internet. This is an industry that could not adapt to the changing times and the reality is that it’s a very good analogy to the legal profession. We need to adapt with the changing times.

OSCAR:                      I think we can all agree that the business of law has changed and is constantly moving forward. We have to acknowledge these changes. We have to find our own way in this new environment. It’s not going to be the same way for every lawyer in every area and every practice area but we have no choice. We have to look at how the business of law has changed particularly to you and your practice, and how you could adapt and move forward. Quick question again, Scott, to get us back on track, give us an idea, a small synopsis of some typical problems that small firms, solos face in today’s market place, how similar issues affected you, and the way you think the business of law has had it?

SCOTT:                      Some of the issues that have been affecting me over me last few years that I’ve realized I need to take care of. First, there are way too many attorneys. Too many attorneys practicing law and that is a much greater amount of competition that I’ve never had before. One of the things that always troubled me was the use of social media. I never really understood how to use it. I thought I had to have a LinkedIn, a Twitter, and a Facebook, but I had no plan on how to put myself, my brand if you will, out on the internet so people could discover me. It was just a mishmash of posts here and there. Nothing definitive where someone could look at me and say, “Hey, I want to hire that guy.”

OSCAR:                      And there was no connection.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      Between what you wanted to say about your practice, how your website looked. We all felt it was just enough to put up any static website, “Hey, I’m on the web. Look at me” and it always had the same thing about the firm, a bio, practice areas, and then a place to send an email. That was basically it. I think also a big change for me personally is I didn’t realize the need to get up out of my chair and network what that meant. I hated that word. I always resented it.

SCOTT:                      Everybody hates that word.

OSCAR:                      Yes. I resented that word but the fact is, networking means developing business and so in order to do that, you have to think about what am I going to do to network, not just say, “Oh I’m going to a networking meeting” without a game plan, without a thought practice. Also, I’ve been practicing since, I was admitted in 1986. I’ve been in private practice since 1990 and I just did things because that’s the way lawyers always did things. I didn’t really examine why I was doing certain things in my practice. I was just comfortable with the fact that this was how it has always been done and there’s no real need for me to change it. Why would I reinvent the wheel and I realize, the wheel is now a flat tire. I got to change the wheel.

SCOTT:                      Well, that’s exactly it. A lot of these things over the last few years have gotten away from a lot of lawyers and they don’t understand why they are not getting the business that they used to get because they are not attracting clients to their practice. They don’t know what to do.

OSCAR:                      So let’s just talk briefly, Scott, why people should listen to us in a sense, what our experiences have been, and where have we come from to get to this point.

SCOTT:                      So let me tell you a little bit about my practice, everyone. I had a very successful criminal practice for a very long time until I no longer had a successful practice. A few years ago, calls stopped coming. People stopped going to my website. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t making much money at all. I had to figure out what to do. I have a family. I own a house. I’m an attorney. I have a legal practice and I needed to figure out how to make that legal practice successful. The only way to do it was to take the reins of my practice and analyze everything about it – where do I get clients? What kind of clients do I want? I took control of my website. I learned how to network like I never did before. I had no choice because in all honesty, my practice was failing and if I didn’t make changes, it would have absolutely failed.

OSCAR:                      My experience was very similar. I left government, went to a small practice. We developed a very good criminal defense practice in short order in about 5-10 years, and then boom! The bottom dropped out because we have relied almost exclusively on Yellow Pages. We didn’t see the coming internet, what affect that would have on us, and before I knew it, we were in financial strains that I wasn’t sure we can get out of. It forced me to reevaluate myself because one of the things I always thought was, you know what, I’m a good lawyer. I don’t mind saying that publicly. I’m an excellent lawyer. I always thought that that was going to be enough and unfortunately just wasn’t.

I took a hard turn, took a look at my practice, took a look at where I thought I could develop business, and thankfully over the last few years, I’ve been able to successfully do that and develop a sustainable practice by changing my business model, by changing my personal attitude towards practicing law, and looking at ways to constantly develop business. It has to be job one if you’re going to be a small firm or a solo practitioner. Scott and I decided that what we went through is actually very applicable to other law firms, other lawyers, and that we can talk about the things we went through, what worked for us, what steps we took, and what can other lawyers do to kind of put themselves in a similar position where they are more comfortable earning the money they want to earn and having a sustainable practice. Let’s start right away, Scott. Let’s go with what would you say is the first step towards rebooting your law practice?

SCOTT:                      The first step in rebooting your law practice is to fully understand that your law practice is not just a practice. Your law practice is a business and you are in charge of that business. If you don’t take the reins of every aspect of that business, you’re not going to be successful.

OSCAR:                      I want to talk about something you mentioned to me I think it’s a great example before we started this podcast. You mentioned that the legal business is in a lot of ways like a restaurant business. What do you mean by that?

SCOTT:                      What I mean by that is imagine if you’re a chef and you graduate culinary school. You’re a great chef and you decide what you want to do more than anything is cook your food for everyone. You want to open up a restaurant, and you do that. You get some space, you get some knives, you get some tables, and you’re in business. You’re ready to go and you start cooking. My question would be is does that chef have a business plan? Did he figure out how he was going to advertise? Did he figure out how to use his social media, network with the community, plan his business, figure out a good place to put his business?

OSCAR:                      Well, one of the things that made me think about it and I thought it was really adaptable not just because chefs are like lawyers in that we’re skilled and we’re trained in our profession and we have to be good in order for people to want our product, but I began thinking about all the reality TV shows that are based on helping good chefs with lousy businesses like Restaurant Impossible, Bar Rescue, there’s a number of them, and really, it showed that someone who has been through it can come into a business, analyze it, and help that person retool. Basically, that’s what we’re doing here with law practice. You can reboot your law practice by taking some of the same steps you see in those types of shows. The first thing is always remember, you’ve got to be on skill, you’ve got to be on point, you have to be a good lawyer, but what can you do to make your practice sustainable?

SCOTT:                      We assume anybody listening to this podcast is a good lawyer. We also assume that anyone listening to this podcast wants to grow their business, wants to, in plain English, make more money, be more successful, but we believe that it starts obviously by being a good lawyer.

OSCAR:                      So that means that job one and step one is analyzing your practice, taking a look at what are the problems that are dragging you down? Where is it that you think you can drive more business from? Look at what are your costs, what are your expenses, what are your needs, and start analyzing your law practice like a business. If you look so many times on those restaurant shows, the first thing that they look at is the cost of the dish. Those chefs didn’t understand the most basic thing that if a dish costs you X dollars, you’ve got to charge Y dollars. So look at yourself – where are you devoting your time? How long are your cases taking? What should you be charging? We’ll be getting into all of those details in different podcasts down the road. The first step you need to take is look at your practice and analyze your business community.

SCOTT:                      You need to be the CEO of your practice. You need to evaluate everything like Oscar said. You need to look at your client acquisition, how you network, how you market, your social media, your brand. You have to set goals that you can achieve.

OSCAR:                      And we are going to be talking specifically about how to do that but for next week, we want you to start thinking about significant changes in the world around you since you started your law practice and what you think are the main factors that are affecting your ability to earn the kind of living you want to be earning. Now we’re open. We’re going to be honest. We’re going to be talking about our own experiences.

SCOTT:                      I wish there was a podcast like this for me a year ago when I took a better look at my practice. I wish there was a podcast to talk me through how to go about hiring contractors and hiring freelancers to redo my website and to look at my business as a real business. We’re hoping that we can bring some of the things that we learned to everyone listening to the podcast and help them with their practices.

OSCAR:                      But at the same time, we welcome you to contact us, to tell us what you’d like to talk about, what you think are the issues that are affecting you, any questions that you might have or specific topics you’d like to discuss. You can reach me at Oscar@LawReboot.com.

SCOTT:                      And you can reach me at Scott@LawReboot.com. If you’d like, you can call and leave us a message at 516-900-4842 to leave a comment, a suggestion of topics we could discuss, or any questions. We’d love to hear from you.

OSCAR:                      I think we’ll wrap up for today with just those basic thoughts and to give you the first few steps for you to start thinking about where you want to take your practice and what are the things that are affecting your practice. We look forward to hearing from you next time with any questions that you might have. Scott, why don’t you tell them a little bit about what we’re going to be talking about next time?

SCOTT:                      Next time, what we’re going to do is we’re going to be talking about how to change the way you think about your business and yourself as the head of your business. To go a little further in the future, our third podcast is going to talk about is how giving value based on authenticity is the key to all success. The fourth and fifth podcasts is going to be how to prepare yourself personally and online to get back to business.

OSCAR:                      We’ll be giving you specific detailed advice on all of those areas. Again, we welcome your questions and comments. Thanks for listening.

SCOTT:                      Thanks everyone. Have a good week.

OUTRO:                     This has been Reboot your Law Practice with Oscar Michelen and Scott Limmer.

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