Scott Limmer

Be the CEO of Your Practice

This episode discusses how the first step in rebooting your law practice is taking stock in your current practice and realizing that you must take charge of every facet of your business.


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.

OSCAR:                      Hello, this is Oscar Michelen.

SCOTT:                      And hi, this is Scott Limmer. Welcome to Reboot Your Law Practice. This week, we’re going to be discussing how you must be the CEO of your law practice and you must act like it if you want to be successful.

OSCAR:                      So this topic comes to us based on a question that was presented to Scott and me. “Dear Scott and Oscar, I didn’t go to business school. I went to law school. I just want to be a lawyer. Why isn’t that enough anymore?”

SCOTT:                      Well, it is enough if you would like to be a lawyer and work for the government or work for someone else, but if you’re going to have your own solo or small practice, it is not nearly enough. Like we discussed last week, Oscar, if you have a legal practice and it is your means of support, it is your business, you must take the reins and you must look at every facet of that business – you must look at the advertising, you must look at the marketing, you must look at the client acquisition, the client development – every single part of it, if you’re running a business, you must evaluate and determine which way you want to go.

OSCAR:                      And you can’t hope that being an excellent lawyer is going to be enough. We all know lots of great lawyers – solos and small firms, whatever – who are fantastic lawyers. If we have a legal problem, we would go to them but they are struggling financially and they are not happy in their practice. On the other side, we all know guys who are basically schmucks, aren’t good lawyer at all, but they have a monster practice because they have good revenue streams, they tap into a particular market area that’s successful for them, and they are just average lawyers.

SCOTT:                      So let’s talk about some of the decisions that you might be making that are not necessarily classified as sound business decisions. I’ll start with a couple of decisions I was making that were big mistake. First, if you’re sitting around your office and you’re looking at that phone to ring and you’re just hoping business picks up without doing anything else, you are not making a sound business decision at all.

OSCAR:                      And if you think that being the CEO of your practice means you pay the bills, you write the checks, you reconcile the checking account, you make sure your Escrow balance is proper, that’s not being a business person.

SCOTT:                      Something else I got caught up in with – having one revenue stream. If you only have one revenue stream and get your cases really from one place, you might have trouble if that avenue of you getting cases stops at some point. A personal experience with it, I got most of my criminal cases from my advertising in the phonebook and on the web. The phonebook went away and everybody else got websites.

OSCAR:                      Yeah, well, that’s exactly what put me in the position is we had also put all our eggs in that one basket, Yellow Page advertising, didn’t catch on to the growth of the internet and the depth of that method of acquiring lawyers. The bottom dropped out of the practice and we had to retool and reboot as we were talking about through these podcasts. You’ve got to really take a hard look at what is it about your practice that you want to change, how is it that you’re getting business, and where is the next source of revenue going to come from. One of the things, Scott, is a lot of lawyers think, “Well, I’m not a marketing guy. I’m not an advertiser. Shouldn’t I just hire a website developer, pay him a check, and let them create a nice, polished website for me?”

SCOTT:                      Well, here’s hopefully, Oscar, where some of the bad decisions we’ve made in the past will hopefully help somebody listening to this podcast. I had a very nice website for a lot of years and I decided at some point that I needed someone who really understood my business to take over the website and I decided to hire a series of legal website designers and companies that would take care of my SEO. They promised me the world. They didn’t deliver anything, unfortunately. I paid a monthly payment for SEO that I believe was nonexistent and my website kept getting worse and worse. It was only until I took over the reins of creating my website and my social media that I was able to put something out there that I was proud of. So I understand everyone’s desire to not have to deal with any of this, to just be a lawyer but you have to be an intimate part of the creation of your – and I know people don’t like this word – but the creation of your brand.

OSCAR:                      Right and the reason why you have to do that is because website developers know websites. They don’t know law practices. They don’t know what kind of work you want to generate. They don’t know what a client who is going to be looking for a lawyer like you or a lawyer like you want to be is going to want to see in the website. What does that client expect to see? What are the main talking points that they are going to look at? A very important example of that is looking at Scott’s and my websites. If you would look at them, you would see two very different websites. Both have a nice polished look. They are professionally done but they are very, very different. Why is that? Because of our client bases. My clients are generally commercial litigation, intellectual property, business clients, and so it’s a very different look. When an insurance industry executive comes to look at the website to determine whether or not to give us business, he wants to see a different type of website. Scott’s website is geared towards Scott’s client base – individuals and families that are retaining them for these personal legal issues. So if you were to look at the two sites, you would not necessarily recognize that we use the exact same formula to develop two very different looking websites.

SCOTT:                      That’s exactly it. My website used to be very uninspired. I used to have a gavel on my website and I think a picture of a courthouse on the front. It wasn’t inviting at all to a client. I have a criminal practice. You have a client that’s probably in a deep, emotional state. They are nervous, they are upset. They need some help and I have a website that hopefully shows someone that I’m compassionate and I’m there to help, and that I could do a good job for them. There are a bunch of pictures of me. I try to tell a bit of a story. I try to market myself, if you will, a little bit. Let me backtrack a little bit, Oscar, because I want to explain a little bit about how I went about doing this, how I took control of everything.

In February of last year, I decided that when my practice wasn’t doing that well that I needed to take the reins of my practice and I needed to figure out the future of my practice. The one thing I decided I needed to do first was to create a logo. I started looking for someone to create a logo for me and I quickly realized that getting a new logo and a new card and putting it on a website probably isn’t going to bring me a lot of business.

OSCAR:                      Yeah, that would not necessarily be job one.

SCOTT:                      Yeah. So I quickly realized that I better get my act together. I was reading a lot business books and I went on a freelance site. There are two freelance sites I use – Odesk and Elance. They are fantastic. I found this guy. He became my project manager. He became my business consultant. He evaluated my criminal practice, saw where I was getting clients, figured out where I should look for clients, what I should put my time into, what I should put my money into, and then he helped me project manage – building my websites, building my social media, and some other things that I needed taken care of. It was great. He gave me the tools to now do project managing in my own practice without him, all things that I never knew before.

OSCAR:                      Was it expensive?

SCOTT:                      It was a little bit expensive but in all honestly, my practice wasn’t doing well and without his good advice and his ideas on how I should handle my websites, on how I should handle my brand, I can’t imagine where I would be right now.

OSCAR:                      It wasn’t as expensive as filing bankruptcy.

SCOTT:                      Right exactly and there are a lot of costs. I paid a lot. I created a couple of different websites and we had the project manager. We hired a creative guy, we hired a design guy, we hired a Photoshop person. We hired all these different people – an SEO guy, a pay-per-click guy – all these people came together what I believe were experts in their field to do the best job for me that they could and it has really worked out great for me.

OSCAR:                      Well the important thing though is while we did that, we used some outside consultants to develop the sites and the looks that we wanted, it was still based upon our vision of the practice. They didn’t tell us how we were going to get the type of clients that we wanted. We had to first say, “I want to go after this type of business. I want to improve and maintain the business I currently have in X,Y, and Z practice of law but I also want to try to get another revenue stream and go after new business in this area. This is what I want the content to be,” and then they formulate the keywords, the search engine optimization, the SEO strategy to bring those searches to your website.

But you can’t just hand all that over to them without inputing to them what is it that you’re going after? Who is it that you want to target? What is the content you want to deliver and what do you think those prospective clients are going to want to see when they finally land on your website? The horrible thing will be to spend all this money on these consultants to increase your exposure on the web, get you a great SEO, get you a great looking website and then the content is crappy. It doesn’t give what the client wants. It was just all money down the drain. So before you go out there and do that, you’ve got to make that decision and develop what areas of law you want to get and what would a client want to see when they come to a website devoted to that area of law.

SCOTT:                      And you have to remember, although a lot of this new to Oscar and I, and new to a lot of you listening, these are all tried and true business practices that big businesses, small businesses, medium-sized businesses have been using forever, absolutely forever.

OSCAR:                      Yeah. It’s just that law is finally catching up on us. We all know about product testing, focus groups, and things of that nature in merchandising, and this is really the same thing that you’re trying to do with your practice. It brings really to the next area – what are ways that I can analyze my practice in order to make that decision and make that plan going forward, to try to attract the type of clients that we want. How do we do that?

SCOTT:                      Really what you have to do is you have to sit down and analyze everything about your business. How much money you’ve made over the last few years, what type of cases that money has come from? Who has referred you that business? Anything and everything you can think of, you want to put down on paper to analyze and track all the money you’ve made over the last few years and see where it’s likely that you’ll be getting clients from in the future.

OSCAR:                      And not just that, look at where you’re spending your time. For example, if you’re spending 80% of your time on a revenue stream that gives you 20% of your business, you’re not going to be successful. You want to focus on first and foremost, keeping the business that you have. How do you make sure you spend enough time and not too much time on an area that’s developing, you know, a certain amount of revenue for you and then take a look at that and say, “Okay, so I want to develop and grow that are of practice.” You also want to then look at your competitors, your other fellow lawyers, who are in that same field that you are either in or want to get in.

You’re going to need to spend some time – some nights, some weekends – looking at blogs, looking at websites, writing down what you like, what you don’t like, what you think would work, what’s a good idea, what’s a bad idea. How do you think you can improve on it? What are other people doing? Act like a client. Put in search questions, put in search parameters. Make believe you are you’re ideal client and now they are coming to the computer because they want to look for a lawyer. Make no mistake about this, including in my practice area where it’s business, restaurateurs, maybe insurance industry executives as well as individuals, they are going to come to your website regardless of how they are referred to you.

SCOTT:                      Exactly.

OSCAR:                      Even if it’s your friend, family member, business associate, prior client, whatever, they are going to go to your website.

SCOTT:                      That’s a very important point, Oscar. There are really two purposes for your websites and your social media. One is to advertise and get people to come to your website. My criminal practice website is based on the idea that people are going to find me online and they are going to come to my site and they are going to be in distress and they are going to call me because they need an attorney quick. That’s the motivation for my site.

OSCAR:                      So therefore, that’s why you developed a site that looked that way to answer that question.

SCOTT:                      Right, exactly.

OSCAR:                      When someone is in extreme instances, we’d like to call it, or in distress, or need answers to very serious questions. So once you kind of take a look at who you’re in the marketplace with, if you don’t like the word competition, if you don’t like your competitors, look who is in the pool with you and then start thinking about what competitive advantage do you have over them.

SCOTT:                      When you really think about it here, I’ll give you an example, say you’re a bankruptcy attorney, there are certain amounts of bankruptcies filed every year probably in NASA or Suffolk in the city, so there’s a finite amount of bankruptcies you could get. The question is, how do you go out and get that business? Do you get that business by advertising online? Do you do a commercial? Do you network? Do you call up a couple of people and have lunch and say, “Hey, can you refer me your bankruptcies?” Whatever the action is that you have to take, that business is there, you have to go out and get it.

OSCAR:                      Right and you have to figure out which of those or maybe all of those are going to work for your particular marketplace, your particular area of practice, and the first way of doing that is by assessing the market place and your fellow lawyers in your area geographically and in your area practice wise as well. That’s something for you guys to think about and work towards before you meet with your website development person or personnel, if you use more than one person to help you do that. Scott, what would be the next step in analyzing your practice and getting ready to relaunch?

SCOTT:                      To me in my opinion, the start comes from making a business plan. I was told for years, “Hey Scott, you should do a business plan. My business plan was two sentences – advertise online and make more money and have the clients hire you.” That was it. I sat down and I made a business plan. I figured out what I needed to do in all facets of my practice to achieve what I wanted to achieve. I made a one-year plan. I made a five-year plan. I put action steps. I learned how to set up projects and try to complete them. I’ve treated my business completely different than I’ve treated it before.

OSCAR:                      And the business plan forces you to think about active steps you’re going to take to try to increase your business and what you’re going to want to do is periodically review. “That didn’t work. That did work. Let’s do more of that. Let’s do less of this” and one thing that’s very important, some ideas, some methods are going to take some time to develop. Others that you invest money in perhaps should have a quicker rate of return than others. So you need to analyze that as well. What’s my expectation? We’ll be talking about networking later on in other podcasts, for example. That’s not going to give you a booming practice at the first corporate breakfast that you attend. That may be a slower built that let’s say, “Oh we’re going to spend money on a pay-per-click ad, on Google or I’ll spend money on a new website development and SEO generation.” That is also part of the practice in formulating the business plan, not just thinking about what you’re going to do but what are your short-term goals, what your long-term goals, and then reassess what works and what doesn’t work.

SCOTT:                      Listen, I’m in here for the long haul. There’s nothing else I probably am going to do. I’m an attorney. I want to practice criminal law. I want to practice special education law and I want to figure out the best ways I can do that to make myself happy and support my family. The only way to do that is to set up a plan. You can’t do anything without a plan.

OSCAR:                      And so we’ve given you lots to think about this week, hopefully some pointers right away to help you develop the next steps that you have to do between now and the next time you listen to us. We want you to think about the marketplace that you’re in, the areas of practice that you’d like to go into, how you’re thinking to develop those types of clients, what types of clients are you looking for, what would they want to look at in a website and then social media plan, and then to follow up on Scott’s point, begin the draft outline of a business plan that we’ll go more into detail in later podcast about what you need to do to actually develop that and what that looks like at the end, and just remember, you’re going to need to get out there, do some homework, analyze where you’re at, analyze where you want to be, and begin the process of rebooting your law practice.

That’s going to lead us into next week. We want you to start thinking about presenting yourself to your prospective clients and referral partners with authenticity and with value.

SCOTT:                      And if you do both of those things, we’re going to show you how success is inevitable. Thanks for joining us, everyone. You can reach me at Scott@LawReboot.com.

OSCAR:                      And you can reach me at Oscar@LawReboot.com.

SCOTT:                      Also if you’d like to leave us a message, you can call us at 516-900-4842. You could leave a comment, a question, a suggestion for future topic. We’d love to hear from you. We will see you next week. Bye.

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

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