Oscar Michelen

The Need to be Authentic

Oscar and Scott discuss how Authenticity is the first core element needed to help reboot your business. Using personal experiences, the two hosts discuss how their passion for particular fields of law helped to revive their practices.

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:                      Hi everybody, this is Scott. How are you doing today, Oscar?

OSCAR:                      I’m doing well. Thank you for asking and welcome everybody to the podcast. You know, Scott and I mentioned throughout the podcast series that the two core principles that we believe are important to rebooting your practice and getting to a successful practice are authenticity and value. In this podcast, we are going to be focusing on the first one of those two, which is authenticity. How do you find your authentic self? What does that mean without sounding too syrupy? How do we use our authenticity to help develop a successful practice and a practice that makes you content to be a lawyer and to be the lawyer that you are?

Scott, why don’t we first start talking generally about how to be authentic, what does that mean, how do we use authenticity to develop a practice?

SCOTT:                      Well, first, what we want to talk about, Oscar, is why you want to be authentic. Everyone listening to this is an attorney. Everybody wants to do the best job that they can obviously and you want to do something that you enjoy and you want to do something that you can show passion for. I believe it’s very important to find that authentic self where you can see what you enjoy and what you do that fulfills a higher purpose, what your passion is. If you think about anybody, if you take up what your passion is, I think it’s so much easier to be successful. I practice criminal defense law and special education law. I absolutely love both of those things. I have a passion for helping people but, Oscar, let’s talk about you for a second. What is your passion? What do you enjoy about your practice?

OSCAR:                      Well, before that, I wanted to build off a little bit about what you said there because we’re always talking about folks who are in solo practices and small firm practices, and you need, I think to just really look at yourself and understand that if you don’t have something that drives you to do this, you’re not going to be successful. There’s nobody else that’s going to do it for you. If you don’t build that up and you don’t have the energy and passion for that, maybe another area of practice, a firm, or maybe even another area of career is for you and not a small firm or a solo practice. So let’s start from that point.

SCOTT:                      You know, this builds on what we’ve talked about before. This is not just a practice of law, this is a business and you have to treat it like a business and if you’re not passionate about that business and want to see it succeed and are willing to do anything and everything you can to make it succeed, then it may not make sense for you to have your own practice.

OSCAR:                      But for me, what led me to develop it was something that happened to me in law school. My first week of law school was my civil practice, federal sort of practice classes. I still remember at New York Law School, Prof. David Rice was a major litigator, tried a lot of cases, and he said that to him, the most important thing was to learn how to litigate, how to be a trial lawyer because then, you could do anything. He started out by saying, and it may have even been in the very first class, “What’s an antitrust lawyer? That’s a trial lawyer with an antitrust case. What’s an entertainment lawyer? That’s a trial lawyer with an entertainment case because once you learn how to prove things and win in court, you could always learn the necessary substance of the law that you’re going to be handling.”

So there came a time later on, my practice was not doing well, I didn’t adapt to the market place as we spoke about in the last podcast, and I had to start thinking about how am I going to reboot. How am I going to relaunch? How am I going to project the message I want to send to prospective clients and referral partners?

SCOTT:                      Oscar, let me stop you for a second. You really had a choice at that point. You could have kept going, steamrolling ahead kind of with your head down, pushing along, and just doing more of the same or you could have done what you did. You take a step back and you think about things.

OSCAR:                      Right. Examine yourself.

SCOTT:                      Exactly. Not easy to do, not easy at all to do but absolutely imperative to reboot and rearrange and move on with your practice.

OSCAR:                      So I started saying, “Well, the one thing I know that I’m good at is trying cases and it’s what I enjoy.” I love trying cases. I love litigating. I like helping clients solve problems. I like taking on the challenges. I like going into court. I’m not scared to stand up to judges. I know my evidence. I know how to prove things. I know how to talk to juries. So I said, “That’s it. My practice is going to be litigation based, trial lawyer based, seeking out clients in those areas predominantly in businesses where I thought I could get business from and looking for referral partners that were transactional lawyers, that were trust and estate lawyers who didn’t go to court and saying let me be your litigator.” From that point, I look back at that class and said, “That’s my core. That’s my passion.” Everything I did from that step forward in building my practice revolved around that core message.

SCOTT:                      When you thought about that, Oscar, what really happened is you kind of gave birth to your brand. You thought back to your professor in law school and what he said and what makes you the attorney that you are, and you decided that that’s how you wanted people to see you. These are your strong points and you want internally, this is what you want to project and you want people to look at you as a litigation attorney.

OSCAR:                      So it starts right from the beginning and that would be the client interview. From that time forward, you know, I got a little bit lazy. I was predominantly in suburban law practice working in Long Island, and even though I had a New York office and still went there once in a while, it was predominantly my job to generate business out of the Long Island part of the firm. I started meeting clients in very casual clothes and business casual, always dressed neatly but I began saying, “You know what, that’s not going to work. If I’m a trial lawyer and I want to let them know that I’m going to be in court with them, fighting for them, I need to always be ready. From that day forward, every time I met a new client, I was in a trial suit. The tie was all the way up to the collar. The shirt was pressed, a good suit, clean, crisp, and ready to fight every single meeting.

SCOTT:                      It’s all part of who you are. It’s all part of the brand. It’s all part of the image that you’re giving off. You want somebody to see you the way they are going to see you in court, the way they know you’re going to dress when you’re fighting for them. That’s what they want to see when they come to the office.

OSCAR:                      That’s because that’s the practice that I was selling. I took my parents to meet an estate lawyer who was going to handle their trust and estates, I almost smiled because her office looked different, was more homey. The way she approached my parents and the way she dressed, the way she talked, the image she presented, the stuff on the walls, the brochure that she handed out had a very different message than someone who was going to come to see me. I thought that’s great. That’s exactly what my parents were going to be looking for and they felt very comfortable with that lawyer.

SCOTT:                      I’m sure she was being as authentic as she could be.

OSCAR:                      Exactly because you had to look back at what it was that got you there. So it starts from the client meeting. It starts from the way you present yourself personally and from there, you build on to that same message to your social media platforms.

SCOTT:                      Let’s talk about social media for a little while and let’s talk about what we’re talking about when we say social media. Nobody is suggesting that to compete in this day and age that you need to tweet seven times a day or post on Facebook a couple of times a day. We’re not stating that you need to use these forms for advertising. What these forms are is they are base. Everybody will go and look for you online. Every younger client ideally within their 20s, they are used to using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and websites to compete. In this time, having a website, having a Facebook page, you can’t not have it. It’s mandatory.

OSCAR:                      It’s a social media presence that folks are going to look at before they even come to you no matter how strong the referral source is.

SCOTT:                      Now think about that for a second. You have, as a lawyer, an opportunity to create pages and information about yourself that someone can read and look at before they ever meet you. Why wouldn’t anybody take that opportunity to put their best foot forward and try to show their passion and their experience, and your desire to help somebody with their problem.

OSCAR:                      It means, by the way, getting involved in areas of your practice that are going to show up when people Google you and search you. What does that mean? For me, that means writing articles about litigation and trials, not just for my Facebook page but for professional organizations that are in the field, maybe in New York State Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys but maybe also the local newspaper or the Anton publications as we have here in Long Island that go out to communities, and so that when people look, they see that you’re involved in that area, you’re writing about that area, it’s part of what drives you as a lawyer.

SCOTT:                      Again, this hooks right up with the passion. I know a while ago if someone would have told me that I should write a blog, I would have said, “I don’t like to write.” I would have said, “That’s not for me. I’m not a writer. But I decided that it was something necessary. I looked inside myself and I said, “All right. I’m going to try to start writing,” and I started writing slowly but I started writing about a few things that I knew about a year or two ago and I’ve slowly built up to writing a blog post every week. It’s not easy but you’re not going to be able to do it unless you have a passion for it and I think, Oscar, your blog specifically kind of has a theme that you have a passion for.

OSCAR:                      Well, that’s the point. So I started, now I said, “Okay, I’m going to come back out. I’m going to join the market place again with a new practice, a new idea of how I’m going to generate business. I’m going to be predominantly litigation based. So the Facebook page that says my professional Facebook page is Oscar Michelen, trial lawyer, intellectual property, entertainment law, but it starts with trial lawyer and the links that I put up there and the posts that I write about are related to lawyering and how certain lawyers won, how certain lawyers lost. So when I decided to start writing a blog, I really thought about, “What am I going to write about?” Am I going to write about one topic? Am I only going to write about, let’s say, criminal defense? Am I only going to write about intellectual property? Am I only going to write copyright? I thought about doing that. I realized though what I like to write about is lawyering and trial lawyering.

So I named it, I was looking to find the name, courtroom strategy and my articles and the things I write about, I don’t write about my own cases. I always write about other cases and how the lawyer did something that was successful. Maybe the lawyer should have done something else. Maybe the judge went off on the wrong track. Whatever it is, I like to write it from the point of the lawyering perspective and have a constant steady voice consistently talking about not just what the case was about but how lawyering led to the result – right, wrong, or indifferent. One way or another, how did the lawyering lead to the result. So you begin to have that voice and people who follow me and starting to read the blog, now it has been on for a number of years. It’s starting to get an audience and it was a slow build but I did it for a number of reasons. Not just to get the audience but for clients to find me and to look, and I could direct them to me and say, “Hey listen, this is what I do. Look at the last blog post I wrote. It was about such and such a case.”

SCOTT:                      It gives your credibility.

OSCAR:                      Right, it gives me credibility that I know what I’m talking about and that it’s a subject I want them to be comfortable in giving me their legal matter because this is what I do and it’s what I want to do. That’s it. That’s basically where it comes from. I see lawyers have a blog and they treat it kind of like an appendage.

SCOTT:                      It’s an information dump.

OSCAR:                      Yeah. Some of them pay people to post articles for them. There are lots of folks that do that. You could pay people to like your Facebook page. You could pay people to follow you on Twitter.

SCOTT:                      There are people that post recoveries that they have gotten. They post about articles that might be interesting to them but really isn’t interesting to other people. It’s kind of a lot of junk and you don’t want to do that. You want to again, we’re going to do this next week, but you want to give value. You can’t just throw junk in front of other people. Oscar’s blog posts are very interesting. They are very informational about certain things. I blog about criminal issues. I’m blogging about special education and just some basic posts so people can understand what it’s all about.

OSCAR:                      But clients who are looking in those areas are going to see those articles, they are going to see those posts, they are going to say, “This is a person who is consistently into this field. He is someone who…

SCOTT:                      On top of it.

OSCAR:                      On top of it, it’s a place of authenticity. In other words, this is the right guy for me.

SCOTT:                      This is the person who does what you want them to do for you. When I’m writing about criminal law, people see that. I understand all about criminal law. I have an experience in it.

OSCAR:                      You talk about it better than I can now. Well, it seems to let your passion did and that you are able to resolve their problem because you’re in tune to what is important in that area of law. That’s the key.

SCOTT:                      I want to back up a little bit because I want to talk a little bit about my website and talk about how I looked into myself and became more authentic and put that in my social media to help myself. My story is that I always wanted to become a criminal defense attorney, work for the DA’s office for three years and then I started my own practice. When business started not being so wonderful, I tried to figure out what my strong points were and what I enjoy doing and really what I was passionate about. I realized with criminal law very soon after, even back before when I came out of the DA’s office that I really enjoyed helping people. I know it sounds cliché but I met a lot of young people who have done that one stupid thing that they got caught for and I wanted to try to help them get out of trouble and make sure it doesn’t affect them for the rest of their lives.

I realize that that was what I enjoy doing and what I did was when I recreated my website about a year ago, I took those attributes, I guess, with myself and I tried to instill them in the website. There are a lot of pictures of me. There are pictures of me shaking hands with clients. There is a lot of discussion about how I can help people and how I’ll call them back immediately. I tried to combine what my passion is in the law with what I believe somebody who needed a criminal attorney at the moment would want to see on a website.

OSCAR:                      Right. The point is and what we’re talking about is, we didn’t randomly select what to write about. We don’t randomly select how to put up a Facebook page. We don’t hand that over to our social media partner to develop the look, the content of what the sites are going to be about. We could give them the direction of obviously what we wanted to appear, yes. That’s fine. That’s their expertise, how to lay it out so it looks professional, legible, and all of that, but it’s for us to think about the message we want to portray about ourselves and our practice for when clients and people who refer us business go look for us, go look for our online presence and see that consistent message about what it is that drives us as lawyers and drives us to have the practices that we have. That’s critical to constantly remain on point and on message with respect to the passion that brought us to the law and how that translates to beneficial service to the clients.

SCOTT:                      You know it’s funny, I was just thinking as you’re saying that, Oscar, that for my websites for years, the About Me page was always a little stiff. It usually started with “We, here at the law offices of Scott J. Limmer…” and it just rattled off a whole bunch of things. “We, here at the office” is usually just me so I don’t know why it was we. But what I did this time is I wrote an About Me page for both my sites me speaking to the clients. I didn’t list where I went to school. I tried to tell people why I became a criminal defense attorney, what I enjoy about it, what motivates me in that again, taking the authenticity that I have and trying to broadcast it a little bit to enable someone to say, “Hey, maybe that guy can help me.”

OSCAR:                      By the way for the folks who were not referred to you who might find you through just shopping around, they are not going to see the same “About Me.” They click it and even the unsophisticated consumer by the third or fourth law firm site might see that that About Me page is written by the social media person and it’s the same for everybody else. “I was a DA and I went to….”

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      It’s going to have that same drone language where if you frame it from the way you think the client is going to want to hear about, what the client is going to want to hear about, now all of a sudden, that’s going to resonate and they will say, “Oh guess what. I found a different type of lawyer. I found a lawyer who is talking to me directly, who has a passion for what I want to do, is not just some boring cookie cutter law firm. For example, like PI. I really do that. We do it on the defense side. Like I said earlier in my podcasts, most of my clients are business clients but if you are as plain as PI business, I see these sites, they all look the same. They talk about their verdicts. We’ve all won millions for our clients, whatever. It’s the same picture.

SCOTT:                      And they all have gavels and they have courthouse pictures and they have maybe if it’s PI, there’s an ambulance on the front.

OSCAR:                      Or a car accident whatever, but if you somehow turn that around and think about what makes you different and what drove you to helping, like I could think of some clients, when I give clients to PI firms, I know from their websites, they are very different. They talk about their success, yes, but they are very personal about why these clients should use them. They resonate with me because their website has the word “trial lawyer and trial law” in there site. That’s what they do and I saw like a camaraderie, if you will, between our respective practices and our respective passions, and the way they presented themselves to the clients was similar to mine, and it worked very well.

SCOTT:                      So I think, Oscar, we ran into a couple of things today. We talked about finding your authentic self, we talked about how to use authenticity in your practice, I think this is going to flow very nicely into next week because next week, we’re going to talk about how giving value with authenticity will equal success and the value that you give just flows naturally from the authenticity you have, the help that you give people, the advice, the referrals you give to networking contacts, we’ll get into all of that next week unless you’d like to say something.

OSCAR:                      Finally, just remember, you got to have to deliver, right? Eventually, you’re going to have to deliver.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      To that client and so you have to give the value, and so the authenticity develops, the promise to the client that they are bringing the matter to the right place, and then when you deliver the value and you fulfill that promise, you have the client who is happy and will then refer you, stay with you, bring more business to you, and you will be content, you’re going to develop the practice that is going to keep bouncing one off the other.

SCOTT:                      So the thing to think about this week is figure out three instances where your authenticity has been on display, whether it has been with a client, a family member, a referral partner, any networking connection, anyone.

OSCAR:                      And then what is it about the practice of law that drives you, how can you frame that into a message that you can deliver consistency in client interviews, in networking meetings, in chats in the courtroom, and of course on your social media pages, on your website, on your blog, etc., to constantly brand yourself as the lawyer you want to be.

SCOTT:                      So everyone, we will see you next week. If you’d like to leave us a review on iTunes, we’d greatly appreciate it. If you’d like to get in touch with us, you can reach me at Scott@LawReboot.com or you could also call us at 516-900-4842. Leave a message, a comment about the show, a question or suggestion for future shows.

OSCAR:                      Or Oscar@LawReboot.com, L-A-W-R-E-B-O-O-T.com, and we’d be glad to hear from you, your comments, suggestions, questions, etc.

SCOTT:                      See you next week.

OSCAR:                      Take care, guys.

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

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