Welcome to the first episode of the Josh Gerben Show!
I started this show with the goal of becoming a resource for lawyers who wanted to approach their work from a business perspective. We all went through three years of law school and no one once stopped to tell us that everything we will do is not only about the practice of law, but also the practice of business. In order to be a really good attorney, I’m a strong believer that you have to be a really good business person.
Before we get into the specifics, I just want to let you know that this show is never going to require your e-mail address or require you to pay for anything. The idea is to create a community of lawyers that want to talk about the business of our profession. I’ve been running my own law firm for 11 years and I’ve never had anybody to talk about how to run the business side of it. So, I thought we’d put out some shows, we’d talk about the business side of law, and hopefully get a great discussion going.
How does thinking like a business-person help you become a better lawyer?
With this being the first episode, I’d like to talk about why I think it’s so important for lawyers to be good at the business side of law. This differs slightly depending on whether you’re running a law firm, starting your own law firm, or just working in a law firm.
The Business of Law for Firm Owners
For those running or starting a law firm, the biggest thing you need to be aware of, and the biggest business lesson of all time for anybody in this position, is that you need to work on your business and not in your business.
As lawyers, we are probably the number one offenders of this rule because we are trained to practice law. We are trained to work in the business. We are not trained to work on the business. I am just as guilty of doing this. For the first five years of owning my law firm, I didn’t hire a soul, except for an intern here or there. I did everything. If a client called, I answered the telephone. If a client needed a copy of something, I sent it. If a client needed an engagement letter, I drafted the engagement letter and sent it out. I did the legal work. On Sundays, I did billing. You know, I did everything, and I want to go back and shake myself because I wasted so much time. Those were all things somebody else could have done for me while I worked on growing the business. Once I started hiring people five years in, my business really began to grow. And it didn’t grown because I hired someone that brought in business. It grew because I hired someone that could take work off my plate so that I could go out and do what my job is- to grow and manage the law firm. My job is not to do all the legal work. I think the minute that anybody that’s running a law firm understands this and hires the right people to come in and work with them, their law practice and overall happiness will get better.
Now I know that you may be thinking, “nobody is as good as me in practicing law, and my clients are with me because it’s me.” And yeah, that’s true. But you can still manage the other attorneys. You can still manage the work. You can teach them to do the work as you would want it done. Trust me; I spent five years thinking that. I spent five years thinking, “Wow, I’m really good at this. I can’t imagine how anybody else could do as good a job as I could do.” That’s pretty egotistical, right? And not everything is done the way I would have done it, because each person on my staff has their own style of working. But what I learned is that their own style isn’t necessarily the wrong way, just a different way.
So, in this first episode that you’re watching, I have my initial assignment for you. You need to hire somebody. Whether it’s a paralegal, an attorney, an office administrator. Even if you’re a 20-person firm or a 1-person shop, you need to hire somebody. Don’t be afraid. The worst that’s going to happen is that you’re going to make a little less money this year. And I can almost guarantee that won’t happen because the minute you hire someone, you’ll be freed up to bring in more work. Then you’ll say, “Whoa, I need to hire somebody else.” Trust me. That’s what’s happened to me, and it’s opened a world of possibilities.
The Business of Law for Associates and Partners
As for associates and partners in a law firm, you might be thinking “all this business stuff, I don’t need it. I just bill hours. I billed 2500 hours last year. I’ve got plenty of work to do. I don’t need to worry about business.” You’re going to be the first person that would probably not have a job in the event that we have another recession (which is about 100% of a guarantee at this point). It is so important for anybody working in a law firm to be able to bring in their own business and make money for a firm, because if you can do that, you’re never going to be out of a job.
Anybody can be a good lawyer. I hate to break it to you, but anybody can do their legal research. Anybody can write a brief. Law schools are cranking out new lawyers every single year. There’s always someone behind you that can do it. We’re all extremely replaceable. That said, it’s very difficult to replace somebody that’s bringing in work, covering their salary, and making money for a law firm.
Why? Because a lot of lawyers do not know how to do that and simply don’t.
Think about the partners in your law firm that everybody looks up to. The vast majority of partners that are there for a super long time, those are the ones that have brought in business, and continue to bring in the business. They’re the rainmakers, right? You know what? Any one of us are capable of becoming that type of partner if we have the patience and take the time to build up our own personal brand. In this show we’re going to talk a lot about how you can go out there and develop a personal brand that will then create business. If you’re bringing business into a law firm, you’re going to have the best job security of anybody that you know.
So, my assignment for you is to think of a niche. You need to find the one thing that you’re really good at or want to be good at and
- A) start getting really good at that thing, and
- B) take the approach that you’re going to be the go-to attorney for that item.
For me, if someone needs a trademark cleared and registered, that’s my item. That’s what I know. That’s why I’ve got 20,000 or however many hours in doing at this point. Your item can be wills, some sort of boutique litigation, a very narrow type of litigation, or it could be some type of transaction that you’re very good at doing. Think about what it is that you have a specialized knowledge of, or could get a specialized knowledge of, and decide what your niche is going to be. Then once you have that, we’ll talk in future shows about how you’re going to develop your personal brand and niche together, in order to change the entire trajectory of your legal career for the better.
Business Opportunities that Lawyers Encounter Everyday
Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you that thinking about business is important for lawyers, let’s dive into some very basics about two things you do every day that you probably don’t even think are business related. That is your communication with your existing clients and your communication with opposing counsel.
Lawyer Communications with Existing Clients
When you communicate with your clients, that’s a business transaction. You may be billing some time and it may be some legal work, but it’s truly business. Every time you’re working with a client, they’re deciding whether they’re going to continue to work with you. There are plenty of other attorneys waiting to eat your lunch, I guarantee you that. No matter what area of law you practice, somebody else is right there and can do just the same job you can; it’s all about the relationship.
With client communication, there needs to be a policy. If somebody e-mails our firm, within 24 hours, I like to get back to them. Is that always possible? No. Just being practical here. Would love it to be possible, but it’s just not. However, in the vast majority of cases, it is. If it’s a simple request, like a document or a status check, there’s a paralegal that I can flag an e-mail for that will draft a response for myself to read and then send out. So, I don’t have to do it all myself. If I had to do it all myself and just stop and look up every last thing, I’d never get it done. You need to have people, just like we talked about earlier. You can’t just do everything yourself. So I have a paralegal that will help me get the status reports together, pulls the documents that I asked for, so we get it right back to them. We’re making no money on that transaction, but the reason it’s so important is because we want it to seem like we’re very competent. We want to build a strong relationship, so that when they do need to pay us to do something, they’re going to trust us enough to send us the work.
Now that’s just your policy on how to handle e-mail. The other thing we need to talk about here is if the e-mail requires a lot more from you. So, if it’s a legal question, you need to do research, you need to take time to get back to the client. You need to have a policy on how you do this. Make sure the client knows you got their e-mail. E-mail them right back and say, “Hey, I got your e-mail. Thank you so much. This is going to take about a week because I have to do X, Y, or Z, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. If you have any questions in the meantime, please let me know.” Basic customer service, letting someone know that you have their request and you’re working on it.
We have all sent an email that didn’t receive a response and were like, “Did they get that e-mail? Are they working on it? What’s the status?” Sometimes just knowing somebody has it and they’re working on it makes a world of difference. A lot of lawyers don’t do this, apparently, because I can tell you that it’s feedback that I get from clients. We’re very good at letting people know where things are in the process. That simple customer service goes so, so far and gives us so much goodwill with our clients. So, I strongly encourage you to adapt a policy for your law firm so that everybody follows it. Whatever your policy is, try your best to stick to it, and if you can’t get anywhere close to it, you need to figure out why. Maybe you need to hire some more people.
Another aspect of client communication that is very business-oriented is how that communication looks. When you send someone an e-mail, this is a piece of marketing for your firm. You can’t just send something that’s just two lines. It needs to look like it came from a law firm, right? They’re likely paying for the information in that e-mail, so we need to package it up and make it look nice. It’s just part of business. It’s part of marketing.
Make sure you have some bullet points. Make sure it’s very easy to digest. Then at the end of the e-mail, make sure you have a proper signature line. Have a photograph. Have a logo of your law firm. Have a couple accolades about you or the law firm to remind people about why it is they’re working with you or why they should work with you if it’s an e-mail to prospective client. Think about every e-mail that you send as a piece of marketing, as a brochure, as a flyer for your law firm, even if it’s to an existing client, because that existing client is always going to be evaluating whether they’re going to continue to work with you or try to find somebody better. Something to remember, here, is that perception is reality. If somebody gets an e-mail from you and it looks really professional, and an e-mail that they get from another lawyer doesn’t look as nice, they’re probably going to think that you’re smarter and that you’re better- just because your e-mail just looks better. You spent time with it. You packaged up the advice so that it looks like a professional sent it. It should be something that is thought about as a piece of marketing every time an e-mail goes out from your law firm.
Lawyer Communications with Opposing Counsel
Now that we’ve talked about client communication, let’s talk about communication with opposing counsel and how it is a business opportunity. Often, you’re working with opposing counsel where you can develop a good relationship. By helping your client, you’re also showing the opposing counsel how competent you are. If there is ever an opportunity to make a referral, your opposing counsel may think of you based on your past interactions. As lawyers, we all get calls and cases we can’t handle. It’s just a fact of life. So, we’re always looking for a place to send a client that’s not just out to the yonder. If we’ve worked with an opposing counsel that we know is super competent and not really a true competitor of ours, it is very likely that we may reach out to that person to refer a case. I’ve done it. I have an opposing counsel that we’ve worked with a couple of times on the other side, and I’ve sent them work because I just think they’re super competent and I know they can help my client. I’ve also been on the receiving end of that. I have multiple relationships with other lawyers, who send us work, and we got to know them by being opposing counsel on a case.
When you’re working with your opposing counsel, you need to think about it as a marketing opportunity, as well as a business opportunity. Every time you communicate with them, phone or e-mail, you’re auditioning. You’re auditioning to be a potential referral source for them in the future, as well. Now, I’m not suggesting you do anything that would not be as aggressive as possible for your current client in the hopes you’re going to get business in the future. You need to be super aggressive, just as you would be for your client, in dealing with opposing counsel. All I’m saying is keep in mind that at some point in time, you’re not going to be opposing counsel anymore, and that relationship can be very helpful. Do everything you can to represent your client and keep that in mind at the same time.
I hope this initial episode put you in the mindset of thinking about the business side of law. Please subscribe to the YouTube channel or the podcast, so that you can watch it or listen to it however you like. Also, be sure to leave a comment and feel free to get in touch with me. We would really appreciate any feedback on our episodes. Thank you so much!