This week’s episode is dedicated to the topic of branding the ‘we’. What do I mean by branding the we? When entrepreneurial lawyers first hire an attorney, they often encounter the problem of having their clients actually want to work with the attorney. Your clients come to you because they know, like and trust you. They don’t want your associate doing the work. It has to be you.
Oftentimes the first hire that the lawyer makes in the law firm of their associate attorney is someone younger, typically at the start of their career. A client who is accustomed to a certain level of expertise, knowledge and a level of comfort with you, then ‘handed off’ to someone who does not have the same finesse, is not going to be happy. So I’m going to talk about a strategy to avoid that happening, starting with some of the ways that you can prevent that, even before the client gets to your office.
In this episode we discuss:
- How to avoid client confusion or disappointment by tailoring the continuity of your marketing, intake and assigned representation communication.
- Hiring a seasoned lawyer versus hiring a baby lawyer.
- Introducing a client to an associate without devaluing your associate in the process.
- The importance of using the pronoun ‘we’ when referring to your firm.
- Things that can be done to provide confidence to your clients throughout the process.
- How branding the ‘we’ makes your business more valuable and helps with business growth.
Allison Williams: [00:00:11] Hi everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you grow your revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:25] Hi, everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. And this week’s episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast is dedicated to the topic of branding the we. So what do I mean by branding the we? Well, for a lot of entrepreneurial lawyers, the first thing that they encounter as a problem when they get that first attorney hire is having their clients actually want to work with the attorney. So what often happens is your name is on the door. So it’s the law office of Suzy Smith or John Doe. And the client comes in having been told that they were going to meet with Suzy Smith. And Suzy takes in the case and then assigns the associate to start working on the case. And it may be fine when the associate is doing some smaller activity, such as gathering information, interviewing the client or witnesses, or perhaps even preparing documents. But as soon as the associate is ready to do more, to step into more and they have the skill set, knowledge and desire for more and the managing attorney, John Doe or Suzy Smith, decide now is the time for me to give my associate more, so I will let them handle X, Y, Z of this client file, suddenly the client is like, well, I couldn’t possibly have the associate doing this.
Allison Williams: [00:01:52] It has to be you. Right. And that, that oftentimes oftentimes comes from a lack of strategic planning for how you’re going to introduce the concept of your associate and the work that your associate is going to do with your clients until you need to get it off your plate. It often happens that the first hire that the lawyer makes in the law firm of their associate attorney is someone younger, someone typically at the start of their career. Now, I don’t typically recommend this. I typically recommend that when you have too much work, the fastest way for you to scale and for you to get real space around your excess work and real space around what you are creating in the business is to actually hire somebody more experienced so that you can typically command a higher price for their service and they will require less of your time to train. OK, but I know that’s really scary and I know some people aren’t going to do it that way. Some people are going to hire the baby lawyer. OK, so if you hire the first one or one or two year attorney that comes to your door and you get that person working, what tends to happen is that person has less finesse. They have less knowledge, less experience, less life experience than your your your colleagues. Right. They’re, more of an assistant than someone to actually take over the role in your law firm.
Allison Williams: [00:03:24] So what then happens is the client having had a certain level of expertise, a certain level of knowledge, a certain level of skill, a certain level of comfort with you, is then quote unquote handed off to someone who does not have the same level of experience. And that is what normally creates the level of dissension and hostility in clients when they feel that you just picked their file up and dumped it off on some kid down the hall. So we’re going to talk about a strategy to actually avoid that happening and then avoid the level of discomfort that that causes you and the level of dissatisfaction that causes your clients. But I want to start talking about some of the ways that we can prevent that even before the client gets to your office.
Allison Williams: [00:04:11] OK, so when you’re used to being the law office of Suzy Smith or the law office of John Doe, what tends to happen is everything is about you. So your website talks about John, the attorney. I. However you write it. Whether you write it in first person or it’s written about you in third person, there is still a singular there. And then on your on your intake process, at some point when there’s either a professional handling your intake full time or a professional who splits their role doing multiple things in your office, but there’s only that one person who does the scheduling. That person encounters prospects who talk about John.
Allison Williams: [00:04:52] And oftentimes, if it is not well known by the intake professional that the associate will be handling this, while the associate is to be noted as the appropriate team member to handle the file, when a person calls in with X, Y, Z issue or with any case that doesn’t involve A, B, C, however you break it up and then the intake professional doesn’t feel comfortable just blurting out. Oh yeah. By the way, you’re not going to see John, whose name is on the door. You’re going to see John’s associate So And So. Then you have not only the messaging from your marketing, but you also then have the continuity of that message in your intake process. And so when you then bring the person in for a consultation, they have been primed, educated and inculcated with the message that this firm is about you, that you are the one who is servicing them, that you are the responsible party, and then you actually may decide at that point, hey, I want to introduce the concept of my associate at the consult rather than halfway through the case. So I’m going to go ahead and tell the client now, after the client signs up, you introduce the idea, you’ll say, great, I want you to meet Stephanie, my associate.
Allison Williams: [00:06:11] You buzz Stephanie. She comes into the conference room. Stephanie is then asked to introduce herself and then you further the conversation around Stephanie by saying, and client Stephanie is my associate and I’m going to have you work with her periodically. And she’s going to do some of the lower level tasks on your case. She’s going to be charged at a much lower hourly rate. So it doesn’t make sense for me to do some of the some of the activity on the file. You can get it at a much cheaper rate if we give it over to Stephanie. And Stephanie may periodically come to non consequential court matters like case management conferences or status conferences, so then, again, your bill can be kept lower. OK, when you hand off in this way, you are devaluing your associate. So if the client hears that Stephanie is not just less, but first of all, the inherent notion that your associate is a lower hourly rate communicates to the client that they are valued less. Right. So if you hire someone up the food chain, you start to immediately resolve that issue just by virtue of the fact that they can be charged added more, so that you’re three fifty and your associate is three twenty five. Very different dynamic than when you’re four hundred and your associate is one seventy five or two hundred. But let’s say you have this conversation and you’re thinking, I’m going to reassure the client that my associate is just as capable as I am.
Allison Williams: [00:07:45] So in your effort to reassure them, you are giving them message after message after message that says. I am going to make sure that you are not harmed by this person I’m going to have work on your matter. So, of course, if the client is in any way astute, they’re picking up on the fact that you have some level of trepidation about handing them over to the associate. And similarly, they will pick up on that and they will similarly develop trepidation about having the associate work on their matter. So you want to be thinking about how you are saying things and what you’re saying in order to get them to that place where they want to work with your associate. It’s not just the cheapest way of getting their lawyering, done right. You don’t want to educate a client that the goal is to have the cheapest representation possible, even if that may be their personal goal. It should not be your goal, because at some point, if you give in to their money mindset issues and start playing to find the cheapest or I’m cheaper than or my associate is cheaper, then then as soon as there’s a financial dispute, you have inadvertently educated them that you’re not worth very much and that your associate is not worth very much and therefore they’re justified and not paying your bill or paying it late. OK, so you don’t want to give off that message.
Allison Williams: [00:09:06] Now, we talked about marketing to and branding to the we for your website, for your marketing materials, but there’s some other things that can be done even before your associate starts to work with the client or before you do some degree of a handoff or a sharing of the load. OK, so first, when your receptionist and or intake professional talk about you in representation, they should talk about we, the firm, the company, not John Doe or Suzy Smith. Really important that those subtle language cues, those just a slight change in pronouns is going to get you a world of difference. When somebody can look at your firm and see that they are getting the company, they’re getting the team instead of just you. Now, you might say, well, I don’t have an associate yet, but I do plan to hire one. And I don’t necessarily want to wait until I’ve hired in order to start that education process. And in that sense, you would be correct. So what you can do, you can still talk about we even though we in this instance might only contain one attorney. Right. Because when you talk about globally what happens and who services the clients in your law firm, you’re talking about things that can be done by paralegals, legal secretaries. You could also have it done by contract attorneys. Right.
Allison Williams: [00:10:30] So you don’t necessarily have to have a full time on staff associate in order to get to that place of talking about we. But the more you use we, the more seamlessly the consultation process will be and the more seamlessly the representation will be. OK, so the other thing I wanted to talk about with associates is when you actually start to have those those double duties. Right. The cases where you’re working the case and you’re giving off activity to your associate. So the one thing that you want to do when you think about that, this client that you just brought in is eventually going to become the primary responsibility of your associate. Sometimes you want to say that right out the gate. Right. Sometimes its prospect comes in, prospect was referred to you and goes on and on and on about how great you work. And you would say, great, I’m glad that so-and-so thinks so highly of me. Now let me show you why. I’ve designed a system. I’ve devised a system that is going to include me, my associate, my paralegal and my legal secretary. And we all have different roles. I am the architect of your litigation. I am the strategic planner. I am the vocalist. I am the one who tells us how we are going to ebb and flow.
Allison Williams: [00:11:48] I manage the strategy as the case unfolds. My associate is the general contractor. He or she goes and builds the infrastructure of your litigation. They are the ones that prepare the motions. They are the ones that draft correspondence. They’re the ones that respond to your emails. And I’m always here. However, in my experience, no one has needed me to be here because my associate is exceptional. That’s why I hired him or her, and that’s why I have trained him or her the way that we, the way that is required for the high quality of this law firm. OK. Once you start working with the associate and the client, you want to create that same genesis relationship that included, kind of a family environment. Right? So there’s a triangulation between you, your associate and the client. And that’s how it starts. And depending on the type of person that you have, depending on the personality of your client, depending on their resistance, if any, to working with your associate, depending on how your associate feels. Can they convey confidently how you are handling things, how the two of you are a team? If everything is working seamlessly and you still have a resistant client, what you have to do is warm them up to the idea, right? So you don’t just disappear one day and stop being bothered with them. Instead, what you do is you require that there be both attorneys copied on all of the communications.
Allison Williams: [00:13:29] Emails. Any time the client calls, both of them are going to get the message. All of those things, you tell the client how that’s going to work and then your associate becomes the one who is going to ultimately do the work, especially with emails. The beautiful thing about emails is that when you copy, you as the responding party or if the client writes to you or the associate and cc’s the other, you see the communication and you have an opportunity to forward the communication to your associate if there’s anything you want to weigh in upon. But if not, ultimately the associate has to understand they should be writing a certain response and seeing the client now or pardon me and saying, you know what you can do at this point. What you can do that will help to instill confidence in the associate by your client is you can have your associate intentionally say, hey, John, is there anything that you would add to this and or, hey, Suzy, is there anything that you would add to this? Right. So they invite you to be proactive in those conversations. And your response should not be to add anything. Just say, you know, OK, if you think something needs to be added, you can always circle back personally to your associate and tell them to follow up and add whatever information is needed.
Allison Williams: [00:14:51] But your role in being invited to weigh in is to provide confidence to the client. That’s the only thing you’re trying to do here. You’re not trying to expand the legal advice, given you’re not contradicting the legal advice given you are instilling confidence in your client. So the way that that would happen is your associate says, hey, John, do you have anything to add? And at that point, you would say words to the effect of, you know, this is exactly what we did in another case in the office, you know, and you handled that perfectly then. And you’re handling it perfectly now. Right. So you want to give the client an anchor. You want them to have and start to form and strengthen the belief that what is really happening is they’re getting twice the attorney for the same amount of money. And I say the same amount of money. Periodically you may be billing on the file, but presumably the client is saving overall because your associate at a lower hourly rate is doing the work. But you want to have that client get a feeling in a sense that what’s going on is that both of you are taking ownership, but associate is starting to lead and run the file. And what should happen is when the client calls the office, I’m a big proponent of having preset scheduled appointments for phone calls. But if for some reason the associate or the the client calls and your office policy is that they can call and interrupt your day at any point in time, then what should happen is they should be told when they call John is not available.
Allison Williams: [00:16:27] Would you like to speak to his associate, Stephanie? And when Stephanie gets on the line, Stephanie communicates whatever she needs to communicate, says I will get back to John and then she needs to actually send an email. And the beautiful thing is, again, it’s another opportunity for your associate to shine. For your associate to summarize, this is what the client raised as a concern. This is what your advice was. And John, I invite you to have any comments if you have any. And John, you do nothing other than say this is brilliant. Stephanie, I wouldn’t have thought of that or this is great. Stephanie, this is exactly what we did in trial last week. Right. So the client is getting a deluge of continued support of the idea that the person who is spending the most time, energy and effort on their file is the person who is working with them as the associate and not with you. OK, over time, you will remove yourself from site and by remove yourself from site. What I mean is you really want to get to a place where you are not necessary for the file. The client doesn’t expect to hear from you.
Allison Williams: [00:17:41] You’re kind of fading into the background, right? I’m sure we all have seen that meme on on social media where Homer Simpson is walking backwards into the bushes. That’s in essence what you’re doing. You’re walking backward into the bushes. You are slowly growing more and more distant and unavailable to the client. And ultimately, you’re going to be the person that the client sees only when necessary. Something major happens, something cataclysmic happens. That’s when you’re available, OK? And by ultimately conjoin… being conjoined with your associate until your client feels comfortable enough to let go, may be one of those situations where at some point you have to force the hand and you might have to say, you know, client, you’ve been working with me and Stephanie on your matter since whenever, fill in the blank time. And what what has happened is because I have been so overextended with X, I have really been overseeing your case, but Stephanie has been running it. She’s going to be the one in court with you tomorrow. Well, I don’t know. I feel blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. OK, I understand you’re hesitant. I made the decision based on my experience handling this type of case in this type of county before this type of judge for X number of years. You came here because you trusted that I would take care of your matter. I’m telling you, the best way for me to do that is to have Stephanie handle blah, blah, blah tomorrow or whatever it is. Right. So you give them an opportunity to acclimate. And if they don’t, you ultimately have to force the issue a little bit.
Allison Williams: [00:19:20] OK, the last thing I want to say about making sure that you are branding the we is that everything that you communicate about the file should come from the perspective of a team, not necessarily a team approach. Right. Because you can have a team and, you know, everybody doesn’t want to work together and hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Right? Some people want to be by themselves. And that’s OK. As long as the work is getting done and the client is served well, preferences are what they are. But you want to get your team into a mindset that they are talking about clients as the responsibility of the firm and not an individual. The more your firm, yourself, your attorneys, your your administrative team, support, you want everyone to have the mindset so that everyone can be speaking in the same voice and carrying forward the same attitude and conveying the same message, that the way we work here is that you may work with lead attorney John Doe. You may work with with senior associate Stephanie Smith, or you may be working with someone else we add to the team. But whomever you are working with when you’re here, you have quality.
Allison Williams: [00:20:40] All right. So I wanted to just help out by reminding you that if you are having challenges with hiring associates, you’re not alone. There are a lot of jobs on the market right now. I know that a lot of economists are talking about the bust in the future, but right now we’re in a state of economic expansion. So it’s really important that you not get disheartened when you’re out there in the hiring streets, but that instead you’re using what opportunities you do have the interview, to really, really get good at looking for the person who will be best able to handle a handoff and the person who will handle it well for you, because once you get the person in, handing them off, handing off your clients to work with your associate is not just about developing your associate. It is about that, but not just about that. And it’s also not just about your administrative convenience and ease, even though that is a big part of it, because we are trying to preserve our CEO. Instead, what this really is about is making sure that as you are building a business, that you’re not creating a model so centered around you as an individual that your business can never create enterprise goodwill, meaning that your business will always be tied to you, and if you get hit by a bus tomorrow, the business does not go on.
Allison Williams: [00:22:04] OK, that’s what we’re trying to avoid by even having a procedure for handing off work to an associate. But the more strategic you are in doing that, the more you brand the we of your business. Not the I, not the me, but the we. The more branded your we is the greater opportunity you will have to grow and to have work done by people who are not you in your business. All right, everyone, thank you for tuning in to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. I want to welcome you to join us in our closed Facebook group community, the Law Firm Mentor Movement. And I will see you on the next podcast.
Allison Williams: [00:22:58] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today’s guests and take advantage of the resources mentioned, check out our show notes. And if you own a solo or small law firm and are looking for guidance, advice or simply support on your journey to create a law firm that runs without you, join us in the Law Firm Mentor Movement free Facebook group. There, you can access our free trainings on improving collections in law firms, meeting billable hours, and join the movement of thousands of law firm owners across the country who want to crush chaos in their law firm and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day.
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.
Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications and money management in law firms.
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00:03:24 (47 Seconds)
So what then happens is the client having had a certain level of expertise, a certain level of knowledge, a certain level of skill, a certain level of comfort with you, is then quote unquote handed off to someone who does not have the same level of experience. And that is what normally creates the level of dissension and hostility in clients when they feel that you just picked their file up and dumped it off on some kid down the hall. So we’re going to talk about a strategy to actually avoid that happening and then avoid the level of discomfort that that causes you and the level of dissatisfaction that causes your clients. But I want to start talking about some of the ways that we can prevent that even before the client gets to your office.