There are a lot of misconceptions that people have about owning a law firm as a business because they focus on just doing well in their practice. The lawyering part you know already, but owning a law firm and knowing the cold hard truths of what it takes to be successful takes an entirely new perspective.
Many people will give you the wrong advice because they don’t want to shock you with reality, but not me. In this episode, I want to talk about the cold hard truths of being the owner of a law firm and the journey of transcending the business to become the CEO you envision.
In this episode we discussed:
- Four hard, cold truths about owning a law firm
- How broke is a state of being, more than it is a reality
- Why you can’t save your way out of being broke
- The positive results of evolving your thinking and your patterns
- Why you can’t punish your employees that are screwing up
- The mindset of the employee versus the entrepreneur versus the CEO
- Why you can’t expect the mediocre to evolve into rock stars
- The value of using an assessment when hiring
- A common tie between lawyering and self-esteem
- How committing to being the CEO will mean having to redefine yourself
- Balancing the energy of being a manager and the energy of being a leader
- Leadership versus management
Allison Williams: [00:00:28] All right. Welcome, everybody, to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. I am Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. And I want to talk to you this week about some cold, hard truths about owning a law firm. Now, you may be familiar with some of this content because I recorded a video about this topic back in I think it was January of this year. Twenty twenty and several people were amused by the title of the video, which I labeled, You can’t turn a Ho into a housewife in your law firm. So, of course, that got a lot of views because people were curious about what the heck I was talking about hos and housewives and owning law firms. Like why are those two related? And I’m going to tell you why they are related when I talk about some of those cold, hard truths and there are only four of them I’m going to cover in this episode, I may do a follow-up to this based on the feedback that I get. But there are a lot of misconceptions that people have about owning a law firm as a business rather than just doing well in your practice.
Allison Williams: [00:01:34] And, you know, we’ve talked a lot on this podcast and other platforms when I’ve done Facebook Lives when I’ve been interviewed on other people’s podcasts. I’ve talked about the idea of having a business so that you have freedom, freedom from the ups and downs, and cycling questions of professionalism. Do I focus on my lawyering, or do I focus on business? And how much can I focus on business if I’m focused on lawyering? And all those questions that come up when you are on a law firm that is a little bit different than in the context of any other type of business. Now we all know business is business. However, when you own a law firm, we are a highly regulated profession. And so when you have people giving you business advice, sometimes it’s easy to reject that advice as coming from someone who doesn’t know what it is to be a lawyer. And all the pressure that we’re under and all the stress that comes along with being responsible for people’s most intimate, most difficult, most tragic events without having the same level of concern and regard for us as a profession, as we have for others. So there’s a lot that goes into lawyering. And, you know, we’re not going to spend this podcast talking about lawyering, even though as a lawyer or someone who is very much in love with the law, I did not create a business so I could escape being a lawyer.
Allison Williams: [00:03:03] There’s just a lot that I can add to that particular discussion. But I definitely want to talk about being the owner of a law firm and really being, transcending just having the business to becoming the CEO of the business. So some of those cold, hard truths we’re gonna dive into today. And I definitely want to hear from you if any of this rings a bell. So the first cold, hard truth is that you can’t save your way out of being broke. Now, this is one that I know is going to trigger a lot of lawyers. I’m probably going to get a lot of negative feedback about this particular cold, hard truth. But the reality is that broke is a state of being. What I mean by that is when you function in a world where you are in survival mode, it is very challenging to get out of survival mode. And I think a lot of us get there at some point time. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be with money because we all have a different money mindset based on our family of origin and how we were raised and what topics we learned about money. But, you know, I think all of us get to someplace where we are at bottom level.
Allison Williams: [00:04:12] I just want to survive this experience to get to the next level. People will survive their relationships, right. When you hit a rocky patch, you don’t necessarily say, let me go work on it, work on it, work on it. You say I’m tired of working on it at some point and you just kind of hunker down and say, we’re going to hold steady, we’re not going to get a divorce. And eventually, my spouse will get out of this dark funk and relationship gets better. Or you might be in a state of survival with your children. Right. So it could also be a relational issue. Parent-child where child is just going through developmental adjustment issues. You don’t like them much right now, but you love them and you know that they will grow out of it. So you say, I’m going to take a few deep breaths, say a few prayers that I don’t kill them and then I’m going to push on and they will evolve. Or you could be, you know, beyond relationships, you could be in a state of survival with your health, right? You could say I’m not at the ideal body weight and I am not in the ideal best shape of my life. I can’t walk up three flights of stairs without getting winded. I can’t park at the far end of a parking lot and not be huffing and puffing a little bit by the time I get to the door of the mall, I’m going into.
Allison Williams: [00:05:32] But you know, I’m OK for now. Right. I don’t weigh 500 pounds. My doctor isn’t telling me I’m about to die tomorrow and I don’t smoke cigarettes or drink excessive amounts of alcohol, so I’m not in the worst health. So this is good enough for now. Right. I’m killing it in other areas of my life and this is OK. So I want you to think about the conception of being broke as being right above the place where you are out of whatever it is that you’re being broke in. Whether it’s out of a positive relationship or out of physical health, could be out of mental health. And most importantly, out of money. Right. And so a lot of business owners shift into the idea of patting ourselves on the back when we are doing well in the areas that really matter to us. So if you are somebody who has a positive money consciousness and you always pursue money, you probably are not going to be broke in the financial sense, but you might be broke in the quality or state of the work that you do. Right. So your lawyering, to make a buck, you’re not necessarily in it for the thrill of helping people or the outcome that you desire or changing the law. That might not be your thing.
Allison Williams: [00:06:45] But in some place in our lives, we all get to a place where we are just at survival. So I want you to think about this idea of, you can’t save your way out of being broke as the idea that you cannot hunker down to get out of survival mode. And there oftentimes is this idea in lawyers in particular, that we are just going to work harder until it’s not hard anymore. Right. It’s kind of like especially for those of us when we first start our law firm. So we have this delusional thought that if I just put in a few more hours or wait till the economy improves or maybe push myself a little bit into a different practice area I’m comfortable with, it’ll be easier. Right. It’s hard to be a family law attorney. I’ll just go be a real estate attorney or it’s hard to be a personal injury attorney. I’ll just go be a business attorney. Right. We just kind of flip the script and go completely in a different direction. Or sometimes we say it’s hard handling the cases the way I’m handling them. So it’s hard to represent rich people who have high demand. So I’ll go represent the poor or the lower middle class or it’s challenging for me to handle this type of business structure where I have to manage associates. Attorneys are hard to manage. I’ll just go out and be a solo producer with just a few paralegals, or even it’s hard to have people in my workspace because I’m not the most productive in that way. I’ll just have virtual. Right.
Allison Williams: [00:08:14] We try to duct tape our way into a solution around the problem because we think that the problem is that if we are not figuring out how to make our lives and our businesses fulfilled, there must be a better tactic, strategy or tip that can get us to that place of nirvana. But the reality is when you are broke as a state of being when there’s something about the way that you’re looking at something that does not give you fulfillment in the doing of that thing. Fulfillment in your health. Fulfillment in your relationship. Fulfillment in your business, then you are looking at your business in a way that is inherently flawed. And if you don’t change the way that you’re looking at it, what’s going to happen is you’re just going to recreate that same problem in the new system that you create. Right. So a poorly run brick and mortar business does not become exceptionally well run when it becomes virtual. So for people that say, oh, I can… I’m broke when I have a brick-and-mortar business, but if I could go be virtual, I could save all that rent. And I suddenly won’t be broke anymore. That’s not likely to be true. Right. So there are certain margins that you can create by eliminating major expenses. And rent is certainly a major expense.
Allison Williams: [00:09:30] But if you don’t change the way that you are conceptualizing the way that you are spending money and the way that you’re taking in money, then you’ll just go spend your money on something else and be in the same place months from now, years from now, because the pattern doesn’t ultimately go away. It just transmutes into something else. So I want you to think about the idea of being broke as first something that you have to understand, where your mindset is flawed, that created that state of being broken, that… And now I’m really going back to the conversation about money and that being broke in a business is really just about a failure to plan. And I say just about because I really want you to be freed from the judgment that comes with money and not having enough money because there’s a lot of negative speak that goes into our culture around people who at some point in time don’t have enough in their business, in their personal life, whatever it is, we are a highly judgmental society. And that judgment comes from the fact that we often look at people who don’t have enough as less than. And so when we talk about ourselves and what we will and won’t tolerate in our business, we’re often running away from that feeling of being less than that causes us to feel bad about not having our money mastered in our business.
Allison Williams: [00:10:51] And thus we don’t create plans, not because we’re not smart and capable and not even because we don’t realize that a plan is capable of giving us relief, but because we are triggered by the creation of the plan, because creating the plan reminds us how much we don’t have mastered. And then we feel bad about ourselves because our world teaches us to feel bad about not having enough money. So I actually know seven figure business owners who are broke. And to the contrary, I know five-figure business owners who are just starting out or even who have been at it for a while who are never broke. Right. They might want more money, but they’re not in the state of robbing Peter to pay Paul or figuring out how to meet payroll and being broke. It’s very much about our patterns. And so one of the things that I think is very empowering, depending on how you choose to look at it, is if your pattern is creating a state where you don’t have enough, you can change the pattern to get to a different result. And that’s very much about what coaching accomplishes for people. We don’t just give you tips and tricks and strategies. That’s what a consultant does. And that’s what a lot of people that will call themselves a coach will actually sell you on.
Allison Williams: [00:12:04] But the reality is, is that you have to evolve your thinking and your patterns and you have to know how to look at what you’re doing as an emblematic shift in a pattern. In other words, the pattern moved from problem one to problem two but is showing up the same way in order to start to break the patterns repeatedly. So if you’re waiting to invest in yourself until you aren’t broke, here’s a newsflash you’re gonna be broke a long time, because unfortunately, I had to spend a whole heck of a lot of money that I did not have in order to get to a place where I was consistently out of the state of being broke. Now, I wasn’t ever financially broke, but I was broke in terms of the ease with money. I was broke in terms of the time and attention and energy and effort and worry that went into thinking about how I was going to spend my next dollar, how I was going to pay my taxes, how I was going to give raises, how I was going to evolve and invest in systems in the business. And a lot of that thinking came from a lack of mindset. And I had to learn how to get out of that lack mindset in order to start to create ease with how money came to me and also how I spent it.
Allison Williams: [00:13:18] OK, so cold, hard truth number one, you cannot save your way out of being broke and you can’t unbreak your brokenness by virtue of changing your business model. OK. Cold, hard truth number two. You can’t punish your employees out of screwing up. Now, this one I love to talk about because people issues are probably one of the most detrimental, destructive, frustrating parts of being a business owner. And part of the reason why, by the way, most law firm owners that I speak to that at some point time had a bigger business. They either don’t want to grow it back up to being a big business again because they had money issues, i.e. the people, the systems, the processes, the way that I was running the business ultimately imploded and I was in a constant state of financial distress or the people and the way that the people interacted with their jobs, their responsibilities. And with me caused me so much frustration, tension and anxiety that I ultimately decided that if I wanted to have a successful business, the only person that could be doing high-level quality work in it would be me. And I hear this happening a lot. In fact, I quote, for those of you that have ever been to a Law Firm Mentor business retreat, you know that one of my favorite authors is Dan Kennedy, a marketing genius, but also a business guru in many ways.
Allison Williams: [00:14:42] And one of his favorites, you know, he has the No B.S. series of books, but one of my favorites of the No B.S. series was the first one. No B.S., Ruthless Management of People and Profits. And in that book, he gives an example of something that I thought was just like, it was the most profound, one thousand percent correct thought that I had ever had. And in a very impactful way, it like hit me across the face with the truth that I had struggled to articulate and I couldn’t quite get there. And he said it so perfectly. So it goes something like this on day one. One hundred employees walk into a business and they start their journey as being the next best phenomenal employee. And pretty soon we’re going to assume that all of these people are going to say, OK, we’re not going to start talking about attrition rates and the fact that jobs turnover and all that other stuff. But let’s assume that after a year, all of them are still there. So you still have that initial one hundred and then at some point the management team is asked to identify who are the people that should move up to the next level. And it is the people who get things done for the business at a higher level without needing additional training system structure, etc. So those five rock stars are picked out of that hundred and then those five rock stars are told here it’s now your responsibility to go manage those other ninety-five folk. And the five people start to have a conference with each other and they say, well, what is it that these people need in order to be successful? And the first thing that comes to mind for all of those five people is, well, I didn’t need someone to give me an exact replica of exactly what’s supposed to happen in the job.
Allison Williams: [00:16:36] I didn’t need training, coaching, strict strategic planning, cheerleading. I didn’t need someone to check in with me. I needed to just be given the tools to get the job done. And then I figured out how to get the job done. So why am I being told that in order to manage these people, I have to treat them like babies and spoon-feed them exactly what they need to do? And a lot of lawyers, myself included, feel I will own this. I am probably the worst offender of this. I’ve had that thought, right. That thought of, well, I didn’t need. So what’s wrong with you that I now have to triple the effort that I naturally poured forth from myself. I have to triple that effort to pour into you to get you something of quality when I didn’t need that to become quality. And that mindset is one of the worst cluster fucks that you can ever have in your business, because when you have that mindset, you are failing to understand the fundamental difference between a CEO, entrepreneur and an employee.
Allison Williams: [00:17:42] OK. And the employee mindset is not a less than half-ass, I don’t do a good job because I don’t give a shit-type mindset. So please hear me and hear me very clearly what I am not saying to you is that any person who does not do 100 percent of their best work in your business is somehow just being an employee. OK. Because there is a quality variable for every profession, whether it’s CEO, entrepreneur or employee. Right. All of us have someplace on the bell curve between being just OK at what we do and being exceptional at what we do. So you can have a just OK employee and you can have an exceptional employee, but even an exceptional employee is not going to have the CEO entrepreneur’s mindset unless that person is a great risk to ultimately leave your business at some point. OK. So when you look at employees, I want you to think about them. It’s just a different breed of animal. OK? They’re not better than. They’re not worse than. They are different. They have different values than you do. They have different goals. They have different motivations. Right. They get in early, stay late, come every weekend. Dedication that often comes forth from an entrepreneur or a budding entrepreneur or an entrepreneur in training or an entrepreneur on their path is not the expectation that you should have of your employees in order to call them good employees.
Allison Williams: [00:19:19] OK, and this also attends to the idea of, again, cold, hard truth. Number two, that you can’t punish your employees that are screwing up. So what I mean by this is that people screw up for one of three reasons. Either they lack the knowledge, they lack the skill, or they lack the what I refer to as gas or give a shit. Right. Basically, if people don’t know what to do, even if you think they should know what to do, that might be a reason why they would fail at their job. Right. So you can educate them. You can inform them. You can coach them. Train them. You can even incentivize your way out of someone who lacks knowledge or skill because coaching, training, teaching, educating, all of that is about giving them the skill set and the knowledge base to be able to do the job. Now, our fundamental core, there is a desire to be good at what we do. Now, that is true, by the way, even for a person that you would call a fuckup. OK, so even a person who is not motivated to do a great job at your job, there is an intuitive drive in all people to do their best and their best might be defined by them as something that they know is less than your standard.
Allison Williams: [00:20:39] Right. But they’re motivated to get to that point. What is difficult for a lot of business owners to recognize is that if a person is not at a level of caring and motivation to do a good job at your job, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the type of person who is never gonna be motivated to do any job well. Right. So if you think about it, we check references. We get references from people all the time who say, oh, yeah, Billy was a phenomenal paralegal at my law office. He came in early. He left late. He would stay for extra projects. He was always giving 110 percent. He was great with the clients. He was great with other employees. Very smart. The only reason he’s not here anymore is that his job was phased out. But we loved Billy. And then you get Billy in your office and he just doesn’t seem to have the goods. And it may very well be that you have a higher standard than the employer from whom you received the reference. Or it could be that Billy has lost his intrinsic motivation. OK. Intrinsic being what drives us internally. Extrinsic, of course, are those incentives that we dangle like salary and benefits and bonuses and all of those good things. But if someone is lacking in knowledge or skill, you can provide that.
Allison Williams: [00:21:59] And frankly, more than you realize, you need to provide that in order to not just systematize a business, but also to ensure that your system remains at high-quality compliance. Now, just yesterday, I had the honor of being featured as a guest on the SMB YouTube channel hosted by Bill Hauser. And one of the things that we talked about was this idea of compliance. And when a person on the team is not being compliant with the system, how do you handle that? Doesn’t it really suck? Don’t we all hate that portion of it? And there is a distinction there between when you are in the role of manager having to deal with compliance versus leader having to create the opportunity for the vision to be brought forth through your line of sight and through your implementing, you know, implementing the right team members and allocating resources appropriately. That’s CEO visionary work, not the same as being counting critical evaluative type work of a manager. And we’re gonna talk about that when we talk about our fourth cold, hard truth. But I just want to note that part of the mindset problem, but a lot of business owners have when we start talking about people screwing up, is the fact that they opt not to deal with the management piece because they are in their core being a leader. And so either the business lacks proper management because the leader withdraws from that role because they don’t enjoy it or the business lacks proper leadership.
Allison Williams: [00:23:40] Because you really have a doer who happens to be a law firm owner, somebody who really wants to be in the trenches, wants to be a manager, wants to oversee the people, wants to get the work done. And by the way, one of my friends who owns a family law firm in Atlanta, Georgia, I won’t say the name of the firm because I don’t know that I have this person’s permission. But this person owns a very successful family law firm. And part of the reason why she was able to create it and grow it as quickly as she did is that she took on someone who had their own family law firm that was struggling. And that person was smart, capable, industrious, able to be able to get the work done at a very high quality, able to have happy clients, able to have a consistent stream of referrals. But that person was not a good business owner and knew that they did not want to be. So ultimately, rather than take that person and put that person down because they are not the CEO entrepreneur, that this person was, the owner of this very successful law firm said, hey, there’s talent over there. I want to recruit that person to be the talent in my firm. And then that person and her referral base and her stream of clients were able to be lifted up and brought over to successful law firm owner land, we’ll call it.
Allison Williams: [00:24:57] And that happens because there’s a misfit between being the entrepreneur and the doer. Right. But when you have the mindset of I can’t quite get my people not to screw up, I want you to first ask yourself the question, do they know what to do? And by that, I don’t mean do you think they should know what to do? But do they actually know what to do? Right. So if you called in any employee in your firm, you ought to be able to ask them, give me the step-by-step requirements for doing X in your job and they should be able to rattle those off for you with relative ease. And if that is not true of every position in your law firm, then you don’t have a truly systematized law firm. You either have the wrong people doing the different jobs or you have not invested enough in ensuring that they have the knowledge and skill for the job. Now, those people that don’t give a shit. Those people are never going to be punished out of not giving a shit. You’re never going. To give them enough money, enough time, enough energy, enough attention to be able to get them into caring for your business.
Allison Williams: [00:26:10] And if someone does not care about your business, no amount of probation or unpaid days off or stern conversations or written warnings is going to change that. So one of the things that I strongly urge my clients in Law Firm Mentor, but really just lawyers in general when I talk about this stuff, is that if you have somebody that is evidencing the I don’t give a shit attitude, you have to find out really quick. And that has to be your number one priority. Is this person somebody who is going through a difficult time because of something in their life so that this is an episode and not a way of being? And if this is a way of being, you need to let them go. You need to free them to go find something that they can care about, that they can dedicate their effort to. But it is not your responsibility to employ people who don’t have a synergy between what you need, which is them to do certain activities in the business, and what they need, which is to be compensated for a job that they are actually doing. OK, so I want you to just get your mind wrapped around this idea that you cannot create disciplinary systems that are going to evolve a human into something that you want them to be. All people have free choice. All people are going to make decisions. And if the decisions that that person is making are telling you that they don’t care, they have to go.
Allison Williams: [00:27:37] OK. Cold, hard, truth number three, since we’re talking about employees, we’re now going to shift into the catchphrase that led to my deciding to record this podcast, which is that you can’t turn a ho into a housewife in your law firm. So what does that mean? That means you can’t turn a walking Eeyore into a Tigger. And similarly, you cannot turn a moderately capable human into a rock star. Now, this is ancillary to the last cold, hard truth, because we just talked about the fact that you can’t punish people out of screwing up, that they’re going to make mistakes and that when they make mistakes, you have to assess. Is that for lack of knowledge, skill or caring about the role? But this cold, hard truth, you can’t turn a ho into a housewife means you have to look at the people that you are hiring for who they are. OK. And when I say who they are, I don’t mean are they able to get the job done or not? Yes, that is the big picture question. But I’m talking about going more granular than that. When you start talking about who the person is. I want you to start thinking about digging under the hood a little bit. So one of the questions that I was recently posed on a podcast is how do you recommend that people go about hiring? And there is a whole lot that goes into hiring.
Allison Williams: [00:28:58] Hiring is not like something you could teach, hiring 101 and give those tips and tricks and strategies, because there’s a lot of psychology that comes with understanding a human, understanding yourself in the interaction with that human and understanding how to get at the heart of who a person is through information and questioning that may not be as apparent, as you know, how many years of experience do you have doing X? But one of the things that we teach at Thrive Tribe Tactics, which is one of Law Firm Mentor signature retreats, is all about how to get under the hood of the people that you are interviewing. Now, under the hood for me really means getting the right assessments of people. And I know assessments have become kind of a hot-button topic in the last few years. I’ve seen a lot of people online talking about how to use the DISC or the Myers Briggs or the Kolbe. The test that I use is actually the Real Talent Hiring Assessment. Shout out to Jay Henderson, who is also a friend of the company Law Firm Mentor and also a past guest on the podcast. But whatever assessment you use, ultimately, you want an assessment that is going to get at those things that are drivers of behavior, not just can the person do X, Y, and Z, as evidenced by previous employment, because the fact that somebody can do a job does not mean that they will do a job and it does not mean that they will do that job for you.
Allison Williams: [00:30:26] Hence my example from earlier about Billy the paralegal. Billy the paralegal did a great job for his previous employer, but not necessarily for his current employer. So you might ask the question, well, what then changed in who Billy was showing up as when he was a great paralegal for firm one and not necessarily a great paralegal for firm two. And of course, that then goes to the human side of things, which is asking, is this person just going through something or is there something more at play? But what you’ll often find, you know, is that what’s really at play with a human is a complex web of very sophisticated, intricate psychological, interworkings. Right. And we don’t always know what those are. And there are some ways that we might find them out that we’re not, by law authorized to ask, because traditionally some of those questions have ultimately got to some implicit or pretty direct biases. So you can’t ask about in a lot of states, many states, if not most marital status or pregnancy status or parenting status or household income. So there are a lot of things that we cannot ask.
Allison Williams: [00:31:46] But I would be inclined to ask not because I am going to say if you have a child, you can’t do the job or you’re not going to be committed. Right. A lot of those sexist notions that may have ultimately come up, but the kind of person that is juggling three kids and working as a single parent to me has a level of get up and go that I will read into an employment position that they could have had at a previous job. That might be very hectic and I might give them a little extra. Right. But of course, I recognize that many people wouldn’t. Many people would do the opposite and say, oh, yeah, that person’s not going to be able to cut it because home responsibilities are going to take over. So we know that we can’t ask those questions. And I’m not really using this as a platform to alter that or debate the fairness of that. But I just tell you that there’s a lot of different ways that you can get at the same types of information about a person that don’t involve asking those inappropriate questions. So you have to really think about who the person is that you’re getting and assessments can help you figure that out. But a lot of times we get so desperate to hire somebody, especially because we waited so long to fire the last person who really shouldn’t have been there for the past 75 percent of the time they were working for us.
Allison Williams: [00:33:04] And by the time that we get to the place of hiring, we are now tired. We are now out of work. We are now overextended. Maybe we had somebody doing the role who wasn’t fit to do the role, and now they are exhausted. Or we might be making a lot less money. You know, billable hours start to add up. You go a month without a lawyer’s revenue in a law firm that could be 30, 40, 50 thousand dollars, give or take, depending on the law firm. So a lot of times we’ll just say, all right. Not my best choice, not my highest priority, but I will give it a go with John. And you bring in John. And then John shows up as exactly what he showed you he was gonna be. And then you’re pissed off at John as if John was somehow doing something that you didn’t know in advance he was going to be inclined to do. And you also then start asking yourself, well, how then can I really have a law firm? Because you start to write into your narrative that all of the screw-ups of John and his predecessors are all that is out there. Everyone is a screw-up. No one knows how to follow instructions. No one is going to come in with the right attitude. And that is one hundred percent false.
Allison Williams: [00:34:21] If you have a desire for a certain type of employee, just know that that desire would not be there, but for the ability of its fulfillment. And so when you put yourself into a mode of writing this negative messaging into the candidates that you’re going to bring in, those are the candidates who are going to show up. OK, so you have to first stop yourself from saying who’s the next fuck up on my list of people to interview today when you are going into an interview. Because I assure you, if you look for problems with humans, you are going to find them. So when you think about bringing someone in, there are just some very fundamental precepts that you have to understand, which include that you cannot take a moderately capable human and turn them into a rock star. You know, a B minus doesn’t become an A-plus. Now, when I used that grading system before A, B, C, D, F as relating to employees, one of the things that I’ve had asked of me before is, well, what do you, how do you determine, you know, when a minus is OK? And first of all, everyone should have a standard for their business and a person who is an A-plus player in one law firm might only be a B in another law firm because the level of awareness in that second law firm that that law firm owner had a higher level of awareness of what they can and should and are willing to expect of their employees than the first law firm.
Allison Williams: [00:35:53] OK, but the person was not a fundamentally different person. Right. Unless, of course, the environment that is created in the firm where they were truly excelling is more compatible with who they are as a person. Right. So you have to look at the individual characteristics of the person and you have to look at what that person needs in a workplace. And I think at some point you have to release yourself from the expectation that you have an obligation to create the best workplace for your employees. OK. You have an obligation to create the best workplace for you. And that means that as long as you are creating for you and who you are and not just who you are, but who you desire to be, the right people will be attracted to that law firm and the people that don’t stay, because we know that in law firms on average now there is a turn rate of every four years you’re going to lose an employee every four years. That doesn’t mean your law firm is going to be stable with no turnover for four years. But that means on average, lawyers leave law firms every four years. And an interesting stat, by the way, that comes from the ABA.
Allison Williams: [00:36:58] Another interesting stat is that paralegals actually turn every three and a half years. Now, that is shocking to me because once upon a time, I would hear about how staff is kind of golden because you don’t lose your staff, right? It’s lawyers that become egotistical, too big for their britches, demanding too much money, requiring too much time, burning out because of pressure. But, you know, staff is the bedrock. And apparently, that’s not true. And maybe that’s with different sectors and maybe they average in government. So I can’t give you the how and why as to why that stat came out. But I do know that that came out of the ABA also. So I want you to really think about the idea that if people are going to turn over and you keep recreating your law firm for the people who are here today and you’re not creating what you desire, you’re never going to have a law firm that you desire because your law firm is always going to need to change for the humans that happened to be on deck at any given point time. So when you think about bringing that moderately capable human being into a law firm and in particular into your law firm, I want you to just know that you can’t create more of a person than they have a desire to create of themselves. And that is not going to change because of loyalty or raises or job changes, office relocations. It’s just not going to change.
Allison Williams: [00:38:22] Ok, the mediocre do not evolve into the rock stars, the mediocre or simply mediocre. You either have to accept them as they are and let them evolve into the best versions of their own set of mediocrity. Or you have to let them go. OK. So now we have covered several of our cold, hard truths. We talked about the fact that you can’t save your way out of being broke, that you can’t punish your employees that are screwing up, that you cannot turn a ho into a housewife, meaning you cannot make a moderately capable person into a rock star and now, separate and apart from people. I want to go back to you, OK? And I end here because we started with the idea of you can’t save your way out of being broke, which is really a mindset orientation. And I want to end also in a mindset orientation because when we talk about being the CEO, a lot of people think that is a sexy term and that there’s a lot of fun to it. But listen, not every law firm owner wants to be a CEO. There are some law firm owners that love lawyering, and their job is about the doing, much more than about creating more of themselves so that they can help more people. And that’s what a business is. A business is a living, breathing, functioning organism that exists for the purpose of helping more people with whatever it is, whether it’s serving, selling widgets, or whether it is offering services. It is there for the growth of itself to produce more of itself on an ongoing basis.
Allison Williams: [00:40:05] And for those of you that say, well, I only want my business to help a certain number of people, I don’t want to grow it big. It’s perfectly fine for you to decide you don’t want to grow it big. But you’re still going to be helping more people. The longer you are in business, your imprint is going to be greater. And the more people you touch, whether it is from people knowing about your business or referring people to your business or consulting with your business, being represented by your business, knowing someone who’s represented by your business. The more people you touch, the more people you help, and hence the more a business is able to help as it grows and evolves into something more of itself. But whatever your desire is, whether you want to be the one doing the legal work, you want to be the one in the courtroom, you want to be the one who is facilitating those settlements and transactions, or you want to be the person who’s cashing those checks. OK. And by that, I mean that in a very literal sense. I mean, you want to be the one who is orchestrating the work. You want to be the manager. You want to be the one who is not just managing, but you also want to be leading. Ok. And we talked earlier about leading versus managing, which we’re going to talk about here as well.
Allison Williams: [00:41:17] But whatever your desire is, you have to know. And this was a cold, hard truth that hit me like a ton of bricks. And I resisted at almost the point where I ran away from working with a coach. I was told and I didn’t believe it at the time, but I was ultimately told that if I wanted to become a CEO, I had to let go of practicing law to some degree. In order to rise to the level of being a CEO now, my mind immediately rejected that, viscerally rejected that because I had built my self-esteem on being a very good lawyer. So anyone that Googles my name and has first name, last name, attorney, and then NJ for New Jersey, where I’m licensed, they would find credits of being a state speaker, teaching CLE to lawyers and judges, having been on Katie Couric to talk about my practice area of child abuse and neglect, parental representation, having spoken at international conferences in multiple countries on child abuse neglect area. So, you know, like that’s, that has been what filled me up for a long time. And when you build your identity on doing the stuff, doing the work, and this is, this is applicable to any business owner. But I’m really talking, of course, to lawyers. When your identity is built on that, letting that go means having to redefine yourself.
Allison Williams: [00:42:51] And if you don’t have something to put into place of being the lawyer, then letting go of being the lawyer is letting go of a piece of your self-esteem. And what people don’t understand about that is that many people who are not even that great at the law. There are a lot of people that build their self-esteem on being lawyers that are not necessarily the greatest lawyers. But if they spend their time and their energy talking about how great it was to be in court or how great an outcome was for a client or how phenomenal they were able to save a certain amount of money for a client, whatever it is that they do. I’m not suggesting that we do not have pride in what we do, whether it’s the business owner and or the business owner as you know, as conceived of through their employees. But ultimately, you have to get to a place where you say, I’m OK with this. The way that this is because I’m creating more of my special sauce and I’m putting that into the world. I’m creating more opportunities to help more people. But if you get that dopamine hit off of doing the work and that oftentimes, by the way, comes from a very wounded place. And most lawyers I know and part of the reason why, sadly, we have such a negative reputation in society is because we are often the most wounded people. We oftentimes did not have positive self-esteem growing up or if we had it, it was associated with overachieving.
Allison Williams: [00:44:17] And there was kind of a drive or a pulse to your value comes from achieving. And if we got that message, then as soon as we relinquished a part of what we have been achieving at the lawyering, to be over here in a different lane, the business, it oftentimes destabilizes us emotionally. And most of the time, if we are not someone who is constantly in a state of looking at our emotions if we’re not having a light shined on us from the perspective of someone who has been there, done that, and gone through the process of growing themselves, it often becomes very easy for us to see ourselves as someone who’s failing when we are learning business. Right. Because part of the learning process is getting it wrong. And if we start to get it wrong, we start to feel bad. But we feel good when we’re over in the learning place. We feel really good when we are over in the lawyering place where we are helping people, where we know how to do that. Right. And it starts to feel like, wow, you know, I just did this. I was just the capable one. I was just the self-assured one. I was just the one that knew what I was doing.
Allison Williams: [00:45:29] But when we are doing the business stuff, everything is stressful, especially at the beginning, because we don’t know how to negotiate a lease. We don’t know what to ask for in the rider to our insurance policies. We don’t know how we should be hiring someone. We don’t know if we hire someone, how we can ensure that they don’t steal from us. We don’t know a lot. And that feeling of not knowing oftentimes has us running back over to the practice of law where we get to be the rock star. Right. And in fact, it’s actually heightened because now our name is on the building. And I say that proverbially. You don’t actually have to have signage on your law firm. But we own the firm. Right? It’s the law office of John Doe or the law office of Susie Smith. And we get status attached to lawyering. So even if you were a mediocre lawyer and weren’t really that concerned about it, but you got acclimated to it. You got acclimated to it, and now you have a status associated with it because you own a law firm. So I want you to just think about the fact that if you are spending your time and your energy between lawyering and business. One of the things that’s going to be very challenging for most people. Right. There’s a very, very small percentage of people that this is not true for. Most people have a really hard time balancing the energy of being a manager and the energy of being a leader.
Allison Williams: [00:46:57] Because as I said earlier, leadership is about being a visionary. Creating an image in the sky and then materializing that. It’s about creating the resources and getting those resources allocated appropriately in the business and taking the money and deciding where we’re going to invest, where we’re going to save, where we’re going to strategize so we can put some effort into growing in certain sectors. It’s about the big picture.
Allison Williams: [00:47:23] And then the management is about getting off of your top of the mountain and going down to the pits and oftentimes dealing with people and having difficult conversations. Holding people accountable. Ensuring that you have enough training, skill set development, coaching in your business so that you can get the best out of people, whether their best is that B plus or their best is that A plus.
Allison Williams: [00:47:50] Because you can absolutely turn an A-plus player into a B plus player by virtue of not giving them what they need in order to be the exceptional version of themselves that they otherwise could be. OK, now don’t hear me to say that that’s somehow reneging on what I said earlier. Right? If they are if they’re mediocre, they’re not going to become a rock stars. But you can take someone who was a rock star, and if you don’t get rock star out of them, ask yourself, what is it that I am doing in this business that is not getting this person to rock star status when they in a comparable business were a rock star. Sometimes that’s about the individual. But first and foremost, you should look at everything in your business as coming from you. So what are you doing to provide that environment? What are you doing to provide that skill set development, that training? But all of those questions about what is the company creating and how does it serve the employees stems from, first, the management conversation when a person is not doing what’s necessary. And a lot of leaders avoid those management conversations.
Allison Williams: [00:48:57] In fact, I’d say much more so than not, with a population of lawyers that I serve, whether it be existing clients, former clients, prospects, people who are in our Facebook group community, the Law Firm Mentor Movement, this comes up over and over again. Right. Who wants to be the bad guy who wants to be depleted by having conversation after conversation after conversation about what is wrong and why this person isn’t doing what they are required to do. And those conversations often take a true leader, somebody who really enjoys the big picture vision and creative process of building a business. And it takes them out of their energy of being a leader and into a dark place. They don’t enjoy what they’re doing anymore.
Allison Williams: [00:49:45] They don’t enjoy the work. And oftentimes they get so frustrated by the fact that they don’t enjoy it that rather than say, I have a growth mindset, I’m going to grow my way out of this. I’m going to grow my business to the point where I can hire somebody at a high level and pay them well to deal with the shit, a business that I don’t enjoy. We say I’m going to remain small. You know, my spouse makes enough money. I don’t need to be concerned about money. I can budget well. We’ll set up 401k or 503b’s for our kids to go to college. And, you know, they’ll have to get some loans and grants and scholarships and hopefully it doesn’t cost five hundred thousand dollars per child by the time they get there at the rate of education and its cost at this point. I don’t know that that’s true if you’ve got a five-year-old, but people make those types of, ‘I’m giving up’ decisions and oftentimes those decisions sound like I am choosing my family over my business because that is so much more of a laudable goal to some people in our society, especially people that got the message somewhere along the way that people matter and money and things do not. Even if the money that you create from being successful in business allows you to give more and create better experiences for those people that you love so much, and most importantly, even aside from the money, it’s the fact that you have to evolve into a fundamentally healthier person, a person who gives more.
Allison Williams: [00:51:18] A person who is more. A person who inspires more. When you have to become something greater than just a doer in your business, because the lawyer who is doing law 30, 40 cases at a time is not the same as a person who owns a company that services four or five hundred people at a time. Your reach is greater when you create more. And so for those of you that at some point in time have heard some variation of the cold, hard truths of owning a law firm. I hope that you decide to choose yourself and know that you are eminently capable and qualified of becoming more so that you can own the law firm of your dream. I’m Allison Williams, everyone. Your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day.
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is the 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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