Are you supposed to market your associate?
Many have expressed concerns about marketing other lawyers because it takes time to market and there is a risk the lawyer could eventually leave with all of their clients. In the grand scheme though, while it does exist, the risk is nowhere near as omnipresent as people believe. Here’s why…
In this episode we discuss:
- Three major considerations to figure out the right strategy for marketing.
- Consider the turn rate of the average employee attorney.
- Whether or not it is economically worth it to invest in having your team members marketed.
- The compensation plan could be universal.
SEE THE FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW
Allison Williams: [00:00:05] Hi, everybody. It’s Allison Williams here, your host of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you to grow your revenues, crush chaos in business, and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:30] Welcome to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, where today we’re going to talk about marketing your law firm associates. So we talk about marketing law firms a lot on this podcast because of course we know that marketing and sales are the way that we drive money into a law firm. Really, it’s the way you drive money into any business. But one of the things that I think is greatly overlooked in the legal community when we talk about marketing, is this question of whether or not the owner and the principal responsible party for the law firm should be the only face of the law firm. And recently we had an episode on enterprise goodwill. The idea that your law firm should have a value separate and apart from you, so that if you ever want to sell your law firm or if you ever want to transition out of it and have it have an economic value that is not associated purely with you and you alone, that, that that really should be a driver of your planning around your marketing.
Allison Williams: [00:01:37] But for a lot of people, even though they don’t necessarily have a plan to sell their law firm in the future, they are thinking, how do I allow myself? How do I create a business for me that will allow me to have a life outside of my law firm? Right. In other words, I don’t want to have a traditional 9 to 5 Monday through Friday existence. I want to work fewer hours or I want to be able to structure my work around my family life or around other business ventures. And I can’t conceive of how to do that. When people come here specifically looking for me.
Allison Williams: [00:02:15] I know that a lot of people also have discussed and expressed concern about whether or not they should market other members of the firm and in particular other lawyers in the firm out of a fear that they will market the other lawyer, and then the lawyer will leave with all of their clients. And in the grand scheme of things, this risk, while it does exist, is nowhere near as omnipresent a risk as people believe. In fact, there is a distinct personality of the type of lawyer who joins a law firm so that they can have the security of a set income and the security of knowing that work will be available for them to do to produce that income, i.e. that they will not have to go out and hunt for work. And the type of person who is willing to take the risk to not only have to produce their own income through being a business owner, but who will have to consistently and on a recurring basis produce that income for themselves and for every person that they employ into perpetuity. Those are two very, very distinct personalities. You’re not usually going to find the highly aggressive, ambitious, dedicated associate who is going to generate a large book of business, but who has no concern for how much they earn and no concern for how they’re going to ultimately get the best benefit out of being an associate. But you can find associates. You can find employee-based attorneys who very much want to remain employees. Right. Not every person who can generate business and be a true rainmaker has a desire to have their name in lights. Right. For a lot of people, it really is that they want to earn a significant income as a result of producing a significant book of business. But they don’t really have a desire to hire and fire people and oversee operations and have to manage a budget and all the things that come with being a law firm owner.
[00:04:20] So for a lot of lawyers that have that fear that they are going to be producing their next best competitor by virtue of training and developing and cultivating a rainmaking attorney in their law firm, they very much are short-sighted in this belief. They are oftentimes catastrophizing and not really looking at the essence of the employee. And by the way, you can have lawyers that have not yet learned how to be rainmakers who very much have that entrepreneurial spirit. So it would be short-sighted to look at your rainmaking attorney as a risk and a threat to leave your business, but not look at other attorneys in the business who just haven’t learned that skill yet because nothing creates hustle like hungry. Right? So if I know that I’m going to be displaced from my income because I’m going to leave my job for whatever reason. Right. It could be I’m concerned about getting fired. Could be I’m going to leave and go start a family and not plan to come back for some period of time. Or it could be that I might just not want to be an employee anymore. And there are plenty of lawyers that go out as the owners of law firms that don’t yet. Have a substantial book of business. Many times the fear is how am I ever going to generate enough clients to support myself? In fact, that is much more common an experience than the lawyers who go out already having substantial books of business.
Allison Williams: [00:05:44] So with that, I want to dedicate this episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast to the topic of marketing your law firm associates and not from the from the perspective of whether you should or you shouldn’t.
Allison Williams: [00:05:59] For purposes of today’s discussion, we’re going to presuppose that you have already resolved in your mind that you’re not going to be putting yourself out of business by marketing other attorneys in your firm. And the real question is, what do we need to consider in order to figure out for ourselves what the right strategy is for marketing? But from a perspective of considering marketing your associates as viable as a strategy and something that’s on the table. So today we’re going to talk about three major considerations that you have to think through when you are planning a marketing strategy that takes into account your associates.
Allison Williams: [00:06:37] So the first thing you have to consider is the turn rate of the average employee attorney. On average, according to the ABA, lawyers are going to turn once every four years. Now, of course, that statistic is across the private sector and the public sector. And it also takes into account every practice area. And lawyers from the conception of their career until the end of their career. So we know that that is a very, very broad swath of attorneys. Right. We have attorneys in there who could be 30-year veterans in a government employment. You also have lawyers that are persistently in and out of different practice groups because they don’t really know what they want to do and they’re kind of testing the waters. You’ve got people that go in and out for personal reasons. Maybe they’re married to a military spouse and they keep moving. Or perhaps they have decided that they’re going to start a family and they the, the wife will elect to work at times and elect not to work at other times during the process of creating the family. Perhaps you could have lawyers included in that group that are just simply choosing different paths in the law. So of course we know not everyone who becomes a lawyer starts practicing right away. We also know that some lawyers will start practice and then go into the business sector or go into politics or go into other fields of employment and then come back to practice law.
Allison Williams: [00:08:12] So all of the licensed attorneys across all the different types of legal careers are reflected in that number. But knowing that number is power nonetheless. Because when you consider how much there is a spirit of I don’t want to say volatility, that probably is a bit strong, but there definitely is a mindset in the legal profession that really got here before our society at large got here. But you don’t join a particular employer and stay there for the duration of your career. That is very much an anomaly now in our business world, and even so, even more so in the legal world.
Allison Williams: [00:08:56] So when lawyers are turning every few years, you have to consider whether or not it is economically worth it to you to invest in having your team members marketed. Because every time you record a corporate video with every lawyer in your firm being reflected when that lawyer leaves, that video is not viable anymore, or at least not in the same form. Right? There’s all sorts of things you can do with marketing. And now legal marketing companies have gotten more sophisticated in terms of advising lawyers on how to cut things in a way that you can cut audio, you can insert video, you can extract video of a lawyer who may leave the firm. But there is a consideration there because each time you do that, there is an additional investment.
Allison Williams: [00:09:47] Another thing to consider about the turn rate is whether or not you will continue to use the assets produced by that lawyer when that lawyer is no longer with you. Now, if a lawyer leaves your firm to become a homemaker, or perhaps elects not to practice for a period of time, perhaps when they’re taking care of ailing parents, or maybe they just want to go into something completely unrelated to the law or unrelated to your practice area. That lawyer may be perfectly fine, and you may be perfectly fine with keeping their face, their image, their name associated with your firm in some way, even though they’re not there anymore. Right. As long as you aren’t deceptive in your advertising. And of course, you have to check with your local bar on this. But as long as you’re not deceptive in your advertising and the person just happens to be a part of the corporate video, I don’t know that you’re going to have too much of an issue there. But what happens if that lawyer leaves your particular practice area law firm and goes to a competitor law firm across the way? Are you going to want the face and name and image of that lawyer in your marketing when ultimately what may draw a, a potential new client into your firm may be the thought that they would be working with that particular lawyer, even if you would not give them the ability to choose, even if you would say to them, we have a system, we’re going to assign you to the lawyer that’s best suited to help you, even though we will certainly consider your desire to work with John Doe lawyer. That’s not necessarily a guarantee, but the client ultimately came there seeking out John Doe Lawyer. Do you really want that lawyer’s face an image on your marketing if they no longer are with you? So that’s one major consideration.
Allison Williams: [00:11:39] The second major consideration that you have to think about is your compensation plan. So I know a lot of small law firm owners will become very competitive in terms of how they compensate by virtue of paying commissions for their lawyers to generate cases.
Allison Williams: [00:11:55] Now, as I said at the beginning, there is a very different personality of the entrepreneurial type lawyer versus the employee type lawyer. There’s not a good, bad, better, or worse in those categories, but they are just fundamentally different people. But your compensation plan could be universal, and it could say that you’re going to give a certain percentage of every file the revenue from every file that is generated from a referral to a particular lawyer. So your lawyers in that sense will have some economic incentive to go out and generate clients, even if it’s not their primary passion, even if they’re not on a consistent hunt. They would like to be able to generate some additional income, maybe from their relationships in their neighborhood. Their friendships could be sporting groups that they’re a part of. Maybe they’re kids, parents, friends of parents of their children’s friends, lots of different avenues just from connections we have with other people that could lead to referrals. But in that scenario, you have to think about the revenue that you expect to be produced off of the labor of your team member. And what a lot of lawyers fail to do is they fail to deduct from the expected revenue generated from the lawyer’s work the amount of commissions that are expected to be paid. So some of this, of course, is hypothesis and some of it is based in previous originations from a particular lawyer.
Allison Williams: [00:13:29] But think about it this way. If on average, the amount of hours that you’re going to work or that your associate is going to work, and at whatever compensation rate you pay, whether it’s a certain number of flat fee files that will turn a certain number of hours time on desk in a contingency practice or a certain number of billable hours. Ultimately, you’re going to expect a certain revenue stream off of the work of your associate. Presumably, you are not going to expect a greater revenue stream when that lawyer is producing some of that work for him or herself. So in other words, if you expect or require 1600 billable hours a year for your associate, you’re probably not going to say that 1600 hours has to come from files generated by the law firm. And if you associate go out and generate even more files, that’s great. You’ll receive compensation on that, but only if you exceed the 1600 billable hours for the law firm. Most people would not do that because they recognize that at some point that will become the law of diminishing returns. Right? So the associate is not going to want to work like a slave and tack on hundreds more hours of what they can produce on their own in terms of their own cases, in order to derive additional compensation. So what normally happens is you set a budget for the year and you say, I expect this associate to produce $400,000 in revenue off of the work that they’re going to do.
Allison Williams: [00:15:04] If the lawyer starts to produce a significant volume of cases on his or her own and they’re paid 20%, I’m just picking a random percentage. Right. This is not a right or wrong number, but I’m just throwing it out there. Right. If the lawyer is paid 20% of all of the legal fees generated from the cases that he or she brings into the firm, then that same revenue stream of 400,000, when produced off of cases by the law firm, is going to net more dollars for the law firm than if the associate is producing work on their own.
Allison Williams: [00:15:43] Now, for most law firms, this is not a problem at all because if the associate is not out there hot and hungry and hustling and, and seeking the next case. Right. They just happen to be producing a few referrals here or there. Then yes, overall, the law firm is going to see a decline in the net revenue that they will keep. However, the associate is increasing their income. The associate is therefore happy and since the law firm now has more capacity, right, they have the same number of files, but fewer bodies to handle it. At some point, the law firm can go out and hire another person and produce a greater revenue stream. So in that way, when lawyers start producing work, the associate attorneys you employ, when they start producing work on their own, your law firm can grow. And that is one of the least expensive avenues of growth, especially if the referrals are coming not through paid advertising, but through the, the networking and the labor directly of the attorney. So there’s a benefit here. But when you start to get into rock star status, when you start having associates that are eagerly seeking to increase their income through generating a lot of files, the more files that they produce, the less economic benefit there is to the law firm. Because they produce more and more and more files, they get paid more and more and more of that same revenue stream. And if the law firm does not concurrently generate enough additional work that they can take the work that would otherwise go to the associate and give it to someone else by hiring another person, then the law firm is just going to miss out on producing that revenue.
Allison Williams: [00:17:29] Now if you are not a growth-minded lawyer. Right. And many law firm owners desire growth, but don’t necessarily have the growth mindset necessary to monetize the activity in the law firm. If you don’t plan around that and all you’re doing is taking the same expected revenue stream and giving more and more of it to your associate every year. There can be a false belief that the law firm is now in competition with the associate who is producing the generated files on his or her own.
Allison Williams: [00:18:02] And that, of course, creates a level of toxicity in the relationship. By the way, that’s exactly what happened when I was at my last law firm. I had started to produce so much work that I really had no time to do any of the work generated by my law firm. I was completely self-sustaining. So when I’m producing 500 grand a year in revenue and that 500 grand a year is coming in 100% for me, I’m receiving my salary. I’m receiving commissions off of the work. And I am spending a lot of time and money on networking to produce more work. So if the law firm where I had been had a growth mindset, they could have said, Wow, all this work that we no longer can give to this associate, we need to go hire another associate to be able to do that work. But that wasn’t their mindset, right? Their mindset was, wow, this associate is neglecting our work because she gets paid more when she does her own work. We need to now convince her to stop generating her own work, to do our work. And that, of course, is where the relationship broke down and I left. So you have to think about that when you are planning out your budget for the year with how much revenue you expect to produce and the ways in which you believe you’re going to monetize the activity in your law firm in order to ensure that both your law firm and your associates benefit when you create your marketing plan around their activity.
Allison Williams: [00:19:37] OK, third and final area where you have to consider a criteria of great importance when it comes to marketing your law firm associates, and that is the messaging. So when it’s time to talk about your law firm, whether it’s through you as the owner or through your associates, you have to contemplate what you are going to say. One of the things that is really important for you to think about in terms of your messaging, especially when someone other than you as the owner is delivering that message, is how are we talking about the value of the law firm? I’d say over the last 5 to 10 years, there has been a surge of what I refer to as fake marketing. Right. Those frequently asked questions that lawyers will record a quick video about, oftentimes 3 minutes or less, where a question is posed about the substantive legal area that a lawyer would typically address with a prospect when the prospect comes in to contemplate hiring the law firm. And so you kind of answer those what is fill in the blank, and the fill in the blank is some term of art, some strategy, some legal doctrine, some new case that you are going to educate the public about via your videos.
Allison Williams: [00:20:57] And this is what we refer to as how to marketing. How to marketing definitely has a place in every marketing strategy. Just letting the marketplace know that you have expertise and sharing with them that expertise can bring them over to feeling that they have a relationship with you because they already trust you as an advisor. They already are looking to you for guidance and information. In my law firm, I know and I certainly have heard this from several of our clients here at Law Firm Mentor, it is not uncommon that a prospect will come in and say, Oh yeah, I saw your video on X, so I binged your YouTube channel. Or I was on social media and I saw this one video. So I started looking at the rest that you have on your website. So people do consume the content, especially when it starts to give them a greater sense of ease that you know what you’re talking about because you’re sharing the how-to. But even beyond that, and certainly, when you start involving people other than the owner in your marketing, it is important that you go beyond that to things such as the process of the law firm. One of the things that is really going to mitigate your risk that when you have your associates putting out blog, blog posts and putting out videos, talking, talking to the media right when they’re talking as themselves, that is a very personalized approach to marketing in your legal space.
Allison Williams: [00:22:31] So what you’re trying to do when you’re talking as yourself, as the legal adviser about the substance is you’re trying to get people to connect with you, the person who’s speaking about the substance. But the challenge there is, again, if you’re associate leaves, then they have bonded and connected with Stacie, the associate, rather than Dave, the owner. And now when Stacey leaves and the prospect comes to the law firm, there is going to be somewhat of a disconnect for that person who now believes in Stacie, who is not coming for law firm, but they’re coming for Stacie, and Stacie is not there anymore.
Allison Williams: [00:23:09] Sometimes law firms are able to induce the prospect to go ahead and have a consultation. And yes, they want to solve their problems. If they encounter a really good sales conversation, they can solve that problem in the sales conversation by virtue of saying yes and signing up the law firm. But many times they say, no, no, I really want to see Stacie. If Stacie is not here, where is she? And you may or may not give that information, you may or may not even be compelled to give that information in your jurisdiction. But the client can always go out and find Stacie if that’s what they desire.
Allison Williams: [00:23:43] So how do you get them past the point of desiring the associate who is speaking in the marketing? Well, what you really want to do is you want to have discussion about the law firm, right? What is your unique selling proposition as a law firm? What distinguishes your law firm from John Doe Law Firm down the hall? Well, that could be any number of things. It could be the way in which you have built out your advisory process. Maybe it is the manner in which you communicate. I’ll give you a very good example. I won’t name the law firm because I don’t have their permission, but there is a very dynamic law firm practice areas are criminal defense, personal injury, estate planning, and family law. And this law firm has a drip sequence for every communication about the how two of their legal cases. So when a person comes in and signs up the law firm, they are guided through the process of who is going to do what, when, where and how. From the time they come into the law firm. Now, building out something this intricate is something that I would highly recommend that you involve a professional marketer to do. But I will know that. I will note that this particular law firm, they built out this this very elaborate drip sequence on Infusionsoft. And so there were a series of if then postulates and they were triggering events over the course of a case so that if discovery was extended. Or protracted for some reason. All that needed to happen was the trigger event would be when we tell you that discovery has closed, the next video email is going to go out to the client. So it didn’t necessarily have to be that three weeks out from when they got hired, a communication went out. You can actually tailor it to what was happening in the litigation. But that is a very, very unique process that that particular law firm has built. And in so doing, they are able to dramatically reduce the number of times they have to have a 1-to-1 conversation, paralegal to client, or lawyer to client, or legal assistant to client. And therefore, when legal professionals are working on a case, they are typically not being worn down by the amount of communications they’re having with a client. Even though a client is free to call the office, it is rare that they really need to for the vast majority of things that are happening because they’re getting so much education through this video drip sequence and because there is less labor that goes into the communication of the process. And there are defined times to have an in-person meeting to talk through that education that the client has consumed. There is typically a lower cost to deliver the service, and that makes their pricing structure much more advantageous than a lot of people in the local area and they market that, right. That’s something that’s distinct about them.
Allison Williams: [00:26:48] Well, whether the owner is saying here are the unique ways in which we’re able to cost contain for our clients, or the associate is saying here are the unique ways in which we are able to cost contain for our clients. The message is still the same. The message is what is likely going to draw in the prospect, not the knowledge of the individual lawyer who is delivering the FAQ type information. Now, I will share that this particular law firm does have FAQ-type information in the marketplace. It is typically delivered through the owners. The associates typically talk about the process, their communication strategy, and they talk about wins. Right. And when they talk about wins, they talk about how they have a communal sharing of responsibility and praise and reward for the activity and outcomes for their clients. So that when someone is consuming marketing messaging from this particular law firm, they are hearing this law firm has a multitude of people who achieved a great result. And this law firm has a very specific way of communicating that reduces costs. If John Doe associate leaves the law firm next week, you still have a multitude of people handling a file and getting to that positive outcome and you still have that pretty clearly defined communications process. In that way, when an associate leaves, which for this particular law firm is rare, they do have a very good, strong culture. But when an associate leaves, it does not trigger the loss of a significant number of clients.
Allison Williams: [00:28:30] So those are some, so, some considerations I want you to give thought to when you are devising your marketing strategy for your law firm and contemplating whether or not you want to have your associates involved in your marketing. Now, I am Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor and if you’ve gotten value out of this episode and you want to learn more about how we can help you to devise a marketing strategy for your, for your law firm, then all you have to do is go visit our website. You can go to speak with a growth strategist and you can talk to a member of our team about how Law Firm Mentor can help you to grow your law firm, crush chaos in business and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor, and I’ll see you on our next episode.
Allison Williams: [00:29:31] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today’s show and take advantage of the resources mentioned, check out our show notes. And if you enjoy today’s episode, take a moment to follow the podcast wherever you get your podcast and leave us a rating and review. This helps us to reach even more law firm owners from around the country who want to crush chaos in business and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor, everyone. 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 by 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.
My favorite excerpts from the episode:
TIME: 00:04:20 (27 Seconds)
So for a lot of lawyers that have that fear that they are going to be producing their next best competitor by virtue of training and developing and cultivating a rainmaking attorney in their law firm, they very much are short-sighted in this belief. They are oftentimes catastrophizing and not really looking at the essence of the employee. And by the way, you can have lawyers that have not yet learned how to be rainmakers who very much have that entrepreneurial spirit.