Episode 6

You’re listening to SmartTalk with Victor and Mark; SmartTalk is hosted by Victor Medina estate planning, elder law and private client attorney in New Jersey and Mark Merenda CEO of Smart Marketing a marketing and coaching firm for law firms, Attorneys and financial professionals.

SmartTalk is a podcast for solo practitioners and small firm attorney’s looking to improve their practice.

This is SmartTalk Episode 6 and we re-join the guys live from Dallas Texas

Victor: Hey! We’re back! (Laughter)
Mark: (Laughter) Through the magic of editing we are now back!
Victor: and it’s a couple of weeks later
Mark: and this is episode six
Victor: yes we’re in episode six and we have one more piece of feedback we’re going use
Mark: oh, we’re going to talk about Keith Davis’s letter
Victor: yes should I read it?
Mark: yes, lets set this up
Victor: Ok
Mark: Keith is an estate planner in Colorado, I’ve known him for many years and he is particularly good at marketing to CPA’s he’s pretty amazing, I mean a lot of other lawyers find it difficult to market to CPA’s but he’s done it very, very well over the years so when I got a letter from him about the podcasts, first of all I was flattered that he was listening to us, because like most attorney’s his time is valuable an he took the time to listen to us when he could have been listening to something else, and then I was also flattered that took the time to write to us and give us some feedback. So those of you who want to know more about Keith you can Google him; Keith Davis, Attorney in Colorado
Victor: you can look in dslawcolorado.com
Mark: excellent
Victor: so he wrote to us and said ‘Mark I enjoy listening to your SmartTalk series especially when I have to come into the office on a weekend to work on the business rather than in the business’ he talked a little bit about acquiring another law firm and I guess being intrigued, to put it softly, about the differences in cultures and what he perceived as he tried to meld the two together
Mark: right
Victor: and what he said was first, he doesn’t understand why lawyers don’t like to talk about money; he believes lawyers fear are death and charging the client and to a much lesser extent public speaking
Mark: Those are the three big ones (laughter)
Victor: yes big ones (laughter) and I like how charging the client was second; so what he said was he was shocked to find that the following are foreign to so many small firms
Mark: Ok
Victor: the first was scheduling firm meetings with agendas and time limits having some administrative parts of it and we’re going to talk about each one cause I have stories for all of these; scheduling marketing meetings with agenda’s and time limits so the difference and hot growth maybe, setting up the office for sales so some of the image that you were talking about
Mark: yes
Victor: how do we make this condusive to people wanting to buy as far as services
Mark: yes
Victor: and then electronic time sheets
Mark: yes
Victor: engagement agreements
Mark: yes
Victor: systems and processing which is a big one for me
Mark: yes
Victor: retainers and trust accounts, the idea of getting money in to make sure you get paid for stuff, you got people working on faith (laughter)
Mark: yes, it’s amazing that all of those things that he named are thing that in some firms nobody pays any attention too or talks about or thinks about or does its just amazing; I think his next line is a killer line ‘I spend more time talking about fees with lawyers then with clients’ it’s the trauma about talking about money, thinking about money
Victor: right it’s like some type of therapy
Mark: yes it really is
Victor: well, one of the things I find interesting from there that I’ve seen across the way that we may have mentioned this before but I think it bears repeating is that a lot of attorney’s came in wanting to help and they can’t figure out how helping means charging;
Mark: right
Victor: and they can’t reconcile those two in their head if they’re going to help somebody, they’re certainly not going to get paid for helping
Mark: right, right, you know it’s kind of amazing because people bring so many other things to the table, their emotions, their morals, their religion, all of those kinds of things, but in a pure business sense, sometimes I want to shake them and say ‘you understand that a business exists to make money?’
Victor: right
Mark: not to provide you with a hobby or your mission and all of the kind of stuff, that’s all great but a business exists to make a profit
Victor: right
Mark: that’s why you have a business; that’s you do this activity
Victor: well I look at it a little differently; here the way I look at it and I took this from Jay Foonberg’s book
Mark: How To Start & Build A Law Practice
Victor: the bible
Mark: yes his first book
Victor: yes one of the first things he recommends and I have done and stuck with is to place a photo of your family directly in front of your eyesight of wherever you’re working and I have a few of them out there and I kind of move them around so they fit in the background because at the end of the day, whatever my commitments are to helping people, I have a greater commitment to make sure that you know, the lights stay on at home and whatever else to provide. So I’ve resolved this in my own head and
Mark: right; why I’m doing this
Victor: yes, or why I’m doing this why I need to charge clients for helping them
Mark: that’s right
Victor: and interestingly enough, I think that what has clarified it for me more, or has got me more confident talking about is that in my practice, this idea is not unique though it is rarely implemented, is that within the Estate Planning field I am growing a maintenance program, or a membership program; the idea that clients will be part of a family in which I will give them services during their lifetime I will give them services on an annual basis and then being there in the end; in order for me to feel comfortable talking about that especially in the initial times that I proposed it, one of the things that I had to get comfortable saying is ‘you actually want to invest in this because this is how I’m going to be around in the end to help you
Mark: right, you want to help me survive
Victor: exactly
Mark: so that I still have a thriving business years from now
Victor: that’s right, I’m very transparent in my business model with my clients; this is how you insure it. That thing I told you about I’m going charge you less when you pass away and be around for you as a trusted counselor that only happens if the business is here; and the only way that the business is here is that I’m going to continue to get paid over a long period of time; now I’m not asking you to foot the bill the way I am asking you to foot today on initial planning every year but your going to contribute some portion of it and I’m going to know at the end of growing to two hundred to three hundred membership clients that I will be able to meet all my payroll and lifestyle obligations come January 1 or whenever I bill that stuff out so my existence and the perpetualness of my practice is assured. That’s good for them and that’s certainly good for me. I think those two things work together in trying to figure out what do I charge people why do I charge them and whether I’m comfortable doing it.
Mark: I think that one of the interesting things to me about these podcasts is the reaction that I’ve had to them is that people take certain nuggets away that if you had asked me immediately after the podcast if that a real take away, a real nugget or something like that, I would not have thought that its just something I know, something it thought of, something I said, or something that you said. But obviously it really resonated with people for example what you said about when clients say their going to think about it. In Keith’s letter he said that one of the real take away for him is that unless a certain percentage of your clients are turning you down then your not charging enough.
Victor: yes
Mark: if everyone says yes, then it’s too cheap
Victor: you’re the expert, that’s another one in my column about people have taken away that I’ve helped someone. I’m feeling good
Mark you should and I think that’s a great take away; and I’ve had a couple of those recently one was at the coaching session that you and I attended was some people were having problems with their staff and their employees and how they paid all these people that work for them but the employees were still bring all the problems to them as the boss. I told them about one that I had learned many, many years ago, I mean thirty years ago kind of thing from the first book the One Minute Manager, and the tip was you don’t let anyone come into your office with a problem unless they also come in with a proposed solution; at least one potentially several
Victor: Ok
Mark: potentially several
Victor: Ok
Mark: so that changes the employee culture to a great extent I’m not going into see Victor with a problem blah blah blah that’s the safe thing for me to do as an employee because I don’t want to be wrong and if Victor tells me what to then I’m not wrong I’m just doing what Victor tells me to and if its wrong its Victors problem
Victor: and they very effectively as they pointed out in the Trojan program they’ve pushed the problem onto you r agenda,
Mark: that’s great what am I paying you for?
Victor: its off of their plate and now back onto your plate again and you’ve paid them for the privilege
Mark: right, so by instituting that very simple rule, which has worked very well for me, now instead of an employee coming in and say we have a problem and dumping it in my lap for me to stress about, now they come in and say ‘we have a problem’ ‘ok, what’s your proposed solution?’ ‘Ok, we can do A, B, or C’ then I can say do that or do B or don’t do C or whatever, and I can dispose of that problem.
Victor: Ok, well let me ask you a follow up question
Mark: Ok
Victor: What if their solutions suck?
Mark: Well then, I have to go think about it and come up with a solution but at least that’s not the default first option, do you know what I mean?
Victor: Yes, yes
Mark: That’s the last option
Victor: give it to Rhonda; Rhonda’s going to handle it
Mark: yes, that’s the last resort and that has some relevance that discussion to the point that you were talking about earlier with people asking you question that you don’t know the answer too; there’s a famous story about Henry Ford where he’s being interviewed by some journalist who’s asking him how he could possibly attain his success to continue to do these things in business because he doesn’t have an engineering degree, didn’t know anything about engineering cars and so on and so forth, supposedly he hits a button on his desk and says send in the engineers and sixteen guys troop into his office and he say to the reporter ‘ask them anything you want they work for me’ You don’t have to know the answer you just have to have access to the answer.
Victor: right
Mark: if there’s somebody that works for you that can do this thing or can answer that question or part of your network that can you know when we went around the table at the end of that coaching session and asked what was your take away and one person said nobody comes into my office unless they come in with a solution. That was the nugget that they pulled out of it and Keith had his nugget that he pulled out of it and another nugget that I like to throw these things out maybe it’s a tip maybe its useful to one of our listeners, at some point and this again was in the line of the question ‘why does it cost so much?’ and I couldn’t answer at first and I had a hard time coming up with an answer another question that I had a really hard time handling early in my career is ‘well, can’t you give me a discount?’ how do you handle that?
Victor: no – but I’ve gotten comfortable saying no, I would say that there are discounts in place and here’s how they work; if you end up being referred in by another family member, there’s a discount there, and we would certainly be happy to extend that over in terms of more business, that’s how you get one; but beyond that, our prices have been set to be what they are. I don’t know, I guess I’m stumbling a little too
Mark: yes, you’re stumbling a little too
Victor: I just say no, because no is easy and I’m sorry we can’t and I don’t think I can explain why we can’t.
Mark: right, I always love it when I go into a bank and say why is this, this and this and they say ‘because that’s the policy.’ You cannot fight with the policy it’s like city hall
Victor: I can’t fight with the policy cause if I fight with the policy I’ll get fired
Mark: don’t get on the wrong side of the policy! Just don’t do it! (Laughter)
Victor: don’t ask me (Laughter)
Mark: yes, don’t ask me (Laughter) well, I came up with or stole or heard or something like that, a good answer to that question I’m going to offer this one to you and to our listeners; I want to pay you less, can’t you give me a discount? The answer is no, and here’s why, I don’t want to treat you like a second class client;
Victor: ok
Mark: if you pay me less then the other guys who pay me more, when it comes time for the priority of what I need to do and who I need to pay attention to and everything like that, where do you think your going to go? Your going to go second, or third or forth in the pile and you really can’t argue with that justifiably, if this guy is paying me more and your paying me less so we only have one class of clients, first class and they all pay the same.
Victor: right, I like that
Mark: that seems to have resonated with people to the point where they understand it
Victor: if your not willing to be a first class client
Mark: yes
Victor: then your not willing to be our client
Mark: right, I don’t have that kind of tier
Victor: and I’ve asked you that before and people have asked you to un-bundle what it is that you do
Mark: oh yes, all the time
Victor: right, I just need a brochure, or your website, I just need an hour of your time, or whatever it is
Mark: right, right, and part of the reason why the retainer works so well for me aside from putting money in my pocket, aside from allowing me to meet regular payrolls on a basis that I can anticipate and count on but from the clients point of view, I find that when people buy things on a project basis, in marketing and probably other professions as well, their focus is how little can I get away with can I get away with just a brochure with my marketing, can I get away with just a website? Or whatever, once you have them on the retainer basis then their focus becomes how much can I get? How much can I do for that retainer? If I ask them to do these twenty things will they do it?
Victor: when will they say no? I’ve gotta get their breaking point? When do I reach my rejection point? Because I’ve gotta get thirty percent rejection of my idea’s (Laughter)
Mark: right how much can I load him up with before he turns away thirty percent of it? (Laughter) but that means that they do more stuff and that means they get better results so their happy I’m happy everybody’s happy kind of thing so that model works for me; sometimes a client doesn’t know what they want
Victor: let me translate that into my business within estate planning. I couldn’t answer the question of the discount but I can answer the question why I don’t un-bundle
Mark: Victor, why don’t you un-bundle? What do they say, what do the clients ask for, they don’t use the words un-bundle
Victor: no, they don’t use the words un-bundle, they say can I just get a will, or can I just get one portion of this and I tell them no its an entire package but what I want you to do and shop it in terms of price and value anywhere you want go ask these people, whoever you want to interview and I’ll give you ten question you should ask that are related to the stuff we do and figure out are they going to do it for you and how much are they going to doing it for you. What’s that done for me is being able to have a product or service that doesn’t compete on price; it can’t compete on price because it contains so many different things that are just not out there in the marketplace in other words you get a very Medina Law Group experience and products, for lack of a better term; when you work with us you just can’t get it out there and when you can’t get it out there, then the price becomes, not on the basis of shopping against somebody else but shopping against the value that you’re receiving.
Mark: we’ve talked before, I have a friend on the West Coast that has a bankruptcy practice; it’s a husband and wife team and their competing against people that have ads in the paper of bankruptcy $495 kind of thing, and their charging, I don’t know, eighteen hundred or two thousand, or something like that, and I think you and I talked a little bit about form filling and the fact is that at $495 dollars, those particular bankruptcies are actually over priced because all your paying them for is filling out forms, and your paying them five hundred dollars to fill out forms is a lot of money. What you really need is (A) someone to counsel you on what to do and (B) you need someone to hold your hand to get you through this awful ordeal, someone to make the creditor go away and stop the harassing phone calls and solve things with the court and that kind of thing and your not going to get that with those $495 guys; here’s your forms, where’s my check and goodbye.
Victor: right
Mark: and the same thing applies to estate planning in some ways, doesn’t it? I mean can I go on Legal Zoom and fill out the form?
Victor: yes you can, and the way that I position it is not so much against Legal Zoom because I think that the go no go decision about attorneys is one that is sort of made up, if their going to go and do that then I’m not going to convince them not to do that. But if their deciding about an attorney that fills forms or one that does what I do which is a lot more counseling based I actually advise them to go get the forms because at the end of the day, they’re overpaying at fifteen hundred dollars for what they could be getting at $395
Mark: right, you don’t need a law degree to fill out these forms,
Victor: no, certainly not
Mark: right
Victor: I think another analogy that you’ve given me in the past that we haven’t discussed on the podcast is the idea that you shouldn’t be going to the doctor for access to the prescription pad, in which you get to fill out on your own, what your going there for is the diagnostic skills which are found nowhere in tangible form
Mark: no, no I was having this very frustrating conversation trying to convey the fact that an attorney’s value is really made up of two things, and that is the knowledge and the experience and the intelligence and insight that it takes to correctly tell you what you should do and that includes their law school education and their experience working with these cases and their own natural abilities and all of that and then the actual doing of it which is the drafting of the documents and all that kind of stuff and most of the attorneys that I knew were only charging for the second item. They were saying ‘ oh that’s going to take me a couple of hours I’m going to charge five hundred bucks’ for it and that discounts the entirely the most important value which is the value of knowing what to do and I was struggling for some type of analogy to convey to the person that I was speaking with and suddenly it hit me, the doctor; and saying ‘what are you paying the doctor for, its not filling out the prescription form, that’s not it, that’s not the value. The value is his experience and ability to look at and examine you and do the right tests and find out what’s wrong with you and then recommend the correct course of action; the prescription is just the only tangible part of that plan as you point out, the rest of it is just intangible as you point out.
Victor: right, I’m going to demonstrate my love for attorney’s I want to see them all do well and get happier with the following statement; I have found that a lot of the discomfort in terms of or the dislike of clients and practice is in accepting those types of clients who simply want the form fillers. The more demanding his clients their less likely it is that they will be satisfied with what you do. Because they resent the fact they’re paying that much for the form filling and they almost acknowledged that they’re over paying for what you do. And by comparison, the clients that I have that I love, perhaps ninety five percent of them value the counseling aspect of it; I just had an appointment the day before I flew down here, a design meeting that I engaged; Tiffany, my assistant keeps telling me that he feels so bad, because he had hired another attorney to do his wife’s estate, has paid them an ungodly amount of sum to handle the estate and we haven’t been asked to step in on that but we are helping him plan going forward, but to make a long story short, they bached it up in six different ways; and I certainly haven’t thrown them under the bus, other then by demonstrating to them how it should happen; by him telling me yesterday ‘I feel really good about this, I’m really enjoying it’ you have to understand I haven’t done a thing, he’s paid me half of his fee and he hasn’t seen a document yet, he hasn’t seen a letter out of my office, I told him I’ve called his other attorney to get their butt moving on something which I did and I think he might have seen the result of that because he finally signed something
Mark: but he got the counseling
Victor: yes he got the counseling aspect of it, and he went through two meetings, he has a couple of cups of coffee with us, and that has been of immense value to him and he is more then happy to pay the other half when he gets the documents at the end of the day; but because he’s has that mindset, because I’ve been selective about the clients that I am taking, because he’s been selective about the attorney that he wants, we’re in a win-win situation. I like my practice, he likes his attorney, and he’s got great feelings about how its going to go forward, and I’ve got great feelings that on the fact that he’s going to be part of my client family going forward. I tell people that I’m interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing me; and that’s not a throw away line because I’m young and I have to live with these people I don’t want to live with jerks.
Mark: I think sometimes when I hear lectures from attorneys that do well and so on, and their talking about how you’re really better off turning down the crappy client, the toxic client, the client that can be a pain in the ass the client that thinks its all about the document, this client that client; I’ll hear members in the audience saying ‘well that’s fine for you
Victor: cause your doing so well,
Mark: you’re doing so well and all that kind of stuff, but I have to pay this rent next month and he’s my only potential client and I have to take this client and I have take this client I can’t stand to watch this client walk away. What’s your reaction to that? We heard that in our coaching session last week
Victor: yes we did, and I heard it many times, and I had to live through it, I’ve made the mistake, I’ve lived the mistake of accepting those clients. I would extend that to I think looking at our timing to something that was in our last podcast about being selective about the type of practice that you want, selecting the wrong practice area; practice areas that I was competent to practice in but something that wasn’t the focus of what I wanted to do; its distracting, and I would say it is extraordinarily difficult to say goodbye to money when money is coming in and you need it; and so I don’t think its at all reflects badly on the intention of wanting to get there by screwing up and taking the wrong client. However if you did do that and you live through the experience and have the same one that I had, you find that you will reflect back and say ‘those were wrong decisions. Whatever I got in dollars wasn’t worth what I put out in terms of the effort and having to deal with them.’ I have no answer to this, you have to cover costs, the last thing you want to do is go under; sometimes, your hand is truly forced. I think there are other times where it is more a matter of convenience; it is convenient to take that when it comes in but it is not the necessity we’ve built it out to be in our own heads.
Mark: I think a lot of attorney’s think of the day when ‘ I can’t wait for the day when I’m successful enough that I can turn down clients; that’s one of the rewards; maybe when your just starting out and there are wolves at the door, maybe you have to take some of those clients who aren’t ideal clients
Victor: and I would say that in addition to that I found that I have moved faster to liking what I do and being successful in what I do, the more deliberately that I have taken the position that I don’t want to do it; even in circumstances my own personal case it wasn’t convenient to do it from a money stand point.
Mark: right
Victor: where I really could have used those dollars.
Mark: right
Victor: there was a point in time that we had an associate in the firm that was handling family law matters and he left and I took them over, we had been marketing some of that stuff on the Internet a testament of you said what to do if you have low money, we had a blog out there that was paid very little attention to on our end that to this day still generates phone calls and its been a year and a half since this individual has been with the firm. There have been opportunities where custody issues have come up and it would have been fairly easy for me to handle and it would have been two thousand dollars in my pocket to start to do it, and I have been able to say no to that. There were times when it would have been extremely helpful but it wasn’t crucial to get it in. I’ve moved with greater speed and sort of hallmarks along the way that you’re doing the right thing to getting better to doing the right thing. It is difficult but I’m sure you will find that the more commitment that you make going in that direction you will be rewarded by seeing the types of things that you want to do by the way you want to do them appear at your doorstep faster.
Mark: in my own business, as you and I have discussed offline, privately, I get approached periodically by somebody that want me to pay me a very nice check to do the marketing for their restaurant or their retail chain or some other kind of business like that and I am very tempted by the cash; if somebody wants to pay me ten, fifteen thousand dollars a month to do this something like that, my palms are itching too; although thank God I’m not at the very beginning of my practice and I don’t have to take those anymore, but the fact is anything that I develop for them is not going to be any use to any of my other clients. Whereas when I get a new client in estate planning or special needs or business planning or something like that and I get knowledgeable about that field and my staff gets knowledgeable about it and we write copy and we design websites and brochures and all of that and I do that for a business planning attorney in New Jersey, well the fact is that expertise is going to be very valuable for a for a business planning client in Colorado next time I have a potential client.
Victor: sure
Mark: whereas the work for the restaurant isn’t a value to anybody.
Victor: it may be of value to another restaurant but the likelihood that you’re going to come across another restaurant that wants to do it vs. your coming across another attorney is much lower.
Mark: right, and whereas my staff continues to deal with attorney’s all the time, and the problems with attorneys, they get more and more knowledgeable, they get more and more valuable to me and to my clients. And so, we’re building a level of expertise through our focus
Victor: let me ask a question that is further on that subject because I would import it to what I do in estate planning. Is it an integrity issue? Cause I would see it that way; Do you feel as though you would risk integrity questions by your existing clients, to say ‘where’s your focus? I mean are you doing this stuff for estate planning attorneys or are you doing this retail stuff?’ do you feel like you’d have to answer that?
Mark: not necessarily, but I will tell you that I’ve heard from prospective clients that it adds tremendously to our credibility that this is what we do, that we do attorneys that is what we specialize in; when they look at our website can see is attorneys, attorneys, attorneys all over it; when they’re trying to evaluate hiring us as apposed to hiring a local advertising agency. They have graphic designers, I have graphic designer, they have writers, I have writers, they have website builders, I have website builders, but I know the lawyers business and they don’t kind of thing. So I think for a lot of my prospective clients, the fact that we specialize is important, but on the other hand, there is a point at which, well you asked about integrity, and there is a funny story, actually, Woody Allen tells it himself, he says that he’s in his apartment and his phone rings late at night and its somebody calling from Japan; they say they’ve got this Japanese vodka company and we would really like you to endorse our vodka and in fact go into business with us and so on; and he says, excuse me, don’t you know who I am? I’m Woody Allen, I’m an artist, I’m a creative genius, I don’t do commercials. And the guy from Japan says, that’s too bad; we were prepared to offer two million dollars for the commercial. And he says, wait a minute; I’ll get Mr. Allen on the phone. So I’m not saying that if Volkswagen of America came in the door tomorrow and said ‘Mark we want you handle our account’ that I wouldn’t start studying cars real fast.
Victor: I probably have a little different response to that and I would see it as an integrity issue for me, and here’s the situation I wouldn’t want to be in the situation of having to answer to a very astute client that said ‘you sat down with me, and you represented that you were x, y, and z and then this person came along with a bag of cash and made you change that. Whatever the situation was, on one hand, my response might be; stay out of my checking account what do you care as long and I did right by you; on the other hand, I think I’d feel more comfortable and for the attorneys that want to do good and want to help people, I think I would feel more comfortable being able to look them in the eye and say ‘no I’ve never done that’ or ‘ I’ve stopped doing that’ or ‘ the promises that I made to you are good, there were good as gold when I put them out there’ and so I think dilute is the wrong word, I think its too business, too money orientated, I mean its what we do, its got its place, but I think from another prospective, I don’t want to send mixed messages about what it is that I do for people.
Mark: I think that people reasonably assume that you can’t be great at everything
Victor: right,
Mark: and if you spread yourself too thin, you can’t be too good at any of those one things even if you can, they would assume you can’t so I think there’s that, on the other hand, I think there’s reasonable extension of your practice. For example well you’re an estate-planning attorney, is business planning related to that? Exit planning, succession planning? Asset protection for the business owner, certainly that’s related, special needs is that related? Definitely, that’s related, elder law and Medicaid planning is that related to estate planning, I think definitely.
Victor: but do you think that they could all be? I mean, I can see one practice being developed that says I’m estate planning as a core and I do asset planning, succession planning and some business planning and maybe some outside general counseling; but I think when you start to add
Mark: bankruptcy, divorce or personal injury
Victor: right, well, no, I was going to go there, but I was going to say that if you at the same time add elder law, special needs, guardianships and estate administration, that was almost to broad of a spectrum. It either needs to be this or that direction or estate planning or elder law or the other ones, I’m either going to give you a hug, I’m going to figure out how to make your business run, do you find that you have clients that run the entire spectrum successfully?
Mark: I do have some, I have one client in California for years we would do an estate planning seminar in January, a business planning seminar in February, a medical, elder law in March and a special needs one in April, and then back to estate planning in June, and saw them as related fields. When I look at my own business, I sit back and I think, well, financial advisors, that’s professional services, that’s not too much of a stretch, what about dentists, what if I wanted to market dentists? That’s professional services, to be marketed, am I then saying ‘I’m too all over the place, I’m losing focus’ and things like that, fortunately, I’m not really confronted with that in the sense that as I say to my staff all the time, there are two million attorneys in the United States, twenty thousand of them that do estate planning and elder law; we have sixty. So as far as I am concerned, from now until my retirement, there are plenty of potential clients out there that don’t know about us who we can hire without having to go into some related practice area; but you have to be prepared for the idea that well lets be really facetious about it and say that tomorrow congress and the executive branch get together and abolish estate planning, what would you do for a living then? Because a couple of times in my career, it almost happened in the sense that back in the ninety’s all of the marketing for estate planning that we were doing was based on avoiding the estate tax; then Bush gets elected and says well I’m going to abolish the estate tax, and for a period of about a year there, you couldn’t get anybody to do estate planning because the only reason they knew to do an estate plan was avoiding the estate tax and Bush said I’m going make it go away. Now it took awhile for everyone to figure out that there was a hell of a lot more reasons to do estate planning that had nothing to do with tax, it may have to do with your daughter who is married gets the same amount as your son who’s in the family business or a million different areas that you and I know about because you hear them in your office all the time and then when the DRA was passed in two thousand and five, a lot of the elder law Medicaid planning attorneys felt that they were being put out of business. So theoretically, it could happen; so what I am suggesting is that if your focus is too narrow, then you just have to be ready for the ‘who moved my cheese’ syndrome. The good news from my point of view as a propaganda for marketing is, if you understand marketing, and you build a good marketing machine, when that happens, you just turn it in another direction and you’ll be ok. You and I know lawyers, who are having to make a career change in effect, from one practice area to another who struggle mightily with that issue. They have defined themselves all their lives as a personal injury attorney or a divorce attorney and that dries up in their area or something else changes or tort reforms or whatever and now they have to go to another practice area and that’s wrenching.
Victor: I think so much of that has to do with the individual that comes into it and I know that there are attorneys that I’m familiar with long careers you know, three or four years, and people say he’s a real estate attorney and I kind of chuckle and say he’s a real estate attorney now but he started out as a municipal attorney and did some PI work for fifteen years and this is where he’s at now; but the mindset of that individual is either been that I’m constantly reinventing myself cause I’m bored or its some measure of somebody’s moved my cheese and I have to figure out where it is now. But I come at it prepare to be flexible if the situation requires it about where my career goes along the way. I think you’re right though, I think the folks that put themselves to narrow without the idea that some point in time I’ve got to be nimble enough to make a shift can get there. A lot of corporate merger and acquisition attorneys that were hired during the dot com who didn’t find a venture capital deal that didn’t know how to put together have no idea what to do now and their all over websites like above the law and their trying to figure out in this downed economy how to get a job.
Mark: right,
Victor: and I’m sitting here scratching my head and part of me wants to say yea keep struggling cause I’m doing just fine, I don’t want you to come where I’m at but another part of me wants to help and say its really simple, no one should be telling you want you can and can’t do. You have some self-limiting assumption
Mark: so I think we’re giving our listeners a real lawyer answer
Victor: yea it depends
Mark: right
Victor: we have no guidance for you until you give me some money in which case it will take four months to give you a twenty page legal opinion which you can rely on (laughter)
Mark: well, there is a power to focus; there is a power to specialty, as a general rule of thumb it think the specialist gets the generalist work.
Victor: right
Mark: so I think that’s a very powerful tool and practice model, on the other hand, it has some risks associated with it, which is if you get to narrow and too deep and your expertise is in just one field, and the field changes, somebody moved the cheese, now you have to go out and find new cheese, a lot of people find that painful especially given what stage their at in their life and their practice. People have been doing one thing for thirty years, their self-identity is wrapped up in it, as you say they’ve gotten very comfortable, their pride, their expertise ‘oh yea, I’m the best lawyer I know the most about this thing’ now somebody comes along and pulls the rug out from under them and says, ‘ all of that knowledge is irrelevant, now you have to go somewhere and start new and fresh, that’s a lot easier to do when your twenty five than fifty five.
Victor: The other part about what you said if you’ve got a marketing machine up and running and you point it in another direction, is opt if you have it up and running a lot of the folks have shut it down
Mark: they didn’t need it
Victor: they didn’t need it
Mark: they got all their business with referrals
Victor: absolutely, they put all their effort into and are being rewarded handsomely for their efforts but haven’t touched any kind of plan or aim for what they wanted to do in future years
Mark: I have had several older and distinguished attorneys’ call me and say that all of their referral sources are retiring the guys, the good ole boy club that I’ve been part of for the past twenty, thirty years,
Victor: my golf partners
Mark: my golf partners, the guys at the club are all retiring and I didn’t do anything to develop new referral sources because I was fat and happy and now all these young kids have developed relationships with other attorney’s and now they don’t want me.
Victor: I think a good take away message I know that you have at least two or three clients that I can think of that have taken on new practice areas or developing practices as a last stage career move and have been very successful so its possible
Mark: it can be done, but it’s wrenching
Victor: yes
Mark: its wrench, its hard, it would be hard for me, if somebody said to me tomorrow, ‘that’s it, lawyers no more, now you have to go market something else, I could do it, but all of the years that I spent building a reputation in the legal community, all the conferences that I spoke at, all the speeches that I gave, all the testimonials that I built up all the knowledge that I have of the legal industry, and industry that I don’t practice in, all of the knowledge of my staff whom I pay, that I built up all these years, all out the window, now start again at zero, that would be very painful, I’m knocking wood furiously here, as we talk
Victor: I was going to say we’re taking a turn toward the deep end just as we’re wrapping things up! So do we have an uplifting topic to close with?
Mark: I think those who recognize change and adapt to it fastest profit the most; they get into it first, they’ll profit the most. I’ve seen this over the years a lot with the development of the Internet; the people who figured out, the lawyers I’m talking about, who figured out early on, that this Internet thing was actually worth their time and attention are the ones who sort of staked out some of the physic territory out there, some of the mind share and started having a presence on the Internet and started profiting from it right away; and conversely, the ones who said ‘I don’t get it, it’s a kind of online brochure, it’s a waste of time’ I was talking with one of my clients in a conference call earlier this week, and he’s going on and on about Twitter; he had a bug up his butt about Twitter ‘its people tweeting about what they had for breakfast; it’ll never catch on’ he said and I said its like that stupid YouTube thing where all the college kids are making dumb video in their dorm rooms, that’ll never catch on, or that Facebook thing, that’ll never catch on’ Well, my attitude toward whatever goes on on the Internet is that I am not able to distinguish what’s going to be a really important new tool and what’s going to be the latest fad. And given that I’m not able to do that, I go all in on everything and sort it out later; but if there’s a new thing out there, I have to be interested, I have to participate. Don’t you feel that way?
Victor: yea, I do, and I think that I would add that one of the common personality traits is the love of learning; the idea of being faced with something new is not in the form a threat to what is existing but more as an opportunity to sort of flex that mental muscle, tackling something new and accomplishing it. Even in small bits or larger bits, I think its common in a lot of your clients that I’ve met, in other words, you attract those types of folks, I like it about my own life the fact that there is constantly something new for me to absorb and learn and redo, and if you approach it with that mindset, from that prospective, your apt to be more happier about life at any given point in time especially in periods of disruption, because everything is part of a journey as opposed to a destination and you will also be positioned to continue to be successful as these things evolve over time.
Mark: in the coaching session that we were in last week, one of the participants was a distinguished attorney that is sixty-eight years old; now what’s he doing there? What is he going to learn from a coaching system? That’s your immediate reaction.
Victor: someone people would say if he hasn’t figured it out by now, this program isn’t going to help him!
Mark: Well, I found the uplifting note that we’re going to sign off on; and that is a biographical story about the famous artist and sculptor Michael Angelo. He lived to be extremely old, ninety, ninety-one I think, something like that. In one of his sketch book drawings that he did when he was about eighty seven years old, he had written in the margin encora en margin – which in Italian means ‘still I am learning’ so I am always learning. So if its good enough for Michael Angelo, its good enough for all of us I think.
Victor: I think that’s right, sounds great
Mark: ok, we’ll see everyone on the next episode of SmartTalk
Victor: absolutely, and maybe we’ll have a special guest
Mark: yes, we’re going to have some fun, we’re going to broadcast live from here, we’re going to bring in some other people to vary this and in the meantime, This is Mark and Victor saying goodbye and we’ll see you on the next podcast.

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