Distinguishing themselves from the field by becoming exceptionally valuable to clients in ways others can’t is one way Seth Godin says lawyers can aim to build successful practices. Godin, an entrepreneur and author of 19 books, speaks with host Adriana Linares and Clio CEO Jack Newton about how lawyers can think more innovatively about marketing, positioning, and offering clients solutions.
Repeating a point he made during his Clio Cloud 2020 keynote, Godin says clients don’t wake up with a billable-hour problem. They wake up with real problems. He says lawyers can better serve their businesses and their clients if they position themselves to solve those specific problems. There’s no issue of scarcity, he says, noting the world is replete with problems.
The three discuss practical advice for BigLaw “refugees” who hang their shingles, from making the leap and surviving the “dip” to embracing the technology that makes client interactions run smoothly.
Jack Newton is CEO and co-founder of Clio.
Seth Godin is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, and speaker.
Special thanks to our sponsors, Clio, Lawclerk, ROSS, and Alert Communications.
What New Solos can Learn from Han Solo
Intro: So you’re an attorney and you’ve decided to go out on your own. Now what? You need a plan and you’re not alone. Join expert host, Adriana Linares and her distinguished guests on New Solo. Tune in to the lively conversation as they share insights and information about how to successfully run your law firm here on Legal Talk Network.
Adriana Linares: Hello! Welcome to another episode of New Solo on Legal Talk Network. I’m your host, Adriana Linares. I’m a legal technology trainer and consultant. I love helping lawyers and law firms use technology better.
Before we get started, I want to make sure and thank our sponsors today.
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I definitely want to make sure and thank our sponsor, Clio today because Jack Newton is one of my special guests. Clio’s cloud-based practice management software makes it easy to manage your law firm from intake to invoice. Try it for free at clio.com and that’s clio.com.
All right, listeners of New Solo, we have a really special episode today. I’m absolutely delighted that Legal Talk Network has arranged for me to have a chat with two GOATs, if you will, Jack Newton from Clio and Seth Godin, a well-known marketing guru and expert. I thought I would start by giving Jack the floor for just a minute and saying some things about Seth because Jack, I’m sure that when you invited Seth to be the keynote speaker of Clio and he said yes, you were thrilled and then I’m sure you had a lot of lawyers that said, “Never heard of him. Who is that guy?”
And then he came on and gave his talk and I’d like to hear from you. I’d like you to give a little introduction and then sort of tell us the feedback that you got from lawyers about the teachings that Seth gave them.
Jack Newton: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been a long-time admirer and follower of Seth and he’s influenced me and the way I market and talk about and position Clio in the marketplace since we started back in in 2008 and I think simply put, Seth’s one of the best thinkers on marketing on the planet and we invited him to ClioCon to follow what I think is a pretty time-honored tradition at ClioCon, which is to bring speakers from outside the legal sphere to lawyers and present them with some ideas that will really change the way our attendees think about the world.
One great example of that prior to Seth joining for example was Gary Vaynerchuk, who we had speak at a ClioCon a few years ago. I don’t think any lawyer in the room knew who Gary V was when he got on stage, but everyone left that session a raving fan and I think exactly the same thing happened at the virtual ClioCon this year with 4,000 attendees around the world, attending Seth’s virtual session and again, I think what Seth does such a great job of is challenging the way that people think about marketing the way they think about positioning their products and their services and their solutions in a marketplace.
I think lawyers as professionals are people that really need to start thinking more innovatively about marketing, about how they position themselves in the marketplace and that’s more true today than it’s ever been and I really think Seth gave a powerful perspective on how to think about things differently. One of the statements Seth made I think that resonated most strongly with our audience at ClioCon was people don’t wake up in the morning with a billable hour problem. They don’t wake up thinking I need to buy a billable hour and that’s going to solve my problem. People wake up with real problems that need solving and lawyers would do themselves a great service doing a better job of positioning themselves to properly solve those problems and really build empathy to the challenges their clients are navigating.
So, to me, it was such a well-positioned and timely talk at ClioCon and I’m looking forward to hearing what else Seth will be sharing with us today.
Adriana Linares: That’s great. Well, Seth, I hope you enjoyed those raving words from Jack.
Seth Godin: That was nice.
Adriana Linares: Seth, I’m going to ask everyone to just Google you if they don’t know who you are instead of spending time asking you to tell us about your 19 books and all your successes. What I really want to do is dive in and inspire our listeners to be better business owners and be happier humans.
I know everyone talks about you from this perspective of being a marketing guru and changing how we look at advertising and marketing but in all your teachings for me, what I really get from it is you’re a happiness coach to me and I think a lot of that stems from building a business or being part of a business that makes you happy and you’re surrounded by people who are happy to work with you and around you.
I’d like to start by asking you to define for my listeners your idea of the difference between a freelancer and an entrepreneur because I know that a lot of lawyers will launch a business and their families and their friends will say, “Wow! You’re an entrepreneur. That’s so great!” But you define those two roles very differently and I want my listeners to start thinking about the difference between what you’re about to tell us and how to move from one to the other because for many of them, that is their ultimate goal.
Seth Godin: A great place to start and the words matter. In a minute, we’ll talk about marketing but for the difference between entrepreneurs and freelancers, I’m currently a freelancer. What it means to be a freelancer it’s not disrespectful. A freelancer gets paid when they work. They are the person who does the work. If you read my words, I wrote them. The work of a freelancer if you want to move up, there’s only one way. It’s not by working more hours. It is not by hiring little versions of you that you can substitute in without the client knowing. It is about getting better clients.
Whereas entrepreneurs, if they’re doing their job should not do the work. They should hire people to do the work and the legal profession has been organized against entrepreneurs but if an entrepreneur is running a law firm, that lawyer should never go to court. That is not their job. Their job is to build something bigger than themselves that makes money when they sleep. That every time a managing partner is in court, that managing partner is not doing her real job, which is hiring the next generation of people, getting the next cycle of clients. That is what entrepreneurs do. Figure out how to build it so that you’re not the one who is doing the work.
If you want to be a freelancer, be a freelancer. Own it. Be proud of it. Don’t hire junior versions of you, get better clients instead.
Adriana Linares: And make more money. I think one of the things I read about you is raise your rates. Get paid more and I think this is something that a lot of lawyers especially the lawyers that I deal with, they don’t know what they’re worth. They don’t know how to value their time. They spend too much time studying things like the Clio legal trends report and figuring out where to base their billable hour, where when I wish what they would do is be more creative about how they’re delivering legal services and making their customers happy, their clients happy.
They don’t like — here are four words lawyers don’t like to hear: Customers, marketing, training, and technology.
Seth Godin: There you go and that’s what we’re here to talk about.
Adriana Linares: Oh, my God!
Seth Godin: So, let’s talk about marketing for a second because marketing, you use the word advertising when I don’t have anything to do with advertising. Advertising was all there was to marketing in 1966 and people should be forgiven for thinking that marketing is about hype and scamming people and running clever ads and jingles and that law firm in Buffalo with the fancy 800 number. But in fact, that’s advertising.
Marketing is everything you do that engages with your clients or anything else in the market and we were talking earlier, Han Solo was a second-rate character in a movie. He wasn’t the star of the movie but everyone knows who Han Solo was. Everyone! Why is that? Because he wasn’t an easily replaceable commodity. Harrison Ford was peculiar, idiosyncratic, specific, somebody who we needed and when they needed to make the next movie, they needed him and they couldn’t get someone other than him.
And so, what it means to be a new solo is to say, “What work can I do with my specialty, with my focus, with the people I connect, with the way that I lead that makes me the one and only worth it?” As opposed to saying, “My slogan is if you are looking for someone, I’m someone.” Because that’s not a slogan that’s going to get you very far in the age of Google.
Adriana Linares: That’s true. Well, as one of my favorite Internet legal marketers likes to say, Jason Marsh says, “You don’t want to be A lawyer, you want to be THE lawyer.”
Let me double back just a little bit and then I do want to come back and dive in about marketing because what I want to ask you to help us do and Jack, this is where you’re going to come in hopefully with a good story is a lot of attorneys who are launching a firm leaving their big firm, so we call those big law refugees to start a solo practice or right now, there are so many young attorneys that are trying to start their practice. They’re going to ramp up, they’re going to get excited, they’re going to hopefully get the right infrastructure, they’re going to try to do all the right things, they’re going to hit a dip.
Seth Godin: They are indeed.
Adriana Linares: Tell us about the dip, one of your books and how lawyers can get out of that and stick with it to survive.
Seth Godin: I used to live in the NYU Law School dorm. I published three books about law firms. I was married to a lawyer for many years. I’m still married, she’s just not a lawyer anymore, so I have a lot of first-hand experience with this.
Let’s begin with this. When you hire a big law firm, you’re doing more than hiring a lawyer, you’re hiring a big law firm and if you leave a big law firm where you got billed out at 600 dollars an hour, you don’t get to just say, “Now, I’m a solo practitioner and I’m worth at least 500,” because you’re not a big law firm anymore. And what people were buying from the big law firm are things you don’t have. That’s good news and bad news.
It’s bad news because you’re not just a small version of a big law firm. It’s good news because it means you can do something else and what you can do is find a different kind of client that wants a different kind of engagement to help them go forward and the story you tell and the story you live is critical. So, the dip usually hits when you leave a big law firm after the thrill of not having to kiss up to the senior partner goes away but right when the reality of how hard it is to get good clients kicks in and so, in that moment, most solo practitioners make a mistake and the mistake they make is moving down in the market to say I’m going to stop looking for good clients and I’m going to start taking easy clients.
And easy clients are a problem because easy clients prevent you from getting good clients. Yes, you can probably get some guy off for DWI but the thing is that if I’m a good client, I don’t want to hire a lawyer who just got somebody off for DWI. I’m looking for something else and the dip is that spot you have to make your way through to get to the other side. You don’t get to the other side by holding your breath. You don’t get to the other side by pretending to be a big law firm. You get to the other side by becoming a leader in your field and you do that by organizing.
Organizing the people who need to be connected, particularly in this moment when your colleagues are freaking out, holed up in their offices, no idea how to meet. The lions club isn’t meeting, the country club is closed and in that moment, if you can be the organizer, if you can connect 10 entrepreneurs who need to be connected, if you can connect 10 plaintiffs that need to be connected, you will become the one and only one.
Adriana Linares: Hey, let’s take a quick break. We’ll be right back. We’re going to hear some messages from our sponsors.
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Adriana Linares: All right! We’re back. We’re going to keep our conversation going with Seth Godin and Jack Newton.
Jack, you must hear a lot of stories from lawyers who think about quitting or changing the direction and just hit that dip and I’m sure you’ve got some stories about some who have done that but gotten out successfully. Tell us some.
Jack Newton: Yeah, I think that it is a challenge a lot of lawyers face that is really around the entrepreneurial aspect of being a lawyer and succeeding as a solo or maybe striking out and starting a small firm with a colleague from a big law firm. What I’m always surprised by is how many big firm lawyers secretly harbor this wish, that they can leave behind this big firm environment and strike out on their own. And many of them harbor almost a lifelong dream sometimes to the grave and the ones that do strike out invariably I find wish that they’d done it earlier. And it’s making that leap and I’ve heard that story so many times, hundreds of times at this point that I don’t even want to highlight a specific example. It’s just a theme I see so many times and I think the reality is that the world has changed in a way that actually enables entrepreneurship in a way that it didn’t even a decade ago but certainly more than 20 or 30 years ago with technology that’s around today.
One of the reasons you used to have to stay at a big firm was to have the technology infrastructure and the business infrastructure, the people infrastructure just to run your legal matters efficiently and all of that is now off the shelf. It’s available in the cloud. You go and spend 50 or 100 dollars a month on a technology stack and you’ve got your law firm’s problems covered. I think what’s really amazing is just with the right mindset and a handful of tools, a lot of lawyers can go and tackle that challenge but it’s got to be with a more holistic view of how to run a law practice. It is not just hanging a shingle expecting that people will knock down your door asking you for business and I think one of the most powerful concepts for any entrepreneur is to figure out what are they going to be wonderful at, what are they going to be the world’s best at, and I think this is something I’d love to hear Seth speak about just in that theme as well is I think many lawyers when they do decide to leave the big firm, hang a shingle and go out on their own, they’re left with that question of how do I stand out from the fray.
And as you were just speaking about the solution isn’t to try to be everything to everyone, it’s not to be the best general practitioner on the planet, it’s to be really great at something specific and I think that’s maybe the challenge for many people and where they get stuck is maybe figuring out what are they actually best at and what truly fulfills them when they do it and then how do you double down on that and actually start building gravity around that in the marketplace and yeah, I would love to hear you speak to that, Seth, because it feels like where most people get stuck.
Seth Godin: Well, the first thing is you didn’t shine quite enough light on what Clio does but from my understanding, it makes life a lot easier for the solo practitioner to not worry about that. Because let’s be clear, having lived with hundreds of people in the NYU Law dorm, they wanted to be cogs in a giant machine. They signed up to give up three years of their life to qualify to go on that thing at Cravath or wherever so that someone else would take care of all of these things and they could just put in the hours and grind it out and one day you wake up and you realize that’s no life and that there is no later, there is only now.
So, I’m thrilled when an organization like Clio shows up and offers infrastructure and moral support to help say, “Well, you know what? You don’t have to do all of the stuff. You can get to do the hard stuff but what’s the hard stuff?”
My grandfather was the Dean of Bankruptcy Lawyers in New York City and had a fine practice with not that many people. He was the first president of Polaroid, Edwin Land offered him stock in exchange for incorporating the company. He took 75 dollars instead.
Leaving that aside, the way he built his practice was he was the advisor and general counsel to the paint association and all the Sherwin-Williams and Pittsburgh Paints and everyone else, they would have meetings and yes, I would show up for free just like hang out with the paint people. Fulfillment doesn’t mean that you were born to be a trademark lawyer or that you were born to do commercial work for people who make paint. Fulfillment comes from the style of interactions you are having with people. That what it means to be fulfilled whether you’re a doctor or a lawyer or a candle maker is are you proud of the work you did? Not, can you tell me the specifics of your client?
People go into the music business and end up working in the mail room of the music labels aren’t in the music business. They’re in the mail room business. And the same thing is true when you choose to be a lawyer. So, if I was starting today as a new solo, I would do something like realize that there are a thousand to ten thousand companies that have been wronged by Google’s monopolistic anti-trust practices.
Start a newsletter, put on sub stack if you want, analyzing one after another this theory of the case. You will find that your idea spreads. Your phone will ring because you will, within weeks, become the world expert on this topic, right? Or discover that there are 50 up-and-coming entrepreneurs in your community, many of them women, people of color, people who have traditionally not been embraced by the power system. Organize them. Figure out how to have four zoom calls a week in which six to ten of them come to check in with each other. The very fact that you’re the organizer of that call will give you joy and will give you business.
You’re not there to pitch business, you’re there to help people surface their problems and then on their own, they can say, “Well, who’s the best lawyer I know?” “Oh, this person. They’re in the room with me.” And this is not the same as saying, “We’re one of the five biggest law firms in America. You have a law firm problem. You should hire us.” There’re totally different ways of being in the world.
Adriana Linares: I’m going to jump in and step back and comment on the couple things Jack said and then ask Seth another question, which is Jack, I get those emails. I always joke around that when I walk into a law firm or lawyers hear about me or listen to the podcast, I become the bartender and/or the hairdresser for them and they pull me aside and they’re like, “Hey, I’m thinking about going out on my own.”
I just got one yesterday where this attorney from a big firm says, “I’ve been listening to your podcast. I’m thinking about going on my own.” So, yes. That, I think, is a secret dream for many of them but they’re so afraid because they’re so risk-averse. I can tell you and I’m telling them, not the two of you, this. I have personally yet to meet a lawyer who has done that and has failed.
You today have all the resources to build a successful practice if you want to be a solo that just works from home and services corporate clients, you can. The information’s out there. So, that’s the first thing. The second thing is I want to remind everyone that it does not cost today what it cost 12 years ago to launch a law firm. So, 12 years ago when a lawyer called me and said, “I want to leave my firm. What’s it going to cost me?” I’d say, “Oh, well, you’re going to need 8,000 dollars for the server. It’s going to have to have exchange on it. You’re going to need a network.” It was terrible to have to say to a solo you need 8 to 10,000 dollars.
Today, you can start — how do I know? Thanks to Clio and many of its partners and all the other technology that’s out there, if you have 500 dollars a month for a budget for the infrastructure for your firm, you have more than enough. That’s a lot of budget room I’ve given you with 500 dollars.
So the technology is out there. The information is out there. The clients are out there. What you’ve got to do is figure out what you want to do that’s going to make you happy, which is where I want to turn the conversation back to both of you, which is niches.
Okay, I tell lawyers all the time you can’t be a PI lawyer. Pick a niche because everyone’s a PI lawyer. Everyone’s a family law lawyer. So, I love hearing stories. As a matter of fact, I have a YouTube channel station on Litera TV where my focus is one thing. I interview lawyers that have weird and wonderful law practices.
I had the elder fraud fighter, military defender, cruise ship lawyer. They’re amazing and I’ll tell you this and this is where I want you to jump in, Seth, is they are so much happier than the lawyers I talk to who are not passionate about what they do, who are just cogs in a wheel. When your heart is in it especially as a lawyer because it’s such a stressful job, life is different.
Seth Godin: Yep, for sure. So, the hardest part is selling lawyers who have been indoctrinated since they got their first A when they were seven years old into deciding to be happy instead of deciding to win a game somebody set up that you can’t be happy at. That game, the game of what was your score on your LSATs, where did you go to law school and how big is your firm? If you want to play that game, you should turn off this podcast right now.
Adriana Linares: Thank you, yes.
Seth Godin: If you want to play a different game, which is I did work for people I care about and I’m proud of how it came out and those interactions are the key and I’m not going to be embarrassed at the fact that I am a cruise ship lawyer because so what? Why is that worse than being somebody who got Monsanto out of trouble? It’s not worse, right?
And so, where we begin is understanding that good clients have some things in common. Here’s what they have in common. Number one, they have money to spend to solve their problem. It’s possible, hopeful, that you will do enough pro bono work for people who don’t have money, but let’s begin with this that if you need to pay the bills, clients with money to spend to solve their problem, all other things equal are better than clients who don’t have money to solve their problem.
Number two, you would prefer to have clients whose lifetime value is higher, not lower. Meaning that a client who has an urgent problem that can be solved in five minutes and you will never see them again is not as good as a client that is going to need your help for years to come because it costs just as much to get either one, right?
And the third thing that makes a client a good client is they tell their colleagues, that good clients demand better work from you and in exchange, good clients spread the word.
You don’t want clients who demand anonymity. So what we end up with is a whole list of industries where we can show up because those clients are all there just waiting and I mean, I’m in seven of those industries and when someone says, “Oh, you have a contract with AOL? I know the person who’s done 19 different deals with AOL.” “Well, who else would I hire? You’re the AOL lawyer, right?” And how much does it cost? “Well, you can charge me by the hour but that would be stupid for both of us. Why don’t you just charge me based on it working because you’ll make more money and I’ll sleep better at night.”
Adriana Linares: Jack, surely, a lot of your clients and customers are in niche practices and do you get that same vibe from them that when it’s something — if you’re a musician and you’re practicing some sort of music law, you’re passionate about what you’re behind.
Jack Newton: Absolutely and I think it just speaks to a really basic human need, which is I think the desire to be really great at something and I think all of us would rather be really great at a specific thing than mediocre at a lot of things and unfortunately, a lot of law practices are structurally set up to be the latter and they’re trying to be the lawyer that can solve every problem for whoever happens to walk in the door.
I think one of the more powerful concepts I’ve come across in business is just this concept of the flywheel. The concept that Jim Collins talked about in ‘Good to Great’ and this idea that you can power the flywheel in a variety of ways in different businesses and I think for legal businesses, that flywheel is exactly what Seth just characterized, which is customers coming back time after time, you delivering a truly great experience that differentiates yourself from your competitors, and leaves an impression on them that leaves them then going out referring their friends and colleagues to you. In the Internet age of course, this is leaving a five-star review for you on Google My Business. This is leaving a positive review for you on Avvo or Yelp and that’s the kind of thing that really accelerates the law firm flywheel and I think at the heart of that is figuring out how to be really wonderful at the specific thing you’re doing, the particular kind of problem you’re solving, and the experience that you surround that in.
I think you really only can achieve that when you are focused. It’s very hard to do that in a highly generic way but that flywheel when it starts humming is pretty unstoppable.
Adriana Linares: Seth, one of the things I heard you say in an interview and I can’t remember if it was with Jack or something else was you should be spending a big part of your day referring potential clients and customers to someone else who’s the right better fit. And I think this is something that when a lawyer is starting out their practice and they hear that, they just die. They go, “No way! I’m getting business in the door. I’m not going to refer it out right away.” But I think to encourage them to believe that that’s the right thing to do if you’re going to pick a niche and focus on it is key.
Seth Godin: Right. So, I don’t know how much of your day you need to spend doing it. What I was saying is if you’re not doing it, then you’re lying when you say you want to be a specific. If you want to be a specific, then it means that anyone who asks you to be a general or anyone who asks you a question that someone could answer better than you, you eagerly send them to someone else without some back room deal where you’re going to get paid.
Why? Because you’ve just earned trust and trust is what they’ve got in bushels at Cravath, right? That’s all they’ve got and you don’t have any and you’re going to earn trust with potential clients, with industries and with your peers by saying, “No, yeah, I could do that for you but this person does it better than me.” And if you’re not willing to say that, then let’s be clear, you’ve already announced to yourself that you think you can outwit your clients, you can’t. Your clients are smarter than you and they’re going to figure out that your willingness to take on any deal means that you don’t really care about your specific promise.
Adriana Linares: You know, I have to say from a personal perspective, in the past year, I’ve really gotten to doing that because I got really stressed out. Dealing with lawyers is really stressful and I would take on projects that, yeah, I could do and yeah, the payoff was going to be really good, but I’ll tell you, I am so much happier and more empowered when I say I don’t want that big chunk of money because my mental health is better. It’s a very hard thing to do especially when you’re a solo practitioner that really doesn’t make that much money but you make enough to be happy. But to do that, I can tell you guys, my listeners, as someone who has lived that, it’s a game changer for everything in life and it’s important to grasp that concept and then just try it once, you’ll feel better.
Seth Godin: Yeah and beyond being a symptom, so again, never having practiced law, my career was over shortly after my first New York Times Bestseller because I was just burnt out and I hadn’t written anything for 10 months and an unknown writer named Malcolm Gladwell sent me a book that he had written called ‘The Tipping Point’ and asked me for a blurb and the thing about authors is we blurb each other’s books all the time.
Tim Cook doesn’t blurb a Samsung phone, right? Because the mindset of most industries is hoarding but authors encourage each other. Well, after I read his book, I realized in the back of my head I’d been thinking of a book all along and I wrote a book in the next two weeks. I wrote the entire book in two weeks called ‘Unleashing the Ideavirus’ and I reached back out to Malcolm after I blurbed his book and I said, “Malcolm, you clearly inspired this. I won’t publish it if you think it’s too close to your book.” And he wrote the foreword for it and that’s why my career came back because I got unburned out and Malcolm has benefited. I have benefited. The world did not get smaller because both of us are in it. It got bigger.
And if you think about how you can become an indispensable center to any community of lawyers or non-lawyers, it will always pay off. There’s not a scarcity problem here. We are living in a world of abundant problems and if you’re a problem solver, you’re not going to have to worry about being busy.
Adriana Linares: I just want to tell my listeners, you mentioned your book ‘Unleashing the Ideavirus’ and I think there’s a lot of similarity or I have them kind of in the same column in my mind as tribes, which is finding people who have something in common and what I want to say to lawyers is create a movement and it doesn’t have to be around the law that you’re practicing. Just create a movement, create a community, get that buzz going about you and what you’re doing especially if it’s something you’re passionate about and the word will get out about your law practice. And I think that’s just something that — they have a hard time. Lawyers are notoriously risk-averse, which they all say, “I hate change.” I hate when people say I hate change. I love change. I live for change.
So, as a change agent with these lawyers, having to tell them that they’re going to have to change the way they’re practicing or what the technology tools that they’re using are, it’s hard for them. Also encouraging them to sort of find ways to create — oh the other thing is not only are they risk-averse, they’re not very creative. Sorry for my creatives that are out there, I know they’re there too. So I really want them to think about the opportunities that the Internet offers and being able to create that community and that buzz.
So now let’s flip back to really what everybody wants to hear from you, Seth, is marketing. So, you said something really interesting in another interview and I loved it. You said part of marketing is everything that touches the client, not necessarily ads and advertisements and banners, and one of the things you said which resonated with me because I’m not a lawyer either, I’m a technologist. I work with technology lawyers practice law. I practice technology and we work together.
One of the things you said was make it easy to work with your clients. So don’t send them a PDF when you can send them — well you said Google Doc but in my mind I was like Word, when you said making it easy to communicate and work with your clients is part of your marketing campaign and your marketing plan and I cannot tell you I wanted to hug you when I heard you say that because this is one of the things that lawyers hold to their chest is their product and they want to make it harder whether they know it or not for not only their clients but even in the case of an opposing counsel.
I look at my boyfriend sometimes, I’m like, “Why did they send that to you in a PDF? We’re going to convert it to a Word document anyway. Why make you go through the hassle?”
Seth Godin: Yeah, I’m working with another lawyer starting just a couple days ago and I’m stunned at the lack of technological innovation, sophistication.
Adriana Linares: Have them call me. I’ll make your life easier, Seth.
Seth Godin: So for example, putting the contents of the note in the subject line of the email or not using secure shared doc to have me upload my social security number and everything else. It probably will work, but it’s nothing that makes me feel confident and comfortable and it’s not remarkable.
You have a huge opportunity right now to say whatever field you choose to be in that part of what you stand for is that this is gratifyingly fast, easy, secure, and will make you feel smart. And so, one of the things that I could easily see a lawyer doing is coming up with a practice where they represent both sides in a deal and using shared docs, forms, making it really easy for people to lay out what’s important to them and being the person who crafts with both sides, the deal, that they can then take back to their lawyers for approval if they want, but the thing is technology, the network effect, this ratchet of things moving forward because we do them together, this is happening to the law whether you want it or not.
And you have so little to lose compared to Jones Day in this shift because Jones Day would have to spend five million dollars on the IT the first day.
Adriana Linares: Oh, yeah. For sure.
Seth Godin: You can just weave together some tools in a week and suddenly, you’re running circles around the big guys.
Adriana Linares: It’s absolutely true. Nobody can probably attest to that more than Jack Newton having built Clio with an open API and realizing that we need this platform or a platform like Clio that allows you to build a customizable tech stack.
Jack Newton: One of the ideas that Seth was just talking about is this idea that the way you deliver your services is actually I think one of the most easy ways you can differentiate yourself in the legal industry. And if you think about it, you’ve already worked so hard through law school. You’ve excelled at the LSAT, you’ve gotten into law school in the first place, you’ve worked your whole life like Seth said, maybe to be this do a tour of duty as a cog in this brutal machine for a little while. You’ve done the hard work and now you’ve struck out on your own and you’re trying to find a way of differentiating yourself in the marketplace. You know how to do this incredibly hard thing that a vanishingly small portion of the human population knows how to do and yet, you let the easy things go to the wayside, you let the client experience the way you’re interacting with a client.
A simple thing like are you sending a PDF or are you sending an editable Google Doc? Are you collaborating through email or are you doing it through a secure client portal? Are you making people go to their desktop to answer your questions or are you providing a slick mobile interface for them to go through their onboarding process? And just flip Seth’s experience on its head and think what if this lawyer was somebody who really understood technology and their intake process was a secure online Q&A and a chat bot that Seth could just securely interact with to answer all of their questions if all of their subsequent interactions happened in an online portal? Seth would probably be going to every single one of his friends saying, “I’ve got this great lawyer for this specific kind of problem.” And maybe that’s to Seth’s comment around niches, “Maybe this is the best lawyer in the world for book contracts and he’s worked with Seth now on 19 book contracts for his various bestsellers and has an amazing tech platform to support all of that.”
That is a lawyer that will never not be busy. They will be turning away clients because they’re so busy and to me, it’s that small incremental effort that can go into really making your client experience sing all the way from their first touch point interacting with your website, all the way through to, “Can you give me a review on Google at the end of the process?” Every single one of those touch points can be one where you’re to use Seth’s framing, marketing yourself, but just positioning yourself as somebody who really understands your client and is empathetic to their needs and speaking to them in a way that minimizes friction for them. And it’s just such an easy way for more lawyers to differentiate themselves and stand out in the marketplace.
Seth Godin: A couple times you mentioned Google Reviews. this is marketing I talk about affiliation and status and dominance. Many people make their decisions each day based on affiliation. So, everyone wears the same clothes to the interview. We pay attention to who’s sitting around the table at the gala. These are affiliation decisions.
But humans also pay attention to status and dominance, who’s up and who’s down, can I get into that fancy restaurant, who is beating up who, kind of thing. And so, Perry Mason had an affiliation relationship with Della and Paul but he had a dominance relationship in that he never lost a case, right? And one of the things that’s available to a lawyer who is specializing is claiming status and that means you don’t have any Google Reviews. It means you have an unlisted phone number. It means that the only way to get in the door is to be referred by somebody who’s part of your inner circle. Because only a really, really good lawyer could get away with that and that’s part of the story.
That one of the seductions of Google is the mass market. How will I reach everyone? And that’s why we get all uptight if we get one one-star Yelp review, one one-star, right?
But the great restaurants on Yelp celebrate their one-star reviews. “Oh, you gave us one star because we’re a steakhouse and you’re a vegetarian? Please never come back.” Because that makes people who want a steakhouse more likely to come and so I think part of what you need to do as a new soloist is to learn a lesson from Han Solo, which is own it. Don’t be a wounded animal. Own who you are proudly and be that because we look for status from our lawyers, not just affiliation.
Adriana Linares: That’s such a great idea. Doing that whole secret door to my law firm angle. I would love to see a lawyer try to pull that off. I’m pretty sure everyone who just heard you, Seth, had another heart attack. That’s the second heart attack we’ve given them in this turn.
Seth Godin: Well, if what they’re doing is working, they should keep doing it but my guess is they’re listening to this because it’s not.
Jack Newton: But I think it’s a super great point, Seth, and I think you see it in other industries. One example would be in the venture capital industry. One of the top handful of firms in the world is Benchmark. Go to their website. Their website is literally Benchmark in all caps and that is the full website. There’s nothing more. There’s nothing about the partners. There’s nothing about why you should choose them as an investor, but their word of mouth is probably the strongest word of mouth any VC on the planet has and it’s a great example of I think a very deliberate strategy that can work but you need to be opinionated about it to make it work.
Seth Godin: Yep.
Adriana Linares: We’re going to take a quick break. Here’s some messages from some sponsors and be right back.
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Adriana Linares: And we’re back! We’re going to continue our conversation with Seth Godin and Jack Newton.
We only have a few minutes left and I do want to ask for another couple of ideas, ways to inspire my listeners, which is free prize inside. Most lawyers don’t think about lagniappe. In New Orleans, the word lagniappe is very popular. It means a little something extra. Lawyers are, for the most part, first of all they’re not trained how to run a business, they’re not trained how to run a law firm, they’re just trained how to study, analyze, apply law, solve a problem.
So when it comes to marketing and differentiating themselves, they don’t know how. They can’t think outside the box. But I love the idea of lagniappe and I’d like you to speak to that just for a few minutes, Seth, and then Jack, if you have some ideas or if you’ve heard some stories from attorneys who have done something like free prize inside that has helped them differentiate themselves, I’d love to hear that.
Seth Godin: So, I got an American thanksgiving card in the mail a couple days ago from somebody and if you’ve had the fine print at the back of the card, it was clear they had just uploaded their entire address book to a website that mailed out all these cards. This is not a free prize. It is not a free prize for a lawyer to say, “You’re a great client. Don’t pay me for the last two hours. Thanks very much.” Not a free prize.
A free prize is something that matches the magic that you are able to contribute. It is not a gimme. Why are you a lawyer in the first place? You’re a lawyer because you’re really smart and you’re good with concepts and good with words and so yes, thank you for doing the contract, yes thank you for winning the case, but now, you’re going to talk to me for an hour and a half about the strategy that I’m approaching the world with and you’re not going to charge me for it because it’s not legal advice. It’s just a smart colleague sitting next to me because we are aligned. That’s a free prize, right?
That what we are talking about here is not a hustle no one wants to be hustled.
Adriana Linares: No.
Seth Godin: We are not talking about this whole idea of how do I grab some attention from someone who doesn’t care. If you were my lawyer four years ago on a matter and you call me now, I don’t really want to hear from you because we don’t have a relationship other than the fact that you said you’d give me some of your time to work on this problem, but because we never built another bridge, because it was even-steven at the end of the deal.
Even-steven means we are apart. Nobody has a happy relationship with the person who has a mortgage on their house because every month you pay the money, now we’re even-steven. What we’re looking for here is to create uneven. What we’re looking for here is to create actual bridges that aren’t part of a hustle but you’re doing them because you can, because you see something, because you can say something, because you’ve earned my trust.
And to do that and not charge me because it’s not legal work is appropriate. I don’t want free legal work from you but I want to be seen by you.
Jack Newton: Yeah, I think, agree with everything Seth said and one of the more influential takes I’ve seen on this free prize inside kind of concept is from Chris Dixon and the effortless experience that he talks about the fact that if you look at the kind of response curve of clients of any kind or just consumers of any kind, the ones that see the loyalty and customer satisfaction that is created once you’ve met expectations really plateaus pretty quickly and going into exceeding expectations is actually a game of dimensioning returns.
So whether that’s the card in the mail or some other surprise and delight thing at the end of an engagement, while that might feel good for everyone for a microsecond, it turns out that clients pretty rapidly forget about it and don’t actually put a lot of value in it and then when you shift that question and say what do they actually value, they actually put a lot of value in exactly what Seth is describing, which is make my overall interaction with you more valuable and make it more effortless as well.
The little touch points that Seth’s talking about like rather than sending me this hard to fill out questionnaire in some format that I need to load up on my desktop PC, make it effortless for me. That is actually the thing that that consumers massively value in today’s marketplace and the place you should be investing that incremental effort is I think not in the surprise and delight over exceed expectations but actually do the meeting expectations as clearly as possible and as effortless as possible.
And the old adage maybe of under promise and over deliver is actually maybe entirely wrong. Maybe it’s promise exactly what you’re going to do, deliver exactly what you said you’re going to do, but make that as effortless as possible throughout the entire process is I actually what I believe is the winning formula.
Adriana Linares: Well, and this is where I’m going to make my usual pitch for technology where technology can. If you’re using it right, which isn’t hard these days because it’s easy to use, it’s affordable, it’s easy to learn. When you empower your practice with technology, not only are you creating that effortless experience, not only are you creating those free prizes along the way, you are reducing your own stress. You are making it easier for you and your staff and everyone else to see the life cycle of a matter to pay — you don’t wake up in the middle of night going, “Oh, my God! Did we remember to file that thing?” You know that you did because a box was checked off.
So for me, everything unfortunately comes down to technology and using it right and not hating it and don’t hire an attorney who said, “Oh, I’m a dinosaur. I got a secretary that does that.” And I think my point is reduce stress, use it right, make your life easier. I don’t think technology makes a lawyer a better lawyer. I think technology helps a lawyer be less stressed out and have a better relationship with clients.
Seth Godin: Correct.
Adriana Linares: Well, you guys, this has been a really great conversation. I very much appreciate the time from both of you, two of my heroes, my GOATs out there in the world. Jack, what you have done for the legal community with Clio and the inspiration that you have given even your competitors to build great products for lawyers has certainly made my little life easier but I know it has improved really the lives of many, many, many lawyers out there and their staff and everyone that lives with lawyers. So, thank you for that, Jack. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.
Seth, this has really been a thrill for me. I’m a fan girl like everybody else and I read your books and your blog every day and I hope every lawyer who hasn’t heard about you and doesn’t know who you are goes right now and Googles and just absorbs some of these great ideas that you have shared with us and with the world, so thank you very much, too.
Seth Godin: It’s a privilege. Thank you both. Thanks for having me.
Jack Newton: Thank you, Seth.
Adriana Linares: All right, everyone. Well unfortunately, we’ve reached the end of our time together and it’s a bummer because what a great conversation we’re having. I want to make sure and thank Seth and Jack so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
Make sure if you have appreciated what you’ve heard today and on past episodes for New Solo, please give us a five-star rating, subscribe and please share this wonderful podcast and I say that not because I think it’s wonderful but because of the feedback that I get from you, my listeners. Please share it with any other attorneys and colleagues that you think would find New Solo helpful.
I’ll be back next month with another episode and until then, don’t forget, you’re not alone, you’re a new solo.
Outro: Thanks for listening to New Solo with host Adriana Linares. Tune in again to learn more about how to successfully run your new practice solo here on Legal Talk Network.
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