Helen Bukulmez is the founder and CEO of ECEROI.com, a global consulting company that helps lawyers and law firms...
Christopher T. Anderson has authored numerous articles and speaks on a wide range of topics, including law firm management,...
Your team has the ability to multiply your effectiveness and make your firm great. But, if improperly managed, your team could also be the thing that undermines you. Host Christopher Anderson hears strategies from Helen Bukulmez for aligning the goals of your firm with those of your team. Together, they dig into ways you can improve firm culture with impactful training and support for employees—converting your team into ambassadors for your business.
Helen Bukulmez is the founder and CEO of ECEROI.com, a global consulting company that helps lawyers and law firms find the best ROI in their law practice while building strong, motivated, effective teams.
The Un-Billable Hour
The Power of Empowered Teams
Intro: Managing your law practice can be challenging. Marketing, time management, attracting clients, and all the things besides the cases that you need to do that aren’t billable. Welcome to this edition of The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Practice Advisory Podcast. This is where you will get the information you need from expert guests and host Christopher Anderson, here on Legal Talk Network.
Christopher T. Anderson: Welcome to The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Practice Advisory Podcast helping attorneys achieve more success. We are glad you can listen today on Legal Talk Network.
Today’s episode is about people. It’s about team. Every law firm, every business really serves three key constituencies. In various episodes of The Un-Billable Hour, we deal with each of them, we deal with owners and we talk a lot about law firm owners and business owners and about how the business, the law firm are supposed to serve the owner. We talk about clients and of course, our particularly business, the business that we are in, serves two purposes.
What this business does? The business of a law firm is to sell legal services and then deliver legal service to the clients who bought them. So clients of course are very, very important and we are very client focused in the way we run our business.
And then we also in other episodes, we’ve talked about team, we’ve talked about hiring and firing and training. The employees, the team of the law firm and of course, these are the people if you have any employees, these are the people that do a lot of the interfacing with your clients and are really the face, and the voice, and the tenor, and the culture of the business.
And these three constituencies are key to every business. It has to serve all three or the business falls over, kind of think about a three-legged stool. And we all kind of understand and have been told that we have to take care of the clients right, that’s sort of the key. We have to be nice to them, we have to give them excellent service, our marketing needs to speak to the clients, our sales effort where we convert leads into clients and of course our production, the actual doing of the work are all very client focused.
We want them to come back, we want their referrals. So we invest in making the customer experience excellent and we spend a lot of time on this show talking about that. And of course, working with law firm owners across the country as I do, I work with them talking a lot about and we talk a lot about on this show about the owner and how in a lot of law firms, the owner becomes somewhat neglected and it’s important to build a business that serves the owner’s needs or else why are we running a law firm business if we’re not serving the owner’s needs, we may as well just get a job, right.
But sometimes in the show and sometimes when we talk with law firms, we don’t spend enough time really talking about team. The team has the power to multiply your effectiveness with all of this or to completely undermine you, which is what we’re going to talk to our guests today.
So without further ado, our title of today’s episode is ‘The Power of Empowered Teams’ and my guest today is Helen Bukulmez. Helen is the CEO of ECEROI Consulting and that’s a business that’s focused on helping law firms build effective teams to reach their goals. Helen is also an attorney so this gives her a particular insight into how law firms work of course.
She’s particularly specializes in immigration and personal injury, but she’s also a law school professor and teaching marketing for lawyers and law project management. So she has a really great 360 degree view of the business of law, which makes me particularly excited to have her on the show because I am of course your host Christopher Anderson and I am an attorney myself with a singular passion for helping other lawyers achieve success with their law firm businesses.
In The Un-Billable Hour every month, we explore an area important to help you be a more profitable lawyer, through growing your revenues, getting back more of your time and/or getting more professional satisfaction from your business.
The Un-Billable Hour is dedicated to bringing new guests each month to help you learn more about how to make your law firm business work for you, instead of the other way around.
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And again today’s episode of The Un-Billable Hour is ‘The Power of Empowered Teams’ and my guest today is Helen Bukulmez. She again is the CEO of ECEROI Consulting and a great thought leader to lawyers on building a team that empowers them. So Helen, after all that, welcome to The Un-Billable Hour.
Helen Bukulmez: Hello. So excited to be here Christopher. I absolutely admire what you do and how you do it in the legal industry. Thank you for the invitation.
Christopher T. Anderson: Oh it’s absolutely my pleasure. I’m actually quite excited to have you on the program and as sort of the thing we do here, my introduction is usually terrible and I don’t really get everything in that I want to. So before we go into the questions I’ve got for you, and I’ve got a lot. Would you just please let folks know a little bit more about you, what you do and what ECE is all about?
Helen Bukulmez: Absolutely. I am a lawyer, a law school professor teaching marketing, sales and law project management but I’m a business professional first. Across three different countries, I’ve been in the marketing, sales, and business development industry going on three decades now. I am a lawyer practicing in immigration and personal injury and I love my work as a lawyer.
What I probably love equally is teaching law school students, attorney marketing and project management so that they’re prepared for the challenges of this profession. And as the first-generation American citizen, I absolutely value, admire the legal profession here and I love working with lawyers, law firms and law school students.
And finally, I find much value in connecting with other lawyers through our group called Hiking Lawyers, which brings lawyers and their staffs together globally for ongoing support, roundness, networking and fun and finally ECE basically combines all of this into a business helping lawyers and law firms build effective teams to reach their very best version.
Christopher T. Anderson: Cool and what does ECE because — it’s kind of weird, your business is ECEROI Consulting and I think everybody knows ROI is Return on Investment but what does ECE mean?
Helen Bukulmez: It’s a very good question. I struggle to find a name for what I do for a little while. It’s actually pronounced Ece, as if there’s a G instead of C there. And Ece basically it’s a historical figure which is also known Umay in the Eastern Europe culture that stands for an earth goddess who brings fertility, prosperity and productivity anywhere she’s called. So I thought it was a fitting name for a business that is dedicated to helping law firms to be the very best version of themselves.
Christopher T. Anderson: And what inspired you to create this business? Why did you feel the need or did you perceive a need out there for this type of work?
Helen Bukulmez: Another really good question completely by happenstance. I am very blessed to have worked with incredible law firms, incredible people, top-notch companies in Europe and here in the US throughout my life and I share marketing, sales and project management advice at local, national or global platforms.
And not long ago at a conference, after I spoke about specifically how to buy marketing for your law firm, a managing partner in the audience approached me and asked me if I could do a top-down review of his law firm to give him an honest opinion on what was causing him to lose so much money in marketing yet not receive any true results and I was absolutely excited and honored that I would be asked to do so and I love the work. I did it completely for free and the work that we did together seem to have change the way the law firm approached their marketing, their sales.
I know these terms are sometimes bad, dirty words but there really are not and we’ll cover that shortly here and that law firm was really happy.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, they’re certainly not dirty words on this show. So that’s okay. I think our listeners have gotten used to talking about that. So let me tell ask you though because I mean you thought, you said, you got into it through a marketing exercise but you’ve –
I said that this show is about team and you have particularly said, the stuff that I’ve read from you that the law firm team is the number one client of every lawyer in law office.
And I know that when you went in like, because we talked about it on this show that marketing problems usually aren’t — when people say I’m not getting any ROI from my marketing, it’s usually not a marketing problem, it’s a problem that’s going on in the business. So when you say the law firm team is the number one client of every lawyer and law office, what do you mean by that?
Helen Bukulmez: The first law firm that asked me to do a review was a very eye-opening experience. Before I went in to do the review, I did a secret shopping if that’s the best way to put it. I started calling the firm to see if I could speak with almost everyone, a potential client would speak to, and I found that although the managing partner was so excited for his business, he was such a go-getter, he has this energy and excitement.
When I called the law firm, the lady answering the phone, I told her that I had a personal injury case and I really wanted to talk to a lawyer and she hesitated and she basically said well, I’m going to send you to someone who’s going to take down your information, but we don’t have any lawyers right now at the office.
And I said well, this is a good opportunity for me to speak with you, tell me if you were in my shoes and I gave her the fact pattern, would you hire this attorney to do the work.
Christopher T. Anderson: So a total softball.
Helen Bukulmez: It was as if I had pushed the button that was fitting there for years to be pushed. She said, honey you cannot repeat this but no.
Christopher T. Anderson: Oh my God.
Helen Bukulmez: I don’t think he knows what he’s doing and I don’t think that you would be best served here. I don’t know who else does this, but I would not.
Christopher T. Anderson: Wow.
Helen Bukulmez: And that was a huge light bulb, it was incredible. She did not think that the attorney for whom she worked, she made money, she put food on the table simply did not have the skills to go to trial and to serve his clients in the best way and this managing attorney was spending close to a million a year in his marketing.
So, we can talk about marketing, we can talk about sales all day, we can talk about ROI all day, and then it comes down to this one person and the right question to ask to lose that business.
That’s why if you have no buy-in with your team, I believe that you have nothing. You may be investing, but it will not have the return on investment that you’re looking for and that’s why I consider the team members to be the number one clients of any law firm.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, and because I mean like even in this circumstance maybe very few people actually ask the question that you asked, but that lack of faith in her law firm and in the lawyer that led the law firm was coming through all over the place it had to be and so yeah what a fine, but I can certainly understand that that totally explains it.
So, like when you go in and you work after you do something like this. Obviously, you go in to help work with the team tend to help align the team more with the goal or goals of the owners and of the firm. What’s the training model that you – well, first of all, before I ask you how you do it? How do you see like the typical firm training model, how are most firms training their people and what’s wrong with the way they’re doing it?
Helen Bukulmez: There’s not necessarily something wrong with what law firms may be doing if it is working for them. I never go in and say, hey, we need to change everything. Every law firm is different; every law firm’s location is different. The culture in which the law firm operates is different, so we go in with a complete open mind because I may learn something new that I didn’t see before.
We review their numbers, of course, it always begins with the financials, are you happy with it, where would you like to be, are you there, what are you doing to get there? We get all the numbers on the table.
Typically there is — I should say typically meaning I’m not generalizing, but there is not even training in law firms. Law firm managing partners or someone who has been at the law firm for 10 years perhaps is seen as someone deserving to go on that Caribbean CLE program to learn about marketing or go to Miami to spend a week to learn about management techniques, they come back with great ideas which half of them are forgotten by the time they get back to the office.
And the office work is waiting for those attorneys to tend to before they can translate or transfer any of that new knowledge.
So, typically what I see is that there is no training for the staff who is actually doing the work, who is picking up the phone, who is attending to the files, who is running to the post office and when you look at it, I know you said, we’re not talking about how you do it just yet, but in general now, I may be throwing in some book recommendations here, there’s a book called ‘Endless Referrals’ and Burg claims that –
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, by Bob Burg.
Helen Bukulmez: Yes. He claims that every one person has the potential to reach to at least to 250 people. So, you may think that your clerk is running to the post office, but based on the training that you have provided to that person, based on their happiness with the law firm the way he or she has been treated. She will go to the post office and may come back with a client, new client or she may go there and she may send the client to another firm, it’s all up to the training that you provide to your team.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right. So, when we come back we’re going to talk about the training that you should be providing and how it should be applied to the whole team, but before we get into that we’re going to take a break right here and we’ll be back in just a moment.
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Christopher T. Anderson: And we’re back in The Un-Billable Hour and I’m talking with Helen Bukulmez and we’ve been talking about the importance of training your team and what we’ve covered so far is about how the training is kind of non-existent and even those who go out and get some training outside, don’t ever really get an opportunity to bring it back into the business. I said that we would talk with Helen after the break about why it’s important for the whole team to be trained and supported and not just the leader.
So Helen, can you speak to that how can we do a better job of bringing this back and making — and you mentioned, and those referrals making the whole team ambassadors of the business?
Helen Bukulmez: Absolutely. And that’s where I really get excited. I entered into the legal profession around 2009 and as we all know that was not the best time financially in the industry and a lot has changed since then. The client of the law firm has changed and the fact that most law firms are not realizing this.
Number one, our typical clients are a lot more informed or misinformed because they have so many resources at their disposal. And number two, if we are talking about a law firm providing services to corporations, large entities, then there is a new concept of legal procurement. Our clients are not just the town people walking into a small law office anymore. We have to realize what has changed and the mystery has gone.
In the past perhaps the attorneys could simply say, this is going to be a motion in limine, I have to file tomorrow and here is the flat rate you have to pay it before tomorrow before I can do it, let’s go and do it.
Today, the clients want to understand what it is, why do you need to file it, why does it need to be filed tomorrow, how is it going to help me overall, have you explained the process to me very clearly? And obviously, all this pressure used to be on the attorneys and if you’re not training your law firm team it still is.
If you properly train your law firm team, then you have just like you said, little ambassador not only bringing in business, but also owning their business. Every task they know what to do, how to explain it in simple terms, clarify and lead the clients through the process. Our clients do not need to know anything legal. Again, I want to repeat this. Our clients do not need to know anything legal.
I have met with so many attorneys, unfortunately, who act as if the clients have a duty to know the legal terms, the Latin terms, how the process works and they get upset if the client comes back and says anything about it that they’ve seen on Google. It’s our duty to clarify and good teams know how to do this.
On the other hand, we’re in a completely service-oriented business. I know in the podcast and all over the new resources repeat this often, we are a service based industry.
Think Ritz-Carlton, think your law firm. Is there a difference? Absolutely not.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right, and speaking about Ritz-Carlton, so I’ve had the opportunity and I brought actually some of my clients through, just as for the experience to actually experience some Ritz-Carlton training.
So I’m not suggesting that that’s how you do it but what are the strategies you use so because quite honestly, I mean even these teams, it doesn’t come naturally for the members of these teams to take ownership, it doesn’t come naturally for them to know to clarify and how to do this excellent customer service. So what strategies do you use or do you recommend others use in order to really build this training and this strategy into the firm?
Helen Bukulmez: Very good question. And you’re absolutely right. In most law firms, it does not naturally come for the team to step up and do the right thing, do it in a way that is effective for the clients, for the law firm and for their own interests.
Going back to the Ritz, you cannot find any person at any of Ritz-Carlton that is unhappy. They’re smiling, they know exactly what to do, they explain to you what they’re doing and you feel valued for your team to have the Ritz-Carlton mindset they need to be trained.
After they are trained, you know what part of your team is meant for your goals. When I’m talking about my goals it may be that you want to be a $5 million law firm by the end of 2020 or that you want to be someone who is respected in the legal industry, you want to write a book. What is your goal? What is going to make you happy and then communicate that to your team, but again, we’re still at the place where we were before.
The key here is to listen to your clients, truly listen to what they’re saying in their reviews, in their conversations with you, during the case process, ask some good questions. Are you happy with the service that you’re being provided? Do you have any questions? Have all your questions been answered? How else can we do this better?
And sometimes, we’ll hear things that are not as pleasant but that’s going to give us clues as to what we can do to improve our team. Then go back to your team and ask them.
Very recently, I had a law firm I’ve worked with and it was interesting, one of the intake questions I have through ACE is them asking the team members what their goals are and tie those goals to your own goals, and I’ll use a very specific example.
One of the paralegals, he wrote down that he wanted to complete his college education and obviously the law firm wants to be somewhere financially and we worked to tie those together. Here are goals, here are levels and if you do this then I’m going to actually give you a stipend to go to college and finish college.
Now, he has a lot more incentive to do better, to listen better and to help you get there. Attorneys, law firms, we have to keep in mind, the key fact that the team is there to make your dream happen, but what if your dream was tied to their own dream too.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. So I’ve noticed like in the way that you talk about things I’ve looked at your website too, but that what you recommend is sort of a — for lack of a better word, I was trying to think of a better word, but I’m going to use this one, a holistic approach. But you go deeper like then just you want to graduate or graduate from college, but you really recommend that leaders, law firm leaders, law firm owners get to understand the personal lives, the families and the goals around those of their team members in addition to their professional goals. Why is that important for the law firm owner to do that?
Helen Bukulmez: Think of a really good relationship, man and wife or any other relationship that is going very smoothly. When you look at those relationships, you see that everything that surrounds their lives are also very much tied to their relationship. There’s understanding, there’s tolerance, there are good questions, there’s valuing of each other, and unlike a good relationship, our teams, we usually look at them and say well this is not a relationship.
That is not true. It is a very much of a relationship that spends most of our time in the office or if you’re a remote team, we usually spend 80% of our time in any given day, at least I do dealing with my colleagues. I may get to see my significant other, some people don’t even get to see theirs.
So when you look at the whole relationship reality, you will realize that if we — I am walking into the law office after having a really bad conversation with my husband. I am not going to be in my best mood to do my best work or even care about my boss’ goals. Do I care about his financial goals after I’ve just decided to get a divorce or that my child has been sick all night and I am coming in without any sleep?
The holistic approach really focuses on the Human Design Thinking. The fact is just right there. You can tell your employees that they have to do something and they probably will do it so that they get paid, but what is the return on investment. What is the return on investment in their time, your time and the compensation that you pay them if you’re not paying attention to what surrounds their reality.
I will give you an example.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, let me do this with you Helen. I want to take that example, but we’re going to take a break right here. So when we come back, we’re going to ask you to elaborate on what the return on investments are?
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Christopher T. Anderson: Welcome back to The Un-Billable Hour. My guest again is Helen Bukulmez, and we are talking about The Power of Empowered Teams.
And right before the break, Helen was just getting to some really exciting stuff talking about what specific return on investments we’re looking for with our team, and we were talking about really getting to know the teams’ goals, like all of your employees goals for their personal lives, and their professional lives and their families, so that they can be aligned and feel, like what I’m getting from you Helen is that they will feel as if being successful for the business, for the law firm is helping them be successful with their lives.
And so what you were going to do right now is talk about on some specific return on investment kind of goals we’re looking for in doing this training. So what were the examples you were going to give?
Helen Bukulmez: Oh absolutely. Some of the examples from the law firms that I worked with is that, for example, one law firm we realized that the tension or unhappiness or the anxiety among the team members significantly increases right after a Motion to Compel or some sort of a litigation or otherwise legal issue that pushes the law firm into a time crunch or if the trial has been lost.
We put together an idea that puts those team members in an environment where they can share with each other. They can come up with what to do better next time mindset, but also put them in an environment that’s going to be really good for them.
If you win a trial why not take your team out to a really nice lunch. Some teams actually have taken their teams to really nice right by the ocean, by the beach type of vacations, it’s a team bonding experience but they get to know each other better and if they carefully plan it, they get to know how they can do better. What did we do that wasn’t the optimal in litigation or how did we score against our financial goals that we can do better?
If you instill fear into your teams, it may be effective for a little while. It is not going to be effective in the long term, it is only going to paralyze people and they’re going to start looking elsewhere or they’re simply not going to be optimal.
And in all reality if you go to legal conferences, marketing conferences you always hear vendors or others say, you have to know this and as an attorney you don’t, you have not been trained in sales, you have not been trained in marketing. I have to disagree to some extent; I think the secret is to understand that there is no secret.
The secret is that do not fall for the sales pitch of the vendors who are trying to persuade you that you’re in a dark place and you may be in a dark place, but you’re an attorney, you’re a law firm, you’re very successful. If you can stand up in front of a jury and persuade and sell and market your case to them, you can do the same to your clients, you simply need to train your team, train your mind and put together an organized systemized idea of how to get the success and make sure to tie your goals to their goals so that they’re working towards it without any push or any force.
Christopher T. Anderson: I mean that sounds wonderful. I know one of the questions I think that our listeners will have and I hope you could speak to this, is lawyers are busy, the team is busy, how can you justify, how can they justify taking the — what seems to be an enormous amount of time to get to know their team better and to work on knowing their goals, so they can align their goals with the law firm’s goals, where do the owners and quite honestly, where does the team find the time to accomplish this work?
Helen Bukulmez: Great question and I do get this question from law firms and attorneys all the time. The idea is that all of this is not isolated, it does not require an additional time to understand your team to — you just have to pay attention and be aware that these things truly matter and they have an impact on the end goal. They have an impact on your marketing, they have an impact on your sales, they have an impact on delivery of legal services and where you want to be as a law firm owner.
You do not need to take the time to sit down separately to find out what somebody’s goals are. Perhaps you know that their child is getting ready to go to medical school. Well, in that case you should know what the needs are or that someone’s mother just went into the hospital, you don’t need to sit down with them separately and a lot additional time to get to know them and to realize that they’re going to need some personal time, how can we work this out, is there a temporary help available, can we find someone to fill in. Why put that person in a pressure to do their best, when you know, you should know that they cannot be their very best if their mother is in the hospital.
So, it’s a matter of having the awareness for the law firm and that’s basically what ECE does, we come in and we bring this awareness to the team not every attorney, not every law firm is going to be aware, they’re not even going to want the service, but our goal is organized, systemized and build an accountability system where those people feel very comfortable coming to you and saying, I want to reach my goals which are tied to your goals, but here is an obstacle how can we work it out. It doesn’t require three hour separate meeting for us to find out, because they are now trained to come to you with it they know how it’s going to impact the goal.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, that’s pretty cool. It’s almost — it’s almost sounds like to that what you’re saying is it yeah, it’s not, it’s not creating a whole new one-on-one, 360 review and all this stuff, but it almost sounds like what you’re saying is what you just need to learn is how to pay attention and how to be receptive to the clues that have always been around you, but you’re just not paying attention to them.
Helen Bukulmez: Absolutely. And the law practice, we have our own way of thinking how it should or it has been. I just got back from a conference of legal procurement professionals in London and one of the speakers said something that really clicked. She said who thought that this system made sense. Not — we did not have to explain anything to our clients that they just had to pay what we told them and we didn’t have the responsibility to create value for them, whose thought was — this was a good idea. So, it’s not a good idea for Ritz and it’s certainly not a good idea for your law firm. I can tell you that.
Christopher T. Anderson: I think that’s a great place to end it, but before we do you mentioned at the very beginning of the show that you also run a Hiking Lawyers Group. Can you just say a word about that what is that, that was just — I think that’s fascinating?
Helen Bukulmez: Absolutely. Hiking Lawyers begin as a fun group. Now we have about 1,200 lawyers across the country and some globally. We basically share a passion for wellness. Sometimes we share advice about yoga, where is this fear live in your body, how can you get rid of it, what does a two-hour hike up a mountain do for your mind, how can you relax and open network with other attorneys.
I have found the best opportunities, I have found the best friends and I have found a platform to share my experience, but learn from the best judges and other attorneys in the country through Hiking Lawyers and I always recommend it to other lawyers as well as to my law school students to join and whether they hike, whether they do yoga, whether they eat healthy and clean, you always have a little plate for you in our group.
Christopher T. Anderson: Fantastic. All right, well that does wrap up this edition of The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Business Advisory podcasts. Our guest today has been Helen Bukulmez as a CEO of ECE, I have been saying it wrong during the show, ECE ROI Consulting and you can learn more about ECE at ECEROI.com, that’s ECEROI.com.
Helen are there — can people reach you in any other way Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn? What would be a good way if people want to learn more about what we’ve talked about here on the show?
Helen Bukulmez: I am a big believer in social media, I am @HelenBukulmez, I’m very open to any new connections and also ECEROI.com is a good way to connect with me. LinkedIn is a great way to connect with me, Helen Bukulmez, and you can find my information all around. I’m very intentional about being open to any connection, but also very intentional about finding the right clients for me so that I can talk to law firms to get to where they want to be.
Christopher T. Anderson: Fantastic, and what about this the Hiking Lawyers, how can people find out about that?
Helen Bukulmez: If you go on Facebook and search for Hiking Lawyers, I am sure it will pop-up. Now the name has been changed to Hiking Lawyers and Friends, and I would be so happy if we have new friends joining us. Our annual hike this year is in Michigan, I will be seeing it for the first time. I believe the destination is called Sleeping Bear Dunes. I would be very happy to connect with new friends there.
Christopher T. Anderson: Fantastic. Thank you. And again, this is Christopher Anderson and I look forward to seeing you next month with another great guest as we learn more about topics that help us build the law firm business that works for you.
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