In this episode’s discussion around the Community Table:
- How to say no to some cases (without losing clients). It’s great to “niche down” to your expertise, but never say no. Say, “I know someone who can help.” Be both – the lawyer and the referral source.
- When it’s time to grow into a new market, everything starts with location. Do the research, know the territory, and establish the “look” that meets client expectations.
- Considering a new location? Clients will come to you, but your team is equally important. Your office location matters as much as your expertise, both for clients and team members.
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The Un-Billable Hour Community Table where real lawyers from all around the country with real issues they are dealing with right now meet together virtually to present their questions to Christopher T. Anderson, lawyer and law firm management consultant. New questions every episode and none of it scripted. The real conversations happen here.
For our first question, an attorney wants to know the best way to say no to referrals.
Speaker 1: Okay, so my question is, how do you say no to cases but say no in such away so that when they come back, if they have another legal issue, then they’ll return to you.
Christopher T. Anderson: Great question. What are your area or areas of practice?
Speaker 1: Well, now I’m getting more into debtor’s rights, where I’m protecting debtors and everything. But I have experience in doing, like, family law, criminal defense, and some other areas as well, too. But I don’t want that area to consume up as much time as it used to consume in my practice, because I want to focus on this new area. So I guess they’re just trying to find that balance and saying no to them but letting them know, “Hey, I’m doing this now.”
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. Fantastic.
Speaker 1: Just trying to find that balance, really.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. So first of all, don’t do what you just said. What state or states do you practice in?
Speaker 1: Tennessee.
Christopher T. Anderson: Fantastic. Okay. I don’t know and I will not pretend to know the State Bar Regulations in Tennessee whether or not you can get referral fees. I’ll leave that to your discretion to figure out. So just take whatever I say regarding that with a grain of salt. It’s not necessary part of the equation.
So the first thing I want to say is congratulations on niching down what you’re doing and wanting to do more of one thing and less of the other stuff. And I’ll take it that you’re not marketing for those other things that people are still calling you for.
Speaker 1: I’m not, but I do have. That’s where most of my experience has been in. So I’m not marketing anymore.
Christopher T. Anderson: That’s fine. Yeah, good. But some people just know you and they send you and people come so that’s great. So your goal, are you just solo?
Speaker 1: I am.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. As a solo, you want people to come to you for everything. You want people to come to you for everything. You want them to say, that’s my lawyer. I call her for every legal problem. And quite honestly, they should call you for plumbing and I needed some help this weekend. I was making a rye bread and it didn’t rise the way I wanted to. I should call you for that, too. Seriously. Because what you should be, this is such a great opportunity for you. And this is why niching down is so powerful. Have you ever heard of a Team 100?
Speaker 1: I have not.
Christopher T. Anderson: This is a concept taught by Bob Burg, who stole it from someone else. I forget. I just learned this the other day because I put it into a talk, but now I don’t remember who he stole it from. But anyway, it’s as old as the hills. But it’s a fantastic concept. If you don’t know who Bob Burg is, get his books and you should read them. They’re all short, they’re all fun. The best two are ‘Endless Referrals’, which teaches this concept that I’m talking to you about now. And the other one’s called the ‘Go Giver’ and I think he’s got a couple of other ones out there, but those are like the two best ones from Bob. I would read everything he’s written. He’s a good guy.
But the Team 100 concept is this. Get a sheet or sheets of paper and list the 100 things you most likely could refer business to. It’s hard. It’s hard to do 100. So I don’t know if some people listening are like, you’re going to be like, I don’t know what he’s talking about. But if you do know what I’m talking about, get a copy of the ‘Yellow Pages.’ It’s an old book, the ancient book that we used to use in law practice and it just flipped through it, basically. And if you can’t come up with 100, use the categories in the ‘Yellow Pages,’ you’ll all of a sudden go like, “Oh yeah, taxidermy,” whatever. You’ll come across 100 things that you need.
And what you can do with this is also include as part of your 100 practice areas that you don’t do but leave one spot for debtor’s rights and you put your name in there. Then you send this thing around to everybody you can think of and say, hey, everybody I can think of. I’ve created this thing called the Team 100 that’ll help us all refer business to the best people in each area, so that when people ask us for referrals, we’re always wracking our brains. We’ll have a list that we can go to for plumbers, wedding cakes, archery instruction, debtor’s rights, family law, criminal law and you send it around and people put in their recommendations and send it back to you.
Now, what is this doing one, it’s establishing you as a leader. Whoa! This is going to be really helpful because then you’re going to pass, of course, as you add names in, you’re going to pass it back.
When you get two or three names for one slot, pick the best one or put two or three names. Just make sure your name is the only one in there for debtor’s rights, and then you pass this whole list back to them and you keep doing this round and round around till you get the whole Team 100 filled out. Then, since you’ve done this, everybody that ends up in all the other practice area slots, you call them up and you say, hey, Matthew, I see that I ended up in debtor’s rights and you ended up in business advice. And so I saw that you ended up there, and I was just wondering if it would be useful for you for me to refer you some business. Matthew would say, of course, it will be. And then you ask him the key question which is, great, Matthew, just tell me a little bit about what an A client looks like to you so that I know and can recognize them when it comes time to refer someone. I don’t want to refer you someone you don’t want so tell me what an A client looks like to you. And Matthew will tell you what an A client looks like to him.
Now, hopefully at some point along here, Matthew will be not a total asshole and say, how could I refer business to you? And you’ll tell him, but keep the conversation focused as much as you can on Matthew, because telling him how to refer you business has a small likelihood of actually working. Referring him business has a large likelihood of actually working. So you want to focus your conversation and focus your time on learning what kind of business Matthew wants. And then don’t sit around and passively wait for that kind of business to come in your door, but scour your universe for an opportunity to send him some business and then do. And in the meantime, since you’ve had this conversation with him, when you come across an article, when you come across something interesting, the chamber of commerce has said something or issued something or you see a press release, you just dash them off a quick note by email or preferably with note cards that you keep on your desk and send by the mail because that’s a pattern interrupt these days. Whoa! (00:07:03) a mail how interesting. And you stay front of mind for Matthew. And this all circles back to your question now, because you should never say no. You should say, I’m so pleased that you called me. I really respect that you think of me when you got a problem like this, and I’m not doing that kind of law right now. But if it’s all right with you, I’d love to introduce you to Ella, and I will make sure that you’re taken care of. And you’ve had this conversation, of course, with Ella before, just like you had with Matthew. And then maybe a week or two later, you might check on it.
Matthew’s job and if they refer you business, your job is then, and this is the most important piece of this, in fact, let me just ask you if you know, because I like doing the paper chase thing. I like the little Socratic method. When Matthew refers you some business, what’s the most important thing you should do?
Speaker 1: Probably send him a thank you card.
Christopher T. Anderson: No.
Speaker 1: I would like — no?
Christopher T. Anderson: You should do that. But that is the second most important, maybe even the third, but it’s probably the second most important thing.
Speaker 1: Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: What does Matthew want way more than a thank you card?
Speaker 1: I send him business, like refer him–
Christopher T. Anderson: Oh, yeah. That’s the second most important. The third most important is the thank you card. But even more than sending in business. We’re all lawyers, what do we want more than anything? Ego stroke. Right? And this is so important. You should do something to say something great about Matthew for sending you the business to the client. It will get back to Matthew, you don’t have to worry about it, it’ll get back to him. And it doesn’t have to be something big. But sometimes, like, one thing I’ve done in the past is, oh, Matthew sent you. Tell you what, the clients that Matthew send tend to be really good clients. So my usual free consult is 30 minutes. But for clients that Matthew sends over, you get a full hour. You’re going to give them the full hour anyway, but you just make them look — I used to have an airplane maintenance business. And when we got referred business by others, we gave those clients priority handling. And we had folders made up that said priority handling.
Now, priority handling in that business was the red folder with priority handling. Everybody in our business got priority handling. But those people got a red folder that made Matthew look good because they came from him, they got priority handling. Just something to make the referrer look good, which, by the way, without you doing anything, makes you look good too. And so that’s the most important thing, setting in business. Yes, absolutely. Thank you card. Yeah, it’s nice. It’s always nice to do that and to keep them on a list. If Matthew sends you a lot of business, send him a gift. And of course, if your state allows it, you guys can work out referral fees. The end result of this is that you’re never saying no. You’re saying, I really thank you for thinking of me. I’m not doing that right now, but I’m going to send you a referral.
But I want you to let me know if anything doesn’t go, I’m going to refer you and I’m going to make sure that goes well. And of course, if anything doesn’t go well with that, please let me know. I’ve got other people I can refer you to as well, but this is the one I’ve chosen especially for you. And of course, if you need anything else, you always can come back to me. And Matthew knows, because Matthew is in your circle of Team 100, that he’s not to try to usurp your position as their go to attorney. He’s to do the business for them. And that’s why you don’t do this for people within your practice area. And this is why it’s also important that you don’t actively engage in these other practice areas, because if you’re doing business law, Matthew is going to be reluctant to refer you debtor’s rights stuff because he’s going to be worried that she’s going to take the business law work, too, or family law or whatever it might be.
So niching down is a superpower. It supercharges your referral capability and supercharges your ability to get those referrals back because people aren’t worried about you poaching. So that is probably not the answer you were expecting, but it is the real answer. Any follow up questions about that?
Speaker 1: No. I just have to just digest and process what you said because you’re right, that was not the answer that I was expecting to hear.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. What a gift that people call you. Why would we ever turn that away? You never know what they’re going to come up with tomorrow.
Speaker 1: That’s true.
Christopher T. Anderson: And everyone that you would normally have said no to instead becomes an opportunity to make another friend and another relationship that will refer you business.
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The remaining two segments are a discussion on what to consider when opening a new office in a new location.
Speaker 2: So my question or pick your brain on insight. Part of our plan in 2023 is to open multiple offices in Southern California. We were up in the Bay Area in Oakland, California. We’re a real estate litigation law firm. We plan on becoming the real estate law firm of California and want to tap into the Southern California market. Looking at multiple locations in Southern California, but want to open at least one office by April and wanted to pick your brain about what you see as potential pitfalls and insight about how to succeed in doing that in general. Just a big picture in a very short period of time.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. So that’s a big question. So let me make sure let’s try to narrow the question a little bit to see what you’re actually getting at.
Speaker 2: Absolutely.
Christopher T. Anderson: You’ve got this real estate practice based in Northern California. You want to open up into Southern California, and you’re asking what are the criteria for deciding our first, next location?
Speaker 2: It’s not even that. We’re working with — my wife is our marketing director, so she’s handling that, not IT people, but our Google Footprint. So we’re working on location. So it’s going to be Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego. We know that for a fact. It’s more of we’re doing it like we have to get Google reviews to help build up a Google Footprint, we know that. But just besides finding a location, I kind of think I know what I’m doing, but I don’t know if I know what I’m doing until I try doing it. But I don’t think it’s rocket science what we’re doing. But just wanted to get your thoughts on besides identifying the location, not being in a place that does foreclosure and real estate litigation obviously in the same building for Google Footprint. But just — have you helped anyone do this before and what issues that came up that they had to deal with or any insight you just have on. I’m trying to avoid making mistakes. I know I will make mistakes, but that’s okay. I’m just trying to minimize them.
Christopher T. Anderson: All right. Still trying to narrow the question because right now it’s sounding like the question is, I’m opening a new office. What do I need to worry about?
Speaker 2: Yes.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. All right. Everybody else, put your hands down for the next seven hours. Yeah, I think that’s a bit broad, to be quite honest.
Speaker 2: Okay, fair enough.
Christopher T. Anderson: What do you have to worry about? You have to worry about team like who are you going to put there. You have to worry about, yeah, I mean, you put your finger on a good one, which is making sure that the location you’re in doesn’t have Google my business conflicts. That would be troublesome, but that’s really low on the list of things to worry about. Being convenient to, I think it’s really a marketing question. So I think it really needs to start there. It’s definitely a team question, but it’s more a marketing question because as we know in today’s day and age and through after the pandemic where we say we are versus where our team is actually working don’t have to be carefully matched and so we really can look at location more as a marketing thing.
So let’s dial back to the question I have to throw back at you. Not being a Southern California expert is where do your clients expect you to be? Or more importantly, where are they? So who are your A clients? Let’s start there. I think that’s a great place to start the conversation.
Speaker 2: So our avatar for our clients, which you and I, we had a conversation in San Diego several years ago about this, is professionals because we do a lot of real estate. So property is worth over a million dollars that have legal issues. And you might recall we do foreclosure litigation. We haven’t seen the wave yet, but we anticipate with the recession and all that that’s going to pick up. So it’s people who stretch themselves but also professionals and are having short-term financial difficulties that are looking for a short-term and long-term solution, but who can afford a $10,000 retainer and the case valuation is probably about $25,000 to $50,000.
So we’re not looking at, when we say Los Angeles, we’re not looking at inner city Los Angeles, we’re looking at the Santa Monica. We’re looking at towards Brentwood, Beverly Hills, people who have issues but have financial resources to tap into to deal with some of these issues, right?
Christopher T. Anderson: So now we’re starting to answer the question. Residential, commercial or both?
Speaker 2: Both.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. And again, so I’m going to take some wild ass guesses and this is something where you just have to turn back to your market, right? Sometimes for this kind of stuff, I breakout my product marketing chat bona fides, understand that my opinion is actually irrelevant. The market knows the answer to your question as far as where you should be. And the market will tell you quite honestly, I think you can get a couple of guesses by calling people who might be your A client. I imagine in your Rolodex there’s a few people who are your A clients and not trying to solicit their business, but to ask this very simple question, hey, if you were looking for a law firm that does what I do, where would you expect them to be and they will tell you. I know my markets like I know in New York City where I would expect that law firm to be. I know in Denver where I’d expect that law firm to be. I know in Atlanta where I would expect that law firm to be. But I don’t know in Southern California. So I would guess Beverly Hills wouldn’t be a sucky place to be for that, for instance, in all honesty, that’s probably a really great place to be located. But probably even more specifically, there’s probably a street.
I’ll never forget when I first had my little law firm, when I first was practicing Athens, Georgia. I didn’t think — we weren’t in Atlanta, we were in Athens. I didn’t think, you know, we’re kind of a semi-rural market. And this man comes in from a much more rural place called Albert County, which is all the way on the South Carolina border. They walked in and I asked him, I said, “Sir, why did you,” it was an elderly gentleman. I said, “Why did you come all this way? There are lawyers in Albert County?” He had a relatively minor real estate problem and he just kind of straightened himself up. He said, “This is important to me. And I wanted me a Washington Street lawyer.” And I didn’t even know that was a thing. But Washington street happened to be indeed, that’s where the law firms were. And his problem for his state of mind, I tell that story just because that’s what he expected. That meant something. The first criterion was Washington street lawyer. Next criterion was, did I know anything? It was literally that. As far as location, I would ask a few people, two, three, four people, and then we have to think of some sort of experiment.
This is where your wife comes in, where we actually run an ad, or we run just a short, not using your actual brand, but just run some ad tests to see what gets the most response, what gets the most clicks. It’s very low spend on something like this, but you can run a couple of ads to just sort of get a gauge for what kind of floats people’s boats and then you go do it. So that’s the location thing. What else do I worry about? I think you’re absolutely right to be worried. With Google, my business and the algorithms these days, you’re going to have to choose the actual location, right? The fake mailbox addresses don’t really cut it. You want to be in an actual location where you will stand out as alone in your space. That’s certainly important. And then what I think for what you do and what the market you’re going after here is like, I would also be looking for a space. And this is something that I struggle with sometimes where they’re going to let you brand, right? So how are you going to be able to place your business as far as actual on street visibility? Are you going to be allowed on the marquee? Are you going to be able to put your name on the building? How else are you going to be able to be visible and it’s not like billboard level, because that’s not how you’re getting business. It’s for what I call verification level.
These are people who already have made the decision to check you out and so you just need to look the way they are expecting you to look. You can do that for — it doesn’t have to be a huge investment. There are things that you can do to look the way that they’re expecting you to look without having to, you don’t have to buy a building, but you want to be sure that you don’t get into a building or into a location and then find out you can’t do those things. Your backdrop, they’re expecting that. That backdrop, that’s a lovely backdrop, by the way. They’re expecting something like that when they come in. They’re not expecting to not see your name, right? So that’s why a regis(ph) or something like that’s not going to work. They’re not expecting to walk in and just be in a generic Ikea furniture level office space. They’re expecting certain level of finish. Because again, you’re asking for a $25,000 retainer. You got to have some of the things that they would be expecting to see.
So it’s funny, I just watched this weekend for the first time in a number of years, I watched Catch Me If You Can. And I always love Christopher Walken’s Day when he’s talking to Leo DiCaprio’s character. He’s like, why do the Yankees always win? And his conjecture is, because they’re pinstripes.
Nobody can take their eyes off the pinstripes. And so then the pinstripes connote that people expect them to win so they do. But I don’t say it with a grain of salt, but there’s certain things we want to do, certain things we don’t care about.
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Christopher T. Anderson: I’m sorry, I feel like I’m drifting all over the place. But again, your question is really, really broad.
Speaker 3: No, I think you’ve given me some little nuggets to help the brain to start moving into that direction.
Christopher T. Anderson: So now I’m just going to speak from personal experience, right? So there’s the question of, all right, what do I look for? I open a new office every couple of months, so what do I look for when I’m looking for a new office? And for me, it’s team. Usually it’s team driven. Obviously, if I acquire a law firm, well, that’s where I am. I might move it later, but I’m just there. But otherwise I look at, all right, where do I have people that I either have or want to acquire and where do they want to work? Because the clients will come within a reasonable distance to them and I want my team to be productive and to be close to where they want to work. And if they would just want to work from home, then I need a central location where they can come meet clients, make copies, and do the kinds of things that you can’t do at home.
And that’s a big driver for me. And then it has to look like a place. It’s sort of the same question as with the clients. But now I’m looking at team because as you probably know, and as you’re growing, that still acquiring a player legal team is not easy, yet it’s still challenging. I also look at a place where that fits their image of the place that they’d like to work. And that doesn’t mean it has to be a Class A space. In your case, maybe it does. It just means it’s a place that they would like to work, that they would be happy to greet their clients in. That is close enough so they don’t have major commutes that has the facilities that they need, that you’re either able to put in your own facilities, copying, scanning, printing, conference rooms, refreshments, storage and the like, that will make them more productive. So that’s the other criterion that I look for. So I’m looking for what do the clients expect, what do my people expect, and what provides the infrastructure that will facilitate productivity.
Speaker 3: That’s great.
Christopher T. Anderson: I love the question, and I think those are some of the criteria I look at. Is that helpful?
Speaker 3: Absolutely. Because I think about where we are right now, and I’m not a traditional law firm, but everyone loves working where we are now. We have 6500 (00:26:19). So I want to replicate that? Something similar to that in the new offices we do have.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. And you probably don’t need to replicate 6500 everywhere?
Speaker 3: No, this is the hub. They are the — (00:26:31) hub provide support, but then have what you said copiers (00:26:36) so they can come into the office and meet with people. And if they want to work in the office because I find that some people like to come in the office now, some people like to do hype. So it’s interesting as we grow. I have an interview at 12:30 today with a potential new attorney, and she wants to work in a place where it’s a family type situation or a team oriented and open air, office versus cubicles, and she works for AC Transit right now, which is like the bus (00:27:06) open. So providing that kind of opportunity is kind of key. So it reminds me to think about that.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. And so to the last point, I think you made me think of something else, is that you don’t know, I don’t know what the expectations for office space are five years from now. And so I caution, I try not to build out in a way that you lock yourself into one or another concept. Like for my businesses right now, starting about two years ago and going forward, is nobody gets an office. We have closed door offices, we have open space offices, we have public area offices, we have cubicles, we have a variety of types of space. And if you’re coming in three or four days, you can kind of occupy one and people are probably going to leave it alone. But the overall overriding concept is that it’s all hotel space. You can sit there, but if you’re not there, someone else might sit there. And so don’t leave your porn on the desk, I guess. You leave it like you would leave a hotel room, that you’re going to be gone for a few days, and somebody else can come. Our cleaning team comes in and sort of resets it all for that concept because a lot of people are coming in two days, one day, three days. And maintaining space that’s 60% empty is stupid and it looks bad, right?
So when you have clients come in and the place is a freaking ghost town, doesn’t look good. So having it so that if you adjust it to sort of a hotel type space is always kind of busy and people are kind of working wherever they work and it’s also very collegial. And so far it’s been a great experiment but that’s been part of our growth plan is. There’s no permanent office space. Even my desk, I’m not in Denver today, so somebody else is probably sitting at my desk. I am in Denver tomorrow, and so nobody better be sitting at my desk. But if they are, I’ll go sit at somebody else’s desk because it’s all hotel. My laptop comes with me. I just plug it into the docking station wherever I sit. But I’m not saying that’s how you have to do it, but I think you should think about what are the opportunities that we have for people. What kind of spaces can they sit in? Are they going to have dedicated space? Is it going to be hotel space? Are we going to have more communal working areas for people that don’t come in very often? How do we reserve conference rooms? We’re going to be scaling to multiple offices. We need systems for how do we do conference rooms? How do we reserve even phone closets or whatever so that we never run into a because we never can predict one day? Oh, shoot. Everybody came in today. Well, now we’re screwed, right?
So ways to kind of lock that down so that people have to kind of expect what they’re going to get.
Speaker 3: Yeah. Our conference was full yesterday because everyone taking the office yesterday. There were not enough seats for everybody. That’s the first time that happened. So it’s like, oh, shit. But it’s a good problem actually.
Christopher T. Anderson: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Speaker 3: Thank you for listening. This has been The Un-Billable Hour Community Table on the Legal Talk Network.