On this week’s episode of the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast, we speak with Doug Brown, Chief Learning Officer and coach at Summit Success. Through their executive coaching, consulting, and publication division, Summit Success works with high-performing executives, business leaders, and professionals to ensure that they have the tools they need to live rich, full, and balanced lives.
Doug says, “My business is helping lawyers improve their businesses; It’s about filling the practice with the perfect client. Yes, it’s possible to have perfect clients, people who you’re meant to serve, who you love working with, and who love you back, and to do it faster and make more money so that you get to do things like take a vacation and look forward to going to work.”
We chat about Doug’s journey from attorney to executive coaching, as well as::
- Recent innovations in the way the legal industry is serving clients
- Sales skills and marketing strategies for attorneys
- Helping attorneys find and retain their ideal clients
- Fundamental, learnable management skills and the importance of continuing education
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast. Our mission is to provide thought-provoking, powerful and practical information to help you in creating your own sustainable wealth-generating law firm without overwork or overwhelm so you can live your best life. I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m here today with Doug Brown, Chief Learning Officer and coach at Summit Success.
Summit Success, through its executive coaching and consulting and publication division, works with high-performing business professionals who are determined to make their lives and businesses better. Welcome, Doug. I’m so happy to have you here and it’s gonna be great talking with a colleague on the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast and I know this is going to be a power-packed episode.
Doug Brown: Hi, Davina. Thanks so much. I’m looking forward to it as well. This is important work that we get to do for people who really appreciate what we do.
Davina: Right, right. And so I want to get a little bit of, you and I, I think we’re gonna have a great conversation and there’s going to be a lot of helpful information here for our audience of women law firm owners. But before we dive into that, we want to get to know a little bit more about you. So why don’t you tell me kind of your background and what led you to doing the work at Summit Success, and then we’ll dive into talking about Summit Success.
Doug: That’s terrific. That’s a great idea. So I’m one of those people who practiced law with the firm and then I moved into in-house as in-house counsel with a growing company. And then I got to be an entrepreneur and basically today, my business is helping, as you said, lawyers improve their business.
So it’s about filling the practice with the perfect client. Yes, it’s possible to have perfect clients, people who you’re meant to serve, who they love working with, who love them back and do it faster, to make more money. And they get to do things like taking a vacation and looking forward to going to work. This is an evolution for me over probably 29 years since I graduated from law school.
And I’d always hope to find that place where I get to work with people I love working with and making a difference. And I started off like many lawyers, I worked in law school. I was a clerk for a small firm in Maryland and went to American University, Washington College of Law after my undergrad at Syracuse. And I joined what was an excellent firm in Connecticut, a midsize firm. I was in a small office and they believed in all the stuff, I wanted them to believe in, mentoring and development of associates, really traditional back in the day.
And it was tremendous. And after a couple of years, my entrepreneurial brain started kicking in and I kind of grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. And I started asking questions like, Is this it? Is this all there is? Do I really want to be a partner in a law firm? And it wasn’t about the firm, it was about the business model. Like, is that what I really wanted? I knew I had more in me, perhaps like some of your listeners may have asked themselves that question at some point in their career.
So that, I’ve always been one to lean into challenges and try new things. And before long, I had an opportunity through a headhunter to become a lawyer in a growing company that I helped grow from 30 million to $300 million a year. And I got to do lawyer stuff but I also got to do business stuff. I got to work with the salespeople to help them close deals, and I learned all about how to sell. I managed IT divisions, I even managed HR for a year.
And the more I worked at it, the more I wanted to move just beyond being a lawyer. And the CEO came to me and gave me a chance to be the chief of staff for a major division. My mission was don’t let the business people mess it up. And then I had full p&l responsibility to rescue a $20 million business with 100 employees inside of this global business. Then I got a chance to go be a global executive. That was really fun, but my kids were growing and I felt like I was missing it.
And again, I got to this point, I wanted something more. And one thing led to another and I learned, did you know that the law degree in academia is a terminal degree. That’s not a bad thing. It’s equivalent to, don’t ask a Ph.D., but it’s equivalent to a Ph.D. And with that and my work experience, I got to be a full professor and a program manager in an MBA program where I got to teach adult learners about innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. And that’s when I finally got to put all of that experience into, and I had the freedom to become a business and executive coach.
So I did that for six years and that was tremendous. And then in the last several years, I was doing what I told my students to do, which is focus on a target market where you have a unique value proposition and go after them. So I started going back into the lawyer community. And before I knew it, I got recruited to become the executive director of the Connecticut Bar Association and get them turned around. So I used a lot of my marketing skills and my diplomacy skills. I had 10,000 lawyers as bosses, which was interesting.
Davina: Yeah, challenging, I’m sure.
Doug: And, you know, great people. And I took that because I got so much at the young lawyer associations, and I learned so much, I wanted to give that back. And after three years, I had them turned around. And I got recruited to, by a friend of mine, who had been on his board of advisors who was leaving a 130-year-old fine jewelry chain in Connecticut and five other states.
21 stores. And he wanted to transition it to his daughters. And so I went in for two years with him as his chief operating officer. I was responsible for sales and marketing and finance, everything except merchandise, really. So I didn’t think there could be anything harder than working with lawyers until I went into retail.
But I learned a lot there. And then along the way, I got certified as a Book Yourself Solid coach. And the founders of Summit Success invited me to join them as their chief learning officer. And I jumped at that chance because it’s the work I was meant to do, I’ve always wanted to do, and working with people who believe what I believe. So I not only get to teach other people how to do it, but I’ve been kind of living it, which is really kind of fun and strange all at the same time.
Davina: Wow, wow. So I, you know what makes me so excited about hearing your story is, I think that a lot of times when we go to law school and we become lawyers, you know, there’s a lot of expectation around us that, well, you’re a lawyer, and that’s kind of the pinnacle of your career. You know, to be a partner, or have your own practice, or whatever it is, right? And we often find ourselves not able to sort of let go of that vision because there’s so much pressure on us to have that vision for ourselves. And so many people want to try, so many other attorneys want to try different types of approaches to their career and different types of work.
And maybe they want to be a lawyer in a different way or maybe they want to just go into a whole new career altogether. But we’re so married to this identity of being a lawyer and kind of that being such a there’s such, you know, social status around it and prestige around it that sometimes, you have people who stay in legal careers for years, who, you know, aspiring you to partner or an age partner, or whatever it is they want to do, be in-house counsel or whatever. And they are miserable. You know, they don’t enjoy their lives and their work.
They do it for the money, for the prestige because they’re supposed to because they worked hard to go to law school. And so I’m always excited when I talk to people who have found a way to leverage their education and their degree and to all different kinds of projects and different ways that they reimagine and reinvent themselves in throughout their career. So that’s always a very exciting story to hear because I think that takes a lot of courage. How do you feel about that? What do you think about that?
Doug: I think that’s right. I don’t know, if I thought I was courageous at the time. I was looking, I had this belief that life was too short and too important to be stuck doing something that I didn’t really feel like was the highest and best use of my skills. And I loved being a lawyer. I’m still licensed to practice, but I don’t.
And I’ve worked with, over the years, so many lawyers who are in exactly the position that you described and helping them try to figure out what I do next because I went through that process. When I was in the law firm, I knew I wasn’t satisfied but I didn’t know what else I could do, even though I went to business school, and I had that pressure.
Well, you have all this debt from law school and you’re a great lawyer. The year before I left the law firm, I won an award, In fact, I had the associate’s dream. I don’t know if it’s a dream or fantasy. I was in my law firm, I was up, they were going to give me my yearly review, and that was where I gave my notice. So I think, I guess in retrospect, it was courage. But I was very focused that I had a higher purpose, something more than negotiating condemnation clauses and leases and being stuck just behind the legal work.
And I got energy from doing that. And when I, and we all, what I love about doing this with our work with lawyers, is we’re really smart people. And sometimes, we just get stuck thinking about things in a particular way. And when we can help them see it another way, the light bulb goes on and they just run with it. I think that’s tremendous. But they have that freedom to think about it another way.
Davina: Right. And that other way can be completely changing and exploring new careers, or it could be imagining your own career as an attorney in a very different way. I think we’re seeing a lot happen now where, you know, law firms are traditionally sort of slow behemoths when it comes to making change and moving forward into the future.
And we’re certainly seeing, over the last several years, we’re seeing a lot of use of virtual and then now with COVID-19 happening, people are kind of being forced to think that way. And so we’re seeing a very rapid change in the legal world and law firms that’s very exciting and innovative. And I think we’re going to look back on this time and just be amazed at how quickly the legal industry rocketed forward, you know, during this time in a way that we serve clients. Are you seeing that among your clients?
Doug: I am. I’m seeing, I work with owners and managing partners, reasonably small firms, under 10 lawyers, generally. And technology has leveled the playing field in so many ways, in fact, giving the smaller firms an advantage. And they are nimble, they don’t have high amounts of overhead. These lawyers are now thinking more like entrepreneurs. They’re willing to try things, fall on their face, get up and keep going.
And I think that’s transformational. It also avoids the politics that holds a lot of the large law firms back where they, you know, put too many lawyers in a room. And then, when I’ve worked with lawyers who were unhappy, this is interesting, I was speaking at the Maine State Bar Association’s annual meeting about, you know, what I talk about and I asked how many of you chose this area of practice when you went into law, or even decided on purpose to go to law school? And the vast majority of the room just fell into being a lawyer.
They just fell into their practice area. There was never an intentional decision. It was, well, my first job was with a family lawyer so I became a family lawyer. And I guess I like it, but I never really thought about it. So often, if you’re unhappy in your practice and you really unpack that, it might be you don’t have to leave being a lawyer. It might mean you change your practice, you change who you’re working for, you reconnect with why you’re doing it.
Davina: And people, attorneys have a lot of fear, oftentimes, around changing practice areas and this feeling of Well, I don’t know anything about it and I would have to learn it. And I don’t think that I, you know, been, how can I do that, right?
And, of course, there are other attorneys who have been practicing in the other practice areas who give them pushback and say, You can’t come into this practice area because you don’t know it. Well, they don’t think about everybody’s a beginner at one point, no matter, you know, I think it’s hard for lawyers been practicing for a while to feel like they’ve got to be the beginner again, you know, to learn a new practice area.
Doug: Yeah, we have a problem as a profession, is that, you know, entrepreneurs recognize you have to fail. You’re going to stumble, you pick up, you keep going. We seem to have as a profession, this fear of failure, this fear of being found out and that we are trained from early in law school to navigate in the rearview mirror by precedent. And so when we have to go do new things, it’s very scary. And those who do, have a tremendous advantage.
Davina: Right. Absolutely. I had a mentor at one point, best advice he gave me his he says, you know, you don’t have to be a walking talking legal encyclopedia, a Black’s Dictionary, like, you don’t have to know. He said, I’ve been practicing for 30 years and still I’ll have people who asked me things and I’m like, I don’t know.
Because, you know, he knew his area well, but even within that area, which is eminent domain, he, you know, he said, there’s still things, there’s still gonna be cases that, you know, situations like I come across that I have to puzzle out and figure out. And then he said, and then there are whole other areas of law I know nothing about because I’ve been practicing this for 30 years. You know, you don’t have to be a walking, talking encyclopedia of legal knowledge.
And yet somehow that’s kind of what we think when we come out of law school and we start practicing law. Well, and he, you know, I’m supposed to know everything. And, of course, you know, the general public doesn’t really understand the difference. I if you’re a lawyer, you, then you’re a lawyer of all things. And so you get asked questions, you know, about some area that you don’t practice. And I think it’s hard for, it takes a while for lawyers to learn how to be okay with that and be okay with, you know, I don’t know as an answer, or I don’t know but I could find out, you know?
Emotional Intelligence Determines a Lawyer’s Success
Doug: Yeah, I think as a profession, we continue to damage ourselves by not allowing lawyers to talk about themselves as specialists. If we look at the medical model, nobody expects a doctor to know everything about the human body. You’re allowed to specialize. And we’re not, we can’t, lawyers do, but we’re not allowed to say it.
And the thing that is interesting, I’ve been seeing this more and more with my clients, the old model used to be that you are judged based on what you know. But the truth is that I have learned in my advanced training as a speaker and in sales training, is that people don’t hire you because you’re smart, they hire you because they know, like and trust you. And emotional intelligence is a far better predictor of a lawyer’s success than what they know in black letter law. We were not taught that. I’ve been a student of it for 29 years, but we’re not taught that in law school.
We’re taught about how to be the subject matter experts, so to speak or the fountain of knowledge. And that’s not what success is about now because I’ve found that people decide to hire lawyers, or coaches for that matter, with their emotions, not with their logical brain. If lawyers want to get more clients, they need to be really tuned up on what we’ve always thought of the soft skills.
Davina: Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. You mentioned your sales training. I want to talk about that because you said you’re a Book Yourself Solid certified trainer. I loved that book, Michael Port, right? Michael Port. And he wrote a wonderful book called Book Yourself Solid, he’s written other books as well. And I’ve read that book and it’s a very powerful, life-changing book. I know about how it really challenges your thoughts on getting clients and how to Book Yourself Solid, how you can do it.
And I remember one thing that really stands out for me from that book is he gives an example, he talks about going into training salespeople how to make phone calls and how salespeople would make seven phone calls a day. And he would teach them how to make like 27 calls in an hour or something like that. And it was really fascinating because that, I think that happens to so many of us.
We think that we are producing a lot. We sort of overestimate what we’re really doing. And then somebody comes in like he did and came in and he pointed out, you know, you’re making a phone call and then you’re going to the bathroom and then you’re, you know, stopping and chatting with somebody and then you’re having to sit back down and then you’re researching and then you’re making another phone call. And that’s how you’re only making seven calls a day.
And then when he does, he would just sit down in a room and say okay, you’re gonna make 27 calls in an hour. And they’re like, that’s not possible. He said, yeah, it is because you’re just going to dial and dial and dial and dial, you know, and call people. And it was very illuminating to see his way that he was able to demonstrate to them all the holes in their bucket, their time bucket, you know? What is it that you, that drew you to becoming, what made you decide to become certified in the Book Yourself Solid method?
Doug: Well, I actually met Michael in another perspective and I got a chance to work with him and his wife Amy in their speaking, Heroic Public Speaking is the program that I went through to the Master’s level at. And so I got to know him. And it was through that, leading up to that, that I started reading Book Yourself Solid and I saw so much synergy between, you know, that approach, not so much the 27 phone calls, but the approach of focusing on your audience, knowing exactly who you were meant to serve and the exact problems that you solve for them.
And doing it in integrity and making a connection with them and allowing your underlying, your humaneness to be part of your message, just like you’d connect with an audience. Using the principles of Book Yourself Solid, it’s easy to make the phone calls because it’s not an imposition.
If you’re a family lawyer and your mission is to help people restart their lives after a failed marriage and protect the children, then making a sales call isn’t a bad thing. You’re trying to work for your people and help them. And that shift, using that system, all of a sudden, you see that as an essential part of who you are, not something that’s so distasteful that you have to do it as little as possible.
Davina:: Right, right. So let’s delve into this a little bit because I’d like to give some maybe advice or tips for, because when you see a book like this, like Book Yourself Solid and you hear about making phone calls, and that kind of thing, of course, you think of, you know, salespeople, right? Which is not an attorney, in most attorney’s minds. Even if they own their own business, you know, they don’t think of themselves as salespeople.
And yet, we know that in any business, if a sale doesn’t happen, then there is no business. There’s no, you’re operating a charity or a hobby but you’re not making sales. We just may call them consultations instead of sales. But we know that we’re prohibited, you know, most bar associations prohibit solicitation of clients.
So people say, Well, you know, I can’t make cold calls or I can’t make, and that is true. But how can we use sales skills to maybe make phone calls, or maybe reach out to people through email, or whatever, and get those prospective clients in to have conversations with us? Because I think a lot of people right now could use some good advice because so many people are saying, well, with this COVID-19, you know, my phones have stopped ringing and clients aren’t coming in the way they used to. So what kind of things do you think they can do?
Doug: Oh, how much time do we have? I’ll keep it short.
Davina: We’re just gonna get some tips, we’re not gonna, you know, go into the whole thing.
Activating Your Clients to be Referral Sources
Doug: So the tip is, it’s not about making cold phone calls. Cold activity doesn’t generate business and paid advertising generally doesn’t generate business for them, unless you’re in a transactional consumer practice, a personal injury practice, something like that. Building your law practice is about the relationships that you have. And the fastest way to build your practice, and Walt and I talk about our three marketing strategies. And one is very simple and your listeners can do it today. And the first one that costs you nothing and works almost every time is what we call delight.
And it’s simply working with your existing client base to make a connection with them so they know, like and trust you. And you provide the experience that they want to talk about in a positive way around their experience with you. Because most people associate, they’d rather go to the Department of Motor Vehicles than talk to a lawyer so it’s not a very high bar to like them. So what is one thing, if you know your clients well, what is one thing you can do that can delight them? And in COVID, you can pick up the phone and say How you doing? I’m thinking about you.
I’m working on your case. I know the courts are closed but I’m out here for you. What else can I do for you? That human connection because so few people do that, that’s delight. It’s having a good intake process that makes somebody feel valued right at the beginning of, and safe at the beginning of a relationship. Because your best advocates are your clients. And yet, we don’t do things on purpose to activate them as referral sources. We simply hope that they might refer people to us. And hopefully,
Davina: I think that’s really powerful what you just said when you said we don’t do things to activate them. So that, the word activate is very powerful. We don’t do things to get them to take action, right? And I think oftentimes, we sort of think that, as lawyers, we sort of think, well, they know that I’m here. I’ve worked on their, you know, with my past clients, I’ve worked on cases for them before. They know I’m here. If they need me, they’ll call me. Or, you know, people in my town know because I’m out, you know, I’ve gone out to networking lunches, or, you know, I’ve been on Facebook. They know I’m here. I don’t need to pester them, right?
Doug: Yeah. And, you know, I’m one of those people that spent, I don’t know how many thousands of dollars and ate so many hundreds of rubber chicken dinners going out. And people knew me and liked me but they didn’t remember at the moment, they needed, that somebody came to them. They didn’t associate me with something because I made the mistake that most lawyers make. What do you do? I’m a real estate lawyer. I’m a family lawyer. I’m a tax lawyer. It doesn’t mean anything. But when you answer that question, I help X, my target client, do Y solve a problem, so they can Z.
I hope lawyers get more clients more quickly so they can make more money and have time with their families. That’s what I do. I don’t introduce myself as an executive coach because that doesn’t matter to them. What matters to them is that. And we activate our clients when we introduce ourselves clearly and consistently in a very narrow area, when we have a nurture strategy that may be sent something out once a month, not about my firm and how great I am, but about them, something they care about, their conversation going on in their head because people have a short attention span.
They have to remember you and what you do at the moment that they are going to give a referral. And that’s the second strategy, it’s who your people see before they see you. And their little things, and they’re not salesy, and they’re not, if you’re focused on, I’ll pick on family law again, a lot of family law clients right now. And if you’re keeping in touch with them every six months, how’s it going? How’s the family doing?
Hey, here’s something that came up that I thought you might be interested in. Just a little drips like that’s valuable to them keeps you top of mind. The key is you have to focus, and Michael Port talks about it in Book Yourself Solid, your red velvet rope. And that is who’s inside your red velvet rope? The people you were meant to serve. And those are the people you talk about. Because the other problem that lawyers have is well, I can’t focus on just one thing. I won’t have enough work. I have to take all this other work.
And that’s a myth because the narrower you go, the deeper you go, the more work there is. If you’re trying to maintain a practice that’s family law and real estate and bankruptcy and criminal and personal injury, how much are you gonna, if you have a problem with your foot, are you going to go to a GP, or you’re going to go to a podiatrist? You’re going to go to the person that specializes. And that takes courage to do that. Not blind courage, but it does require courage to do that.
Davina: Yeah, we think, we always think we’re gonna miss out on a client who could show up and pay us. But generally, the more we get really clear on who it is we want to work with, the more we’ll start to, you know, just not have a desire to work with people who don’t fit into that. And we know that if we let those people go, that creates space, a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum. It’s going to fill it with people that you’re trying to attract if you’re consistent with the message that you’re putting out there.
Doug: Yes. And it’s not just about the type of practice, it’s about the type of client. When I work with clients to X-ray their practice and say, what are all your clients? How much money did you bring in? That’s your revenue, you know that. And how much money did you make? What they often find is their most troublesome clients, their quote B and C clients are also the least profitable. Well, why are you hanging on to them? What would happen if you didn’t hang onto them?
Davina: Fear is why they’re hanging onto them. Fear.
Doug: Right. And, but what if you could, so that’s where I said, What if you could find one more of your A level clients who could, you can make more profit on them? Ah, that’s a good idea. And it’s because lawyers are not taught to run a business. We’re taught to be lawyers. And we learned how to be lawyers from other lawyers who were also not taught how to run a business. And that’s what I love about working with lawyers is that as soon as they start to see the idea, they’re like, Oh, this makes total sense. And then I can do it.
Davina: Right. And I think too, that you know, when you get in, especially a lot of people listening to this podcast on their own law firms. And when you get into running your law firm, it’s not just being a lawyer, you’re having to figure out all the aspects of running your law firm and getting all the things done, you know?
And so it can feel, and we know marketing is its own area of expertise and it could feel like getting clients, growing your practice, you know, you got to get clients, you got to grow your team, you got to, you know, set up systems, and it can feel overwhelming. Like, there’s so much that has to be done. But how would you help somebody figure out how they are going to get their ideal clients when they feel like they don’t have time to think about that and they’ve got so much on their plate? What kinds of things do you say to them?
Take a Look at Your Priorities
Doug: Ah, that’s such a common challenge, I want to work, you’re talking about working on your business rather than working in your business. And when you want to work on your business, that requires time and that’s something that a lot of lawyers don’t have. And so, I start by, alright, let’s create some space so that you can have time to do this work. So we look at what are they prioritizing? What are they spending their time on?
Where are, How are they delegating? So that we, because when we do that, we can always find a way because lawyers are not a fan of change. A great example is well, I spent hours doing my books. Okay. Why do you do that? Well, because I have control. Okay, I get that. So what you want is control. What would it feel like if we had set up standards and then had a professional do that work for you and you would have control not by doing it?
That would be great. Because a lot of my work in the corporate world was outsourcing. So this was my world. And so we look at that, and everything from that to what’s your nightly wind-down routine? What’s your startup routine in the morning? What kind of structure have you put into your life? Well, my structure is I get up and I shove food in my face, I grab a coffee, I go to work until I can’t think anymore, then I go home and I have a glass of wine and pass out. Okay.
There’s a better approach to that. Because one of the things I see, I learned myself and I see a lot of my female clients have the same issue, is they’re so busy providing for other people and taking care of everybody else’s stuff that they’re not taking care of themselves because they look at it like, well, that’s being selfish. And the problem with that is, and what I say to that, because I learned it the hard way, is okay, I get that.
What would it be like if taking care of yourself in a structured way actually improved your capacity to get more done and be more present and have higher quality interactions? Would that be worth investing in? And then the answer is, well, yeah. Because when you take care of yourself, it’s not selfish. If you’re a person who’s serving and you have some good strategies to take care of yourself, it increases your capacity to serve. You’re a better lawyer, you’re a better mother, you’re a better wife, or spouse because you’re not burnt out.
And so we start with, that’s the foundation. I put this together with marketing because when people hire a lawyer, they are in a very difficult, stressed out point in their lives, whether it’s a corporate client or whether it’s an individual client. They’re feeling out of control, the very last thing they want to do is hire a lawyer. And they need somebody who’s calm, cool, collected, who has it together, who’s confident, who’s giving off the nonverbals of I got this. And if you don’t, it will come through without anything you say. If you’re, who’s going to hire a lawyer if they feel like the lawyer’s not in control of their own world?
Davina: Right, right. And often with high achieving people, high achieving women, in particular, the thought of I have to do this often comes down to I have to do it. I have to be the one doing it. And nobody can do it as well as I can and I can do it more quickly and I can teach you how to do it or show you how to do it or delegate it to you, or, you know?
And so, because as women, you know, we are taking care of, and this is a generalization, obviously, but this is in our society and culturally, women are kind of known for nurturing and taking care of everyone. And so then we take that to our business and we still think that we have to be the one taking care of everyone in the business, as opposed to saying I’m going to set a vision for what this team is going to do and I’m going to assemble the team.
And then the team is going to take care of our clients and having an approach that is, you know, not me, not me, this person having to do everything, right? And I loved how you used the bookkeeping example because that’s usually one of the first places that I recommend people, you know, just offload that because I know for me, being an attorney, you know, I have no interest in being a bookkeeper. That’s just not even, and I really love and respect my bookkeeper and my CPA, because without them, Oh, my gosh, what a nightmare.
So, but there’s a control aspect. And people kind of have a fear sometimes. I know, I talked with one client once who had a fear of hiring a bookkeeper because she once made a bad hire. And I said to her, you know, how long do you plan on being in practice? How long do you plan on having your business? You know, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, you know, showed me some number. And I said, Do you really expect that you’re not going to have people come and go?
That you’re not going to have attrition? Do you expect you’re going to hire people and they’re going to stay with you for 30 years and everybody’s going to be a dream hire? No. I mean, that’s unrealistic, right? So when you let, you know, when somebody goes, because they’re not a good fit, that doesn’t mean, I mean, do you really think that there’s nobody out there who can do this? All you have to do is look at the law firm down the street that’s making millions of dollars and know that they managed to hire a bookkeeper that they could trust, you know?
Doug: Yeah, and what you’re talking about is fundamental management skills that can be learned. I’ve made great hires, I’ve made terrible hires. I made great hires that became terrible hires. When that happens, when somebody leaves have their own, you take it personally. And so there are processes to follow that you don’t have to make it up as you go along. Whether you’re hiring a bookkeeper or you’re hiring somebody to help with your IT systems, you know, there are processes you can use.
And we have this belief and I see it in men, and I see it especially, in women, that everybody feels like they need to prove themselves. Like, I have to prove that I can do everything or that, and if we can change the mindset and say, maybe the best way for me to provide and take care of my people is to find and retain the best person who’s really good at that to take care of them.
Maybe that’s what I should do. And when I moved from being a lawyer who was an individual contributor, which is what most lawyers are, right? You bill, you’re an individual contributor. To a leader, that’s a really big shift because everything about my life to that point had been based on my own personal production. When you’re running a business, it’s not.
Davina: And you said something very powerful about it’s a skill that you can learn. And I think that’s something that we often don’t think about when we go into practice for ourselves, is that, you know, you’re a lawyer, and so you’re coming into practice and unless you have some business background where you’ve actually been in business for yourself and hired and fired are workplaces where you’ve done those kinds of things or when you’ve set up systems or are a systematic thinker, or whatever it is, there’s going to be a lot of skills in your business that you need to learn. So your education doesn’t stop when you get that law degree.
It doesn’t mean you need to go out and get more certifications or more degrees. But what it does mean is you have to realize that as you grow, you have to, you’ll grow into the person who can run that multimillion-dollar practice. That’s not going to happen overnight and it’s going to require ongoing education, educating yourself on skills that you need and applying them. Educating, applying them and be willing to accept that they’re going to be failures along the way. That’s part of the journey. That’s how we learn, right?
Taking Out the Head Trash
Doug: Absolutely. And, you know, our, it’s interesting, as lawyers, we understand the value of mentorship apprenticeship when we’re learning how to become a lawyer. We all had somebody who helped us along in our legal skills. And we have to recognize, and when they recognize that you need a business guide just like you needed a guide about how to become a lawyer, so that they can help you just provide perspective.
Because it’s so lonely owning a law firm, that having a guide to help you throw out the head trash you might have that maybe I’m not enough or how do I delegate to this person or this person, you know, wasn’t a good hire who can ask you the right questions. I spent 29 years learning how to do this. And my mission is so that people I interact with don’t have to spend 29 years. Maybe they can learn it faster.
Davina: Well, we all have our head trash. Even now, even after 29 years, you’re still, and me, you know, same thing. After being in business for, you know, it was 30 years, it is we still have head trash because that’s the human condition and human nature. But I’m sure you like me, you have those advisors and people that you rely on to these mentors that you, that help you, you know, in what area you want to grow, right?
Doug: You know what I used to think, and I learned this from Michael Port when we were talking, learning about speaking, this idea of taking out the head trash. And I just love that visual. And I used to think that Okay, I’ve got the head trash out, it doesn’t come back. But no, it does for everyone, all the time. So taking it out isn’t something that you’re done with.
You have to be forever working on it because everybody’s got this scared person inside that worries that I’m going to be found out. I’m not worthy. And what if they judge me in some way? And having a thought partner who can help you even just to say that’s head trash. Is that really true? Is tremendously valuable, especially Davina, when you’re selling and marketing and selling is about rejection
Davina: Right. Yay.
Doug: You need someone to guide you through that. Otherwise, you’ll start doing and you’ll stop because I had three calls, they were not successful, therefore nobody wants to hire me. Maybe I should go be a bartender somewhere.
Davina: Right. Right, right. And, you know, it is that, and it’s in every aspect of your firm. It can be hiring the same kind of thing. You know what I mean? Like, you’re, you hire somebody, and then you have an employee that turned out to be just a jerk and you had to let them go, or you had employee you loved but then there were issues and you had to let them go.
And you just feel like God, I’m so bad at this. And you have to have that person who says you’re not, no, you’re not bad at it. You’re just, you know, you just hired somebody and it didn’t turn, you know, it was a good fit maybe at the time, and it’s not now, right? Because as we grow and elevate, you know, and raise our vibration, some people are gonna fall away from that.
Doug: And on the topic of employees, when I have people come to me on this and I said, Okay, they didn’t do it, how did you explain to them what your expectations were and what success look like in that task or in that role? And then there’s silence. They should just know. How should they know? And then wait, if an employee is failing, the brutal truth is, if an employee is failing, the first place you need to look is in the mirror to make sure that you are being clear and giving that person a chance to succeed.
Davina: Yeah, and I think as lawyers, yeah, as lawyers, we often take for granted the depth of our knowledge on subjects. And also, that we’ve been trained to think in a certain way and it’s taken a long time to develop that skill set. You know, you’ve gone through law school, you’ve gone through the bar and you’ve gone through being an attorney for a while, you know, and we, all that time, we’re developing a way of thinking.
And then we kind of, we hire employees, and we sort of expect that through osmosis or something, they’re going to think the way that we think and we don’t realize that that’s a skill we’ve developed over time because it becomes such an integral part of who we are. And, you know, you have to have a way to, you know, communicate your expectations and set up a systematic way of communicating expectations and a routine reporting back to you.
So is there a system, I always tell my clients, you have to set clear expectations and you have to set up a mechanism, or the way that you want clients to report back to you to give you progress updates. So how are they communicating back with you? You’ve got one who’s emailing you and the other one who’s putting stuff in your case management and the other one who’s texting you or telling you when you pass in the hall, I mean, that’s not gonna be very effective in the long term. It’s not gonna be a good foundation for growth.
Doug: Yeah. And it’s even more difficult when you are really busy and you are really stressed out and all of the things you don’t like about yourself are the things that bubbled to the surface. In that moment, we do the one thing that will keep us from being successful, is we create an environment of fear and we, or we don’t make it safe. Because if people don’t feel safe, they will not communicate. They will not try new things. They will circle the wagons. So, at a moment when we’re the most stressed, we have to somehow create for the people around us and ourselves a little bit of safety so we can actually communicate.
And there’s this paradox I learned when I was teaching innovation and entrepreneurship. And there’s this paradox of you have to, sometimes, often, you need to slow down to speed up. You need to take a pause to think and plan and then act. And when you do that, you can act much more efficiently to a specific goal instead of just driving really fast. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m making good time.
Davina: And when you begin to pull yourself out of the day to day more and more, you’re allowing more space for that thinking, that creative thinking and that innovation and the strategic planning. And you can create a team that can help you with the implementation of these plans. You can create bigger and better plans and have a bigger team to help you implement.
Doug: And you maintain all the control that you feel like you need. You’re providing more productively for your people through another person, rather than through yourself. And you’re focusing on the things that you must do either as the lead lawyer in your firm that only you can do, or as the owner of the firm that only you can do. And, you know, there’s all kinds of, this is why I love talking. Everybody wants to talk about marketing and marketing always leads to time management because those are the things that we lawyers think. If I just had those two things solved, everything will be fine.
Davina: I just need more time. If I had more time, I could do it my damn self. Those are the favorite phrases right there. And we say this not from a place of judgment, we say this, you and I are saying this from a place of, you know, I’m sure you’ve probably been there. I know, I’ve been there, where at one point, I was like, if I just had more time, you know, I could just do it myself. And then you grow and you learn and you start shifting your mindset. And after a while, you realize you don’t really want all that control either. But you’re like,
Purpose, Focus, Energy and Trust
Doug: And you learned that you can’t manage time, you can’t manage other people and you can’t manage all the uncontrollable crap in the world around us. All you can manage about time is your choices. All you can manage about the environment is how you respond to it. And once you realize that I have to just make better choices about my time, so maybe I do need to focus on less clients so I’m not trying to be everything to everybody.
Or maybe I do need to hire someone. Or maybe this stuff that I keep rewriting on my to-do list over and over again doesn’t have to happen. They have so much fun creating a stop doing list. Put it on a list of stuff you, because there’s so much things, especially my female clients. I should do this. I should do that. Somebody is expecting me to do this. Does that fit with what you want and what serves your business and your clients?
No, but they’re expecting it. Okay, how’s that working out? Not so good. So having the courage to make that choice, I have a little equation that I’ve invented in my speech and discovered really in my speaking about how to unlock your courage, and it’s about the purpose, focus energy and trust. If you have a clear purpose, you have clear focus, you have positive energy and you have trust in yourself and others that will give you what you need to overcome the fear. It’s what really holds a lot of us back.
And if you focus on the right thing and you make the time and you focus on the people you were meant to serve, solving the problems that they have and giving them a transformation, then your practice gets easier, you make more money, and you get more clients and you can take that vacation. Very straight line, very straight line.
Davina: Ah, yes. The vacation. We’re hoping we can take more of those in the coming months. You know, right now all of us are doing a lot of dreaming about our vacations and planning. This is a great time to really plan out your fantasy vacation because you’ve got the time to do it. And once we’re all able to travel again, I imagine it’s going to be crazy out there with all the people booking those vacations they’ve had to put off.
Doug: Yeah. And maybe the vacation is simply allowing yourself an actual day off on Saturday or Sunday, or God forbid, both.
Davina: Yes, without checking your email, Oh, my gosh, what are you proposing?
Doug: Where you are fully present with the people you love in your life or the things that you love doing, knowing that it will be there on Monday and you at least give yourself that mental break? That’s achievable without a lot of work.
Davina: Well, and what’s amazing about that, it’s achievable with making the amount of money you want to make too. Like, you don’t have to sacrifice the amount of money you want to make to have time to yourself as well.
Doug: When you focus on the thing you’re, on your perfect client and you fill your practice with them and you surround yourself, as you’ve said, with the right support systems and the right people, you can work less and make more. How’s that for a crazy idea for lawyers? Escaping the time for money trap.
Davina: I know. Awesome. Awesome. Well, we have covered a lot and I know you and I could probably cover a lot more if we kept talking but we probably need to wrap up. So, tell us how we can find out more about Summit Success and how we can connect with you who want to connect with you.
Doug: That’s great. I’d love to do that. Our website is summit-success with a dash in between that summit-success.com. My email address is [email protected]. I’m on LinkedIn as Douglas Brown. Linkedin.com/in/douglasbrown. I publish there. And I have a Facebook page called Coach Doug Brown where I put videos up every day.
And I also have a page for your listeners if they’d like my five keys to finding perfect clients fast. If they go to summit-success.com/ww for Wealthy Woman Lawyers, they’ll be able to download the guide which tells you exactly how to get started on focusing on the people who are the people you are meant to serve and the problems you solve.
Davina: Wonderful, wonderful. Thanks so much. We really appreciate that. And thanks so much for being here. I really enjoyed our conversation. This hour has just flown by.
Doug: Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity and I hope we can do it again.