Skip to main content
Entrepreneurial Lawyer Series

Dave Frees Interview Part 2: The Entrepreneurial Attorney

By January 8, 20152 Comments


“An Entrepreneurial Attorney is One Who is Dedicated to the Needs of Other People”


Interview Series: The Entrepreneurial Law Firm

This is part two of a two-part interview with marketing expert Dave Frees.

Check out Part 1 here.

Beyond Delivering Legal Services

Micky Deming:

So, I’m going to keep going deeper because I think this piece of finding clients – and the right clients is what entrepreneurs really care about. Marketing is interesting. It’s fun to talk about, and it’s a challenge.

And what you’re describing is basically that, as an attorney, you’re going to have most of the tools inherently that you need to be a good marketer. And you have gone extremely deep into this topic, where many attorneys will only scratch the surface.. What else is there for the new attorney, who doesn’t have a marketing background? What do they need to learn, where do they start in getting better at it?

Dave Frees:

So let me address that, and maybe challenge something that you said, if that’s okay with you. You said that most lawyers will have the skills too, and you paused for a second and I thought you were going to say to provide the legal services. And that’s true, we’re really trained in law school to be good at thinking about that, and if you’re going to open a practice with a narrow practice area focus, you know, you’re going to have skills, you’re going to be good at that.

And if you’re not, you better get on and go back to school and take the classes and you know, nail that piece down. And you’re right, lawyers are trained to train themselves to provide these fairly high-level legal services. They are, in my experience, miserably ill-equipped, and I mean that with love, to do either the management of their practices or the marketing of them.

Not that they don’t have the intellectual capabilities, because lawyers are smart people, creative in their own ways, but they’ve never been trained in it, and these are very, very different skill sets than the skill sets that make you a good lawyer and delivering the legal services.

For example, I had to learn the hard way how you have to build a team, how you have to offload stuff and delegate stuff, and how you monitor and how you train. For years, I would get mad at people because we’ve trained them something, like client intake; we’d say “here are the questions and you’ve got to get these answered.”

And for a week they’d do it, and two weeks later you’d find out they weren’t doing it anymore. I would train them in a process and then a month later that they would just get a step forward and nobody could explain why, and I would just get mad.

A very wise guy who ran a medical practice, said to me “You’ll be mad your whole life. Just get it, but that’s how human beings are. You’re that way yourself in certain areas. Just understand, you’re going to have to develop processes, you’re going to have to periodically adapt them and you’re going to have to retrain people in them all the time, because they forget. For whatever reason, it doesn’t make any sense, just do it.”

And that tends to make lawyers, who are, generally speaking, pretty responsible people, crazy, when they take the time to build a process, which isn’t natural for lawyers, and then they train people in it and then it doesn’t get followed, that makes them crazy.

So you’ve just got to get over that, and you have to develop those skills of managing and that’s where, again, your tools come into play, because when you take the many hours that could be dedicated managing the financial key performance indicators and the financial stuff off your plate and you systematize it and you hire somebody who’s familiar with a resource like yours to make it happen, and when you outsource that, it can be done very inexpensively and it makes you way, way, way, way, way more profitable and happier.

So, the first thing is, on the management side, there’s all this stuff that we don’t know how to do that we need to do. Then, on the marketing side, there’s all this stuff that’s very different from what lawyers sort of instinctively know how to do. And a lot of marketing is counterintuitive; this whole idea of going narrow rather than broad, this whole idea of developing a control, once I started to understand that, no matter what it was, whether it was a letter that went out to clients, whether it was a video that got shown on the web, whether it was a piece of content that we put out there, a checklist, a report on using graphs in your estate planning, a report on the most common mistakes executors make.

Whatever it was, we had to make that responsive, so we had to have a call to action in everything and then we had to measure which of these things that we’re spending time and money and energy on, actually produced clients, and which of them produced the right kind of clients and the wrong ones.

So, most lawyers are bad at creating these marketing pieces, they don’t have calls to action in them, they have ineffective calls to action. But most lawyers are really bad at what I call “killing off the babies.” Once you do these things, they’re your “baby”, you created them. And even when they do a terrible job, lawyers don’t want to kill them off, and so they end up losing opportunity, spending money mailing stuff out, building website landing pages around something that’s totally ineffective.

So learning that you have to develop a working piece, and then try to beat your own control. So, I developed through trial and error a really good ad that advertises a webinar that I’m going to do, and I could just sit back and let that ad go on and eventually it will just stop working for a variety of reasons.

But what I do is, every month or so, we have a meeting with somebody in my office, and we try to develop ads that will beat that control, that’ll do better, that’ll bring in more people who are better clients. And that is not something that is in the brain and in the training of most lawyers.

How to Improve Your Marketing

So, I think, implicit to your question, how do you get that? And you and I and Frank, and your organization, we are all dedicated to constantly improving ourselves and we do that in a variety of ways, including finding out from other intelligent people who have skills that we want and run kinds of companies that we want to be and run, what are they reading, what are they looking at, where are they going, who are they working with?

But for most lawyers who are very pressed for time, this will sound self-serving because I run a lawyer coaching group, but it is the best way, that I have found, either to either to be in a mastermind that you create yourself where you’re not paying money, but you get other smart people who you really like and trust to pick your ideas apart, but if they don’t have management experience and marketing experience, it might be a little bit of the blind leading the blind, you’re probably better off because people can see your blind spots when you can’t. You’re probably better off, but it may not be maximum.

Then the next level are things that you and Frank and I will invest in, they are where we pay to be in a mastermind or in a coaching group where somebody has the kind of expertise we’re looking for. For example, trust and estates lawyers are in a coaching group with me, and they pay every month to get on a call with me, and four times a year we give them a swipe file, something we’ve developed in my practice that really works, and would cost them thousands of dollars to develop such a thing.

So typically, people say, “Why would somebody pay you $500-2000 a month, depending on what their coaching looks like, to do that?” Typically, for a lawyer, that only takes getting, you know, one case of whatever kind, and you’ve already paid for the month of it, and you just added an enormous amount of profitability.

So, these things should not be viewed as an expense. If you’re in a mastermind group with really smart people, and you’re paying for a facilitator to run and he’s bringing in good speakers, that should be returning on investment, same with these coaching groups. That to me, I still do it at the very high end with very smart people, and people pay me to do it for them, but I don’t just sit on my laurels and say “this is stuff I figured out and discovered 10 years ago,” I’m constantly working on how can I refine it and how do I make it better, and then I share that with those groups.

There are lawyers I know who go to a strategic coach, that guy’s brilliant; you’ve got lawyers that start out with financial planners, but there’s no right way to do it. What I think is right is finding out a way to distill all the stuff you need to learn, and get it in chunks and fed to you in a way that’s easy both to learn and apply and to get a return on your investment.

What is an Entrepreneurial Attorney?

Micky Deming:

And that’s why I think what you just said is the most pragmatic thing you can say. Everything else you said up that point scares the heck out of a lawyer. Like “wow, I suck, and what do I do next?” But to get coaching, get in a group, get with your peers, get with people who are going through the same things you are, that’s very helpful, and you have to first admit “Okay, I don’t know what I’m doing.”

D: “Or I can do it better”, even if I’m pretty good…IF you’re not making the most money out of every lawyer you know, or you’re not as happy as the happiest lawyer you know or have seen on television, you’re probably not at the pinnacle of what you’re capable of.

Micky Deming:

I love that, that’s helpful for me, even. So we haven’t exhausted that topic, but I like where it went, so I’m going to go broad again, and maybe even end here, and I have no idea what you’re answers going to be, so I’m just interested to hear.

I think the term Entrepreneurial Attorney, even the term entrepreneur, has its own meaning to different people, and attorneys a lot of times wont gravitate towards it, sometimes they will.

But for you, you’re an attorney and you’re an entrepreneur and you’re an entrepreneurial attorney, and so for a typical attorney starting his or her own firm, what does that term even mean? An entrepreneurial attorney, what does that mean to you, and do you think that’s a helpful term or not?

Dave Frees:

Well, I think attorneys that self-identify as entrepreneurs are relatively small group. But you and I would probably agree, that anybody that strikes out from a big firm, or from law school, or from clerking for a judge, and forms their own practice and has to figure out that what it is that brings value to people so they’ll pay the money, that’s an entrepreneurial attorney.

I look at an entrepreneur, I see lots of definitions that I like, but one that particularly strikes me, is somebody that creates value in return for which they are paid and make profit, but the key thing is, they’re outward looking. They’re trying to figure out who’s my market, where’s they’re pain, how do I eliminate that, how do I then give them pleasure on top of that or some level of happiness that they didn’t have before? And if I do that for them, what would that group be willing to pay me, and is it enough? Can I make a profit doing it, so that I could deliver that relief of pain and happiness and still keep money for myself, build a team, and keep myself happy doing these things?

Anybody that strikes out on their own is, by my definition, entrepreneurial. Now there are motivations that make people strike out that probably aren’t optimal, but almost every journey I know that’s gone out solo, and I’ve done all of them, I was with a big firm, went out on my own, merged with a few other people to form a small firm which has grown into a fairly large regional firm. I’ve done all of them, and I’ve been entrepreneurial at each level.

You have to, if you’re going to be in a small practice or consider yourself to be an entrepreneurial lawyer, which means that you’re reinventing things all the time, trying to bring greater value, trying to increase profit, but when I make more money, I don’t try to do that by providing the same service for more money, that’s what a lot of people think entrepreneurs are doing, they’re never successful.

Entrepreneurs who are successful are saying “How could I give so much more value that some group of people who I want to serve, will pay me lots more?” and this is where we get back to going narrow rather than deep,” I could probably do this for fewer people, provide them with a higher level of service, have a better quality of life myself, and have better profit margins.”

Which would allow me to do all sorts of other things I want, like pay off my mortgage, buy a second home, I mean, I know a lot of lawyers that strike out because they cannot believe, they strike out on their own because they can’t believe, they’re working at this big firm and they’re making what they thought was a lot of money and they’re profoundly happy, they’ve got all this debt still, you know they’re just not where they thought they would be.

And striking out on your own has the capacity to solve all those problems, but you’ve got to do it with the right mindset and an entrepreneurial mindset, dedicated to identifying a real opportunity with a niche of people who will be super responsive to your particular offer, because it is crafted around their needs. That’s what to me constitutes an entrepreneurial lawyer.

You’re right though, I am an entrepreneur generally. It’s because I’ve designed my practice to try to fit the kind of definition I’m telling you, because it affords me the ability to invest in real estate, it affords me the ability to invest in selective startup companies, those things have all come from being an entrepreneurial lawyer first.