Mitch Roth Interview
I sat with Mitch Roth, managing partner at Much Shelist, for tips on how to become and remain successful in the world of attorneys.
Steve Fretzin: This is Steve Fretzin, interviewing Mitch Roth, managing partner, at Much Shelist in Chicago. Please enjoy some highlights from my interview where Mitch shares some great tips on being successful as an attorney and as a business developer in today’s competitive marketplace.
I handed you a copy of my book called ‘Sales-Free Selling,’ and the first chapter is regarding an introduction of a character: Dan the lawyer. And, Dan is sitting with his family and he’s talking about, you know, his future and there’s concerns that he has because he hasn’t really built a book of business. He’s really just been a worker bee. And, can you talk a little bit to the attorneys out there that are the worker bees, and the importance of balance between business development and…and getting work done.
Mitch Roth: You can’t be successful in a law firm, especially managing one, if you don’t have sales professionals that are out bringing in the work and extraordinary talented lawyers that are doing the work. If you have too much of either then the balance won’t work and the business won’t operate. I can only tell you at our firm, and it’s differently over the last five years, we are far more responsive to and rewarding of great lawyers that add value beyond just great lawyering, so great lawyering with other leadership intangibles, whether it’s writing, speaking, practice group management, training and developing young lawyers, we have found a way to, well, with a two-tier partnership, where there’s equity and income—equities own the firm—we have a number of equity partners, today, that don’t have a book of business. That was never, ever, available when I was a young lawyer.
The only way towards equity was building a practice, so I think the profession continues to change to reward great lawyers, so not everyone has to be a salesman. And, the myth that the great salesman are the great lawyers—are the great managers—to me, is still a myth. I think you and I were talking about it a couple minutes before we started recording this. I am perceived as a better a managing partner because I have a large book of business, um, but our vision, our culture, our strategy—where we’re going—is well-thought-out. I have a wonderful advisory board and board of directors of great directors, and I have people helping me get there. And we’re getting there not because of the size of my book of business. It’s because the people I surround myself with.
I think more today than ever, especially in a firm like mine, there’s opportunities for guys who just want to be great lawyers as long as they do other things and provide other intangibles. I expect the same from my sales people. If you’re going to bring me business, you still have to work, you still have to lead, you still have to train other people how to sell. Find ways to bring value besides just: A.) Bringing in money or billing hours.
Steve: Let’s talk for a minute about some of the mistakes that attorneys make in trying to build a successful practice. If you had to pick out one or two things that you say, “Wow, I’ve seen this mistake happen time and time again,” with attorneys that have worked with you or beside you or a mistake you made, uh, how would you respond?
Mitch: Today, I think people believe they have to provide discounts to new or existing clients to make them happy. I think that’s probably one of the biggest mistakes you’ll ever make. Once you lower your rate or lower your fee, you’ll never get it back up and, then, again, you’re becoming commodity. People at my 100-size, my 100 lawyer firm, hire still lawyers, because of the value we provide—because of the relationships we have with them—because they want to call night and day and bounce things off us because we’re their right-hand person. So, arbitrary discounts is you discounting the importance you are in the relationship. That’s a later stage.
At an earlier stage, I think the biggest mistakes that lawyers make in business development is they really don’t know how to do it. So, they run around with their head cut off doing, like, a hundred different things without any focus, without any plan, without any strategy. And, you can go to a hundred events every single morning, lunch, and night, and, if you don’t have an executable plan, you are wasting time, money, and effort. You know, at least at my stage—at most stages—the biggest commodity we have is time.
So, if you’re going to want to develop a good business, and, guys like you, Steve, um, providing them the insights they need on how to be prepared before they go out and sell, preparation is key and follow-up is key. And, I think most people aren’t prepared and they don’t follow up.
Steve: Yeah, so you don’t have a plan, you don’t have a process to follow, and you don’t have a way of following through with things, so you’re pretty much just a gun slinger shooting up in the air and trying to accomplish something; it’s very, very, difficult.
Mitch: You’re throwing something at the wall, hoping it sticks, and it usually doesn’t unless you get lucky. And, every once in a while there’s a success story of that one guy who met somebody a cocktail party and became this, you know, unbelievably successful lawyer. That’s one in a million.
Steve: Yeah, it’s not the reality for most attorneys.
Mitch: The reality: it is a long term process. You just can’t turn on the spigot.
Steve: So, let me ask you this, and, you know, ‘plan’ could be part of your answer. Uh, maybe, you know, giving some specifics on how you recommend writing a plan to get some traction on it, but my question is, it really regarding one business development tip that you commonly recommended attorneys at the firm to, so, you know, when they’re asking you as the as the rainmaker or the expert: “What should I be doing, Mitch?” and, and, and your response would be…
Mitch: Preparation and, uh, doing all the background work before you go out and try to sell…is figure out what you’re selling. You could be either the expert in something, and if you are the expert in that I think that’s a great target, you know, sales plan. If you’re that guy and you, really, have that reputation and you’ve spoken and written on certain topics, then you will target certain professionals or trade organizations where you’ll be hired.
So, you can be that expert. If you’re not that guy, I would recommend that both people try to be generalists and sell what their firm does and what they do, so to come out of the box and say, I’ll just use this as an example, you know, “I’m a labor lawyer, I’m only going to sell you employment work.” Well, you’ve, now, limited your audience from everybody to looking for that needle in the haystack of an audience that’s looking for labor law. So, um, we’re a full-service, mid-sized, generalist firm. There’s no reason why you don’t sell that we represent middle market business, and we’re great with entrepreneurs, and on and on. So, sell that. Sell, “we” verses “I can only do this for you.”
Mitch: And be their quarterback in everything they need. You can still serve that role whether you’re the NA specialist or you’re a risk specialist.
Steve: But I think that leads to, you know, the idea that in a full-service firm the–the–the ability to be an excellent cross marketer, uh, plays a big role.
Mitch: Yes! I mean, cross marketing is key, but, again, when you go out and you’re talking to somebody at a cocktail party or at a philanthropic event and they ask what you do, you know, to say, “I’m a specialist in this department at this law firm,” you just limited yourself to a discussion on something that person may not need. If you say, “I’m a partner at Much Shelist,” and describe you firm, “And we have all these disciplines,” and, you know, that may get you to a breakfast or a lunch—a card—and be able to go out and spend some more time with that person and understand what they do.
Mitch: And understand how you can be more accretive to them. If you say, “I’m the ARISA expert” and they don’t have any ARISA needs, you’re never going to get a meeting.
Mitch: You just, literally, lost an opportunity.
Steve: But I think if we dig down a little deeper than what you’re saying is it comes down to being good at questioning, and asking the right questions to understand who you’re talking to and where their possible interest might be, so that you can customize a little bit more, um, of an effective elevator pitch or a little bit more in depth about what you do that’s going to be of actual interest to them.
Mitch: Two great things you just said there: A.) Listening. You get far more out of listening than anything else.
Mitch: The more you’re talking the less you’re learning about what they need.
Mitch: So, being a good listener is imperative. If everybody had their 20 or 30 second elevator speech, that resonated, they’d be far more effective.
Mitch: So, I mean, you know, those are my comments, but those two things you said are incredibly effective.
Steve: Okay. But I think your–your comment is that either be a specialist, because you can show off that expertise and you can pick a niche to run with and dive in, head first, or realize that you’re not and be a generalist and make sure that you can ask questions to uncover the opportunity, so that you can bring in business in whatever capacity is coming in without you having necessarily be the specialist in the situation.
Steve: Okay, got it. Sort of my last question: what advice would you give an up and coming attorney who’s looking to build a successful practice. If you had to say, “Look, you know, let me give you some advice, kid,” what–what would that look like, sound like.
Mitch: It would easily be: learn how to practice law. Be a good lawyer, first. Be a great lawyer, first. You know, integrate with your firm. Learn how to practice law.
Learn how to get along with people. Uh, and, you know, you’ll be a much more effective sales person once you become a good, experienced, lawyer. The young lawyer who wants to go out and sell who has absolutely zero experience has absolutely no value to provide to anybody. Not only to the person on the outside or—or internally, so I, you know, I like my young lawyers to be thinking about marketing and meeting people and going out there doing things philanthropic, so they start building a network.
Mitch: Because I think it’s important for a whole lot of reasons, you’re a more well-rounded person, but not so they should start asking for business, so they’re building a–a rolodex of people that they want to spend time with looking for organizations they want to join, finding things they’re interested, outside of the law, but the successful practice, if we’re defining that as a book of business, you have to be a good lawyer, first.
Steve: Ok, so…
Mitch: I have never seen…never…I rarely see a sub-par lawyer build a multi-million dollar practice. Can’t.
Mitch: Can’t sell it.
Steve: You’re not reputable to do it.
Mitch: You’re not reputable, correct.
Mitch: And you’re not confident enough to do it. You’re not confident to sell it. You’re not confident to go to your partners and ask them because you–because your partners don’t have the confidence in you, either, because, you know, they look at you differently, because you didn’t do what it takes to be a, uh, high-end professional in the practice.
Steve: Okay, so to kind of recap, um, if you’re a young attorney, focus on being a great attorney. Also, focus on building a network and don’t worry about business development or sales early on.
Become great at what you do and then you will have the skills, the people, the network, to then drive that business after a number of years of practicing and becoming successful at that.
Mitch: Right, and your network will be larger by that point because you built it. You’ll find, in your network, what you–where you–enjoy to spend time if you join an organization, whether it’s, uh, coaching a kids baseball team or a charity or a board, or trade association. If you enjoy it, you’ll be far more effective on the marketing side versus joining it trying to get business and you don’t want to go. So, if you build a network of things you like to do, eventually, as you become a good lawyer people start asking you questions, you become friends with people and you have a lot more to provide, a lot more value to an answer. Because people always have questions, all the time, and when you’re a first, second, third year lawyer, other than, “Oh, I’ll ask somebody,” you don’t have any answers.
Mitch: So, you know, become a great lawyer, do great work, and everything else will come with the right training and…law firms surround themselves with internal marketing department, outside PR firms, and hiring guys like you for sales training, so to provide those extra tools that we’re not great at providing internally.
Steve: Okay. Well, listen, Mitch, I appreciate your time and I thought this was very helpful and hopefully people will take your advice to heart and make some changes.
Mitch: I hope I was helpful, and I’m psyched to read your book.
Steve: There you go. Alright, thank you. For more information about Mitch Roth and his firm, please go to MuchShellist.com. Or, for more information about Steve Fretzin and his book ‘Sales-Free Selling,’ please go to salesfreeselling.com.