Tom Dunlap: Scaling Your Law Firm with Business Experts

In this episode, Steve Fretzin and Tom Dunlap discuss:

  • Letting go of the old things to promote the new things.
  • The power in relinquishing control.
  • The two paths to scaling.
  • Finding the right fit for your team, clients, and fees.

Key Takeaways:

  • Having your name on the door makes you the lightning rod for problems. It is not as big of a benefit as most lawyers think.
  • If viable for your firm, consider bringing in non-lawyer team members who can help with the non-legal aspects of running a firm.
  • You have to find the right fit clients in the right stage in the right scope.
  • If some people don’t say ‘no’ to your fees, you’re charging way too little.

“You went to law school to be a lawyer. The highest and best use of your time is the billable hour and getting clients and keeping them happy. If you want to manage a law firm, you should have professionals who work for you doing it.” —  Tom Dunlap

Find out more about the 10 Easy-to-Execute Hacks to Unlock Your Full Potential at: https://fretzin.com/events

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Episode References: 

About Tom Dunlap: Tom is the managing partner of a law firm he does not run and is the better for it. Leveraging his time working in terrible law firm and corporate environments, and then leaving law to command a Recon Scout Platoon and Infantry company in the Us Army, together with a series of graduate projects crafted during his last years in an MBA program, much of Tom’s time, not practicing law, has been spent building his national firm of more than 80 lawyers from the ground up as a place where lawyers want to be.

In his legal practice as principally an IP and government contracts lawyer he has handled

numerous successful bid protests before the GAO and Court of Federal Claims, and  Federal district court jury and bench trials as lead counsel including a $12 million jury verdict in a patent infringement case doubled as a result of punitive damages to $24,635,000 in the Bunch of Balloons case, and a $2,600,000 jury counterclaim verdict in a copyright and commercial litigation dispute over Blackwater. He is the past president of the Loudoun County Bar Association and admitted to the state and Federal bars of Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, VA, and MD and more than 30 other Federal Courts. Tom has repeatedly been a Washington, D.C., and Virginia SuperLawyer (2006 – 2024).

Tom received his law degree from Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and earned an MBA and MS in Biotechnology at the University of Maryland.

Outside of law, Tom founded a successful software company for first-person MMORPG gaming, and a biotechnology company, where he was also an inventor on patents are that currently the standard used by NIH for COVID wastewater surveillance (www.ceresnano.com). Tom is also a licensed instrument pilot, PADI Master SCUBA Diver, Freemason, and avid runner, recently completing the 2023 Paris Marathon.

Connect with Tom Dunlap:  

Website: dbllawyers.com

Show: dbllawyers.com/podcasts-seasons

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/tomdunlap & linkedin.com/company/dbllawyers

Twitter: twitter.com/DBLLawyers

Facebook: facebook.com/dbllawyers

Instagram: instagram.com/dbl_lawyers

Connect with Steve Fretzin:

LinkedIn: Steve Fretzin

Twitter: @stevefretzin

Instagram: @fretzinsteve

Facebook: Fretzin, Inc.

Website: Fretzin.com

Email: Steve@Fretzin.com

Book: Legal Business Development Isn’t Rocket Science and more!

YouTube: Steve Fretzin

Call Steve directly at 847-602-6911

Show notes by Podcastologist Chelsea Taylor-Sturkie

Audio production by Turnkey Podcast Productions. You’re the expert. Your podcast will prove it.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

[00:00:00] Steve Fretzin: Hey everybody, if you’re looking to level up as a lawyer, you want to join me and my friend Rachel Steininger, who’s been on the show a couple of times. For 10 easy to execute hacks to unlock your full potential, you can sign up on my website Fretzin. com slash events and hope to see you there and enjoy the show.

[00:00:20] Narrator: You’re listening to Be That Lawyer, life changing strategies and resources for growing a successful law practice. Each episode, your host, author and lawyer coach, Steve Fretzin, will take a deeper dive helping you grow your law practice in less time with greater results. Now, here’s your host, Steve Fretzin.

[00:00:42] Steve Fretzin: Well, Hey everybody. Welcome back to be that lawyer. I am Steve Fredson. I’m so happy that you’re here. Um, you guys are spending time with me hopefully twice a week learning how to be that lawyer with Brettson. And that’s going to be someone who’s confident organized in a skilled rain maker. And this show is here to produce, it’s here to help you to get those tips and ideas and, and the secret sauce to becoming a successful lawyer, law firm leader, managing partner, whatever you want to call it.

[00:01:06] Steve Fretzin: Um, I’ve got a total superstar in the wings today with me, Tom, how you doing? Good. How are you, Steve? Good. We had that like preliminary call and I was just like over the moon with, with meeting you and hearing your background and like, and how you’re, how you’re running a law firm differently and, and we’re going to get into the weeds on that very, very soon.

[00:01:24] Steve Fretzin: I just want to welcome you to the show. 

[00:01:26] Tom Dunlap: Yeah. Thanks, Steve. Thanks for having me on the show. I like, I love everything you do on your show and the idea that it’s out there trying to help lawyers be better at what they do sort of as business people. So I’m glad to be here and share my particular perspective, which everyone may not agree with, or maybe they do 

[00:01:45] Steve Fretzin: well.

[00:01:45] Steve Fretzin: I know my audience pretty well, and I think they’re going to love what you have to say. And, and you know, this show isn’t about the law per se, right, but about the business of law. And there’s so many different aspects that we cover. Um, let’s start off with, with an old, old favorite book of mine from years and years ago.

[00:02:00] Steve Fretzin: I probably have to like pull it back out, but it’s, um, who moved my cheese, which many lawyers have never heard about in most entrepreneurs have. And, uh, the quote is, yeah, the quote is the quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese. And that’s not going to mean anything to anyone except that.

[00:02:18] Steve Fretzin: Well, sometimes old cheese can be good, I think. But, uh, uh, If it’s from France and it’s been in a 

[00:02:24] Tom Dunlap: Right, right. It got the special mold, yeah, then it can be good. But I think we’re talking about bad, like, cheddar that’s gotten mold. 

[00:02:31] Steve Fretzin: Yeah, that’s, that’s the green, the green Talking about mice and a maze, right?

[00:02:35] Steve Fretzin: Yeah. But, but talk about Who moved the cheeses is just a classic management and business book and, and the quote itself. 

[00:02:43] Tom Dunlap: Yeah. Well, so I think the idea is just in the quote itself that, and I, it speaks to how most lawyers think and most law firms operate and I’m not being derogatory towards the practice of law, but I’ve seen it in lawyers significantly younger than me.

[00:02:59] Tom Dunlap: That they want to print out everything that they’re reading, which, you know, great. Uh, that they want to have books, that they maybe want to have that little green lamp on their desk, for whatever reason, I hate those things. It’s like a banker lamp. Right, banker lamp, which why do lawyers want that? I just, I remember one lawyer had that.

[00:03:15] Tom Dunlap: But they, they’re really attached to kind of the quote unquote correct law firm old way of doing things. And, uh, you know, that’s not gonna fly . And I think most lawyers discovered during Covid it doesn’t fly that everybody has to be in the office every day because while they weren’t allowed to be, and I think that’s coming back to haunt some of the bigger firms or some of the firms that are requiring that FaceTime now.

[00:03:38] Tom Dunlap: But, you know, the short story is, and it kind of ties in with what I did in the, uh, US cavalry is a cavalry scale. That’s, which is always flexible, which is a little bit of a play on the Marines. You know, Semper Fidelis, because we were having fun with Marines who were never flexible. Um, they were great, great soldiers, but they always wanted to walk everywhere.

[00:03:57] Tom Dunlap: Uh, but the point is that, um, you’ve got to let go of the old things to do the new things, and that’s exactly what I kind of promote, and what I’ve tried to do with my law firm, and what we all try to do at my law firm, and I have to get everybody on that bandwagon to make that happen, but yeah, so. Um, well, well, 

[00:04:15] Steve Fretzin: you, you dropped a bomb, but you, but, but Tom, you dropped a bomb on everybody that you were in the cavalry and, and, and in the army and all that.

[00:04:21] Steve Fretzin: And, um, now I think we have to go back and hear that story because you, you, you’re a lawyer who got out of the law to go do something completely off the wall. And then somehow, you know, 

[00:04:32] Tom Dunlap: well, 

[00:04:32] Steve Fretzin: you 

[00:04:33] Tom Dunlap: know, I think, um, a lot of associates probably get to that inflection point where they’ve started working in a law firm career.

[00:04:40] Tom Dunlap: And I went from briefly being a prosecutor, which I love, to a private practice, where I felt like I was just ground down by a partner who was over me, who was not it wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t nice. You know, it just wasn’t fun. I was like, this is not Fun. I’m not doing anything positive for anyone. Uh, it was like an asset protection practice.

[00:05:02] Tom Dunlap: So I didn’t get any joy out of my practice in any, in any respect at all. I was just practicing while I was getting paid well. Uh, so I just resigned and I went and enlisted in the RV as a private, um, well, an E4 cause I had a law degree and went to Fort Benning, uh, infantry school, and then went, realized being enlisted was terrible.

[00:05:21] Tom Dunlap: And I went straight to OCS. And got a commission and then became an armor officer in the cavalry. Anyway, so yeah, so I took a little break from law, uh, cause I had kind of a very early life crisis. I think I was 24. So I had my midlife crisis early. But what did you, 

[00:05:39] Steve Fretzin: what did you learn in the army that helped you then get back into the law?

[00:05:43] Steve Fretzin: Cause that’s, that’s the interesting twist I think. Well, 

[00:05:46] Tom Dunlap: so let’s see this, and you know, for whatever it’s worth, I think OCS is the best training ground. If I could send every managing partner of a law firm through OCS or Infantry Basic, I don’t think they would enjoy it and it wouldn’t work out. But the lessons that they teach there, principally that everything you do as an officer has to be by yourself.

[00:06:04] Tom Dunlap: You have to pull yourself up by your own bootlaces. Um, nobody will give you an attaboy. And it was brutal. Uh, so there’s a lot of lessons in leadership there and reading things like Colonel Malone’s small unit leadership or von Clausewitz on war. These are books lawyers typically read. I was forced to read them and write reports about them, admittedly, in the context of the military, but they really apply to business.

[00:06:28] Tom Dunlap: The same things leading from the front and Being flexible and flowing change with the sick. We had to read the art of war. Um, I had to read starship troopers, which some of my Watching the movie which has nothing to do with the book, which is a political essay on service And no, 

[00:06:43] Steve Fretzin: but if you want to watch areas, but if you want to watch a really bad movie That’s just like nothing but brain dead fun.

[00:06:49] Steve Fretzin: That’s the money. It’s great. 

[00:06:50] Tom Dunlap: It’s fun. 

[00:06:52] Steve Fretzin: It’s fine. I said I said fun I just said brain dead fun Like I don’t think you’re gonna you gotta learn out of that, you know manage a law firm that way But I think you’re gonna learn how to kill bill big bugs 

[00:07:01] Tom Dunlap: Yeah, I think so. The book is completely different, nothing to divorce from the movie, so worth a read if you haven’t read Heinlein.

[00:07:07] Tom Dunlap: Uh, anyway, all that aside, I took a lot of lessons from leadership, from OCS, and then actually being in command of a stout platoon and then an infantry company of 300 soldiers. There’s a lot of shit that goes on that’s in, just insane, sorry I cursed on your podcast. That’s all right. It’s just insane that you would never see managing a law firm, but you’re managing a law firm.

[00:07:27] Tom Dunlap: Hundreds of millions of dollars of gear. I had, when I was a tank lieutenant in armor school, four tanks that you signed for, and they’re very expensive. I had five Humvees as a scout platoon leader, and all the weapons, and grenade launchers, all the machine guns, 50 cals on top, tow missile launchers, any possible for it, you’re responsible for the period around you were 18 or 19 or 20, um, you know, loaded weapons.

[00:07:49] Tom Dunlap: It’s kind of crazy. I think it also helps, for whatever it’s worth, and I think every lawyer should remember this, puts everything in perspective. Practicing law is important. It deals with people’s lives. But nobody’s, generally speaking, getting killed. Nobody is, you’re not burying bodies, you’re not, you know, lining up on somebody.

[00:08:07] Tom Dunlap: So you’ve got to keep what you’re doing as a lawyer in perspective and be kind of chill about it. 

[00:08:12] Steve Fretzin: Yeah, I think that’s good. But and everybody’s got their own head trash and their own, their own issues they’re dealing with and we don’t want to minimize them. But to your point, yeah, it’s not. You know, it’s not quite as intensive as, as what you’re talking about, but so one of the things that, that I see on a regular basis, and I work with a lot of managing partners and lawyers that want to build law and build and scale law practices is that they’re, they’re still feeling like they have to do everything that they’ve got to build the hours.

[00:08:40] Steve Fretzin: They’re the lawyer. Everybody’s coming to see, they’ve got to manage the team. They’ve got to do the books for some reason. They’ve got to, um, you know, uh, you know, you make it rain all. Okay. So now there’s five, six, seven, eight hats they’re wearing. And that’s not really a manageable situation. 

[00:08:56] Tom Dunlap: Well, so I, I couldn’t agree with you more, Steve.

[00:08:58] Tom Dunlap: And you just came up with like a list of things, except for maybe the last one making it rain. A list of things lawyers shouldn’t do because it’s not in their job description. You went to law school to be a lawyer. The highest and best use of your time is the billable hour and getting clients and keeping them happy.

[00:09:15] Tom Dunlap: Um, if you want to manage a law firm, you should have professionals who work for you doing it. And that’s always been my philosophy. It’s, and I can talk about scaling that and how we did that. And I think there are ads for smaller firms. We’re admittedly 80 ish lawyers. So we’re at a scale where we can afford a CEO, a CMO, all these non lawyer staff people, but two things that I run into.

[00:09:37] Tom Dunlap: One is that lawyers do not want to relinquish control, which is crazy. They want to know where the desk goes and they want to make sure that so and so it works for so and so. Cool. And I always ask my new partners who come in when they join from another firm, why do you care where the desk goes or what color the wallpaper is?

[00:09:54] Tom Dunlap: There’s no wallpaper in any office. Why do you care? These little things are just getting in the way of practicing law. So that’s the first thing that I see. And then the other thing that I see is, Is there the reluctance to allow a non lawyer to manage them? And I have heard things like, well, they can’t manage the law practice, the business of law, because a lawyer must.

[00:10:16] Tom Dunlap: It’s ethically untenable. It’s not allowed, which is not true. They can’t manage your cases. They can’t tell you what to do and give you, tell you how to practice law. But they can certainly deal with payroll, finance, your website, social media, bookkeeping, trust accounting. Those things are not things lawyers must do.

[00:10:34] Tom Dunlap: And frankly, they should. And so that’s, that’s how we transformed. And it took us time from Two lawyers that we started as, both of us deploying, we were both in the reserves after we got off active duty, special forces partner, and I was a recon scout, and we took turns deploying, um, to, you know, now we’re 80 lawyers, and I’m obviously well out of the army, but we did it through kind of intentionally scaling, and the other thing is intentionality, you have to let go of that stuff and intentionally make the leap, say in your mind, I’m going to turn off Having to have to do the books, having to have to review the malpractice policy, to order the paper.

[00:11:12] Tom Dunlap: Why do you want to order the paper? Or be involved in that? Why do you care? So, you have to turn that off, and it’s a huge, huge deal to turn that off, because 

[00:11:20] Steve Fretzin: All right, but let, but let Just take a minute. Like you’re at like level nine out of 10 as far as like where you are and what you’ve done. And I have to believe that a lot of the lawyers listening are either at a firm, they’re thinking about going out on their own or they’re building their practice under the umbrella of a firm.

[00:11:35] Steve Fretzin: But, but, but I think what we want to focus on are the lawyers that have an associate, they have the beginnings of something that could be scaled, but yet they’re still doing everything. So, How do they, how do they start like, let’s just start at the very beginning. I’m a lawyer. I have an associate. I have an assistant.

[00:11:52] Steve Fretzin: I want to get to five. I want to get to 10 and I want to do it in the next couple of years. What should I do first? So 

[00:11:58] Tom Dunlap: there’s two paths to scale. I think path one is to find a firm that will let you have essentially your own practice. and use their infrastructure to scale your practice and be a lawyer.

[00:12:09] Tom Dunlap: Half, and that’s the easiest approach. I’m not saying like a DLA Piper or Blank Roam or, you know, whatever, Sullivan and Cromwell. I’m not saying go to a huge firm where you’re going to be, uh, they’re great firms, but where you’re not going to kind of own your own practice and have your own space. Our firm, we do that.

[00:12:28] Tom Dunlap: Like a little pitch for our firm there, but we’re very specific when we do IP and government contracts pretty much. Um, but if you’re starting your practice and you have one associate, what I did is we started by looking at what are the essential things that we don’t have to do that initially we could either outsource or that we could hire somebody to do.

[00:12:48] Tom Dunlap: And if we didn’t have the cash to hire somebody, if it’s just two of us, we’d have the cash to hire somebody. Then we had to look at outsourcing, and I will tell you that a lot of the outsourced stuff is terrible, and you can’t control it, and you take almost as much time managing the outsourced relationships as you do managing, doing the stuff yourself.

[00:13:07] Tom Dunlap: And you’ll certainly find that, um, there are some things that are aimed at law practices. I think a good practice management tool is the very first step for every single human being that is a lawyer that has a practice. Find an excellent robust practice management tool. But step two is hire a person who’s not a lawyer to manage all of that other stuff They call them your chief operating person or your ops manager, and then they do all of that They find the outsource people and deal with the outsource stuff and report to you, but they work for you So that’s the way we ultimately started.

[00:13:37] Tom Dunlap: We found a Outside bookkeeper we found some outside people and then we hired an operations person You We called them a COO. They eventually became our CEO. And over time, they added a CMO and a CFO and a controller, and we added people as we grew. But you have to start with that one really competent person.

[00:13:57] Tom Dunlap: You know, confidence. We started with somebody who’s a certified project manager. It was a VP from Airbus. And, uh, you know, she had all of the characteristics of planning and all the things layers don’t do. How to manage stuff, how to manage a project, how to.

[00:14:15] Steve Fretzin: But I think like, to your point, and maybe I’m just taking it down one notch is like, it could be something as simple as an office manager. It could be something as simple as an executive assistant that is in your inbox, that’s helping you get the bookkeeper in place, that’s helping you sort of manage all the non lawyer administrative marketing activities so that you can focus on building the high level work and going out and getting clients.

[00:14:37] Steve Fretzin: I And 

[00:14:38] Tom Dunlap: I will say though, that who that human being is, is vital. So if that human being is an office manager level person, like, uh, and I’m not again casting aspersions, but high school degree and you’re saving money and you’re hiring somebody from Starbucks, it’s not going to work out. You need to spend the money to hire, that person needs to be good.

[00:14:59] Tom Dunlap: They need to be smart. They need to have had a career in some kind of business management. You’re not looking for a secretary. You’re looking for somebody, if you want to scale, if you want a secretary to practice law and you want to keep managing stuff, but you need somebody who’s going to be able to take the bull by the horns eventually, um, because that’s how you’re going to scale.

[00:15:17] Tom Dunlap: And so that, that person’s hard to find, but they’re out there. Okay. Okay. It’s fine. It ain’t yet. Again. 

[00:15:23] Steve Fretzin: Yeah. 

[00:15:23] Tom Dunlap: You know, opinions are like 

[00:15:25] Steve Fretzin: Well, right. 

[00:15:26] Tom Dunlap: Everybody has 

[00:15:26] Steve Fretzin: them 

[00:15:26] Tom Dunlap: and 

[00:15:26] Steve Fretzin: they stink. 

[00:15:27] Tom Dunlap: Yeah. 

[00:15:27] Steve Fretzin: But that’s not But you know what? Opinions of people who have been there, done that, and actually made it work, you know, typically more valuable than someone who’s just, you know, talking, you know, talking crap when they haven’t, when they haven’t really done it.

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[00:17:32] Steve Fretzin: you know, one thing that, that I think is really interesting too, is that you’ve figured out, um, you’ve got this title managing partner, but you’re not really a managing partner in the traditional sense. So talk to that and how you sort of worked your way out of a lot of the jobs that lawyers feel they can’t get away from.

[00:17:47] Steve Fretzin: Like being the name on the door means you’ve got to, you’ve got to be the lawyer that people work with. 

[00:17:53] Tom Dunlap: I will tell you that being the name on the door is a burden. If there was some way to find a law firm that was founded in 1876 and recall our firm that it would be much easier. So there’s not a lot of value in having your name on the door, except that you’re a lightning rod for problem.

[00:18:09] Tom Dunlap: So there’s that joyful, but really the concept of managing partner, we actually have this in our equity partner operating agreement, it’s not that I actually manage anything, the actual managers of the firm that our lawyers is a board of attorneys. I think it’s four attorneys out of six equity partners, or three out of six, something like that, that make decisions on things that the CDO, CFO, or CMO can’t do.

[00:18:35] Tom Dunlap: And in the operating agreement, it says the managing partner shall be the face of the firm, and the managing partner’s duties shall involve basically making sure everybody’s happy. Um, which is and bringing in lateral partners and really being kind of a promoter that’s a lawyer because you need that in the law space.

[00:18:52] Tom Dunlap: You cannot substitute and we’ve tried this. You can have a BD person and you can have a CMO, but if they’re not lawyers, other lawyers just won’t talk to them. Um, so you still need that face and that’s really the managing partner’s job. Most of how we’re structured, if you looked at an org chart and we have an org chart as a law firm, you’ll see the partner executive committee up here over to the right.

[00:19:13] Tom Dunlap: Thanks. The little dotted line down to the CEO and then the CEO has C-M-O-C-F-O-C-T-O, and then we have a controller and all these and staff and finance people under that. Really, the CEO is doing all of that and reporting to us. And how great is that? You know, we do talk to the CO and the C, the CFO and all of those other people.

[00:19:31] Tom Dunlap: Uh, but I’m not daily managing any staff. I’m not managing lawyer performance that’s managed by our CFO who gives them reports and keeps them to standards. We’ll sit and talk about what those standards should be, but I don’t have to manage those standards or unless the CFO is like, Hey, could you call this guy?

[00:19:49] Tom Dunlap: Because this associates having issues with billing, something like that. So we’re really there to fly in and support our management structure, but not to be the management structure. Huge difference. Yeah. And just mentally too, you’re de stressing yourself. Yeah, I mean if, so, so one other anecdote I’ll share with you is I’m on the Managing Partners Conference of Virginia, it’s a group, and it’s a great group, and it’s the Virginia Bar Association there, I think there are 30 or plus folks in there, and we meet once a quarter.

[00:20:17] Tom Dunlap: And I remember two years ago, or three years ago, we had our first meeting, everybody went around and said, yeah, I practice law 40 hours a week and manage the firm 40 hours a week. And it got to me and I said, well, I practice law 40, 50 hours a week and get clients, and And then we don’t have any lawyers who manage the firm that’s done by professionals and everybody looked at me like I had two heads because we’ve really, um, stepped away from the business side of management, not the getting clients or, you know, that kind of thing.

[00:20:43] Tom Dunlap: So anyway, beating a dead horse. 

[00:20:46] Steve Fretzin: No, but I think it’s important because the lawyers feel that to our point earlier, they’ve got to do everything. But if they’re going to let anything go. You know, maybe it’s the work, you know, they, because they’re going to delegate the work down, but they’re still running the firm.

[00:21:01] Steve Fretzin: They’re still making a reign. They’re still doing a bunch of other jobs and you’ve selected to, Hey, I’m just going to be the face of the firm rainmaking and recruiting, right? Is that kind of the two main happiness coordinator, if you will, too. But yeah, but, but that, that gives you so much space to, to run versus still being drawn into all the other, you know, BS that can happen in, you know, internal politic.

[00:21:24] Steve Fretzin: It’s 

[00:21:24] Tom Dunlap: true. And some of the BS is, like, HR stuff is not fun. We have an HR person now that is under our CEO. Fantastic that I don’t hear about stuff. That’s like my favorite thing. My job is really to, you know, to fart rainbows, and some people don’t like the smell, but to make it as, you know, as fun a place to work.

[00:21:44] Tom Dunlap: So that’s the other thing about our law firm. I can really as a managing partner focus on partner happiness, associate happiness, and working with people that we like. Because working in a law firm where you don’t like people and you don’t like working there sucks. And, uh, you have turnover, and, um, I’m happy to say that at least half of the lawyers who are associates who left the firm have in the last five to ten years come back to the firm at some point.

[00:22:09] Tom Dunlap: Um, so that speaks volumes. We have an alumni network that we maintain. Of former attorneys and it’s a huge deal happiness at a law firm So that’s I kind of get to focus on that as well So there is the rain making and there is the recruiting and all of that But I also get to I said fart rainbows, but I get to focus on on being happy and finding people helping people be happy Yeah 

[00:22:32] Steve Fretzin: and there’s another aspect of of growing and scaling a law practice that i’m curious to get your take on regarding um You know, finding laterals, but even better finding like groups that you can bring in laterally and merging with, with what kind of, you know, mistakes are, can be made there.

[00:22:48] Steve Fretzin: And what, what’s the benefit in the upside of, of bringing in groups? Cause that seems to be a hot ticket right now. 

[00:22:54] Tom Dunlap: It is a hot ticket and it’s complicated. And we’ve learned through painful experience over the last 10 years. So 2014, we really started, you know, this kind of effort, maybe 2012, 2014, this really aggressive effort.

[00:23:07] Tom Dunlap: And it’s been successful, but we’ve had some failures too. And so the number one thing that doesn’t work with laterals is a lateral who says. Yes, I’m I’m at a firm now or I’m a solo and I haven’t had success in building a book But if I come to you, I’ll be able to build a book and be a rainmaker and that is almost never actually I will say universally It just they’re like, yeah, like what’s changed other than their words nothing, right?

[00:23:33] Tom Dunlap: They have the intention, but if they did weren’t doing it before and I got it. We’ve tried with a number of lateral folks who were brilliant lawyers, but at the end of being service partners, there’s nothing wrong with a service partner, but you’ve got to understand when you bring that person in, you’ve got to already have work for them, or they’re going to starve and end up having to leave.

[00:23:50] Tom Dunlap: And that’s, we’ve learned that. So we’re very careful about saying, Hey, let’s get your numbers. And if they’re reasonable, we can certainly grow your practice. If you’ve grown your practice at all, we can, you know, put it on steroids. Cause you go from being a three lawyer. This is. Another terrible truism, which I’m sure you’ve heard from your other guests.

[00:24:08] Tom Dunlap: A three or five lawyer firm has a much harder time landing a middle market client than an 80 lawyer firm, even with doing the same, even if they do twice as much to try to land that client. It’s just true. And they have to build lower rates. They don’t have the same infrastructure. We were turned down. A friend of mine who’s chief counsel at a big company were on their list for three years.

[00:24:28] Tom Dunlap: We were 50 lawyers at the time. And he said, you guys do everything perfectly. It’s just IP stuff. And the, uh, but he’s like the company needs a firm that’s at least a hundred lawyers. If I hire DLA or Sullivan or Cravath, Finnegan or whatever, it’s not my fault if something’s wrong. But if I hire you and you’re fewer than a hundred lawyers, you’re not this, you know, this big and don’t check these boxes, then it’s my fault.

[00:24:52] Tom Dunlap: So yeah, I’d rather make it, you know, Cravath’s fault. Not, I’m not saying big dynamic. 

[00:24:59] Steve Fretzin: Right, right. But right, right. But I think, I think what you’re saying is there’s Yeah. And there’s also, you know, businesses that don’t want to work with, you know, 50, a hundred person firms because they want to get the personal attention that happens with this.

[00:25:09] Steve Fretzin: So it’s, you just have to find the right fit clients in the right stage and then in the right place. Scope that well, but how do 

[00:25:16] Tom Dunlap: you but you can maintain steve that same personal attachment and relationship and I argue that Lawyers and big firms have to or they lose their clients. 

[00:25:24] Steve Fretzin: Yeah 

[00:25:25] Tom Dunlap: that a small firm delivers I always hear small firms are like we’re just as good as the big firms, but we cost less money I think that is a self defeating prophecy.

[00:25:34] Tom Dunlap: You shouldn’t cost less money. You’re worth just as much money read that snowball effect book There’s a whole chapter on the mistakes service people accountants and lawyers make with Charging their clients and valuing themselves and I proselytize this across my firm. I don’t know monthly um, sometimes on deaf ears, but uh, I think there’s a a lot of value in smaller firms But I don’t think that that my 10 cents is the right pitch to say that we’re more connected I don’t think there’s any less connection.

[00:26:04] Tom Dunlap: I don’t think I make rain less than a small I probably do better because i’ve got more infrastructure to say i’ve got you And here are three associates that are going to work on your case You Uh, and I just, I’ve grown from that, being small. The other thing, as a small firm, and you’ve heard this from your other guests, is you are hairy, no matter how much outside counsel you have, you really don’t get a vacation.

[00:26:24] Tom Dunlap: You don’t have backup. You don’t have two partners and three associates who can, Hey, I’m just going to disappear for a week. You can’t do that. If you’re even in a five way, it’s challenging. It’s challenging benefits and detriments. Um, you know, anyway, sorry, I just bring that up as a side thing that I’ve heard from laterals.

[00:26:40] Steve Fretzin: Yeah, I think I got it off track a lot. 

[00:26:42] Tom Dunlap: Sorry about that. 

[00:26:43] Steve Fretzin: Oh, that’s okay. But I think kind of wrapping up this set, you know, subject is, and then you’re, when you’re looking to bring in a lateral group, There’s a process you probably have to go through and like you said, you made mistakes, but like what, what sort of a high level, 20, 000 foot view of, of what needs to happen to bring in a group effectively.

[00:27:01] Tom Dunlap: Gotcha. So high level, the very first thing we do before we do anything else is we go shake hands. We have coffee, we have lunch, whatever it is. We just meet the humans. 

[00:27:11] Green Cardigan Marketing: If 

[00:27:12] Tom Dunlap: the humans are good humans, that’s where it starts. And there are a lot of good humans that don’t end up joining us. There are a lot of good humans that do.

[00:27:19] Tom Dunlap: But if we meet with them and it’s, it’s just not a click thing, we usually try to have them meet with a bunch of folks in the firm. Um, so that’s step one. Uh, step two is we go through how the com structure works, because that’s the thing that every lawyer is like, how does that work? Am I even interested?

[00:27:36] Tom Dunlap: Well, I make more money or less money with you. It’s always going to be more, but you have to explain what the difference is between them. Hey, I’m really lean and I only, I take home 85%. Yes, but you’re also spending three hours a day running your firm. Um, so you have to go through that and explain that concept in detail.

[00:27:54] Tom Dunlap: So after those two things, the meet and greet, everybody’s happy. The, okay, I get the concept of how I’d work in your firm. Then the third thing, and the harder thing is getting their numbers. And then plugging them into the com system and structure with some assumptions and giving them back. And then the fourth thing is, call any, and I think we’re unique in this, cause I’ve, we’ve been courted by other firms, couple big firms to be purchased.

[00:28:17] Tom Dunlap: But instead of saying, call this guy, call John Smith, he’ll tell you how great it is to work here. We always say call anybody in the firm, staff person, associate, partner, I don’t care. Call them and talk to them about the real feelings about the firm. That’s why if you want to be here and we want you here because we want you to be somebody anybody can call and say, I think this is a good place to be and here’s why.

[00:28:38] Tom Dunlap: So those are kind of the steps and the final step of course is a contract and then getting their clients moved over. But the other thing that’s nice is. We’ve got staff, not lawyers, do the 5. 1 letters, do the data, we have a CTO who takes the data and puts it into our system. So, all of that is pretty seamless.

[00:28:57] Steve Fretzin: Yeah. 

[00:28:57] Tom Dunlap: Uh, but yeah, those first two steps are most important. 

[00:29:00] Steve Fretzin: Yeah, but a lot of, a lot of dotting I’s and crossing T’s after you’ve recognized that the relationships are, are sound and that the people are, are good people, which, which is I think so important. Um, you don’t want to work, you know, there’s a lot of firms that have no asshole rules and.

[00:29:14] Steve Fretzin: You know, things like that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you know what though? It’s not always successful. You can’t always detect that. You gotta have a good asshole detector. That’s important. That’s important. Yeah. I mean, I wish 

[00:29:24] Tom Dunlap: they had like a tool like on Amazon that you could buy and, you know, but you’ll meet great people and your partners will try to work with them and you’ll find out quickly.

[00:29:33] Tom Dunlap: This has happened twice. Where you’ll have all your partners like I’m not sending them any more work because they’re not responsive or they’re not like Don’t care for the client. You don’t know that because you can meet somebody who’s fantastic with you in person and most people up So you kind of have to dig deep and we just do so part of the process I’m sure every firm does this we do a state bar check We check pacer, you know, we do a full, it sounds terrible, but you’ve got to make sure that they weren’t in prison for something.

[00:30:03] Tom Dunlap: Um, 

[00:30:04] Steve Fretzin: but there should be, there should be like, there’s assessments. Like I, I do behavioral assessments for people I have for 20 years. There’s personality assessment, there should be an asshole assessment that gives them a bunch of, of like multiple choice options and, and see like how, how they dealt with it.

[00:30:18] Steve Fretzin: Yeah. That’s a good idea. You’ve got an open seat at a table and you’ve got two friends coming and I don’t know, I’m making it up, but like, I don’t know, something that kind of would show you some insider thought, you know, thought patterns on somebody. I bet that exhausts people. 

[00:30:31] Tom Dunlap: You’ve got, um, a memo due to a client Monday morning, it’s Friday at 4.

[00:30:36] Tom Dunlap: 30. Do you call an associate and demand they do it? Yes. Do you call an associate and ask them for help? And if they’re, and this associate tells you they’re getting married that weekend, what do you do? Right. What do you do? We open. If they do it themselves, because the associates getting married and there’s no other help and it’s 430 and it’s their client’s issue and their fault, that’s not an asshole.

[00:30:58] Tom Dunlap: Yeah. They’re like, you’ve got to do this before your wedding and squeeze it in. Yeah. Uh, you know. 

[00:31:03] Steve Fretzin: So, um, if we, if we, if we create that together, I got 50%, right? 

[00:31:08] Tom Dunlap: Yeah, I know. 

[00:31:09] Steve Fretzin: Would I, I think there’s a lot more than that one question. I think we’d have to come up with. Yeah, we’d have to have about 20, that’d be 20 questions and try to figure out who’s, who’s an asshole and who’s a good person.

[00:31:18] Steve Fretzin: Um, Hey man, as we’re wrapping up, there’s a, there’s a game changing book that you mentioned earlier in the, in our conversation. And I, it’s, it’s one of, you know, I like to think I’m well read and there’s, there’s books that are, this, this is one that, that right away surprised me that I hadn’t seen or read and I’m going to have to pick it up the snowball system and in talk, talk just for a minute about that.

[00:31:37] Steve Fretzin: And then we’ll kind of wrap things up there. Yeah, so Moe Bunnell 

[00:31:40] Tom Dunlap: is an author. I had him on my podcast, The Black Letter, which hopefully you’re joining me on. Yeah. Um, and he talked about his book and as we went through our conversation about his book, every chapter in his book is something that I’ve either talked about today or that you need to know to be successful as a service industries person.

[00:32:01] Tom Dunlap: It talks about how to maintain relationships, how to set fees. If somebody isn’t saying no to your fee, 

[00:32:08] Steve Fretzin: you’re charging way too little. Yeah, yeah. I talk about that too. If people don’t listen to me, it’s amazing. They just, they just, they’re comfortable with what the numbers are. 

[00:32:16] Tom Dunlap: But what’s neat at my firm is they can see me doing it, and other people I’ve convinced.

[00:32:20] Tom Dunlap: Like, how are you getting paid so much? You’re charging more for associates than I’m charging the partner. And I said, well, you know what? You’re kind of being dumb. So yeah, uh, you know, but anyway, uh, yeah, so the snowball system, it’s a good book. Um, Beau just wrote another book that he sent to me last week.

[00:32:36] Tom Dunlap: I can’t remember the name of it, but it, the snowball system at a minimum is worth a read, uh, if you’re running a fur, it’s short, it’ll take you like, An hour and a half, probably. 

[00:32:48] Steve Fretzin: Okay, that sounds great, sounds great. Hey, um, Tom, as we’re wrapping up, I want to thank our wonderful sponsors, of course, uh, Green Cardigan Marketing, Get Staffed Up, and Lawmatics.

[00:32:58] Steve Fretzin: And, um, Tom, if people want to learn more about your firm, um, Tom Dunlap, uh, Dunlap, uh, Bennett and Ludwig, what’s the best way for them to reach you? 

[00:33:07] Tom Dunlap: On the website, dbllawyers. com, my bio’s got my email, it’s got my phone number, my mobile I think is on there, so just reach out. And if, if you want to chat about, hey, I’ve got this problem with my firm, I’m happy to chat about it.

[00:33:21] Tom Dunlap: I may not have an answer, but I’m always happy to chat with other lawyers about their, their Their ideas because I learned from that 

[00:33:28] Steve Fretzin: now. I love that. And that, that type of openness and giving is, is a theme of the show for, for the last four years. And, you know, most of the people I’ve had on are very open to that, which is, which is just, you know, warms my heart.

[00:33:39] Steve Fretzin: So, um, Tom, thanks so much. I appreciate it. I know you and I are going to continue to have conversations. I’m going to have you hopefully as a speaker of my rainmakers round table to talk about non lawyer assisted did. Um, you know, running a firm’s, um, I’ll bring my CDO if you want. Oh, wow. That might be, yeah, that might be a really good, really good way to get our Olympian or work at a big company.

[00:34:01] Steve Fretzin: Nice. Okay. Yeah. Wow. Sold. Um, but just, uh, I appreciate it. We’ll, uh, we’ll chat, uh, we’ll chat, uh, continue the conversation, but thanks for coming on. 

[00:34:11] Tom Dunlap: Thanks for 

[00:34:11] Steve Fretzin: having me, Steve. Really appreciate it. Yeah. And thank you everybody for spending time with Tom and I today again, you know, just giving you a different perspective of, of how to build and scale and run a law firm, you know, not on your own and not, you know, just using lawyers to actually talk about bringing in experts that know and understand business better than you do.

[00:34:28] Steve Fretzin: Um, and this is all, these are all things that help you to be that lawyer with Fretzin, someone who’s confident, organized, and a skilled lawyer maker. Take care everybody. Be safe. Be well. We’ll talk again real soon.

[00:34:42] Narrator: Thanks for listening to Be That Lawyer, life changing strategies and resources for growing a successful law practice. Visit Steve’s website, Fretzin. com, for additional information and to stay up to date on the latest legal business development and marketing trends.