In this episode, Steve Fretzin and Scott Rahn discuss:
- The importance of people and community.
- Building law firm culture.
- Benefits of great culture, detriments of a poor culture.
- Modernizing the suggestion box and put your money where your mouth is.
- You can only do so much well. Focus on what you do well and hunker down in that area.
- Your law firm culture is the glue that binds you.
- Show your employees that you care and that they matter. While we are all separated this is especially important to double down on your culture.
- As people, we are stronger together.
“If you haven’t made people feel welcome, safe, and appreciated, you’re gonna have a hard time retaining them.” — Scott Rahn
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Show notes by Podcastologist Chelsea Taylor-Sturkie
Audio production by Turnkey Podcast Productions. You’re the expert. Your podcast will prove it.
firm, culture, people, lawyer, important, litigation, business, grow, law firm, managing partner, practice, clients, big, nice, thinking, farm, paralegal, rural wisconsin, steve, partner
Narrator, Scott Rahn, Steve Fretzin
Scott Rahn [00:00]
The demand for talent is so high and if you haven’t, if you haven’t made people feel welcome and safe and appreciated, you’re gonna have a hard time retaining
your 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.
Steve Fretzin [00:39]
Hey, everybody, welcome to be that lawyer, as the announcer said so eloquently. I’m Steve Fretzin, your host, and I hope you’re having a great day today. Listen, it’s all about being that lawyer, someone who is competent, organized and a skilled Rainmaker. And if you’re not thinking about building your book of business, then you’re just not thinking maybe you’re very busy. Most lawyers are busy right now. And it’s important while you’re busy to consider, you know, hey, you’re on a roller coaster right now you’re going down and you’re getting crazy, billable hours and everything. But soon as that slows down, then what? Right we want to make sure we keep the pipeline full. Another important part of being in a law firm and engaging in being happy in your job is having a strong culture. And I’ve got a friend of mine who I met through pro visors, we’re both group leaders, and he’s a dynamic Founder and Managing Partner of his own firm. RMO. Scott, Ron, how’s it going, Scott?
Scott Rahn [01:29]
Good morning, Steve. Thanks for having me.
Steve Fretzin [01:31]
Yeah, thanks for being here. And do me a favor and just give a little background on yourself. And also, I know that you’ve got a really interesting secret sort of like history, like where you came from, because you’re now out in LA area, correct?
Scott Rahn [01:43]
Correct. Yeah, I we all have a circuitous path, right. I think it adds hopefully, to our life experience, and even more, hopefully, our successes. I grew up farming in rural Wisconsin, outside of Green Bay, go packers, my grandparents had a dairy farm that they ran for their livelihood until I was 15, when they retired, so I grew up every summer break weekend, winter vacation, etc. Out on the farm, you know, learning how to work, we weren’t really given a choice. But you know, you learn the value of $1. You learn what it means to work hard, you learn, frankly, how to run a business, because a farm is that I remember my sixth grade teacher getting down on our entire class saying I never want to hear anybody say stupid farmer because a farmer is a business person, right? They need to plan out their year, and every year, and you can’t be a successful farmer if you’re not a successful business person. So I often look back at that, and I’m thankful for those those humble roots.
Steve Fretzin [02:46]
Yeah, I think work ethic is something that, you know, I’m 51. So I know I grew up with a work ethic. And my father was retired as a retired attorney, I was always working, I was either mowing the lawn, I was babysitting. And then when I hit 14, I’m like, Hey, work permit. So you know, I was always working probably 20 hours a week on top of school and everything in playing sports. And I just think that’s important. I think it’s important to have that work ethic at a young age and parents out there, you know, he get those kids to work, right. But farming is tough. But I think you learned you learned some valuable lessons about the business. And also, you know, just the importance of of, you know, what it like what it’s like to really work hard.
Scott Rahn [03:23]
And I think the other side of that is you learn to work as a family. And I think that is something that stuck with me as well. And we really tried to integrate and is an important part of who we are at RMO.
Steve Fretzin [03:36]
Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about your path to RMO. What led you to to running your own firm like, what’s the history? How did somebody just decide to start their own firm? What’s the background and leading up to that?
Scott Rahn [03:48]
It’s like most overnight success stories that took 20 years. I started clerking in law school at civil litigation and burns, I was at an insurance defense firm for a while my second and third year law school started after law school at a regional firm out here on the West Coast, doing fiduciary litigation, largely representing financial institutions on that side defense side, and was very fortunate that I was given an opportunity at that firm to do real work early and very fortunate that the firm had a very supportive, nurturing culture. So when I was a second year, I was given an opportunity by my mentor to handle a probate case because as she described it, it’s probate. It’s weird. It has its own set of rules. You’re smart, you’ll figure it out good luck. And I figured it out. I got to good results and then became the probate expert, if you will, at least at that firm and then really transitioned from there to a national firm that had a bonafide trust in the state’s Department and then matriculated from that firm to Greenberg Traurig where I became partner rose up the partnership ranks until I came to a decision point, which was most of my clients are not big, firm clients, we have any number of institutional relationships that are big, firm clients. And I’m very thankful for those relationships, some of which spanned my entire career. But largely, we represent individuals, whether it’s an individual trustee or executor, or beneficiaries. And those folks, more often than not create conflicts for large law firms. And it’s not, you know, the billion dollar litigation that that those firms are really hunting. So for me at big law, the writing was on the wall that, you know, I’d be better off somewhere else with my individual clients. And I never really thought of myself as an entrepreneurial lawyer, although I had been entrepreneurial in my practice. But when the time came, and I made the leap, it’s like what I now call my Jerry Maguire moment.
Steve Fretzin [06:01]
Take a goldfish with you.
Scott Rahn [06:04]
I left and then subsequently after I was gone, I had recruited my former paralegal from a paralegal who’s still with me to this day, and is now our office manager. And the rest is history. We’re seven years in and now six offices, about 30 people for states and just trying to be in a place where we can help people.
Steve Fretzin [06:27]
Yeah, that’s pretty terrific. And it’s a great success story. And it shows that if you are good at what you do, and you have the ambition to bring in the right people and continue to grow and provide value that you’re going to you’re going to have a successful practice. Did business development drive some are of this as far as how you were able to grow and develop and add people? And business
Scott Rahn [06:49]
development had a lot to do with it? Yeah, I mean, that in the fact that we are such a nice practice, right? Today. We do probate litigation, trust litigation, will litigation, conservatorship, litigation, guardianship litigation, in the probate courts. And that’s really all we do. So we give away a lot of work, we give away the estate planning work, the tax work, the corporate transactional real estate, employment, IP, etc, you name it, if it’s not trust and estate litigation, we farm that out. So being such a niche practice, what we found is that in the markets where we weren’t known, people were asking for us because there aren’t a lot of us, I like to joke that we’re unicorns, and there aren’t a lot of unicorns out there. So we found that by being in those markets, and really giving a lot of work away by having a robust business development presents in various communities, that we had a pretty soft landing in those markets. And I think most importantly, you know, we don’t need to be in any market were doing just fine where we are, but one of our core values is to lead with empathy. And we’re really driven by taking care of people and being in a position to help people because this is a very emotional practice area, people are dealing with some very, very difficult, emotional issues, loss, financial issues, etc. And, you know, if we can be in a place where we can help more people, that’s, that’s where we want to be.
Steve Fretzin [08:21]
And I think it’s a good segue to talk about law firm culture, however, I want to take a moment to just recognize the importance of specialization, because when you’re trying to capture everything that you can capture doing 5678 10 different things, you’re really not able to a do all of them well and be, you’re not able to refer out stuff. So you’re not going to get as much referred in. So your experiences, focus on one thing to it as best as you can be an expert at that one thing, and then be able to feed out the other stuff. And then that were said that will be reciprocated. Right,
Scott Rahn [08:57]
right, correct. Absolutely. Yeah, I think we’re giving out, you know, anywhere between 15 and 20 cases a week to various practitioners and various practices across the country.
Steve Fretzin [09:08]
But the concern that attorneys would have hearing that is holy mackerel, that could be valued. Why don’t you just hire a few more lawyers that do that stuff? And keep it all for yourself? Be a greedy pig, if you will? Why? So what was the big kind of mindset change or flip that said, No, we’re not going to do that. We’re not going to be greedy pigs we’re going to specialize in this is why What’s your why
Scott Rahn [09:29]
pigs get fat Hogs get slaughtered? Right?
Steve Fretzin [09:32]
to Wisconsin, holy man.
Scott Rahn [09:35]
That’s more of an Iowa thing overnight with like, Okay. I mean, the the reality is, is that you can only do so much well, right. And while we could form a multidisciplinary practice, even just incorporating estate planning, for example, it’s just not who we are. It’s not what we like to do. And it’s not our skill set. You know, for one, we’re trial lawyers. We’re not transactional lawyers. to everybody that is a member of our team, you know, has a very high EQ, right. And that’s something that’s very important to us as a team, but also very important to our clients. And getting into some of these other practice areas, I just don’t think it’s as fun as probate litigation, one. And it’s just, it’s not something that we’re out in the market trying to be known for. And if we’re not going to be good at it, if we’re not going to be the best at it, it’s just not something I’m interested in doing. I would much rather give away, you know, that real estate litigation case to one of our friends and contemporaries, and have us have them think of us for you know, the probate litigation matter that we know we can knock out of the park every time.
Steve Fretzin [10:44]
Yep. Well said and important for people to note, you know, I’d rather be the best at one thing than average at a bunch of things. And, obviously, there’s so much benefit to the branding side of things, the cultural side of things. And, again, the ability to hand out work and then get reciprocated. So kudos to you on that. Let’s transition though to culture. Because one of the things that I know you’ve done very well, as you continue to expand and and look to grow, is you’ve built a really dynamic, healthy culture at your firm. And that’s something maybe harder to do now than ever before. And so I want to just talk about that a little bit. Why is culture so important to the success of a law firm to a 10? Person, firm, 30, person, firm, 1000 person firm mean, you can probably speak to the 30. But why is that such an important element of success.
Scott Rahn [11:35]
It’s the glue that binds you, right? It’s like any family, any friend, group, any community that you’re a part of, right, you have to have those commonalities, and you need to know that you can rely on them. And they know that they can rely on you, and they know that they’re going to be treated well. And they’re going to treat you well as well. Right. One of our other core values is we are stronger together. And that’s the reality of it. I remember sitting down with an old partner of mine at one of my former firms when I was a probably a mid level associate. And you know, he basically asked me the question of what do you want to be when you grow up? You know, and, you know, I said, I just I want to help people, and I want to be able to be in a position where I’m able able to help more people. And his his take on that was that, Oh, you want to be a mover and a shaker? And I was like, No, I want to, I want to build a community. Right. And I think that goes back to, you know, my farming roots, the town of 1100 people that I grew up with in in rural Wisconsin, and having that feeling of, you know, look, we’re all in this together. And we can help one another by doing what we do. But also, for me, importantly, and for my firm, knowing who those other people are the good people who don’t do what we do, so that if it’s something we can help with, it gives us pride to be able to help that person at least find someone who can help them if it’s not us. So, and I think, you know, one of the other things that people have heard me say far, far too often probably, is that RMO is a safe place. Right? And what I mean by that, and we live by it is, you know, being lawyers, it’s a tough profession, right? You deal with a lot of difficult personalities, you know, judges who maybe are misled opposing counsel who think that aggressive pneus is advocacy, you know, emotional clients, the gamut. And what we tell people is, and what we live by is that our demos a safe place. And what we mean is that you’re not going to get any of those table pounders screamers, passive aggressive, you know, those kinds of personalities, because we want you to know that no matter how scary it is outside, inside, we’re all together, and it’s a safe place to practice. And I think that’s really important. And we obviously backup those words with actions. We’ve fired clients who did not treat associates well. And we’ve had stern conversations with opposing counsel about their how they’re talking to our staff, and we have no problem having those difficult conversations, because we’re just simply not going to tolerate it because it’s that important to us. Yeah, that’s
Steve Fretzin [14:20]
really that’s really terrific. And obviously COVID is impacted culture, especially for you know, the big firms and the mid market firms that have, you know, real strict direction about, you know, coming back to work and all that. How has COVID affected your firm in the culture, or how is it how has it benefited? I’m not sure which,
Scott Rahn [14:40]
yeah, everything has its pluses and minuses and COVID is no different. I think one of the big challenges for us culturally, has been we’re a very tight knit group, and we would do a lot of impromptu happy hours. We have anniversary parties for each of the offices every year where we invite You know, everybody to come our community to come and you know, that gives us an opportunity to see each other at least several times a year. And then on top of that we would do you know, holiday parties and those kinds of things. So not having those touch points, makes it challenging and it makes it difficult to reinvest in the culture and and invite others to invest in it. We were fortunate with the downturn in COVID. I know the numbers have certainly changed since then, at the beginning of June, we were able to do an in person firm retreat out here in Santa Monica at the at the Joplin Beach Club, which was lovely was a perfect sunshiny big blue sky day. And it was really nice to have everybody we flew in our, you know, our team from from Miami and Kansas City, and, etc. And it was just really nice to have everybody together. But on the on the flip side of that, you know, as we got into COVID, it incentivized us to double down on our culture, what that meant to us and how we can try and stay together. So we launched something we call two o’clock Tuesdays, which is just a half an hour weekly check in, that we do with the entire team. And we do fun things like we have guest speakers, we’ve invited some of the vendors that we work with in our communities to come and do we do this once a month, where they get their 15 minutes of RMO fame. And they get to talk about who they are, what they do, how we can work together. And we have a Mark fingerman, who you may know is a meditation guru, he does mindful Tuesdays for us once a month where we do a firm meditation. We also rolled out happy hours, like a lot of firms, but we also rolled out a program called RMO cares, where we roll out and give out just little gifts. Sometimes, depending on what the holiday is, or just randomly, we just gave out. Beach blankets. For the fourth of July, we had a nice little Scottish set of like this beautiful wool tartan blanket and candle and things that we did in the fall of last year. And we did a little plant for when spring sprung. So just little things to let everybody in the team know that we’re thinking about them. And we care.
Steve Fretzin [17:20]
Yeah, I mean, that’s really amazing. And again, I think there’s for and I was talking to some, you know, managing partners recently. And, you know, they were asking about this kind of stuff, because I just don’t think they’re doing it, I think they’re just doing business as usual. And their people aren’t being seen. They’re not being appreciated, they’re not being talked to, they’re not being gifted, they’re not doing the retreats are more business focused, like they’re not about fun and collaboration or just enjoyment of each other. And it’s, it’s, I think it’s a, you know, they’re seeing turnover, I mean, there’s turnover happening right now, and in firms or by, you know, paying, you know, exorbitant amount of money to pull people from other firms. So it’s a little bit of a doggy dog world right now. And I think without having a strong culture without having that loyalty that can be generated, some pretty bad things can happen. I mean, do you see? Maybe not at your firm, but other results of poor culture? Like what can happen and what does happen?
Scott Rahn [18:15]
Yeah, you can certainly see it. I mean, I participate in any number of managing partner groups regionally nationally. It’s a big problem, I think, for those firms who haven’t been able to pivot during this time, not to point the finger of blame anyone, because I think we all thought we were going home for two weeks, in March of last year. And, you know, so many of us are still home, we’re back in our offices, I happen to be home today. But you know, it’s really hard. And if you didn’t start to anticipate that this could last, and if you didn’t start to roll out things, to double down on your culture early, it’s difficult, especially in this market, because the demand for talent is so high. And if you haven’t, if you haven’t made people feel welcome, and safe and appreciated, you’re gonna have a hard time retaining him.
Steve Fretzin [19:12]
So you’ve given a couple of examples of things that you’ve done internally to drive culture and to make sure things stay sticky and loyal and all that and safe, as you put it. Are there other things that you’re either looking to do in the future or other suggestions that you would make to either managing partners that are listening or even the lawyers that are listening that work at firms that you know, they they can take some suggestions to their, you know, their practice management leader or to the managing partner? What are some other things that you think would be really helpful for them to try or to consider?
Scott Rahn [19:45]
Yeah, so we we just launched a new program. It’s called RMO. DM, which is QRP DM RMO diem, seize the day and where were incentivizing able to come up with ideas that improve firm culture, improve firm processes, make us more efficient, make us better at our job make us more cost effective. All of those things. And we have financial incentives, rewards, awards recognition that goes along with that, it’s tantamount to what would have been the suggestion box in the old day, but we’ve certainly modernized it, and put teeth behind it. And I think that’s really the single most important thing for any firm is to put your money where your mouth is, right, you can say we care, right. But if I don’t make that phone call to that difficult client who’s screaming at my associate, and tell them, knock it off, or you’re gone, you know, it doesn’t mean anything to that associate. So you gotta, you have to walk the walk, and you got to recognize people, you know, we have so many talented, lovely lawyers, paralegals staff. And they all you know, real hard every day to make sure that the armo ship is going full steam and in the right direction. And, you know, we try really hard to make sure that we’re acknowledging those people. And I think that’s, if anybody, you know, looking at the lawyer ranks, or the paralegal or staff ranks, if they have an idea, my guess is your managing partner would be ecstatic to hear from you that you have thought of some way to help him or her, protect that culture and build upon that culture and make it stronger. Yeah,
Steve Fretzin [21:30]
that’s really great. And at the end of the day, you know, right now, in particular, with the recruiting hawks that are out there, in the law firms that are trying to gobble up firms or gobble up a talent, you got to do it, you got to do the little things that are meaningful to your team. And I don’t want to say spare no expense, but it doesn’t have to be money. You know, in fact, money right now, I think is a lot less important than just being appreciated, or getting them too involved and feeling included in in everything. And actually, that’s a kind of something I want to wrap up with. Lately, another element of culture that has been kind of coming to the forefront more than ever has been the DEI, the diversity, equity inclusion. So what’s your take on that, and how that impacts culture and that impacts, you know, just being successful as a law firm.
Scott Rahn [22:15]
I think it’s really important. It’s certainly something that’s top of mind in the industry right now, certainly Top of Mind amongst all of my Managing Partner peers. And it’s something that’s been important to us forever. It’s not an initiative for us, it’s just the way we do business. We’ve got, you know, our market leads are diverse in many different categories. And it just brings, you know, a different voice, different perspective, and different opportunities. And it does a much better job at again, walking the walk, right? We, as people are stronger together, right? And as we reinforce those bonds, our lawyering becomes better, right? The products better, but it always has to start with the people. Right? That goes back to the comment that I was making about my former partner who said, I want to do a mover and shaker and I said, I want to build a community. Right. That’s where that starts. And diversity is an important part of that.
Steve Fretzin [23:14]
Yeah, well, really terrific. I mean, many great takeaways and ideas and things that law firms should be thinking about right now. Are there any things that you’re looking for either from my audience, or just in general, or there’s already people want to get in touch with you? They want to join your team? They they fallen in love with you just in the 30 minute meeting? I know I have. So like, how do they get in touch with you?
Scott Rahn [23:35]
You can email me it’s run s ra H N s at RMO. lawyers.com. can call the office 424-320-9444. Or on the internet. RMO lawyers.com?
Steve Fretzin [23:50]
Yeah, well, and I will make sure to put some all that information in the show notes as well. So just again, Scott, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom for being on the show and for being a superstar. And, you know, I want to continue the relationship with you that we’ve started and just so impressed with what you’ve accomplished, I want to say at a fairly young age, because you’re I think you’re either younger than me or in that ballpark. But we will talk about the specifics.
Scott Rahn [24:13]
It’s the joys of growing up in the Midwest and not seeing the sun for nine months.
Steve Fretzin [24:17]
What are you talking about? We do nothing but see Sun Chicago, and yeah, I’ve got a lot of ties to Wisconsin, so I just I pre appreciate Wisconsin how nice everyone is up there that Midwest nice is just shines in Wisconsin for sure. Good stuff, man. Thanks again.
Scott Rahn [24:33]
Thanks, Dave. Appreciate it.
Steve Fretzin [24:34]
And hey everybody, thank you for spending some time with Scott night today. Hopefully you got some good takeaways and ideas and suggestions you know, go back to your firm with with some thoughts on how to improve culture how to improve you know the the disconnect that’s been going on for the last year and a half and see what happens I’m thinking might be beneficial a conversation to have. And listen, it’s all about being that lawyer someone who’s confident organized in a skilled Rainmaker, and if you ever have any questions about business developing Then marketing branding culture, obviously check out my website fretzin.com you can always reach me directly at email@example.com happy to answer questions. So take care of be well be safe bye bye
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. For more information and important links about today’s episode, check out today’s show notes