Mark: Today I have with me Jan Copley, who is an attorney in Pasadena, in California. Shall we call you recently retired or semi retired, or what? Semi retired?
Jan Copley: That’s semi retired is as good as we’ll get for the moment.
Mark: And Jan has been my client, my friend for many years and I thought she would be a great benefit for this class because for those of you, who are going out on your own for the first time, starting our own solo practice.
Jan had a solo practice for many, many years and I thought what we’d do is interview her about. If she was starting today, what would, what tips would she give to somebody starting out. What should you do? What should you avoid? And all of that. And I think where, one of the places
I want to start Jan, because most of the people watching this video are going to be a good deal younger than myself and I won’t say anything about you.
Mark: But there going to be starting out and a lot of them are, are female. And a lot of them probably don’t understand what it was like to be a female attorney, some years ago. I know you had stories, privately, where we talked about judges calling you deary and that sort of thing.
Why don’t you just talk a little bit about what it was like to be a solo female attorney, back when that wasn’t so common.
Jan: I’ve never thought of myself as a trailblazer but I guess I am. But I have had judges call me dear. I have had opposing counsel pinch my cheeks. I have been setup because I’ve been female. And, since I grew up in the days when it was rather women basically became teachers, secretaries or nurses.
Mark: Those were the three career choices. Yes.
Jan: I really didn’t have the skill’s to deal with, the first thing I would tell a lot of women is if they haven’t focused on it is. Work on your negotiation skills. Work on your ability to say no to people and work on your ability to be assertive.
And if somebody calls you shrewish or somebody calls you the b word, just ignore them. You are being effective by doing that.
Mark: Good advice there. Then let’s move from that to a broader spectrum of advice that would apply to males, females, whoever’s going to hang out their shingle for the first time. I didn’t give you these questions in advance.
We haven’t rehearsed this so if nothing comes immediately to mind just feel free to say so and we’ll move onto the next question and we’ll rely on Terry’s editing skills as they come along, if necessary. .
Let’s start off with can you think of two or three things that you would say are must do, and two or three things maybe that you think are must not do in terms of running your own practice?
Jan: Yes. There are several things that you must do. One of the smartest things I did was fund my own practice. A piece of advice that I got very early on was save 10 percent of whatever you generate in income and put that into a separate fund, and I did it. One of the smartest things I ever did was do it.
As a result, when the extraordinary expenses came up like hiring smart marketing, we had the ability to pay for it. We never had to sweat paying payroll. That’s a huge luxury, and I never had to take out the bank loan. If you can do that, that’s a huge, huge deal.
Mark: I grew my business absolutely through its own revenues. I’ve never had a bank loan, never had a line of credit, any of that kind of stuff, and you’re right. Just earlier today I was having a conference with a young female attorney.
She’s got two kids at home. She’s got her own business. She’s got a couple of employees, and she’s got 100 grand in debt. 60 of which I think came from family members, uncles and aunts and so on, or they cosigned on it or something like that.
She’s got a little tear running down the side of her cheek as she’s talking to me, and I’m thinking, “Oh, my god.” One of your big pieces of advice is don’t go get a big loan to fund your business.
Jan: No. It’s hugely liberating, and you will be in a better place. Even if you crash and burn and fail, you won’t have the big debt cleanup. I think another piece of advice is don’t be afraid to fail.
You have to take risks in order to create a business. If you spend all of your time being afraid of things, you never will get anywhere.
Mark: There’s a great theory of business, in fact, that’s called fail faster. The theory is basically, if you’re going to try 10 things before you find the thing that works, the worst thing that you can do is do one thing, fail at it and then go back into your shell and lick your wounds and not come out again.
The best thing you can do is keep failing until you find that thing that works. There’s some quote from Thomas Edison to that effect of, I didn’t fail, I just found 99 things that didn’t work.
Jan: And that’s it. There’s a book called “Failing Forward.” Frankly the book is pretty stupid, but the term of it is if you fail, learn from the mistake and then take that to the next step. Don’t just give up. I see so many lawyers who are so terrified of failing that they never take the risks that they need to take.
Mark: Do you think part of that comes from a law school background of if you fail, that’s a disgrace, you go home,You don’t pass?
Jan: I don’t think it’s law school. I think it’s more saving face. My answer to that is who’s going to remember if you crash and burn anyway. Actually, failure and vulnerability make you endearing.
Mark: What would be an example of something that you or we together failed at that we wouldn’t have tried if we weren’t willing to fail? I can think of things like we might have tried this advertising campaign, and it flopped, but you don’t know until you try it.
Jan: The example for me, and I’m not saying this would happen to everybody else. We did the dinner seminars, and we didn’t generate very much business. If you looked at what the immediate revenue we got from it, that was not hugely successful.
Mark: But you were willing to try that and have it not work.
Jan: And have it not work. There are payoffs in the long run. It gets your name out in the community, people believe you, they come to you later on, somebody else hears your name, and in our case we got a great travel agent.
Mark: Does anything occur to you to say non‑marketing related? I’m thinking,”I hired a funding coordinator, and in the end that didn’t work. I was better off doing the funding myself.”
Jan: The real failure is in the staffing that we did and not in the concept of the people that we had. Mark Powers of Adecca says, “You don’t want good employees. You want great employees or nothing.”
I put up with good employees for way too long, and it’s hard to fire somebody. That’s an area where I did fail, because I was not proactive enough with finding the right people.
Mark: My philosophy of hiring, I think we even did a class in this course. I did a segment on hiring. It’s hire the very best people you can get, pay them above market so they’ve got no place to go, and keep them.
It’s not that complicated, but it ends up being complicated if you end up with just something which is good. I think Mark Power’s advice is very good there, “See if you can get great.”
Jan: He also advises, ” Hire slowly and fire quickly.” If somebody is messing up fairly early on, don’t keep them around, don’t go through the changes. It’s not likely to happen.
Mark: They’re going to make your life miserable, and good employees make your life great. It really helps a lot.
Jan: A good team is a future. I think that’s another piece of sound advice.
Mark: If you’re solo, when do you know when you’re ready to have an employee?
Jan: If you’re work in nights, if you’re work in weekends, but before you hire somebody analyze how you’re spending your time. Maybe if you created some processes, you would be handling it more efficiently and don’t need the employee.
I would also very much suggest outsourcing which is much more available than when I was a young lawyer. You can communicate by the Internet. You can send PDF documents back and forth. You can do tremendous stuff.
Mark: You can hire a phone answering service. You can hire somebody to track…
Jan: I wouldn’t do that.
Mark: But you can. You can hire somebody to draft documents for you. You can hire somebody to do funding for you if you’re in estate planning. You can outsource an awful lot.
Jan: You can outsource marketing. You can do tremendous amounts of stuff. Before I hire even a part‑time employee and took on that liability, I would see how much that I could outsource.
It’s cheaper. It’s easier. The only thing, if you’re not getting along with them, you just don’t have to hire them again. You don’t have to fire them.
Mark: Don’t renew the contract next month. It didn’t work out, sorry.
Jan: Why don’t you quit talking to them? It’s much easier.
Mark: That is. That’s true.
Jan: It is increasingly prevail. If you go to the services at [inaudible, 0:09:29] , there’s stuff that wasn’t available when I started in this market 10 years ago.
Mark: There’s another side to that. I’ll argue the contrary just for the sake to give them choices. When I first started doing my business I’d hire outside graphic designers, and they would charge me $75 an hour.
I didn’t have the control with them where I could say, “Drop this project and do this one.” They would order their own work. They would tell me when they would deliver it, and we would agree to that.
I couldn’t step in authoritatively and say, “Stop doing that one and start doing this one. This is an emergency,” or “this changed.” I found that I could hire a full‑time graphic designer for $25 an hour, The trade‑off is, do you have 40 hours of work for that person? I think you know.
And once you do then I don’t you want to be you know since given freelance to anybody. Pretty much contract work.
Jan: And I’m not going to argue with you on that one. For you really do need the graphic designers in house although it, the dialog might also have been that I need this kind of production and I need the control of the production, which may have not been something that you thought about in the initial contact.
The other thing is you may have not found the right people. We had to go through three different probate paralegals before we found the right person. But on the other hand, you do need somebody that you absolutely trust and in the office, to handle the phones.
I think the remote phone answering is better than the press one if you want to talk to Jan and press two if you want to talk to Mark type of stuff.
Mark: There, there’s some background for our students, which is that Jan and I give a joint presentation which you can find on the smart marketing website under presentations, on scripting the client experience.
And certainly the phone is a very, very important part of that. When you’re starting out as a solo, you may not be able to afford a full time receptionist, but I would tell you that in my writing I usually say that’s the second most important person in the office. That’s how important I think the phone is.
Jan: That’s the initial contact. You want somebody that you have faith in, that you can listen to, that you can control.
Mark: Lawyers are notoriously inaccessible. That makes that person even more important. If they can’t talk to the lawyer, they’re talking to that person and so that means that person has to have skills. The way most people hire for that position is they put an ad in the paper.
They hire somebody who just graduated from high school for $8 an hour or something. And they say we want you to do filing and typing and oh yeah, answer the phone when it rings.
You’re not going to get a really good person if you do that. I had the experience within the last two weeks, I was hired hired by a bankruptcy firm, bankruptcy attorney in Nevada.
And they were kind enough, after they signed with us, to share with me the letter that, she wrote to the other marketing firms explaining why she hired us.
One of the aspects was she said I filled out the contact form on his website on Saturday, he called me within five minutes. On Sunday we had a phone conference with me and my partners. On Monday we had a meeting with five people from his cab and they was going on.
One of your jobs as a solo is to be accessible to people who actually do want to do business. And, and that makes that phone answering.
Jan: That can be really hard. And so, if you had this receptionist who can set the appropriate expectations, that makes a huge difference. Somebody who’s smart enough to say Oh! She can’t come to the phone right now. Can I schedule a time for her to call you back?
Mark: Right. Instead of just waiting.
Jan: Or she’s out of town. Rather than Oh she’s not here right now. I’ll take a message. One thing about hiring, and I don’t know if this is germane is our team really became good and we hired every, everybody had college degrees.
Mark: The education matters?
Jan: And it shows a certain amount of self discipline and I think devotion to moving forward in their lives.
Mark: They had enough whatever it is to pass their college courses over a period of years. Accumulate enough, get a degree. They learned how to please their professors.
Mark: They learned how to type a paper, or whatever it was.
Jan: And they can more or less write and spell.
Mark: Right. That is important proof I guess in some sense. I’ve heard people say that about law school. They got, they got through that, that shows a certain amount of perseverance and skill and ability to please the professor or whatever.
What else would we tell people are on the mandatory to do or to not do…?
Jan: Mandatory is to listen to your advisers.
Jan: [laughs] You come to an estate planning conference and everyone whines and complains about how their clients don’t listen to them and then they say well yeah. I talked to my CPA. He said do this, but I didn’t.
Mark: Jan said to me once, you know one thing I’ve learned from being an adviser is to listen to my advisers. And I think that was just beautifully encapsulated, the thing. One of my ,my clients are attorneys.
And attorneys either are smart or fancy to be smart, that they are smart. Probably in equal measure. But a lot of them really are smart. Therefore they figure that being smart makes them smart at everything.
One of the jokes that I have internally with my staff is you know it’s amazing the number of people that want to pay me thousands of dollars a month in order to ignore my advice.
Jan: It’s just. It’s stunning.
Jan: And you see it all the time.
Jan: They join Wealth Council and they leave the software in a box.
Mark: Yeah. They never use it. Right.
Jan: [laughs] Or they join Wealth Council and they never do an education program.
Mark: I don’t know what that is psychologically it’s really interesting. I know people who think that having bought a book is, it means they read it.
Jan: [laughter] I’ve been guilty of that.
Mark: I have that book.
Jan: That’s a nice book.
Mark: But you gotta read it.
Jan: I read this, the in flap [laughs]
Mark: That’s right. I read the in flap so I know what it’s all about. Listen to your advisers. You’re a young attorney starting out, you’re established a solo practice, you have a CPA you have a bookkeeper, maybe you have a coach. We certainly recommend that.
And I know Jan you want to talk about that. And you have advisers. Listen to them. Let them work for you. You’re paying them. Let them, let them do what they’re supposed to do. Trust in their expertise.
Jan: And do what they say.
Mark: And do what they say.
Jan: Which was a real hurdle for me. I tend to be somebody that won’t do what I’m told to do, until I see a reason to do it.
Jan: But, every time I’ve held off and then done it later I’ve thought Oh how stupid I was. I should have done it sooner.
Mark: That may be more in your head. Because I have to say in working with you I never, I never felt like I was encountering a lot of resistance.
Jan: It took me a year to learn to walk to walk. But that was because I was too busy.
Mark: You did, you did resist that one a little bit.
Jan Copley: [laughs]
Mark: There are people who learn different ways. I mean there are attorneys that I’ve worked with that can’t do a thing unless you can show them why. And I’ve had, I’ve worked with, litigator, litigator types and their whole way of understanding rule is through argument.
They don’t, they’ll argue a point with you and if you can beat them in the argument, then they’ll do it. [laughs] I don’t why that is, but that, that’s the way they operate. Whether it’s the syncratic method or whatever you want to call it.
That leads me to coaching, which I know you’ve had several and I know you’re involved in it today yourself as a semi retired attorney. What is the value of coaching? What have you gotten out of it and what would you advise people starting their own practice?
Jan: I’m going to start off by saying that I don’t know any lawyer whose truly successful that hasn’t had somebody coaching them. You just can’t do it yourself. And when your in the day to day trenches, you need a coach to get you to lift your head above, to figure out where you’re going.
And what I learned from coaching was the ability to look forward and figure out what it was that I wanted, and to develop a path to get from point A to point B.
Mark keeps referring to me as semi retired and that’s because I sold the practice and now I’m only, I’m working as up counsel for like one day a week. But I never would have gotten there, unless I had put decided that that’s what I wanted to do.
Mark: That five years from now, I want to sell this business and you know.
Jan: And figure out a path to getting there. Now, if the path isn’t quite perfect, the coaching also taught me to step back and learn from my mistakes and then find a way around it. That there is a way around it.
Taught me that, taught me staffing issues. Mark has been a huge, tremendous, wonderful, fabulous coach on marketing the client experience side and stuff that I never could have done myself. I’m not artistic and he helped us create this brand that really resonates.
It also means that we have been able to take advantage of the technology. Because it used to be well you create a website. OK, fine. But then you have to do the SEO work.
Jan: And then the SEO work changes. And you start off with Google Ad Words, but then you need to do more. Then you need to blog, and then you need to link them and then you need to do Facebook Avo or whatever. I would never have been able to kickoff.
Mark: I think one of my, if I was going to say what is the biggest mistake not in establishing a solo practice but in marketing since that’s my field, I’d say one of the biggest mistakes is not understanding that markets are fluid. Markets evolve.
Marketing involves, you need to regard marketing as a normal and ordinary part of your business, the way book keeping it. It’s not something that you do and well say OK, I’ve got my stuff now!
I can stop marketing. That’s probably true of lots of other things in the business itself. That you have to understand these are normal, ordinary for example, I have a lot of clients who say I’m sick of the roller coaster. I’m sick of the revenue going up and down and all of that.
I told them, that’s the nature of business. If you can’t ride the roller coaster, you can’t, you can’t get a job. You need to get a job somewhere. You certainly can do things that can level it out.
You can certainly do consistent marketing and stuff like that that’ll help take some of the peaks and valleys out of that but. But, if you’re in business for yourself, you do not have a reliable, steady income. That’s the way it is.
Jan: But what some of the coaching helped me and what working with you has helped me, is the relentless marketing. I’ve had a couple of advisers in town say Jan is just the best marketer. She’s relentless.
It was learning that you have to do it all the time. The highest and best use of your time is marketing or talking to clients.
Mark: Bring in new clients, that’s it. I use the image with a lot of my clients of a pipeline and say you do all these marketing activities to stuff the pipeline, to start the prospects moving down the pipeline that come out the other end as clients and cash.
What happens with a lot of attorneys is, they start doing the client work, and collecting the checks and everything and oh I’m too busy and stop the marketing and then they look up one day, they’ve done all the work, collected all the checks and say now I need new clients again.
Now you gotta start all over again. As opposed to just doing it consistently, just accepting that that’s it.
Jan: My favorite is somebody who says I’m too busy to bill. [laughs]
Mark: Or billing, I think another mistake to warn solos about is billing emotional.
Jan: My Lord! Don’t do that.
Mark: You bill when you, when they feel like your worthy, or worthwhile or something like that. As opposed to in 30 days, when the invoice is due.
Jan: This is one thing that I’ve been rigorous about is they go out with the first of the month. Period end of story. It means that, especially with the estate planning practice, there was never a whole lot in accounts receivable. We tended to get paid.
The only outstanding stuff is probate so in California we don’t get paid until the end of the case, there’s nothing I can do about that. But you do need to be rigorous about that. You don’t want to bill emotionally.
Something else that I would tell any lawyer, because I get this from experience wise too, is do not be shy about asking to get paid. Do not be shy about pricing your services fairly, for what it is that you do.
Do not let your own inherent frugality, prevent, make you think that everybody else is going to be leary about paying you. Do not hope that 100% of your prospects go forward. Because if they do, you’re not billing, you’re not charging enough.
And for the people who say it’s too expensive, you don’t want to work with them anyway.
Jan: That boils down to be a little bit arrogant about your pricing.
Mark: I think you do have to be firm about your pricing. I do think that your advice is very good. And I think I have this issue particularly
With woman that charge less. I had this, I would, I had this one woman. Because she’s here at this conference we’re talking at. I got her to put her prices at an appropriate level. And for half an hour before a client came in, I’d coach her. Now what are going to say?
She’d say 4500. I’d say what are going to say? 4500. [laughs] . What are you going to say? 4500. I’d call her back an hour later. How’d it go? OK. What’d you say? 2500.
And that, we evolved our pricing charts our pricing sheets in response to that. I said next time they come in I want you to shut your mouth and slide this across the table. [laughs]
Jan: Which has been a hugely useful tool.
Jan: Because I was brought up in the middle U that real ladies don’t talk about money.
Jan: And because we set this structure, it meant that I was no longer negotiating with myself.
Mark: And I was brought up in that culture and it had nothing to do with gender. I was brought up in Boston where we don’t talk about money and we don’t talk about religion and that’s that. People don’t talk about those things.
Mark: If you’ve got a little bit of that, then you may want to do something that allows you to be firm about your pricing. And putting it in print is one of those ways. That’s a great tool.
Jan: That is a huge tool.
Mark: And that’s good advice.
Jan: And never negotiate your prices. Because the minute you do, you’ve lost all leverage with that client. And your clients may be wonderful and fabulous and tremendous and admirable and everything else, but you need to have a certain amount of authority with them.
And I would, I would emphasize that, put that in capital letters, bold print, italics and everything, especially for the ladies.
Mark: Also another issue I think is the sympathy for the sad story. I have a lot of my attorneys that say well this couple came in and they were so nice and they got this terrible story and they’ve got a special needs child and this and that.
I just couldn’t charge them the full amount and all that. And the way I coach them, and I don’t know how you approach this, is I say you should have two prices. And I exaggerate a little bit, expensive and free.
And if you hold the line with your full price stake link, then that allows you, when you want to do a pro bono.
Jan: Rather than inadvertent pro bono? [laughs]
Mark: Right, rather than discounted all the time and then making that a policy. And then when you do a pro bono, you can feel great about yourself and go home and think your a nice person or whatever. There’s a payoff in that too.
Jan: Right. And if you really want them to think your a nice person. You can do it by saying well our regular price is X, but for you we’ll charge Y. And Y may be a whole $250 difference. They will be so grateful. But never negotiate your prices, if they ask you to.
Mark: Right. And if you just say it verbally and you don’t have it printed somewhere I think that automatically leads to negotiation. One of the things I think about the printed price sheet that was so useful, is that for very wealthy people they think a lot of them.
They fear, as soon as you know what their worth, your price is going to go up. And the printed thing sort of reassures them, that the price is the price. They’re not being taken advantage of.
Jan: As anybody.
Mark: Yeah. Not the pricing sheet [cross talk]
Jan: But the pricing sheet, you’re not just pulling it out of the air.
Jan: It’s a huge. It was a huge tool for us.
Mark: Right. what else?
Jan: And you can see it in Mark’s portfolio [laughs]
Mark: Yeah, [laughs] you can see it in my portfolio. let’s see. What else would we advise somebody starting out in business for themselves. Anything come to mind either as should do’s or don’t do’s?
Jan: You’re going to have to work hard. It ain’t easy.
Jan: Just commit yourself to working hard. Another piece is that I would not look for the silver bullet. I would advise people that you have to do it all. There is no silver bullet to a successful business. You need to get educated. You need to work hard. You need to have the interpersonal skills.
You need to be able to leverage the technology. You need to have the good staffing. You need to have some way of getting your name out there because you could be fabulous but if people don’t know about you, you’ll starve to death.
You have to do it all. There’s no silver bullet. I hear so many people saying well if I could just increase my close rate, or if I could just tackle this.
Mark: Right. You gotta do all those things.
Jan: You gotta do all those things.
Mark: Right. I think I would advise them too that, you have to be willing to, live scared a little bit. There’s a certain amount of stress and fear and so on that’s involved in being in business for yourself that is absolutely part of owning a business.
Of being responsible for other people of being responsible for a payroll and all of that kind of thing. I remember early on having a conversation with somebody and I said you know in April I think I’ve discovered the secret of the universe and I’m going to be fabulously wealthy.
In July I thought they were going to come close the doors and take away my furniture. In September I thought I was rich again and it was back on.
And he said You too? [laughs] I think part of that goes along with being in business for yourself. And you have to be temperamentally able to handle that and to know that you’ve been there before, you’ll be there again.
And people think a lot of times, oh if I ever get to a million dollars then I’ll be set, I won’t be scared again or anything like that. And I told them no, You’re still scared [laughs] at that level and it gets scarier because the numbers are bigger, you know?
Jan: [laughs] Yeah. The overhead gets breathtaking.
Mark: All of the overheads are breathtaking, and all of that kind of thing. You really can’t be in business if you can’t do that. I would also say to them if you say to me that you don’t like marketing and you don’t like sales and that kind of thing.
I’ve had potential clients say to me, you know Mark what I really love is the law. I love the drafting. I love the research. I love you know being in court, or something like that.
Jan: Then become an employee.
Mark: That’s it! I tell them. You know, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. You need to get a job. You need to get a job that will send people to your desk. You’ll do their estate plans or whatever it is your talking about.
You’ll have a 401 k. You’ll be happy. Because you can’t be in business for yourself and be uncomfortable with sales and all.
Jan: I think one other thing that I would advise somebody is um, don’t sell your soul to your business. Remember that you have another life. Pay attention to your spouse. If you’re getting totally burned out, take the vacation.
Yes you may lose some business, but you will be better off. The reason that you’re in this business is to make money and enable you to have a good life. Not vice versa.
Mark: Steve Reilly is great at crystallizing that. Steve Reilly being a coach that..
Jan: One of mine.
Mark: Yes. Steve who says you know your first target is to have a great life. And you have to pay attention to yourself to do that. Certain key issues, like your own health, your own happiness your own down time and all that kind of thing.
And I think that’s an excellent point. And I think also we’ve probably given them I think enough nuggets to get started.
Mark: There you go from two people who have been there and done that there is some advice for you in starting your own practice. Here’s the other thing I would say to you is. That a lot of people don’t tell you is, it’s wonderful.
It’s really exciting having your own business. It’s really great to feel like your successes are yours and your failures are yours that you learn from. Your responsible for it. It wasn’t something that somebody told you to do.
You’re not taking orders from somebody whose not as smart as you, or not as capable, or not as hard working. Sure there’s plenty of risk. There’s plenty of fear. There’s plenty of stress. But you know what?
I wouldn’t do anything else. And most entrepreneur type people that I know, most people I know who own their own business, will say exactly that.
Jan: It can be extraordinarily heady and extraordinarily satisfying. But Mark is absolutely right. There’s a lot of work. People stress about it and they’re terrified, but the satisfaction is tremendous.
Mark: Thank you Jan for today’s class. For Solo Practice University. Thank you students. I hope you got something out of that. And I will see you in the next class.