Episode 19 – Seth Price: Growing with Top Attorneys and Great Digital Marketing
Managing Partner, Price Benowitz
Before co-founding Price Benowitz, Seth Price was VP of Business Development for USLaw.com, where he learned digital marketing. His long-time friend, David Benowitz, was a public defender in Washington, D.C. They thought their skills might combine well so they launched a firm. Boy were they right. They outgrew their first office in just two weeks. Today the firm has 20 attorneys and its 10-person digital marketing team provides services to other law firms as BLU Spark Digital.
Full Interview Transcript
Michael: My guest today is Seth Price, the managing attorney at Price Benowitz, a diverse firm centered around criminal defense and personal injury and headquartered in Washington D.C. Seth has a lot of creative energy, and he and his partner are really forging a unique path in the way they’re building their firm. I’m interested in learning more about that. Thanks for joining me, Seth.
Seth: Thanks for having me.
Michael: You bet, so you know, a great place to start, could you give me an overview of the firm?
Seth: Sure. Our firm is now a 30-attorney firm that spreads between D.C., Maryland, Virginia and a small presence in New York City. We started off as a criminal boutique and have grown to cover both criminal and white collar, as well as personal injury, medical malpractice, and over the last few years have started to open other B2C verticals that seem synergistic. Like trust and estates, immigration, qui tam. Anything that a person could use, we want to be able to service.
Michael: Okay. And when did you and your partner found the firm?
Seth: My relationship with Dave goes way back, David Benowitz. We were fraternity brothers at the University of Pennsylvania. We both took the same year off. We both ended up at GW law school, ended up not just in the same section but the same small writing section. He turned down…we both had big firm offers, he turned down the big firm offer to go to public defender service in D.C., which is considered one of the best, if not the best training ground in the country for trial lawyers. He spent the better part of six plus years killing himself there after spending four years pre-lawyering as a law clerk.
So he spent the better part of a decade at the public defender service. I went the corporate route and then during the first dotcom bubble went out, and loved the technology space. I ended up as the VP of Business Development for a company called UALaw.com, which was in that first wave of B2C legal plays during the period of fine all, prairie law, etc., where you were matching consumer needs with lawyers. And it was a very disjointed market. The market took most of the ventures, including the one I was involved with, took on a huge amount of venture capital, and the bubble exploded around April of 2000. And by 2001, the market had really changed.
David and I got together a couple years later. He wanted to get back into criminal defense. He wanted to try cases. He loved it and missed it, he’d done an LLM in trial advocacy and said, “I want to go back to doing public interest law. Why don’t we try this? Let’s see if you can do the law you want and we could do it for profit.” And I built a single website, and it worked, and we, within two weeks, outgrew our office, and then built a second website. And 40 websites later, we now sort of have a mid-sized firm that has tried to combine great lawyers with digital marketing.
There have been plenty of great lawyers in DC. There’s no shortage of them, and there’s a number of good marketers nationwide, but what we try to do is blend those two things, so that we could get the phone to ring, that was my job. And we had somebody who could oversee lawyers, who do great work at what they do, and that’s sort of been our mission and what we’ve been able to pursue over the last decade.
Michael: Yeah, that sounds great. So what’s interesting to me is, 40 websites, why not just one website for the firm? Is there some advantage to having multiple websites?
Seth: The answer is there are many different ways to do things. We have websites where each lawyer has…each lawyer can have a website or a blog if they want to write a blog. We have a firm website and so we’ve really basically wanted to provide a great user experience, and one of the ways we’ve been able to do that is if somebody does criminal defense in Virginia, we want somebody to be able to get those answers that they need, finite. Over time, there have been changing strategies. There was a point when microsites were very popular.
And we never went that route. For better or for worse, every website we build becomes a genuine website with a real presence, answering real questions and providing real value to the users, versus, “Here’s just a URL that hopefully gets you traffic because it’s an exact match URL.” What we’ve really tried to do is put the effort into each and every website, such that we’re providing that real value.
That said, it is ironic, and you’re probably alluding to this in your question, that the conventional wisdom today is that a single large website is, in many senses, advantageous because it will allow you to build on the credibility of that platform. To a certain extent, we’ve done that, we’ve taken the Price Benowitz brand, and that’s allowed us with the gravitas that it’s created, to launch practice groups in a way that we couldn’t, because there wouldn’t be enough resources to launch websites for each of those. But we have seen that if you are going to put the effort and dedication into a website, that’s great, but to build a website just for the sake of it because you want a URL doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Michael: So when you talk about building a website beyond just creating the content, what are those elements that it takes to have that website have presence in the marketplace?
Seth: And sure, so this dovetails…and part of the reason why we spun off our own digital agency is because we enjoyed it and we think would be good at it. So there are three elements that I see, whether it’s for us or for a firm that we’re working for on the outside, that’s really essential. There’s the website itself. We are believers in WordPress. There are lots of ways to build websites. We believe it’s clean, it’s easy, it’s ubiquitous, and it’s a very substantial portion for the web. And even more important than that, Google likes it and they can crawl it easily.
So a well-built website that looks good from a look and feel point of view. I take that as a given. You have to have a good-looking website to be able to compete, but once you have that…that’s getting easier and easier to do. There are templates out there that can really revolutionize, just sort of like the difference between a design build house today versus what you’re starting to see more and more, which are modular homes at the very fancy level. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If you have a website structurally that works. Why would you go ahead and do it if you know that something works.
Because I want to be able to put my efforts into content, building a robust experience for the user, not into building this unique mousetrap. So we believe in WordPress. We take those WordPress sites. We build great quality content. That’s the area that I think we excel in, and we have an entire department dedicated to helping lawyers extract information from their personal knowledge, as well as experts from around the country, to be able to build content that answers users’ questions.
So a great website that has the fundamentals, as well as clean coding and a good user experience, as far as fast load time, not bogging down a site with heavy images, but making sure that the images that are there are compressed, and that when a consumer comes there, they can quickly get the information they want. And then making sure that the links coming in, our links, almost like we’ve almost become a PR agency, making sure that the world that matters to Google, and that frankly matters to people, that sends gravitas to us, whether it be super lawyers, whether it be the New York Times, or whether it be a regional blog that focuses on one area of law or geography that we cover.
Making sure that the trust symbols, or not symbols, but that the trust points are sent to us in the form of links that show that what we are doing is genuine, it’s real, and it’s best in practice in our area so that we’re able to ideally perform in a way that gives a good user experience, which will incentivize Google and their algorithm to push us towards the top, which gets us more traffic, which drives our business.
Michael: Right, right. So this is really interesting to me. So you and I met at Legal Marketing Association. We had a nice conversation around what’s happening in marketing and things like that. And my focus is on building a great firm, and leadership, and all those types of things, but there’s a reality that law firm leaders need to understand, is that this is how you grow firms is with marketing, right? And today web search and all these types of things, this is the core of…how do I put it? A key way that a firm can grow.
Seth: Absolutely. And I think there are two threshold questions, and one of the questions is, “Is this space that you’re in one that is search-friendly?” We met at the LMA, where most of those firms are B2B firms. Generally people are not Googling for a type of law. They are to a certain extent. It is much more prevalent in the B2C space to see people Google and get a result to help themselves. There are exceptions to every rule, but what I would say is when looking at, and is a more global piece, “Is your area of law one that if somebody were to search and find you, you would make money?”
Versus other areas of law, where there is not either meaningful search traffic, or that’s not how business is conducted. If something is going from general counsels to law firms and general councils have their trust points and there are leadership boards, or associations, there may be ways that you really need to market, which is what LMA seems to focus on, that brings eyeballs, or thought leadership to the forefront.
Consumer world, while that’s a piece of it, it’s also a piece of it that you’re educating people, because before this moment of injury, or of arrest, or deportation, or of losing a loved one and needing to probate a will, before that moment, you may know nothing about that, so the person researching has to get up to speed as far as what’s going on. So we look at it as an education process. I really try to stay away from the fear concept, “You better hire a lawyer or else.”
I mean, to a certain extent, that’s true, but that’s a given. If you’re online, and you’re not sitting there saying, “Oh, yes. I think I can handle the serious felony case myself.” And if they think they can, they’re not for us. My attitude is throw as much information that educates the user as to what’s going on, because if they realize they’re going to have to trust somebody, and if you can show them that you are providing the most information that is the most accessible, and clearly demonstrates that you not only know what’s going on but are a thought leader in that space, that that person is more likely to trust you with their matter.
And we’ve worked very hard to do that, and I’ve sort of blended in something I’ve learned over the years for lawyers, taking yourselves out of what I have done for myself, for the firm, or what we’re doing at Blu Spark, people do what they like to do. If you like doing podcasts, it’s easy for you to wake up in the morning, do a podcast, and make sure it happens. If you hated it, let’s say you had fear of the microphone, and you don’t want to be in a studio doing this, it probably wouldn’t happen all that often.
And that’s why if somebody loves blogging, my feeling is go blog because if you dig deep in a particular area and you get known for it, you’ll find you have a following, and you’ll make money. If you love social media, if you love to tweet, there is a way. I know people, a gentleman up in New Hampshire, who’s built an entire criminal practice in large part on Twitter, because he is very active on there, does a wonderful job.
You had a guest on a prior podcast of yours who does medical malpractice in New York, Jerry Oginski. He’s done a wonderful job digging deep in video. So I there are lots of ways to do this. Figure out what you’re passionate about and frankly what works within the sector you’re trying to monetize.
Michael: Right. And let me loop back around. So the agency you’ve created is Blu Spark Digital?
Seth: B-L-U Spark Digital.
Michael: Okay, and I’ll leave a link in the show notes.
Seth: I appreciate it.
Michael: So when did you launch the agency?
Seth: It’s only been in the last year. We’ve built up a 10 to 12-person team in-house that focused on everything from building websites to creating and curating content, to editing content, to putting it on the sites. All those things are laborious. Everything that we’ve done, in my philosophy, is we do everything domestically. We do everything as close to home as possible, because our goal is to just have great quality content. It’s not about spinning content, it’s about putting stuff that really answers the call, the question that the consumer has.
So what we did is we took this group of people, and we said, “Look we have a nice practice for ourselves. We’re doing these things, but it would be nice to diversify and share some of the love.” So rather than just making it a cost center for us, which is what it’s always been, we’re taking on select clients from outside of our market, we don’t compete in our own market, who have needs. And frankly it’s a consultative process, people who have a practice where search matters. If you’re in an area where being at the top of the search engine is not going to monetize your practice, we may or may not be…we probably are not the right solution for you. Nobody in our market is.
What we’ve focused on is local search, trying to conquer the three-pack, which is the area that Google has been sort of developing and changing, but how are they showing local results. The beautiful thing is that there is some juggernauts in the personal injury space, for example, that have national practices. And historically many of the guys in California and some of these guys nationally with very powerful budgets were able to take those budgets and use them in SEO them to be seen nationally.
Google, in one sense, has been altruistic and said or wanted to get a better result, and that no matter how powerful the national sites are, they give love to the local sites, both through the three-pack, what used to be the seven-pack. As well as through organic, where the fact that you’re a local answer and likely solving somebody’s problem will have preference over a national site. Even if the SEO, the authority of that site for that query is higher, it could show somebody with a national presence, but very often they are giving a preference to local sites, even in the organic portion, in order to give people that better user experience. Because otherwise, some of the national players with huge money behind them could knock everybody out and you wouldn’t have a chance of finding a local player. And to Google’s credit, they do allow local players to compete and compete well.
Michael: Okay, so for listeners who don’t follow when you say “organic,” how does it differ from three-pack?
Seth: Sure, let me…I’ll back up. When you look at a website result for a local search, you’ll see three things. There are now four paid ads at the top in the last few months, or weeks frankly. It’s changed from three to four. There used to be ads on the side. You’ll notice those aren’t there anymore, so now it’s four ads at the top, and then you’ll see a map very often for a local search with three results. It used to be seven results, it’s now three results, and those three results show pins on a map. You can ask for more and go further down, but the power of getting in those top three results is incredible.
And adding a minimum of five reviews, if you can get five happy clients to review you, those five gold stars appear, assuming they’re positive reviews, which is incredibly powerful. So the combination of being in the three-pack, having some reviews puts you in the middle of the most valuable real estate on the page for people who have a search they’re doing. Below that, below the paid results and below this local results section, is the main part of what’s driven Google historically, which is their organic rankings, and those are the rankings that everybody fights for.
Ironically, as much as we fight for them, and it’s very important it’s part of the three-pack results, when a three-pack is shown, you are now fighting for the eighth position. There four ads, three three-pack listings, and then the first organic. It differs a little bit on mobile in the percentages that I’m saying, but still, even if there are two ads on mobile, hypothetically a three-pack, you’re still minimum six, which is off the first page. You’re not even seen unless somebody scrolls down.
Michael: Right, so if you have the top organic ranking, you’re still halfway down the page?
Seth: And on mobile, you’re not even on the first page. That’s what’s so crazy. You want to stay on the first page. You’re on the first page, but you’re not on the first screen, you’re below the fold.
Michael: Okay, and the reviews that you want are on the page for the Google listing. Every locality has like a pinpoint on a map with details…
Seth: …About their business. So if you’re a small business, legal or otherwise, it is essential that you claim your listing. If you don’t claim your listing, you can’t do anything with it. You’re still there, but claiming your listing, obvious, easy, free. And how many things in life that are free? Claim your listing. It used to be, and Google’s gone through a number of different iterations with Google Plus and things along those lines, they were taking on Facebook. That did not seem to fare well and they have scaled back and have focused on their core competencies.
But the Google My Business Listing is still essential. Making sure that it’s filled out, your hours are there, pictures of your business, and pushing people to reviews. Right now you have to click through on a link. I think, in short time, I would imagine that Google is going to make that even easier, but the idea is letting people know who have used your services how you have done and getting that feedback.
There is a famous story that was shown in the New York Times a number of years ago about an eyeglass store that saw in the Google algorithm, it didn’t matter if you had a good or a bad review. As long as you had reviews, it showed at the top, and this was at the worst eyeglass store in the country. I can’t say it definitively but it was a really bad eyeglass store, and they had like 500 negative reviews, but they were all the way at the top for all these things. This is to your answer. If you end up in the New York Times, it’s a bad thing. They ended up taking these guys off the map, as well as, I believe, changing the algorithm, because they don’t want people accumulating bad reviews.
But letting people know how you’re doing, whether it’s through Google, whether it’s for Yelp or even Avvo in the legal space—all places that your clients can say to the outside world, “I had a good experience. I had a bad experience. This is what I liked about it,” it’s extremely valuable user-generated content. It helps the different platforms I refer to because it builds their content, and people come for that information.
But most excitingly as a law firm, it’s a touch point, because again, going back to the idea that the consumer who’s coming, they didn’t know anything about this type of law potentially before they did their search. And you could have a pretty website, but how do you…how can you demonstrate that you have a proven track record? You can say it but that’s kind of self-serving. There’s nothing better than an outside testimonial. The best is a friend who gives you that recommendation, but if, God forbid, you get charged with something criminally, you may not want to go to your friends. The whole idea is you’re trying to make this go away without people knowing about it.
You may be going out there, and the idea that somebody else who had a positive experience is sharing that, extremely powerful, and that Google, because of the fact that it showed in the search results, is one of the very best places to get people if they are willing to share their experience, good or bad, as long as you’re getting a truthful representation of what happened, really is very powerful in telling that story and creating a narrative. So that when somebody is coming, and learning about the industry, and learning about your business, they can see what you are, what you put out in both word and video. But they also have the ability to go and get another touch point through outside people.
Michael: Right, right, and also in terms of…well, okay, so here’s what I was thinking about as you were talking about the importance of reviews, is how hard is it to get someone who’s been charged with a criminal offense to go online and talk about the great experience they had?
Seth: It’s extremely difficult and the criminal space…criminal defense space is one of the hardest. We have a substantial number of happy clients. I would tell you that you see anecdotally I would say the people at the low end of the spectrum who were dealing with traffic, people who were dealing with anything in the traffic space love to tell their story. Who doesn’t love it when they had a ticket or a fine, and it goes away completely? Nobody’s going to put a scarlet letter around them, and not hire them for that.
So going at the bottom end of a practice, as well as the very high end of the practice. If you have somebody who was locked up for two years, who isn’t hiding the fact that they were locked up, because the whole world knew about it, and they could be walked out the front door. Those home runs at the other end of the spectrum are really important to make sure, and very often it’s just asking for somebody to make a review not incentivizing them with money, nothing like that, but just making the ask and sending a link and saying, “Hey, if you get time, your feedback is important.”
We want people to be able to know how we’re doing, and that means a lot to us, because we get hugs from our clients, we get flowers but one of the greatest gifts somebody can give is reflecting back and saying, “Hey, I met these guys in my time of need. They called me back quickly. They did this cost-effectively, they were all there for me each step of the way, and I got the best possible outcome I could have hoped for in my case.”
Michael: Got it. That’s really great, so I wondered about just the marketing team you had in place, do you have a sense, I don’t know if you’ve looked at this, how your marketing budget compares with other firms in your space, PI firms, criminal defense firms?
Seth: I think it runs the gamut. Our firm is unique in regional size, it’s not…there are other firms like that. We have…I would say that there are TV players in our space that spend a lot more than us, and there are plenty of solos or small firms built completely on referrals that spend next to nothing, and I applaud them and there’s nothing better than referrals. It’s awesome and what I’ve tried to do is build the firm by providing a marketing platform, which then produces such great results that we then have a referral base.
So in a perfect world, if marketing wasn’t needed, you just have raving fans that came back to you, that would be wonderful. Look, there are many people who do that. My answer is both. I want the person who knows about us, but I know that in many areas of law that we cover, people want to do their own research, and that the best is when we get somebody who said, “I was given your name and then I went online and researched, and I picked you as well online.”
So that, to me, is the home run. We have the great reputation referrals coming in, as well as the fact that if somebody were to come to us cold or do their own research, that they would come to the conclusion that we’re a player that they would want to work with.
Michael: That’s interesting. One of the values of online, and I think this would also apply for defense firms, when I say “defense,” I mean insurance defense or corporate, where they’re not trying to get a lead online, or maybe they don’t perceive that’s the best way to spend their money, but it does validate credibility. So people are still checking out your site, trying to see what your reputation is and other sources, but there’s still value for those players as well.
Seth: Absolutely, it’s different. It’s not going to be as extreme but when we were out at LMA, those guys are looking for needles in a haystack almost. I don’t envy the person who is the high-end marketer at a major firm, because one client every three years could be somebody who ends up with a firm for multi generations. So it’s not like these are lightly done, so every touch point you could get.
Part of it is making sure that you are with the trusted directories. Are you in Super Lawyers? Do you have these different trust points? Again, you don’t want to do something that would make people in your industry cringe. At the same time, the fact that, when somebody is searching, there are stars next your name because five people happen to think that you’re worthy of reviewing, again, is that going to bring somebody, an Exxon Mobile as a client? Probably not, but as you’re saying, there are a lot of different factors that go into choosing somebody.
And if you are a defense firm, it’s still nice to have positive touch points that can reinforce a referral because if somebody gives a referral, they’re going to get a name, they’re going to Google you, it’s nice to know that there is positive feedback for you in that industry. Again, not necessarily a B2C play the way it’s coming about, but at the end of the day, some person is going to have to make that decision, and if you can reinforce those decisions, or one in a million, somebody is like, “You know what? I’m just sick of the group I’m working with. I need a new defense counsel for our insurance company.”
The fact is that you want to be there when that person does make that search, if in fact that happens.
Michael: Okay, so yeah, when I was asking about your marketing budget, I was kind of curious how it might stack up against people who focus more on TV. Do you have a sense of bang for the buck, do you…
Seth: That’s a good question. I think the people who do TV right now…I think the grass is always greener. I look at some of those guys, like, “Man, I wish I had a robust TV ad, because that’d be really cool.” But the people that I get who get who are in a moment of sincerity of being in the TV space say, “Look, it worked really well for a long time. It’s a diminishing value return right now. It’s a crowded space. There are still players that are making a splash at the high end of the market, spending several million dollars a year.”
And I think they’re still doing fine, but those are guys who have substantial operations behind them. I think that for what I like about what I’ve done is that, assuming that Google does not massively change its algorithm, which is always changing, there’s incremental changes, and that we’re following their rules and doing everything we can to play within their sphere, that we’re building an asset that will be there. So my philosophy is if I build a page of content and somebody comes to that multiple times, and let’s say hypothetically it costs $100 to produce that page of great content, just take that as a round number, and let’s say hypothetically a click to that type of page would be $50, it doesn’t take long for you to get a good ROI by producing content.
Now, you may have pages you put up that don’t produce clicks ever. Hopefully that’s not the case, that you’re putting up things that are targeted for the areas that you want, and that by doing that, as one of my favorite TV markers says, “What you ask for is what you’re going to get.” If you ask for certain types of cases by producing content that’s relevant to those types of cases, that gives you the best chance of converting those, and so it allows you to be a little bit more targeted. Again, I hear plenty of people make a lot of money with TV. It appears that, for a bunch of reasons, that is a harder and harder area to keep those same great ROIs as they used to.
At the same time, there are more and more TV advertisers today. People are spending more and more on TV, so I don’t know what to tell you, I think people are making money with it, at the same time, I like what we’re doing and find that I can target it, and that I feel that I have the ability to get an ROI over time that is powerful. That said, people on TV can build a brand that you really can’t build online, so that people know a jingle, or know a name that can last for years after they turn off TV, if they do it substantially. It’s just not an area that I’ve been as comfortable with and one that I’ve focused on for my type of practice and what I’ve done. It’s allowed us to leverage our internal strengths, but no right or wrong answer there.
Michael: Right, I understand. So obviously I can just feel the passion around the marketing topic. To what extent do you also focus on internal leadership? You mention your partner is focused on building the practice, as it were. How does that sort of…you get involved in managing attorneys?
Seth: Absolutely. On several levels. I’m not in court on a daily basis. That’s something that I really pulled back from, because we now have enough moving parts that someone needs to be overseeing that, as well as the marketing, as well as this new business, but part of what still drives me is we would like to have every person leave the firm as a thrilled client. When we have the number of clients that we have, there are going to be people, for whatever reason, in any situation that are not happy.
And one of things that drives me is can I parachute into those situations and figure out how to make sure we could take somebody who’s expressing displeasure and have them leave a happy client? If I can do that, that’s sort of the next level, which is when somebody is choosing between us and/or a solo practitioner, if that person is having a bad situation for personal reasons, for professional reasons, whatever, there is nowhere to turn.
I want to think that there’s a safety valve here. That if somebody is off for whatever reason, whether it be a life event, whether it be a medical event, whatever it is, that we have back-up, and that the ability to take what could be a bad situation and right that ship is something that I take great pride in. So that customer service element, I think, is huge.
It’s not without cost as a firm but anything that we can do that will take somebody from being an unhappy client to a happy client, I really want to make sure, looking internally, “Are our processes right? Is the supervision as best it can be? Do we have the ability to give somebody the best user experience? I spent a lot of time looking at that from a macro level, trying to make sure that we are delivering as well as we can.”
Michael: Nice. Can you share some of the insights that you’ve learned, of some of the ways that you’ve gotten feedback and you’ve made decisions about how to change the operations?
Seth: As far as things that we have…any issue with a client, for us, if somebody calls and they’re having a problem, gets escalated immediately. It’s number one rule in the firm. It’s not about, “Hey, we want to be able to blame somebody.” If there’s a problem, we want to know about it for two reasons. One, I want to fix it. We’ll do everything and throw whatever I can at it to make sure that it’s no longer a problem. And second, I want to be able to determine, is this something that’s a one off, is it somebody who has a client that can’t be made happy no matter what we do, is there something that is not at our end, but statistically is there somebody who is having issues.
And we’ve had to have talks with some of our most senior attorneys. If we’re finding that the rate at which people get called back, or how somebody is returning calls…we will make tweaks. One thing that we’ve moved to for certain lawyers, and we do it for any lawyer who wanted it, but we’ve pushed certain lawyers into, would be a digital version of voice mail. So if a voice mail is left, they get it sent to their e-mail and they’re able to prioritize and get back things that are time-sensitive.
Things that we’re working on is setting up redundant systems on our case management systems to make sure that a bell goes off if, in fact, somebody has not been called back for X period of time. So that even if nothing is going on in a case, I want to make sure that we have a touch point where somebody…they feel like you’re part of the…that they have somebody on their side and that somebody is with them.
And so I think it’s a combination of putting out the fires when they happen, but categorizing and cataloging those issues to try to give that best service over time by eliminating the things that are statistically significant that cause problems and trying to make sure that, if we know what those problems are, that we’re watching for it. Just like in a forest situation, if you know that forest fires often break out in a certain area, you’re going to keep an eye on that area.
We’re watching that and is there something we could do to try to make sure that it doesn’t take off. If you were taking the analogy, cutting back brush around an area. For me, it might be looking at case load, making sure that we’re not going over a certain number, or any tweak that we can make from a macro level to ensure the best quality of care for the clients is really what I spend a lot of time working on.
Michael: Right, right. So I would imagine it comes down to two things. One, mentoring individual attorneys who maybe need to change their personal practices, and then secondly looking at these systemic controls that are in place to ensure, like, consistent reminders about callbacks.
Seth: Right, and I think the challenging part, which is the exciting part, is that it’s almost two different skill sets. The person who’s a great practitioner, and many of the reasons why we end up with lawyers who are great practitioners is they have less of these skill sets naturally, because if they did…there are people who have everything, run their own shop and those that are great practitioners but want somebody else to take care of much of the back end, then the person’s more likely to join a firm.
And we have both continued mentorship on the substance…this weekend for example we’re flying in an expert who’s going to speak all day Sunday to the entire criminal defense division on a very finite area of law that’s really important for our lawyers. That’s great and that’s wonderful and I insist upon that because we take that as a given legal excellence.
Once that’s done, there’s a whole second level of mentorship, which is client management, how do you keep people happy. And this is something that Fortune 100 companies have to deal with. How do you scale customer satisfaction, client satisfaction in this case, which is very often making sure clients are heard, making sure communication takes place, and having checks and balances so that every client is taken care of and that you’re really pushing to make sure that nobody falls between the cracks.
Michael: Right. That’s really interesting because that’s something that we put a lot of thought into at my former firm, which is a recognition that, as an attorney is developing as a practitioner, in addition to their legal expertise, that there’s almost always some aspect of their personal, professional development that needs attention as well, whether it’s just learning how to interact more comfortably with clients or whatever it might be, and trying to figure out ways to be systemic about that.
Seth: Absolutely, and I’ll give you one other thing that pops to mind is that as mid-level attorneys become senior attorneys, there’s very often a jump as you move into different categories of cases and the clients that you may get there. And it’s something that you don’t see when you’re living it day by day, it’s just another client, but the needs of certain types of clients is going to be different than for others. If you have a misdemeanor charge where it’s going through the system at a relatively fast clip and jail time is not a major concern… You may have high-maintenance clients, I’m not trying to say that, and people that have a lot to lose by that, and that’s what we built our practice on.
But something that might be a year-and-a-half felony case where it’s going through the system slowly, there are going to be a lot of ups and downs, there are many family members getting involved, a skill set of the attorney dealing with a situation where you have family members on the outside and potentially a client who’s on the inside, it really changes the dynamic. And the attorney who, again, is well ready for those cases, they’ve paid their dues, they know how to try the case, knowing how to deal with the family of attorney-client privilege issues, you’re not disclosing certain information potentially, understanding that you have somebody who’s making demands who is not the decision-maker in the case. Those are things that attorneys really need to be groomed on, above and beyond the nuts and bolts of winning the case at trial.
Michael: That sounds really interesting. So are there ways that you’ve put in place to do that, is it solely through mentorship, or is there some sort of training mechanism?
Seth: It really is. It’s not because what I’m talking about here is not like something you can read in a textbook. It’s a feel, a sixth sense when problems are developing, so you can try stymie them before they get there, and so yes, it’s primarily through mentorship and people who have gone through that, and seen the difference, and live that themselves.
And it’s not like…there is no easy path to this. This is not something that you’re going to say, “Hey, follow these 10 steps and your set.” There are things that you can do that are basic fundamentals that are givens, but then it’s really understanding when a second voice needs to be brought in as far as…there’s a communication block. Having the wherewithal to say, “You know what? I’m not communicating this the way I need to be. I’m going to bring somebody else in because sometimes the dynamic of that additional attorney in the room can help break through, particularly when dealing with outside family members, and try to make sure that all these different constituents are happy.
Again it’s not your client, it’s not the person making the decisions, but it’s somebody who’s followed the case closely, and that frankly you may be directed by your client to spend a lot of time with. The mentorship has been the way that we’ve really done a nice job of making sure that all these things, including attorney client privilege, including keeping your client happy, but making sure that these other constituents are satisfied with what’s going on.
Michael: That makes sense. Well, I also wondered too, in addition to handling complaints, is there anything that you’re doing to sort of survey clients about their satisfaction?
Seth: You know we’ve experimented with a lot of different ways of doing that, and yeah, really we don’t get many complaints. I’m very fortunate. It’s a rare thing, which is why I put so much attention on it when there is, and I’m always looking at every single call as, “Is this something that’s systemic? Is it a one-time thing? Is there anything I can extract from it?” But what I’ve tried to do, I love speaking to the happy clients just as much as because would like to be able to replicate whatever it is that creates that same raving fan for one attorney. I want to be able to bottle it.
We have an amazing attorney up in Rockville. One of the partners, he does criminal defense up there, and he just has a magical way with people, and anything that I can do from feedback, because doesn’t know what he does. He does it with his eyes closed. He’s just a wonderful attorney with a wonderful person, and I’m trying to take what he does naturally and get that back from the client to see is there a way I can bottle that and try to bring that to our mid-level attorneys so that they can start to have some of that X factor.
It is not a linear process, but it is really like, “What are those elements that give people that level of confidence?” And to a certain extent, it’s just doing it all along. Your first podcast probably felt very different than this podcast, from a user point of view, and so I’d like to be able to sort of fast-forward that. What can I do that gets people to the point where they are playing that A game and ideally A+ or A++, how do we exceed that? And so speaking to happy clients, it’s fun, it’s one of the joys of the job, but also I really I try to discern what are the points.
The ones that are I think most intriguing to me…when somebody gets a positive result, it’s easy to gloss over the rest of it. But when there is a negative…objectively we’re not going to win every case. If the result does not go as ideal as it can be and those people are still happy, they’re like, “Look, this guy did everything wanted to do. The judge or the jury didn’t see it our way.” Those are the ones that I, I don’t want to say pay more attention to, but I’m really interested because that is the difference.
It’s easy if you get a good result for someone who said, “Yes. This guy did great.” Yes, he did great. He changed your life. Are there cases…because there are often times where it’s a not a clear victory. Victory for one person where they were able to keep security clearance, they were able to keep immigration status, those are things that are game changers.
And one of the reasons that we brought immigration in-house is not only constitutionally are we required to do this, but we would like to be able to sort of figure out what is it that’s a victory for somebody, not that we want to see anybody lose anything, but are there times when you’re sort of doing a cost benefit as far as what is it that’s going to be meaningful to a client, besides the what may you presume to have the end results.
There are times when it’s not smart to take a plea, because there’s a chance you’re going to lose, but if you’re able to demonstrate…it’s something that many people would take a plea on, but if there is more to be lost there, we would like to be able to put that is the calculus and make sure that we are working and fighting for our client in every possible angle we can come up with for that client.
Michael: I understand. Using that podcast analogy, what occurred to me is the idea that, well, it’s great that I’m having these experiences, but what I’d really love to do is get feedback from listeners. Like, “Oh, you could have asked this, or you should have done that, or I wanted to explore this.” And so I wonder if there’s some analogy with attorneys, where as they’re handling their cases, they can get that type of feedback.
Seth: Well, you know, it’s funny. I can’t answer the question for the attorneys, although there are surveys, there are different surveys you can send out, and that’s something that we work with to try to see how you’re doing, and we’re working more and more heavily in that space. But one area that sort of overlaps with websites and what you’re doing is something that’s called userfeedback.com, I hope I got that right… userfeedback.com, and what you can do is you can pay for multiple people to look at a website, to watch a podcast, whatever it is, and in real time, get their feedback.
They’ll answer any questions you have. If it’s a website, you can watch them clicking the mouse, where do they go, what do they do, the equivalent of a focus group. We do a lot of focus groups for our civil cases, looking to work with the clients…I’m sorry work with what would be a simulated jury pool. But I think it’s no different than what network executives do for you, or for us, trying to put together any sort of touch points that can show, “This did well, this did not go well.
So just like you see in the big boy focus groups, people turning knobs. I think it’d be a lot of fun for you to see, “Hey, this background is good, the grey doesn’t do as well as a blue does,” where it changes colors every once in a while, people waiting for the next colors. Or anything out there in the limited number of things you can do visually that would make a difference for the user.
Michael: Well, let’s see. So we’ve heard a lot of focus on marketing and customer experience. I’m curious how your role has evolved as the firm has grown from, say, 5 to 10, 15, now you’re up to 30 attorneys. There’s just more people in the building, right?
Seth: Right. We’ve half in the building and half are at satellite offices we have throughout D.C. and Maryland. It’s a lot more management’s marketing has taken on a larger role, particularly with this new company, so we have a whole new division that’s there. And now trying to create systems, I would say that’s the number one thing I work on these days is, “How do I have systems so these can be replicated and that people can come to work and do a specific task that will help us deliver the best possible results?”
Not just in the courtroom, but as far as whether it be the collections department, whether it be intake, whether it be reception when somebody comes to the firm, trying to get all these groups to work in concert so that we can really be firing on all cylinders and produce a high-quality product both in the courtroom, but as well as the business operations side.
Michael: You know, I was chatting with Albert Stark, one of the guests that I interviewed in an earlier episode, and he made a comment to me that one of the best ways to really have a lot of impact at a firm is to spend an hour hanging out in the lobby. He was advising me as a consultant. Before anybody really knows who you are, just go sit in the lobby for an hour because you’ll see how they actually interact with clients.
And I thought it was really interesting because his point was that’s like the most important aspect of that experience, because someone’s afraid they’re walking in for the first time.
Seth: Agreed. And they’re people. I just had breakfast out in Last Vegas with one of the legendary California personal injury lawyers, (John) Bisnar, and he is one of the guys that is a mentor in this space. We offer drinks. He had drinks menus, something I’m contemplating offering. What can you do for that user experience when somebody comes to your office. We have bottled water that’s branded. We have coffee on-site. Are there assortment of beverages and snacks? What can you do that produces high-quality customer service for when somebody comes into the office?
One of our secret sauces is that we start that process well before they get to the office. For us, what we call our client management team is what I take great pride in. It was something I started when the firm was small. it was me with a cell phone, but the idea is phones are answered, it’s not an answering machine. It’s a person, that person who is generally not a lawyer, is not giving legal advice, but their job is to be there in somebody’s time of need, to sort of hear what their problem is, they act as a paralegal for us, and they are able to figure out which attorney at the firm can help them, help us determine is there a conflict, determine all these first steps that can be taken, and that once those things are done, we can then bring the person in.
So by the time they get to our front door, they have a mini relationship with the firm, rather than just, “Hey, show up here. Here’s your appointment.” We really go into great depths on either online, if somebody is willing to Skype or Google Hangout with us, or in the alternative, by phone. Our job is to start that relationship immediately, because we get people where a loved one has been badly injured or where somebody has been arrested and their liberty is at stake.
We get people that time of need, we want to be able to assure them who they found, who we are, what expertise we have, and be able to meld that so that, as somebody becomes a client, we’re getting as much information about them, and they’re getting information about us, so that the moment they get to the firm, it’s not a get-to-know-you, but they get to know you better because, they’ve already had these different points of contact with our firm.
Michael: Well, that’s really fantastic. It sounds like you’re having a lot of fun as you’re building the firm and putting these different projects together.
Seth: It’s been a great ride and part of the reason I was out at the LMA is I always love learning more, and it was great to bump into somebody like yourself who’s similarly speaking to thought leaders in the space, and figuring out what’s working, what’s not working. And I really enjoy this conversation.
Michael: Hey, question on LMA. Did you pick up anything that you just said, “Oh, I got to take this back.” Anything like that, any takeaways?
Seth: I met a lot of great people out there. I would say that that it was interesting to see. What people LMA do is generally so different than what we do. I’d say the overlapping space between our world and their world would be public relations. Great people, like there’s some really good PR people circling out there, and I think that was my biggest takeaway was what would they say in the SEO spaces, “Do what the big firms do, and what the big firms do is PR, and they do it really well,” and what I try to do is emulate that.
Because we’re B2C, we’re not about PowerPoint presentations to clients or potential clients, but we are about letting the world know about our great resources. And I think that’s something that the PR sector at LMA was really good about.
Michael: You know, something I picked up that I really thought was pretty cool, I guess Amlong 100 Firms. There’s a BTI consulting that does a lot of data gathering and customer interviews, and they gave a presentation where they presented the results of interviews they had done with firms of different sizes about various aspects of marketing. But one of the things that they identified is that the very largest firms are spending more of their marketing budget on the development of the relationships with those top clients.
So in other words, looking at an existing client and spending money on helping them do whatever it is they’re trying to do better, so education or things like that. So it’s not even…oh, and another big thing they’re doing is a lot of interviews. So they’ll go out to their top clients and interview people of many levels deep inside that company about what are the things that are on their mind as they try to do their job. So they can just be everywhere and be of value everywhere across an organization.
Seth: No. It’s just brilliant. You’re building deeper relationships, while at the same time finding out what their needs and wants are. That’s awesome.
Michael: So it strikes me that’s related to what you’re doing with these conversations with people.
Seth: Absolutely. And I would say that the piece, and that’s on the business side, on the personal side, it’s looking at somebody holistically. If somebody has been arrested and they were wrongfully arrested, is there a civil case out of it? Is there something that we can look for there? We will look for different areas. Checking to make sure it’s not an immigration situation. Is it somebody who is going away for a while? I want to make sure that they’re…trust their statements. So we’re looking out on a micro level similar to what you’re talking about there.
And if it’s something we can’t do, we’re going to find them somebody who matches up as well as we can for what they do need, so that we do what we do very well, but we don’t go beyond those walls. And so I think that these bigger firms are going out there because you’re forming a relationship. It’s not about a one-off thing. It’s so hard to get new clients and keep them that anything you can do that understands…and the better you know somebody, like, even a personal relationship, the better.
If you know your significant other, it’s easier to buy a gift or plan an anniversary than if you don’t. So if you spend all that time interviewing somebody, like you would if you were married to them for a decade or more, then you’re able to take those data points, and you’re able to get the best anniversary dinner, you’re able to get the best plans for a weekend that you wouldn’t if you really weren’t listening and taking that information in.
So these big firms which are…it’s a lot easier to keep and grow a client than it is to get a new one. And frankly from the marketing point of view, it’s pretty hard for the people in those rooms to go out and bring those people in. A lot of that’s going to be the natural tenacity and Rolodex of their lawyers. To a certain extent, it seems brilliant, because it almost seems that the skill set of those in-house marketing departments is better suited towards what you’re talking about now, building and growing existing clients.
It is pretty hard to imagine how a mid-level person at a major firm is ever going to make a meaningful impact as far as bringing in new clients, whereas you could easily see somebody…and it’s something I actually talked about to one of the CMOs for one of the biggest firms that was there. He was saying, “One of their challenges at the biggest firm, where they’re not going to be a little bring a client in once a week, or even once a quarter, is how do you motivate a staff to keep going.”
And I think that, to a certain extent, those types of things may be as good for the internal staff as they are for the client themselves because it’s very easy for somebody who’s in the middle an 80-person marketing department to get lost, and not really on purpose, because what are they doing, how are they developing anything. Whereas if they can have a piece of their business that’s actually working with existing clients, it seems it could be a win-win situation.
Michael: I agree.
Seth: Very good.
Michael: Well, Seth, thanks so much. Really enjoyed the conversation. I want to thank you for joining me.
Seth: Thank you so much for having me.
- Overview of Price Benowitz practice areas [0:40]
- The core engine of growth: great attorneys and great digital marketing [3:04]
- Why they’ve built 40 websites to market their firm, not just one [3:45]
- The elements that have to be in place to create websites that attract search traffic are the elements that demonstrate substance and add value to real human users [5:38]
- Is search appropriate for your firm? Is your area of law one that if someone were to search and find you, you would make money? [9:19]
- Deciding on the growth strategy that’s right for your firm is about effectiveness, but also, what do you enjoy doing? What will you wake up and happily do each day to have impact? [11:58]
- BLU Spark Digital is an marketing agency that generates content for law firms and was spun out from the in-house marketing team at Price Benowitz [12:45]
- Their area of deep expertise is local search [14:05]
- Organic search vs. “three-pack” and why both matter for firms trying to attract clients via SEO and online advertising [15:30]
- The power of getting just five positive reviews posted in your Google location listing [16:15]
- Claim your Google Local listing [17:35]
- Testimonials are a powerful way of demonstrating you have a proven track record [20:02]
- Tips for getting testimonials from clients who don’t want to talk publicly about their legal matters [21:05]
- Marketing for law firms that can’t possibly land a client from a single web search [25:08]
- Deciding whether to focus on TV advertising vs. web search [26:48]
- External marketing is only half of the equation; the other half is consistently delivering fantastic service to clients [30:05]
- Seth’s internal focus is on personally handling any complaints and using each one as an opportunity to improve processes [32:10]
- Mentoring attorneys who need to modify their practices [34:55]
- Once an attorney has great legal practice, they still need mentoring on client management: conveying value and truly satisfying the client [36:04]
- As mid-level attorneys become more senior, there’s very often a jump into different types of cases and different types of clients, which requires new skills [37:15]
- Attorneys who have a “sixth sense” about when problems are developing are really valuable because they can address something and head it off [39:08]
- Observing and learning from top performers to identify skills that can be taught to others [41:05]
- As the firm has grown, Seth is mostly focused on creating effective systems [47:08]
- Your relationship with a new clients starts with their experience in your lobby; do they feel welcomed and comfortable? [47:47]
- Starting the relationship with the prospective client before they even get to their office [49:04]
- The best service requires interacting with people holistically; understanding their legal problem in the large context of their lives [53:45]