Level Up Your Law Firm: Branding and Growth Strategies That Work with Rick Watson

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Episode Description

Want to learn how to make your law practice stand out and attract more clients? In this episode, Lauren sits down with business consultant Rick Watson to talk about growth strategies for lawyers. Rick shares his expert insights on creating your own branded language to differentiate your services and connect better with potential clients. He explains why using story is critical to being memorable. You’ll also hear Rick’s tips on building a robust referral network, leveraging effective follow-up to convert more leads, and having those crucial “difficult conversations” that truly serve your clients’ needs. Plus, Rick dives into the four components of an “awesome business conversation” that can transform your client relationships.

Whether you’re just starting out or looking to take your practice to new heights, this info-packed episode will give you fresh ideas for marketing yourself, closing more business, and providing outstanding client experiences. Don’t miss these proven tactics from a master at helping professionals uplevel their businesses!

Listen now! 

Episode Resources

A Firm Worth Building: Running a Better Professional Business by Rick Watson

National Referral Network

Connect with Rick

Episode Transcript 

RICK: [00:00:00] Having difficult conversations is super important, and if you’re afraid of those, then that’s not good for your business in the long term. You need to be comfortable and letting people struggle.

LAUREN: Welcome to a different practice. I’m your host, Lauren Lester, and I’m obsessed with all things business, wellbeing, and optimizing the practice of law for solo and small firm lawyers.

I started my solo practice right out of law school, built it from the ground up, and now work part time while earning well over six figures. I’m here to share tangible, concrete tools and resources for ditching the legal profession’s antiquated approach and building a law practice optimized for profit and efficiency.

Think of this as grabbing coffee with your work bestie, mixed with everything they didn’t teach you in law school about running a business. Pull up a seat, grab a cup, and get ready to be encouraged and challenged. This is a different practice.

Hey everyone, welcome to another episode of A Different Practice. [00:01:00] One of the best places I have found to get ideas, inspiration, strategies that I can use to grow my business is from outside of the legal profession. I’d actually probably say most of my ideas have come from looking at folks outside of the legal profession.

So I thought it would be nice today to bring in one of those outside perspectives. I’m talking today with Rick Watson. He’s a financial professional and consultant and is the managing force behind several companies, including an AUM registered investment advisor firm, an investment fund, and a management company.

In addition, as a founding partner of the National Referral Network, he helps professionals across the country strengthen and grow their businesses by helping them grow, run better, and maximize their exits. Rick predominantly works with professionals who provide service, like accountants, financial advisors, and of course, us attorneys.

And as you’ll hear, he has a book that helps professional businesses scale and [00:02:00] thrive. I hope that you find our conversation insightful and informative. I know that I took a couple of nuggets from it that I’m going to try to implement into my practice, including creating some of my own language. So if that intrigues you, keep listening, because here is my conversation with Rick Watson.

All right. Well, welcome, Rick, to a different practice. So excited to chat with you today.

RICK: I’m super excited to be here, Lauren. Thanks for having me.

LAUREN: So you have a great book out called A Firm Worth Building, running a better professional business. And while not targeted just towards lawyers, it is targeted towards advice giving professionals.

And in looking kind of in your history, what Uh, you know what you’re talking about. So I wanted to start with you sharing a little bit about how you got to this place. Um, particularly how you went from having 20 in savings to managing more than half a billion dollars, which is a real nice trajectory. Um, so can you share a little bit just about your history and [00:03:00] what brought you here?

RICK: So, it wasn’t a straight line. Let me just say that. It never


RICK: So, uh, I built a wealth management practice from scratch and, and you go through these J curves where you grow to your, your most inefficient, and then you fall backwards and then you have to start over again. And I’m sure that, uh, law practices go through the same thing.

And along that journey, I deal with a lot of professionals, accountants and attorneys primarily. And, uh, what I realized really quickly was that they are a mess. I mean, I mean, I, I understood that I was struggling, but basic business lessons were not being used. And we were talking in the green room before we started and, you know, a little bit about, uh, just basic things like.

Branding and sales and like they’re, they’re so focused on their specialty. That they don’t want to even think about running the business, but that’s what makes the process workable [00:04:00] growable, otherwise it just kills them. And so I love this idea of this podcast specifically because it’s such a great fit for what this book’s all about.

LAUREN: Exactly. Yeah. And speaking of marketing and branding in the book, you talk about creating your own language, like the, the business itself kind of creating its own language to be able to market its services. Can you elaborate on why that’s important and why attorneys in particular should be thinking about that and maybe not using the traditional language that they have heard from colleagues or that we know in the profession to help themselves stand out and actually attract those qualified leads?

RICK: So first thing is you don’t want to commoditize yourself. So this is just a very basic element of branding. Don’t commoditize yourself. So if somebody says, what do you do? Don’t say I’m an attorney. So really what we’re trying to always do with the professionals we work with is trying to get them to turn, to become a problem solvers, [00:05:00] right?

I fix things. My specialty is in law, but I fix problems. Oh, that’s a completely different kind of person. I want you to bring me everything that is a problem and I’ll be a thought leader. So part of being a thought leader is creating your own language. Now, this is really basic in branding anyway, is inventing things.

So we created, I mean, there’s a number of investment philosophies that when we come up with something that we think’s unique. We brand it, we name it something, and we don’t make it really stupid. We make it into something that is a term that would be out there in the industry. And it is hilarious to me when one of our clients is trying to get something from another company and they will, I need this, I need this strategy.

I need this approach and they’re, they, they don’t know what it is. So they start making up stuff and we’re there on the defensive. So I just think that is so cool when, um, that you can do that. And [00:06:00] the other thing about coming up with your own language is it shortens a conversation because. Now you know what you’re talking about, your staff knows specifically what we’re talking about, and your clients are on board with it as well.

So once it’s defined, then you get this in, you know, we do this in friends anyway, right? Where we have that shortcut that we talk to somebody about. So it’s the same thing, you’re making them part of your tribe, and it’s like having the special, um, Like going to In N Out Burger and knowing the off menu terms that you can ask for things, um, that’s not on the menu and that makes you special somehow.

LAUREN: And when you go to In N Out Burger, for example, you’re still getting a burger. So I think that’s what folks get tripped up on is you don’t have to necessarily come up with this new ingenious Product. It’s just the way that you’re communicating it to the client, and especially in legal where the average consumer doesn’t know our jargon.

They don’t know what we [00:07:00] do. And you can really confuse them in just explaining where I’m going to create you a owner’s agreement. They’re like, what? What the heck is that? Like, that doesn’t mean anything to me, but if you can create language around it, that’s really descriptive for the client, then like you said, they connect, you kind of shortcut that explanation and now they sort of feel like, Ooh, I’m getting something special when we all know just like in and out.

Right. They serve you the burger with the extra us. Yeah. It’s still a burger, but to the client, it makes a big difference.

RICK: I think, uh, I think that in law you could make the whole thing something, but that’s kind of big. I think where it’s kind of neat is when you take slices of it. So yeah, we’re going to do an irrevocable trust.

Um, but it’s also going to include this whiz bang feature. Oh, well, that’s pretty cool. So we go somewhere else. That whiz bang feature doesn’t exist. And it’s also, we also like to use this. So in our world, we use, uh, layered investment management. Well, that’s. What is that? We define the term. And so [00:08:00] somebody says, well, I need layered investment management.

It doesn’t exist. So, um, you know, to finish a question that you asked me earlier, how do we get into this? We started dealing with these professionals and then we realized that, um, they needed help. And so we started doing a lot of coaching and helping their practices grow. And then that grew into something called the National Referral Network, which is another company that we run.

Um, and it, uh, and it, it was a sandbox for professionals to play with each other.

LAUREN: And that really is another strategy. I know that you talk about in the book, in addition to marketing and branding, which is sort of the language you use when you are interacting, not only with potential clients, but also that network.

So can you share some of those effective strategies that maybe solo or small firm attorneys can use who are looking to build a strong referral network to actually attract qualified leads? Cause it’s not just, I’m assuming talking to everybody and anybody about whatever, it’s a pretty. Um, intentional [00:09:00] process to actually make it worth the time investment.

RICK: So I think first lesson in getting referrals is be referable. And I know that we sometimes skip that. Yeah. Okay. Great. No, no, no, no. That’s like super important. I think, uh, one of the things that we, one of the things we did in our little site was we created a little profile for each attorney. And the reason was because most of their websites were so bad that I couldn’t send somebody to their site because they weren’t referable.

So I had to create something that looked nice and clean. Right. Right. And, and then we each actually have someone who coaches them so that. What they would do is they would put a four page white paper, a white paper. Well, no one’s going to read it. So why would you do that? Can you just give me bullet points of what it is that’s special about you?

So I think that’s the first element. And then other elements of getting referrals are, uh, about. Uh, creating these professional networks and you can do it locally or, um, or, uh, on a national scale, which is what we were doing, [00:10:00] you know, doing a local network, uh, what happens more often than not, they tend to, to, to use up each other.

So if you treated friends that way, you wouldn’t have too many friends, right? What you just ask him for favors until. They stopped giving them, but that’s how business works a lot. And so we tried to come up with a way that benefits both sides for giving that referral. So you don’t want to, you want to get referrals.

You better be giving referrals. It kind of works that way.

LAUREN: Yeah, it shouldn’t be one sided. It’s really a, like a conversation and it should go back and forth and be mutually beneficial for everybody.

RICK: Right. And it’s thinking about, it’s, it’s caring about your clients, but it’s also caring about the other professionals and it’s setting them up for success.

So we talk about that in the book as well, about edification, the idea of elevating somebody. So when you make a referral, you go, here’s an accountant. Well that’s great. Thanks. You just commoditize them.

LAUREN: Right.

RICK: So we try to give them a little push. So we talk about why they’re such a great accountant and [00:11:00] something interesting about them.

And, you know, there’s, there’s a lot that goes into referrals and there’s a, there’s a big chunk of the books.

LAUREN: Yeah. And I’m really curious because you brought up, um, attorney websites, which I agree on the whole are. Terrible. Is there one thing that you find is the most detrimental, like that attorneys sort of do, whether it’s focusing on themselves or not providing information or providing 16 pages of text that no one’s reading?

Like, what do you find that you guys then don’t do in your referral network? You have them focus on X, Y, and Z instead.

RICK: Keep it simple. Less is more. Okay. So it’s better to have three pages in your website that are amazing than to have 70 pages that are mediocre. Okay. Um, I think that the other thing is what’s the message not, you’re not talking to attorneys, you’re talking to clients.

So talk to them on their level. We call that speak. We name everything by the way. I love it. So we say, [00:12:00] we call that speak to the listening. Who’s listening to your message? That’s who you need to be talking to, not to, you know, yourself. Right. And, and so making that message really clear, what are you about and what’s special in bullet points that you can usually get that done in like two or three bullet points or a button or something that, you know, they’re like, oh, hey, great.

That’s what’s, that’s why I’m here. So I think that you have what, six seconds or something like that, 15 seconds, you better be using it appropriately.

LAUREN: That’s my, my biggest feedback too for lawyers on their websites is it’s all about them. Like they’re, they just created like a personal website that they can say, look how all this stuff I’m doing, but it’s like the client is like, I don’t really, how are you going to help me?

Like you said, what problem are you solving for me? And a lot of attorneys miss that messaging and don’t talk about that at all.

RICK: An analogy might be if you write a book, if your book is for you about you, no one cares, right? [00:13:00] Right. But if your book is about them, if they read the book and they go, Oh, I get, I see myself in this, then now you might have something.

LAUREN: Yeah. And,

RICK: and I think that’s the same thing in a website or anything else you do.

LAUREN: So kind of continuing on the sort of marketing and then sales when you’re actually talking to a potential client, I wanted to pull out, cause I thought that this, um, part of the book, this, uh, sentence was really. Illuminating, which is within 24 hours of an initial sales meeting, most prospects forget about 80 percent of the material you covered.

So can you talk about why it is so important, probably very self explanatory just from that one sentence, but what the importance of sending a follow up email information after a consultation is and how you can really use such a simple act to help increase your conversion rate. So

RICK: the industry sets up appointments.

For [00:14:00] efficiency for the attorney, right? So how efficient is this? Not how efficient it is it for the person who’s listening. So you know, we do an hour appointment because that’s nice, crisp hour. Boom. Well, for us, we’ve broken those appointments up into 15 minute virtual appointments because I can cover a quick little bit.

They remember that part. Then I go to the next, instead of doing appointments. a week or two apart because it’s convenient for the attorney. We do them days apart so that we build them up slowly. So I think that’s part of that. I think the other thing that you mentioned, and I love that you see this, we call it bridges to gap meetings, that we do something, we teach a concept, then we send a video, then we teach a concept, then we send a video.

So it’s a 15 minute, 20 minute concept. You know, and again, your world might be different. Maybe it’s a half an hour. But the idea is being very intentional about what you’re trying to teach, how fast we can get them to absorb that information. But just dumping [00:15:00] it on somebody is not helpful.

LAUREN: Here’s an hour on all of the options for estate planning.

And they’re like, what? They’re like a deer in headlights. It’s too much. By the way,

RICK: that’s not that easy to do. I think that’s, you know, to be very intentional. And let’s just take estate planning as an example to be very intentional. You’re trying to transfer some information. So how’s the best way to do that?

Could I send them a video in advance? Could I send them a glossary of terms? I don’t know. I mean, you’re the estate planning side. So, but, but I would say Breaking it up so that it’s the most efficient way for them to grasp the information so that they can make an informed decision.

LAUREN: Yeah. It’s remembering that we are in this all day, every day.

And so the concepts are really easy for us. We just sort of talk about it like it’s second nature, but taking a step back and thinking this person sitting in front of me. Doesn’t understand even what a revocable trust is or what an owner’s agreement is, or what it would be used for, or what bankruptcy is [00:16:00] and what the options are.

And so really not taking that for granted and being able to sort of do a kind of like back in law school, like day one of law school, how do you help this person understand these concepts in a way that makes sense to them and doesn’t overwhelm them?

RICK: Yeah, I think, uh, talking about concepts like that, by the way, I think that the other part that we have to talk about is stories.


RICK: people remember stories. So you’ve got to find a way to weave your message into a story. And when you do that, it, it, it’s so much more memorable and they can, they can attach it in their brain to something. Um, so just teaching what’s an irrevocable trust. What are the elements of it? That’s not as easy, but maybe I say, well, you’ve heard of a corporation, right?

You know, a president of a corporation, right? Well, we have something similar in a trust, right? And you start attaching it to a, uh, uh, uh, uh, an existing framework that they understand.

LAUREN: And that helps too, in terms of explaining the value and the problem that you’ll solve. I think if you use [00:17:00] those stories and.

I mean, we, you know, being in practice for more than a year, at least we have stories, right? We’ve worked with clients. And so either bringing in a, Oh, I worked with this client this one time who had this particular problem. And this is why we use the trust to solve it. Or just sort of having a avatar of a general client, uh, who has problems.

Then you can use that storytelling to say, they came in with this situation. We used this. tool because of this to solve the problem, but you’re always going back, like you said, in the beginning to that problem that you’re solving for the potential client.

RICK: Yeah, I think, Lauren, you’re probably terrible at storytelling.

I’ll tell you that. Some people struggle in this regard so much. And I would say it’s like public speaking. If you’re awful at public speaking, then you join something like Toastmasters or something to get yourself over that. Same thing with storytelling. If you are bad at storytelling, you need to realize that and fix it.

Because it’s, it’s It’s an [00:18:00] amazingly important thing. Um, I think by the way, you know, if I’m thinking of growing firms and whatnot, I think a lot of what we’re building is we’re trying to scale a firm, right? So, so many firms just want to grow to one person. If that’s all you’re going to do, then you’re fine.

You’re going to, by the way, die of the weight of your company. But if you do it right, if you’re really good at what you do, but, um, you know, are the, are the elements of your story and your, your approach. Running through your head as in how am I going to scale this idea to two people or three people or four people?

Does the staff understand the same stories? Can they tell the same stories? Because if you do, you start to create this consistency.

LAUREN: There one way to either start thinking about that or to transfer that storytelling. Or story to your staff. So if someone says, All right, I’m gonna hire an assistant so I can start to scale.

I’m starting slow. How do I bring them into the fold in a [00:19:00] way that does that? Is it a standard operating procedure? Is it the first day you sit down and say, This is what I do. Do you have something on the wall? I mean, again, I’m sure you’re going to tell me this is a very involved process, but how can lawyers start to kind of think about doing that?

RICK: If first of all, you start to develop culture. So that’s in the book, right? We’ll talk about culture, being intentional about building a culture. Um, part of our culture, for example, is that I always will stop and explain something like in detail. So I’ll teach them just like I, the way they learn the story is I taught them the concept through the same story that I was going to teach.

a client. And so when they explain it, they’re going to explain it with exactly the same story. Um, but I always stop if, if they don’t get something and I, I don’t just bark out orders. We want them to understand why we’re going from point A to point B. And, and that will mean, I mean, that’s just, again, you create that as part of culture.

It’s part of expectations. Um, but I think [00:20:00] that’s a starting point is teach them the stories, explain the world to them. In the way that you are going to explain it to a client. Cause then that’s how they know it. That’s how they learned it.

LAUREN: Right? No, that makes sense. Can you talk a little bit? I’m, I was very curious and intrigued by the four components of an awesome business conversation talking about.

Talking to staff and and potential clients. What are those kind of generally and why are they important?

RICK: So I always say I’ve got I’ve learned stuff with a long amount of time in in what we’re doing that usually saying the hardest thing to say is usually the right thing. And then letting people struggle, I think, is a really important aspect.

Let them struggle with the answer. Um, I think that When you do that, you make you make you touch somebody on a much deeper level on their heart. And I learned the power of this early in my career. And I realized that I was using it [00:21:00] indiscriminately. Um, so that was bad. But I remember talking to somebody and saying, Look, the numbers won’t work.

You see this, right? And. And we went through this about how it was going to affect their lives and such. Tell me, how are we going to fix this problem? And there’s dead silence and, and just really stick, we talk about sticking the knife in and twisting it, letting them really struggle with something. And I came back two weeks later on our second, you know, for the next visit and they had closed the business.

They had moved to Mexico. They had, I had like, whoa, I didn’t realize I had that much power. I think if you, you, you have those conversations where you, um, are, uh, introducing an idea and then, uh, letting them struggle with that idea. That is a super important,

LAUREN: but I think that’s really important, especially for us as lawyers.

I think we have to be really mindful and intentional of that because our, at least for me, reaction when [00:22:00] someone brings me a problem is how are we going to fix it? But I think you’re right. We have to stop and sometimes we can fix it, but sometimes we can’t. You know, I work in family law. There’s not a fix.

Like I can’t, I can’t change the facts. It is what it is. There’s another person who you have to co parent with. I can’t make them disappear. So being able to say. Yeah, that’s not, that’s not really going to work like that. Like you do have a problem here and putting a little bit onus back on the client too, to figure it out and not just run to you.

It kind of, I don’t know if you have kids, but it reminds me of parenting of like, we have to let them figure it out. We can’t just fix everything for them all the time. Otherwise they’re going to be back in our office every time there’s a little disagreement. And that really isn’t a sustainable business for us as the practitioner.

RICK: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. I, I think that having difficult conversations is super important. And if you’re afraid of those, then that’s not good for your business in the long term. You need to be comfortable and letting people struggle, [00:23:00] um, and, and, and not just struggle, but allow almost well, consciously making them uncomfortable.

I think that there’s a whole path here where you’re, again, we talk about stick the knife in and twist it. I need because otherwise there’s no action. That’s the problem, right? If you just talk theoretically, it’s, it’s a science project of what happens if everything, um, you know, it’s just theoretical, but if it becomes, uh, personal, emotional, um, then, then they’ll take action.

And candidly in advice, giving professionals, that’s your job is to get people to take action.

LAUREN: Absolutely. Yeah, they need that sort of inciting event of you’ve got to make a decision here. You can’t just think about it anymore. And sometimes we have to be that person to say, here’s what it is. Here are the facts.

This is a hard conversation. And but this is reality. And you got to do something. And I think at the end of the day, like your client, and I’ve had to they do come back, it’s hard, and they have to process and they, you know, Yeah. Definitely don’t [00:24:00] love you that day, but once they go through that, they feel more empowered and better and come back and go, I’m so glad that you said that it wasn’t easy, but I’m so glad you told me.

RICK: Really the ones that will hold you accountable, that make you look at something and you may not love them at that very moment. Um, but it’s what builds those relationships to be the person they go to, if you’re always their friend, if you’re always saying yes. If you always give them everything they want, that’s not a good relationship.

It’s codependency is essentially what it is. And so, um, we, we don’t want that. We want really strong relationships where you’re the go to person they, they, they rely on.

LAUREN: Yeah. And that’s part of the factors and elements that really do make a successful business that we don’t always think about sort of those interpersonal skills that we have to work on.

I always end every podcast by asking my guests what their definition of successes and certainly on paper. And if we’re just looking at numbers, I [00:25:00] think most objective folks would say that you have reached a level of success, but I’m really curious. Cause I have a feeling you’re going to tell me it’s not those numbers on paper, um, that make the definition of success for you.

RICK: Kind of a scorekeeping thing, but no, that’s not it. I mean, frankly, it’s how many people I can touch. And I know that sounds so trite, right? But it is, you’ve got to come up with something that motivates you. And I would love to have an effect. I want to reinvent the world. I think one of our terms that we have for our company is we invent what should exist.

And when you take yourself out of. I am trying to, to feed my family and you can step back to the point where I want to impact the world. Then it’s how many times do you want to impact them? What ways do you want to impact it? Then that’s inspiring. You get up with energy every morning and not fall apart.

So I worry about my family. I worry about my company. I worry about my employees. I worry about my clients and how we affect them.

LAUREN: [00:26:00] Yeah. So how big can you make that ripple?

RICK: Yeah. Can you make those ripples in the pond?

LAUREN: Yeah. No, I love that. Well, like I mentioned, your book is a firm worth building running a better professional business.

Can you tell our listeners if they would like to grab a copy or just connect with you more where they can do that?

RICK: So two best ways to get, uh, that is one on Amazon, right? A firm worth building. It should pop right up. That’s great. The other way that you can do it, uh, is you can go to nrnamerica. com, which is our national referral network.

Uh, we talk about it a little bit in the book, um, and the book will pop up there. Uh, it’s a great thing. We love working with attorneys. That’s actually a major portion. Yeah, the groups that are there. So I strongly encourage people to look at that. And if you want to just send me an email, you certainly are welcome to rick at protection point advisors dot com.

I’m happy to always reply to things where people just have a question. Hey, what about this? You know, we that’s that I bet [00:27:00] should 10 to 20 percent of my time is just responding to somebody from another industry who just has a question about this or that. So anyway, love to.

LAUREN: Well, I appreciate your offering your time and certainly your time today.

This is a great conversation. Thank you so much for joining me.

RICK: Thank you. Bye bye.

LAUREN: I’m over here giving you a virtual high five because you just finished another episode of A Different Practice. For more from this episode, head over to adifferentpractice. com slash podcast for the show notes. If you found this episode helpful, I’d love it if you’d share it with someone who might like it too.

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I figured out what works and what’s essential. Now I’m sharing the six essential pillars every law firm needs, key factors for [00:28:00] implementation, and practical tips for optimizing each. Grab your free download today at adifferentpractice. com slash optimize. I can’t wait to connect with you next time. Until then, keep building a different practice.