Doug Brown – Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:03
Doug Brown is an executive business coach with Summit Success International. He’s used his skills and education as an attorney to run several businesses for Connecticut Bar Association and an MBA program. He’s written numerous articles regarding law and business, appeared on television and on several podcasts. He’s consulted with major law firms and other businesses regarding marketing and management. When not working, he enjoys golf, pickleball, boating and cycling. Doug Brown, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Doug Brown 00:43
Thank you, Louis. It’s great to be here. I’m excited to spend this time with you today.
Louis Goodman 00:47
Well, I’m really looking forward to talking to you and I’m looking forward to learning something from you. Where are you talking to us from right now?
Doug Brown 00:55
I’m coming to you from my home in Bluffton, South Carolina, which is just outside of Hilton Head about 30 minutes from Savannah.
Louis Goodman 01:03
What kind of business do you have? How do you define your business?
Doug Brown 01:07
I define it in terms of the people I help and I help lawyers who have built a business that want to get it to the point where it can run without them so they can have the time freedom and make the money they deserve.
Louis Goodman 01:20
How long have you been doing this specific type of business?
Doug Brown 01:24
I’ve been doing executive coaching for about 10 years.
Louis Goodman 01:28
I’m always interested in people’s back stories. Where are you from originally?
Doug Brown 01:33
I’m originally from Newtown, Connecticut.
Louis Goodman 01:35
And did you go to high school there?
Doug Brown 01:37
I went to high school there and then I went to Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York for undergrad in management, and then to American University in Washington, DC for law school.
Louis Goodman 01:48
Well, I went to the University of Rochester. So I’m familiar with the climate in Syracuse.
Doug Brown 01:54
We become pretty hardy in upstate New York, that’s for sure.
Louis Goodman 01:58
Now, have you ever actually practiced law or have you always just been in a business related?
No. I practiced law from right out of law school for about six years. I was with a great firm in Connecticut. I was in a small office of a big firm and I did real estate commercial transactions, enough litigation to know that I didn’t want to do litigation. And so that’s where I got, you know, into commercial leasing and other things like that. So that was a great experience.
Louis Goodman 02:25
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Doug Brown 02:30
Well, like some, maybe like some other lawyers, my parents told me growing up that, ‘you should go be a lawyer.’ So I did my best in true teenager fashion to do everything, but be a lawyer. But then I took a course at Syracuse, it was a 600 level course because I like to push myself. And I found that I was really good at it. I had a real, it just suited my mind well. And so I had to go back and, and tell my parents that yeah, you were right. I’m gonna go to law school.
Louis Goodman 03:02
Did you take any time off between Syracuse and going to law school or did you go straight through?
Doug Brown 03:07
I went, I went straight through. I was, I’ve always been driven and I was in a hurry to get started and it just seemed like the right natural thing to do at that time.
Louis Goodman 03:17
So you worked at a law firm after you got out of law school. And you’ve had several business experiences, you ran the Connecticut Bar Association. I’m wondering if you could just kind of briefly bring us up to date as to how you got from getting outta law school, working at a firm, and now doing the kind of business consulting that you do. Because as I understand it, that path leads through a number of different legal professions.
Doug Brown 03:54
It really stems from growing up with parents who were in business as entrepreneurs. And so when I got into practicing on the business side and private practice, I always felt like there was more that I could do, like being in a firm was limiting because there were business problems to be solved. There were things to be done differently, so they didn’t have to go and litigate or make better business deals. And so at that point I thought I wanted to go be general counsel of a corporation. And as luck would have it, you get to a point in a big law firm that a head hunter calls and says there was this little company in Connecticut, in a town I hadn’t really thought about before that was looking for a corporate counsel.
The business was interesting. It was very entrepreneurial and I was gonna get a chance to grow with the company. So I made the move to go in-house and I thought for many years I was gonna go to be a general counsel. So I was at that company for a long time, and I got to get involved in working with sales and learning about how to sell and how to close deals and working with operations and human resources. And I loved how all those pieces and parts came together. So, when we were acquired by a global company, the CEO gave me the opportunity to move into business roles. So first a hybrid lawyer role and then pure business roles. And I just found my rhythm. That was what I was, it felt like being a lawyer was a superpower to begin with because I just process information so quickly and so differently than other people in business.
So it felt like the highest and best use of my skills. That led to global roles and eventually to the place where I was ready to move on and do something else. And at that time, Post University was launching its MBA program. And then they asked me to join their faculty. I was happy to find that a law degree is a terminal degree and that’s not a bad thing in academia, it’s equivalent to a PhD. And so, and my work experience left me academically, qualified to teach at a PhD level to adult students who had been out at least five years in the MBA program. So I taught innovation and entrepreneurship and leadership, and I was there for six years until I happened to follow my own advice and I went to lunch with the then president of the Connecticut Bar Association, because I realized that for my practice, focusing on lawyers was gonna be the, the place I could have the most impact. And I was floored when she said, well, because I was just hoping to volunteer and, and help and get engaged in the community. And I had a pretty good reputation from my other work in the bar association and they asked me to become their executive director, which is the top paid person for this 10,000 member bar association, because they needed a whole bunch of work done, that we needed to reposition them marketing-wise or needed to redo operations, change the value proposition, put the financial house in order. And so I went and did that and that’s when I left teaching.
Louis Goodman 07:01
How long did you stay as the executive director of Connecticut Bar?
Doug Brown 07:06
I was there about three years, which was about the time that we had expected, that that kind of transformation would take. And then the opportunity came along to become the chief operating officer of a fourth generation family jeweler.
We had 21 stores in five states, and so that was just too good to pass up. So I went from having 10,000 lawyers as bosses to, which was an interesting experience, to being in the retail business again. And I knew retail because I’d grown up in retail. And so then when that concluded, I joined my coach and my best, one of my best friends, Walt Hampton in Summit Success full time doing coaching for lawyers.
Louis Goodman 07:50
What is a coach and how do you see yourself as a coach?
Doug Brown 07:55
That’s a great question because there’s a lot of misconceptions about what coaching is. So I’ll just share what my thing is. I look at myself as someone like an athlete might look at a personal trainer. So my job is to understand what their objectives are, where they want to go, what their goals are and help them define that to figure out what’s in the way to give them strategies they can use to get there, which can include anything from getting really granular into the details to more higher level things. And then be there as a thinking partner for them and hold them accountable to actually get where they want to go. And what I think one of my superpowers is that I do see the world really differently from all these different experiences that I had. So I can ask questions and bring perspectives that people don’t expect and help them see things in different ways and spot their blind spots. And work through the really difficult things like all the people stuff it takes to scale a law practice, or how to improve processes and systems, or how to motivate employees, how to collect the money you’re owed. You know, all of those different things because I’ve done all those things.
Louis Goodman 09:14
One of the things I’ve heard you talk about is not just getting clients, but getting the right clients. And I’m wondering if you could address that a little bit for us.
Doug Brown 09:24
Yeah. That’s so, that’s so essential. I believe there are certain people and clients that we were meant to serve, certain problems we were meant to solve. And so when you focus on the problems you’re meant to solve, and the people you’re meant to solve ’em for, you can really niche down into the exact kind of client that would be a great client for you. A great client, those are people that pay you what you’re worth, who take your advice, who respond to you, who are respectful to you, who engage in the process and understand that they’ve got a responsibility in the representation, that it’s not just all on you. And that there isn’t the kind of certainty in life that people want. So when you can focus your practice on being the best at solving the problems you’re really great at, then you can focus on getting exactly the right collection of customers.
In my experience the “B” and “C” level customers or clients are the ones that cause the most grief, consume the most energy, pay the worst and aren’t satisfying to work with.
So I think that lawyers deserve to be focused enough to work with the people who value what they do so they can feel good about what they do. Whether or not they can get the result for the client, well, there’s so many facts about that. But providing that client experience and getting that experience back from a client, that can solve a lot of the problems that are endemic in the law practice today, where every everybody’s so adversarial. But it requires some courage to think about who those people are and apply some business principles to go get them.
Louis Goodman 11:11
One of the business principles that you talk about is narrowing your practice, cutting down on areas that shouldn’t necessarily be of focus, but to really narrow the focus of one’s practice. And I’m wondering if you could address that and explain why that’s so important.
Doug Brown 11:28
It’s important to narrow down your focus because the more focused you are, the more efficient you can be in everything that you do. And the work to attract the clients and building systems and processes to execute the work efficiently and effectively so that you can start to get economies of scale.
In the old school model where the law lawyer was the Jack-of-all-trades or the Jill-of-all-trades, and it still happens with many rural lawyers because there aren’t a lot of lawyers around in rural areas, constantly switching from one thing to the next, to the next, to the next consumes a massive amount of energy. Keeping up with all the different areas of the law requires a massive amount of intellectual power, and I have found in my work with lawyers, there are certain kinds of clients and problems they’re attracted to. So the closer you are to the work that you love to do, the happier you are the better you’re gonna be at doing it.
Louis Goodman 12:31
What do you really like about working with lawyers?
Doug Brown 12:34
I love that lawyers are smart and passionate and driven. If I can just get them to shift their thinking and look at things a little differently, they have all of the core skills they need to be very successful. They understand how to solve problems, they understand how to communicate, they understand how to work hard. So what I love is seeing that transformation when they see things differently, they realize that you can’t be, you don’t, you’re not either a lawyer or a business person or an entrepreneur. You’re both. And then, you know, seeing how it changes, not just their business, but their lives.
One of the clients I worked with was, came back to me and we were in our second month together and he said, I asked, how’s it going? And he said, “You know, this morning, my wife told me I’m a better person to be around since we started working together.” Wow. We were working on that. We were working on his business. I was working on his time management and finding out what was in the way. And we wandered into some conversations about sort of frustration with his kids. And I offered him a little piece of perspective on how to shift his mindset when he went home and now his wife thinks he’s a better person.
So when I get those things, that’s exciting because that happens all the time.
Louis Goodman 13:55
So when you are looking for lawyers that you wanna work with as clients, what are you looking for?
Doug Brown 14:02
I’m looking for lawyers who understand that growing a business is a team sport, that it’s not an individual activity and they have, they value that, that they have the entrepreneurial spirit. They understand that building a business requires work and some risks. And they’re willing to take some calculated risks and have the capacity to change. And I look for people who are fun to work with. I’ve, in all my experiences I’ve worked with lots of people who I didn’t really care for, and I’m blessed to be able to select clients who I think have a very high probability of success, who I enjoy and who are willing to do the work. Because I only work with a very small number of clients at any one time, they get intense, personal attention. So it’s, you know, it’s not just business, it’s personal. And so I look for a good fit for that because they wanna have a whole life. They don’t want to just, they don’t wanna wonder what I wondered when I started off, is this it? Am I gonna get to 65 or older and wonder what if? Did I have the same experience every year for 30 years or did I grow and did I do what I was meant to do in the world?
Louis Goodman 15:21
What mistakes do you see lawyers making?
Doug Brown 15:24
They’re so stuck working in their business. They’re so stuck in the weeds of billing the number of hours that they believe they have to bill that they never get a chance to step back and look at the big picture and navigate their ship. They’re going like crazy, but they don’t exactly know where they’re going. They’re hoping for a good outcome.
Louis Goodman 15:43
I’m wondering if you would comment on the notion that law schools rarely teach budding lawyers about business or what it takes to run a law firm?
Doub Brown 15:57
Today’s schools are trying better to teach lawyers about the soft skills that it takes to practice, how to run a business. What it’s actually like to run a business. There’s some systemic problems because the people who are teaching don’t know the answers to those questions. So much of legal education is focused on technical and tactical legal knowledge. Most CLEs are focused on the tactical legal question. It’s only recently that regulators have opened up and recognized that law practice management, dare I say marketing, mental health, self care are legitimate topics that must be taught to lawyers and not just, you know, what’s the latest changes in the tax code.
Louis Goodman 16:46
You brought up the M word, marketing. Why is that the M word and how can lawyers effectively market their services without coming across as some kind of like used car salesman?
Doug Brown 17:00
That is such a good question. And I think it starts with a mental shift because we have been trained well, first we’ve been conditioned as lawyers that somehow marketing is a bad thing, selling is unprofessional and if you do that, you are going to be disbarred or disgraced or worse. But when you shift your thinking and say, if marketing is selling, isn’t taking, I’m not trying to take advantage of people. I solve important problems. I’m really good at solving problems. These people need solutions to those problems. So if my business development is simply going out there in the spirit of service to the people they were meant to serve, to help them become educated, the mindset is not, “I am somehow taking”, I am putting out there that I can solve a problem that my people have. I’m educating them about how to be intelligent consumers about that. And I’m putting myself into the world of people who need my help.
Let’s not use car sales. We’re not trying to be slick, we’re just trying to be in service. And when you’re in service, people are attracted to you. The truth is any buying decision starts emotionally. They have to have a connection and then they use logic to justify it or not. And I think that lawyers would do well to let go of the baggage that marketing or God forbid “sales” is somehow unprofessional because modern sales and marketing training is incredibly sophisticated. It’s designed to reach exactly the right person and you’re doing so to give them value and solve a problem.
Louis Goodman 18:50
You know, one thing that bothers me as a practicing attorney who is in the business of attracting clients is that, you know, I went to good college, good law school, got a, you know, good background. I’ve have a good reputation with my peers, with the judges. And yet none of that seems to matter very much. It’s a matter of clicks and likes and Google just kind of tends to look at everybody as some kind of a grifter, unless you can prove to Google through the things that are of value to Google, that you’re a serious player as an attorney. I’m wondering what you’ve run up against in that way, and if you agree or disagree, I don’t know.
Doug Brown 19:41
Well, it’s a pretty common question. I start in a different place. And that is how have you gotten clients before? How are they finding you? And if Google is important, if you’re in a business to consumer space where people are finding you because they’re doing a Google search, then you need to put content out there and play the algorithm to get ranked enough in SEO to be on the first or second page. And that can cost a lot of money, but there are plenty of other ways, depending on your practice area and the kinds of clients you’re attracting, where you can get out there and maybe some will find you on Google, but for many lawyers, that’s not the primary source of their clients. They’re using Google and social media in different ways.
I mean, you have to have a presence. If you meet somebody at pick your venue, right. You know, at the local restaurant and you gave them a business card, they’re gonna check you out on LinkedIn, they’re gonna check out your website and they’re gonna wanna see certain things. With the smaller practices I’m working with, we don’t spend a lot of time on keyword optimization and that kind of thing, unless it were a heavy business to consumer practice and there are people that do that for them.
So I, I start to look at what are the marketing channels that have been most effective? How do we get you out in front of your people and the people they see your people before they see you so that you can start to build a trust and credibility. They have to know you, like you and trust you.
Louis Goodman 21:13
Do you have any specific suggestions about what lawyers can do to improve themselves, their practices, their businesses, their client relations?
Doug Brown 21:22
It’s building what we in the business call the emotional intelligence skills. It’s self-awareness, it’s how others are showing up in the world so that you can use your well crafted legal talent to figure out how to influence someone to accomplish what your goal is. I work, when I work with trial lawyers, they get that when they think about how am I gonna influence a jury or talk to a witness, but they show up back at the office and it’s like, they forgot about that skill completely. And they’ll be upset with an assistant and I’ll say, well, how does he, or she view the world? Like, what do you mean? Pretend they were in the jury box. What? Those skills work at work too.
Louis Goodman 22:05
You’ve accurately focused on the notion that lawyers use litigation skills effectively in court, and that some of those same skills in understanding people can be effectively used back in the office in dealing with other attorneys and employees. I’m wondering if you could also talk about how using those type of skills can be effective in one’s personal life because after all, if our personal lives are in disarray, it’s going to negatively affect our professional lives.
Doug Brown 22:44
Yes. A hundred percent agree. In a work context, in a litigation context it’s easy to grasp the idea of, well, what outcome do you want to achieve? What do you want this person to think or believe that you’re trying to influence the jury or get the witness to say? Because you’re on and you’re focused on the outcome of the case. When you’re home it’s easy to just let the default state of whatever you happen to be in to show up. What I’ve found is effective, if you can get yourself to slow down and say, you’ve had a really rough day and you’re you pull into the driveway, you know, the news has got you all fired up and they come home and everything’s in chaos at the house. And your first instinct might be to say, to have an outburst, for instance. If you can stop and think, what is the outcome, what do I want my family to experience from me in this moment? When I come home. What do I want my spouse to experience? What kind of difference would that make to them? And then how do I need to show up right now? Just stopping to ask that question and be aware of it causes the mind to think, well, okay, well, I don’t want them to think I’m, a you know what, when I show up, I want them to think that they’re glad to see me. Well, what would I have to do for them to feel that way? And so when you focus with your family or your kids on the outcome of what do you want them to experience you can be a more, have a more productive conversation.
Louis Goodman 24:15
What do you personally do to be more mindful?
Doug Brown 24:18
Well, mindfulness is a journey, it’s not a destination. When I was at some of my most difficult points experiencing the worst kinds of burnout, I got to the point where I said, well, I need to do something. And so I experimented with mindfulness and meditation. Not from a spiritual standpoint, but just from a purely practical standpoint saying, well, I’ve gotta do something.
It’s been around for thousands of years, maybe there’s something to it. This was six or seven years ago. And so now, and it was transformational for me. It took a little while. I try to do it every day. Some journaling of just kind of getting things out of my head, just encouraging myself to slow down.
I was just talking with a client the other day, so I asked him, I said, “How’s your mindfulness practice going?” He’s like, “I haven’t been doing it at all.” “When you were doing it, were things better?” “Absolutely.” Okay. So make a commitment, what are you gonna do? And so he’s been checking in every day for the last week and he’s like, oh my gosh, it’s amazing. I can see things differently. I have better perspective. And just 10 minutes a day. And I use an app. It’s funny, Louis, when I talked to a lawyer about this and I said, well, I tried it for the free trial, but then it costs money so I didn’t do it. How much does it cost? $60 a year. How much do you spend on a dinner? More than that. So you think it might be worth investing 60 bucks in yourself so that you could be happier and better at what you do? And they just looked at me like, oh, maybe I could, but just I don’t think of it.
Louis Goodman 25:53
Lawyers are professional advice givers, and you’re a professional advice giver to lawyers. What do you think is the best advice that you’ve ever gotten?
Doug Brown 26:02
I wish I had gotten the advice and learned the lesson about mindfulness and intentional awareness many years before, would’ve made life much easier. I think the best career advice was to pick the thing where you’ve got special value, you can be the best in the world at it and go do that. And when you decide to do that and go narrow and actually build around that, like I’ve done with lawyers, it’s scary because at first you believe that that’s gonna be so limiting, but then it’s almost like you, it opens a door and you see a whole new world when you allow yourself to focus. So I think those are the, those are the two things.
Louis Goodman 26:41
How do you define success?
Doug Brown 26:43
For me, success is knowing that I am doing my highest and best work.
Louis Goodman 26:50
Let’s say you came into some real money, three or four billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Doug Brown 26:59
I live a pretty good life. There’s not a lot that I would do differently. I would continue to try to influence the people that I was meant to serve. I would do it in a different way, and I would also engage in some things that weren’t law related.
I love renovating old houses and old buildings and rehabbing, making old stuff new again. I might go out and invest in businesses that were trying to get started and needed a guide, and I’d take care of the people around me.
Louis Goodman 27:29
Let’s say you had a magic wand, there was one thing in the world that you could change in the legal world, the marketing world, or otherwise, what would that be?
Doug Brown 27:38
What I really wish is that we could perhaps get to for the first time or return to a place where we could actually as a society, have civil logical factual debate about things that matter without everything being personal and divisive, and that we’d have leaders who would actually lead and get people to come together rather than focus on what divides us. Because I’m really kind of concerned about our future, is that we’re going down this path where there’s more focus on why we’re different than what we have in common. And I don’t think that’s good for society that we live in.
Louis Goodman 28:21
You know, one thing that I have found in the podcasting world are a lot of people like yourself, people who are entrepreneurial people who are very positive, people who are very upbeat in general about life. I think that’s one of the really great things that has come my way because of this podcast. I mean, it just didn’t occur to me when I started doing it that that was going to be such a payoff for me. And I’m just wondering if you’ve found that in your experience in this world as well.
Doug Brown 28:53
Yes. And it was probably about 10 years ago that through a series of circumstances, I wound up finding this whole new community of people, including like people like yourself in the podcast world who viewed the world really differently, who viewed things instead of what’s impossible, what’s possible, that story matters and community matters. And so I have a group of people around me who, I mean, we’re pragmatists, but we’re also like, well, let’s figure out how to fix it. And so I get to hear stories and we get to have these conversations.
It really provides energy. And in shows like this, they get to tell their story. And if the story impacts a person or two, it’s absolutely worth the investment.
Louis Goodman 29:37
If someone wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?
Doug Brown 29:42
Sure, absolutely. Well, my email address, and we can put this in the show notes too, is [email protected] and that’s our website as well summit-success.com/lawyer .
I will put something out there too if somebody wants it. I’ve just published a little guide on how to take your law practice and turn it into a business that runs without you. The first three steps you need and I’ll make that available on summit-success.com/lovethylawyer .
Louis Goodman 30:14
Thank you. Doug, is there anything that you wanna talk about that we have not covered?
Doug Brown 30:20
I guess the thing that I would like to leave your listeners with is that if they’re in a place and they feel stuck or trapped by decisions they made in their twenties to become a lawyer. It’s not too late to create the life that you want.
You have the skills that you need. All you need is someone to help you unlock what it is that you want and help you go for it. One of my goals would be that lawyers would get to the end of their careers being satisfied, feeling successful and knowing that they made a difference and it was more than just a paycheck. And it’s never too late to go down that path because we lawyers have one of the most important jobs that there could be.
We’re responsible for taking care of others, for promoting the rule of law for our way of life. And if we don’t take care of ourselves to do that, I think that it’s not good for society. So just don’t ever allow yourself to get to the place where saying that wouldn’t work for me, it’s too late, I can’t make a change, because you can absolutely do that. And my story is proof positive of that.
Louis Goodman 31:30
Doug Brown, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
Doug Brown 31:37
Thank you Louis.
Louis Goodman 31:39
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.
Thanks to my guests and to Joel Katz from music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Doug Brown 32:18
Well, it’s so important because… I’ll start that one again. I think I wanna start this little portion again, because I got myself all tangled up. Can you ask the question again and we can start that one again?