How did Johnson Turner become the largest family law firm in Minnesota and one of the fastest-growing in the nation?
Rainmaker Institute CEO Stephen Fairley recently sat down with firm partners (and siblings) Chris Johnson and Erin Turner to talk about the growth of their law firm (12 offices!) and some of the unique, innovative strategies they used to transform their practice into one of the fastest-growing firms over the past three years.
After attending a Rainmaker Retreat, this dynamic duo made the difficult decision to take a hard look at every area of their legal practice and implement some necessary changes to spur growth. What were some of those changes? Read on…
SF: Was it a difficult decision to get rid of some of those practice areas that were generating some revenue to try to focus more of your attention on the family and divorce side?
CJ: When you’ve put in a significant amount of time and effort building practices, the idea of getting rid of those is kind of like writing five pages of a legal brief and decided to delete them. You’ve developed some ownership of those, but it was culling those out that really have caused the other practice areas to grow.
ET: It was also nerve-wracking because they did account for a certain amount of revenue. And as we’re focusing on growth, it’s hard to contract somewhere because it seems counterintuitive, but I think what we’ve learned is to master practice areas — a few instead of trying to do everything — really allows you to increase your growth.
SF: We talk about some of the struggles and the issues and challenges that law firms have in breaking that 7-figure barrier. Certainly, one of them is looking at your law firm like a business instead of a job. Another one is staffing, recruiting, and finding key players. Another one is putting systems into place and operationalizing it. There are many, many others as well, but can you talk about 1, or 2, or all 3 of those areas and how you were able to do that to be able to break that 7-figure barrier?
CJ: Systems was a big part of it and I think going to a Rainmaker Retreat and having those concepts laid out right in front of us was eye-opening. In part, we were already doing some of it, but the Retreat helped us understand where we were and what we hadn’t accomplished yet and what we still needed to do. And building the systems was certainly one part. We were enthralled with that, but it also caused us to take a new look at our staff. When it comes to sales, it’s something that is hard to think about as an attorney — that you’re a salesperson — and we had struggled with making some of our attorneys salespeople. So we developed a sales department of non-attorneys.
ET: I think a really important part about being able to do the things that we’ve been able to do is stepping away from the practice of law. It’s a hard move from being the person that’s working in the business to the person working on the business. But I think what we have found is that it’s impossible to do both well because practicing law is really hard and so is operating a business. And so we have found ways to stay in the practice of law by being mentors and working with our legal team to teach them and make sure they’re handling cases in the way that we would want them to be handled, but being able to really spend our time to think big and differently and to innovate has been really important.
SF: Talk to us about a little bit more about that transition of “Hey, as the attorney, I have to be the one to do all the phone consults and the in-person consultation and I have to be the one to sign up everybody” versus making the transition into actually having non-attorney salespeople handle incoming phone calls and doing consultations.
CJ: When we were undergoing this big transition to non-attorney sales, it was gradual. Rainmaker introduced us to the idea of tracking conversion rates from our consults and we realized that some of our attorneys were good at consults and some not so much. From there, we learned to focus on having the better-converting attorneys do the consults. Then we experimented with a non-attorney doing consults. It was at that point there was a fundamental shift in the purpose of that first consult. It was no longer a legal advice meeting. It was a meeting to sign up clients to later get legal advice. And we found that the conversion rates were actually higher with non-attorney sales. The attorneys who had initially thought it was a crazy idea actually enjoyed the fact that they weren’t spending dozens of hours a month in consults with potential clients that may never hire them. And so, it’s been a win-win for our attorneys and also for our business because we’ve seen higher conversion rates in the consults.
SF: You guys have really turned the traditional model in family and divorce law on its head in that most of the time the overwhelming majority of divorce law firms out there are charging by the hour, but you guys have decided to do it a different way. You actually came up with a very creative flat fee-based approach to charging for a divorce. What made you decide that you wanted to go against the flow and try to come up with a different model?
ET: The first was putting ourselves in the position of the client. I never felt comfortable telling clients I really didn’t know how much this was going to cost, but trust me I’ll do my best to keep the price down. The second thing is we had the idea that you couldn’t predict how much a case would cost. But once we segmented all of our cases based on the issues and where they were resolved — whether it was at a pretrial or after a trial or somewhere along the way — we realized that those similar cases were literally within hundreds of dollars of each other. And so it wasn’t true that we couldn’t predict what it was going to cost. And that gave us the confidence to be able to move forward.
CJ: We also believed that this was a better experience for the clients and it aligned our firm’s interests with those of our clients. Most clients are used to the consumer buying experience of being presented with a product or service and a corresponding price and then making a consumer decision. It’s very foreign to be told you will find out the price after the service is complete. We felt like if we could find a way to do it differently, we would be much more aligned with the public’s experience. And we found that people really weren’t asking for explanations because this is the experience they’ve always had.
SF: One of the other things that you guys have done is introducing a concept that quite frankly I think I’ve only come across maybe once before in the last 20 years: having a life coach work with your clients. I hear from divorce attorneys all the time that they feel like they’re a really expensive psychologist. But you guys have taken a very different path. And I’d like you to talk a little bit about how that came about and how you actually utilized a life coach to work with these clients.
CJ: I would say how it came about was that we, as business owners, signed on to coaching personally. And so we valued it and we found that there are a lot of ways that our clients would benefit from having somebody work with them and sort of challenge what they’re placing as priorities and help them think about what their true priorities are and how that will affect their decision-making during the divorce.
ET: We challenged ourselves to try to figure out how we could take a very terrible thing that people are going through and instead offer them a transformative experience by working with our law firm. It’s not just that you’ll be okay on the other end because we’ve made sure that your property settlement is fair and your parenting time arrangement is good, but that you have had kind of a springboard into the next part of life so that you’ll be successful long term. And that kind of more holistic approach to helping people has definitely been really important to our success.
Johnson Turner’s journey to managing a fast-growing law firm started with one key step: attending a Rainmaker Retreat. Join us in 2020 at one of these upcoming Rainmaker Retreats to chart a new course for your law firm. Click on the link below to access our free webinar that spells out exactly what you will learn there.