In this episode, Douglas Sorocco explains why his law firm built a free public event space next door, and why it wound up being a good investment. Before or after you listen, you should watch this video to see how the space gets used:
Doug is an Oklahoma intellectual property lawyer, focused on biotechnology, life sciences, chemistry, and chemical engineering. He’s also an adjunct faculty member at the Oklahoma City University School of Law
Listen and Subscribe
To listen to the podcast, just scroll up and hit the play button (or click the link to this post if you are reading this by email).
To make sure you don’t miss an episode of the Lawyerist Podcast, subscribe now in iTunes, Stitcher, or any other podcast player. Or find out about new episodes by subscribing to the Lawyerist Insider, our email newsletter. We will announce new episodes in the Insider, and you can listen to them right here on Lawyerist.
Voiceover: Welcome to the Lawyerist Podcast with Sam Glover and Aaron Street. Each week, Lawyerist brings you advice and interviews to help you build a more successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. And now, here are Sam and Aaron.
Sam Glover: Hi, I’m Sam Glover.
Aaron Street: And I’m Aaron Street, and this is Episode 116 of the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today we’re talking with Doug Sorocco about the return on investment of giving things away, a free to the public event space in Doug’s case.
Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Spotlight Branding, which wants you to know that having a new website designed for your law firm doesn’t have to suck. Spotlight Branding prides itself on great communication, meeting deadlines, and getting results. Text the word “website” to 66866 in order to receive a free website appraisal worksheet.
Aaron Street: Today’s podcast is sponsored by FreshBooks, which is ridiculously easy to use and packed with powerful features. Try it now at freshbooks.com/lawyerist and enter “lawyerist” in the “how did you hear about us” section.
Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is also sponsored by Ruby Receptionists and its smart, charming receptionists who are perfect for small firms. Visit callruby.com/lawyerist to get a risk-free trial with Ruby. So today, Aaron, we have a question from a listener.
Aaron Street: Yay.
Sam Glover: Alex [inaudible] wants to know how to say no to a client. He’s asking about a client, and let’s say you’ve decided that they’re difficult, but it wasn’t because they didn’t pay their bills. They paid their bills, they got things to you on time, but for whatever reason you don’t want to deal with them again. You’ve told yourself you won’t, but then they come back, and they ask you to do more work for them. He’s wondering, what’s a way that you can say no, and how, without ruining that relationship? Thoughts?
Aaron Street: I think you and I both have personalities where saying no is not particularly difficult for us.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Aaron Street: And I can appreciate that for a lot of people, probably better people than we are, that saying no to people is hard. I think putting myself in those shoes, it depends a little bit on your particular personality and your practice profile and who this client is and ongoing relationship stuff, but I think generally the answer is keep it as simple as possible of, “Actually I’m not able to take this case right now, but I’m happy to find someone to refer it to,” and send them to someone you think will take it and do a good job for them.
Sam Glover: Yeah. I mean I want to suggest strategies like, you know, you can sit down with them and explain that it didn’t work out for you very well and it felt like you guys didn’t work well together, but I think when you do something like that, when you try to explain it too much, you’re just opening the door to being persuaded to take on that client again.
Aaron Street: Right. Then it’s just them trying to negotiate your objections away rather than it just being done.
Sam Glover: Yup. “I just don’t have the time to take your case right now,” or, “It’s just not a good fit for me to do this work, and I’d be happy to send you to somebody else, and I’ll make sure they have all the background information they need to make these revisions.”
Aaron Street: Yup. “I’m not able to do this right now.” You don’t even need an actual reason. “I’m not able to.”
Sam Glover: I have noticed that saying no is difficult for a lot of lawyers, and saying yes can offer opportunities. We talked to Andy Haugen a little while back about how he likes to say yes, and it led to some really great opportunities for his practice, but I also feel like saying no is one of the most important skills that a lawyer, anybody in business, but a lawyer can have.
Aaron Street: I think they aren’t even a little bit contradictory concepts. I think the idea is, say yes to things that create upside opportunities. Be open to things that create new, big opportunities for you, like Andy saying yes to buying someone else’s practice. Say no to stuff that you know is holding you back that you hate, so that you have the time to say yes to the big new opportunities.
Sam Glover: Say no to literally everything outside of what you’re focused on doing, and growing, and being successful.
Aaron Street: Yup.
Sam Glover: And it’s even little things like I have noticed so many lawyers have a hard time getting paid because the client says, “Well, would you take a payment plan?” No! “No, I don’t take payment plans. I have a policy at my firm and I can’t violate that policy.”
Aaron Street: Sure.
Sam Glover: I mean you just decide ahead of time and don’t let yourself get talked into things because, no, you don’t do it.
Aaron Street: I think the only caution I would have on that is sometimes growing a business is hard work that’s not fun and you have to roll up your sleeves and just do it.
Sam Glover: Well, yeah.
Aaron Street: And that’s different than working with toxic people or people who are holding you back from doing what you need to do, but if you don’t like asking for money or don’t like being on the phone, you don’t get to just have “it’s uncomfortable for me” be the excuse for you to just do what you love. You’re not going to grow your business that way. But surrounding yourself with people who are holding you back, say no to that.
Sam Glover: I’m going to segue now, you ready for this?
Aaron Street: Let’s do it.
Sam Glover: Lots of lawyers say no to just about any opportunity to give things away for free.
Aaron Street: Ooh, I like where this is going.
Sam Glover: And I love saying yes to giving things away for free, and I think today’s podcast…and one of the reasons I’m excited about it is because Doug didn’t just give away a little thing for free, his firm built an entire event space and then gives it away for free constantly. Let’s hear that interview and talk about why that is actually a terrific business idea.
Aaron Street: What a segue.
Sam Glover: Hey, this is Sam again. Real quick, I didn’t get my recording turned on for this podcast, and so the recording comes from Doug who was awesome enough to record it. Our audio engineer who edits every episode and makes things sound as good as they do has done his best with it, but the quality might be a little bit lower than you’re used to. So just a heads up, and I think it’s a great interview, so I hope you’re able to get through that and listen anyway and enjoy it. Here’s the interview.
Doug Sorocco: Hi, this is Doug Sorocco. I am an intellectual property attorney in Oklahoma City by day, and by evening I’m a crusading do-gooder.
Sam Glover: Doug, I’ve always wondered about lawyers who describe themselves as attorneys versus lawyers. Is that a conscious choice for you?
Doug Sorocco: No, not really. I think I kind of go back and forth between attorney and lawyer, however it feels in the particular sentence.
Sam Glover: I think maybe technically there is a distinction, but I’ve always just wondered how people choose.
Doug Sorocco: You know, it’s kind of whatever feels in the moment. It’s kind of like dashes or em dashes or commas; I typically don’t stand on grammar very well.
Sam Glover: So, random digression. Doug, tell us about your practice. How big is the firm you work at, and what does your day-to-day look like?
Doug Sorocco: Sure. My day-to-day doesn’t have a typical day-to-day. I think most attorneys understand that kind of concept. Our firm, Dunlap Codding, down here in Oklahoma City, we have an office up in Chicago and then some satellites out on the East Coast and down in Austin. We’re about 20 attorneys or so, a couple of technical people with PhDs, high level.
Sam Glover: How many staff?
Doug Sorocco: Staff is about 20.
Sam Glover: Oh, wow.
Doug Sorocco: We’re pretty heavy, one-to-one staffing, and that’s including paralegals, legal assistants, back office, things of that nature. It just usually…we seem to have a caseload that requires a lot of assistant-type help or paralegal-type help.
Sam Glover: And what kind of companies do you work with?
Doug Sorocco: You know, we’re a bit schizophrenic that way. We either are working with very small startups or artists or creators and other types of makers, or on the other end of the spectrum we work with a lot of international or multinational types of companies of home and medical devices and pharmaceutical devices that we’ve all probably heard of.
Sam Glover: Are there many individual people just out there inventing things anymore?
Doug Sorocco: Yeah, there is. Every day, that’s what keeps my life interesting, I should say, is those kind of cold, random calls or emails that we get, and you just never know who’s going to come up with something. It could be the…we kind of jokingly say the pooper-scooper idea, the things that kind of bother you when you’re out and about in your day is the fodder for inventions. You can see that. We see a lot of high-technology, young folks that are into coding or other kind of app development type stuff that’ll come in, and then you’ll just see folks who are looking at maybe jumping out of their day job in engineering or something of that nature, and they have an idea that they want to play with.
Sam Glover: How often are their ideas stuff where you’re just like, “Yeah, that’s already been invented.”
Doug Sorocco: Hmm. Maybe 20%, 30% of the time. I hate to be the buzz-killer. People come in with these great ideas, and they’re very excited, and they’ve probably watched an episode or two of Shark Tank. We’ll go out and look for something and see because we want to…If it already has been invented, we don’t want to waste their money on a patent or some other types of protection, so we go out and look. A lot of times it won’t be exact, but we’ll find something that’s close, and really the good people who I would consider the inventors, the innovators, the entrepreneurs, will look at what we bring back and use it to spur the next generation of the technology, let’s say.
Sam Glover: And are you a partner at the firm?
Doug Sorocco: Yes, I am a partner. I’m one of the four equity partners in the firm.
Sam Glover: So you must have 3, 4, 5 younger associates that are working, or junior associates, working with you?
Doug Sorocco: Yes, I do. We have probably about 15 I guess junior, younger associates, senior associates, it kind of runs the gambit. We tend to let people call themselves what they want to call themselves. We have a pretty flat hierarchy I would say internally, and it becomes usually more of an ego-driven thing or something that they need or feel that they desire to buttress their client development activities.
Sam Glover: So you expect everyone there to build their own client base?
Doug Sorocco: Not really. Typically, what we find is we’re a very entrepreneurial type of firm, so we attract people that enjoy that side of things, certainly being community-minded and involved in their client’s business, or the other types of things that are going on around the world, but we don’t really typically need somebody to develop a [inaudible] business coming in. We are an all-for-one-one-for-all type of firm, so we don’t do origination credits or anything like that. You’ve kind of got to by into the belief that it’s a community collaborative effort over an individualistic effort.
Sam Glover: Okay, so you said you don’t need to do a lot of client development. How does it happen then?
Doug Sorocco: How does it happen. Typically, for us it’s word of mouth. If you think about it, being an IP firm in Oklahoma City, mainly, we’re not really typically, I would say, be the first thing that people think of as a high-tech firm working with multinational kind of clients. What we’ve seen and my standard funny pitch is that the economic downturn was really good for us, other than the fact that I spent about 70 or 80% of my time on an airplane. We spend a lot of time talking to people, following up on introductions and word of mouth of people saying, “Hey, we need to decrease our overall legal spend, how can we do that?” People are willing to look from the coasts and overseas beyond just the New York, the LA, Chicagos, to look more internally into these, what I would say, second-tier markets to help decrease some of their costs.
Sam Glover: Why so much time on airplanes?
Doug Sorocco: We still believe, or at least I do personally, that law is a relationship-driven business. We have always taken the position with our clients that it shouldn’t cost the client for where we decide to live. If we have a client in Philadelphia, we want them to feel like we’re in Philadelphia, or if it happens to be over in Europe or someplace else. And so we spend a lot of time visiting and spending time and really getting to know our client’s business, either on our dime, and then certainly not charging for travel and those types of costs.
Sam Glover: Do you have kids?
Doug Sorocco: I do. I have two younger kids.
Sam Glover: How old are they?
Doug Sorocco: My son is 11 and my daughter is 4 and three-quarters, and she’s very, very insistent on that three-quarters.
Sam Glover: That’s awesome. How do you juggle that travel with being a dad? How does that work out?
Doug Sorocco: You know, it’s really tough, and my wife is a clinical psychologist so both of us have pretty busy days.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Doug Sorocco: Fortunately we were very lucky to have kids that are very flexible, very easygoing, and what we do is we just split up the duties, and really we’ve kind of made an agreement that, yeah, I may have to travel two of three days during the week, but where I’m going to make it power-packed. I’m not going out for a meeting on Tuesday, coming back, going out for another meeting on Wednesday. It may be where it’s just I’ll overnight Tuesday into Wednesday and I’ll try and pack six or seven meetings, so I’m home at least two or three days a week. That’s a little bit harder, but then I make a rule that I’m home every weekend.
Sam Glover: Oh, nice. My wife is also a lawyer and she has probably the more harder job than I do. We’ve been having a spring where I’m gone for a few days and then I’m back for a couple days and then she’s gone for a few days and then…It’s just…I’m always kind of curious about how families work that out when somebody’s traveling a lot or both are traveling a lot. It’s kind of just hard to find those quiet days when you get to relax and be a family together.
Doug Sorocco: Well, it’s funny because I just came back from a lunch and they said, “So what exciting things have you been doing in the evenings?” And I said, “Well, really when I get home, both my wife and I, it’s very exciting for us to be in bed at nine o’clock or have pajamas on sitting on the couch.”
Sam Glover: Totally.
Doug Sorocco: Those are our exciting times.
Sam Glover: So, Doug, you came to TBD 2, our second meeting of TBD Law, and we learned that your firm had done something really freaking cool, and so that’s why I wanted to talk to you. Not that I’m not interested in all the other stuff about you, but…Say what it is first.
Doug Sorocco: It’s cool. I usually refer to it as crazy or nutty, or I should say other lawyers sometimes will say it’s crazy or nutty. We basically…We moved into…We bought a building, an old warehouse, back in 2011, and converted it into our offices. It was in an area called Skid Row at the time. It’s kind of blossomed into an area with a lot of professional services companies and retail and commercial and stuff.
Sam Glover: Wait, it was actually called…I mean Skid Row is what you called like the shitty area of town where there were drunks in the gutters. That’s still what they call it?
Doug Sorocco: Well, not anymore. Now it’s gone back to its proper name of Film Row, which was the film exchange district where you, when back in the day, you’d come in and get all your movies and pick them up and take them out into the different rural areas.
Sam Glover: Gotcha.
Doug Sorocco: So we have still the largest standing collection of buildings from Warner Brothers and Paramount. Half of our building was a set building company and the other half was an ice company that would sell ice. When we were looking at it, it was Skid Row, so it was really where the bums, and like you said the shitty area of town. As part of that, and as part of our office build, we created about a 2,500/3,000 square foot event space, indoor and outdoor, that we allow anybody in the community to use pretty much for free.
Sam Glover: There’s a cool article about this that we’ll link in the show notes, but I’m trying to remember, you just were like, “Hey, we’re building out an office and we’ve got all this extra space, let’s just make into an event space and give it away.” That is kind of a crazy idea.
Doug Sorocco: It is a crazy idea. I like to put it that it all came together in one brilliant fashion, but it’s more of a serendipitous route. I’m kind of the person who believes you ask for forgiveness rather than permission, and I was the person in charge of the buildout for the building and doing all the designs. We bring in lunch for everybody in our office every day, and so we need a kitchen and lunchroom and everybody sits around a bunch of big tables. It’s kind of like a knights of the round table kind of thing. So we needed a kitchen.
The best place to put the kitchen, there was this giant, commercial garage head, overhead garage door. Well, why don’t we make that glass, like out in California where you have these restaurants that open up. Well, if you’re going to have a garage door with glass, you don’t really want to look out into a parking lot, so this area between two buildings, let’s turn into kind of a gardens. If we’re turning it into gardens, why don’t we have a stage, and then why don’t we have built-in seating. It kind of just snowballed from there.
As we’re going through this process, one of my partners, Nick Rouse, said, “Well, you know, we’re only going to use it maybe 0.003% of the time, right?” It’s Oklahoma. It’s windy, it’s hot. Hopefully everybody isn’t hanging out there all day, there’s actually some work being done, and so that gave the idea that, well, let’s just make it available to people who will use it and see what would happen. Oklahoma City is kind of going through this renaissance of rebuilding and investment, public/private investment, and so there’s really become a lot of attention focused on placemaking and community building. And so we thought, well, maybe we could have this little urban pocket garden and [inaudible] build a little bit of place around where we just happened to decide to put some roots.
Sam Glover: So you built a sweet space for concerts and events and then gave it away for free.
Doug Sorocco: And gave it away for free. Yes. My other partner, Mark Brockhaus, who’s more of our financial guy, still likes to tell me that we could be renting out those parking spaces for X amount of dollars each month. Although, after our first kind of concert, outdoor festival type thing that happened, and we had lots of people from the community obviously down in the space, he, after a few adult beverages, he did admit to me, he says he doesn’t remember admitting to me, that, “Okay, yeah, maybe this was a good idea.”
Sam Glover: I need to take a few minutes to hear from our sponsors, and when we come back, let’s keep talking about your crazy idea and why it might actually have been worth it on the balance books anyway.
Aaron Street: Spotlight Branding is an internet marketing company that doesn’t suck. Most solo and small firm lawyers have had at least one truly miserable experience with a web designer or internet marketing company. So if the idea of launching a new website for your law firm makes you queasy, they get it. Spotlight Branding prides itself on excellent communication with its clients, being responsive, professional, respectful, and delivering what it tells you it’s going to deliver. Spotlight Branding works exclusively with solo and small law firms. Services include law firm website design, email newsletter management, social media marketing, and more, all designed to make your law practice more profitable. And Spotlight Branding is currently offering a free gift to our listeners: simply text the word “website” to 66866 and receive their free website appraisal worksheet, an easy way to evaluate your web presence, identify what’s working, and spot opportunities to improve.
Sam Glover: So you’re racing against the clock to wrap up three client projects, prepping for a meeting later in the afternoon, all while trying to tackle a mountain of paperwork – welcome to modern life as a small firm lawyer. The working world has changed, with the growth of the internet, there has never been more opportunities for the self-employed. To meet this need, FreshBooks is excited to announce the launch of an all-new version of their cloud accounting software. It’s been redesigned from the ground up and custom built for exactly the way you work. Get ready for the simplest way to be more productive, organized, and most importantly, get paid quickly. The all new FreshBooks is not only ridiculously easy to use, it’s also packed full of powerful features: create and send professional looking invoices in less than 30 seconds, set up online payments with just a couple of clicks and get paid up to four days faster, see when your client has seen your invoice and put an end to the guessing games. FreshBooks is offering a 30-day, unrestricted, free trial to our listeners. To claim it, just go to freshbooks.com/lawyerist and enter “lawyerist” in the “how did you hear about us” section.
Aaron Street: This podcast is supported by Ruby Receptionists. As a matter of fact, Ruby answers our phones at Lawyerist, and my firm was a paying Ruby customer before that. Here’s what I love about Ruby. When I’m in the middle of something, I hate to be interrupted, so when the phone rings it annoys me, and that often carries over into the conversation I have after I pick up the phone, which is why I’m better off not answering my own phone. Instead, Ruby answers the phone, and if the person on the other end asks for me, a friendly, cheerful receptionist from Ruby calls me and asks if I want them to put the call through. It’s a buffer that gives me a minute to let go of my annoyance and be a better human being during the call. If you want to be a better human being on the phone, give Ruby a try. Go to callruby.com/lawyerist to sign up and Ruby will waive the $95 setup fee. If you aren’t happy with Ruby for any reason, you can get your money back during your first three weeks. I’m pretty sure you’ll stick around, but since there is no risk, you might as well try.
Sam Glover: Okay, we’re back. And, Doug, when I heard in small groups at TBD Law that you had done this, I was like, “Oh, I did something similar.” I mean much smaller, but similar. When I was representing tech startup companies, I told them all that they could use my conference room whenever they wanted to for board meetings, or for shareholder meetings, for investor meetings, whatever they wanted, with the idea that A) if they’re having their board meetings in my conference room, I can even be the secretary, and chances are as they’re talking about their business, I’m going to identify, “Hey, you need me to handle this thing. Hey, you need me to handle that thing,” and voila I’ve got more work to do, which is great. The other piece of it was, if they’re pitching to investors in my conference room, first I’ve got a cool office where it makes them looks good, so they might actually want to be there, and then I get to meet the investors, and meeting rich people who want to invest in companies is not a bad idea when you are trying to represent those companies.
So that was my small idea, and I’m not sure I did it long enough to do more than prove the concept, but I certainly got a lot of work out of it. I met some investors, and it wound up I think being totally worth giving that space away. I mean you’ve done this on a much larger scale, and you’re not really targeting your clients with this, you’re targeting the community. How do you gauge the … I mean you just said that one of your partners was like, “This is totally worth it,” but it sounds like that was worth it from a “we just did an awesome thing” perspective, can you also rationalize it as a business expense?
Doug Sorocco: You know, I think so. I go back … I believe the same way you did, I think it was David Maister in one of his podcasts or books or something said, “If you’re in the room, you get to help decide who gets to do the work.” The majority of our clients, probably 85% of our revenue in the firm, comes outside a 500-mile radius.
Sam Glover: So they’re not coming to your event space.
Doug Sorocco: So they’re not coming to our event space. Not a lot of our clients actually travel to Oklahoma City. It’s a little more frequent now if the Thunder are doing well, and in the playoffs we saw a few more people coming into town at that point, but for the most part they don’t. For us, it was more about developing and helping to develop a presence in the city that maybe we didn’t have. We’re a 60+-year-old firm and with the two senior people who are the name, Mr. Dunlap and Mr. Codding, kind of retiring-
Sam Glover: You know, I was wondering about that. I totally didn’t ask you about that. So they’re gone, their names are just still on the firm.
Doug Sorocco: They’re still on the firm. Yeah, Mr. Dunlap passed away a number of years ago and Mr. Codding has been retired for a number of years. Fortunately, the three of us who had the majority of the firm, or owned the firm at the time, decided that our egos didn’t need the name on the door.
Sam Glover: Gotcha.
Doug Sorocco: And so it was a lot easier not to reprint letterhead every time someone new came by.
Sam Glover: Awesome.
Doug Sorocco: But, you know, we’re a firm that isn’t a financial … We’re not [inaudible 00:25:48]. We reinvest in our people and don’t build up huge surpluses and stuff, and so for us to be able to make a difference in the community, we weren’t the big firm that could write $100,000 check to the ballet or the philharmonic, and so for us it became, what can we do that makes a difference? We talked to some of our clients, we talked to some of the quote “young people” that we knew and came through, and everybody said, “Well, we don’t have places to get together and do things.” That was one of the things that was kind of deemed missing in our city. There’s the coffee shops and bars and stuff like that, but not the just real creative places and they didn’t have as many coworking spots as in the old days.
Listening to that, that’s where a lot of this kind of percolated was, well, let’s have people come through. We’ve estimated for people that have asked that over the last four years we’ve had about 30, 35,000 people come through our offices, see our signage, see our materials, see our brochures. We have a 1950’s neon sign, kind of diner sign, as our signage on our building, kind of keeping with the area. The community has really gotten to know us, know who we are, know what we do, and so the amount of advertising I would say, or marketing, in our community as to what our values are, not necessarily what we do, or the excellence of what we do I guess I should say, is really what has shown through. As we’ve seen from maybe a younger demographic, the Millennial demographic, folks who are now getting in a position to drive legal spend in our local community, those ideas of community and placemaking and engagement are driving a lot of where a lot of their dollars are happening to go on the legal spend side.
Sam Glover: Interesting.
Doug Sorocco: So for us, our name’s in the paper three or four times a week. One of my little things I love is that other firms sponsor events, but the people are holding their events at our firm.
Sam Glover: Right.
Doug Sorocco: It may be the Alzheimer’s Association is having a benefit here, and then it’ll say “At Dunlap Codding,” so we’re on the primary bill. It kind of gets our name out there.
Sam Glover: Yeah. By the way, I’m just checking out your firm on Google Street View, and that is a totally badass law firm sign. Like, you guys have to check this out. I’ll try to put it in the show notes, but it literally looks like a diner sign. It’s full of neon; it’s beautiful.
Doug Sorocco: It’s funny, we had some clients that came in from Switzerland. They just happened to be in the US and they came in and they stopped in to talk to us about something, and they were walking down the street to find our office and they were like, “Well, we’ll just stop into this diner to ask where they happen to be.”
Sam Glover: And that happened to be it.
Doug Sorocco: Yeah, much to their surprise, it was the law firm. The goal was is to communicate who we were, what are firm values were, broader, and in a way that we could do it. For us, once we built the infrastructure, our overhead costs for making this available to the community, kind of like you with your conference room and stuff, these spaces are available.
Sam Glover: It’s built now.
Doug Sorocco: It’s there. My favorite kind of funny thing, or you know, is in the beginning … You know, we’ve got a coke machine where you go up, and fountain drink and everything. The question was, how do we police this so people aren’t using it crazily, and I said let’s just let everybody use it as much as they want for these events and then see what the extra cost was. It ended up being 40 bucks. For 40 extra dollars of syrup, everybody gets to make their own coke, and the kids that come in do suicides.
I’ve been speaking to a lot of partners that we’ve made around the country that are in placemaking, and if you think about it from even just five o’clock, eight o’clock in the morning, there’s 4, 5, 6,000 hours that all this space that we create in conference rooms and hallways and gardens or nice looking little grass areas outside buildings that just aren’t being used. The ability to take a couple of hours here or there and let people use the space … We’ve seen lots of new startups, lots of new community-minded projects in areas, things in the soft IP side of things, not just patents, but trademark, copyright, litigation types of matters that now when people think about those types of issues, the first thing that comes to mind is Dunlap Codding.
Sam Glover: Do you get tempted to expand beyond IP? I mean like I feel like with all these small businesses and locals coming through there, it would be awful tempting to start picking up small business law clients.
Doug Sorocco: You know, it would be. We live in kind of an ecosystem here of law firms that because we do only IP, we get a lot of referrals from general practice. And it’s always been a standing thing, standing principle for Mr. Codding, was you don’t poach. Be the best you can be or do the best that you can within the area that you do, and then hand off to the best people that are out there that are going to do the general practice or the corporate law or other types of financial matters. We’ve developed a real nice relationship back and forth with a lot of firms here in town, across the country frankly, where because we don’t poach, because they know we’re not interested in those types of areas, that we get those referrals.
Sam Glover: You know, I forget about the value of poach or don’t poach as in those relationships. That’s a main reason that people don’t like referring to big firms is because big firms poach even though they say they won’t because they do it all. Even if they don’t intend to, even if they have good intentions, sometimes their client will just go, “Oh, you know it’d be easier to just do it all here.”
Doug Sorocco: “It’s easy, I’m here, do you have somebody I can ask this question,” or you know.
Sam Glover: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Doug Sorocco: Even if you have the best intentions as being the person who’s received the referral, it can still happen.
Sam Glover: So if you were hearing from another firm that was wondering about this and wondering about how to get started, how would you tell them to think about this?
Doug Sorocco: Well, we did it backwards. We built the big thing and now we’re seeing our conference rooms used all the time, kind of like you were doing. I think that’s probably the better way to go about it, the smarter way to go about it. But just taking that place, and using that conference room let’s say, and letting the people use it to one, get together and have a place, but like you we see the young tech startups or the organizations that are bringing in the VC funding people, or who want to do a Skype, video conferencing, and look like they’re sitting in cool offices and being taken a little bit different, seriously, more seriously.
To just jump in and … I made some comments at an award ceremony the other day and I just said, “For us it’s really easy. We built it, we have it, we get to say yes to things.” People come to us and say we’d like to use it in a special way, and I get to say yes. That’s easy. We kind of took the non-lawyer approach, we don’t have a written contract that people sign, it’s just a handshake and here are two rules, or treat all our neighbors with respect and leave the place in a better state than you found it, and 99% of the time that works out. We didn’t want to make it feel that they were entering into a legal transaction with a bunch of lawyers and that we were trying to get something on them. Instead, we held them to the high ideals, looking for the best of people, and we’ve seen that people really live up to that standard.
Sam Glover: I’ve always had … When I started my practice, in Lawyerist, in life, and maybe this comes from my parents, I don’t know, but it’s this idea that you should just give things away for free without any expectation of getting anything back. And more often than not it will come back to you and you’ll profit from it, but if you try to give it away with that in mind, it probably won’t happen. That goes for everything like I’m going to give away these forms on my website because I can’t really justify charging for it, so why not? Give it away, see what happens. And the same goes for the conference room. I don’t know, why not? Give it away, let’s see what happens.
I realize that lawyers always want to say – lawyers, business people, many people – want to say, “Well, I’m giving away something of value, shouldn’t I be paid for that?” Well, maybe, but if it wasn’t hard to give it away, if it didn’t really cost you much to give it away, if you made somebody’s life a lot better than what it cost you, like your 40 bucks for syrups for soda, why not try just giving it away and see what happens? And that goes for your conference room or whatever.
Doug Sorocco: When we talk about ROI and how do we measure it, and we see the increase of local companies and things of that nature working with us, but it really becomes more of a, how would I say, I want to work with them. It’s no longer about us qualifying ourselves, we’re pre-qualified. If I walk into a room, people typically will know who we are and what we do to the extent like a very large firm has that kind of reputation because they’ve been around, whereas that’s not something that we could have bought or projected in a marketing/advertising way.
One of the things that we do is food trucks; we’ve partnered with food trucks, and they come down once a month on a Sunday. They’ll serve 350, 400 homeless folks out of the food trucks for free. We open up the space to them, we make it available. I know a person who saw some pictures from one of those, and what really struck them was the ability for these folks to be in a beautiful space, outdoors, sitting and relaxing, but how many of them were using our electrical outlets, and what it meant to be able to sit down, charge your phone, eat in kind of a dignified way. The kind of response we got when the people called us was that, “You’re the type of people we want to work with.” That was one of those things where there’s no marketing message that we could have put out there that would have turned these people on, so to speak, in a magazine or a newspaper like that image of making something, whatever, the couple cents of electrical that it cost us for that electricity, the impact that that had on someone’s life at that moment.
At the show beginning I said “crusading do-gooder by night”. That was given to me originally not as a compliment, but kind of trading on that and saying, well, how can we do some good? How can we do … The evil business kind of side, how do we use it for a little bit of marketing and self-promotion? I don’t think those things necessarily have to be at odds with one another.
Sam Glover: Yeah, and I suppose lots of lawyers try to be the first referral that their friends give out by word of mouth, or that their former clients do, but you may have actually cemented your place as a firm that people try to find excuses to refer people to because you’ve made a difference or you’ve done something good that has influenced them, and that’s even potentially more priceless.
Doug Sorocco: Yeah. You know, it’s funny that you put it that way. I had a call this morning, and it was an artist who had some contractual matters that they needed done. She said, “You know, I waited,” and I apologized because I’ve been traveling a bunch lately, and I apologized for not being able to speak to her sooner. She was like, “That’s okay, I was willing to wait to be able to get in and talk with you because I like what you do in our artistic community, and you’ve helped a lot of artists that I know kind of start their careers or given them a little bit of advice or given them a place to show their artwork.” And that’s been a big focus of what we do is just say, okay, what’s needed? If we can do it, great, give us the crazy idea.
A group came to us and said, “Well, will you let us put up a circus tent and have a Cirque du Soleil type of event using your space with aerialists and drag queens and all this?” We said, “Fine, sure.” We should have asked them what the name of it was, which was the Glitter Ball. We still find glitter … We’re on our third year of doing it, but we still find glitter everywhere, so it’s a bit sparkly around our office.
Sam Glover: But you’ve got two kids, it’s probably sparkly at home anyway.
Doug Sorocco: Yeah, yeah. Sparkly and markers on everything. But when we looked at that event, the people coming through it were the people who were the head of two of the major oil and gas companies in Oklahoma, the utility, newspaper, so people that maybe in the past we would have a hard to time getting in to even chat about.
Sam Glover: They came to you.
Doug Sorocco: They came to us, they were having a good time.
Sam Glover: Very cool.
Doug Sorocco: It’s kind of been a fun project.
Sam Glover: So sometimes do things just because they feel good, and it may turn out to have an ROI that you can put a number on after all.
Doug Sorocco: Yeah, I would agree.
Sam Glover: Doug, thanks so much for being with us today, and it was great to meet you at TBD Law. Good luck to you, and I hope you’ve got fun events planned for this weekend at the events space.
Doug Sorocco: There were 70 things planned in March, as I was told yesterday, that we’ve had, so it’s bound and determined to have something this weekend. Thanks, Sam, I appreciate it.
Aaron Street: Make sure to catch next week’s episode of the Lawyerist Podcast. If you’d like more information about today’s show, please visit lawyerist.com/podcast or legaltalknetwork.com. You can subscribe via iTunes or anywhere podcasts are found, both Lawyerist and the Legal Talk Network can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and you can download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play or iTunes.
Sam Glover: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own, and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by, Legal Talk Network. Nothing said during this podcast is legal advice.