Have you heard? We released a new edition of our book! Our goal has always been to help lawyers better manage their firms. Now we have new strategies and stories to help in that journey.
Today Jennifer sits down with co-authors of The Small Firm Roadmap Revisited, Aaron & Stephanie. They dive into the reframing they have done since writing the first edition and the major differences in our new book.
If today's podcast resonates with you and you haven't read The Small Firm Roadmap Revisited yet, get the first chapter right now for free! Looking for help beyond the book? Check out our coaching community to see if it's right for you.
- . Why a new book?
- . Healthy framework.
- . Owners vs. Partner.
- . Advice to hopeful authors.
Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to the Lawyerist Podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice. In today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market, Lawyerist supports attorneys building, client-centered and future-oriented small law firms through community content and coaching, both online and through the Lawyerist Lab. And now from the team that brought you the small firm roadmap and your podcast hosts.
Jennifer Whigham (00:35):
Hi, I’m Jennifer Whigham.
Ashley Steckler (00:36):
And I’m Ashley Steckler. And this is episode 433 of the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today, Jennifer interviews authors of our new book, the Small Firm Roadmap Revisited, Aaron and Stephanie,
Jennifer Whigham (00:50):
And that’s me. Jennifer. Today’s podcast is brought to you by Posh Virtual Receptionists, Clio, & Gavel, we would not be able to do this show with author support. Please stay tuned. We’ll tell you more about them later on. So in this interview I had with Aaron and Stephanie, we are talking about something pretty exciting, which is that our new version of the Small Firm Roadmap, which we have called the Small Firm Roadmap Revisited, is out and you can buy it. And that’s exciting.
Ashley Steckler (01:22):
It’s very exciting. Yeah. Long process. Yes. Almost everyone on the team was involved, right? Yeah. We’re all hands on deck. There’s all sorts of things to do when you produce a new book. Yeah, it’s massively revised. And so it went through the full stage of all the things that we needed to accomplish. And so it’s really exciting for our team that we’re here now
Jennifer Whigham (01:47):
That we’re at the end of it. But it’s kind of fun. I, when just feels sort of old school when everybody can help out with a big project and we have it at the end and just know that all of our little fingerprints are all over it and it just makes it feel like this warm, fuzzy team.
Ashley Steckler (02:03):
Jennifer Whigham (02:04):
Oh, it was kind of fun.
Ashley Steckler (02:06):
Our team is so massively talented that we can just say, can you do this? And we know that it’s in really good hands of the other person and yeah, everyone, it’s a team effort and everyone was involved. It’s a great revision. And
Jennifer Whigham (02:22):
So it’s That’s
Ashley Steckler (02:22):
Good. We’re all really excited
Jennifer Whigham (02:24):
And I’m going to take a one minute derail about our team, about how great our team is. Did you know that last week I had to solve this thing where I had to find mini cheesecakes at the last minute, and I brought it to, we have our Taco Thursday, which is just our social hour where we just catch up with each other and hang out, play games, whatever. And I just casually mentioned this problem and then within three minutes everybody had solved it for me. And that is our team. They’ve the brain power and the systems and the strategy that just goes into fun things like trying to find me these cheesecakes for my sister-in-law’s wedding shower. It just gave me chills. I’m like, wow. Even on the silliest level, we are just dynamite.
Ashley Steckler (03:13):
We bring it to all applications,
Jennifer Whigham (03:15):
Cheesecakes and books. And this is not about cheesecakes, it’s kind of about books. But we will be at ABA Tech Show in Chicago the first week of March.
Ashley Steckler (03:28):
We will be coming up soon.
Jennifer Whigham (03:30):
It is coming up soon. And so we will have some of our Lawyerist team members there. So if you see us around, I’m guessing we’ll probably be wearing some Lawyerist. We typically do absolutely can’t guarantee it, but just go to our about page, memorize our faces right now, find us and say hi. But we will also be signing books or Stephanie and Aaron will be signing books at various different booths around tech shows. So if you want to get an autograph or just come talk to the authors, this is your chance to do that. So I think that’ll be another little fun element. And I know Stephanie and Aaron always feel kind of famous when they do that as you would
Ashley Steckler (04:09):
Yeah, they are famous.
Jennifer Whigham (04:11):
Yeah, they are famous. We’re all famous. I think the whole world is famous in our own, I have no idea what that means. But anyways, I’ll be a tech show. Ashley won’t be a tech show, but if you want to say hi to her, just let me know. I’ll text her. We’ll take a selfie together and we’ll send it to Ashley. But the main things to leave this intro with are buy the book, the small firm roadmap revisited wherever you buy books and come say hi to us at Tech Show in Chicago. We love when people say hi. Don’t be afraid to come up and we will see you there.
Ashley Steckler (04:44):
Yeah. Awesome. Now here’s Jennifer’s conversation with Aaron and Stephanie.
Stephanie Everett (04:52):
Hey everyone, it’s Stephanie Everett.
Aaron Street (04:55):
And I’m Aaron Street. We are the co-authors of The Small Firm Roadmap Revisited.
Jennifer Whigham (05:04):
Woo-hoo. Welcome. You two. And I’m Jennifer, and I’m interviewing you both about the brand new addition of the book, which at Lawyerist we always just call the book, but I don’t think everybody in the audience knows what we mean when we say the book. So Stephanie, maybe in just a few sentences, tell us about the original small firm roadmap and what’s the deal with it?
Stephanie Everett (05:29):
Sure. We wanted to write a book that really captured our ideas on what it would look like to build and run a successful future focused client-centered law firm.
Jennifer Whigham (05:43):
And that was in 2019 that came out.
Stephanie Everett (05:46):
It launched in the fall of 2019. And so it was time to take a little bit of a fresh look at things.
Jennifer Whigham (05:53):
And so you have rewritten it and we’ll talk in a moment about what the differences are. But one thing I wanted to address upfront is the first edition was a little prescient because it came out in 2019, but you talked a lot about remote work and being prepared for changes and then Covid hit. So that was kind of interesting. Was that what you were thinking when you originally wrote the book?
Stephanie Everett (06:18):
Yes. We both sat here and said, I know what’s about to happen. We’re going to have a global pandemic that will shut the world down. Knew it. I knew it.
Aaron Street (06:26):
We definitely saw the future,
Jennifer Whigham (06:28):
But you did in a way because you set up the book in a way that prepared Lawyerist to have a remote workplace so they would be able to work where they’re a disaster. So that was kind of interesting.
Stephanie Everett (06:41):
I think it’s fair to say, so if you haven’t read the first edition of the book, we predicted that there were changes coming in the world that would somehow impact small firms, and we didn’t get the predictions and that the things we said were going to cause changes weren’t the things that caused the change. It was the pandemic, but the results ended up being true. So for example, we said imagine a world where climate change changes the way you work and maybe you can no longer get to your office because one winter Minnesota had a really cold winter and half of our team couldn’t go to work for over 30 days in the office. But luckily it didn’t impact us because we were able to work remotely. So I think we got to the results the right way, we just didn’t quite get there the way we all thought we would.
Jennifer Whigham (07:29):
But I think it lends some credence to how you think about the future. And so we’re thinking about this new version of the book, why have a new version anyway, if you’re obviously psychic and you all put it in the original version?
Aaron Street (07:44):
It isn’t that the original book predicted the future, it’s that we recognize that there were any number of trends going on in the world that in one way or another were likely to lead to some disruption to the small firm legal industry. And that we also saw some trends around technology flexibility, remote work that we thought small firm Lawyerist should get familiar with, not because Covid was coming, but because they were better practices for managing a team and managing a firm. And in the last three years, our thinking on all of those things has continued to evolve both as the underlying trends have evolved that were post covid, where lots of things have changed in the last three years, but also that we keep learning through our work with members of Lawyerist Lab. And so there were both some trendline changes we needed to update in the book.
It seemed weird to have a book talking about disruption before Covid when we all have lived through it, and therefore we, we needed to update some things so that we could acknowledge the things that had happened even though they didn’t really change the message underlying the recommendations we make for small firms. But also that we’ve reframed a bunch of the recommendations around some new branding that Lawyerist has had and some learnings we’ve had in the last three years working with lawyers, which include the framing we’ve been using for the last couple of years around the model for building a healthy law firm, which is certainly all stuff we thought three years ago, but it wasn’t language we were using back then and we wanted to make sure that the book was updated to reflect the ways we’re talking about and thinking about law practice in 2023 and beyond.
Jennifer Whigham (09:41):
Yeah. So Stephanie, tell me a little bit more about this healthy framework and what does that mean? What does it mean to be a healthy owner with healthy clients, et cetera? What do you talk about in the book?
Stephanie Everett (09:53):
I mean, we really talk about this in all of our work, and our listeners have heard it in our show already, is that we’re really focused on how do we build a healthier small firm that’s not just bigger or more profitable or automated, but really a place that’s supportive of balance and growth for our clients and our employees and the owners, which is a big piece of this. And so our new healthy framework really takes all these concepts and presents it in a way that’s maybe easier to follow in graphs and that we think about a healthy firm really is components of having healthy strategy, team, clients, profits, systems, and then finally owners.
Jennifer Whigham (10:37):
And I think sometimes when people hear healthy these days, they think kind of the self care trend or something like that. But you’re thinking something beyond that, if I’m correct in what I read.
Stephanie Everett (10:47):
Yeah, I mean for sure. It’s not just about your physical health and emotional health, but it is what does it mean to have a healthy business? And so for example, we talk about healthy profits, not just revenue, which is what a lot of firms focus on, but what does it actually look like to have a profitable firm and what does it look like to have a team that you’re using values to attract the right team members and then train them and continue to offer them professional development? So we use this term healthy in a much broader sense, and it applies to all the work that we do.
Jennifer Whigham (11:24):
And what I think is so interesting as I read through it is not everybody considers healthy combined with things like healthy profits. You really do the full gamut of every part of your business. And I thought that was really interesting that you did that.
Stephanie Everett (11:40):
Thank you. <laugh>.
Jennifer Whigham (11:42):
Take a break and then when we come back, I want to talk about a little more of a controversial possibly element that you’ve added into this new book.
Zack Glaser (11:55):
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Jennifer Whigham (14:29):
And we’re back. So as I was reading through this book as I did, there was something in there that I think, I don’t know what people will think about it, but it was something I had not read before and it was this idea of owners versus partners and managers. And Aaron, can you tell me a little bit about what that is and why it might be controversial? Maybe it’s not
Aaron Street (14:52):
Sure. I think there are a couple of different concepts that we are trying to tease out in the book, not for the purposes of creating controversy, but mostly for the purposes of creating clarity in the language we use around managing law firms. And some of them we addressed in the first book and some were doing more work now to tease out. One is around making sure that lawyers know the different hats they wear in the work they do in their firm. It’s especially true in solo practices or firms with fewer support staff or fewer attorneys where lawyers are frequently wearing the hat of legal practitioner, sometimes marketer, sometimes firm administrator or office manager, sometimes finance sometimes in an entrepreneurial strategic role. And too often when we don’t delineate these different hats we’re wearing at work, we don’t understand the investments that each take the differences between them, whether we are the right person to be doing all of them, whether our attention is best focused on the work we are meant to do in the firm.
And if we aren’t, we risk burnout when we’re spending too much of our time and energy on the things that aren’t what we individually are meant to be doing in the firm. And so that can play out in ways of lawyers who really want to just practice law with their heads down, but are getting stretched into having to do firm administration work or to worry about finances and profits when those aren’t things they want to be thinking about. And we think it’s really important to delineate those things. Similarly in kind of the language we use to talk about law firms for hundreds of years, almost every law firm in the world has thought about its distinctions as associates, partners and everybody else who are usually just referred to as a group, as non-lawyers. And we think it’s really important to be really clear about what those all mean and to potentially update some of our language there too.
In part, we’re advocating that the word partner is a disservice to clear thinking about how a law firm should best be structured and managed, which isn’t to say that we are trying to word police people and make them not use the word, but too often partnership is thought of as a career path where senior employees, senior lawyers in a firm get to become partner as a seniority promotion, which is distinct from what a business partnership owner represents. And that owners of businesses have to wear hats of strategic governance, of taking risk as entrepreneurs of investing in future profit for business. And those are potentially topics that skilled senior lawyers actually don’t need to have as part of their career path, or at least they don’t necessarily need to. And similarly, just because someone has made partner does not make them a great entrepreneur who has clear thinking about them, risking taking risks in anticipation of future returns in this business that they’re now owners in. And so we get into it way more in depth in the book, but that’s the general concept.
Stephanie Everett (18:46):
Yeah, one of my favorite lines in the book is that making partner isn’t a job promotion, it’s a business transaction. And I think just that simple change in the way we think about what’s happening sets up our owners, that’s what we’re going to call them and not the partners to start thinking about their business differently.
Jennifer Whigham (19:07):
And how do you think, so say firms of the future make this change. What does that look like?
Stephanie Everett (19:13):
A lot of things, I think, but for one, I think you get better decision making at all levels because now it’s going to be really clear what type of decisions should be made and who’s making them, right? So one of the things we see happen a lot in small firms, but honestly midsize firm firms of all sizes run into a trap where we see management committees, partnership committees where because I am a quote partner or because I have an ownership interest in the firm, I think I have a right to make a lot of decisions.
And we see one of the examples in the book is that I’ve sat in a room with 14 partners trying to decide what health insurance options they were going to pick, which deductibles should they have and offer to their team. And yeah, it’s laughable when people hear it out loud and yet we can point to so many examples. Everyone I know has a whole list of examples of where groups of people are trying to make decisions and we know that that’s not best business practices for how you want to run a business.
Jennifer Whigham (20:18):
Switching gears a little bit, but on the same subject as working together, what was it like revising this book together? What was the experience looking back on what you wrote three years ago and figuring out what needed to go in for a 2023 edition?
Aaron Street (20:35):
I think from both a process perspective and a content perspective, though, there were lots of challenging moments and it definitely wasn’t easy. It was exponentially smoother the second time around, not just because we were working from an existing draft, which certainly helped, but mostly because we have been so deliberate in the last three years about refining our existing thinking and teaching on this, that we already knew what language we were using to talk about some of these subtle shifts in these concepts that are different between the two editions of the book. Whereas in the first edition of the book, we had to invent every single thing that was in it, and certainly some of the concepts in it were things Lawyerist had been doing before any book had been written. But for the most part, that first book was the original manifesto on all of this stuff, and it was more or less invented from scratch. And here we weren’t just adapting an existing book, but we were also incorporating stuff we were already doing and thinking, and that made it a lot easier. And we also had fewer authors at play in this one. The first book had four co-authors, which meant for logistically a little more complication, whereas here Stephanie and I were able to go back and forth pretty quickly and seamlessly on most of the things we needed to update.
Jennifer Whigham (22:10):
Was that your experience, Stephanie?
Stephanie Everett (22:11):
Oh, for sure. Aaron and I work really well together. He has a way of taking my concepts and making them sound really great, or he also has a way of asking me the right questions to get those concepts out of me. So I always love collaborating with him. I also am really proud of this work because it isn’t just a, let’s fix a few sentences and call it a revision. I think anybody who read the first book will still get a lot out of, while they’ll see similar themes for sure, it’s not going to feel like a complete departure. This really is the next step in our evolution of how we’re thinking about things. We bring in lots of new stories and examples from lawyers that we’re working with who are using these concepts every day and seeing success in their firm. So I’m just, I’m really proud that we were able to take what we had originally done and really take it and improve upon it.
Aaron Street (23:04):
Yeah, I think there’s probably the temptation in doing a second edition of a book to just do a find and replace for anything that said 2019. And we certainly did also try to do that kind of work, but I haven’t done an analysis, but I would guess that the second book is probably in the range of 50% new or different content. It isn’t 5% different. For sure.
Jennifer Whigham (23:31):
And just to kind of end this on a teaching note, because we like to do that here, we have, I know in our Lawyerist lab program, several people who are wanting to write books or interested in writing books. Stephanie, do you have just one or two tips you could give some lawyers who are thinking about writing a book on their expertise?
Stephanie Everett (23:50):
Yeah, I mean, the biggest tip I give everyone when they ask me is to transcribe. I think a lot of us get stuck thinking about sitting down and writing a book and then you open up a blank word document. Seems pretty daunting for most people yet in conversation. When I ask lawyers, what do you want to write about? Tell me more about that concept. They’re able to just talk about it. And maybe part of that is that’s what we have to do, right?
We’re used to being on our feet, performing for our clients and discussing these ideas and making arguments to judges. So the biggest step I have is to get out your favorite recording device. Luckily, our phones all have that capability these days and just talk out loud, talk about these concepts. I used to practice my oral arguments driving around town, so I always felt like I looked like a weirdo when I was driving because I was probably getting very animated, sitting at a stoplight. But go for a walk or do what you need to do and have these conversations with yourself. Just do it recorded and then get that transcribed using any number of services that you can do that are really cost effective, even an AI transcription service. Then you’re starting from a draft with words on paper, which is much easier to work from in that blank document.
Jennifer Whigham (25:05):
Oh, that’s a great idea. And so the book is available now. Get it anywhere you get a book. And there’s also an audiobook version coming if it’s not out already. And I wonder who reads that version? Does anybody on this interview know?
Stephanie Everett (25:20):
Oh yeah, you get to hear me, I suppose. Yeah, stumbled through some words that apparently I don’t know how to stay in real life.
Jennifer Whigham (25:28):
But I think that’s cool because you will hear, feel like you are telling us these stories that are your stories, and so I think that’s a little added treat. If anybody out there listens to audiobooks, you might want to get both just to have the Stephanie Everett experience in your ear.
Aaron Street (25:43):
I did really like the woman we chose to narrate the first edition of the book back in 2019 in that when we were casting for voice artists, we all described her as being the Martha Stewart voice of the different people we were testing out in different personas. We were testing out as who should be the narrator of the first book. So we had the Martha Stewart reader, but I think this will, especially because Stephanie is someone we all know, I think this will be a huge improvement over the Martha Stewart <laugh> audio book.
Stephanie Everett (26:21):
It’ll be different. Yeah, it’s fun. It’s challenging. I will say it’s a part of the resume I never thought I’d get to check off, and so that’s audiobook there. Yeah, it’s a challenge but exciting. It’s also probably worth reminding everyone, if you want to read the forword and the first chapter of the book, you can do so on our site at lawyerist.com/book.
Jennifer Whigham (26:42):
And you can also get nominated for an audio book. This is about your reading <laugh> Audio book reader award, the Audis, Stephanie. So we will be looking for your nomination there. Pick up the book. It was great to talk to you both in this interview setting as opposed to just in a regular work setting. I’ll always like to make a difference. And thanks for listening.
Speaker 1 (27:07):
The Lawyerist Podcast is edited by Britany Felix. Are you ready to implement the ideas we discuss here into your practice? Wondering what to do next? Here are your first two steps. First. If you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap yet, grab the first chapter for free at Lawyerist.com/book. Looking for help beyond the book? Let’s chat about whether our coaching communities, are right for you. Head to Lawyerist.com/community/lab to schedule a 10-minute call with our team to learn more. The views expressed by the participants are their own and are not endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said in this podcast is legal advice for you.
Last updated February 28th, 2023