How to Build a High-Velocity Firm: A Conversation with John Berry

In our latest legal webinar, Inc 5000 Attorney John Berry joins Crisp CEO Michael Mogill to break down his business strategy and offer insight into how he transformed his legacy law firm into a thriving business that has been nationally recognized for its high-velocity growth and success.

This interactive webinar covers:

  • The most common mistakes law firm owners face – and why it’s beneficial to experience them
  • Real-world examples of the positive impact a mindset shift can have on all aspects your law firm’s growth
  • Insight into the habits of success John implements to reach his firm’s goals year after year
  • Actionable insights and practical takeaways you can use to apply these same habits to set your law firm apart from the competition and become the obvious choice in your market

See the full conversation below:

Michael: What has your firm done differently that landed you guys on the Inc. 5000 list? I know it’s only maybe a handful, maybe 5-6 law firms out of 5,000 businesses that landed on there. What do you attribute that to?

John: I think it’s just a decision about how we wanted to operate. I think a lot of lawyers are miserable, right? We get caught up in the long hours and the cases and then the business is just a secondary thought. Then, it’s just one more thing to worry about. Part of it was the decision to take control of the direction the business was heading and not say, “Gee, we had a bad year this year because it was just a bad year.” Well no, we had a bad year because maybe we didn’t market right or maybe we didn’t have the right people or we had some leadership failures.

Part of it was making the conscious decision to affect the trajectory of our business. As a lawyer, I think, a lot of times, you get caught up in the cases, in the immediate problems without any vision towards the future. I just reached the point where I made the conscious decision that I would focus on those other areas and really learn how to better manage my time and use some of those leadership skills that I learned in the military.

Michael: I find that all things really start with the mindset. As I speak with more and more successful entrepreneurs like yourself, I find that the one thing that’s consistent across the board is the growth mindset. What are your thoughts on that?

John: Yes, absolutely. You have to have a team with a growth mindset. Right? The growth mindset– Carol Dweck wrote, “Growth or fixed mindset.” Of course, we hire people with a growth mindset. We know that in growing we’re going to fail, but we want to fail fast and fail smart and learn.

Having a growth mindset is not about whether you win or lose, it isn’t about validating yourself. Right?

It’s about how you handle the adversity, how you get stronger as an organization and as an individual.

In terms of mindset, I think a tough thing for lawyers is we look at this from the perspective of, “It’s all about me and I have to do this and I have to do that and then we get overwhelmed.” But the reality is that you have to have the mindset and you want to be around people that are smarter than you all the time.

The only time you should be the smartest person in the room is when you’re in the courtroom. Otherwise, you should have people who are smarter than you and you should rely on their opinions and advice.

I think the biggest mindset change for me was bringing in a team and really letting go of things, giving people the opportunity to fail. It’s hard to let go of the rope and say, “It’s all yours. Take it.” But once you do that, that frees up your time to work on some other things like the marketing or the infrastructure of your firm.

I think we look for leaders and I think that requires the biggest mindset change. Because it’s not all about you anymore, it’s about the team, it’s about the culture of your organization and finding people that fit. Believe me, we’ve made a lot of bad hiring decisions but we’ve learned from those and we’ve made some terrific decisions.

I think marketing, we’ve made great decisions and we’ve made horrible decisions, but going back to the mindset, the important thing is that we learn from all that and we’re willing to take risks and figure out how we can operate optimally and that’s going to require some testing.

Testing usually takes time, it takes patience and takes some failures. Learning from the failures, that’s the huge mindset part and just making the decision, that, “Okay, we’re going to focus on this, building out our organization the way we want it.” Not just getting bigger but getting better, building better leaders, building better lawyers, building a better staff, building better systems.

Michael: I agree 100%. How do you essentially vet or screen on the front end to ensure that someone’s in alignment with your values, values of the organization, that they do have that growth mindset. How do you know before you hire them?

John: Sure. That’s a great question that never has a good answer. Ideally, some of the best people we’ve hired have been people that we knew beforehand, and they weren’t looking for a job but it was one of those things where we saw an opportunity, we knew that they embodied our core values and we approached them and said, “Hey, I know you’re probably pretty comfortable right now, I know you’ve got something– you’ve got great opportunities where you are. But we’re interested and I want to talk to you about what we do and whether you’d be a good fit for our team.”

Having that candid conversation– and I’ll tell them, “Look, this is where I think we’re strong, this is where I think we’re weak. I think this is where you could help us,” and then really showing them the big picture, I think makes a difference because I think the worst mistake we make in hiring people sometimes is– I never want to be the first one to interview someone because I fall in love with all of them. Right? I want to, “Okay, great.” I like to hear from the team, I like to hear how this person treated the staff members in our firm or other things.

I try to look for past behaviors but, in the end, it’s always a gamble, it’s always a risk. I’ve hired some people that I thought were going to be tremendous and it just wasn’t the right fit for them. Then I’ve hired people that were awesome, an awesome fit for about six months, but as you grow as an organization, what happens is the person who was a perfect fit for you six months for that position, may not be a perfect fit anymore.

With growth, you have to find someone who has that growth mindset, is growth oriented, wants to learn, wants to get better and is willing to face challenges. Most importantly, they have to be willing to fail.

A lot of people with big egos generally don’t make it here because they aren’t willing to fail, they see the failure as, “Oh, that defines me.”

I think it’s tough to find those people that are going to be with your team for the long haul, but sometimes you have to realize that some people are only going to be on your team for maybe a couple years and they’re going to move on to bigger and better.

I’ve heard this from Richard James, “Every racehorse goes lame,” and I think, at some point, even I will go lame and I’ll have to step aside. Recognizing that has helped me find people to replace myself in different areas of the firm. It is tough to find the right people but you have to go and find people that are willing to learn, that are competitive. Also, you have to find people who understand that feedback is a gift and can work with the team and understand leadership principles but also are a fit in terms of your organization’s core values.

Michael: What are your thoughts on cultural fit? What are the things that you can teach them? What are the things that, when they come in, you can develop versus the things that are inherent?

John: Yes, one thing we try to teach is leadership skills, try to teach other core competencies but there are things, like an extreme ownership attitude, you can’t change.

There are going to be people that you hire on your team, they’re going to tell you that they’re going to be all in. They’re going to make a great show of what a great fit they are and how much they care. You’ll find that some of those people lack the ability to accept responsibility for what happens. Then they go around, they’re going to blame everybody else.

Then, when the failures come, they hide their failures. To me, I don’t think you can change that in someone. From my military experience, you’d be given soldiers, given officers and say, “Well, they’re in your unit.” If they’re good enough to be in the military, then it’s a leadership issue. You have to develop them. That held me back in the private sector for years. Now, the good thing is in a high growth, high velocity, quickly growing firm, a lot of the people that way are going to quit before they fail.

They’re not going to be able to deal with the pressure of, “Oh my gosh, I’ve made a mistake. I need to own up to it.” There are people that just can’t own up to mistakes. The great thing is when you move quickly and you’ve got a good team and a good culture, those people weed themselves out. A lot of times they quit. They’re frustrated because they just can’t adapt. The problem is you don’t really know who those people are until you start working with them. Sometimes, you can tell by their track record if they’re a job hopper, and they’ve had eight different jobs in five years, then they’re about having a job, not a career, or a higher purpose in life. That’s okay, but just not in our organization.

Michael: That’s one of the things that’s interesting because sometimes you don’t know. No matter how many challenges you put on the front-end, you don’t know until they’ve dealt with a certain level of adversity to see how they respond to this type of situation. Eventually, that leads me to my next question. How would your experience and your background in the armed forces influence your approach to building a team?

I know you guys work with a lot of veterans. You guys are also veterans yourselves. There’s a lot of leadership within the organization. How has that influenced your approach to building a team?

John: When I think back to when I was happiest, it was when I was a second lieutenant at Fort Hood. I was an infantry troop leader. I would show up every morning for PT– physical training — about 5:30 AM and then have a meeting with the commander and go out and do PT. My non-commissioned officers were already there getting ready, getting prepared. Every day that you show up and it just felt like I was just part of a championship team.

My first infantry platoon, I just love being around the NCOs, the soldiers. Everybody was there to help each other out. You never had to hide your mistakes because everybody knew about them. It’s not like they would hold it against you except for they’ll rib you about it, right.

You never wanted to let the team down because you felt bad or that you didn’t want them to make fun of you. No, that was a great influence. That’s what I want to replicate here at Berry Law Firm. I brought in a lot of veterans, a lot of people with military experience coming into the organization. “Hey, remember what it felt like when you were with that best platoon, or best company, or best squad, or best team you were with. How did that feel? That’s the way I want it to feel here. I want to make sure we work together to achieve that.”

A lot of veterans will tell you the best and worst parts of their lives were in the military. The best part always comes from the camaraderie, the teamwork, and achieving these huge objectives together. My time in the military surely has taught me that.

The only thing I learned from the army ranger school, right, never be hungry, never be tired. You want to perform at your best every time so you need to take care of yourself but you also need to take care of your buddy.

When you’re working through rapid growth, it’s easy to burn yourself out. It’s easy for the people you work with to burn themselves out so you’ve got to look at your ranger buddy and say, “Hey, are you okay?” If they don’t look like they’re okay, then step in and help them out because as part of the leadership team, it’s important that we look out for each other.

Like the military, we don’t leave anybody behind. When you build a good leadership team, it’s very similar to when you were in the military – it’s a feeling that you’re part of a championship team. That’s what I’m trying to build here. Yes, that was greatly influenced by my experiences in the military.

Michael: What does that mean to you, in terms of how would you define a championship team as it relates to the firm? What are those qualities? What are those actions? What does it mean that you’ve achieved that?

John: A championship team wins consistently. We don’t win all the time but we win a lot. That means winning cases. Winning the big cases, winning by getting, winning in recruiting, winning in marketing but also winning in terms of keeping track of what we’re doing.

I run the firm with a scorecard. You’ll probably hear a lot of companies use scorecards. Everybody has a number. What I love about numbers, especially being a lawyer, is that numbers don’t lie.

When I first started trying cases, I had a jury consultant tell me, “Look, you’ve got to just assume that both sides are lying. Everybody’s not telling the truth. What are just the bare facts? Then, let’s build the narrative from there.”

As I thought about that, I think back to what are the bare facts in the business? It’s the numbers. The numbers tell the story. A championship team can look at those numbers objectively and say, “Okay, either we’re hitting the mark or we’re not.” If we’re not, how do we do it? Let’s not fight over whose fault it is. In our scorecards, everybody owns a number and so if you’re a member of the team, you own that number. That number could be number of attorneys on the team, number of clients. There’s a variety of numbers that you can use. Yes, it really is about tracking it by what is objective. A lot of times, our objective is a number.

Michael: Awesome. This is a perfect segue because my next question is: what strategy do you use to ensure that your team consistently meets their goals? I know you mentioned weekly scorecards, but what else?

John: We have quarterly goals. Our leadership team will mentor attorneys and staff and will have annual goals and then quarterly goals. When we set them, we look at their personal and professional goal. This time of year, they should be going through their calendars and setting what vacations they’re going to take and then start developing some of those goals, figuring out what those goals are and then putting some of the dates on the calendars where they’re going to commit to doing those things to achieve those goals.

From a leadership perspective, it’s important to let the team know that we support them and we’re going to help them achieve that. The other thing is to get out of the way, right? “Okay, here are the numbers, here’s the objective, I’m going to let you go do it and I’m going to hold you accountable if you don’t get to that point.”

Sometimes we don’t always achieve all of our objectives and that’s okay. Then we’ll say, “Well, why didn’t we achieve it and how do we get better at achieving the objective?”

Michael: The key word that stood out for me, and this is one of my favorite words in the English dictionary, is accountability. I think this is sometimes the differentiator between so many different businesses. Certain things do get done and executed upon or others don’t, but how do you instill and ensure that there’s accountability across the board?

John: I know a lot of lawyers that will use a dashboard and there are some law firm management companies that will provide a dashboard and I think that’s good. The way I run this organization is I have reports due every Monday morning. The reports, they’re good for me but they’re probably better for the people compiling them. “Okay, this is what we got done.” Tuesday is my meeting day. I try to keep my calendar completely clear on Tuesdays as much as I can to keep my finger on the pulse and to meet with the different sections. Then a lot of times we’ll dissect some of those reports and figure out what’s going on.

The key, Michael, is, especially since I still try cases, I still practice law, sometimes I’m going to be away from the office for a while and the key is to have a leadership team that can step in.

The real key is to replace me, right? I want to make sure that everything can run in the firm without me. Then, I can be a little bit detached and sometimes that helps with the decision-making process because I’m not so deep in the weeds that I can’t see things that everybody else can.

It’s more important for me to go out and learn things like law firm videos, marketing, and other things. As you probably know, there are three things that stop companies from scaling: leadership, infrastructure, and marketing. Those are the areas where I try to spend time when I’m not working on cases.

I try not to be in the day-to-day operations as much anymore because, well, that’s why I’ve hired a leadership team. To handle a lot of the operations, the marketing, the accounts receivable, the lawyer production. All that stuff is like I said, it’s about having leaders who are going to commit to ensuring that the goals are met and then they’re working with their teams to accomplish those goals.

Michael: I think, ultimately, we can measure the health of a business and the success of a business based on how it operates when you’re not there. How does it operate? Does it continue to operate? Does everything still get executed on? Are clients happy? Are processes being followed?

Essentially, in terms of replacing yourself, it’s ultimately being able to put the process in place, hire the right people and be able to get specific things off your plate so that you could spend your time doing the things that are the highest and best use of your time. That’s what really causes the business to grow and scale.

John: Yes, absolutely. You have to be able to manage your time. I was fortunate because I stayed in the Nebraska National Guard. I had three commands, which is very time-consuming, especially when you’re also a lawyer.

Having that experience, I’ve had to really keep good at managing my time and figuring out what’s the best use of my time. I have to be able to make sure that the organization’s running properly. I have to divide my time between those two things.

A lot of people say, “Well, why don’t you just get out of the practice of law? Why don’t you just run the firm? You’re going to grow so much faster. You could do so much more.” Usually, my response is, “But if I’m not handling cases, all I’m going to do is stay here and get in the way of the rest of my team.”

There’s a point where I need to get out of the way and I think I’ve built my schedule around that so that I can be available and then there are times when I’m not going to be available.

I’m confident in my team- I’ll give them the guidance, the direction and they’ll let me know how things are going. In the end, I could walk away for probably 90 days and the firm would still run fine without me. Hell, it will probably grow and be better without me.

Michael: There is a certain responsibility as a business owner to make sure that you still know what’s going on within your business.

I think some business owners really use too much trust, they hire somebody and then they say, “Okay, well, you’re running the business development,” and they just go away, right? Then they come back several months later and the numbers aren’t where they need to be and things are tanking and then there’s money disappearing in the business that they can’t explain.

I think there is a certain level that you have to still be engaged within the business and you have to make sure that with your giving somebody accountability, you’re trusting that it’s still being inspected and there’s an auditing process for employees to make sure that things are still being done consistently. Do you agree?

John: Yes, absolutely. I think the key is to have a team of champions, number one. Number two, you need to have systems to make sure things are being done, they’re being done right. I think people is most important, but then the systems are, like I said, a close second.

When I say systems, I’m implying systems to make sure that you’re getting the work done. A marketing system. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about working with Crisp is that you’re one of the few law firm vendors that actually run a tight production schedule. We find a lot of the website companies we’ve worked with and other marketing vendors, we’ve really had to step in and become the project manager.

For us, integrity is doing what you say you’re going to do and if you don’t have integrity, you can’t be on our team. You can’t work with us. I don’t just mean you can’t be in our office, you can’t be a vendor.

One the nice surprises about working with your team were that you guys stay tight on the production schedule. We found with other vendors that we’re chasing them down to get the products that they promised they would deliver.

We have systems for marketing, we have systems for getting work done, but in the end, you need a team of champions. You have to be selective about who you work with. You’ve got to work with champions and like I said, your company did that and I appreciate that.

If someone slows down our system, we don’t want them on our team. Like I said, with vendors, it’s all about managing production and of course delivering on promises. If we have champions on our team, they’re going to make that happen.

When you have a champion, when you tell them, “Hey, this needs to be done tomorrow,” you don’t tell them how to do it, you just tell them what and give them a deadline and you know it’s going to happen. Whether that’s your internal team or external team or your vendors, that’s how things are going to get done.

Michael: I’m going to shift gears. I want to ask you because I’m wondering if there was ever a pivotal moment or a pivotal where you decided if you should invest in the growth of your team.

What is the reason for that? What is the reason why you think that way? Because sometimes, when you mention the word risk, everybody just gets a little bit scared and most firms are generally risk-averse.

Is there anything that was a pivotal moment for you that shifted gears to where you really adopted the growth mindset and said, “We’re going to invest in our team, we’re going to invest in our leadership, we’re going to hire these people, we’re going to try new things.” Is there anything that led to that?

John: Yes, to quote Warren Buffett, “The best investment is in yourself.”

The best investments I’ve made have been my own personal growth, my growth as an attorney and the growth of the organization.

I read about 50 books a year. I read a study that said most CEOs read about 50 books a year and most CEOs make about 60 times that of the average American worker, that in fact, that’s probably true.

You have to invest in your own development and you have to invest in your team’s development. A lot of the things that keep you from being where you want to be are internal. It’s a complete mindset thing. The things that got you to where you are now are going to prevent you from getting to where you want to be. It’s tough to accept that because we see our successes and we think, “Wow, this is going to keep working,” but it’s going to stop working at some point and if we don’t grow, we stagnate.

 If you don’t get better every day you get worse.

I spend a lot of time reading, and I also invest in just about any type of coaching or mentoring I can get. We never stop learning. Leaders never stop learning but also entrepreneurs never stop learning. I’ve invested quite a bit on myself and on my team. I invested quite a bit in marketing, learned a lot about marketing. I’ve learned a lot about leadership and I learned quite a bit about infrastructure and systems. You have to have this insatiable hunger to learn.

The thing that propelled me was, every year I would start off January, first saying, “You know what, I’m going to spend less time working, less time in the office.” What would happen is that I’d create systems and do some other things, and that would just create more work. I would improve the marketing because people would say, “Well, you know if you improve your marketing you’ll get– you may not get more clients, but you can be more selective so you can have better clients.” To some degree that’s true. If you figure out who your avatar is, who your perfect client is, you can build systems around that.

To build the team I want to build, it can’t just be something small. It’s going to have to be a lot larger than what I originally thought I wanted, but as I built out that vision for the team that I wanted, for the organization that I wanted to have, I figured out pretty quickly that it can’t just be the size that it was when I started.

Coming to that realization helped me build a vision around where I wanted to be in 10 years. It’s scary knowing that things you build today, you will have to destroy tomorrow so that the organization can grow.

Michael: To echo your comment, even as our team has grown, it’s terrifying. But I don’t know of a way to get there without taking a risk and without the occasional failure. Some hire is not working out, some marketing plan is not playing out. At the end of the day, that’s part of the process and it does take a big investment.

It all comes back to a growth mindset, right? Being able to stomach that if something does not pan out, you keep moving forward. I compare it to being in Vegas and gambling at the $5 blackjack table –  you can go up to $25 but you don’t get into $1,000 at that table.

You’ve got to be able to place bigger bets. But, you still want to be smart in terms of:

  • how you’re investing in your business
  • making sure that it’s backed up by data
  • that there’s sound reasoning behind the thing you’re doing

If you want to see not just fast growth, but also serious revenue, you’ve got to be willing to stomach what that also will entail, in terms of investing in your team and the staff itself, investing in marketing processes, infrastructure, etc.

John: Yes, and you’re going to fail a lot and it’s going to be expensive. I was fortunate in the military, I made a lot of my leadership mistakes on the army’s dime. I continue to make bad leadership decisions but I learn from them.

You have to be a quick learner, you’ve got to accept failure and accept responsibility when things don’t go right.

It is a huge investment. For a lot of lawyers, they’re thinking, “Well, I have a house, my family is taken care of, why should I do this? Why should I take the risk?” To some degree, I think that it’s very easy to get comfortable.

I think things are going to change in the legal industry greatly in the next 10 years, and the best protection from that is to be a continual learner and to be able to adapt. You have to be able to change. You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable and you’ve got to be able to risk things.

Yes, it is frightening when there’s a lot of money on the table for this new idea that may not work out. But, on the other hand, there’s something to be said for never taking a shot. You miss a hundred percent of the shots you don’t take. There’s always the fear that it could all come crashing down. That this one decision could destroy everything.

The key is that you continuously make decisions, get quicker, get better, fail quicker and fail better and eventually you get there. Yes, the risk is huge, but on the other hand, when you get a team of stakeholders that are willing to take that risk with you, it gets a little bit more comfortable.

Michael: I don’t know of anything you can invest a dollar into that would yield a greater return than your own business if you’re executing on this stuff. On a related note, what types of marketing strategies have been the most successful for your firm?

John: It’s difficult to say which strategies have worked and which haven’t. I would say the key is to have a strategy and then the tactic support the strategy.

In terms of Berry Law Firm — we think we have a great story. Where we come from, where we are today, I think — I love this story and I love the culture. What we do is we build the marketing around that. Don’t get me wrong, I love direct response marketing. I want to know what the ROI investment is for every single marketing venture that I get involved in.

Sometimes it’s not that easy. With video and other things, our strategy has been, “Let’s tell our story and let’s figure out who our avatar is. Who is that ideal client and let’s market to that client and let’s figure out what tools can get us there.” We decided that video would be great for us. We decided that there’s no better way to tell a story than through video. Yes, a website is great and social is great but you can put a video on both of them. We had to develop a really good marketing product. We didn’t want a product to be a talking head on the TV that says, “Hey, you know we’re great lawyers, we’ll help you, we’ll fight for you.”

At the end of the day, everybody says the same thing. What can we do that’s different? How can we be that purple cow out there? We looked at the videos that, “Hey, let’s let our prospective clients know who we are. Let’s tell them who we are.”

The strategy was to develop that and then, once we have the videos, the videos go on the website, on social media, television. That basically is, in a nutshell, that’s our video strategy. It is part of us. Now we have different strategies for SEO and PPC and print, but in the end, I think telling our story is a great way to do it.

Michael: I think you guys have done over a million views on your video. People are commenting, sharing – they’re really responding to your firm’s story.

John: You have to explain your why, “Why do we do this?” It absolutely has to be a consistent message and it’s resonated well. There are other national law firms that do veterans disability benefits, but we believe our story is different.

We’re just not the agency level firm that’s going to help you at the regional office. We have a team of experienced litigators, we’ve got administrative lawyers that understand that piece, but the core of our firm is, it is fighting the next battle. When we look at some of those complex legal issues that veterans face, we love to sink our teeth into them and we like to fight that fight. I think it resonates in our marketing and through our videos.

Michael: There’s clarity over the vision, the mission is clear, and I think that kind of alignment is so, so important. Again, I don’t want you to understate that either. Because firms are always thinking, “Okay, so how do we stand out? How do we get somebody to click on this? Or how do we get someone to reply to this?”

It really starts with knowing who you are. Who your ideal client is. What differentiates you. Especially why they should hire you over somebody else.

Also, making sure that that’s probably across the whole organization that everyone can answer that. Everybody in your firm needs to know why you do what you do. Most attorneys start with the “Why?” when they start the firm. There’s a reason they went into the practice of law, but then over the years, that “Why?” can get lost.

The key is to make sure you remind yourself, “Here’s why we do what we do, here’s who we are, what sets us apart” and knowing that before doing any kind of marketing, or really any type of messaging.

Because if you don’t know who you are, who you’re for, then you are essentially McDonald’s and you do get McDonald’s clients. What are your thoughts on that?

John: Yes, that’s a great point. It’s really about the why. Even if we were a hamburger stand, we could shift this and we could sell hamburgers. But we would be fighting the next battle to have the best hamburger, and to make sure that our customers were satisfied and got the absolute best that they could get because when someone joins our team, we take our obligation with them seriously.

It’s what we stand for. That doesn’t change, whether we’re attorneys or like I said, we were a hardware store or a hamburger stand. I think that resonates really well.

Michael: In your opinion, what do you believe are the most common mistakes that you’ve seen in the legal industry?

John: I think a lot of lawyers assume, “Because I’m a good lawyer, I should get a lot of business, I should get all the cases.” The thing is, if you’re not out there and people can’t learn about you, then you’re not going to get the best cases. You’re almost doing a disservice to some of those clients. If you believe that you’re the best lawyer for their case and you’re not out there educating people on what you do, well, then how are they going to know about you?

I think another common mistake is lawyers just don’t take responsibility for their practices. At some point, you have to develop systems so that the highest and best use of your time is spent on the most important thing.

Maybe you shouldn’t be counting the paperclips and paper supply. Maybe you should be working on reviewing or preparing for trial. Maybe the highest and best use of your time is not answering your own phone, but instead dealing with complex strategy sessions with your clients to figure out how to get the best result for them.

I think part of it is understanding that you need systems to be better and a lot of lawyers say, “I don’t need systems. I’m the guy.” That’s all great until you get sick or you get hurt or you have to stop practicing for a while because of something beyond your control.

Some of the bigger mistakes I’ve seen lawyers make in the industry is not having a marketing plan. They spend a lot of money on marketing, get a lot of clients and then they have no way to service the clients. They’re basically burning marketing dollars because they didn’t have a plan. Or, what’s worse is if they’re taking the cases but have no way to do the work.

Michael: Another thing I think is important to touch on, is not having the right support groups. One of the biggest traps that I’ve seen attorneys fall in to is that they surround themselves with a bunch of guys that aren’t engaged in their own business.

It doesn’t have to be that way. What are your thoughts in terms of surrounding yourself with the right people and the right attorneys that are engaged in the business?

John: Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future. You’re going to be like the five people you spend the most time with. You have to be very selective as to who is in your life. The reality is this: you’re responsible for your life and you make these choices and you make decisions and then there are outcomes that happen because of those choices and decisions, and that’s on you.

You don’t need to hang out with a bunch of lawyers. Sometimes it’s better to be a part of a group that doesn’t have another lawyer in the group, because then you can learn from how other people in other industries are handling the same things.

Because most businesses, at their core, are the same. You have certain parts and functions of a business that are going to be the same regardless of what you’re doing.

Some of the best ideas I’ve gotten are from people who are selling products. When you talk with them about what they have to do to survive, you think, “Wow, we’ve got it pretty good.” In the service industry, we don’t have that problem, but it is interesting. Talk to somebody who’s in retail. Talk about your business with them and then they talk about, “Hey, I’m not even profitable till July or August,” but, “Hey, my competitors aren’t even profitable ‘til Black Friday.

Law is a great profession, but if you don’t take care of the business aspect of it, and have good systems in place, have leadership, you’re going to have problems that may result in you not optimally servicing your clients.

Michael: What have you done to better protect your time and the people that you surround yourself with?

John: You have to be very cautious about who you spend your time with, how you spend your time because, you’re right, you tell somebody, “Hey, you know I’m interested in growing at this rate,” and they say, “Oh you’re crazy or you could never do it or that stupid.”

They’re giving you their own excuses, they’re projecting their own fears and failures on you. Those are not people you need to be spending your time with and in fact, they are just going to hold you back. The key is to find those guys who are out there who are just complete warriors. They’re out there and they say, “Hey, you know what, I believe in this vision, I believe I can make it work.”

Those are the people I want to spend my time with. People who have a vision, people who can get traction on that vision and who are pretty generous with their time and their ideas because they don’t see that there’s some shortage of success in the world. They see that success is infinite: the more I share, and the more other people I can help become successful, the more successful I’m going to be.

Once you find yourself in a community of those types of people, it’s great. It certainly improves your sense of gratitude, but also it can help build your desire and of course when you’re down and you’ve been kicked and you’ve failed, they’re usually the ones that pull you back up, and they’ll say, “You think that’s bad, let me tell you about the last thing I screwed up.”

It’s great to hear that, especially from someone whose company is 10 times the size of yours. You start telling them your problems and they say, “I wish I had those small problems. Let me tell you about the problems you’re going to have when you get to this level.”

Michael: I remember a couple years ago when I was first in the business, I remember speaking one of my mentors and I told them about this thousand-dollar problem I had. He said, “A thousand dollars, that’s nice. I had a million-dollar problem today.”

John, to wrap this up, thank you again for being on. The last question: what would your advice be to the attorneys who are struggling to succeed in their market?

John: Give up your excuses. You’ve got to go all in. I think it’s very easy to make excuses and say, “Well this won’t work for me,” but that’s a mindset issue. When I see a lawyer doing something different, I don’t say, “Oh well, they’re different that wouldn’t work for me.” I say, “How can I make that work in my firm?”

If I see someone doing something, I’m not discouraged. I don’t see someone as my competitor. I see it as, “Wow, if they’re doing that, maybe I can do that.” Like I said, there’s no finite amount of success. If they’re successful doing something, that’s not going to deter me– now maybe if everybody else is doing it, I’m probably not going to do it. We can come with excuses for why we don’t have what we want, or we haven’t done what we want to do.

It all comes back to us. It’s accountability. It’s about making the decision with what I have. You got to get clarity on your goals and then figure out how you’re going to get there. Then when you see opportunities to get there, you don’t scoff at them and say, “Oh, that would never work for me.” You say, “Well, that might be an opportunity that would get me where I want to go.” Then look into it.

Michael: Absolutely, when you’re confronted with those types of situations and you have this bright idea, you want to take initiative and the people around you are saying that will never work and that’s unrealistic. What is your advice? Ditch those people and find ones that are supportive and say, “Okay, yes that’s possible.” Because again, there’s such a correlation, I know it sounds so simple, but I say, “Look, if you’re hanging around four losers, you will be the fifth, guaranteed.”

Control the people you spend time with. Make sure that it’s people that lift you up, that bring positive energy into your life, that are ambitious, that are always growing. They’re investing in themselves.

John: Absolutely, like I said, show me your friends I’ll show you your future. What I do, when I get someone who’s a naysayer, I usually I ask them the five Ys. “Well, why won’t it work? Well, because of this. Well, why is that true? Well, because of–” and usually by the time you get down to it, they realize that there’s nothing there. I like to ask because let’s face it, if I’m to take a risk, I want to know if there’s something else out there. I don’t — put it this way, it’s not that I avoid people who are pessimistic or negative in making these business decisions.

I certainly like to learn from them, but that’s something that I can’t be around all the time. If someone says, “Yes, this isn’t going to work, or this would never work.” “Okay, why wouldn’t it work? Why do you think–” Really dig and go five Y’s deep and see if that makes sense because maybe they have some good information.

For the most part, the people I choose to spend my time with are people who share my values and people who I believe are going to have a positive influence on my life. If you think about where you are today, Michael, who are the important coaches, mentors, parents, siblings who got you there? They all affected who you are today as a person, who you are as a leader, as a business owner. Guess what? You not going to choose your parents or your family, but you are going to choose who you spend that time with, and they’re going to determine, to a large part, who you become.

It’s about making that decision to not be around people who are affecting you negatively but the inverse, to seek out those people who can affect you positively. Usually, those are the people who are where you want to be, and then developing that relationship is extremely rewarding because you’re able to talk about big concepts and ideas and it’s fun. It’s fun to be around positive people who are going places and that will only fuel your desire to get better, build your team and become that person that you want to become.

Michael: Awesome. John, thank you again. I appreciate you taking time out to go through all this stuff. If anybody wants that guide in terms of the growth mindset blueprint, just visit John, thank you again.

John: Thanks, Michael. Always a pleasure to talk with you. Take care.