A transcript of this podcast is easily available at lovethylawyer.com.
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Brooke Lively is the CEO and Founder of Cathedral Capital, a team of CFO’s and Profitability Strategists who help entrepreneurs turn their Businesses into profitable companies. She and her team work with Hall of Famers, INC 5000 businesses, CEO’s, and Entrepreneurial Small Business Owners.
With expertise in growth management, creative problem solving and profitability strategy, Brooke has been named the ‘Top25WomentoWatch’, and ‘Fort Worth’s 2016 CFOs of the Year’ and is a highly regarded speaker and author. Brooke has been featured in international media including CNBC, Forbes, Fort Worth Business Journal, Diversity Journal, and Attorney at Work.
In her empowering and enlightening book “From Panic to Profit: How 6 Key Numbers can make a 6-Figure Difference”, Brooke Lively has compiled and condensed her MBA and everything she has learned helping lawyers grow and scale their firms. It is a crash course to discover, understand, and learn how to monitor and use, the important “numbers” in your firm.
Check out Brooke's website for links to all of her services and books, including From Panic to Profit.
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Attorney at Law
Brooke Lively / Louis Goodman- Podcast
Louis Goodman: Today, we're going to do something a bit different. We're going to talk with Brooke Lively, who is not a lawyer, but has spent her life and career around lawyers, law firms and the business of law. She is a razor sharp numbers person with a unique ability to communicate the importance of numbers to practicing attorneys.
She has an MBA and she is the author of From Panic to Profit. I'm Louis Goodman, the host of Love Thy Lawyer podcast. And it's my privilege to welcome Brooke Lively to the program. Brooke thanks for being here.
Brooke Lively: Louis. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to talk to you about numbers today and thanks for making an exception and having a nominee.
Louis Goodman: Well, just to be really straight about it, I saw you on the Alameda County Bar [00:01:00] Association program that you did for our Bar Association recently and I was very impressed by what I heard. And I thought that you being on the podcast could be of some interest to the people who listen to this podcast.
Brooke Lively: Well, I hope I can help your listeners out.
How can I best do that, Louis?
Louis Goodman: Well, first of all, why don't you just tell us about the type of business that you have?
Brooke Lively: Allright. So we call ourselves Financial Sherpas and our job is to help law firm owners climb their mountain, whatever their mountain is. We are here to carry the heavy load, tell them what's coming up, help them, what dangers lay ahead and help them avoid them.
Louis Goodman: Tell me a little bit about your educational background.
Brooke Lively: I graduated from college with this really incredibly impressive sounding degree and no job. And so I [00:02:00] floated around for a number of years and didn't go back to grad school until I was 35. And so I got an MBA with a double concentration. One of my concentrations was in Corporate Finance and the other one was in Investments.
So I did that, which really, I think honed my analytical skills. It teaches you to be very analytical. And my MBA taught me to be analytical and I went to work for a hedge fund, which is what you're supposed to do when you are a CFA. And you know, there just wasn't my bliss, but running my father's law firm was.
Louis Goodman: So, is that how you originally got involved with law firms was at your dad's firm?
Brooke Lively: Yes. So I worked for my father at two different points in my life, both of which when I wasn't entirely sure what to do. First one was right after college. And then again, you know, when I left the, I actually ran my father's firm and worked at the hedge fund at the same time, because running my father's firm didn't take that much time from me.
I [00:03:00] joined a group. I got a coach to help us improve our sales and marketing and his clients started coming to me and saying, can you do for us what you're doing for your father's firm? And it was in that moment when I realized how much the average attorney doesn't like numbers and B wasn't prepared in law school to run a business.
And C was really struggling with the financial part of owning a law firm.
Louis Goodman: Well, you know, it's interesting, I've talked to a lot of attorneys in the process of doing this podcast, and one thing that comes up over and over again, not for everybody, but I would say for the vast majority, Is people say, you know, I really like being a lawyer.
I really like helping people. I like going to court, but you know, if there's one thing that I could change, it would be not having to run this business, not having to be such a business person. And that's something that I really [00:04:00] was never trained for.
Brooke Lively: Yes. Cleo does kind of stay that the legal industry report every year, it's called the legal trends report.
And in 2020s was all about the pandemic, but 2019 addressed that very fact, how many of you Attorneys felt like you were prepared by law school to run a business. And it was some tiny number.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. So you've written a book that specifically addresses this called From Panic to Profit. I've personally bought the book and I got it on Amazon.
I assume that there's other places you could get it, but it's easy to find From Panic to Profit. So in that book, you talk about six key numbers. And I'm wondering if you could go through those six numbers and be specific about what they are briefly and then we'll get back into the weeds of it.
Brooke Lively: Yeah.
Well, first I want to talk about how [00:05:00] we came up with these six numbers. Like the Genesis of this. I was sitting in a meeting. One of the guys said, if you were at a five-star resort on a desert Island that has no internet, no phone, no TV and the only communication you got was from the supply boat that came once a week, what pieces of information would you need the captain of that boat to hand you on a piece of paper for you to make the decision about whether you stayed another week or not? Was it 3? Was it 15? And was it 7? We finally came up with 6, four of them tell you what's going to happen and to have them help you get back on track.
So the four that look ahead are a cashflow forecast, knowing how much cash you're going to have at the end of the week, every week for the next six to eight weeks. The next one that looks ahead [00:06:00] is how many sales calls have you booked because your sales calls are going to tell you how many clients you're going to have next month.
So how much revenue you're going to have in two months. We look at your whip, your work in progress this month with is next month's revenue. And the fourth forward looking one is net new cases because by looking at how many cases you've opened, versus how many cases you've closed. So your net new that tells you about your staffing?
Do you have the right staff? Do you need to hire more? And by looking at the trend of net new cases, when you need to hire who, so it's great information. The two that help you get back on track or your budget versus actual report, which comes straight out of QuickBooks. What had you budgeted to do last month.
And what did you actually do? Are you on track? Are you ahead or behind? And [00:07:00] then the last one, I think the question I get asked more than anything else in this job is how much should I be spending or how much should I be spending on my people? How much should I be spending on marketing? How much should I be spending on rent?
How much should I be spending on office supplies? I mean, it's an endless list of how much should I be spending on, but I think what people are really asking me is how much should I be spending on all that? And really how much should I be taking home? Oh, the last number that we track is owner compensation.
Are you being compensated fairly for the work and more importantly, the risk you are taking on as the owner of the law firm.
Louis Goodman: Okay. So lawyers are trained to look at things in kind of an outline form. So let me just reiterate what I've heard you say that the six key areas are how much cash you actually [00:08:00] have on hand in your bank account that's available to spend as opposed to what it might look like in a bank balance.
If you pull it up on your phone or your computer, because that doesn't include checks that are already written and out there.
Brooke Lively: Cash is number one, but here's the critical thing about the cash. I'm not just talking about the cash today. I'm talking about projecting the cash out over the next six weeks.
Louis Goodman: Right. But let me just go, if I may, let me just go back to the six things. There's the cash, right? There's the marketing which has to do with what's your rate of return on sales calls, people that telephone in, and then how many of those do you actually sign up that become clients? And then there's some sub categories within that.
There's a works in progress, you know, what's going on in terms of [00:09:00] the way the firm is functioning. The fourth thing is the net new cases. The fifth is your budget versus your actual. And then the last thing, the sixth thing is the owner compensation is how much should I, as the owner of the firm be able to take home and therefore, what should I spend on others? Thanks. So those are the six things, the cash, the marketing, the whip, the net new cases. The budget versus actual and how much I should be able to take home.
Brooke Lively: Yeah. And I really liked the way you explained it. You know, cash is cash. We all know that cash is important.
When we're looking at marketing and sales, we're looking at how many clients are coming into the firm. When we're looking at whip, we're looking at how the firm is taking care of those clients that are in the firm. When we look at net new cases at case [00:10:00] management, we're looking at our ability to serve those clients that are coming into the firm.
And then, you know, we've got a budget versus actual and the owner compensation. So like that's a great way to think about it is what is the flow? Client delivery.
Louis Goodman: I am the primary lawyer here. I have a full-time secretary/paralegal and our fees in general are, you know, flat fee agreements. And I, frankly, I don't really know exactly what I can expect to happen next month.
I have some notion of it because I've been doing this for a long time, but I've never really thought about it specifically in terms of numbers. And I guess you think that there is a way to come up, but those numbers absolutely. How I know how much cash I have in the bank that I get. I use something called Quicken.
I know, [00:11:00] what I can spend and what I can't overspend to be very frank with you. I have never really tracked the calls that we get in terms of how many of them actually come in and sign up. And I know that the actual number is somewhere around 20%, which seems really low cause everybody thinks, Oh yeah, I can close.I can get this client. If they call me, I got them. And people will say that their number's a lot higher, but I recognize that the number of about 20% is probably far more accurate when you're bringing a new client in the client.
Brooke Lively: It's so funny because people say to the client, say yes or no, did they sign up or not?
And I believe that yes is the last in a whole series of yeses that a potential client has to say. And every time they say a yes or a no, every time they get to that decision point, that gives you information about [00:12:00] that set that stage of your pipeline.
I can initial contact or qualified. How many of the people contacting your firm or your kind of client? Are they calling you to do a DUI? When you are a family law attorney? Are they calling you about a personal injury case when you do bankruptcy? Are they qualified? Is that your kind of law? Is it the kind of case you're interested in and frankly, Can they afford to pay you.
So those are the things that qualify a client. If people are coming to you and they're not qualified, there is a problem somewhere with how you are communicating the message of who you are and who your clients are. If you're getting a lot of non-qualified people from the internet, you need to call, especially if you're doing pay-per-click, you need to call and chew out your PPC person.
[00:13:00] Your pay-per-click guy. If you're getting a lot of non-qualified clients from referrals, then you need to go back to those referrals and really educate them on what it is that you do and what you're looking for, because somehow they've missed that. So what it allows us to do is be more productive with our resources B, get a better return on.
Internet marketing, get a better return on the time you're spending talking to a potential client talking to referrals. Okay. So that's the first. Yes. The second. Yes. Is whether or not they set an appointment with you. So if they don't set an appointment, why not? What was the problem? They're qualified.
They have a case to kind of work you do. They need you they've met your criteria. Why didn't they set an appointment? So do you need to train the person who's answering the phone better? Are there, can they not get in to [00:14:00] see you for three weeks and they need to see you before that? Like, what's the problem?
Why aren't they setting? And 75% of the people who are qualified should set an appointment and let me go back. I believe that at minimum, 45% of the people that contact your firm should be qualified. Okay. So 45% of the people that call should be qualified of those that are qualified 75% should make an appointment.
The next yes. Is do they show up for that appointment or not? Do they show up for that sales call? 80% should if they don't, there's an attorney in Dallas, but I'd love when you make an appointment with them. You get an email. These are directions. If you're coming from the North, from the South, from the East, from the West, this is a picture of where you park.
This is a picture of the front door of the building. This is a picture of where the elevators are. This is a picture of our front door. So why aren't people showing up the next? Yes. Is the [00:15:00] one that everyone talks about. Are they hiring you as they're sitting in that room with you? Are they saying yes. And hiring you and your firm?
This is the one that most attorneys this, when you ask, when an attorney's conversion rate, they say this number, they almost always overshoot it. I think if you're doing 65%, you're doing okay. If your conversion rate in the room is less than 65%, what does that tell you? Do you need to get more training as a salesperson?
Do you have somebody doing the sales that, that frankly isn't a good person to represent your firm. But when you go through all of this Louis, you're totally right. 18% is a good conversion, right? When you go through all those yeses.
Louis Goodman: Now in your book, you have some very specific exercises and you have some specific charts and you'd have some ways that you can download charts that will [00:16:00] help attorneys track these numbers.
So, you know, I mean, I don't think there's any way in the course of a podcast that we're going to be able to really do that. But I do think that it makes sense for anybody who's really interested to invest the whatever it is, $15 to buy the book and take a look at this and see if it's something that you think can work.
But, but you are a great believer in having the numbers and actually tracking these numbers because you can really tell something from the numbers. Is that right?
Brooke Lively: If you are looking at the right numbers, I think you can absolutely predict what's going to happen in your firm next week. Next month, next year.
Louis Goodman: I want to just jump ahead to something that interests me, which is [00:17:00] how do you figure out, especially if you're a flat fee attorney like I am, and many of the people who listen to this podcast are, how do you figure out what you compensate the people who work for you?
Brooke Lively: Oh, that's a fun one. All right. So let's, we're gonna start oh, you're from California. I'm going to use a yoga analogy. You ever been to yoga and they show you like the basic pose, then they show you the slightly harder version of the same pose and then they show you the advanced.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. But first of all, I want you to understand something, Brooke. I'm actually from New Jersey. I've lived in California a long time, but I'm willing to go along with the yoga thing, if it's important.
Brooke Lively: Well, it's not overly important, but we're going to talk about this in terms of beginner, intermediate and advanced.
So yeah. Beginner [00:18:00] level is we believe on running a law firm on the rule of thirds of the revenue that comes in one third, goes to the people doing the work. One third goes to overhead, and one third goes to profit. So that means of, we'll say a hundred dollars that comes in 33 of it should go to salaries, benefits taxes, $33.
The next $33 should go to rent, marketing phone, copy or rental. And the last $33 should go to you Louis as the owner of the firm. Okay. So when you talk about compensating people, they should absolutely never make more than a third of what they're billing and bringing in. Okay. So that's beginner level.
You good with that? All right. Let's go to a more advanced discussion. So not everyone in your firm bills, not everyone in [00:19:00] your firm bills full time. So you said you had a secretary/paralegal. How much, you know, does she bill 30 or 40 hours a week? Probably not right, because she's also answering the phone and she's going and getting the mail and she's doing some of that stuff.
That's not billable. So because there are people because there are non-billable people on our team, on our staff, in our firms, we want to make sure that the billable people bill and collect enough to cover the non-billable people so we can stay in that 33%. So here's what we say. An attorney should bill between three and five times what it costs to employ them.
And here's why it's a range of three to five. So there are three kinds of attorneys. They're the finders, the minders and the grinders. Right? Right. Okay. Finders job is to go out club, potential clients over the head, drag them back by the [00:20:00] hair and hand them off to the minder. The minder is going to make sure that that client is happy after they've been clubbed over the head, distribute work to the appropriate people, teach and train younger attorneys and a grinder and they do bill finders, bill a little bit minders bill a little more. And then there's the grinder. And the grinder are those young attorneys that really, we would like to shackle to a desk in a windowless room and just have them bill around the clock. Okay. Now it's kind of illegal to do that, but.
That's what we do. So as we look at an attorney that grinder should be doing a five X, what he, you should be billing and collecting five times what it costs to employ him. Okay. As he grows as an attorney, his billing rate will go up the number of hours he bills every month will fall because he's now a minder and he's teaching and training and taking care of clients.
So his multiple falls [00:21:00] from a five to a four. And then as he continues in his career, he may or may not become a, a finder, two bills, even less whose billable rate is even higher. And he has a multiple of three. Does that make sense?
Louis Goodman: Yes. Why should flat fee attorneys crack?
Brooke Lively: Let me ask you kind of a, I don't know, I'm just going to ask this.
If you don't know how much time it takes to work a case, how do you know how much you should be charging?
Louis Goodman: I've often thought about that.
Brooke Lively: Yeah. So if you realize that it takes, okay, hold on. Now I have to get my calculator and my pen and paper out. If you know that it takes an attorney 15 hours to complete a case and their billing rate is $300 an hour. And you know that it takes the paralegal seven hours. And we [00:22:00] charge her out at what's a good paralegal rate Louis. We're going to call her a $100.
Louis Goodman: Okay. So we have $300 attorney, so we have a $100 paralegal.
Brooke Lively: Okay. Right. So just looking at that, if you were to bill it hourly, the attorney would bill out $4,500.
The paralegal would bill out 700. So you should add a minimum, the billing, $5,200 to that. Now here's the next step. He who bears the risk in any financial relationship also gets the upside of the transaction. And here's what I mean by this. If the client pays you hourly, they are taking all the risk. It could cost $500 to work this case.
It could cost $500,000 to work this case and they bear a hundred percent of the risk of that. Does that make sense? Yes. They're paying you hourly. Yes. You, as the attorney are [00:23:00] taking on the risk, there needs to be some upside for you. Right? Right. So have you ever been to Vegas? Were you ever gambled.
Louis Goodman: Little bit, but see, I'm not a numbers guy. And to me, gambling has always seemed to me the art of paying to do arithmetic.
Brooke Lively: Well, according to my grandfather, it's the art of counting cards. He would get so frustrated with me that I didn't count cards well enough when we played gin, but the house wins a very small percentage of the time.
Something like, I don't know, 52%, but that 2% on every transaction is enough. To cover their losses when somebody wins really big. So as a law firm, you want to do the same thing.
Louis Goodman: You've mentioned some books that you like. Can you say what they are?
Brooke Lively: Yes. I love Traction by Gino Wickman. He actually wrote a quote for the front of my book.
Traction is great [00:24:00] because it gives you a methodical way to build your business. And it's how to operate it on a daily basis. He calls it the EOS, the entrepreneurial operating system. And it's great. It's like a checklist. I love a good checklist there in my book for one, I really like is profit first.
Louis Goodman: You ever either been on or heard of the podcasts The Law Entrepreneur?
Brooke Lively: I have, because what he talks about is, I mean, it just starts off and says, you know, when we were in law school, we weren't taught anything about the business of running a law firm. And this is a pod, a whole podcast that every single week, he dedicates to the business aspect of running a law firm.
And I mean, it's what we are talking about is just the very tip of the iceberg [00:25:00] for lawyers who have their own businesses and who run their own businesses. In addition to dealing with clients, going to court, you know, writing motions, understanding the evidence code, all of those kinds of things.
Louis Goodman: And you know, I'll just put it in my own little editorial statement here, which is, it is shocking to me that law schools simply spend no time whatsoever preparing young attorneys to go out into the world.
Brooke Lively: I agree with you a hundred percent.
Louis Goodman: I want to ask you about is how you use your fee agreement, your retainer agreement in order to maximize getting paid, because you have said that if you're only collecting, let's say 75% of the revenue that you've contracted for it's as if it was a car dealer was giving away one of every four cars that they have on their lots.
Brooke Lively: Yeah. And don't you want to be that one person that walks [00:26:00] in and gets the free car.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, but I don't want to be the car dealer who gives it away.
Brooke Lively: Exactly. So, yeah, I love this. I love this topic. I'm so passionate about this. We see the average collection rate between 75 and 80% and it just kills me. That you're giving away every fourth car-free so there are four real parts to improving your collections.
So first let's realize that your AR, your accounts receivable, which is, and let me define that because some people are like, Oh, wait, what is that? Accounts receivable is work you've billed, but no one's paid you yet. So you sent out the invoice and, you know, John Smith has not paid it yet. That situation is created in your sales call.
It's created the first time you meet the client and it's created because you're not setting expectations and you don't have the process to back up those expectations. [00:27:00] So here is the expectation. You will pay me every month in full on time and the conversation. And here's the process of how we're going to do it first.
You are going to accept credit cards. Okay. Don't please, please. Don't mind about the 3% fee, because if I'm going to raise your collection rate from 75% to 90%, don't be cheap about that 3%. So half take credit cards and have a credit card authorization form. That is part of your fee agreement, because this is all part of your fee agreement.
Everything we do is going to be in the agreement because we're doing what setting expectations. So part of the fee agreement says we will send a bill. If you do not dispute it within 10 days, we are authorized to charge your card to keep you in compliance with this fee agreement. So that's the first thing.
The second thing is you're going to get an initial retainer and it's not a token initial retainer. It's a real initial retainer [00:28:00] and it's equal to the first three months of billing. If you have the average amount that you're going to bill in three months, sitting in trust, you're covered. That makes sense.
Okay, the next is having an evergreen retainer and what an evergreen retainer is, is three months, three months. That is the average three months in a case. And I often get a lot of pushback here with people saying, wait a minute, the client has already said that they could pay, like, has already proven that they're not deadbeats and that they're going to pay why in the world do we need an evergreen retainer?
Okay. Here's the thing. People will quit paying you at any time for any reason. And it rarely has anything to do with you as an attorney. So you need, for that same reason, you need a little bit of insurance and you do that through an evergreen retainer. Now I [00:29:00] said there were four parts to this. The fourth part is have a stop work policy and it doesn't have to be difficult. It doesn't have to be high-tech. It just needs to be effective. That's a look, here's the thing. Every state requires you to have a fee agreement. It is a contract between you and your client. You might as well put some things in there that makes it a little bit more beneficial for you as the attorney.
Yeah, I agree. You talked a little bit about profit and defining profit for oneself. Can you talk about that? I mean, this is a little squishy for you, but I think about this kind of stuff all the time.
Brooke Lively:. I do squishy more than you would think. Louis profit isn't the same for everybody. I have one person that used to frame everything in terms of time, money and reputation.
And I think you can frame profit in [00:30:00] the same way. What is it that's important to you? Is profit the money, where is profit? Something else? It's a little squishier. Like the ability I had a client in Austin. She wanted to go to her children and swim lessons on like Tuesday or Thursday mornings. Okay.
So we had to help her build a firm where there were enough people that they covered her court appearances on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I am in time with her family was a profit source for her. Like that was important at another client who wanted to set up a national practice. She was also a woman.
She wanted to set up a practice doing high profile divorce cases because she had a very specific segment of the divorce market in mind. So we had to set up a law firm for her, where [00:31:00] she was not any part of the sales process, because she was constantly traveling to work these cases in other States, she wanted that reputation.
She wanted that fulfillment, that came from trying these hope high profile cases. You need a little bit of all of it, and it's all profit. It's just profit by different names. So, what is it? I'm not going to put you on the spot, Louis, but I'll tell the listeners on the spot. What is it that's important to you to get from your law firm?
Oh yeah, I think that's a great question. I, I ask myself that all the time and I mean, I would just say it's an evolving.
Brooke Lively: When I started this business travel is an eight. Kind of profit for me, there is, I am happiest when I am sitting on an airplane. Like it is people talk about having a gratitude practice, man, I get on a [00:32:00] plane and my gratitude is overflowing.
I just loved that. And when I started this business, my deal was I'm going to work four days a week or three weeks a month because I'm going to spend time traveling. And I do, and I love that.
Louis Goodman: Let me ask you this, Brooke, you're a numbers person. What if you came into some real money and by that, I mean, $3 or $4 billion.
So money just really didn't work into the equation of what you want to do or what you could do. What, if anything would you do differently?
Brooke Lively: I would probably travel a little bit more. I would have fresh flowers in my house every week. I don't think I would change very much about my company. I certainly wouldn't quit.
I get so much satisfaction and intellectual stimulation from what we do.
Louis Goodman: Okay. Brooke, there's so much that we could talk about, but [00:33:00] is there any sort of one thing that you think that we really should cover that we haven't covered.
Brooke Lively: I think it's this, and maybe this is not one thing that we haven't covered, but one thing to really kind of sum up what we've talked about, the numbers in your business are not as scary as you think they're going to be in my experience.
This is how it goes with attorneys in their numbers. They are intimidated by them. Sometimes they don't want to look at them because they're afraid of what they're going to look like. But the fact of the matter is they're not usually as bad as you imagine they are, and if they are that's okay, at least you can formulate a plan to move forward and improve them.
And it's much better if you're the one that reaches out for help than waiting for somebody to come intervene. Because usually the people that intervene are the Bar Association. The IRS who our bank intervention isn't usually [00:34:00] really great. When you're an adult owner of a law firm you want to be a little proactive about that, but really it is rarely as bad as you think it is.
And it's not as scary. And I promise usually with everyone listening to this is bright enough to grasp. A few numbers that will let you put your finger on the pulse of your firm. And more importantly, knowing the pulse of your firm, just let you sleep better at night.
Louis Goodman: It's been a pleasure talking to you this afternoon.
Thank you so much for joining me here on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. I appreciate all of your answers.
Brooke Lively: Well, thank you so much for having me. It's been fun. And, you know, I'm available Louis if you have questions, if your clients have questions, if your listeners have questions.
Louis Goodman: That's it for today's episode of Love Thy Lawyer.
If you enjoyed [00:35:00] listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I'll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always to my guests to share their wisdom and to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson, for technical support and Tracey Harvey.
I'm Louis Goodman.
Brooke Lively: It's kind of like a post-grad post-grad yeah. Having to take the bar every year for three years.
Louis Goodman: I'm not sure I can emotionally handle that.