What You Deserve to Know Before Starting Your Law Firm

December 30, 2020
By: Matthew Laurin

James FausoneJames Fausone is Managing Partner at Fausone Bohn, LLP, a law firm based in Northville, Michigan that specializes in business, Veterans’ disability, criminal defense, family law, and more.

In addition to running a busy law practice, Jim has participated on numerous civic boards, including the University of Michigan College of Engineering, Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Honor, Center for Digital Engagement, and Schoolcraft College, among many others.

He and his wife, retired Brigadier General Carol Ann Fausone, also support many local veterans’ organizations and host the annual Veterans’ Summit for the Canton Community Foundation.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Who is James Fausone?
  • How James started his law practice.
  • The changes a small law firm should expect and welcome.
  • James shares the story behind his interest in veteran matters and why he started Legal Help for Veterans.
  • Things you can’t run away from if you are practicing law as a business.
  • James talks about one of the mistakes that translated into future success.
  • Morning rituals that’ll help you grow your law practice.
  • James’ advice to attorneys trying to start their law firm.

In this episode…

If you’re thinking about starting your law firm, the first thing you deserve to know is that your practice area is bound to evolve. And with that comes the need to stay nimble and be willing to do what law school didn’t teach you: practice law as a business. What more do you deserve to know before starting your firm?

Listen to this episode of the Esq.Marketing Podcast with Matthew Laurin as he chats with James Fausone, Managing Partner at Fausone Bohn, LLP. Their conversation touches on the different areas of starting and running a law practice, including the mistakes made, management tips to help you get ahead, marketing advice for your practice, and more.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Readings Mentioned: 

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Esq Marketing, your firm’s strategic search marketing partner. Esq Marketing helps law firms generate more clients and cases using search marketing and helping them land on the first page on Google so that clients can find you right away. We help companies ranging from those with 10 or less members to those with over 50 in their team, essentially creating a marketing department for them to help them reach potential clients with ease.

 

Episode Transcript

Intro

You’re listening to the Esq.Marketing Podcast hosted by Matthew Laurin, President of Esq.Marketing, where he features successful solo and SMB law firms from all over the United States. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Matthew Laurin

Hey, I’m Matthew Laurin, President of Esq.Marketing and you’re listening to the Esq.Marketing Podcast where I feature successful solo and SMB law firms from all over the United States. This episode is brought to you by Esq.Marketing, we help law firms generate more clients in cases using search marketing. And speaking of successful lawyers today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Jim Fausone. Jim is Managing Partner at Fausone Bohn, a law firm based in Northville, Michigan, and specializing in areas of business, Veterans’ disability, criminal and family law. In addition to running a busy law practice, Jim has participated on numerous civic boards, including the University of Michigan College of Engineering, Michigan Military, and Veterans Hall of Honor, Center for Digital Engagement and Schoolcraft College, among many others. He and his wife, retired Brigadier General Carol Ann Fausone , also supports many local veterans’ organizations. Jim, welcome to the show.

James Fausone

Hey, Matthew, good, good to be on. Good to kick this around a little bit with you.

Matthew Laurin

I was toying around with what accolades to put in there, you have so many listed on your website, it seems like you’re super active in the community.

James Fausone

Well, when you’re when you’ve been around for a long time, you get a chance to do a lot of things. So that’s a that’s a little bit of about longevity, I suppose. That’s awesome.

Matthew Laurin

So um, one basic question that I like to ask to all successful attorneys on the show is, how did you get started with your law practice? How did that go back in the beginning? Sure.

James Fausone

I actually have a civil engineering degree. What wasn’t planning on being a lawyer, my vision to be wife was in military and I went to law school on the GI Bill, having served myself and came back from Washington state to the state of Michigan, clerked for a judge then ended up at a large law firm and became a partner at that law firm. Was there maybe 1415 years and went to work for a client in house for a client was president of the company, it was a industrial and commercial waste, business hazardous waste business. So it was right up my environmental engineering background. Did that for a few years, and the owner of the company died unexpectedly of a heart attack, and found myself reevaluating what I was going to do next. And rather than go in back into a big law firm, which I could have done, after being out for three years, and having absolutely no clients, I decided to open up a law practice in the suburban Metro Detroit area, with a couple of guys I practiced with at the big law firm, and we thought we were opening up a boutique environmental law firm. And that’s how we started. That’s what the first letterhead says. But honestly, the marketplace really did take dictates what you’re going to do. And over time, we found that the clients that we were giving environmental advice to also wanted business advice, contract advice, then somebody needed divorce, custody advice, and then somebody Vice President got in trouble with drinking and driving, and we needed a criminal lawyer. So over time the practice evolved. And And in addition, we saw a decrease when I’ve been in practice in that firm now for 25 plus years, at Fausone Bohn. And we saw a change in how environmental manners got regulated. So there was a decreasing need for environmental lawyers. And we were not really no longer a boutique environmental firm. Although we do still a fair bit of environmental work, it expanded over time. And one of the areas that expanded in two was Veterans Disability because of our connections with the military. And so I like to tell lawyers that about every five years your practice is going to change in some way or another. You might be able to predict it, but you might not be able to predict it. And over 25 years, I would say the practice has changed five different times in different ways. Some anticipated some not so much.

Matthew Laurin

Yeah. And it also sounds like opportunities came along and you were able to recognize those when they did you know with different areas of practice and kind of capitalize on those as they came?

James Fausone

Absolutely. And that’s one of the things small law firm is able to do that a big law firm isn’t and that is to be nimble, and seize those opportunities when they arise. Now, you also have to be nimble. In your marketing and sort of change, maybe your flavor, certainly our very first website, you know, branded us as an environmental law firm. Well, we had to strip that off and change it around entirely as we added people and did things. So yeah, you grab those opportunities when they arise, and you have to be nimble enough to grab them. And you have to be nimble enough to recognize that you also need to be changing your approach marketing approach, because what happens is people who first found you doing just one thing, only think about you in that way. We still have people who go, I thought all you did was environmental law. And I still have business clients who go well, I didn’t know you did environmental law. Well, we were just so it’s really about how folks find you what they associate your name with. And as you move into new areas, you’ve got to be out there. Letting that only existing customers know, but others, that you now do something different. So it’s been interesting in that regard as well.

Matthew Laurin

That’s great. That’s great. I noticed that you’re extremely passionate about veterans matters. And you have the the other firm listed on your LinkedIn profile and you’re active in veterans groups. How did that come about? What’s the story behind all that?

James Fausone

So we set up legal help for veterans pllc as a practice group of Fausone Bohn about 17 or 18 years ago now, at that time, the VA didn’t allow attorneys really to charge for their work, helping veterans get their disability, because under the original theory, the federal government was there to help you. You didn’t need no stinking attorney to help you. And certainly what happened over time, and you know, 20 years ago, came pretty obvious that the regulations were so complex, the bureaucracy was so steep, that the veteran couldn’t figure it out themselves, they needed legal help. And they would, they would often turn to a veteran service organization like Disabled American Veterans or Paralyzed Veterans of America, or Veterans of Foreign Wars VFW and those groups got money from the federal government to help veterans with their disability claims. But they weren’t lawyers, they were they were other guys passionate about helping veterans. But if this was not going to be an adversarial process, you just needed somebody who had been through it before. But it became more adversarial became harder to do. In particularly, we’ve been right we’ve been in, or the Global War on Terror for 20 years now, from 911. And the injuries became more complex. Establishing the medical Nexus became more complex, complex. So we had people coming to us and say, I don’t get this, can you explain this to us, and we do a few of them pro bono here and there, and then the volume gets so big, once the reputation started to go, Well, I’m going to turn this into a real practice. And over over time, the federal government changed their approach a little bit recognising the need for lawyers in the system. So we were early in that game, and have built a sizable national practice as a result. Now, it helps that my I’ve got military experience and helps up my wife, retired nurse and Brigadier General. So she’s got a lot of experience. And some of the people we’ve put around us are, you know, licensed social workers and others who can really help on the harder cases, the lawyers don’t really get the easy cases, they stay with the Veteran Service Organization. This we’re not so we’re not talking about somebody who’s lost a limb. They never, they’ll never need a lawyer, they go route, you know, right through the system easily. We’re talking about the more complex issues medically complex, and we have a series of nurses and doctors who review records for us and write opinions for us nurse practitioners to help advance these claims. So it’s really grown over the almost 20 years now that we got in there because somebody has to help out. And this happens a lot with lawyers. First, we get asked to do it in pro bono, and you do a few of these. And then then you realize, wait a minute, there’s so much work here. I got to get paid on some of this because, again, staff that I got to pay.

Matthew Laurin

So that’s how a lot of great, great opportunity start, right, it’s just you you help out and then it turns into something else. You mentioned in your bio that you had started a lot of businesses. You know, throughout your career, how has that helped you in running a law firm?

James Fausone

Well, what they don’t teach you in law school is the practice of laws as a business. You, you, you start with having to be a really good lawyer, right? A lawyer, people can trust somebody that gets looked up to and respected. That’s how that’s how you get word of mouth clients, one one person at a time. But, but really in the end, a law firm as a business, whether it’s cash flow or payroll or applying the COVID issues, to your employees, all that does then translate to advising businesses, small businesses, and so a lot of times, self, my partners, we’re advising businesses, and we’re going through or have gone through some of those same experiences. A good one, at the moment would be federal protection plans. Yes, you take the money in the spring of 2020. What’s gonna happen on the tech side in 2021? Well, it changed the login. So again, being understanding that the legal practice, as soon as you go from one lawyer to to, from one staff, person to two, you’re in business, when it’s just you, and maybe it’s you and one person, and maybe it’s a micro business, but you know, you don’t touch a lot of these issues. But as soon as you start adding staff, adding some complexity, that’s where you’re gonna run, you’re gonna feel like you’re in business and go, Hey, wait a minute, I didn’t edit Teach me this in law school. Maybe I never even took an accounting degree accounting class, you’ll feel that maybe maybe it should have. Yeah, and

Matthew Laurin

I hear that a lot with with some of the attorneys that I talked to, as they I mean, there’s obviously the marketing and sales aspect of it. But the only other business processes you don’t really think about in in law school, and they don’t teach you about obviously, too.

James Fausone

Well, you bring up a good point, again, most lawyers will tell you, I don’t want to be a salesperson. Yeah, I want to be a sales, I’ve gone into X, Y or Z in sales. It’s not my interest. But what we’re all selling something some way somehow, it may not be the classic salesman approach. But again, if nobody knows what you do, and nobody has an understanding of the quality that you’re doing in that, then you’re probably not meeting your potential. So it’s really important to get out there. And explain yourself, tell a story, inform people, whatever language you’d like to put around it. That’s the sales aspect of practicing law.

Matthew Laurin

Great advice. Great advice. Jim, as you look back in your career, what is one failure or mistake, that translated to your future success?

James Fausone

there’s a there’s an interesting question. I think I think we, we all have client failures that we have to build on, you know, we don’t meet expectations, maybe maybe we, we don’t have the right skill set. And maybe we don’t have the time to devote to a particular project. And I think every time you do that, and you fail, or you don’t live up to your own expected expectations, which should be pretty high. It gives you an opportunity to reflect and say, well, when this comes around, again, I’m going to do X. So when we were a small law firm, right now, I’ve got about 15 lawyers and the total compliment of staff of maybe 42. When we were a small law firm, we have the opportunity to get involved in a big piece of litigation. That was right up our niche because of our environmental expertise. But but we didn’t have the ability to manage the documents maybe the right way. And so it really forced us into reflecting on what technology we needed, and what other relationships we needed. We ended up early on adapting scanning for all our mail and all our documents that fade stamping everything so you can find it when a lot of firms were still staying in paper that gave us an edge up. And we also work with legal services providers who had not only contract lawyers in the United States, but over in India. So we do these massive projects that we could we didn’t have the staff to get to, but we could turn them over to our subcontractors to plow through that and in a timely fashion and financially affordable fashion for the client to handle those sorts of things. So I think failing to be able to do it. The first time allowed us to second time around but we know what we need. And we don’t have any internally and how do we how do we outsource this in a way? That makes it all work?

Matthew Laurin

Yeah, failure is the best teachers. And

James Fausone

it does. It hurts, but it does teach you.

Matthew Laurin

Yeah. Um, so I’m a big believer in rituals for success, whether it’s, you know, something, my common one is, you swallow that you eat the frog every morning, you wake up, and the first thing you do is something challenging. So the rest of the day is hard. What is one thing that you would recommend young attorneys do on a regular basis, whether it’s daily or weekly, to help them grow a law practice?

James Fausone

Well, I probably have a difficult time just picking one because I’ve got numerous morning rituals that make make the day and then the week go along, but certainly one of them is the days to do list I am a to do list guy. Tell me tell me what I got to do. First thing I do every morning is make sure I’ve got it all written down, prioritize and attacking me to

Matthew Laurin

here’s here’s my to do list. Yeah.

James Fausone

I left mine in the other room. But But if you do give you put it together and you prioritize it, part of what it does is, many of us will choose the simplest thing to do, or the easiest thing to do, maybe not the hardest thing to do. So So I try to make sure particularly I’m a morning guy, so you know, I’m freshest in the morning. The people aren’t lining up at my door asking me questions or interrupting me so so I try to get that hard thing done. First thing in the morning. That’s the other piece of advice, because we’re really talking to lawyers here who are business owners. I also try to daily, take a quick look at my financial position. So I’m looking at the bank accounts and seeing what’s coming in what’s going out. Too many people say, Well, I only touch it once, once a once a month I you know, record, maybe I can reconcile the checkbook once but no, no, no, I you get half of this. And he can in and honestly, that’s advice I give to business owners when they’re starting out. They’re busy doing out in the field doing whatever it is they do to make a buck. But if you’re not paying attention to those spikes, when they either come in the door, or you’re billing and not receiving, you’re gonna find yourself in problems. So recognize it is a business, you have to put a little bit of time into the business every day to advance and and I think that’s something I’d recommend to people, people as well. You can do a deeper dive once a month, or once a week, I do a deeper dive every Saturday morning, pull up the QuickBooks off the accounting software, see what my office managers done and so that I know where it is, but daily do a little something that advances the business side, not just the legal side of the business.

Matthew Laurin

That’s great advice. Um, what piece of what are what tips would you give to an attorney thinking of starting their own law firm other than other than those ones you just mentioned, if there’s somebody who’s working at a bigger firm, maybe they’re thinking of breaking away.

James Fausone

So you have to be able to take the risk, right? When when I made this decision, it was sort of forced on me because I made the one decision to leave the practice of law and the guy I’m buying the stock from and taking the company over dies and who’s the state gets in and you know, I can either stick around and deal with that craziness or go start to practice a lot. As I said, I didn’t have a client at the time, because I’ve been out of the practice three years. So you have to be able to take a risk that obviously not everybody’s cut out, to be a business owner to be via, to run a law firm. You have to be able to take that risk. I tell this to business clients, but it’s applicable here to a law firm owner, one side of your brain is going to say, this is gonna be great. This is the best opportunity in the world. I can control my own world. This is I’m gonna you know this, I’m gonna get rewarded for what I do. The other side of your brain is going this is utterly ridiculous, you’re gonna fail, you’re gonna bankrupt you’re gonna embarrass yourself, you’re gonna lose your home. What you hope is those two sides aren’t doing it at 2am so that you can sleep. But you have to be a little skips a frantic and not everybody can handle both of those. They can’t really they can’t manage compartmentalize, put it out of your head. But if you can, it’s extremely rewarding. It’s been it’s been great for us something I I didn’t start out in this direction. Didn’t expect to be here 25 years later. You know, we’re from a financial standpoint, we’re doing better than anybody could have imagined. Even if I had stayed with the big firm, doing way better than my peers would have done from an ability to be involved. in the community, when you run your own firm, you get to be involved. You said, well, geez, Jim, you’re pretty busy guy, you’re involved in all these civic things. Those are things I want to be involved in. And I’m allowed to be involved in because I’m in a small business, I’m in a small law practice. We can control our own fate. We can say this is important to do. And nobody tells you, you can’t. So whether it’s I’ve got a partner who coaches, high school football, what he does every August through through November, depending on playoffs, it’s been doing it for 20 years. It’s, you know, sort of family coaching in the firm it probably in that order. That, that that’s what defines him, I have another guy who’s a motorcycle rider and he’s got a ride every week. Otherwise, it he’s just, it’s just that him and his life isn’t balanced, right? He’d never be able to do that in a big firm or somebody was dictating other things, too. And honestly, he finds more clients riding bikes with a bunch of guys than you’d ever imagine. Because those guys riding motorcycles are business owners and veterans and people who have real life problems. So I encourage people to you know, if you can manage the risk, if your head will let you do that, you got to have some financial cushion, you got to have backing by the family support for it because they’ll be lean times or absolutely will be mean times. It’s a wonderful, it’ll, it’ll provide you a wonderful career.

Matthew Laurin

Like I said, the first thing is just make sure you’re cut out for it. It reminds me of the E-myth Revisited. Michael Gerber’s book, how a lot of business owners started out as technicians turned business owners and they don’t really, you know, they’re good at that one thing, whether it’s law or, you know, baking cakes or making hamburgers, but they don’t. When they get into business for themselves, they realize there’s all these other aspects that you either have to delegate or do yourself until you have a team to do it.

James Fausone

And Matthew, there are unpleasant aspects of it. Right, the cashflow problem is unpleasant when you can’t pay a vendor. Firing somebody because they’re not meeting expectations. This is unpleasant. You people will not like you based on you know, certain business decisions you have to make. Yeah, on raises you’re going to give out or bonuses you’re going to give out or even assignments you’re going to give up. So you have to have the the mental toughness isn’t the right word, but the mental toughness to say, I’m making this decision, I’m making it because I think it’s in the best interest of the firm. And I’m willing to take whatever Fallout comes from it, even though those people won’t understand all the factors I took into account to make this decision.

Matthew Laurin

Agreed. Agreed. Jim, a final question. Um, what is one book you recommend every attorney read who’s either just starting out in private practice? Or maybe they’re thinking about doing it?

James Fausone

Wow, you didn’t ask you that ahead of time. So a good chance to think of think of them

Matthew Laurin

will get a truly authentic answer.

James Fausone

Yeah, think of one thing. So I, I tried to have a book title for it. But I guess I would tell you, it’s not in the area of law. Okay, we find that thing that resonates with you that that expands your horizon. Whether it’s in an area you you have an interest in, but are involved in. We’re talking about marketing here, at some level, I knew nothing about digital marketing. And over time, I knew I had to become more involved and more into that. So I’ve certainly tried to read that sort of information. business books in general, Warren Buffett’s an investor and writes a annual letter with great business and practical advice and he’s from Omaha. And he writes like a normal person who doesn’t is not a New York elitist or or West Coast elitist. So so even any of those sorts of things, I guess I’d say sort of a homespun business advice of Warren Buffett. You can never go wrong.

Matthew Laurin

I love Warren Buffett. You’ve been listening to Jim Fausone Partner, Managing Partner at Fausone Bohn. Jim, where can people go to learn more about the law firm?

James Fausone

So go to FB as in Fausone Bohn on FB-firm.com, you’ll find the law firm and if you’re interested in our Veterans Disability practice, it’s Legalhelpforveterans.com and excellent we do because that’s a national practice legal help for veterans camp really covers the where a lot of our marketing effort goes and a lot of our marketing experience comes from from And we’ve employed everything there, Matthew from using consultants to help us with SEO or pay per click management to in the last year or two last year, I guess, which we hired a marketing guy for inside the firm, because we felt that we really, really need to step up the game. And I guess there’s a piece of advice I’d give folks to is even we hired our marketing assistant. I should have done this years ago, I knew I should have done this years ago. And I sort of bounced around for a while and didn’t know if I could convince my partners on this. Finally, I said, I know I have to do this, I’m just going to do it. And if you guys don’t like it, you know what, so what, but we did this right before COVID. We did this right before shutdown, and the easy thing to do would have been stopped that marketing. Mm hmm. But, you know, we looked at it really. So we’ve got a marker way through this problem. And I didn’t think it takes this long. I didn’t think we’d be working from home this way. But one of the better things I think we did is not give up on those efforts in the downturns. But it’s nice to extend our reach, extend what we were doing, while some others fell away and stopped doing it, you know, we were able to move into that space. And I think it’s helped, in part because people are at home working, but they’re also on they’re on digital more right there on the internet more, they’re checking more things out. So we’ve seen an uptick in our internet contacts from folks because of that effort. So you know, it, go to Legalhelpforveterans.com, or on Facebook, or any of the other social platforms and you’ll see some of the things that we’re doing in that marketing space for that practice group as well.

Matthew Laurin

Those are all awesome tips. Jim, thanks a whole lot for taking time.

James Fausone

Not a problem, Matthew, thank you.

Conclusion

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