9. Ken Hardison, PILMMA – Systematic Marketing of the Three Law Firm Marketing Phases

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In this episode of the Rankings Podcast, Chris Dreyer talks to Ken Hardison of PILMMA and Hardison and Cochran about the systematic approach to building a multimillion-dollar law firm. Listen in as Ken shares his wealth of experience from running a multi-million dollar law practice himself and find out the top tips on how to effectively market your firm and grow your business.

Transcript

Chris Dreyer

It can take years to find out which marketing strategy works best for your firm. And finding your special blend can cost a lot of money as well as time too. So when you do finally hone your perfect marketing method, the last thing you want to do is go around telling people how they can replicate your success. But not only did my guest today do just that. He also made a career of it.

Ken Hardison

A lot of lawyers would call me, you know, pick my brains. And I said, you know, I must know something. So started charging for it, you know? And, uh, it was really a hobby. And then when I got serious about that, we built that into a multi-million dollar business.

Chris Dreyer

My guest today is Ken Hardison, president of law marketing and management consultants, PILMMA and senior partner at Hardison and Cochran. Ken has taken his years of experience growing his own firm and channeled into the powerful, innovative lawyers, marketing and management association, and now helps lawyers all over the country to achieve their goals. Join us as we discuss what it takes to turn your seven figure firm into an eight figure firm. Why there’s no space for yes-men in your inner circle. And what are some of his top marketing tips for lawyers? That’s coming up on The Rankings Podcast, the show where founders, entrepreneurs, and elite personal injury attorneys share their inspiring stories about what they did to get to the top and what keeps them there. I’m Chris Dreyer. Stay with us. Before Ken became the legal marketing expert he is today. He was a lawyer, much like many of you just trying to find the best way to get more clients and grow his business. And thanks to his innovative spirit. That’s exactly what he achieved.

Ken Hardison

I graduated from law school in ’82, went in with the oldest firm in a small town, about 10,000 in North Carolina. And, uh, built up pretty good practice. And then in like ’92, ’93, I started this plateau and, and, uh, we won’t do anything but yellow pages and just word of mouth. Um, and, uh, I did a little bit of everything. Uh, did a lot of PI I did all the PI at the firm. We had three lawyers. I did social security and PC and criminal. Uh, not felony, but misdemeanor DWIs. And I went into court one day and this guy walks in, lets call him Joe, I don’t remember his name. This was about 200… It’s about 1995, 4? And he’s walking on crutches and had a broken leg. I said, what happened? Je said oh, this semi trailer, you know, hit me broadside. And I said, well, you know, I do that. He said, yeah, but I hired this guy TV. I figured he must be good if he’s on TV. And I thought myself, this guy has never tried a case in his life. Uh, but he was a great marketer. He really was. And he, and he was one of my biggest competitors after I got the role with… uh, and he does a good job, at marketing, anyhow, he’s hired some really good lawyers. So I said I’ve nothing to say bad about him, but at that time I was just shaking my head. We tried this DWI and of course. I won it. Go back to the office. I sit down, my partner said, we gotta, we gotta, we gotta rethink this thing. And he said, oh its unprofessional, and uh, we’re never gonna do this. And so we had conversations for about, oh 6 or 12 months, and I just took off and left and started my own firm in ’96. And I started with me another lawyer in three staff and, uh, took some of the cases. We worked out a deal and I paid him percentage and we did some cases. So I went out and borrowed, uh, everything I had a mortgage, everything I even said I’d mortgage my first son. But, uh, I got a half a million, not a lot of credit and I put it, I went on TV. And, uh, we went from sign up 20 cases a month to 120 cases a month in like 90 days.

Chris Dreyer

Wow.

Ken Hardison

Uh, and that’s a great thing, but that’s also a bad thing and we can talk about that later, but that’s how it worked. And, uh, you know, uh, so there was, uh. It was really good and it was really bad. Uh, I could, I could spell that if you want, you know.

Chris Dreyer

When you jump from 20 to 120 cases, obviously there’s chaos. Right? Then, then you have a different problem. You’ve got an operations problem. So take me back to some of those.

Ken Hardison

Yeah. So, I mean, it was like crazy, man. I mean, we were not prepared for it. Uh, you know, and I, uh, And so one of my biggest “a-ha!” moments was I read Michael Gerber’s E-Myth, uh, and, and then I had this lady that they had helped build another personal injury firm come to me and she says, I can help you if you willing to work she’s I can turn, I can help you turn this into a multimillion dollar business. I said, all right, let’s go for it. And so she was really instrumental in, uh, helping me create processes and procedures and like employee manuals and hiring and onboarding and training. Uh, now the other thing is it created a hell of a cash crunch because, you know, I had some cases without having to give a lot of half the things away to my former partners. So, you know, um, it was, uh, it was dire. I mean, you know, even though I was a, you know, I felt like I was sitting on a gold mine, but it was like, I remember, uh, January of ’98, I told the lady, her name’s Shirley. I said, if this thing don’t change by June, we’re shutting it down. I said, I can’t, I I’m. First time I’ve ever been depressed in my life, man. I mean, I actually stayed in bed for about a week and I never had been depressed since then, but it really was just overwhelming because we were behind on bills like 60, 90 days. And we hit, we’re sitting on frigging, you know, almost a thousand cases. I mean, you know, people got to get well, you know, and you don’t want to sell it for nothing. And I was real particular about that. I want to just. I’d rather go bankrupt in the sell out to a client. You know, I was just, I was real stubborn. Um, but then the big defining moment was in June of ’98, I’ll never forget, we had our first hundred thousand dollars a month month, and it just grew like, wildfire. Four Years later we had 13 lawyers and 47 Staff. And we were doing about four or 5 million a year, and then we got up to that 8 million and I sold it in 2010.

Chris Dreyer

Ken had finally got to the point where he felt like things were really taking off for his firm. He had more clients, more lawyers. Andy had the procedures in place to handle all the extra work. A lot of people would be happy with that level of success, but not Ken. He wanted to help others achieve what he had, which inspired him to set up PILMMA. I wanted to find out what exactly the organization does and how it helps lawyers achieve their goals.

Ken Hardison

So what we are is that we help law firms crush. So what we do is we do a monthly magazine. Uh, I do masterminds for, uh, we, uh, I do coaching one-on-one coaching. I do group coaching. Uh, we have, uh, webinars. We have, uh, Q and A’s, you know, we, uh. We’ve got a big, um, uh, vault full of forms and articles and webinars and, and video trainings. And we created some software to help you figure out your ROI. We figured we’ve got some software to help you figure out, uh, created these “five stages of law firm growth” and what the sticking points are and what you got to do, overcome and get to the next step. We get people to take those tests, and then we tell them, this is where you go to get the information, or this is what you can do to get there quicker. And so what we try to do is shortcut it so that lawyers don’t have to make the same mistakes I did. Uh, you know, it’s the. Somebody has already been there and done it most of the time. So, you know, the deal is, uh, getting there quicker and less expensive. Uh, and we charge them up for the membership theme and got like three levels of membership. Uh, uh, the, the, the masterminds is probably what I’m best known across the country for. I’ve got like five different masterminds meet three times a year. It’s sort of like a mini board of advisors. I got different levels. You know, people that are smaller firms medium, and it actually got one where they’re always all do eight figures. They tend to be more from 10 to $50 million a year, but also got firms. They’ve got little solos. I got the platinum that they do need about a quarter million a year. You know what I mean? But their goal is to get to the eight-figure, you know, most of them. Not all, not all of them. Cause some of them just won’t, you know, everybody wants something different. Some of them just won’t. 40 hours a week or 30 hours a week and make net a couple hundred thousand and they’re happy. But most of them are, what I found with PI lawyers, they’re very aggressive and, uh, they they’re, they’re sorta like my uncle. They don’t want all the real estate in the land. They just want everything that butts theirs.

Chris Dreyer

So I saw the ultimate mastermind group and it, and you mentioned in your video, you have to apply to join. So instantaneously, even myself, I’m not even an attorney and I automatically had that fear of missing out like, well, what is this? I, you know, so. What I wanted to ask you was what separates the, the seven figure attorneys from the eight figures? What makes them different?

Ken Hardison

Okay. Uh, there’s a couple things, but I think the biggest key is that they, they actually get shit done and they’re not, and they make decisions quickly. Um, And other than the key I think is, is having focused discipline. What I mean by that is if you’ve got focused and you got discipline, then you’re gonna execute. But I see so many lawyers that I need to do this, yeah, I’m going to get around to this this, or oh,. I don’t know that might not work there. Their biggest problem is their own self and their mindset. Uh, you know, and, and it’s part of the law school. They train you to think analytically and look at the worst thing that can happen because you’re trying to do that for your clients to protect them, but then you end up doing it for yourself and it’s the wrong mindset to grow, uh, any kind of million dollar business. Because you’ve got to take calculated risk and you can’t sit around and just wait and over-analyze, I call it the analysis paralysis. I mean, sometimes you, people just want a damn decision, you know, let’s just go. Uh, sort of like the Nike commercials used to do, but I think that’s, you know, actually taking action, getting shit done.

Chris Dreyer

I was in this stage and I would refer to those individuals as ruminators, they would just ruminate on ideas and not, not execute.

Ken Hardison

Yeah.

Chris Dreyer

And, you know, they get an idea, they just take it. So I’ve got a funny story. I’m going to break away from this just for a moment. And you may not even know this. So a couple of years ago, Michael Mogill from Crisp, you know at the Game Changer summit, the top referral partner got a Tesla. And of course you won, you won. Do you, do you know who number two was?

Ken Hardison

Uh, you, evidently.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. Yeah. I was number two and I got zilch. So the, the, uh, the Ricky Bobby quote, if you’re not first you’re last kind of comes to mind there.

Ken Hardison

I’m sorry about that.

Chris Dreyer

Oh, it’s all good. Like, Hey, you executed and you, it was a well-deserved and you know, we can’t all do everything. If there’s something that I’m not good at, I like to refer to someone that’s great at it. So that’s kind of the situation I ran into and I’m sure that’s the same, same as you.

Ken Hardison

Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. You know, in my whole deal is I think another key to my success has been that I’m humble enough to know that I don’t know everything. And I actually have no problem surrounding myself with people that are smarter than I am in certain things, you know. Uh, when it comes to technology, um, I suck. I mean, you know, I have, I don’t even know how to type, so, you know, I have to, when it comes to technology, I really have to hire people that are a lot more talented than I am. I’m not really good manager of a good leader, but I’m really terrible at managing, uh, I’m not a detailed guy. I’m a big vision guy, ideal guy, uh. So I have to surround myself with people that are detailed and are good managers. I’ve always had really strong managers to manage my people because I just suck at it to be honest with you, because I think it’s, I want everybody to like me. I kind of got over that. The biggest problem I, I had, one of my mentors told me, he says, every decision you make yourself, here’s how to deal with it, is in the best interest of the law firm? I mean, I had the fire, they said I had to fire the president-elect of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers, I had to fire the sister and one of my main main managers, uh. But the deal was, it was in the best interest of the law firm.

Chris Dreyer

Ken, let’s talk about that. Most people will just set on these, you know, C players and try to turn them into a B you know, you, if you read Top Graders, you can’t take a C to an A. You might be able to get them to a B. What what’s your process to, to take care of that action? What did you learn from having to make those tough decisions?

Ken Hardison

Yup. Uh, well, but the basic principle is hire slow and fire fast. Uh, uh, I’m more into, uh, attitude. Well, what I’m saying is I can teach somebody. I’d rather have somebody with no skill sets that’s got a hell of a attitude and got the right mindset because I can teach them that, but I keep teaching them to be hungry. I can’t teach them to be a team player per se. I can teach them to be a better team player, but I can’t teach them to, if they are individuals that are renegade and go and do it their way I can teach them, they’re gonna fight me. So we go through a process. First thing I do is when we do the ad for the job, whatever it is, I put something in there that they got to do that if they’re just sending it out just a hundred resumes they won’t see it. But I said, uh, uh, write, uh, two, two paragraphs about who David Ogilvy is, uh, you know, who was one of the best marketers in the world. Uh, and then I might say, you know, if it’s a manager, I might say, uh, Uh, tell me who Michael Gerber is. And then sometimes with paralegals you say, uh, when you’ve seen the application, tell me who won the 2009, uh, masters. And all I’m doing is just making sure they read and that they can, and they got the ability to go and look up something online. Right. And then we go in with, we go, we pick and thread them out and get, do some interviews, but two levels of interviews. And then we narrow it down about about three people. And I give this test, I been, using this test, I dont’t know, 15 years, it’s, uh, this guy, Jay Henderson, out of Raleigh called Real Talent Hiring. And it tells you, uh, it’s not, uh, it’s not IQ test. Uh, it’s not a personality test. It tells you that their ability to solve problems, uh, and whether or not they’re going to be a team player. And whether or not they’re inner directed, which I didn’t know what that meant. Until, uh, uh, you have accomplished with Jay yet you do this test and the test is weird. It’s like 20 things you got to write from worst to best. And another 20 things you gotta rank from best to worst. And it’s stuff like the holocaust, a baby, an angel, uh, flat tire. I mean, it’s just crazy shit. How can you come up with this? But he, but he does. And, uh, I found it to be like 95% allowable. Nothing’s a hundred percent, but inner directed is, this, when somebody’s emotionally inner directed, people are very brilliant, but I can’t work with them because they only, they see a problem and they see the answer very quickly, but there’s always more than one answer. Right. But they only see their answer and they don’t understand why everybody else is so stupid. They don’t see it and they will not listen to any other alternatives. I mean, I don’t have any problem. Somebody disagree with me the on anything. In fact, I welcome it. You can not have a bunch of yes people.

Chris Dreyer

So just to kind of summarize. So when you get all these resumes, instead of even looking at a thousand resumes, you’re having them do an assessment. So that weeds out the people and you can identify who’s following the directions. And at some point you, you do, I wouldn’t call it a personality assessment like Disc or Predictive index or Colby. It’s, it’s more of this internal one to see if they’re the right fit. Let’s say you hire this individual that go through this process. And by the way, doing that is it’s going to increase your chances to find the right person. Let’s just say somebody slips through the cracks. It’s not, they’re not performing, they’re not executing. They’re just, they’re not meshing with your values. What are, what are the steps you take then?

Ken Hardison

Oh, uh, well, I mean, usually when I hire somebody they’re on a, 90 day probation. And so I usually know, and usually, you know. Um, it depends on what it is, but, uh, sometimes I’ll try to rehabilitate them. Uh, most of the time, be honest with you. I just get rid of them. I just don’t waste a lot of time. If nothing, if it’s something just a little. But if it’s a major deal, I just don’t try to even deal with it. I just say, this is not a good fit. You know, I said, you know, you’re great and all this, but you’re just not a good fit for us, you know, you know, and that is the deal. You got to get somebody that aligns with your values, you know. And that’s some of the questions we ask them, like, you know, We’re all about teamwork. You know, we, we, we, we practice this strategy of preeminence. Everything we do should be for the betterment of our clients. Uh, or our members. Uh, but when I was a law firm, Uh, I had this deal – you have, I had this deal with us. Some of us use when you talk to a client, put grandma at the end of the sentence. If you wouldn’t talk to your grandmother like that, don’t talk to our clients like that. I call it the grandma test. I stole that from a guy named Jeffrey Gitomer who wrote a book he’s out of Charlotte, he’s a big sales person and he’s written a lot of sales books. Yeah, so, you know, I really, I really pushed that. I had a client service manual, and they had to take a test when I had my law firm and they had to hit at least 90% or I didn’t hire them. Even after I did the testing and everything, because they had to be really client-centric ’cause we were spinning at our high about two million dollars a year on marketing. But we still would get like 42 to 45% of our cases were coming from old clients, referrals. Uh, which you say, well, 45. So it’s not, it’s not that big of deal if that’s all you’re doing, but if you’re doing $2 million a year doing TV, SEO. Uh, I mean at one time before I got out of the phone books in 2005, but I was spending $650,000 a year on phone books in North Carolina. And I went from that to nothing in one year. And of course they all went crazy. I was one of the first ones to pull out. I saw what was happening. I went to the internet in 2006.

Chris Dreyer

Whether it’s choosing new hires, implementing marketing techniques or anything else law firm related, Ken knows what does and doesn’t work. And having such an expert in all aspects of running a law firm on the show, I had to know what his top tips were for making clients happy and getting those all-important referrals.

Ken Hardison

Well here, here’s the deal. I mean, here’s, I think this is the big deal that actually I’ve talked about it more than the other book. But I look at marketing in for lawyers in three phases: before representation, during representation and after representation. And most lawyers, all they think about is before, before representation comes into thinking about how can I get them to call me, raised her hand, fill out a form, hire me. Uh, it probably 50% of the lawyers think about journey and try to make it a great experience, a Starbucks experience, maybe 40, 50% I’ll do that. But what I found is is that probably 90% of lawyers, once the case has closed, they forget about them, and that is a big, big, big mistake because you really need to nurture that. It’s like I told somebody, you can take any business I’ve ever owned and take everything. And if I could only keep one thin,. I want my database. Because I can take my database of about prior clients and all that and I can start with that. And I can build another million dollar business, I promise you. I’ve seen businesses be bought and closed down because all they wanted was that person’s database. Uh, I mean, that is so important and it just used to blow my mind out when people would join PILMMA. I said, well, do you have a database? Don’t keep up with it. I said not even past clients? No. I mean, but we used to keep up with people that called that didn’t hire us, or we didn’t want the case. We put them on a newsletter, we sent a birthday card. We sent them greetings, you know, Thanksgiving cards. And, uh, I’ve always tried to be an innovative, I think, you know, the deal is, uh, study, I was talking about it yesterday to my wife and I said, you know, we were talking about something we were doing at PILMMA, somebodys copied it, but I said, that’s the biggest form of flattery. I said, when I practiced law, I was always the leader. I’d do it at work for about a year, and then everybody else would follow it and then I’d have to figure out something else. You know, I was the first one to put magnets on a phone books in the United States before it was just paper. I was the first one to come up with a, not a 30-day client service satisfaction guarantee that drove all the lawyers crazy. And now. Shit, there’s probably one or two lawyers in every market in the United States doing that now. And they copied us. I mean, I didn’t trademark it and I’m fine with it. I didn’t want to. I think it’s a good, it’s a good differentiator. I mean, uh, uh, I’ve always tried to be looking at the next thing. Uh, and there’s a lot in PILMMA I’m doing something that nobody else is doing. I’m saying we’ll grow your law firm by 25% the first year. Or you get it, you stay for free for another year. I figure if they can’t do it two years, they’re just not executing. What I’ve found is once, usually my most successful lawyers are the ones that are masterminds and they were the guys and gals that get stuff done. But you were talking about application, you know? Yeah. It’s a good way, uh, to get people to want to do it. But you know, I actually have turned down people. Uh, and the last one I turned down, uh, the, the girl, I just didn’t feel like she was ready for it. And she just hounded my wife and my wife talked me into letting her do it. And I did, and my wife was right. I was wrong. I mean, I was wrong. I was, uh, you know, and I kind of took her money, but I said, I don’t want to take your money. She’d only been in practice a year. I said, I was like, it’s just too much money for this. I was like, I’ll give you 10 things you need to do and then come back. You know? And then I know she had to be in and she’s proven me wrong. I mean, the girls kicking butt. I mean, That was about three weeks ago. She just had her first hundred thousand dollar month.

Chris Dreyer

And I think that illustrates perfectly Ken’s point about actioning the advice you’re given. You can have all the coaching and mentoring in the world, but if all you do is ruminate on it and never execute your ideas, nothing will change. You’ve been listening to The Rankings Podcast. I’m Chris Dreyer, a huge thank you to today’s guest, Ken Hardison for joining us. You can find all of the links from today’s conversation in the show notes. And we want to hear from you. What are some of the ways you’ve innovated to improve your marketing efforts? Drop us a review and share your thoughts. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time.

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