Managing Consultants At A Law FirmLast updated on: February 20, 2023
In this episode, Zinda Law Group CEO and founder, Jack Zinda, gives you quick tips on how to manage vendors and consultant at a law firm. This knowledge came from a lot of trial and error so Jack can save you some time and money in this episode.
Discussed in this Episode:
- Why lawyers have a target on their backs when it comes to vendors
- How to hire vendors
- Aligning incentives and settings KPIs
- When it’s time to part ways
- and more
You can reach Jack at:
Welcome to The Effective Lawyer, a podcast for ambitious attorneys who want to improve their practice. My name is Jack Zinda and I’ll be your host.
Welcome to the Effective Lawyer Podcast. I’m Kevin Tully, the Chief Marketing Officer at Zinda Law Group. With me, as always, is our lead trial lawyer and CEO Jack Zinda. And today we’re going to be talking about how not to get ripped off by vendors. Jack, how are you doing today?
I’m doing great man. I love this topic because it’s happened to me so many times, that I can literally explain every situation you should not do.
Awesome. So we’re looking forward to hearing about your experiences. Where do you want to kick off?
Well, I want to go back to the beginning when I first opened my practice. I had a lot of needs, whether it was how do I get money to run the practice, how do I get cases, um, how do I hire people, how do I fire people? And a lot of things I didn’t have expertise in. So, I looked to hire vendors, , to help me solve those problems. And as lawyers, the old saying is if , you can’t find the sucker in the room, it’s probably you. And I think that applies to lawyers a lot of times. And in fact, we are the worst of all. , we’re the worst of all areas in that because we think we’re smart and we are and we’re expertise in this one area and we think that makes us experts in everything else. And a lot of companies and vendors take advantage of that arrogance to put us in bad situations where they essentially rip you off and you don’t get what you paid for. So that was my first experience in marketing, in finance, and in HR. Then it kind of grew from there and I made just about every mistake you can imagine.
Yeah. If your inbox looks like mine does, there’s no shortage of marketing vendors out there contacting law firms frequently. Um, what are some of the pitfalls? What do you, what do you look out for?
I think the first thing you must figure out is what is your need and is it a core need that you need help with? Um, so for example, if I need more cases, um, how do I need to try to go about getting those? And then do I have the internal expertise to do it or do I not have the internal expertise to do it? So that’s step one. What do I need from this person? And am I doing it based on an advertisement or something that I need as an organization? , the second thing is understanding what is the type of vendor you want to work with? Do you need someone who’s from a large company that has lots of resources? Are you looking for a specialist who’s really niche? Are you looking for something in between? Um, and again, it thinks about it like an interview process.
So just using the example of marketing for example, because that’s the one we all get up with every day. Right. Just like you were saying, Kevin, I probably have 300 emails between when we started the podcast and right now promising me all the cases I want for low cost. Search engine optimization is an area you get hit up. I’m sure you do. I do it all the time. Well, first off, what’s the objective of search engine optimization? Right. Well, it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. I look at all marketing as trying to get me clients. So, the question I want to ask, how will this get me clients? What an SEO company may want you to focus on is how this gets you to rank higher? You don’t care about rankings as a lawyer. And that’s the first mistake people make. They focus on what the vendor wants them to focus on versus what the actual outcome is. And that’s important because how do you know what you’re paying for? Right. Um, you know, if I go buy a car, I’m trying to buy a mode of transportation, you know, so know what you’re trying to buy. And so, SEO pops up in that area a lot.
We talked a little bit about small versus large. Um, there’s such a difference between working with a group that’s a large organization that has multiple layers of communication and people involved, um, red tape on their end and all the rest versus, , dealing with an individual who, , can be more flexible but more limited in resources. And if they go on vacation, then nothing’s happening. Right. Do you have a preference between those two? Or, or when do you think of using them differently?
I think a lot of it comes down to the resources you need. So for example, if um, if I need some real technical expertise, let’s say I need someone to help on website design and it’s something visual I need, I’m going to try to find someone who’s smaller, who’s good at that craft. , especially if it’s a one-off project versus if I go to an agency. You must understand when you go to a large organization, there’s a lot of people that must get paid. So, a lot of times if you’re dealing with like a marketing agency, you’re going to have what’s called an account manager. And that account manager is getting paid to take care of you. They’re not actually doing the work, other people are doing the work. And so you have to understand that there’s going to be layers of cost associated with that.
So a lot of times if it is a, you know, important to brand or messaging or it’s unique, it has a high level of expertise, I’m going to want a smaller group that has expertise in that area. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Now it may be a little more expensive than the bigger group, but a lot of times you’re going to be dealing with the person doing the work and you’re going to get the most out of it. And examples that I can give are, you know, with marketing, for example, if you’re doing like AdWords or if you’re doing graphic design work or areas like that. And if you’re thinking about a lawyer, for example, if you have a trucking case, you’re going to hire an accident reconstructionist that has experience in trucking cases and not just go hire a group that knows about accidents.
Another distinction is consultants versus vendors, right? So, we’re talking about vendors kind of with a, an umbrella to it. There are different things to look out for when working with consulting groups versus vendors who are kind of more in the weeds doing the day-to-day work?
A hundred percent. Like, so a vendor to me is someone I’m going to hire to do a specific job. A consultant is going to give me advice on something. And one of the red flags is if they can’t articulate how they’re actually going to help you get the result, if it’s just some ambiguous or going to somehow help you achieve some grand thing. But it’s not specific, run the other way. I always get back to when you’re dealing with anybody, what’s the expectation of the relationship? What do you want the outcome to be? And if someone who’s a consultant can’t articulate that, then they’re not going to be able to help you achieve that outcome. Often consultants can be great because they are an independent person in the room who can give you advice. They have no dog in the fight. So if I need a marketing consultant, they can help me evaluate the vendors I’m looking at.
If I need a financial consultant, they can help me raise money for a business or for the law firm. , and they’re not actually the ones getting paid by the people that are doing the service. Um, so I think that’s one area that’s, that’s helpful. You know, one question that I get a lot is how do I evaluate a marketing company or a financial company or any of these vendors that you’re looking at, even a court reporting service? , and I think you want to first think about it just like a job interview. Number one, decide what you want. So what’s your outcome? Number two, what are the qualifications that you want from these people? , number three, talk to multiple vendors. I think that’s like the biggest thing is don’t just take the first person that’s sent you an email or gave you a call, talked to multiple folks, then have them paint a picture for what it is you’re actually going to have them do and what the outcome’s going to be.
Now obviously if it’s a small task, small project, you don’t have to put a lot of time into this, but if you’re doing something like a search engine optimization contract or you’re going to go to a new bank or you need to borrow a bunch of money, you want to hit the pause button and do things in a really methodical way so you don’t make a mistake and take it from me. Like when I first started my practice, I hired a lot of charlatans and it cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars and a lot of heartache to figure that out. So, the third thing is once you’ve talked to them, got a vision, get references. If they cannot give you references for the same or similar industry, run the other way. A lot of times I like to hire companies outside of legal because when vendors see us marketing agencies, they see a giant dollar sign.
They’re like, oh, I can triple mark this cuz this lawyer will pay me whatever it takes because quote, these cases are so valuable. So, I like to find people that are in adjacent industries, maybe medical, maybe financial services cuz it’s a similar type of approach to whatever you’re doing, but they’re not going to mark it up 10 times just because you are a law firm. Um, but talk to references and talk to them, especially if it’s a big contract you’re about to give up. Um, and ask them to explain how they helped them. We had a situation where we hired a company to create some, , custom software for us and they gave us a reference and we talked to the references and the references said they sucked. I was like, wow, that is a gutsy play. You gave me your three best.
So, we’ve got to identify the need and if anybody’s struggling to identify what their firm needs, go see our podcast about, data analytics that’ll tell you quickly where your needs are. Um, we’ve got to evaluate the vendors, those best practices with, with interviews and references. Um, one of the things I’ve, I’ve seen you do is, um, and I can imagine this being a situation that a lot of people experience where I’m super busy, busy, I need help from a vendor, I don’t have time to go find the vendor. You have a, I think a good strategy of offloading that work to somebody else at your firm to bring you the top three vendors with pricing, right. And never without the pricing component. You want to talk about that a little bit?
I think that’s a great point. I mean, you just nailed the hit, nailed a right on the head. A lot of times they want to get to the decision maker. I call them time vampires. And if you have your own business or you’re a lawyer, you know that your life is surrounded by time. Vampires, people don’t want to take you to quote, launch, take you to coffee, have a zoom meeting to try to pitch you on whatever they have. So, I have a policy where I’ll have either, um, an assistant and it could be your office manager, go talk to the people I’m considering and say, you will not get a meeting with this person unless you give a range of pricing. And we have a hard and fast rule in that and that prevents them from getting around them talking to you for an hour and a half to then tell you the, the price and maybe you don’t want to pay the price. , and I’ve used that as a lot of success because a lot of the reasons you make bad decisions is fatigue. You’re just worn down. You really need that marketing agency and you have got to decide. So, you just go with the first one that, that sent you the proposal over.
Yeah. Let’s talk about pricing for a second. Are you often trying to negotiate rates, , with vendors? Are you taking them further word that that’s the value they’re going to provide and trying to kick off the relationship without having to have that hard discussion upfront? Where do you fall on that?
, that’s a great question. Um, you know, I don’t look at things in terms of cost. I look at it in terms of value. So, if I could pay $10,000 and they could get me a hundred cases or pay someone a thousand dollars and they’d get me no cases, you know, obviously one’s a better investment than the other. Um, and I want to know what the marketplace is for the services that are being provided. I learned the hard way that if you go too cheap, you get what you pay for and it’s almost better not to do it at all. I mean, I’m thinking of so many examples where I hired someone to help me, you know, a recruiter who was like the cheap one. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> who didn’t find me anybody or found me bad people. And then I hired the quote expensive one and they found people in a 10th of the time.
They were great hires. I had to do almost none of the work, and I was very happy to pay the money to the folks. Yeah. Now as a reminder, most of the listeners to this, you are lawyers so you’re not going to be good at this naturally. So, make sure that you follow these steps because if you just hire the most expensive, you may not be getting value and they kind of prey on that. And I look at how many people are in a meeting. I mean, Kevin and I had a meeting a while ago where seven people showed up to pitch us on something and I was like, this is not going to work there. This is a lot of people they’re paying just to be here to tell me these things. They could have been done in an email. I was like, this is going to be expensive. I was just waiting for the chair. Sticker shock.
All right, so, um, after the, the evaluation phase, um, talk to me about kind of kicking off relationships, setting expectations, that, that sort of thing.
Everything in every relationship of life is about expectations. When a client hires you, you have an initial consultation meeting where you explain how the case is going to go and what you think you can achieve. For them it’s the same relationship with the vendor. You want to make sure, okay, what do you promise me that you’re going to get me? How long will it take to achieve these results and how often are we going to touch base and how am I going to hold you accountable? I’m going to use the example as SEO just cuz that’s the easiest that, you know, people get hit up on those a lot. So, if you met with an SEO vendor, you’d say, okay, I need to get this many cases from how much money I’m paying you. It’s important. Back to that idea, what do you care about? You do not care about rankings; you care about cases.
If they are reputable, they will get it. If they’re not, they’re going to try to like to talk about something else, confuse you and overtalk it. So, then you get an agreement, you believe that I can get x number of cases by y date. I know you can’t guarantee it. There are no guarantees in these things, but you think this is a reasonable expectation. Great. What sort of reporting are we going to use to hold you accountable for those results? So you need some sort of, even if it is a graph with cases over time, and then you need a frequency that you’re going to get those updates from that person. , and a lot of times you don’t want to get too caught up in the weeds with how they’re either achieving or not achieving the results more so than what the results are themselves. So back to the SEO example.
If everyone agreed that 10 cases in six months is a reasonable expectation and you are six months in the relationship and you have zero cases and you say, well the rankings and the algorithms and the updates and you know, you didn’t give us enough content, yada yada yada, zoom out, you don’t care. You hired them to do a job and the objective of the job was to get your cases, hold them accountable for that and then decide if the relationship is worth continuing or not based, based on the results that you’re getting. Not based on what an account manager or someone that is. Their job is to keep you happy. It’s telling you, um, I cate a situation a long time ago where we were dealing with a, a marketing vendor and the account manager convinced me to stay on another six months. We weren’t getting the results we wanted.
He said, oh, don’t worry. I put my, you know, career on the line for this. Trust me, we’re going to make it right. And a week later the guy took another job at another agency that we had been interviewing before. So, it told me like, okay, his job was to keep me happy, not necessarily to deliver me results. , that’s also one of the downfalls of going with a big company versus the small person, you know, small company is you’re dealing with the person doing the work. The more removed from that, the harder it is to, um, understand what’s happening. I found that really works well even with banking relationships. You know, we have a, a great relationship with a small bank in, round Rock and that’s been amazing, and we’ve been approached by Chase and Bank of America, and I wouldn’t pass on that relationship for anything because of the personal touch we get with them versus someone else. Yeah,
For sure. So, identifying the need, evaluating the options, setting expectations, holding accountable, um, any other steps in this kind of workflow that we’re thinking about,
I would also look at delegating those responsibilities to someone on your team, even if they’re not an expert in it, just have them own doing those steps. Because if you’re a lawyer like me, you’re busy and you’re going to forget to do these things and make it a checklist. Make it a simple one pager. Here’s what we do when we’re hiring a vendor. I want to always talk to three, I want to get pricing before they get to my desk. We’re going to have a report, we’re going to have evaluation periods and ask your office major, Hey, you’re in charge of this. Whether it’s a copy service, a deposition court reporter company, , a marketing agency or anything in between. If you follow those steps, you really don’t have to do a whole lot to, to get great results from these things.
Um, so we’ve got about a hundred employees at the firm. How many vendor relationships would you guess that we have? I’m putting you on the spot.
Oh man number but I bet we have big and small at least a hundred. Yeah. You know, and if we said like key, one’s probably 20 to 25 if not more. Yeah. I look at those like how I look at someone working at the law firm, like as an employee. Right. You know, you’ve seen our organizational chart and a lot of times I’ll put a vendor in as someone on the org chart because I’m holding them accountable for the same results that I would if they worked here.
Yeah. Um, when do you, , and you touched on this a little bit, but when do you prefer a vendor versus an employee and how do you make that distinction?
I think if you’re experimenting with something that you’re not sure is going to work, a vendor’s a great experiment. I think if you don’t have the expertise and it’s very expensive to get it a vendor’s great. Um, I also think if the employee you’re going to need to hire is very difficult to um, get. , and a lot of times, you know, in the examples I think of as accounting, um, financial, um, you know, before you came along a lot of marketing we needed a lot of vendors for that. , because each individual role is very expensive and if you went to go try to hire those employees, it would take you several years or a year more to hire them.
Um, and then back to the, the small versus big for a second. Are there examples of functions that you do want a big organization like say for example, maybe, data entry so you’re not worried about that, that single person going on vacation? You know, there’s a team of people that can keep that turn in the background
Software. It definitely doesn’t go with a small company on software. We have software developers that we use to develop our own, but if we’re going to buy something off the shelf, I want the 800-pound gorilla that’s not going anywhere. I want Microsoft, I don’t want, I know is Linux still a thing?
So, the reason why with software and stuff like that, it’s important is you don’t want them to disappear in your whole platform is based on it. I remember there was a company called Word Perfect, I don’t know if they’re still around, but a lot of law firms used them and then when they went away people were out of luck because they had to change to Word, and it was a big mess and they stopped updating the stuff. So, when it comes to software, I always go to a big provider.
Thanks for listening to today’s episode of The Effective Lawyer. You can learn more about our team and find other episodes of our podcast at zindalaw.com. As always, we’d appreciate it if you subscribed, rated and reviewed the pod. Thanks.