Scott Reib | Your Lawyer as a Business Coach

Most people only seek out legal help as a last resort, when the proverbial “house is on fire.” Big mistake, says Scott Reib, because most matters could be handled simply and inexpensively.

Scott tells us about one key change he’s made when charging for his services that attracts more clients – and keeps them happy enough that they come back again and again.

It’s a business model that many professional service providers could adopt to work less and make more money.

We also talk about…

  • The skills your lawyer should have beyond legal expertise
  • Serious legal issues many small businesses unknowingly neglect
  • What you must do before signing any contract (and hopefully you’re using contracts!)
  • How a lawyer can help you grow your business
  • And more

Listen now…

Want my best ideas for growing your firm, plus winning ideas from successful firm leaders?

Twice a week I’ll send the latest actionable ideas to your inbox. Just tell me where to send them and let’s get some clients rolling in…

Transcript

Steve Gordon: Welcome to the Unstoppable CEO Podcast. I’m your host, Steve Gordon, and today I’m really excited to be talking with Scott Reib. Scott is known as America’s Legal Coach. He’s the official Zig Ziglar small business lawyer. He’s a Ziglar legacy certified trainer. He’s got over 20 years of experience as an attorney, and for the last two decades he’s been helping business owners, and entrepreneurs, coaches, and service providers, to really shatter proof their businesses so that they can go out and succeed in business, and in the professional world. He’s a firm believer that seeking legal advice doesn’t have to be intimidating or expensive if we really approach law the same way we approach medicine, where we’ve got a lawyer who sort of acts as our primary care doctor, instead of an E.R doc that comes in when you’ve got trauma.

So, I’m excited Scott to have you here. Welcome to the Unstoppable CEO.

Scott Reib: Thank you very much for having me Steve. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

Steve Gordon: Yeah, it’s going to fun. Just before we dive into what you’re doing, I’d love for you to expand on your background. How did you get to this, because you’ve been doing this 20 years. I mean, and you’ve got an impressive set of credentials. How did you get to this stage of your career?

Scott Reib: Well it’s been quite a journey. It really started back in the early ’90’s when I got out of college with a marketing degree, really excited about a marketing career and then found that there weren’t any marketing jobs. So, I started selling phone systems, and I was an after-market rep for one of the major telecom companies. There were a lot of them back then. And they decided to breach my contract, and I didn’t realize I’d make some mistakes when we’d negotiated it. There was nothing I could do. So, I decided then that I wanted to make sure I didn’t end up with that kind of a deal again, where I didn’t know what I was doing in a legal situation. So, I did what everyone would do right, I went to law school.

So, I spent three years at the University of Oklahoma, College of Law. Came out with a law degree and then went to work. Like most lawyers do, I was billing by the hour. Some of it was enjoyable, some of it was really boring. Some of it I was helping people, some it I felt like I was just … it was kind of a drudge. So eventually, I’d been doing this 22 years, I’ve had this firm for 14. Eventually I started my own firm and tried doing things my own way. I still ended up billing people by the hour. I was helping more people because I was able to pick who I worked with and what we did for them, but we still had a problem in that our clients were only calling us when their proverbial house was on fire.

So they would call us, say we’re having trouble Scott, can you help us? We’d help them, so we would litigate whatever their problem was. We would win, they would spend way more money than they wanted to spend, at the end they were not happy, even though we won. Then they wouldn’t call us again, and they’d make a mistake and then it would start over. So we really had to try to figure out why. Why aren’t they calling us, because most of these things could be avoided with just a simple phone call, maybe an email on a document review. What we decided was they weren’t calling because of the way traditional billing works. Lawyers bill by the hour and it’s not just the hour. We take it all back down to the tenth of an hour, six minutes. So every interaction with the lawyers could be $50, $60 at least.

So, as a consumer of legal services, you just see money flying out of your pocket. So after we finally figured out what the problem was, then I had to figure out a solution. Everything else I was buying was on a subscription basis, right? Almost everything you buy now, you sign up and you start paying monthly. But there wasn’t that really for legal work. So I ended up finding a business coach to help me take my idea and my vision for how we could help small business owners, and create what we now call the Access Program.

That took us … I worked with them about 18 months on that specific project. Once we created it, then we had to learn how to market it and then how to sell it, because traditional lawyers don’t really do that … the sales part of it. They just kind of wait for someone to come in, and if you have good credentials they hire you. So this was totally different because we were having to kind of create a market for something that didn’t exist, and then sell people on this idea that you need a lawyer all the time, not just when you’re in trouble.

So that’s kind of been the journey. That all started … that process started in 2012 and now we’ve got it down pretty well to where it’s not just me anymore. We have other people involved in delivering the service. We’re starting to learn how to scale it so that we can then take it out in a much broader way, so we can help more people.

Steve Gordon: Yeah, you know it’s so interesting, the different ways that professionals are finding now to get out of that hourly billing trap. You know, I’ve always felt like … my first business, that’s the way we billed, and I’ve felt like that the minute you go into that situation where you’re billing by the hour, there’s this instant conflict with the client because they don’t-

Scott Reib: Right.

Steve Gordon: They’re like thinking, okay he’s billing me at the tenth of an hour and you know, did it really take him that long to do that thing? Right? So it creates this doubt in the relationship up front, which when you’re trying to give somebody advice and get them to follow through on your advice was really kind of counterproductive.

Yeah, it’s interesting to see all the different ideas that are coming out. So how did … you explained a little bit about how you thought, well maybe this will be the way to go. What were some of the challenges you ran in to? Did your existing clients embrace the idea or did they think, wow this is crazy?

Scott Reib: A few of them embraced it, and a few of them still haven’t. We really kind of had to build it with new clients. I was actually looking yesterday through a long list of past clients, and going to the very beginnings of this, and a lot of the clients that were involved early in this are no longer part of the program. We have a few that have been in it six years, but a few of them got in early because of the relationship with me and then decided for one reason or another it wasn’t a great fit for them, so they aren’t in the program anymore. Then we … I think as I got better at providing the service, now we have people that have been in it three or four years. Some people pay the whole year in advance because they like it so much.

So the biggest challenge that I’ve had is being able to … is delivering the service in a way that’s very responsive when I only have so many hours in a day.

Steve Gordon: Yeah, I’d love to talk a little bit about those changes that you had to make, because I know that for the people who are listening they’re sitting here thinking oh, you know, maybe I could apply that in my own business. But the mistake I think that’s made a lot of times when service professionals look to transition out of hourly billing into something else, is that they think well, I’m just going to do the same things I was doing but now I … you know like in your case, now I’m going to bill them a subscription basis. That can almost turn into almost like a retainer. And again, that’s got all kinds of challenges. So how did you approach redesigning your service? What does it look like now but that it’s maybe different from what it was before?

Scott Reib: Yeah, there’s been lots of different versions of it. The key … and it’s really not any different for other businesses. The key is just stacking value, on value, on value, right. So that eventually you have so much value in what you’re offering that it far exceeds whatever investment you’re asking your customer to make. So we started putting … coming up with the things that we felt like small business owners would find are valuable. One of the things that’s in our plans is that everyone gets unlimited access to me and my team by phone, email and text, because the access is important. They need … that’s the game changer. So we added that in there. That’s worth several thousand dollars a year, at least, to be able to have on demand contact with your legal team.

The next thing we added was the formation of legal entities, because the other place that we found small business owners were really having difficulty was that they weren’t doing that correctly. There’s so many sources now online, and I guess even in some of the big box stores where you can find forms to start a corporation or a limited liability company, but they kind of only take you so far and you have to know how to answer the questions that they’re telling you to fill in the blanks with. And so you end up getting these LLC’s and corporations that were kind of halfway done, but they were relying upon them to be fully done. It would be like having the foundation for your house only halfway done and then framing it, closing it in, and living in it. Eventually it’s going to fall down. So by putting that into the plan that’s included service, that added great value.

We also have contract reviews included in the plan, so you’re no longer having to sign contracts, you know, in a vacuum. For example, we have a client out of Miami who’s in the fitness world, and he had a fitness modeling contract come across his desk and he was about to sign it. Then he remembered, oh wait, I’m an Access client now, I can send that to Scott’s team. He sent it in, we reviewed it, sent him back the contract memo, and he read that and didn’t sign it because by not signing it he saves himself $20,000. He would’ve signed it, he had no clue what was in that contract. But by throwing that off on us he was able to not make that mistake. So when we built the plan those were some examples of things that we prevented.

Another example is that every client can have an hour a year of a strategic planning with our team. So if you’re a solopreneur, you’re trying to figure out how to grow your business, you’re … you can talk to yourself about your strategic plan. I mean, you can, but we could walk you through our planning process to help you take that next step for the next year, so you don’t end up stuck. That’s something that we’ve thrown in to the plans to make sure that we’re helping small businesses, because my mission in life is to help small businesses grow profits that will last.

So that’s where I call myself the legal coach, because we’ll help you grow your business. If you have a marketing problem I’ll help you with that so that you don’t grow something that’s just going to crumble, or is subject to attack from outside people that are trying to prey on your businesses. Such a litigation heavy society right now.

So that’s kind of how we built it, was with … you have a menu of things that are in the plan and this is the price. Then, over time, we took a few things in, took a few things out with different feedback from the clients, and then also looking at kind of the workload, and came up with some different ways of selling it. Right now we basically have one plan that has everything in it, then all the pricing is based on your gross sales. So everyone has access to the same benefits. If you’re selling three million dollars of your widgets, your service, you’re going to need more legal support than the company doing three hundred thousand. So that’s how we’ve, at this point, divided it up. Instead of having you choose plan number one, plan number two, number three or number four. It’s all the same benefits, it’s just you’re going to use a lot more of it if you’re really taking off.

Steve Gordon: Sure yeah. So, as I’m listening to you I’m trying to deconstruct the … you know, some of the thinking. You tell me if this is accurate. So as I’m listening to the things that you’ve included, they are not only things that a business owner would need on a regular basic, so you’re actually solving this recurring problem for them which justifies them being on subscription. But I would imagine you’re also doing things that don’t take you a tremendous amount of time, but if you do them well you solve so many problems for the business down the line that you’re not having to go do the heavy lifting of unwinding bad agreements or fixing problems in litigation and all that.

Scott Reib: Exactly. And so, once we created that, and then I performed the work for, I don’t know, the first two or three years it was basically me doing everything. Then that got to be a little too much so then I had to come up with a system for adding what I call preferred providers, that were people that saw things like I did, that had time … had some time span that they could spend working on my clients stuff. So, then we set up systems to where … certain projects would be routed to them and they would produce work that would come back to us for a review, so we could turn things around faster. It just comes down to … it’s just like any other business.

This is something that a lot of business owners forget, that the secret to business to charging more for your product or service than it costs to produce it. So, as long as I can pay other legal professionals and paralegal professionals a fair rate, and still make a profit on it, I’m fine with that. That’s what we’ve done, is we’ve built a model now that’s scalable. So, we have in house lawyers that are part of our team every day, and then we have providers that are loosely part of our team that have been with us for several years, but they’re not employees. They work on a per project basis. But it’s made a very fluid situation.

Then you add technology on to that, with everything that’s available on the cloud, from our support ticket service to where every question or review goes into the support ticket service, and then it’s just routed to the right provider. Those types of things that are available to all entrepreneurs. We’re not using legal … it’s not legal software. It’s just a software that’s available to everybody, and just customizing it for what we do.

I couldn’t find anyone that was doing exactly what I’m doing. The fastest way to grow a business is to find someone that’s already doing it and copy what they’re doing. I tried really hard to do that, there just wasn’t anyone doing it this way. There are other law firms that offer services that are used to more like a retainer. They’re kind of, you’re buying maybe a block of time from them, so you’re kind of pre buying at a discount. That isn’t what I wanted to do. Then there’s some doing the real high level where if the client can afford $4,000 a month, they can be on this system. Well that’s great, except then I’m leaving out this huge market that needs my help. So this is where we ended up, is to where we can help people from start up to, you know, we have clients to seven, eight figures.

Steve Gordon: Yeah. It’s interesting. The first time I ran across a model like this was actually another law firm here in our local area. He was niched into employment law. He was at that higher end, and you know at the time I had a bigger … in my first business we were bigger. We needed some of that sometimes, but not to that extent. But it worked really well, and it was the first time that the thought got planted. Our own business fits this model and I’ve just come across an accountant who’s following the model. So it’s interesting to see the evolution there. You’re certainly leading the way with it. I want to take a quick break and I want to come back and I want to talk specifically now, when we come back, about some of the legal challenges that business owners run into, and some things they need to think about, and account for if they don’t have someone like you so that they know when they’re bumping into walls. So we’ll be right back with more from Scott Reib.

Welcome back everyone, this is Steve Gordon and I’m talking with Scott Reib. Scott, you’ve sort of reinvented how legal services are delivered. And I’m sure you’ve got a lot of insight into where small business owners kind of run into problems with their, whether it’s their legal documents or their contracts, or employees or wherever. What are some of the things that you see come up again, and again, and again that people aren’t paying attention to. Maybe they should pay more attention to.

Scott Reib: I think the biggest problem that I’ve seen if I go back over the last 12 years, when I’ve been really intensely focused on small business, is that their, what I call, enterprise structure isn’t correct. I don’t want to get real technical but everyone should have some sort of a legal entity, right? Either a corporation or LLC and most businesses should have multiple entities. Here’s an example of why. I have an Access client that owned multiple Subway franchises and if you have multiple Subway franchises then you have to have someone who drives around and gets the money and deposits it. That person fell asleep at the wheel and ended up in an accident and killed somebody. So now their corporation that owns all these franchises gets sued. So everything they have is now tied up in this one corporation and this one lawsuit and they were underinsured and tied up in litigation for two and a half years. They couldn’t use their franchises as collateral to maybe get a business loan. They couldn’t do anything, they were completely tied down.

With just a few small changes to the way you’re set up as a business owner … for instance if you make sure you don’t have all of your assets in the company that’s actually doing the business, then you have some flexibility to be creative with financing or to start a new company, and use the assets that you have. But if everything’s set up in one, then you’re just stuck. That’s what I see day in day out, is everyone has … and it’s usually the LLC anymore, but they had this one entity that maybe owns … maybe you’re in real estate and it has ten … you have ten houses in it and you’re also acting as the management company. I see that a lot. You’re just asking for trouble because at some point you’re going to have trouble with one of these tenants and it’s going to affect all of your business.

With just a little bit of planning, and yeah it costs a little bit of money, you can make sure that one legal mistake, or even just one legal problem, doesn’t wreck your whole business. That’s been probably the number one problem I’ve seen. Then the second problem I’ve seen is that people aren’t using written contracts.

Steve Gordon: Yeah, I could imagine that’s a huge issue. I’m guilty of that myself at times in the past. I mean, my first company, we did some fairly large land development projects on a handshake. Six and seven figures, and thank goodness we were all good people and it all worked out, but yeah there wasn’t a whole lot of paper to back it up.

Scott Reib: Yeah, and it’s … I mean, writing contracts isn’t fun. Writing them that are friendly enough that people will sign them, that’s even harder. But you have to do it. One of the things actually that we’ll make available to your listeners is a white paper I have that’s all about using your emails to form binding contracts. Because you can really use an email stream to document a deal in a way that’s pretty exhaustive if you just follow a few simple steps.

Then the next step after that would be hopefully take it to a lawyer and get it put into a real written document. Sometimes you just won’t have time for that. So that would be a free resource that we would offer to your listeners. All they’d have to do is go to ReibLaw.com/UnstoppableCEO and that’s there for them to just download. So, they cannot have this problem of not having it in writing.

What happens Steve is that you do business with people you know, right, because it’s always you’re doing business with people you know, like and trust. So you do a handshake deal and then suddenly that person that you had this relationship with isn’t doing what you thought they were supposed to be doing. Either they’re not performing their work, or they’re not paying you for the work, but there’s a disagreement. If you go to them with a problem one or the other of you is going to be calling the other person the L word. A liar. If you have a written agreement in one document is the best. But if you had a clear email stream with the points that I set out in this white paper, then you can go back to those documents and go, now here’s what I’m talking about, this is where we said this.

Then, it’s just a misremembering problem, not someone’s misrepresenting the truth. So basically it just keeps your honest people honest, and you can preserve those relationships. Yeah you’ll still sometimes get to a fight over the written contract, but usually if you’re dealing with really good people you could go back to that document and everyone will live up to the standards that are written. If not, it just shows them that the wrong business partners … that happens.

Steve Gordon: Yeah, and it’s always better to at least have some documentation so you can exit that relationship smartly and hopefully painlessly. So yeah, I could imagine contracts are a huge issue. So for folks who are listening to this you know, you’ve probably hit on a couple of things right away that they may be going, oh gee, maybe I don’t have all these things buttoned up. What are some tips you can give them for working with an attorney, for finding someone that fits them and for being aware of maybe the questions they should ask before they hire one?

Scott Reib: Yeah. That’s a great question, because one of the first things you should do as a business owner is make sure you have several key advisors, one of which is a lawyer. Because you want to have these people lined up before you have the crisis. It’s very expensive to buy these kinds of services when you’re in an emergency situation. So the first thing you want to do is find a legal professional that does not charge you by the hour. They either charge you on a flat fee, per project basis, so at least they’re having to be accountable to a price, or even better would be where you prepay for a bundle of services like the Access plan.

The second thing, you want to make sure that they understand small business. A lot of lawyers that have small firms that have come out of bigger firms, and have been doing really big litigation with Fortune 500 companies, with these huge budgets and they don’t really understand how small business works. They’ll prepare documents for you that will hurt you. They’ll prepare contracts that no one in their right mind would sign. So they have … you need to make sure that the attorney understands that you’re trying to grow your business and while you want to be protected, you’ve got to make sure that the legal things that you’re doing don’t hurt you.

Steve Gordon: Yeah, I’d imagine there’s a balance there. I mean, we’ve all been presented with contracts where you look at them and you go, I couldn’t possibly sign this. Right? I think, maybe not everyone, but I certainly have been on the other end of that like you described. You know, great attorney, well intentioned, but wrote the thing so that no one could ever touch us and nothing could be misinterpreted. In other words it was written all in our favor. Great, that’s wonderful, but it’s really hard to convince a potential client to sign that, you know.

Scott Reib: Yeah and a lot of people don’t read them and then you’re okay. But if you had someone that goes through the contract carefully and it’s written in a one sided way, they’ll spot it and then they won’t trust you.

Steve Gordon: Exactly. And I think that’s a key piece of it. So not only are you looking for somebody who is competent in the law, but you’re looking for somebody who has got some business intelligence as well.

Scott Reib: Right, and so is there a small firm that’s been in business you know for a few years. A solo firm would be great because then you’ve got someone who’s actually having to make sure they can pay for the light bill every month just like you are as a small business owner. So they’ll be a little more understanding of your problems. But that’s really key, that they are interested in small business, they’re not just kind of a jack of all trades lawyer, but they’re someone that understands what you’re doing. You want them to be asking questions about what kind of services you deliver. If it’s online they want to see your platform, they want to know what your terms and conditions are, do you have privacy models on your website. You want someone that kind of understands modern business. They could be an older lawyer but they need to be current and understand the way that business happens now, because it doesn’t happen on paper anymore. 90% of the contracts that we do are all through online signatures.

Steve Gordon: Right.

Scott Reib: So they’ve got to be technologically advanced. Like, Steve, we’re doing this interview over Zoom. Zoom’s a great platform, there’s many others. I want a lawyer that knows how to use these kind of platforms, so that if I want to do a web conference with them I can do that. So that would be another thing. You just want to make sure that they’re using the same kind of technology that you’re using in your business, because if they aren’t, they won’t understand. They’re not going to understand how you’re doing business so then they really can’t help you. That’s … I would kind of be asking those kinds of things. Can you do web conferences, how much do you charge for web conferences. Ask them which platforms they use. Do you have a Skype ID? If they don’t have some of those things I would wonder if they really were able to support me as a small business owner because they’re just not going to be … they’re not on the cutting edge of what’s going on, so they’re not going to be able to keep up.

Steve Gordon: Yeah, I think those are great insights and I’ll be perfectly honest, I never would’ve thought to ask those questions, but I think it’s absolutely critical these days. I look at the way we’re doing business today, versus when I came out of college, which was mid ’90’s, before really anybody used the internet. In fact, we didn’t even have email for the first year I was out of college at the firm I worked for. So, to look at from there … I mean, we used to send letters, you know. I don’t recall the last time I sent a letter to anyone. So things are very, very different, moves at a much faster pace. And I actually think the faster pace makes the legal side of running a business more complicated because you don’t have as much breathing room to think things through, and sometimes to really document things. I think these are all great points, and really good advice.

So if someone’s curious about what you do and this new model that you have, how can they kind of learn more about your firm?

Scott Reib: The best way for them to do that is for them to go to ReibLaw.com/UnstoppableCEO and if they go to that page that will take them to our website, they’ll then have access to everything. At the bottom of that page are some special offers just for your listeners. One of them is the email white paper we talked about. They can download my Five Proven Strategies eBook. We have access to my business law masterclass. Many people haven’t had the luxury of a formal education, and may have never had a business law class. So as you’re sort of dealing with these legal issues, you don’t have any understanding. Then it’s even hard to know what questions to ask a legal professional. So with this business law masterclass it kind of gets you up to speed so you kind of know what you don’t know. Then of course there’s information on the Access plans on that page.

Steve Gordon: That’s great, and very generous of you. Thank you for making that available to all of our listeners. So folks, you can go to ReibLaw.com/UnstoppableCEO. We’ll be sure to link that up in the show notes, so if you’re driving and you can’t write that down you can always find that on our website. Scott, this has been really educational. I think you’re doing some ground breaking things in terms of the business model that you’ve created and I can see how it not only makes for a very sustainable business for you, but it also really serves your clients in a way that aligns with how they operate. So they’re not feeling as though every little thing they’re nickel and dimed for. So congratulations on making that change. Sometimes it’s tough to step out of the industry norm and takes some courage to do that. I commend you for that.

Scott Reib: Thanks Steve.

Steve Gordon: Thanks for being here and everyone who’s listening, thank you for eavesdropping on our conversation today. Again, connect with Scott. ReibLaw.com/UnstoppableCEO