Intake & Conversion Principles from a Legal Marketing Founder

19 November, 2020

Erik Bermudez

Erik Bermudez





Harlan Schillinger is a well known and highly respected expert in the field of legal marketing. He got his start in the 1980s and 90s when he helped invent dedicated television advertising for law firms. His latest project, Lead Docket, was built in collaboration with Eric Coffman. This software makes it easy for law firms to track the KPI's that really matter for marketing growth.

Harlan keeps himself busy with frequent lecture circuits and speaking opportunities, but he set aside time in his schedule to share valuable insights about achieving sustainable marketing growth in this episode of Taking the Stand.

Full Transcript


Erik Bermudez:

Hello everyone, and welcome to today's edition of Taking the Stand, where our mission is to inspire you by inviting VIP guests to understand what success principles they've used to find greater achievement. My name is Erik Bermudez, and I'll be your host. Welcome to today's podcast.

Harlan Schillinger:

Oh, my pleasure.

Erik Bermudez:

Let's go ahead and just jump right in. I want to make sure that I properly introduce you. Harlan has four decades of experience in legal marketing and he's the renowned expert and really has a passion for legal marketing advertising, and especially for intake and conversion, which we're definitely, Harlan, going to get into today a little bit around why that is. Harlan founded Network Affiliates, was it back in 1978, Harlan? Is that when you first started airing TV commercials, and you were one of the first, is that right?

Harlan Schillinger:

Well, actually my journey began with Madison, Muyskens & Jones, which was this small agency in 1975. We invented syndicated television commercials for upper end retail, products that were not on sale. There was always a Tiffany type of a jewelry store in town, fine clothing store, fine menswear store, fine furniture.


In 1985, '84, '85, I merged my business with Network Affiliates. They had just begun two years prior to make television commercials for lawyers. It was founded by Norton Frickey. Norton was a pioneer in advertising. He decided to go on television and lawyers from around the country kept seeing what he was doing. I think between us, in merging our efforts, we really built an industry.

Erik Bermudez:

You've worked with over 130 law firms in 98 different markets, and one thing I don't want to overlook here is that you're also the co-founder of Lead Docket, which we definitely are going to get into here in a little bit. But Lead Docket being a successful lead intake and conversion software and tool that actually Filevine acquired earlier this year, so we'll get into that a little bit.

Harlan, it's very obvious you've been incredibly successful. A lot of people look up to you and respect your opinion when it comes to legal advertising and the business of law. But I want to go a little bit more on just you. I mean, you founded multiple companies. What's the top one thing, or maybe top two things, that you live by in terms of principles that help you be successful in business?

Harlan Schillinger:

Well, early on in my life, my parents taught me to give them more than I take. You know, a lot of people say that and what does it mean? But what it really means is that you give information, you give substance, you give growth, you give information and help to people unselfishly.


I remember early in my career, that's probably the strongest thing that I've done throughout my life. I remember early on building network affiliates, we'd give out a lot of information. We'd share a lot of information, and I'd get criticized by my competitors for giving away all these secrets. I'm not a believer that there's a lot of secrets. I'm not talking about confidential information from a client. I'm talking about trade secrets, secret sauce.


Quite frankly, if you tell somebody what to do, they're not going to do it because they're either lazy or they don't have time, or they're not working on their business, they're working in their business. But I think sharing information with people has been my monocle. It certainly put me on the stage of life because so many people don't share.

Erik Bermudez:

I want to dig into something you just mentioned because I think it's very, very insightful. You put two statements together and they're almost contradictory. Folks that are working on their business as opposed to folks that are working in their business. What have you seen as the key differences, and maybe you can expound on that a little bit?

Harlan Schillinger:

Well, working on your business means that you are working to grow your business. You're working for the future of the business. You're working on your strategic plans. You're trying to move the needle, move the needle forward. That's very different than getting up in the morning and digging in to the files that are on your desk. Most lawyers, and we'll confine it to lawyers or dentists or professionals, they get up and they've got a mound of work to plow through, but they don't make time to think about their business, think about it, put plans together so that you can move it forward.

Erik Bermudez:

That, at least in my mind, that creates a great visual. Are you in your business or are you working on your business? I think that creates a great visual to help us say, "Hey, both are important." At some point, you reach a time where you may have to delegate, and so appreciate you sharing that.


Okay, well, let's dive into something. I think you have, Harlan, a very unique perspective in this market and in this industry. I wanted to get your take, just generally speaking, what's going on? What's the current state of law look like in our country? What are some of the key drivers that you're seeing today?

Harlan Schillinger:

Well, I think one of the key drivers, and this has been building and building and building, is the business of law. You know, what is the business of law? When we started the National Trial Lawyers, 12, 13 years ago, it was because we recognized that the practice of law is a business. You have to run your business, you have to market your business, you have to conduct your firm in a business environment, which does not mean that you're not practicing good law. It means you're practicing good business. You know, years ago it was said that you're a lawyer and you're a professional and you're going to put all your efforts towards your client.


Well, in order to do that, you've got to have business tools around you, so you're really taking on a business atmosphere. The fact of the matter is you are in business, and if you don't recognize that you're not only a professional practicing law, but you're a professional practicing business. I think that's been the biggest shift and recognizing element that I've seen in the last number of years.

Erik Bermudez:

Well, let's go on here to Lead Docket. I think it was about five years ago that you and your partners got together and formed and founded Lead Docket. Is that right? Tell us just an overview of what Lead Docket is?

Harlan Schillinger:

Well, Lead Docket is a management tool that helps you manage your advertising through, and manage intake and conversion. It is a sales tool that gives you tracking accountability and a tremendous way to communicate better with your client, and the end result, of course, is more converted cases for your docket.


We stumbled into Lead Docket. We didn't really stumble into it. About 15 years ago, I recognized that there was a tremendous hole in a big, big, big bucket, and my clients would come to me and they'd say, "Well, give him a leads," and I said, "Well, what'd you do with the last ones?" and they said, "Well, they weren't any good." So, as an agency, you're really only as good as the last lead you sent to a client, and if all these leads are not good, then I'm not doing a very, very good job.


I really started to pay attention to what my clients were doing. We'd hand over leads and they'd come back and say, "Well, we had a good month. We had a bad month, but so many of these leads didn't go anywhere." I got very bullish about recording telephone calls and paying a lot of attention to the actions of what we call intake.


As the calendar rolled forward, these kinds of tools came very obvious that a law firm really was unaware of or weren't aware of their actions in the intake process. The owner of a firm would have a group of people answering the telephone, and at the end of the day, the verbal was, "How many cases did we sign?" I really paid attention to how many cases we didn't sign.


My dear friend, Dino Colombo, was recognizing... he's a lawyer in West Virginia, and he and Eric Kaufman was recognizing that they needed to do something about this, and they started to build a little piece of software. Eric is an absolute genius. He's the kind of guy that says, "Well, let me see what I can do." He builds this product and they got me on the phone. I remember it so distinctly, and I said, "This is a home run. This is incredible. We should market this."


At the time I was very focused on finding some kind of a software package for accountability and validating what I was telling my clients, and Lead Docket sprung up from that. It was manufactured or put together by a tremendous technician tech guy, Eric Kaufman. I think he ran the IT for West Virginia University and hospital and school. Just a smart young man. Dino, a lawyer, knowing what the legal end needed to be, and I being a marketer saying, "This is a marketing tool." Nobody's going to deny the success of Salesforce, which is a marketing tool and accountability tool.


Within a short period of time, we developed the product. I called up a couple of my friends, clients, and I said, "Listen, can you do me a favor? Can you put this thing in?" "Well, sure, Harlan, we'll give it a try," and lo and behold, within 30 to 45 days, my very first client, which was Trantolo & Trantolo in Connecticut, came back and says, "Now, wait a minute. We just picked up 30% more business, and we already paid for these leads." Well, that's what I wanted them to come back and say because that was the reality of it, and the rest is history.

Erik Bermudez:

Very fascinating story. Now, one thing that I have caught onto here is you always say not just intake and not just conversion, but rather intake and conversion. You mentioned that Lead Docket supports both of those elements, that it tracks and benchmarks both the intake and the conversion. Now, the conversion is one thing that you hear a lot of people not say. They just focus on the intake, and I think that's what you were alluding to in terms of "Well, what happened to the last leads?"


It's not just about intake intake intake, but the real question is how many of those converted to real revenue and real representation? Is there something about Lead Docket that helps with conversion? Or is it what you mentioned already, that accountability? Is there something else in the software that really helps go from Point A, just intake, to Point B and actually converting it to business?

Harlan Schillinger:

Well, I think that the jewel, the diamond of Lead Docket is the conversion aspect of it. Because what want to do in sales is convert a lead to a contract. The most profitable conversion is a lead that turns into a contract because the lead is already paid for. You have a prospecting cost, you have a cost of acquiring the lead.


The least recognized figure or reference that I see in law firms is the lack of paying attention to the lead. How many calls that I get? I believe that, and I'll challenge any law firm. The owner of a law firm comes in and the first thing he says, and even there are even Lead Docket clients that do this, their immediate question is, "How many cases did we sign?"


I think the most important question is how many calls did we get? If you get calls and you know how to convert, you'll get more business, but we don't pay attention to what happens upfront. That's the intake process. So, you intake it, you have your ambassador of first impressions respond to the intake, and then you have your team convert that to a case. That's the process. He who converts more wins.

Erik Bermudez:

Fast forward to earlier this year. Why did you decide as a team to Lead Docket founders, why did you decide to partner with Filevine in terms of Filevine acquiring Lead Docket to continue Lead Docket's legacy? Why Filevine?

Harlan Schillinger:

Well, oh, I'd love to tell you that story. Well, we built a tremendous platform. I think we had a hundred plus clients and we were at a crossroads. We were at a crossroads of saying, "Okay, we really need to double our staff." I mean, we had a hit on our hands and we were selling this, and I think we spent a total of maybe 12 or $20,000 the entire time in marketing, everything was word of mouth and so on. That's because it was such a great product, and we were at a real crossroads.


My competitor came to me and wanted to buy our product because they felt that we were on a much better platform. They didn't have the money. I wasn't interested in that. We really didn't want to sell it. You know, this was our baby. This was Eric's baby. The brain, Eric's the brains of the operation. Then we realized that we have to make a move. We have to double our staff. We have to get more in the game if we wanted to triple the business.


We were approached by Filevine, and at first, it was a pretty basic conversation. They were looking for something. We weren't really looking to sell, and then we kind of dug into the personality of who Filevine is. We very quickly realized that we're the same culture. The product is the same culture. In other words, when you open up Filevine and you open up Lead Docket, you feel you're in the same home. They work hand in hand. We got to know you guys at Filevine and realize that you're really dedicated people that wanted to build their business, and we liked what we saw, quite frankly. Young, energetic, millennial, well-funded, well-thought out. We realized you were going through a lot of growing pains, but that's a good thing. You did too. You wanted to grow, and you really wanted the very best piece of software that was out there.


My partners and I sat down and we said, "So, what do you think we really want to do? Where's our legacy going to wind up in a couple of years if we do business with these people?" We just simply felt that you were the most credible opportunity for us to work with. I didn't say sell to, I mean work with because we're really hung up on our legacy. We're really hung up. I think this is my legacy. I wasn't about to sell something, not only walk away from it, but just let it go in its own direction. You were very, very receptive to us continuing our relationship, and so far, it's worked out beyond our expectation.

Erik Bermudez:

Absolutely. In fact, I'll attest the whole Lead Docket team is still a very big part of the Filevine team. It's still engaged.

Harlan Schillinger:

Nothing's changed.

Erik Bermudez:

Lots of interaction, and I think that the mission and the focus has continued. Absolutely. Last question here, Harlan, before we wrap up. I'm sure there's a lot of attorneys listening. If you had one tip, one item that they could implement to help them grow their business when it comes to leads and intake and conversion, is there one thing that you would say you need to do this to help you grow your business?

Harlan Schillinger:

I believe that you need to, it's a must for you to recognize, that the intake process, the ambassador OF first impressions, which is the first person that answers your phone, is where it all begins, and you have to pay attention to it. You would be very surprised to know that most law firms say they do, but they don't pay attention to it, and they don't adhere to following metrics. Metrics are everything. But if I had to give you a tip, if I had to give you a takeaway from here, record your telephone calls. Record your intake calls, and you will see and hear exactly what's going on in your practice. I will assure you that you will not be happy.

Erik Bermudez:

Well, Harlan, thank you so much for all the insights, all of your experience and the things you shared with us today. Really appreciate your time.

Harlan Schillinger:
My pleasure. Thank you so much.