Law Firm Succession and Biz Dev with Roger Brothers

In this episode of Lawyer Business Advantage, we have a conversation with Roger Brothers, Principal at Brothers Smith. Roger discusses how he and his partner executed a textbook law firm succession with their senior partners. We discuss the strategy, the execution and how the transition was communicated to clients and to referral sources. Along the way, you’ll learn the one method every attorney can utilize to have business development success.

Alay Yajnik: [00:00:43] Well, everyone, I am super-delighted to have Roger Brothers with us here today. He’s a principal at Brothers Smith, one of the founders of the firm. Roger, thank you so much for being on Lawyer Business Advantage today. How are you?

Roger Brothers: [00:00:55] I’m doing well, thank you, and thanks for having me.

Alay Yajnik: [00:00:57] My pleasure. My pleasure. I’ve known Roger for a few years now, and I’ve always been very impressed with how he markets his firm, markets himself and does great work for his clients. And one of the reasons I wanted to have him on today and he was gracious enough to join us is Brothers Smith is a rare example of a law firm that has really executed a successful succession to the next generation of attorneys. And Roger was instrumental in that. Roger, I’d love to hear just a little bit about how you actually communicated that transition from when it was Buchman Provine Brothers Smith and then having Jack Provine and Robert Buchman transitioning to take a step back, how you communicated that to their clients and to their referral partners.

Roger Brothers: [00:01:45] I probably give you a little bit of history…might help explain some of that and how we how we got to that point.

Alay Yajnik: [00:01:50] That would be terrific.

Roger Brothers: [00:01:54] So let’s see…it was 2010. My partner Wes Smith was approached by a headhunter who was looking on behalf of a firm here in town which turned out to be, at that time, it was Shapiro Buchman Provine….was looking for a succession plan for their estate planning group, and my partner Wes Smith said, “Well, we’re not…I’m not really interested personally in leaving.” We were at that point at that time with the McNamara law firm, and we ran a separate unit, a separate apart from their insurance defense group, which was business, real estate, estate planning…were three principal areas. But Wes said, hey, but we might be interested in having a discussion with them about something a little bit more permanent and a little bit grander scale. So that’s kind of started the dialogue. We got an introduction to Bob Buchman and Jack Provine. Wes and I met with them for awhile and discussed a number of things. They had similar practice areas. And as we sort of – their intent was to have a succession plan for their firm and for their clients and for some of their attorneys.

Roger Brothers: [00:03:10] And so we negotiated on the front end that it would be a certain period of time where we would practice together. And at the end of that time, Wes and I would essentially have a call option on their partnership interests. And so that gave us a runway to integrate ourselves with their clients and vice versa and integrate our attorneys with theirs and then integrate our practices and everything else. And so that’s kind of what we did at the end of that period of time. We had a discussion with Bob and Jack. They were more than happy to say, “Hey, yeah.” In fact they came to us and said, hey, it’s that time you guys want to exercise your rights here? And we at that point, we negotiated a buyout of Bob’s interest and Jack’s interest and transitioned it from there. They both – Jack stuck around for probably a year or so after that and then retired. And then Bob, has just sort of scaled back since then, little by little, to the point where now he’s probably 98% retired at this point. So that’s how we got there.

Alay Yajnik: [00:04:34] Wow. Well, you know, there’s a lot of things that jumped out at me there that you brought up that’s actually pretty atypical. And it’s a great example of why the firm succession happened so well. The first thing was that you guys came in with that intent. And Jack and Bob had talked to you. And that was the intention all along from the get go. That’s pretty awesome. Oftentimes it just maybe it’s a vague idea. It’s typically never discussed in detail upfront and certainly not, you know, really well thought out upfront and then also executed through at the outset. The other thing you mentioned is that Jack and Bob actually came to you guys and said, look, we’re done. Which is pretty cool!

Roger Brothers: [00:05:19] I’ll just say that I think a large part of why it was so successful and why it worked out as well is #1: Bob and Jack are stand up guys. Great lawyers, well respected in the community. But just stand up, first class guys and I think also is we we hit it off immediately and got along very well. We never had any any disputes and we had a partnership in place for that period of time. I don’t think we ever got the point where we actually had a vote. We were…everybody was kind on the same page from day one, which was obviously, as you well know, that’s also not not…That’s a little rare, let’s put it that way. Not very common.

Alay Yajnik: [00:06:05] No, it’s not. And if things start out well, typically when the rubber hits the road, there’s oftentimes, you know, fairly significant disagreements, especially around exit and how that whole thing transpires. Timing, buyout, buyout terms, that kind of thing. So congrats to you and Wes and Jack and Robert for actually pulling that off. That’s awesome.

Roger Brothers: [00:06:28] Thanks. I appreciate that. Yeah, it was good. It’s been great. And I never miss an opportunity to tell people what great guys Bob and Jack are, and were, in this whole process. It was a very professional it was really easy for Wes and I. We had no heartburn. And I don’t think they did either.

Alay Yajnik: [00:06:49] Awesome. You know, one of the things that my clients occasionally get wrapped around the axle on when they’re trying to work through this is actually communicating it. So you’ve got two partners who are heavily involved in community and have a great reputation in Jack and Bob and they have their clients and they have their referral partners. How did you guys go about notifying those clients and referral partners that Jack and Bob were taking steps back, and then execute that transition on the client and referral partner-facing side?

Roger Brothers: [00:07:21] We really didn’t send out any type of announcement or anything like that, we kept the firm name of Buchman Provine Brothers Smith for up until last year, up until January of 2019. And what we did is as clients would call for Bob or Jack, Jack or Bob and or whoever it was, would step in and say, “Hey, Bob’s stepping back, Bob is now retiring a little bit or stepping back” or, “Jack is retiring now and stepping back. And we’re you know, so-and-so is now going to assume that role and be happy to work with you and talk to you,” etc. On some occasions they were able to track Bob or Jack down and then Bob or Jack would say, “Hey, I’ve stepped back from the firm a little bit, but you can speak to lawyer X, Y, Z, and I’ve worked with them and they’re very knowledgeable and they can help you to the same extent that I could.” So it was a little bit of a combination of both of those.

Alay Yajnik: [00:08:34] Well, I love the approach because so many times like that, people get really concerned about do I send out a letter to everybody and do I do a, you know, a retirement party for myself? And I think the thing that they all dread the most is having to sit there and pick up the phone and call everybody and tell them that, you know, “I’m stepping back” and going through that. You guys short-circuited that whole thing by just having those calls come straight to you guys. And then if Jack or Bob had to get involved, they would. And I think that’s a really brilliant approach. It’s so simple, but it takes so much of the pain out of it and it just moves things forward.

Roger Brothers: [00:09:10] Right. It just – you know, we talked about sending something out, but we really couldn’t agree on how to word it. Not that we had disagreement, but just internally say, well, that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. We don’t want to say that. And we didn’t. We just said, well, you know, no reason to really send anything out. We did have a little bit of a retirement party for Bob and Jack, but it was internal. Yeah, you know, it wasn’t publicized anywhere. And so we just kind of we told Bob and Jack, hey, you handle it however you see fit. How ever you tell your clients, whatever you want to tell them how you’re exiting and if there’s anything we can do to help or ease that that process, let us know. And like I said, knock on wood, it all worked out. I don’t think we had any any hiccups along the way, because both Bob and Jack had been practicing for a long time. So they had long time client relations, longstanding client relationships, which we certainly needed their blessing to say, hey, you can go talk to Wes or Roger or somebody else in the firm.

Alay Yajnik: [00:10:23] Yeah. And so once that transition was complete and well communicated, then lo and behold, the firm rebranded and went from Buchman Provine Brothers Smith to Brothers Smith. So how did that transpire? Just take us through that a little bit.

Roger Brothers: [00:10:39] So what we did, like I said, is after we we had bought Bob and Jack out of their partnership interest we kept their name on because again, people were looking for them…Calling in and they were aware of them, and we wanted to make sure somebody who was looking for Bob or Jack…they could still find them. Same way they had been able to find them in the past. And so we did that and want to make sure that was going to be be an easy transition for the clients. So people would call saying, hey, I want to talk to Bob Buchman. And then we go through the what I just explained, how we transition that that client. Well, after a few years, after a couple of years, actually, maybe even three years, that the calls started to come the other way, we would start talking to clients and they would say, well, who the heck are those guys? So we figured at that point the name recognition was no longer serving anybody’s purpose. And in fact, all it was doing was really confusing certain clients and certain people we worked with who said, “Well, OK, I know I’m talking to you, Roger. I know I’m talking to you, Wes, but do I need to talk to Mr. Buchman or Mr. Provine? So we said that was actually causing more, more consternation than it was worth. So we decided, well, let’s just rebrand the firm so people know and they call up and they talk to Wes or Roger, they know that they’re talking to the decision makers.

Alay Yajnik: [00:12:02] Fantastic. That’s a great idea. And sounds like it was pretty pragmatic. There wasn’t a lot of theoretical branding exercises involved that was just based on the questions you guys kept getting asked and the reality of the firm that it’s your firm and it’s Wes’ firm.

[00:12:16] And yeah, I mean, really, you know, we told Bob and Jack about, I don’t know, 60, 90 days before we implemented the name change that what we intended to do. And they were both fine with that. In fact, I think Jack’s comments was, “What the hell took you so long?”. So. Yeah. No, it was it went very well. But we did we did tell them we did want to make sure they understood and what we were doing and why they were doing it. And everything else. And they were completely onboard with it at that time.

Alay Yajnik: [00:12:50] Awesome. Awesome. So turning the page on on that topic a little bit. As a veteran attorney, there’s so many areas of the law in which you have experience and because of your firm’s stature in the community, you get lots of different inquiries of different kinds of matters. It can lead to potentially, you know, marketing everything that you can do, which is a long list or maybe focusing on one or two primary areas to promote. That’s something that a lot of attorneys, especially young ones, kind of try and struggle with a little bit is do we – do they – just pick one area and promote it or do they talk about everything that they do? And I was just wondering if you have any guidance based on your experience of how you’ve chosen to market yourself and your practice?

Roger Brothers: [00:13:33] Well, I think that you have to differentiate between marketing the firm and marketing yourself. You know, clearly, I would never market myself as an estate planning attorney because I don’t do that and I’m not that familiar with that area of the law where I would hold myself out as having that expertise. But Wes Smith is one of the most prominent estate planning attorneys in the area. And so when I’m talking to people, I tell them what I do, which is primarily in the business and corporate arena. And then I say we also have expertise in estate planning, real estate, employment, tax, and I explain that who those people are, who those partners or associates are who work in those areas. So differentiating between my expertise and the firms would be able to say, “Hey, we can touch you at various different points and we can assist you. And if you have an estate planning matter that comes into the firm, that that raises a business issue, we have that expertise. You have a business issue, but an owner that needs some estate planning, we can do that. Real property. We can help you with that. If you have employment issues, we can help you with that. Wrap it all up with the tax that touches everything. And in the unfortunate event that you either get sued or have to sue somebody in regard to some type of an issue involving any of those areas, we have litigators in place that can assist you in that regard as well.

Alay Yajnik: [00:15:05] Awesome. So hope all your listeners are hearing that, because that was a textbook description of how Rodger’s practice weaves into the firm, how the firm can provide multiple services for a client. That was awesome, Roger, thank you for that.

Roger Brothers: [00:15:17] You’re welcome.

Alay Yajnik: [00:15:18] And that leads us right into a conversation about marketing and business development. So what marketing tactics do you tend to favor and what have worked well for you over time?

Roger Brothers: [00:15:30] So. I think really, you know, marketing, we don’t do a lot of advertising. In fact, we don’t do any advertising at all. We don’t take ads out. We don’t have our our name anywhere displayed. It’s all personal touch. It’s all personal relationships. I know for networking, professional networking groups, I really don’t participate in a lot of them, I participate in a couple. And I think getting to know people and that personal relationship is really the best way that you can market. I also – our firm belongs to an international association of law firms and attorneys called Primaris. And with them, we market California, essentially. Any businesses, whether you’re foreign or domestic, from other states that are doing business in California, contemplating doing business in California, have litigation in California…we market to them that we can be that firm that handles that for you or can assist you in that. But in terms of on the local basis, I don’t think that there’s any substitute for meeting somebody face to face, shaking their hand, looking them in the eye. Whether that’s a cup of coffee or lunch or drink after work or seminar or any way that you can get a personal contact, I really favor that. And I don’t think, my personal opinion, that there’s any substitute for that, whether you’re a boomer like me or a millennial.

Alay Yajnik: [00:17:10] Relationships are relationships and people are people, right?

Roger Brothers: [00:17:13] Yes, exactly. And I think people still value that personal, that interpersonal reaction. And those communications.

Alay Yajnik: [00:17:24] Yeah, particularly if, you know, if you are a firm that has significant rates and you’re looking for really high quality clients. Those are the kinds of folks who aren’t going to be looking online for an attorney. They’re going to be asking their contacts, they’re going to be asking their CPA, you know, their trusted advisers. “Who would you recommend?” And if you have those relationships already, which (by the way as you know, Roger, right?) take years to build, potentially you would be the person that would get that call.

Roger Brothers: [00:17:54] Yeah, yeah, exactly. And, you know, I’m not saying there’s no value in doing the other advertising because we do get calls where someone says, hey, I found you on law.com or Martindale Hubbell or Google or, you know, some other mechanism for doing that. But I would say that those are the exceptions rather than the rule. The vast majority of clients that we get, new clients that we get are referrals from either existing clients or referral sources, other professionals with whom we have worked in the past. Because I think, you know, there’s no substitute for me telling a client, “Hey, I’ve worked with Alay in the past and I think he’s a great guy and he’s extremely knowledgeable. And let me make that introduction.” There is no substitute for that.

Alay Yajnik: [00:18:57] Agreed. Agreed. And so as someone who’s a proven rainmaker, who’s done it at a high level for a long time, what advice would you give to attorneys who are just getting in the business development?

Roger Brothers: [00:19:10] I think that – the advice I give our younger attorneys and advice I give, I would give to others would be to in early as early in your career as you can do it, get out and do a little bit of everything and see what works. Participate in your local bar association, join a networking group, join – maybe it’s a client-type group and an industry association. You get involved with your kids’ activities to be a coach, get on the board of the little league or soccer club or whatever and do all of that and out and do it all initially and then see what works and discard what doesn’t work and get more involved with what does work. And not just be a member, but get on the board, do something where you’re touching more people and you get to talk to a lot of other people because you’re going to – different people have different strengths in different types of settings. And you just need to figure out what is going to be your best avenue. Is it talking to clients? Is it talking to other lawyers? Is it talking to other professionals? Where are you getting that..the most bang for your buck and not just your dollars, but your time and effort. And I know it’s difficult, especially for younger attorneys. When you have family, you’ve got kids at home and your spouse, etc. But you have to make that. You have to make that time and it will pay dividends for you, because if – you can’t delay that. It’s not something where you can say, “You know, I’m a 30 year old lawyer and I got two kids at home and I’m doing all this and I’ll do that when I’m 40.” It’s too late. Because all the other ones who jumped into that, they’re 10 years ahead of you. And I would say it’s one of those things where you have to do it early. And it may be a little painful. And, you know, maybe they may give you some long days and some long nights, but it will pay dividends for you.

Alay Yajnik: [00:21:24] And Roger, what excites you about Brothers Smith right now as you’re headed forward?

Roger Brothers: [00:21:30] I think that what really excited us we’re sort of changing a little bit. And that is we have – we are bringing on a different people who are experienced lawyers who have some similar overlap with us, but not 100 percent. And it’s fun and exciting to incorporate them into the firm and to basically go out now and market together and talk about how we can do things together and hear sort of their expertise and hear their experiences, what they’ve done. And so we’re really enjoying that – that’s interesting for us.

Alay Yajnik: [00:22:12] Well, Roger, congratulations on all your success. Thank you so much for contributing your time and your wisdom on the show today. Everyone: Roger Brothers with Brothers Smith. Congrats again, Roger. And thank you.

Roger Brothers: [00:22:24] Thank you very much, Alay. I appreciate it.

Alay Yajnik: [00:22:29] And that’s a wrap. To get more episodes, webinars and free stuff, visit lawyerbusinessadvantage.com. My name is Alay Yajnik. Thank you for listening. And remember, there is a rainmaker inside everyone, including you.