Neil Schwan: Cost Reduction for Your Law Firm

In this episode, Steve Fretzin and Neil Schwan discuss:

  • Why lawyers don’t keep up with their expenses.
  • Top expenses lawyers have that they don’t look at.
  • Automation and outsourcing to reduce costs.
  • The power of looking to help others first.

Key Takeaways:

  • You may not need to wait out a full lease if you are looking to move on. There are options out there, and speaking with a tenant advocate may be able to help.
  • Get competitive quotes every few years on your professional insurance. You can always stay with your broker if you like them, but it doesn’t hurt to see where costs can be saved.
  • As we are in this inflationary period, it is more important than ever to pay attention to rates, negotiate with your provider or vendor, and lowering the costs that are within your control.
  • Network with people that you can help and can also help you.

“It’s a really good time to be [negotiating with your provider or vendor before your contract is up], preparing yourself or recession and inflationary periods where you can lower the costs you have within your control because there’s some you just can’t change.” —  Neil Schwan

Episode References: 

Brad Barkin at Embroker:

Practice Panther:

Connect with Neil Schwan:  


Phone: 630-381-0037

Email: [email protected]


Thank you to our Sponsors!

LegalEase Marketing:


Practice Panther:

Connect with Steve Fretzin:

LinkedIn: Steve Fretzin

Twitter: @stevefretzin

Facebook: Fretzin, Inc.


Email: [email protected]

Book: The Ambitious Attorney: Your Guide to Doubling or Even Tripling Your Book of Business and more!

YouTube: Steve Fretzin

Call Steve directly at 847-602-6911

Show notes by Podcastologist Chelsea Taylor-Sturkie

Audio production by Turnkey Podcast Productions. You’re the expert. Your podcast will prove it.




vendor, business, lawyer, law firms, expenses, people, year, legalese, bill, marketing, client, helping, firms, steve, paying, save, negotiating, money, practice, option


Narrator, Steve Fretzin, Neil Schwan, MoneyPenny, Jordan Ostroff, Practice Panther


Neil Schwan  [00:01]

That’s a really good time to be doing that preparing yourself or recession of inflationary periods, where you can lower the costs you have within your control because there’s some you just can’t change.


Narrator  [00:15]

Your listening to be that lawyer, life changing strategies and resources for thrilling a successful law practice. Each episode, your host, author and lawyer coach, Steve Fretzin, will take a deeper dive helping you grow your law practice in less time with greater results. Now, here’s your host, Steve Fretzin.


Steve Fretzin  [00:37]

Hey, everybody, welcome to be that lawyer. I hope you’re having a fabulous day. It’s another opportunity, as you know, to listen to this show and get some great tips and takeaways and things to help you build your law practice and live that best life so you can be that lawyer, someone who’s competent, organized in a skilled Rainmaker, and if you guys haven’t picked up a copy of my latest best selling book called legal business development isn’t rocket science. Well, for Shame on you, it’s got 51 chapters of great tips and takeaways and things that you may or may not hear on the show. But ultimately, it’s it’s a great way to just get your head together on some basic things, from marketing, to networking to social media and business development and everything all in one place. Hopefully, grab a copy on Amazon let me know what you think. Feel free to you know, shoot me an email and say hey, good book, hated it. Whatever you want to do. That’s all good. Hey, Neil, how you doing? Good by. Neil is a good friend of mine from college. And before we even get into the show, I just I was asking you if you had any funny stories to me from college, and no, by the way, that is the correct answer. Yeah, it is. No, I don’t remember a thing about you from college. See, because that way if I ever run for politics, I’ll be okay. I just want everybody to


Neil Schwan  [01:49]

deny everything.


Steve Fretzin  [01:50]

I need to let deniability exactly exactly what to school


Neil Schwan  [01:53]

long enough ago that there weren’t cell phones and social media. So we’re a little bit more in the clear,


Steve Fretzin  [01:57]

and there was nothing politically correct back then. Nothing. I mean, just about anything we did seemed okay. Well, that’s all changed. So Neil, before we get into the weeds and talk about you and what you’re up to, and why you’re on the show today, I want to take a moment to thank the sponsors. We’ve got legalese, we’ve got practice, Panther, we’ve got money, Penny, you’re going to hear their ads coming up soon. Don’t skip through them, listen to them. And think there might even be some discounts for you if you’re looking for those services. So check those out. Kneel tshwane. Your god man, we’ve known each other for a long time. And I’m so happy we reconnected through providers, right shout out, shout out to our friends, approach providers, great organization. And you’ve got a quote of the show, and let me just read it back to you control your expenses better than your competitor. This is where you can always find a competitive advantage. When that’s Sam Walton. Who Sam Walton. Is he part of the Walton family? Yeah, founder of all over the show The Waltons? Yeah, that’s right. Anyone under 50 doesn’t even know what that is. Yeah. All right. Anyway. But that’s an interesting Well, obviously, you’re in the expense reduction business. So but like a company quote, or where do you where do you pull that from?


Neil Schwan  [03:03]

It’s not it’s just kind of, uh, you know, I’m always on the lookout for things that speak to, to my business from famous people. And it is one of the areas that you can always control, you know, have lower expenses than your competitor, and it gives you advantages over your competitor. Yeah, you got more


Steve Fretzin  [03:17]

money in the bank, you can invest it in, let’s say, Business Development coaching. Is that a possibility? Yeah. Okay. So, Neil, you’re a cost reduction expert in Neil Swan, everybody. And would you mind just given a little bit of background on yourself? Because you’ve got to kind of a different interesting background leading into what you’re doing now? Yeah,


Neil Schwan  [03:34]

absolutely. Like Steve mentioned, we went to college together and real shortly after college, I landed in sales and marketing, specifically in the trade show and event marketing space. And I worked there in that business for 28 years with just a couple of companies. And I wrote risen to a level where I felt like I was layoff proof of health, I was integral to the company in the industry. And along came COVID and the pandemic and the lock downs. And I wasn’t layoff proof. So you know, Steve always talks about the that lawyer tipping point, that was my tipping point, I felt like I needed to look into something that was a little bit more autonomous, and more in my control. I had been selling to mid market companies for a long time. So I looked for a position where I could still call on those companies, but work a little bit more on my own. And that’s where I came across cost reduction consulting. Yeah.


Steve Fretzin  [04:28]

And you know, it’s interesting because because my background is in franchising and part of franchising a was working in trade shows. And the other part of it was I was selling sign businesses and you know, the banner stand behind me to all this, you know, the displays that go up in all these big conferences and trade shows. That was your game. Yeah, that was it. I was in the same a very similar business. Yeah, for a long time. Did you look at it when you were looking at different businesses to start? I mean, was that an option or thought for you that it might be like printing and signage and things that you had experience with? Yeah,


Neil Schwan  [04:56]

absolutely. That was the first thing that I thought of is product knowledge. Instead, I had, you know, I had worked in large format graphics and exhibit structures and marketing, and always in a sales type role. So that was my first thought. But then I really started thinking about what I wanted to do in the end, and it was was helping small to medium sized businesses, improve their business. And I felt the best way I could do that in more autonomous way is to help them on the other side of the equation, you know, it wasn’t the revenue side was to move to the expense side, and help them control their expenses, get a handle on their their expenses,


Steve Fretzin  [05:33]

while you’re in the right business. And I know you work with some law firms, and generally speaking, they’re not maybe being as creative as they could and how they keep in control costs. So what are some of the things that you’re seeing out there? And the reasons why, you know, lawyers and law firm owners kind of allow their cost to get out of control without maybe looking looking at it hard enough?


Neil Schwan  [05:54]

Yeah, I work with all different kinds of companies. And I do have a few law firms that I work with, I think the reasons are similar, why they don’t keep up on expenses, but it’s because they’re too busy, you know, they’re busy doing what they’re good at, they’re good at practicing law, billing hours, doing that kind of thing. And the more they can do that, the better their businesses and the more it will grow. And it’s easy to kind of look the other way when the bills come in to set it and forget it or wait and pay it or whatever you want to call it. And just keep paying the bills without checking them on a regular basis. So that’s the reason they did that. They don’t keep up on it. It’s just being too busy. The other reason that’s possible, I


Steve Fretzin  [06:33]

was gonna stab let me I didn’t I was gonna let me interrupt. Yeah, I would say I would say not only too busy, but maybe too comfortable, right, in the standpoint of like, look, I got a vendor on something, got our phone system set up, like I’m just gonna, you know, I don’t want to deal with that again. Maybe that goes back to too busy. But I was just thinking like, just like, you know, betters, you know, maybe, you know, more appropriate than than perfect in this scenario.


Neil Schwan  [06:57]

Yeah, that’s exactly the next thing I was gonna say is they don’t want to upset the applecart. They don’t want to change anything, because things are going well. Yeah. Which is why in our business, we strive to make one of our options for a client, no change to vendor, you know, a better a better situation, but no, change the vendor. That’s the ideal, or


Steve Fretzin  [07:15]

the ideal is to what renegotiate with the vendor versus leading vendor. Okay. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And maybe people don’t realize they can do that. Like, that’s an option that, you know, like, I know, when I call, like, I don’t have cable anymore. But back in the day, when I had cable, I’d call them up. And I’d be like, No, I think we’re going to cancel and they’re like, Well, what are you gonna do? I’m gonna go with, you know, I’m gonna go with Comcast stuff AT and T and then they’d have it on. Sure enough, I’d walk away with, you know, $100 off my bill that, you know, that adds up to 1200 a year. So like, I didn’t really think about doing it every year, but maybe I shut up.


Neil Schwan  [07:46]

Yeah, yeah, it’s exactly that same process. I would agree.


Steve Fretzin  [07:49]

Got it. Got it. So all right. So there’s some things that lawyers, you know, have as far as expenses that maybe could be better controlled? What are you seeing is like the top two or three, maybe even four expenses that they have, that they’re not that they should be looking at every year, but they’re not? Yeah,


Neil Schwan  [08:09]

some of those top expenses, I would say, one is not an area that I work in, but is office space and rent, especially right now, most COVID, I know that a lot of firms don’t have a full Office. And they think, Well, I just got to, you know, wait out the last three years of my lease, and that’s not always the case, you can work with a Tenant Advocate or a tenant broker to negotiate row lower rents, you know, mid lease, as well as looking into subletting another another option, some other areas that are good places to look for cutting costs that don’t harm your quality or your level of service, or the electronic payment processing. So law firms have a unique way of some unique aspects to how they accept payments, with the types of accounts they have at their bank, and also the size of transactions that they do. And they might not have the best possible rates and fees for their for their payments, or their payment processing I


Steve Fretzin  [09:09]

should say so they’re they’re paying X percent they don’t even realize they could they could be getting a better a better rate better.


Neil Schwan  [09:14]

Yeah. Okay, exactly. And kind of going to what we’re talking about earlier, they’re oftentimes on a practice management software. And that has a payment option built in very convenient, but they don’t want to upset changing that because it’s so easy to work with. And for that convenience, they could be paying significant amounts they have clients that pay regularly to get you know, airline points and that kind of thing that could really be a significant expense throughout the year and that’s something they can look into on their own.


Steve Fretzin  [09:42]

Then you know, a great practice management system Neilan if you’ve ever heard of practice Panther, but they’re a sponsor of the show, fantastic stuff, check out practice Panther, they’re giving away a 50% discount on the first three months. So there’s some cost reduction right there, just for mentioning this show. Check out there and make sure you check out practice Panther Wow that worked out really well for my my sponsor right there. Holy mackerel Do you want to you want to segue into into outsourcing marketing and I can mentioned legalese again or, you know, firing your receptionist and doing a cheaper through money Penny, I mean, I’ve got I’ve got all the I’ve got all the cards on the table right now. I can’t I you just did. Niels looking at me like I’m in saying, you know, I told you we’re gonna have some fun together whether you like it or not, I’m gonna force it on you just like college. So the other one that I think you’d mentioned me earlier is the insurance right that there’s there’s opportunities to save on insurance and malpractice insurance, which I know is a hefty bill.


Neil Schwan  [10:35]

Yeah, it’s definitely professional liability insurance, I think is something that people kind of lock into. They like their broker, nothing went wrong, and they stick with it. But really, every few years, when you’re you should do it, you know, in advance, or at least three months in advance of your renewal date, to get competitive quotes. And then you really love your broker, share it with your broker, and make sure that they’re getting you the best, the best rate that you can, that you can well


Steve Fretzin  [11:00]

and I’ll give a shout out to my friend Brad bark and M broker and I know he’s saving people tons of dough also improvisers. So again, if you’re just, you know, kind of going with the flow on your, on your on the different vendors that you have, you may want to sharpen that pencil, especially with I don’t know, if you’re seeing this. We’re talking we were talking recession, I don’t know six months ago, and it just never happened other than the market tanking and other things, but price is going up markets tanking, there’s holes on hiring. Are you seeing things on the in the on the cost side that people should be concerned about? Or that they should be maybe really looking to sharpen their pencil now rather than later?


Neil Schwan  [11:35]

Yeah, you know, absolutely one of the areas that is causing increases, not as it as it affects law firms, it’s a little bit more limited, but it’s fuel prices, because a lot of a lot of your expenses that you have will also have a fuel surcharge and written into the contract, it just goes up and then you have no recourse just goes up based on the price of fuel. One of those is small packet shipping. And you know, there are law firms that have to depending on what their discipline is they have to ship documents, quite often that UPS FedEx DHL to get wet signatures. And that’s an area we can help in significantly. And they can do that on their own too, as well as making sure they’re they’re sending the right type of package the right size to the right zone, and getting the best rate from from those three vendors. Yeah,


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Practice Panther  [12:50]

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Steve Fretzin  [12:58]

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Jordan Ostroff  [13:27]

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Steve Fretzin  [13:48]

And what about I don’t know what, where you come in on this, but a lot of law firms have been really leaning into automation and virtual assistants and things that that you know, just they don’t have the same overhead. They used to mean many of them don’t they’ve figured out how to get rid of the big office and go to a smaller office. Many people are working from home. What are you seeing on that side from an audit? Automation VA? Cloud? You know, cloud based stuff?


Neil Schwan  [14:14]

Yeah, I do see a lot of that on the VA side or you hear people talking about it. Moving people home and working remotely can reduce office space. And then also outsourcing your, your assistance and the cloud technology. I just sent out an articles article to some my lawyer, lawyer associates this week on cloud based systems. And that’s a very big shift for more modern firms and for firms that are that are somewhat remote.


Steve Fretzin  [14:39]

Yeah, I mean, everything I’m doing is pretty much cloud based. And I think most people have moved to that in that direction. Kind of a no brainer. So there are things that lawyers and law firms can do themselves if they want to. And then there’s an opportunity to hire someone like yourself who essentially steps in and finds where the his top expenses are and then works on behalf of the Law Firm owner. So talk about how you help lawyers and law firms to save money and and really take it off their plate.


Neil Schwan  [15:11]

Yeah, absolutely. So what we do is, we look at any of the expenses that we have expertise in for a firm and see if their spend is in a range that we can, that we can help them with. And then we take each expense category as its own individual product project. And we do really three things. We look first to go back through three to 12, sometimes 24 months of their bills and statements and look for incorrect billings, you’d be surprised how often we find that when you go back to an analysis of their statements, you’ll find mistakes. And if you can find one, sometimes it was repeated, we’ll recover that money for the client


Steve Fretzin  [15:48]

sounds it sounds like what my father does when he gets the bill at the end of a family dinner. Go through every line. I mean, he sits there and stares at that bill for like 15 minutes. And that’s like our activity, we then look at him looking at the bill to see if he’s gonna find something. I mean, that’s, that’s usually fine. No, oh, no. But he looks every single time like a hawk. It’s really pretty funny. Anyway, we digress.


Neil Schwan  [16:10]

Yeah. And then the next thing we do, we take it like I was mentioning earlier, we take a look at the current vendor or the current provider, and we look to clean that up as best as we possibly can. So that means eliminating features and services that the client no longer wants or needs, figuring out what services they do need, cleaning that up and then negotiating kind of a first first pass and negotiating with that, that vendor, then probably the most important thing we do is then we go out to the marketplace and get at least two additional proposals. We’re independent and objective. So we get proposals from companies that are going or from vendors that are going to best serve our clients. So it’s not ones that we work with, we don’t get commissions. And that way, when we come back, we have three like three like vendors quoting against each other. And then we share the information that’s appropriate with with the different vendors to make sure they’re making their best offering. And everybody’s offering the same or comparable thing. And that gives us a lot of leverage. Getting the best prices at that point, we present it to the client, they can choose any of the three options or four options that we’re showing, it’s, it’s completely up to them, like I said, most of the time, about 70% of the time, we’re able to find an option where they could stay with their current vendor that just had a lower Alright, well,


Steve Fretzin  [17:28]

I mean, me personally, I like the idea of someone stepping in and negotiating on my behalf. So it’s not me having to like have that conversation with the vendor who I’ve been working with for three years, I’m you know, I know I’ve got a private person that’s stepping in doing this across the board. So it takes that kind of that heat off of me that I’m you know, being a jerk because I want to lower or more appropriate rate.


Neil Schwan  [17:50]

That is one of the things people asked about that they’re worried about, they’re worried that if we work with their current vendor and get a lower price, they’re not going to get the same service or the same attitude. And just like you said, we’re taking it off of their plate. Again, we’re not, we’re also not strong arming people. We’re very polite, and you know, we’re trying to build relationships as well, at the same time. But certainly, it’s not their client that is asking for the lower rates, we have a buffer in between. Yeah,


Steve Fretzin  [18:18]

really good stuff. So then how are you know, so So I think that the objective is a win win, the vendors keep, you know, can keep the business the lawyer can can save money. And then I don’t think you have a fee, meaning they’re not like, you know, hiring you for a fee, there’s, there’s some special structure you have.


Neil Schwan  [18:34]

Yeah, so what we do, I mentioned, we share the three options that could choose any of the three. So if they choose different options and what they have now, we certainly will implement that for them, we’ll take care of that. And then if they choose one of the options we present, and it saves them money, that we share in a percentage of that savings for a limited time. And that’s usually three years. And then during that time, we’re continuing to monitor the account and look for additional savings or look for errors, make sure that they’re living up to make sure the vendor is living up to what they promised the client. And that sometimes come up comes up when they increase rates a little bit over time, we’ll catch that because we have some automation. That seems


Steve Fretzin  [19:10]

like a little bit like when I work with like real estate lawyers to save me on my real estate taxes. And they don’t charge a fee for that. But they take a percentage of of what they you know, saved me for, I don’t know, a year or two or something like that. Yeah, very similar. Yeah. Really cool. Really cool. And any any other kind of final things as far as as far as you know why it’s so critical now more than ever for attorneys to get a handle on their on their p&l handle on their expenses?


Neil Schwan  [19:38]

Yeah, I think as we’re heading into, like you said, a possible recession, but definitely we’re in an inflationary period. And if you have contracts that you’re in currently, and they’re just waiting for their chance at the end of those contracts to raise them based on inflation, negotiating with a provider or vendor during the contract before it’s up do a lot more leverage because they’d love to be able to renew you before you can go out to the marketplace. So it’s a really good time to be doing that preparing yourself for recession and inflationary periods, where you can lower the costs you have within your control, because there’s some you just can’t change. You know,


Steve Fretzin  [20:16]

the business you should be in is negotiating lawyers rates down to total total anarchy, right? Yeah. Cats and dogs living together. You know, that whole thing, but like, you know, I’m paying $600 an hour. Can you get any? Can you get me down to 500? I don’t know. Yeah, that might be something. Anyway, that’s you


Neil Schwan  [20:36]

need the warrior for if I’m, if I’ve got if I’m in a really bad situation. I don’t want the lowest bidder.


Steve Fretzin  [20:42]

No, you want the best lawyer, but you want them all right. That’s around. Yeah, nickel and dime. Now, don’t do that. We love our lawyers here, be that lawyer. So let’s move on to the final thought here, which is your game changing book, which is the Go Giver by Bob Berg actually saw him speak years ago. And he did a parlor trick. I’m calling it a parlor trick. But he memorized like 30 people that he met when they walked in the room. It’s a memorization trick. But he he nailed it. I mean, he basically had a filing system. And then he named them in order that he met them as they walked in the room and had them stand up as he named them. It was pretty, it was pretty cool. Pretty cool. You know, look, I can’t remember someone I met yesterday. So any tricks? But why do you like that book? The Go Giver?


Neil Schwan  [21:29]

Yeah, you know, um, as I mentioned, I changed industries. And I had to sell a different way and meet people a different way and network a different way. And reading that book, it’s written like a story. So it’s a really easy read. It’s a small book, but it really shows you the path that you can take by looking to help others first. And kind of making that a part of your not just your your sales life, but your business life and your personal life. And it’s really changed my attitude towards towards life and business. And it certainly pays dividends. It’s in a different way than I expected. But yeah, it’s a it’s a, I would highly recommend the book, it’s an easy read. And it really changes how you look at helping other people and you look for ways to help other people that you wouldn’t have thought of. Yeah, I


Steve Fretzin  [22:11]

mean, if I had to add something to it, not to take anything away to add something to it, that I teach a lot of lawyers in networking skills, right, how to be a giver. But I also added on how to be a giver. But do it intelligently meaning if all you’re doing all day is giving everybody 123 connections, leads, leads, leads, and that’s your job. Yeah, it’d be nice if that came back to you. And as it relates to karma, and, and business, but I think it has to be done with intelligence within the confines of how much time you have within the confines of, of maybe helping the right people the right way, versus helping people that are really not going to be very helpful back. And so I’m more of like a help but prequalify Trust, but verify that type of that type of language, I think is kind of my spin on it.


Neil Schwan  [23:00]

Yeah, I would agree. You know, you want to be networking with people that that you can help. And that can also that can also help you. And I think one of the things that they didn’t really talk about it in the Go Giver, specifically this way, but they definitely talked about how you want to let people help you because they’re, especially after you’ve helped them, they want to help you. And being specific in letting people know how they can help you, instead of just saying, Oh, don’t worry about it, being very specific, can get you some really good results, if you’re telling them specifically who you want to meet. And it makes it easy for him.


Steve Fretzin  [23:32]

Yeah, I call it similar to that I call it coaching like Coach Coach the person to the name or to the contact that is best for you. So they don’t just throw anybody at you that’s not going to really resonate or make sense or or actually pan out in a way that’s, you know, fruitful. So I think that’s but I think you and I are on very much the same page as it relates to that and makes us good networking buddies. Yeah, absolutely. Emil, if people want to get in touch with you, they want to check out you know, how you know their costs and how they can lower them. And the timing is just ideal right now. What’s the best way for them to reach you?


Neil Schwan  [24:05]

Yeah, the best way if you if you have a specific project you want to talk about you can you can call me at 630-381-0037 You can also check me out on LinkedIn. I’m think I’m the only meal Schwann. Yeah. On there or


Steve Fretzin  [24:20]

cha cha cha Swa N Right. Yeah. So yeah,


Neil Schwan  [24:23]

any il sch w a n, I’m on LinkedIn, least twice a day. So I’ll check that. And then of course, I don’t wanna get my email, address that so long, but you can email me as well.


Steve Fretzin  [24:32]

Well, we’ll throw that in the show notes so that you don’t have to worry spelling it out. But I just appreciate you coming on the show sharing your wisdom. It’s great to you know, hang out with you. Now again. I mean, we we had a very long gap between college and we’re getting reunited. I’m disappointed about because I think we would have had some laughs along the way. But these things happen. I’m just happy that we’re back together now. Yeah,


Neil Schwan  [24:51]

I thank you, Steve so much for not only having having me on your podcast, a great opportunity. I’m a regular listener and watcher, but helping me To get started to my new business are integral in getting that going connecting me with good groups like providers.


Steve Fretzin  [25:05]

Yeah, listen man, my pleasure and that again paying it forward and you’re you’re paying it for being on my show and helping out the lawyers who don’t even look at their numbers at all. They’re not even come out crying out loud. Well listen, everybody is you know, it’s all about you know, getting it together, you know, whether that’s cost and expenses, whether that’s reviewing your marketing what’s working, I mean, take stock of of the year and really look at the numbers on both sides, you know, the, the, you know, the stuff about you know, and the black and the stuff in the red and work it all out on on paper and figure out where you’re going to go and make things better next year. So, Neil, thanks again, man. I appreciate it. Thank you, Steve. Yep. And thank you all for spending some time with us today. And helping you to be that lawyer someone who’s confident organized in a skilled Rainmaker. Be safe be Well, everybody, we’ll talk again real soon, I promise. Bye bye.


Narrator  [26:00]

Thanks for listening to be that lawyer. Life changing strategies and resources for grilling a successful law practice. Visit Steve’s website For additional information, and to stay up to date on the latest legal business development and marketing trends. For more information and important links about today’s episode, check out today’s show notes