Devin Miller began his law career at a top 100 firm. And while he was serving big-name clients like Amazon and Intel, he found his direct client contact was limited and his impact felt minimal.
He couldn’t shake the sense that he was just a cog in the wheel. He wanted to be a true partner to his clients and play a meaningful role in their growth. That’s why he set out on his own three years ago. He founded Miller IP Law to support startups in getting their intellectual property ducks in a row.
Devin explains there are plenty of mistakes to be made in the early days when it comes to IP. Many organizations develop new products or services without realizing—until it’s too late—they should be pursuing patents or protections for their IP.
Devin is passionate about guiding startups through those confusing early years. He wants to be more than a law firm that simply files paperwork. He aims to serve as both a sounding board and trusted advisor.
As Devin started offering personalized and attentive service, demand for his firm grew. He expanded beyond his original team of two to hire more attorneys and support staff. He doesn’t have a strict formula for deciding how to expand internally. His general rule of thumb is that when the team finds itself at 120 percent capacity for a number of months, it’s time to expand headcount.
Devin’s other passion, beyond serving startups, is providing top-notch customer service. He notes that law firms are not historically known for being service-minded. Typically, the predominant focus is on billable hours, with all other elements—including customer care—taking a back seat.
Devin has instituted a different set of expectations at his firm. He and his team don’t like to keep people waiting for support. They typically respond to client emails immediately, but it never takes more than 24 hours to hear back from Devin’s team. He also incentivizes business development activities, rather than focusing solely on billable hours, to encourage his team to nurture relationships and find upsell opportunities. Finally, he leans heavily on automation to take rote tasks off attorneys’ plates.
When asked what it is he loves most about his work, Devin says that it’s the opportunity to be his own boss. He enjoys the same freedom as his entrepreneurial clients, making decisions about growth and strategy without having to run everything by a board. It’s this freedom that has empowered him to build a different kind of law firm—the kind he’s always envisioned—for himself, his team, and his clients.
Rob Ristagno: This week’s guest got his start in the prestigious world of big law, but he found it impersonal. He wanted to make a real difference for his clients, so he opened up his own shop, helping startups navigate intellectual property law. Now he balances growing his business with providing top-notch service to his clients. How does he do it? Tune in to find out.
Announcer: This is the CEO Campfire Chat, with your host, Rob Ristagno. Taped in front of a live studio audience, join us to hear successful growth stories from middle-market companies just like yours. Sponsored by the Sterling Woods Group.
Rob Ristagno: Welcome to the CEO Campfire Chat recorded live in front of a studio audience of leading executives. I’m your host, Rob Ristagno, and today I have the privilege of introducing you to Devin Miller, who is the founder and CEO of Miller IP Law. Devin, welcome to the show.
Devin Miller: Thanks for having me back. I’m excited to chat a bit more.
Rob Ristagno: All right. So let’s start with a little game called five questions. It’s not 20 questions, because CEOs do not have time for 20 questions, so we’ve streamlined it down to just five, and all you have to do to win, Devin, is answer all five of these questions in under two minutes. Are you up for the challenge?
Devin Miller: I am up for the challenge. Do I get a prize? Or is it just the joy of winning?
Rob Ristagno: It’s just the joy of winning, man.
Devin Miller: All right. Well, that’s still a pretty good prize. So yeah. I’m up for it.
Rob Ristagno: All right. Excellent. Okay. Here we go. Question one. What is the vision for your company?
Devin Miller: To help as many startups and small businesses as possible.
Rob Ristagno: Nice, and who is your ideal customer?
Devin Miller: It’s really going to be someone that’s a startup or a small business, C-level individual, so a CEO, CTO, or something of that nature that is going to be the decision maker and are looking to direct the company to grow.
Rob Ristagno: Excellent, and number three. What is your value proposition to them?
Devin Miller: Yeah. Value propositions, a few. One is we provide a lot better customer service than anybody else out in the industry. We communicate better. We’re much more available, and we do understandable fees, which is something that’s missing in the industry.
Rob Ristagno: Gotcha, and what is the best part of being a CEO?
Devin Miller: Don’t have to answer to anybody … I guess you always have to answer to clients, but you at least get to decide the direction of the company, test things out, figure things out, try new things, and not have to get permission from anybody else.
Rob Ristagno: All right. No need for permission, and number five. You’re killing it here. How would you describe your company culture?
Devin Miller: I’d describe it as a startup culture, which is what I like, and it’s one where it moves fast. It’s dynamic. We make a lot–we try a lot of things out. Some things fail. Some things are successful, but it’s really going to be, if I were to sum it up, a startup culture.
Rob Ristagno: Excellent. All right. You win. You win. You get your virtual award here. That was one minute, 11 seconds. Very good. Let’s elaborate on some of those things though. Just kind of tell everyone a little bit more about Miller IP Law and exactly what you do, and give us your elevator pitch.
Devin Miller: Sure. Yeah. So Miller IP Law is a intellectual property firm, so we focus a lot of patents, trademarks, copyrights, as well as a few business-related things, policies and other things, but we really focus on … As opposed to a lot of other law firms that focus on large clients and Fortune 500, I love startups and small business. That’s my joy and my passion. So that’s where Miller IP Law focuses on helping startups and small businesses to protect and grow their business with intellectual property. So that’s where we focused it. We do it with a lot of change in the industry. We take a look at everything from why is the industry doing it. Does it make sense, or is it just how they’ve been doing it for a long period of time? If it makes sense, we keep doing it. If it’s just tradition, then we look to shake it up.
Rob Ristagno: Excellent, and what are three things that a startup founder and entrepreneur needs to know about when it comes to IP that they don’t really think about?
Devin Miller: Yeah. I’d say one is that there are deadlines a lot of times you don’t think about that can be detrimental to your business. First off, you need to be able to protect it. So when you think of patents and trademarks, but especially patents, you’re going to get one where there’s a deadline that once you put anything out in the public, you have a year within which you can file a patent. If you don’t file a patent on it, it gets put into the public domain where anybody can do it. So that’s a lot of times one thing that startup small businesses don’t realize. Once they start putting things out in the public, they get a time clock ticking. Another thing is is just the general idea of a lot of times when you’re worried about dealing with an attorney, you decide, “Hey. They’re going to be expensive. They’re going to take time, and I don’t know if I can afford it. I don’t even know if I need it,” so you tend to back away until it’s too late or until you already are past the things you need to. So even if you’re not ready to meet with an attorney or to get legal work, it’s best to get a strategy in place and to make sure that you have a roadmap of when you might need them or why you might need them.
Rob Ristagno: Yeah. No. I think a lot of people unfortunately wait until it’s too late for a lot of professions–call lawyers when it’s too late, or maybe even accountants or other professionals, bankers. So like the idea of proactive there. All right. So Devin, we’re going to talk about two main topics today. We’re going to talk about how, when you’re scaling a professional services business like yours, how you think about the different options for resources. Do you take on a partner? Do you hire someone? Do you use freelancers? So we’ll talk a little bit about that. Then we’ll shift gears and talk about how you can design an outstanding customer experience.
Rob Ristagno: I think this is a really critical topic for our audience today, because if we were running a product company, software company, everyone there has a customer success team and is thinking about how you can have a great onboarding experience and a customer engagement experience and a how you get that referral flywheel going, and sometimes for professional services, we don’t necessarily think about that. We kind of think maybe we’re experts, and we come in, and we solve a problem, and we move on, and we need to really think about that holistic experience, just like we’re managing any other product.
Rob Ristagno: So I’m really curious to get your thoughts on that. So let’s start though with the first thing, scaling a business. Tell us the story of Miller IP Law. Tell us about how you have hit a point in your career where you decide, “Hey. I really want to scale this thing,” and there’s lots of ways to scale it, and share with us how you thought through the options and what you decided.
Devin Miller: Yeah. Now, I would take one step back as to how I got into it, and then definitely how to scale it. I mean, originally, so I worked with top 100 law firms, big law firms across the nation. Worked with name clients, Amazon and Intel and Ford and others, and part of where I got to was that was a great career path. I wanted to work for someone else, but one is I was working with clients, and I was a much smaller cog in a bigger wheel, and so I didn’t have a lot of impact with the client, and two, I didn’t have a lot of direction as to where my career path was going. I could do well and serve the clients, but I couldn’t really have an impact on how I did that or where I did it or anything of that nature.
Devin Miller: So that was kind of where the law firm started. Started the law firm about three years ago and then started out, as a lot of people do … I had myself. I had one other person that came along that was a paralegal and did a lot of the filings and other stuff, and then when I looked to grow it, it was much more … Or it wasn’t what the intended … Everybody sets their goal, “I’m going to have 20 attorneys in this,” or “I’m going to have this revenue by X amount of days,” and I think those are good goals, but mine was always more of I’m going to grow it as I need to in order to continue to keep the company the way I enjoy it and provide this level of service that I want to to the clients. In other words, if I’m hiring a whole bunch of people and now we’re so expensive startups and small businesses can’t afford it, doesn’t accomplish what I want to do.
Rob Ristagno: Gotcha. Number of employees is almost like a vanity metric, how many employees they have, and sometimes those aren’t the right metrics to take a look at. So yeah. Keep going.
Devin Miller: No, and I agree with that. I mean, law industry is horrible. There’s two vanity points. One is how big your firm is, and two is how nice is your offices, and that’s–
Rob Ristagno: Yeah. That’s another one.
Devin Miller: You walk into a law firm, and it’s always wood-adorned and then you have all these nice conference rooms, and maybe some people are impressed, and that’s great. On the other hand, I look at it and say, “This is where all my money is going to. It’s not going to my service. It’s going for them to have a nice office and a lot of overhead.” So that’s the one that I think that, when you’re looking at not hitting on vanity points, it was more of let’s … I looked at it as what do I want to accomplish with the firm, and then I’ll grow it as it makes sense in order to continue to accomplish those goals, serve more people, but not with the idea of hitting vanity points, but just simply to serve more people.
Rob Ristagno: Gotcha. Great. Yeah. So think about then. How do you decide then you want to take on more clients or you want to take on a bigger team? Just kind of help us understand your thought process, and maybe give us a specific story about a time you were deciding between hiring someone or using a freelancer or finding a partner.
Devin Miller: Yeah. I mean, so I don’t like partners. I think partners can be good, so don’t get me wrong that I’m anti-partners, but for me, I came to enough of a conclusion that I am the personality that I like to be able to decide something, implement it the next day, see if it works within a week, and either keep growing it or kill it, and the more people I bring on, the more … No. I have people I bounce ideas off. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t just run off on my own, but I found that a lot of times when you bring on multiple partners or bring on multiple layers of management, it didn’t suit my personality well, because I like to move at a fast enough pace, and that slows it down too much and it makes it less enjoyable. So when I looked at bringing on partners, I have people that I absolutely trust that are great as far as what they do, but to the end of management and direction we go and that, I decided I wanted to keep for myself.
Devin Miller: As far as freelancer versus employees, I’ve tried freelancers. For me, it seems like freelancers have been … It’s hard to find a good freelancer that’s going to be there longterm, which is what I want to do, because we want to have a culture, we want to have them trained, we want to have them interact with clients, all of which … Freelancers, not always, a lot of times are going to be more transient. They’re going to pick up a bit of a side job. They’ll do a good job at it, but if I’m trying to hit on customer service and keeping relationships and establish relationships, it’s hard to have that continuity. So I’ve tried freelancers. We do a little bit of freelancers for more back-end stuff, so for blog posting and…
Rob Ristagno: I see.
Devin Miller: Some of those will do it, but anything client-based, I tend to go employees. I’ll say one more thing, and then I’ll take a breath. The last thing you hit on is employees, and I usually take it–when we’re at about 120 percent, in other words we’re just keeping our heads just barely above water to where we can keep up with it, but not … Or we’re just always on that tipping point. That’s about the time where I do it, because I found that my problem is if you hire too soon, you bring on people too quickly, then they only have a 50 percent or 60 percent capacity, things to do, and they get bored. You’re paying them to sit around and do nothing. They’re not happy, and it doesn’t provide a good thing. So I try and say, “Okay. When we’re at 120 percent and it looks like we’ve hit that consistently for two or three months, then we start to look at hiring.”
Rob Ristagno: Now, one thing that every CEO is sharing with me is right now hiring is one of the biggest challenges, and so how do you think through that? If you’re waiting until you’re at 120 percent for a couple months in a row and then it could potentially take a long time to hire someone, has your thinking changed at all in this tight labor market?
Devin Miller: Not really. I mean, I think that there is a tight labor market. Not that you can’t go and compete on price, but if all you’re doing in a tight labor market is everybody’s one-ing up and paying more, you already lost. It’s kind of like when you do a product and you’re racing to the bottom and trying to be the cheapest, everybody’s going to lose, because everybody’s racing to the bottom. So I look at it as I’m not going to let the market push me to make bad hires or spend more on employees than what makes sense, and so I always look at it … Whether it’s a great market or a long market, if it takes me longer, we will manage the clients we have, slow things down, take on less clients if we actually reach that point, but what I don’t want to do is make a bad hire or set up somebody that’s going to be more expensive than we can afford in the long run that we’re not going to like with the culture, who doesn’t do a good job, that doesn’t fit with what we’re trying to accomplish, and usually I feel like, when I try and push to the point of trying to make a quick hire or just compete with everybody and just try and snatch them up, I usually make bad hires.
Rob Ristagno: I guess that makes sense. Typically, people who take a job only because you’re the highest bidder may not be the best cultural fits anyway.
Devin Miller: And they usually don’t stick around as long, right? I mean, I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay people well. I think you absolutely should, but if the criteria is always who’s paying the most and there’s nothing else, then they’re always going to be looking for that next better-paying job.
Rob Ristagno: Nora, do you have a question?
Audience Member: Well, I just wanted to kind of jump in, because this is one of my favorite topics around recruiting, because I’ve run a consulting firm that used neuroscience-based methodologies and approaches to double, triple, quadruple productivity, and before that, I ran an executive search firm. So 12 years ago, I was an executive recruiter and had so much fun building teams at pretty high levels, and it was always so interesting, because at the time, I was a baby. I was a little 20-something, and I had these 50- and 60-plus-year-old bosses who became my partners as I took over the firm a little bit, and it was so interesting because one of my mentors back then used to say, “There’s always a war for talent. There’s always a war for talent,” and of course we were saying that in 2008 when there were so many people unemployed.
Audience Member: What’s interesting to me is, now having been a consultant and advised CEOs for the last 12 years with 500 companies, 80 industries, whatever, I think there’s always a war for a work environment where you feel really excited to be doing the work, and I can’t tell you how many times I come into a situation where the team is dysfunctional, and I never know … As we put these ingredients into place for functionality, I never know who’s going to come out the winner and who’s going to realize that they don’t belong on the team anymore, because … This is a really cheesy slogan, but when you raise the bar, you lose the losers. When you lower the bar, you lose the winners, right? So as we raise the bar, I never know who the winners and losers are going to be, and I try to be really humble about that with my clients. I’m like, “I don’t know. You hated this guy. Now you think he’s the smartest one on the team. Isn’t that cool how that works?”
Audience Member: So I think that whenever that happens, I get to take out my rusty recruiting tools, clean them off, and say, “Let’s write a job spec,” and I think the most important thing in a job spec is are you articulating the culture of what makes your workplace inspiring to go to every morning. Right, Devin? This is what I hear in everything you’re saying is do people wake up in the morning like, “Wow. I love this job. This is so cool. These people are so good to me, and they see the best in me, and I want to use the best in me for this.” I think there’s always a war for a place to work that’s like that.
Devin Miller: Yeah, and I think that even more so amplified with the pandemic, with all of the job market and everything going on is people aren’t always going after the highest … I mean, whether it’s now work from home, work at the office, and that’s a whole different discussion, or it’s a good environment, or it’s a whatever, but people are saying, “I’m not necessarily going after the highest paying job. I’m going after the job that I enjoy that excites me that I think will provide the path and the things and the impact that I want to have and all that.” So I definitely agree that doing that, and also you have to guard against people that are going to come in and ruin that culture and mess up that culture, because it only takes one or two bad hires, the people that are going after the highest dollar or are always complaining or are always unhappy or are always dragging down, and then that work environment that you did entice people with that everybody loved can easily go away if you’re not careful.
Rob Ristagno: Now, one thing Devin talks about is he has, I would call, the luxury of calling all the shots, and so if you can’t find the right people or there’s too much of a crunch, he can just slow down growth, but maybe people in the audience today have investors and shareholders and people that are expecting growth. So how do we have to think about staffing a little bit differently when you don’t have the luxury of delaying growth, let’s say, that you have shareholders saying, “Hey. Look. We have to hit our numbers, and here’s our time table, and here’s what our investors are thinking”? How does that affect the hiring decision?
Devin Miller: Yeah, and I–background is, so I do my law firm … I’ve also done a few startups as well, and so I have compassion. So I’ve done several startups, one of which is now … It’s either an eight- or nine-figure business. I’d have to look at it. It was teetering on that, has investors and gone through all of that. I’m not the CEO of it. It’s a longer story, but I still am actively involved, but that one’s kind of taken on a life of its own, but with that, I mean, my view, and there’s always difference with investors … There are some investors that just want you to blow the spending out and spend as much money as quickly as possible just to show how successful you are. I would say they’re in the smaller portion of the investors. There are those investors, and maybe if you get the Silicon Valleys and you get the crazy numbers and you’re trying to meet expectations …
Devin Miller: But a lot of investors … They do want you to have great numbers, but they don’t want to see exorbitant amounts of waste. They don’t want to see, “Okay. As soon as I come in, you now hired 20 new people that you don’t have anything to do with just so you have 20 more people to show you’re successful.” They want to show that now you have a plan for the money as to how it’s going to add fuel to the fire, and if it’s adding fuel to the fire, if it’s doing things to increase the business revenue, making the business better, getting better customers, getting more revenue … All of those are things they’re looking for, and so I think that a lot of it is it’s going to have the same impact, and you shouldn’t be spending money just to spend money or getting bigger offices. I talked with a lot of investors. One of the first things that a lot of companies go do as soon as they go get investors is they go and upgrade the offices. They go get the high rises-
Rob Ristagno: Yeah.
Devin Miller: … [crosstalk 00:18:12], and they’re saying, “Why did I invest all this money? I get no return on my money for you having a bigger office or a better office,” unless you can say we need it for clientele, and you better have a good backing up as to why the clientele want that, or you’re saying, “Hey. We don’t have enough room, and that’s why we’re getting the bigger office,” but it shouldn’t be, “We’re getting nicer offices just because we can get better talent,” because again, it kind of goes back to the better isn’t just going to come in the office just because it’s a nicer office. So I think there’s a lot of it there, but you’re right. I think that there is a luxury of being able to grow at the pace that I want, because I can make the decisions. Investors are going to want to see that you have a path to grow, and you do get a lot more of that outside pressure, and then you have to decide how much of that pressure is worth doing and how much does the investor … are you beholden to them versus how much can we make our own decisions.
Audience Member: I have a question about compensation in general. So compensation obviously is more than just how much you’re paying the person when they first come in, how much cash they’re getting. You don’t have equity, essentially, that you’re giving as a part of compensation, but do you do bonuses based on performance? Do you do deferred compensation? Do you have a nice benefit package, all those kinds of things? Just curious.
Devin Miller: Yeah. So there’s like six or seven questions, and so I’ll try to hit as many as I can. I always give good benefits package. I think that my experience, it is when you … Especially if you’re married, whichever spouse isn’t the one that you’re hiring, that’s always important to them. So as an example, my wife … The first thing when I’ve ever gone to a job, she asked, “Do they have good benefits?” and so I always look at that has the hurdle that everybody wants benefits. It’s always important to them, because they want to know I’m getting taken care of. So I offer that to all the employees just as a matter of course, because I find that it’s important to them, unless their spouse already has coverage and they don’t need it or something of that nature.
Devin Miller: My philosophy, and there’s a lot of compensation philosophies out there, is I don’t wait for end-of-year bonus. Now, I don’t offer equity. We do offer a lot of the other things I think are beneficial. I’m up front with them when they come in the company and say, “There’s a lot of opportunity to grow. A lot of times to take on new responsibilities, a lot of ways to get compensation.” I don’t offer equity, and I’m up front with them. I like to keep in control. I did found this. I founded it with things I wanted to accomplish my goal. I want those to line up with yours, and so that one, I’m up front.
Devin Miller: But my biggest thing is I want to incentivize them throughout the year to be better, and what I found typically … I worked for some law firms that they gave great bonuses at the end of the year, but you never know what the bonuses were until after the end of the year and they told you what it is, so you didn’t really know, “Hey. Once I hit my requirements, am I really going to get compensated well? Is it going to be a bad year for a firm and I’m going to put in all these extra hours?” and so I set up ours a bit differently, where we kind of have an adjusting scale, and basically the way it works is two things. One is if we increase our prices for our services, they get a percentage of that increase. In other words, if we’re doing well, we’re bringing on clients that are happy, or inflation or whatever it is, our prices go up, your salary goes up.
Devin Miller: The other thing that I also set up is that if you’re getting more efficient with your job, and I’ll give attorneys as an example … If you’re taking less time to do the same matter with the same quality, in other words you’re getting better, you can make more, and vice versa. If you’re slowing down for several months, you make less, and so it incentivizes them to figure out ways to make better. So mine has been much more a sliding scale to where you … I don’t care if you’ve been an attorney, as an example, for 15 years. If you are slow and you don’t get jobs done and the person that has one year of experience is doing a better job and getting it done quicker, the person with one year of experience is honestly more valuable to me than you are, and they should get compensated better.
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Rob Ristagno: All right. Should we talk about our other topic now, which is designing an outstanding customer experience? Tell us, Devin, a little bit about your thoughts here and what you’ve implemented at Miller IP Law.
Devin Miller: Yeah. This could be like a five-hour conversation. I would enjoy it, but everybody else would get bored, but no. I mean, the background is … I’ll give you a couple background. Legal industry in general is horrible with customer service, and if you’ve ever worked with attorney, most of the time you’ll know what I’m talking about. Give you a couple statistics. So on average, if you reach across all the legal atmosphere, legal industry … If you reach out to an attorney, and that could be because you’re a potential client and you want to hire them. It could be you’re a current client that you want to get some updates, anything. If you reach out to them, it takes at least three to five days for them to reach back. Doesn’t matter if it’s phone call. Doesn’t matter if it’s email, text, or whatever it is. Three to five days, and so horrible customer experience.
Devin Miller: You’re saying, “Okay. I reach out to him on Monday. I don’t anticipate hearing back from them on Friday, and then they may just ping me with one email. I’ll have a followup question, and it’s another three to five days,” and so it makes it for a very frustrating experience to do that, and not only that, most attorneys … They either have a receptionist that’s at the phone so you can never actually get a hold of the attorney, and their emails are half the time filtered, and they get the automatic generated response. All of those set up a horrible general experience with law firms, and for a long time it was just that was the way it’s done. That’s the traditional way.
Devin Miller: A lot of the reason, I think, at least my opinion as to why that happens is attorneys don’t get paid for that. In other words, they get paid for the billable hour. When they’re doing work that they can get billed for, they get compensation. So they’re not incentivized to have good customer service, because they’re overworked. They already have too much on their docket, too much to do. They can’t bill for it, and so they give that as much lip services as they need to to keep the client at the firm but then focus on getting the work done as opposed to the customer facing stuff, which I think is backwards, because I think that if you create a good customer service, you create a good experience, you’re going to make a much more realistic … They’re going to stay with the firm. They’re going to be happy. They’re going to have a better experience such that they’re going to give you referral, and the thing snowballs.
Devin Miller: So my biggest mantra is we’ve always … Now, sounds counterintuitive, but we like to automate places wherever we can such that it frees up the time where we want to have that customer-facing contact. In other words, for the emails that we do repetitive over and over … Every three months, we have to give them a notice, say, “Here’s a deadline coming up.” We don’t really need to draft that same email every time. Let’s automate that so that it automatically goes out at every three months. Now I have time to freed up so when the client does call or when they’re reaching out or they’re shooting an email, I can respond right away. In my firm, I have a rule. 80 percent of the time, we respond right away. 90 percent of the time, it’s within 30 minutes. Hundred percent of the time, it’s within the end of the day. So you never wait more than 24 hours. That little thing wins you more good will with customers than anything else, but it’s because we’ve freed up a lot of time with automation such that we’re not having to do all the repetitive tasks that don’t really have any benefit that could be automate, but people never done so.
Rob Ristagno: That’s good points, that there’s a way to go through what I’ll call a digital transformation for services business too just by automating a lot of the communications and other things that can be done by software or automation technology or maybe … Any thoughts about lower cost labor doing some of these things as well, kind of a division of labor so that it’s not always the attorney who’s handling some of the customer service issues?
Devin Miller: Yeah. I mean, now, if it’s customer service and you’ve got an unhappy customer, I usually tell the attorneys they need to think is that they don’t want to hear from the paralegal. They don’t want to hear from the person in the front office. They want to know the person that’s working on their stuff … What is their solution? So I always say, “If it’s a customer service issue where they’re wanting to talk with an attorney, let them talk with an attorney.” Now, my biggest problem is that if you outsource it … There are places you could outsource, but if you outsource it or if you have different people doing it, it doesn’t get a consistent message. In other words, there are things that I want to relay …
Devin Miller: As an example, I love upsells. I always look for an opportunity not just to upsell them with crap or just to give them something, but something give them opportunity to say, “Hey. We offer these other services that will also be a benefit to you,” and if I have somebody that does it, they often will create a different email. They’ll create a different message and misses the opportunity. So I still look to, if I can, automate it such that they get a consistent message and they get the same information. I’m making sure that they get that upsell. They also have a way to reach out to us. We have calendar scheduling that they can grab a time with us directly. All of that gives a much better consistent message, and it makes sure that they get a good service all the time, because they’re not getting somebody that does a quick, somebody does a long email, somebody that can’t read, and the person they’re getting the email from is not the person they’re going to be talking to, and it just kind of creates that issue of a lot of times where they can’t have that consistent good service.
Rob Ristagno: Gotcha. Gotcha. How does this tie back to compensation then? Because I think a big metric you said earlier was that people are, especially senior people, are compensated on utilization rates. How does this play into compensation? How do you make sure the incentives are in place so that people pay just as much time for customer service as billable hours?
Devin Miller: Yeah. So we have the compensation hourly rate. If you’re more efficient, that’s one way. Now, we give a different where it’s a bonus for bringing on new clients and if you have clients you brought on that are ongoing. In other words, a lot of the people you work with … If you’re either keeping them happy or you’re bringing them in and you keep them happy, your incentive is that you get additional compensation for any work that that originates. So we do origination fees, but we structure it such that if you don’t keep your client happy, they’re not going to stay with you. You’re not going to do it, and vice versa. That origination fee is with the understanding of that’s not just doing the work for them. That’s keeping the client happy, making sure that they stay with the firm, that you’re responding to them, and if you do a good job there, there’s origination. So that’s kind of where we have.
Devin Miller: On the one hand, we have the incentive of do your job, figure out how to be efficient, do good quality, get it done, and you’ll make more hourly, and you could make more hourly within the next month if you do a great job, and you can keep climbing up. On the other hand, we say we’ll also give you bonuses that are on a monthly basis that if you do a good job bringing people in, keeping them happy, that you’ll get that compensation. So it kind of gives incentives on both fronts.
Rob Ristagno: Yeah. Dave?
Audience Member: Devin, you talked about looking at customer retention and origination, which I guess can come from referrals and looking at additional revenue coming from customers. I’m curious if you do any other kind of measurement. Do you do NPS for your clients or any kind of surveying to really find out what is the impact of some of these initiatives that you have relating to the rapid turnaround and things like that?
Devin Miller: Yes on some fronts, and no on … One other thing you didn’t ask, but one of the other ways that we also, and this I failed to mention, we onboard clients … We send every client a gift box. They don’t expect it. We don’t tell them that it’s coming, and yet we have … It’s weird. We have, I’d say, about one to two percent of clients that don’t like the gift box for whatever reason. I never understood if it’s a free gift box why they don’t like it, but for the other 98 percent, it’s one where it’s a great way to establish rapport, and they remember that more than anything else. One of the things that we send in the gift box is the hat that I always wear, and I would say at least half the time when I got on a call at some point later on, they’re wearing the hat, and it’s not probably because they wear the hat all the time, but they just … They’re thinking, “Hey. This’ll be funny,” or “This’ll be fun. They’ll see that I got the hat,” and we do a couple of [crosstalk 00:30:41].
Rob Ristagno: My attorneys never sent me a hat [inaudible 00:30:42].
Audience Member: I love it.
Devin Miller: Because you’ve never used us. If you come to us, you get a hat.
Audience Member: I’ll bring a client for an IP matter. I want the gift box and a hat.
Rob Ristagno: That’s awesome.
Devin Miller: It’s not calling us. You actually have to hire us for something. So it’s not just a … But no. To that point, if you want a hat, if you have us do any work, you’ll get a hat. You also get, just a side, you get a leather journal that’s engraved [inaudible 00:31:03]. We call it an idea journal. They get it as a way to catalog. We also give them a little candy that’s freeze-dried saltwater taffy.
Audience Member: Do we have to pay you an IP royalty for the hat?
Devin Miller: Nope. That’s free of charge. You can do that. No, but that was just one other thing I’d have been remiss, because I think that that initial onboarding does more to buy you goodwill later on if they have issues with customer service. If you get off to the right foot, they’re more likely to be forgiving and allow you to overcome issues if you mess something up or you don’t hit something on time. If you set things out on the right foot, they’re a lot more forgiving than if you don’t.
Devin Miller: Now, your question, Dave, was more on how we measure things. We measure a lot of things on the back end as far as how many clients are coming in. Are they progressing? Are we responding back to them? Are they responding to us? We also look and say, “If we haven’t heard anything back from them or any communication within three months, we’ll just do a quick check-in email,” nothing much. It’s not trying to sell them on anything. It’s a, “Hey. We haven’t talked for a little while. Just wanted to make sure everything is going well. Anything I can do to help your business? Love to help. If you want to grab some time with me, go ahead.” That’s about it. So it’s really a quick email, but we kind of track that progression.
Devin Miller: We have plans, and we’re actually looking to implement it, and it’s in the process of being implemented. After we do each matter, each kind of legal task for them, we also give them an opportunity to give us feedback. In other words, we’re looking to implement, and it’ll be rolling out in about the next one to two months, of having them actually say, “Hey. If you have any feedback, we always are looking for ways to improve. If you have any feedback, this is just a one-on-one call with me that we can hear what your feedback is,” and we’re setting it up.
Devin Miller: It eats into my time, but I think it’s worth it, because if they go talk to the attorney that they just had a problem with or they talk to the paralegal or the front end, they’re going to figure that information is never going to get relayed, nobody’s ever going to hear it, and there’s never going to make any change. On the other hand, they talk to the CEO and you’re actually giving them that feedback, it makes you feel like, one, you’re being heard and, two, there’s a much better likelihood of things will get changed. So we’re looking to implement that as another way to get feedback from our clients directly from them in addition to tracking them on the back end along the way to make sure that they’re getting taken care of.
Audience Member: Devin, I’m curious. How small is your smallest client, and how large is your largest client?
Devin Miller: Smallest client is a guy that’s a garage inventor that has $40,000 or $50,000 annual income, has a great idea that he’s excited with, and wants to get going, and that would be a solo guy, doesn’t have a ton of income, maybe has a little bit of savings, has a little bit of nest egg that he’s always wanted to get a business going. That’d be the smallest end. Biggest end, we have some clients. They’re not the same as the Amazon and the Intel that I used to work with. I don’t want them as a client, because they’re not the type of client we want to serve, because they don’t fit with our model, but we have some that are nine-figure clients that are bigger. They went through investments rounds, are now in the marketplace. They have product, and they’re bigger clients.
Devin Miller: So we do clients all across the board, but I would say 75 to 80 percent are probably a startup to a small business that has anywhere from a solo guy to 10 or 15 customers with annual recurring revenue anywhere from they don’t have any revenue to upwards of low seven figures. That’s usually the spot where we tend to target and where I love working with them. So that’s kind of the ones that we work to attract, because that’s what I like working with.
Audience Member: That’s great. Thank you.
Audience Member: Devin, are they in specific sectors? Are they in fintech, or marketing tech, or content, or manufacturing, or all over the boards? If you could write the script, what are you trying to sort of engineer the firm toward?
Devin Miller: Yeah. As interesting it is, biggest thing we engineer toward startups and small business, because very few law firms want to go for those, because they like the big recurring revenue. So we do get more people across the board, because we’re set up to really service just about everybody. We have enough people on staff that can do the different areas of technology, different experience, and we help them across the board, and so it is set up primarily for startups and small businesses, because they’re an underserved part of the legal community as far as legal aspect, but within that, we tend to attract more on the technology side. It can be everything.
Devin Miller: We do a ton with people that are software products, software as a service. We do a lot with wearables, fintech. So technology side is quite a bit, and that ranges. We also have a fairly large part of our clientele in the medical devices industry, but that’s on the patent side. Trademarks are pretty well across the board. Trademarks are quite a bit more ubiquitous in the sense that most businesses … If you’re looking to grow or you’re looking to expand, you’re wanting to protect that brand, and so we … That one doesn’t have as much specialty or niche. We try and focus on the startups or small businesses but then leave it open to kind of across.
Audience Member: Maybe naïve question. Do you do any marketing on LinkedIn? I mean, is there…?
Devin Miller: Depends on how you define–
Audience Member: Yeah.
Devin Miller: We have tried paid ads twice on LinkedIn and never got a return on it. We do a ton on two things. One is I provide a lot of content primarily on my personal account, because it seems like personal accounts tend to get a better following, better response than business accounts do, and then the other thing that’s interesting and we’ve found that works pretty well on LinkedIn that a lot of people don’t utilize is we’ll have … One of my staff does it on my behalf, and so if you ever see me respond, 95 percent of the time, it is me. This one thing is not, but they’ll actually go through and they’ll start to look for people that are looking for our services.
Devin Miller: In other words, if you see a post and somebody says, “Hey. Does anybody have a good patent attorney to recommend or somebody to help out with my startup?” … We actively go on once a day. We’ll just take 10, 15 minutes, go through and search for those type of posts. Doesn’t happen every day, but it happens lot more than people think, and it provides a lot of value, because you’re getting clients and people that are looking for that or looking for connections, recommendations, and then we make it really easy. We have a call to action. We use strategymeeting.com. So rather than just say, “Oh, message me or reach out to me or email me,” you would say, “No. You can go to this link. Go to strategymeeting.com, grab some time on my calendar. Love to chat. Want to make sure you get taken care of,” and between those two things, I found those two things work better on LinkedIn than anything else.
Audience Member: Yeah. No. I understand.
Devin Miller: At least for us.
Audience Member: Your story’s a great one, and people don’t know what they don’t know, and this thought leadership or white paper on IP for dummies. You know how many people out there are developing, I hear every day, as we all do, ideas, and they don’t know anything about IP protection or what they should try to defend or what is a method patent, and can I put a motor on this business? If so, how? They need counsel. They need people who know what they’re talking about from a legal standpoint.
Devin Miller: No. I agree with you absolutely. We do free strategy meetings or free consultations. I like to call them strategy meetings, but if you sit down with an attorney … If an attorney is willing to take 15 minutes and do a good job of listening and answering questions, it’s as more to buy goodwill and to bring clients than anything else. So we put out a ton of content to give them an introduction, and then we’ll do a meeting to follow up where they actually get to now get specific or tailored advice as to what they’re doing.
Audience Member: Devin, back on the topic of marketing for a second, I was out in Utah running a software business for a couple years, and there’s a ton of startups out there and an increasing VC community as well, and so I’m curious if you’ve been able to sort of embed yourself with those folks as kind of a marketing and reference tool. Do you get referrals from company backers as opposed to the LinkedIn marketing that you were talking about a minute ago?
Devin Miller: Oddly enough, I have more of those connections in California than I do in Utah, and the part of the issue with breaking … I’d love to do it. I think it’d be a fun avenue. Part of the issue with breaking in is a lot of the VCs are older than I am. In other words, they have people that they’ve used for a long period of time that they like, that they trust, and so they tend to go with those people just because they have an outstanding and longterm relationship with them. So to convince them to switch over to try out a new firm is more difficult.
Devin Miller: So a lot of the way that I’ve honestly broken into that community is more of … We run a podcast similar to this one, but it’s more tailored for those type of audience. We’ll reach out and make connections with VCs, and then it’s a lower burner, a longer lift to establish that relationship, work back and forth, and get in. So it is one where we continue to work. It’s one where it’s a longer term investment, because you’re having to wait for the opportunity where they’re looking to make a switch where they’re not happy with their counsel, and then I want to be the top of their mind when they hit that point.
Rob Ristagno: Michelle, do you have a question?
Michelle Rosen: I was just going to talk to something I’ve seen work with business development versus billable hours in law firm is to have a specific code and to track the hours that you spend on business development, and then you can really look at it and be like, “Okay. Well, you’re not doing anything,” versus “You’re doing a lot,” and that’s a good way to stay balanced.
Devin Miller: Yeah. I take it one step. We have-
Michelle Rosen: I know you’re already doing a lot.
Devin Miller: … [crosstalk 00:40:44] two hours of each week that they get to bill for client development, and we also have a 15- to 20-minute meeting where each week we give updates on what everybody’s doing and we also all set goals as to what we’re doing for client development. I pay them for client development because I think that they need to have the opportunity to explore things. Half the time, it’s probably not worth the investment from me. They don’t get a lot of clients on the front end, but I want them to be thinking about it. So I think that that’s a great idea. That’s why we give them a couple hours a week where they can bill. They can just simply focus on that and figure out what works for them and what they like, and then we have that once-a-week meeting where they go to report back and say, “Here’s what I found. Here’s what’s working for me, what’s not working for me. I’m struggling. Any ideas?” and all of those different areas.
Michelle Rosen: I love that. Great.
Rob Ristagno: Have you ever experimented with decoupling business development, meaning you have an actual sales team and then you also have your attorneys?
Devin Miller: I’ve seen it done at other firms, and I hated it. So no. In other words, the problem was … I’m sure that we probably could, but what I saw didn’t work at other firms was you would have a sales team, and you would get them so that they could give a good pitch, and yet the first time that the person wanted to ask legal questions, they’d have to say, “Well, I’m not an attorney. You’d have to ask an attorney that,” or “I’m an unlicensed attorney,” or “That’s really a question for them.” So it almost gave the negative reaction of “This is just a sales pitch. You’re not really trying to help. You’re just trying to get us in the door.”
Devin Miller: So because of that, we tend to focus on having attorneys make that contact, because that way, now that they made the initial contact, spent a few minutes, developed a relationship, and then when they go to do the work, it’s a continuity, and they don’t have that “This feels like a sales pitch.” It’s much more of “This feels like you’re here to help and answer my questions,” and kind of that. So I get that, and it’s nice to decouple. When I’ve had experience in the past, it always ends up being much more of a sales pitch than it does actually helping people, and people hate to do sales pitches.
Audience Member: I may be projecting onto you, Devin, because I love creativity so much, right? I just think it’s such a delicious energy in human existence, and so I don’t know if I’m really getting this from you, or if I’m just over identifying, but it seems to me that you’re so passionate about serving people specifically around this creativity and innovation stuff, and I love that stuff, and I see that you do the inventive something-something podcast. Sorry. I-
Devin Miller: Inventive Journey. Yeah.
Audience Member: … don’t have it memorized yet. From LinkedIn. But I was looking at it, and I was like, “Oh, cool.” I guess, couple of questions. What, if anything else, are you doing to kind of unleash that passion that you have for creativity to create connections with your existing and your prospective clients, and followup to that, what, if anything, are you doing with your in-house attorneys to get them jazzed up about the unique role that you guys get to play as IP lawyers around things like innovation and creativity?
Devin Miller: Yeah. So a few things on that. So we do The Inventive Journey Podcast, but we’re actually looking to expand that to what is making it part of what we call the Inventive Network. In other words, we’re looking to … First of all, problem with a lot of podcasts and, I would say, most podcasts is you have them on once, and then you never hear from them again, and that’s fine if you’re trying to outwardly give knowledge to people and that are the listeners, but if you’re trying to make a connection with the guest, you want to have multiple touchpoints.
Devin Miller: We’re actually looking to have phasing … Like I said, it’ll be rolling out here within the next two to three weeks, phasing in where it’s actually multiple times where we have the same guest on, but it’s following them throughout their journey. So when initially it’s get to know how they get to where they’re at today. Then we do a deep dive into their business. Then we do a 12-month check-in to see where did they add, what did they accomplish, and then have they made an exit or a merger and acquisition. What’s their next venture? So we look at it as we’re building a network, and then we also look to … After they are on the podcast and are clients, already clients, or potential clients, all above, we look to make those connections. So if I have connections from a podcast for a potential client that I think would make that connection, I’ll make an introduction, and then the same thing. We’ll do that.
Devin Miller: Another one that we’ve done is we built … It kind of goes back to the automation. I am a big proponent of videos as far as even in email. So I don’t know if you guys know the service BombBomb. There’s other ones out there, but I love that. We use that a ton. So even on the, what I say, automated or semi-automated emails, we’re putting in videos that are another way to have that touchpoint, because when you do a sterile email, it’s going to come across as sterile, and it’s not going to further any connection. If I do the same thing, take 30 seconds, record the exact same thing I was going to put in the email, send it out, it’s going to re-establish that connection.
Devin Miller: The last thing that you hit on is what do I do. I get excited. This is where I love to do. I like to do the IP work, and I’m doing that for a long time, but there’s as much of me that loves the business side, and it’s hard to find … Attorneys are primarily like to get in, do the work, and go home, and you like to do the legal service. They don’t want to touch what the customer service, and so it has been a long haul of … That’s why we do the two hours to do customer development, why we do the 15- to 20-minute meetings a week. It takes a long time to build that culture, and it’s also one where I found that some attorneys don’t work well, and they tend, honestly, weed themselves out in the sense that, because we have that culture and we expect client development and we expect good customer service, you have to engage with them. So they’re saying, “I want to go back to the firm that all I do is clock in and clock out.” I get that, and if that’s what you’re looking for, that’s a great model, but that’s not what we do, so it takes … One, we spend a ton of time on the culture, and then two, we reinforce that culture, and we weed people out that don’t like that culture.
Rob Ristagno: You ready to have some fun now with the campfire game?
Devin Miller: Absolutely.
Rob Ristagno: All right. Today’s game is IP trivia. You ready? All right. We have five factoids about intellectual property. Let’s see how well Devin can answer these questions. Number one, the orange background of what candy wrapper is a registered trademark?
Devin Miller: The only one I can think of is Halloween candy that’s saltwater taffy that has a little pumpkin on it. So I’m going to go with that, even though I have absolutely no idea.
Rob Ristagno: It’s a good guess, but it was Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
Audience Member: Reese’s.
Devin Miller: Wow.
Rob Ristagno: Yeah. Yeah. I should ask the audience. Yeah.
Devin Miller: I should have gotten that one.
Rob Ristagno: That’s a trademark orange. So I don’t want to see that in anyone’s Zoom backgrounds without permission from the Reese’s company. All right. Who owns the trademark to the phrase, “It’s on like Donkey Kong”?
Devin Miller: Nintendo?
Rob Ristagno: Yep. You got it. All right.
Devin Miller: All right.
Rob Ristagno: All right. So, you are allowed to sell photos of the Eiffel Tower if you take your picture during the day, but if you take your picture at night, you’re not allowed to sell photos without permission, and why is that?
Devin Miller: I don’t actually know that one, because technically legally you can … If you take the photo, you can do that. The only thing I can think of is if there’s something in there that has a logo or a trademark or something on the Eiffel Tower such that you’re taking that and you’re now infringing there. So I’ll go with the best guess. It’s something lights up on the Eiffel Tower at night that’s trademarked, and so then if you take a picture of it, you’re infringing their trademark.
Rob Ristagno: That’s right. That’s correct. Yeah. The lighting display is considered a piece of art or a work of art, and therefore it’s copyrighted, and you need permission from the artist. Number four. Slide to unlock is patented by which cell phone manufacturer?
Devin Miller: Pretty sure it’s Apple, but I’m not … No, because … Yeah. I’ll go with Apple. I’m not positive on that one.
Rob Ristagno: Stick with your first guess. Yeah. Okay. It is Apple. I guess Samsung tried to do it as well, and they got sued. So now that’s why if you have a Android, you have to go up and down instead of left and right. All right. Last one. Ping-pong is trademarked by Parker Brothers, so what are you supposed to call that game then if you can’t use the word ping-pong?
Devin Miller: I’ll go with table tennis.
Rob Ristagno: That’s right. Okay. So be sure to call it table tennis.
Devin Miller: Four out of five. I feel pretty good.
Rob Ristagno: All right. You did great there. You got four out of five. Devin, it’s been a lot of fun having you on, learned a lot. What can the audience do to learn a little bit more about you, your company? Where could they go to learn more?
Devin Miller: Yeah. Two things. If they want to reach out, all the audience, whether it’s on the call, anybody else, you go to strategymeeting.com. I mentioned that earlier. That links right to my calendar. You can grab a time on my calendar. I’m happy to chat with you. So strategymeeting.com is an easy place to catch me. If on the other hand you want to just get more information about our price as a firm, we have a ton of content. You can check out our Choose Your Own Adventure, although that’s a trademarked term, so don’t quote me on that, but we have a video that walks you through, and it’s actually a kind of a … I’d call it strategize your own adventure or something of that nature so that we don’t infringe trademarks, but it’s a video that walks you through and actually guides you through, and you get to interact and choose what thing you want to know more information about, and depending on what you click on, you get different information each time. It’s a really fun thing, but go to lawwithmiller.com. All of that information is on there. That gets you to our general website, and there’s a lot of great stuff there. So one-on-one meeting with me, strategymeeting.com. More information about the law firm and all that we do, go to lawwithmiller.com.
Rob Ristagno: This concludes this week’s CEO Campfire Chat. I’m your host, Rob Ristagno. To listen to more episodes and to download bonus content, please visit us at ceocampfirechat.com. See you next time around the fire.
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