Listen On

Law, Leadership, & Lifelong Learning with Todd Stanton

In this captivating episode of the Founding Partner Podcast, host Jonathan Hawkins sits down with Todd Stanton, the innovative founder of Stanton Law. Todd shares his riveting story of transformation from a traditional ‘Big Law’ path to establishing his own thriving legal practice. He candidly discusses the initial struggles he faced in law school and his subsequent journey to entrepreneurship, providing a unique glimpse into the mindset that drove him to break away from conventional career paths in law. Todd’s experiences offer invaluable insights into the challenges and rewards of starting and scaling a law firm in the competitive legal landscape.

Throughout the conversation, Todd delves into the nuances of building a successful law practice. He emphasizes the importance of fostering a positive work environment and treating employees as key clients, a philosophy that has significantly contributed to the growth and success of Stanton Law. Furthermore, Todd shares his approach to business development, underscoring the value of authenticity and relationship-building in the legal industry. His advice is not just limited to law firm management but extends to personal growth and balancing professional achievements with personal passions, making this episode a treasure trove of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs, legal professionals, and anyone seeking to blend professional success with personal fulfillment.

Other subjects we covered on the show:

  • Strategies for Authentic Client Engagement: Insights into how Stanton Law creates lasting relationships in the legal field.
  • Balancing Professional and Personal Life: Todd shares his perspective on maintaining work-life harmony.
  • Navigating the Challenges of Legal Industry Recruiting: The tactics and challenges involved in finding the right team members for Stanton Law.
  • Implementing Efficient Operational Systems: How systems like Traction have streamlined Stanton Law’s operations.
  • The Role of a Virtual Assistant in Law Firm Management: Exploring the benefits and implementation strategies for virtual assistance in legal practices.

You can check that out and subscribe to YouTube.

Todd Standton: [00:00:00] And those are the relationships that are still paying fruit now, both in terms of referrals and in terms of end user clients. Perhaps the biggest trick that he taught me about this, and you’ve been a beneficiary of this, I think, is he advocated for making one call a day.

Reaching out to one person in your, what he called a golden Rolodex, a day to say hello, to let them know you were thinking about them just to touch base and say, hi I have been doing that. I’ve been making at least one touch a day. Sometimes it’s a dozen, right? You get on a roll with it for 15 years now, right?

And at first people think you’re a total weirdo for sending them a text saying, I hope you have a good day. I thought of you and hope you’re well, right. Or to pick up the phone and call you to say what you got going on this afternoon. Right. And you say, well, I really don’t have time to talk right now.

And I say, okay, well, I was just saying, see ya. Right. And that’s it.

Jonathan Hawkins: ​[00:01:00] Welcome to Founding Partner Podcast. I’m Jonathan Hawkins, the founder of Law Firm GC, a law firm that represents lawyers and law firms in business related matters. Looking forward to our guest today, Todd Stanton. Todd, why don’t you introduce yourself to the audience? So

Todd Standton: I appreciate you having me on today, John. I’m Todd Stanton. I founded Stanton Law in 2011. We just celebrated our 12th anniversary and are looking forward to chatting about that and how it came about today.

Jonathan Hawkins: [00:02:00] started your firm, talk us through your background in law. I mean, you were at Big Law, right?

Todd Standton: I was at Big Law from 2002 when I graduated University of Georgia Law School. I started my career at Labor and Employment Boutique called Fisher and Phillips. F and p was very good to me. It was a very good first job. And as I moved out of that in 2006, I ended up at a larger practice at the time it was called Powell Goldstein.

Still focused on just employment law. Being at a large firm coming out of a boutique was a bit of an adjustment, learning what the employment lawyer’s role is as a effectively a service associate rather than the main lawyer for the client as I was at Fisher and Phillips was a good experience and I enjoyed my time at big law.

for the most part. When I left, it was time to go for lots of different reasons that we’ll discuss, I’m sure. The big law taught me how to be a good lawyer, I think. Which comes in handy as it happens.

Jonathan Hawkins: So did you always know you’d start your own firm or did that [00:03:00] just sort of happen?

Todd Standton: No, it just sort of happened. I mean, I went to law school thinking I was just going to run a large firm. It will surprise you none, John, knowing me that I have a bit of an ego problem and I went to law school simply to check the box and get the credentials that I needed in order to go run a large law firm and be a successful partner at a big law firm.

I mean, it was not, that was a foregone conclusion. And then if you remember from University of Georgia, you only get one year of grades your first year, so you don’t get midterm grades, you don’t get Christmas grades, you get end of year grades. And I remember my wife and I were pulling out of the driveway.

We lived in Lawrenceville during the time, so I would commute to Athens and she would commute into town. And we were pulling out of the driveway early in the summer after my first year and I opened up my grade envelope and I looked at it. They were modest. I was like, this isn’t gonna work. This just ended.

I’m not going to a large white shoe law firm. I mean, it’s not. And [00:04:00] she said, well, Todd, they’ll see and they’ll interview you and you’ll be able to talk. I said, no, I don’t get picked. Right. I just don’t. So that’s how I ended up focusing on employment law is I knew I needed to change. I needed to focus on something to give them, give the employers the The reason to hire me.

Fisher Phillips. And at that time, remember, we were graduating and it was probably a five to eight, maybe nine year partnership track where if you made it from law school into an associateship and you survived partnership was kind of the natural end of the road. Brian Cave took over Powell Goldstein in about 2009, I think is what it was.

And the world was, the financial world was falling apart. Nobody knew what was happening. And that’s about the time when I should have been a partner. I should have been coming up for partner. And I was asking people at the new firm, what does it take to make partner here? What am I need to do in order to check this box and grab that brass ring?

And Elaine Cook, who is still the practice, [00:05:00] I think she’s still the practice group lead for employment in Brian Cave. She’s out of Kansas City. She said, Stanton, you’re asking the wrong question. She said that you shouldn’t be asking what it takes to make partner. You should be asking what it takes to develop your practice to make partnership inevitable. And that’s a pretty heavy statement when you think about it, that and it kind of reverses how associates think about partnership that I always had this notion of Partnership being like a castle and the partners being up on the walls dumping hot oil down on the associates We’re just trying to make a living and just trying to get in and she was like look as soon as you show these guys How you that you can make them money?

They’ll open the gate. They’ll bring you in and that’s where it dawned on me I morphed into thinking all lawyers are self employed. I have to develop my own practice And that goes back to the point about what it’s like being an employment lawyer in a big law firm. I recognized I could not build the practice that I wanted to build inside that very good firm.

It just wasn’t where I could make [00:06:00] practice. And from that point, once that switch flicked and I said, I’m self employed no matter where I am, I started looking at what that was going to be. And that’s where developing my own practice. Came about.

Jonathan Hawkins: And so did you begin to develop it before you went out on your own or did it wasn’t Largely you left and then figured it out

Todd Standton: So, well, at the time Taylor English was just getting going. Taylor English was creating a market for sort of, non traditional law firms and they were quickly making it okay for businesses of all sides to not have to use a midtown law firm or something that was so and so and for their legal practice. And around that time, my good, our good friend Mathesh Patel had started his M. J. Patel law group. He and I were talking about whether I would fit in with his group. That ended up not working out for good reasons. They and I are still obviously pretty good friends.

But I decided that I could build a better mousetrap and start my own [00:07:00] firm from scratch. I left with one client. We started in November of 2011, and I left with one client who, as I was telling her that I was going to be starting my own firm, she said, I have a project that I will wait to give you until you start your own firm.

I hope I’m not committing an ethics violation, but I think the limitations period is the last, but so I started out with one client. It was a, I don’t know, 5, 000 engagement, 8, 000 engagement. And that was our first, that was our first ticket.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, so, how many attorneys do you have now?

Todd Standton: We have 17.

Jonathan Hawkins: 17 so it started with just you right? Did you have anybody did you have any help or was it just you?

Todd Standton: No, and that’s an, I guess, interesting. I had always thought when I was doing this and Ashley, my wife she and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary next summer.

Jonathan Hawkins: Congrats

Todd Standton: I always thought that it was going to be just me in the front of my house. And one of the, one of the ways that we were able to do this is she had a very [00:08:00] nice.

Six figure W 2 that was going to support this, that she was my startup capital for standing law. bUt I was going to sell HR policy advice. I was going to do EEOC charges. I’d litigate if I had to. But I was just going to stay in this very narrow small business type lane for the employment law work.

I quickly learned that I was better at selling this work than I was at doing it. And the work that I was selling Became very tedious to me to do. You can only do so many handbooks. You can only do so many employment agreements. And in order to sell enough work to keep me busy enough to make money, I needed to, it turned out to be more than I thought it was going to be.

And the more that I was selling, I didn’t like doing it. So the first thing that came about was I kind of fell for the e myth and I thought that if I hire somebody to do this, my life is going to get easier. wE came upon a very big case. that gave us some liquidity that I went out and I hired Liz, at the time, Liz Leda straight out of law school.

So [00:09:00] October of 2012, just shy of a year of practice, I hired Liz.

Jonathan Hawkins: So your first hire was an attorney,

Todd Standton: Was an

Jonathan Hawkins: brand new attorney that you had to train. You had to train, right?

Todd Standton: Yeah, but that was kind of the bargain, right? And we didn’t have an office you know, I’m a big dog guy and some dogs are everywhere. My dog is everywhere with me. And Hattie, our dog at the time actually brought us a, we met at a park to talk about this and Hattie brought us a dead squirrel as her welcome to the firm gift.

Right there in front of her. Liz just celebrated her 11th year with the firm. So, of all the things I’m proud of at Stanton Law, I like watching people build families around what it is that we’ve created. Liz is a great example of that. She’s got two babies now. She’s got two dogs now. They’re married and just bought their second house.

So that’s been fun to watch. She stuck with me through the whole thing. But she, that decision was so consequential for both of us. Ever [00:10:00] since then, I’ve just been chasing the overhead. I suddenly had to sell more work to keep her busy. I’m an employment lawyer, and I know that having a 26 year old female in my house is not a good idea, so we had to get an office.

which is more overhead. I need to start paying her cell phone bill. That’s more overhead. We, she needed Westlaw, another Westlaw subscription. So we just started chasing overhead and really the growth of Stanton Law is chasing that sort of operational balance between enough work to make money and enough to pay the overhead.

It really is, that’s

Jonathan Hawkins: You know, that,

Todd Standton: how we’ve grown. That’s what’s driven the growth, quite honestly.

Jonathan Hawkins: that is the challenge. You know, the question I asked myself, I ask others all the time is, do you build the infrastructure first or do you go get the work first? And I’m not sure there’s a clear answer. You got to sort of do both at the same time, right?

Todd Standton: Well, I’ll tell you. So I did it the other way. I started, you know, bringing on the folks because I had the work to do and was too busy. And that got me up until frankly this summer, right? And [00:11:00] this summer we were hitting some walls both in terms of the work that we could do. We were, we’re always recruiting, which I can come back to later, but I was having trouble bringing people on to take this risk when I was telling them, if you come on I’ll find other people to do this work.

That didn’t work. So we had to invest in that infrastructure ahead of the work. All right. So the past 6 months just to jump ahead has been a has been an expense heavy proposition for us.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. I’ve experienced that myself. You invest for the future. But, you know, it takes a while to recoup the cost and hopefully start making money. So, you started in 2011 with just you, within a year you hired one, you’re at 17 now, sort of take me through the in between, when did you really start, I mean has it been steady growth or did it just sort of happen?

Todd Standton: been, it’s come in lumps. It’s a fair question. I, you know, the, between 2012 and 2014 and 15, [00:12:00] I was even more so than now, completely flying by the seat of my pants. I mean, I didn’t know what I was doing. We were making it up as we were going along. And then another one of our mutual friends, Stephanie Everett.

Left her firm and wanted to be a a small firm consultant. One of the characteristics of Stanton Law, no pun intended, is we like getting our hair cut at the beauty college. We like finding upstart folks who are going to give us a deal as they get going. We’ve done it with IT vendors, we’ve done it with the rent, we’ve done it with bookkeepers, and we did it with Stephanie.

And Stephanie is a law firm consultant. quickly identified our problem, which was standing. You’re not gonna you’re not gonna make enough money with just your billable hours and this, that and the other things that you’re doing. So started looking for other revenue streams, and that’s where we really came up with adding additional partners.

We’re called a council time additional lawyers at the time to be revenue generators. And [00:13:00] we came up with a compensation model that I don’t know whether I invented it. I came up without a ton of help for others. Some others might have done it before, but we divide up the responsibilities for the cases and we pay that out, right?

Comes with 35 percent stays with the firm for the admin. A third goes to the business developer and a third goes to the timekeeper. And we divide the business developer third into 17 and 15 still to get to 32. But it’s based on this notion that the admin portion of a firm takes up about a third of a lawyer’s time.

The business development takes up about a third and the work takes up about a third. We just apportion and allocate the fees that come off of that to those lawyers. So we started adding lawyers with that hoping that they would originate business, hoping the firm could make 35%, or take 35 percent of that, run the firm on less than 35 percent and that would be my income would be The net profit of the firm paying out 65 percent to [00:14:00] the attorneys who are doing the work.

Stephanie and I arrived at that and we started adding attorneys in earnest in 2015 along those lines.

Jonathan Hawkins: So, you mentioned earlier, you know, you like to go in and get the work, not necessarily doing the work. So, do you do any work now or how does your well, the

Todd Standton: don’t necessarily classify. No, I don’t do that. I enjoy the strategy of stuff. I am not, I learned very quickly that I’m not a detail oriented guy. And I also learned very quickly that people hire lawyers to be detail oriented. And when I’m telling them, I’m not your guy to get into the typos and the actual research of things.

We recognized pretty quickly that We needed somebody else to do that work. But I think that’s an interesting point, John, is when once you decouple from the big law firm model and you come in to where you have all of this flexibility, I mean, that’s why there’s [00:15:00] chocolate and vanilla. People enjoy different things, right?

And I don’t enjoy the detail work. Other people enjoy don’t enjoy Hobnobbing around and developing business. Let’s work together and compliment each other. I think you know Alex Barfield who came over here in 2015. He was one of the real squirts of juice that came into the firm and really got us going.

We doubled our revenue the year he came over. I remember asking him one time what his afternoon was like. And he said he had five motions to dismiss that after. And I was like, Oh my God, I would quit. I mean, I would not practice law if that were my afternoon. And he asked me what I was doing.

And I said, well, I’m going to go out to lunch. And then I got a golf appointment and then I got a cocktail party to go to tonight. And he goes, that sounds miserable. And I was like, well, this is why we’re a good team.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah.

Todd Standton: So the answer to your question, I mean, I bet you, I build. Maybe five hours in October and I’m not on.

I might not reach that in [00:16:00] November. So no, I’m not doing much client work at all at most. And now I talked to a lot of clients and I lend my strategic views to it and I support the attorneys. that are here. But I consider my time kind of to be the kind of the table stakes for that client relationship to let the other people perform the legal services and generate the actual bill.

Jonathan Hawkins: And so I know you spend a lot of your time, doing business development, going out there and getting the work. Not necessarily doing the client work or not much of it. What about sort of the operations administrative part of the firm? How does that work? Do you have folks that do that?

Todd Standton: So we have recently implemented traction. You know, I’ve talked about that. And for people who don’t know traction, I would encourage them to look at what Gino Wickman’s franchise is about that that has helped and if I were going to do anything differently which might be a question you have later on about starting this firm, I would have started traction much earlier.

I would have done it much, much earlier, and I’ll tell you why in a second. I also would have [00:17:00] hired Erica, a virtual assistant. Ages ago. That’s been another amazing investment. Traction allows me to know that the operational parts are being done. As far as our administrative staff, we have a controller who’s been with Beth McCormick, who’s been with us since 2017.

She runs our, all our finances, anything with a number attached to it. She does it, billing, invoicing, collections. Insurance banking, AR and AP, everything along those lines. And she has an assistant who comes in during the heavy parts of the billing month. We have our front office administrator Mary Popowell, who just joined us.

She runs the office, right? She manages the office. And then It’s certainly not because I’m naming him last because he does the most William, the dual, who was my business coach before or after Stephanie, before traction, and he’s the one who has helped me get traction off the ground[00:18:00] prior to traction a year and a half ago, everything came through my office.

From what should we set the internet password for? For what flavors of croids do we put in the refrigerator? How do I do this engagement letter? Where does this reside on the system? Can I increase the Dropbox subscription? Everything was coming through our office. And not surprisingly, it was wearing me out.

I was not having a good time. Remember that I am not detail oriented. And so that sort of stuff was just getting left completely undone. And traction has allowed us to put what I do well front and center of my weeks. And then approving sort of the bigger decisions for when people can’t decide can’t decide where the, another decision needs to rest.

That being said, the administration of the firm probably occupies. of my time. I’m looking to get it down to maybe 25%. But my name’s on the [00:19:00] door and it’s not appropriate to leave other people with decisions That I should be making, and that’s a cop out,

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. So, so as you’ve grown, taking it through, you know, you started out, you’re getting the work, you’re doing the work, you’re doing everything, you start hiring people. You’ve got 17 now, I imagine what worked with one does not work with 17. I know this from personal experience, but where did you start to see your systems break?

And then how many times have they broken since you’ve been at this over the last 12 years?

Todd Standton: didn’t realize how much they were broken until I saw him getting fixed. All right, I saw this great chart. You might have seen it where you just have 1 person that there’s perfect communication, perfect knowledge when it’s just 1 person making all these decisions. Well, that gets halved when there’s another person.

And so you’ve got to make sure that in order for perfect community, you’ll never have perfect communication again, right? Because there’s always going to be something lost in translation. But then as soon as there’s [00:20:00] three, Nodules, the information disconnect is now this way and it just exponentially increases and there’s so much leakage as far as that information goes.

So I don’t remember where I recognized it first being a problem, but now that we’re back to where there is better communication and we do know whose role is what. I Look back on it and think, I don’t know how we survived the points where the information was so all over the place, right? Yeah, I don’t, it is, it’s only in retrospect that I know that it was as busted up as it was.

And I don’t know how we could have, I don’t know how we could have done something different. Except to say, start that traction earlier, because I think that’s what improved our communication.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. So, take a little diversion here and go back to before law school. And then we’ll bring it back to current day. So, in undergrad you play, you played baseball, right? And then did you didn’t go straight from undergrad to law school. You took some time [00:21:00] off and what did you do in that time?

Todd Standton: I was a psychology major in college. I didn’t have any inclination for law school. I didn’t, my graduate school aspirations were towards clinical psychology. Now, in retrospect, I think that I didn’t necessarily want to be a psychologist to help. I just wanted to tell people what to do, right?

I’m very good at identifying the stuff you’re screwing up and to this day I am. And that, so as I went into the graduate pro the graduate application process, my senior year in college clinical psychology programs admit two or three people for every hundred that apply. It was, Very competitive.

And I was not among those candidates selected for that. So I gave up that after two years. During that time, I was coaching given private lessons in baseball. I was coaching some baseball. That was around the time when this travel stuff was just starting to take off and it was, it had not become an insane asylum, like I think it.[00:22:00]

sO I was having a good time with that and I started dating the woman who would later become my wife. And at the time, Ashley had a job that I thought paid more than anybody could ever need. She probably made 60, 000 and she had a laptop and she had a pager. She could connect to the Internet. And among our friend group, she was the person who had a career, not just either serving, waitressing or waitering, coaching baseball.

And she wanted to quit that job to go back and get her finance degree at Emory. And we had been dating a couple of years and I realized. If she’s quitting this job for something that she hopes is over there, I’m not going to be her choice of mate, making 18 an hour coaching baseball. And so I, that’s when we started saying, if we’re going to make this serious, maybe I’ll look at the graduate program and we ended up settling on the law school. Yeah, so it was like a lot of what I guess most guys do. This was [00:23:00] sweetheart driven,

To get to this point. I enjoyed law school. I’m glad that it happened. I like where I am now, but that certainly wasn’t the road map coming out of undergrad.

Jonathan Hawkins: So do you see any parallels of being a law firm leader and a baseball coach? Did that, does that help you at all or no, I guess it’s easier. How old were the kids you were coaching? That might have something to do with it too.

Todd Standton: Well, there is a story to that. The kids I was coaching at the time were 14. And I was, at the time when I was coaching those 14 year old boys, I was essentially a clone of my high school coach, Coach Franks, who, his motivations, his motivational, made it so my mom wouldn’t come watch, right? He was he was aggressive and I turned into that a little bit.

I didn’t, I couldn’t weave profanity the way that Coach Franks did. So that doesn’t work here. I’ve found that yelling and cussing at lawyers here in my environment, the opposite [00:24:00] effect from what I would want. Now I think there’s an analogy down at some firms in Midtown perhaps where there’s sort of a pledgeship mentality and the harder I make it for you and we’ll weed out the, we’ll weed out the weak ones and only the strong stuff survive.

I think that may be there. What I’ve noticed though goes back to coaching younger kids, right? When I coach six and seven year olds, as my kids were coming through, I noticed very quickly. That some of these guys already knew that they had to get around the bases to score right that it wasn’t enough to get the first base.

They were always looking for a way to go from 1st to 3rd or to score from 2nd. They were looking for a bobble. They were, they would rather they, you had to throw up the stop sign or grab them. In order to keep them from running around and there were others who were just fine to get to first base and they would go to second when they were forced, but they would stop there, right?

And they go station to station and I think that [00:25:00] the analogy lies somewhere in there that I, we have both people in our firm. We have station to station lawyers, but I look for the ones who are looking for a way to get around and take the extra base that they intuitively get to where. Okay. They intuitively know that they have to take the next step and that nobody else is going to do this for, that they have to do this, and that notion of I’m going to create something where it didn’t exist before is one of our core values, that ownership mentality piece.

I think that’s the closest analogy I’ll draw to baseball. I think a lot about Bull Durham sometimes where the where the bulls are in a horrible slump and and the manager doesn’t know what to do. And he goes to crash and he says, what should I do? And he said, their kids scare him. And he goes in and throws all the bats in the shower and says, you guys are a bunch of lollygaggers.

And I feel like doing that sometimes. But again, these aren’t They’re not lollygaggers here. They’re adults and they’re professionals, so I have to figure out [00:26:00] different ways to motivate them than I did the 14 year old kids.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah it’s tough. It’s tough. Maybe your psychology background comes into play too. I mean, everybody’s motivated by different things and you got to figure out what it is that works and everybody’s different. So,

Todd Standton: It is different, and that, especially here where we’re sort of a gang of misfits, right? I mean, if I, when I articulate what Stanton Law is, it’s a platform from which other people are building their own practice. That goes for clerks, it goes into associates, it goes into partners. Who they need to build the practice that they want to right?

And our, in our platform is rather practice area agnostic. I mean, I can have an IP lawyer. We have trust in the states lawyers. We’ve got an Arisa lawyer. We’ve got litigators, transactional people, and we’re certainly built around the H. R. But they need to build it the way that they want to. And so for me to say here, try this the way that I did it.

That’s all I can do is say, try this the way I did it. They’re going to have to, they’re [00:27:00] going to have to feel it out for themselves.

Jonathan Hawkins: ​so you mentioned earlier, you know, you’re always recruiting or always hiring. I can’t remember what you said,

Todd Standton: Hopefully

Jonathan Hawkins: uh, So tell me about that. I mean, I know you do a lot of business development for client development, but you probably spend a lot of time. And recruiting or whatever.

Todd Standton: Well, I, bear with me as I get through this. I don’t really distinguish. I treat our, the employees who work here, whether it’s staff and certainly attorneys, as my most important [00:28:00] clients, right? So an end user client, Stanton Law still, we’re going to be at 3 million worth of business this year.

Our average bill is hovering around 2, 200. So we’re picking up a lot of nickels and our client base is very diversified in order to get to that big. That big number at the end. I consider the employees to be even more valuable sources of revenue. They’re more important clients than the end user client.

A $2,200 client can come or go. And I don’t mean that they’re not important to me. I’m saying that doesn’t move the needle for our business. Like an attorney who originates $300,000 or $400,000 worth of business. Right. So I consider. client development and recruiting one in the same thing. I’m still selling the firm.

I’m still selling what it is we do. I’m still selling. We haven’t really gotten into the why of our firm, but that our employees are our most important assets and happy lawyers make better lawyers type stuff. Our why coming out of Simon [00:29:00] Sinek is that we’re going to build a fulfilling and sustainable lives in and out of work.

And so my employees, family life is. bit as important to me as their client service. oNe of our core values is first things first coming out of Dr. Covey and a little bit of Alcoholics Anonymous thrown in there. But we have to recognize when family is most important and when. work is most important.

So when I’m out there developing business, I’m looking for people who have that sort of priority both as a client as well as a, as an attorney recruiting attorneys who have the capacity and the demonstrated ability to develop business is critical to our model. Go back to what I was talking about Chasing the overhead, right?

I, we are a very revenue hungry firm. We operate on very thin margins off the bottom line. So we bring in top line revenue. The firm pays out 65 percent of that to what we consider cost of goods sold. Attorney comp. Right? The the [00:30:00] business developers and the timekeepers get 65%, which leaves me a gross profit of 35 percent of originations of revenue.

Then that leaves me to pay the rest of our expenses out of that. And then as a sole member LLC, I’m eligible to take distributions from the net profit. Bringing in an attorney with a 600, 000 book of business, for instance, I know that 400, 000 of that book of business is going to go out the door to attorney compensation.

That leaves 200, 000 more on my gross profit line from which I run the business. That marginal cost for that additional head, even if they bring with them an assistant, even if I have to get another office, we buy a computer, another practice management license that drops more down to my bottom line. And so the way that Stanton malls fly real works, especially for me, In particular for me, is that recruiting, right?

And so in order to get my family’s income goals where to reach my [00:31:00] family’s income goals, I have to keep finding that origination either through end user clients, but it’s more efficient to find the lawyers who are already got that business. Does that,

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. So, I know from talking to a lot of attorneys, I know from experience that , there seems to be a the smaller you are, so probably the more difficult it is to convince people to come join. Have you seen as you’ve gotten bigger, that it’s gotten easier? Or is it still just as hard,

Todd Standton: It’s almost like you, it’s almost like you’ve been in my head for the past year. So yes, it has, right? Simon Sinek can start with why. It talks about the, I can’t remember what he calls it. It’s the, it’s some sort of bell curve. Where you get early adopters, right, people who are willing to stand in line for the iPhone and they’re going to do it, they’re going to sacrifice for whatever that new thing is.

And then it moves into the very early adopters and then the early majority and then the late majority and then the laggards. Proving [00:32:00] to attorneys who I think are necessary, who are by nature risk averse. That this can work gets easier when they see 17 lawyers who are already doing it, right? And so yes, I do think it gets easier when they have those exemplars in order to do it.

Yeah, they’re going to be very cautious moving in. Because lawyers are not going to be those early adopters when it comes to this. Now I think on a grander scale, go back to what I said about Taylor English too, right? Without a Taylor English, without a Fisher Broyles, without a Ramone, all of these other groups that are out there making it perfectly appropriate to do remote work and partner only work and all these other things, it’s made our, it’s made our model a little less exotic.

And I think more acceptable to people who would not otherwise. I will point out one of the hardest parts about recruiting that I found. When I started, I thought we were just going to take big firm refugees. Right, we were just going to find senior associates, junior partners who were sick [00:33:00] of the 2, 000 hour a year, who were sick of being told what to do, sick of a parking garage, all of those things that go along with the law.

And what I found was, it’s easy to find the people who want to leave, right? It’s harder to find the people who will. And then once you get that subset, the people who are willing to fly the coup, finding out the people who aren’t arrogant enough to think they can do it by themselves and go hang out their own shingle, it makes it an even more difficult needle to thread.

So I find somebody who’s super ambitious and they say, well, I don’t want to pay you. I’ll do it myself. Just like I did. Just like Mathias did. Just like you did. So yeah, it’s harder to, that big law, the big law refugee avatar has not been as successful as I thought it was going to be.

I found that, my last. I’ve been at, you know, I’ve, I was at business boutiques before I started my firm. And, you know, I remember at my last firm, I was trying to recruit contemporaries, people my age that fit in our model in terms of practice area. And [00:34:00] nobody wanted to leave.

Jonathan Hawkins: And I don’t know if it was part of it was maybe risk aversion. Part of it was, Hey, I got a good thing going. Part of it was, I don’t want to have to answer other partners or other people. And part of it was just It’s just like getting them over, you know, it’s usually some event that pisses them off or I don’t know, some push and they’re like, all right, I’m looking and I’m going to go.

Or maybe they’re moving, maybe they’re, , they’re moving from New York back to Atlanta where they grew up or whatever. , I don’t know what you’ve seen out there, but it is, it’s, you know, I’ve said this to a lot of people. It’s really hard to grow a firm. It’s just, it’s hard to get the right fit and get the people that want to do it.

Todd Standton: It does get easier. I would, you know, I will go back to my business development mentor, a guy named Steve Sunshine. He always talked about there being no sale without a need. Right. And convincing somebody they need what you’re selling is very difficult to do. It’s a lot easier to sell something once so what you’re selling when they already know you need when they know [00:35:00] they need it.

And so if I look at I’m selling my firm to the attorneys. I’m trying to recruit. You’re right. There has to be something that says I need something different than what I’ve got. Right? And so when I look at it in that way, I do look for that crack somewhere along the lines. And I, you know, the notion of the big firm refugee has not been as successful where we’re making some traction recently.

It’s finding people who have started their own firm. They have an ownership mentality. They know what it takes to develop business. Now, they might not have that yet, right? They might have gone out on their own and then figured out, I can’t sell this work that I’m, that I need to do. But in any event, they need something that I’ve got.

They need the camaraderie. They want office space. They need the associate support, right? They need something along those lines. So finding somebody, Joe Gleason had been running his firm for seven years and says, I’m to the point where I either need to grow my firm or I need to join a firm, and he didn’t want to take [00:36:00] on the administration, so he brought his practice over here.

That’s an easier sell, right? I have something they need, and you and I have talked about. Our newest avatar is looking for these lawyers who are late fifties, early sixties, mid sixties, pushing in the late sixties who have a successful practice. They’re there. It’s not that they don’t want like their client service or anything else, but they need to start slowing down.

They want to take care of their clients. Those folks have something that they can’t hire an associate because they’re going to, they don’t have the means to do it and they don’t have the patience to train a young skull full of mush. So we have something that they need to. So once I start identifying who needs us, that becomes a, that customer discovery has become a, an aid to the recruiting as well.

And I would be completely disrespectful not to mention the recruiter who I found who has taken the time. Her name is Rachel Vanderpoel. She’s with Impact Partners. She’s taken the [00:37:00] time to learn our business, and she’s gone out and found these, worked with these avatars to find out, somebody, find the people who need what we are selling on this stuff.

So, yes, it has gotten much easier to recruit. My, my pipeline for candidates right now is sitting at probably eight. Seven of which are really warm. A couple of which are really hot. And I don’t even think I can screw that up. I mean, we’ll land two or three of those is what I hope.

And then we’ll start the process again. Where are those three, two or three attorneys going to sit? How are we going to have enough associate support for that? So we send Rachel back out to find us new associates.

Jonathan Hawkins: And so your office, I know you have an office that I’ve been over there. It’s nice. I like it. Is it hybrid or is it, you know, you’re flexible? How does that work? Do most people want to come into the office?

Todd Standton: Yeah, I mean, you can imagine that if Friday afternoon when we’re recording this is not a hive of activity over here. Just yet. We are a almost like a no rules shop. I mean, you know, we do not have face time policies. We don’t have to allow requirements. I [00:38:00] can get into all of that if you want.

So no, face time is not here. We’re not. I wouldn’t even consider us hybrid and we never have been. We build this office and we’ve made it comfortable. We’ve made it dog friendly. We’ve made it warm. We got, sitting areas. We have office areas, all of these other things to make people want to come in and make it an attractive place to get your job done and congregate with your colleagues or an inviting place for clients.

So they come in as they need to now. We recently expanded into the other side of the building, so we have all totaled about 4000 square feet for 20 something people. If everybody shows up, we don’t have a place to sit. We’ve encouraged people to come back and they’ve been receptive to it through carrots, not sticks.

There are, but obviously there are no sticks. It’s damn long. This is everything is. Let’s explain to you why this is important. And if you’ve got that ownership mentality, you’ll see the prudence in it and join us. And coming back to the office is one of them. We’re a better firm the [00:39:00] more activity we have in the office.

Jonathan Hawkins: So, you know, you’re based in Atlanta. Do you see yourself ever expanding beyond? Atlanta, whether to another city within Georgia or another state.

Todd Standton: I’m not saying no to that. That’s where the demand will go. I mean, I honestly am looking to find attorneys who want what we’re selling with respect to this. Could we do that with an office in Macon? Yeah, but then I also look at, do I need another rent payment in Macon? But I like somebody in Chattanooga.

Super. And we try thinking about Birmingham or Columbia or my wife wants to retire to the beach. So all of those things are there. But that would be customer driven, not expansion driven. Right. All of my goals for Stanton law I don’t think this is selfish to say it’s when I’m making enough money to be comfortable.

I’m not going to grow for gross sake. I admire [00:40:00] Mark Taylor and Joe English a ton, and I consider them my friends. I have no notion to be 170 attorneys unless 169 attorneys besides me wanted to do this, right? And I don’t picture that happening. I will continue to advocate and recruit and sell the firm until that bottom line number comes where I can.

Spend my time doing everything I want to do, not just most of what I want. And I remember being an associate when I had all of this responsibility and no authority right now as a firm owner, I’ve got all the responsibility and I’ve got sort of authority commensurate with the responsibility and that equilibrium, that control is rather nice.

And if I’m honest, I’d rather get to the point where I have all this authority and no responsibility, right? That would be, that seems to me to be sort of a good target. So,

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah.

Todd Standton: I don’t know whether, I don’t know whether other offices are going to, that seems like more responsibility to me.

Jonathan Hawkins: yeah, I think, [00:41:00] growing to other geographic spots, I mean, it’s even two offices in one city probably. It just, it’s

Todd Standton: What, I don’t know that I need that. I don’t know that I need that. And the other issue here is we get, we had this discussion with the recruiter. Would I take a, would I take a, an attorney from Pennsylvania? Well, yeah, if they wanted to do this. But what does the Stanton Law brand give him in Pennsylvania?

I mean, it’s, it doesn’t do anything, right? There, he’s not coming to the office here. He’s not using our, he’s not drinking our La Croix. He’s not using our marketing or our brand. I can’t help him with his network anymore. Then I can’t build his practice in Pennsylvania, not because I don’t want to, or it doesn’t work in Pennsylvania.

It’s that where I was born and raised in Atlanta. Everybody I know is here.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, so let’s shift a little bit talk about your business development approach what have you tried? What works for you? I know you are pretty [00:42:00] successful at it. I know we’ve talked about it, but what? What do you do? What do you like doing?

Todd Standton: So anybody who is watching this, who has talked to me for more than 30 minutes has heard this story. At Brian Cave, Elaine Cook’s comment about everybody’s self employed. I mean, what it takes to make partnership. It was one very influential thing. There was another guy at Brian Cave. His name is Steve Sunshine.

He’s still a partner there. And Steve loved business development. He loved researching what it took to make grain makers. And he had done very well in California real estate in the 80s and 90s from what I understand. And probably didn’t need to practice anymore, but loved it. And so he went out and he talked.

He wanted to empiricize it, so he went out and talked to him. I don’t know, pick it, 1, 100 real lawyers, 1, 200 lawyers, I don’t know. And he started studying what it takes to make a rainmaker. And he said, let’s look at, he set the 2 million mark. He said, if you have a 2 million book of business [00:43:00] at Brian Cave, you’re a rainmaker. Let’s look at what these people do that these people don’t do. And what these people do that these people don’t do. And maybe we’ll draw some correlations about the behaviors of rainmakers. And he took all of this stuff and he reduced it to, at the time, it was about 14 lessons. He’s now since gotten it back down to eight which he allows me to teach.

We’ll start another one of these in January. We go through these eight lessons. But the, at the end of the day, what he found the most important thing about rainmakers is they don’t do anything they don’t want to do. That they go out and they hang out with the people they like hanging out with.

They hang out with their friends and they do the things that they like. They don’t go hang out at the marina because that’s where rich people park their yachts. Unless they like boating, right? They don’t go to the opera unless they like the opera. And when I heard Steve say that in those first couple of programs, that was that sounded perfect for me and he went through why this is the most enduring way to develop business.

And it’s [00:44:00] better than cold calling and it’s better than being a specialist in this. And he went through all the other ways to build a book of business. But this 1. The only downside to this one is that it takes for flipping ever to build enough relationships that are deep enough in order for that work to start coming out.

Now, the upsides to me are huge, including that I get to do the things that I want to do, and we’re going to do more of the things that we like because we like them. And if I can overlap those have twos and those want twos and my major business development activity is golf. I can play golf four or five times a week because that’s a business development activity and I’m hanging around people who are just as loony about the sport as I am.

And we have something to talk about besides what work I’m going to be doing for them or why I’m a better lawyer or a better choice than this. It doesn’t matter. They get to see me authentic in that for [00:45:00] better or for worse. And they get to choose. Whether or not I’m a good fit for them, and it’s not just them who’s going to be the client, but they’re going to send me clients, right?

They’re going to see those sorts of things and that was the other piece of sunshine Is that the major part of his business development activity is being authentic and I’m not going to appeal to everybody You’re not going to appeal to everybody Go out there, make yourself vulnerable, find the folks who like what it is that you’ve got, and that’s going to be a really sticky relationship.

I’ve had clients fire me four or five times, but they keep coming back because right, they recognize that. Yeah, I was mad at you for that, but we’re back, right? It also keeps you from competing on price in lots of ways when you’ve got that relationship. LiKe I said, the downside of that is it takes a long time.

I really put that into practice in 2008 and 2009 when I first started meeting with Sunshine and he started taking me through those programs. And those are the relationships that are still paying fruit now, both in terms of referrals and [00:46:00] in terms of end user clients. Perhaps the biggest trick that he taught me about this, and you’ve been a beneficiary of this, I think, is he advocated for making one call a day.

Reaching out to one person in your, what he called a golden Rolodex, a day to say hello, to let them know you were thinking about them just to touch base and say, hi I have been doing that. I’ve been making at least one touch a day. Sometimes it’s a dozen, right? You get on a roll with it for 15 years now, right?

And at first people think you’re a total weirdo for sending them a text saying, I hope you have a good day. I thought of you and hope you’re well, right. Or to pick up the phone and call you to say what you got going on this afternoon. Right. And you say, well, I really don’t have time to talk right now.

And I say, okay, well, I was just saying, see ya. Right. And that’s it. And all that does is continue to build those relationships over that time. And it’s not any, it’s not any more complicated than [00:47:00] that. And it’s certainly an inexpensive way to go about doing it. Right. Those phone calls don’t cost anything.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, you know what you said earlier, find something you like, it’s lawyers have so many options. You go speak, you can write, you can do this, you can do that. But at the end of the day, you know, design it for yourself. I mean, you can develop business lots of different ways.

And I’m not a golfer. I’m not a golfer. I know you’ve invited me. I’m not a golfer. I have got some clubs, you know, I’ll be chasing the Stanton Law golf balls into the water. But, Pick something you like and just stick with it. And like you said, you know, it may take time, but don’t give up. Just keep doing it.

Todd Standton: And break away from the notion that there are better networking and business development activities than another. I mean, another one of my favorite ones to do is find another person who’s a dog person and say, rather than going and sitting in a coffee shop and staring at each other with our teeth in our mouth, let’s take our dog to the East Palisades over at the river and let these dogs run around for a little bit.[00:48:00]

Right? We have. Better conversations. When that goes on, there’s something else. If the conversation stalls out and you get to know each other better that way, right? There’s no reason that the people who are in our station in life can’t take a morning and show up late because they spent their time out meeting with somebody like that.

It’s no different than making a bazillion lunch appointments to get made at the river instead of now, are you going to face derision if you know, if you said, let’s go on a picnic together. Yeah, you’re going to get, you’re going to get some funny looks. So you got to frame it. But I, that to me is the way to do it.

And I, damn it. The thing that frustrates me the most is that young attorneys are not doing this. Right. That they hear from over and over again. You go be a great lawyer and then we’ll work on business development later. And I think that is total BS when we’re talking about recruiting. I have to talk to a lot of attorneys and it absolutely breaks my heart to talk to somebody who is an 8 to 15 year attorney.[00:49:00]

And I say, I would love to have you come into my practice. What can you bring? And they say, well, I don’t really have a book yet. And I’m like, sorry, I don’t, I can’t, I need the revenue. I don’t need the worker bee right now. Right. I, and having a transportable book of business. gives those lawyers an incredible potential to move wherever they want to do, whether they want to open their own firm, whether they want to bounce around from big firm to big firm, go to a Fisher, I mean, go to a Taylor English or a Fisher Boyles they own their practice and when they own those relationships.

That’s it. And it doesn’t take working tons of after hours In order to do this, just take the stuff you’re doing anyway and turn it into a business development activity. If you like cooking, take cooking classes with other people who like cooking and build those relationships into a book of business. It’s so frustrating to watch younger attorneys not do what they’re supposed to do when it comes to business


Jonathan Hawkins: I chose not to go the big law route. I don’t know if they’d [00:50:00] take me or not, but I didn’t even look. Part of it was, I wanted to be at a place where , my dad was a lawyer, he’s retired, and he just said, You need to be able to get clients. So I did have that benefit of him.

And, you know, I grew up in another town, so, I’d start over. But he basically said, you need to figure out how to get clients. And so I chose to go to smaller platforms. Where they were flexible, a lot of these big law firms is that we don’t want you developing business. We want you churning the hours and if you do by chance, you know, get a client the minimum, well, the minimum threshold is way up here and the client says, yeah, no way, I’m not paying that retainer and your hourly rate is three times what I think is appropriate.

But at a smaller shop, you have the ability to sort of do that. And then the other thing that, you know, younger lawyers, I tell them is, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to like doing yet, but you know, keep your eyes open, pivot if you want or need to, it’s never really too late to pivot, but go to something that you like because you’re going to be with it a long time.

On the [00:51:00]practice area side too, if you hate what you’re doing, do you think you’re going to want to go try to get clients in that space? No.

Todd Standton: not going to be people are one of my favorite authors Dennis Prager talks about you have a moral obligation to be happy and people are attracted to happier people right now. Again, those of you who know me are going to say, not exactly what I would call effervescent. Right. But it, but I like what I do and I like advocating for what I do.

Right. I’m obviously a big believer in this place and what it is that we’ve got. But yes, finding that sweet spot for what it is that you will do more of. Whether that’s substantive work or the client development pieces that’s the ticket to making it enjoyable. I, yeah, you know, I, my days are good.

Most of it, 90 of 90 of my days are good. And I, that’s a pretty good way to live.

Jonathan Hawkins: that’s pretty [00:52:00] good.

Todd Standton: But you have to be intentional about it. And if you walk around doing what somebody else tells you to do all the time or working for somebody who expects you to do what they’re telling you to do all the time, I don’t think you get there.

And I also, there’s always going to be a place for big law in that model. I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. And they, and I’m not indicting them as people, but if I’m a young associate and I’m trying to develop business and I have people telling me, that’s not your job and I’m not, I don’t want you doing that, why aren’t they willing to invest in.

There you’re in the future. If what they did may have worked, I think the times have changed, but I would be looking for places that are investing in you so that you can build a practice and I hope you stay here, but if you don’t, right. If it turns out that you’re too big for this place or you need to move, you’ve got to have the ability to go and I, and you keep your options open with your own book of business.

Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. So we’ve been going a little ways now. Let me ask you one more question and we’ll wrap this up. So [00:53:00] earlier you mentioned, one thing if you had to do it over, you would sort of implement traction earlier. If for somebody out there who’s, has started their firm or thinking about starting a firm, what other, one or two pieces of advice would you give them?


Todd Standton: good. So traction would be one putting a framework in place. To keep your sanity and divvy up the areas of responsibility, right now, you may wear several hats and traction for a little while as you’re getting going until you can get it out there, but being able to partition that off and give these responsibilities to somebody else and know it’s going to get done would be one of them and having that sort of paradigm to do it would be there as well.

Another one would be that I would have picked a practice management system. And built my firm around what the practice management system was designed to do rather than come up with the idea for my firm and then try to find software that matched that. I think we spun our wheels for a long time, looking for practice management systems that [00:54:00] did the right thing that technology changes very quickly and it’s accelerating.

But that was 1 that’s been difficult. We’ve been kind of hamstrung by pronouncing it. The software that we can use that fits with our model. I would have started reading business books earlier. I would have started reading books on management and organizational structure a lot earlier. Quasi self improvement books.

I’m a huge 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. You heard me mention Simon Sinek. Greg McKeon’s Essentialism was very influential in making sure that I got my life under control out of that. so Reading those books and learning from other good thinkers I wish I had done earlier rather than trying to plow that ground myself. And then the last thing that I’ll say on this two years ago we went through a virtual assistant group called Peachtree VA and we hired our first virtual assistant and they sent me Erica McNichol and she just went over two years with us now. And I don’t [00:55:00] know how in the hell I got things done without an assistant.

And if I were at a firm, if I were anywhere else, I would not do anything else without paying a virtual assistant in order to help me get these things done. It is an absolute no brainer to give somebody your calendar, to give somebody to, to be able to call and say, can you please do this? And it doesn’t happen overnight.

It took a year to get to where we were running smoothly. But Erica is, lives on Camp Lejeune with her Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel husband in the Marine Corps. She has five children under 17. There is nobody on the planet more organized than this woman. And she makes it such that I don’t, I just tell her I, I need to be, Jonathan wants me on his podcast and it gets set up and I look at my calendar on a Sunday and I see on Friday I’m doing a podcast.

I don’t have to do anything else. That [00:56:00] to me is amazing. And she did something which, by the way, this is important. She, her first week, she, part of the exercise that they do is they say, what do you want your perfect week to be? When do you wake up? When do you exercise? When do you eat with your family?

Do you eat lunch in? Do you eat lunch out? Do you, where, what restaurants do you eat? How many appointments do you want? How much head down time do you want? What time do you go to bed? And then she starts working towards creating perfect weeks, and that’s what I said earlier. When I look at what my calendar is for This week, there are probably two blocks of time, maybe two or three hours in an entire week where I’m doing something that I’m like, man, I wish I didn’t have to do that.

The rest of it is doing things that are prepared for what I want to do that are in my highest and best use among the firm. And I couldn’t have done that on my own without that help. So there’s a lot of lessons in that, but having that virtual assistant [00:57:00] who I’m not going to go into how much we pay her.

It is, she’s not going to see this. I would double her wage at this. I’m not going to. It’s that valuable. It really is. And it, I would advocate that people go try that and if it doesn’t work the first time, give it another one. I think it takes the right person in order to do it.

Jonathan Hawkins: Well, Todd, appreciate you spend the time with me this afternoon. Where can people find you and you know, what types of people are you looking to meet?

Todd Standton: Well, any business owners are certainly going to be some of my end user clients that I like that. If other lawyers are watching this and think that sounds like a pretty good life. Let’s talk about whether it’s for you or not. We hire very much on our core values ownership mentality.

First things first we’re right sized, which comes into the sarcasm, sarcasm piece. We’re courageous and we’re we’re open. And if those things meet you, let me know. We’d be happy to talk about it.

Jonathan Hawkins: Awesome. I appreciate it.[00:58:00]

Todd Standton: John, I appreciate your friendship. Thanks for letting me be on.

Jonathan Hawkins: Thank you.

Todd Standton: See you front.