THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 164
Interview on 02.10.2022

Hosted By
Erik J. Olson

Featuring Attorney

John Whitbeck



Managing Partner of
Whitbeck Bennett PLLC

About John Whitbeck

John C. Whitbeck, Jr. is the Managing Partner at Whitbeck Bennett PLLC in Leesburg, Virginia.

John is a professor of law at George Mason University Law School, and the former Director of the George Mason University Law and Mental Illness Clinic. He served as Substitute Judge in Virginia District Courts, hearing civil and criminal matters, including family law cases. He also served as a Special Justice for civil commitment hearings in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit as well, which requires him to sit as a “judge” for hearings to commit mentally ill individuals to psychiatric treatment. He has also served as a Special Prosecutor in the Loudoun County General District Courts.

Learn from his expertise and what trends are helping grow his firm on this episode of The Managing Partners Podcast!

Watch the Episode

Episode Transcript

Erik J. Olson :

Hello everybody. I am Erik J. Olson, your host for this live episode of the managing partners podcast. On this podcast, we interview America’s top managing partners to find out how they’re running their law firms, how they’re growing their law firms and what they’re doing to keep their case pipeline full. Today also from Virginia we have John Whitbeck. Hey John.

John Whitbeck:

How are you?

Erik J. Olson :

Good. It’s not often that I talk to someone from Virginia. I like this and you’re going to be in Virginia Beach soon too.

John Whitbeck:

I am, one of my favorite cities.

Erik J. Olson :

All right. I like that. Let me tell the audience about you. John Whitbeck, Jr. is the founder of Whitbeck Bennett. His practice focuses on family law, special educational law and mental health law. He regularly practices in several jurisdictions in the Northern Virginia area. He has also been certified as an expert witness in litigation. Mr. Whitbeck attended law school at George Mason university, where he was a member of the Moot Court Board, the trial advocacy team and the George Mason law and mental illness clinic. John, welcome to the podcast.

John Whitbeck:

Thank you so much.

Erik J. Olson :

Tell us a little bit more about that last part in particular the mental illness clinic.

John Whitbeck:

Right. George Mason at one point had this incredible program where third year practice certificate holding students could actually represent real clients in mental health crisis cases. After I graduate, I took it over as a director about eight years. I was professor of mental health law at George Mason. Then we ran that clinic. Best training I got in law school to be a litigator was that clinic. It helped me find my passion for mental health issues in mental health law.

Erik J. Olson :

Which, continues to today, right. Can you tell us a little bit more about you and your firm?

John Whitbeck:

Yeah. We’re primarily a domestic relations firm, That’s what we do. We have a unique addition to that practice in what we call mental health law, which in a nutshell is all about finding strategies to get people the help they need in an imperfect system. Mental health is a stigma. It’s a crisis. All the other adjectives I can use to underscore how important it is that we address this healthcare issue. Pretty much every domestic relations case touches mental health in some way, even if it’s a really uncontested divorce where everybody agrees on everything, you’re still stressed about it. You still are depressed about the loss of your marriage, all the things that happen with high conflict divorces also happen in low conflict divorces. It is one of the differentiators we have used all through our entire existence as a firm and then my entire career to say, this is why we’re unique among all other domestic relations firms.

Erik J. Olson :

Yeah. We talk with a lot of family lawyers. We have a lot of family law firm clients. I don’t recall hearing one that also adds the mental illness counseling aspect at all. Are you aware of many others that have done that?

John Whitbeck:

No, I’m not. As far as I know, I’m the only attorney in private practice that regularly advertises that as a practice area. There is plenty of mental health attorneys that work for nonprofits and agencies and different things. In terms of just focusing on a real practice area, that’s one that we… I’m struggling to think of anyone else. There are firms that represent psychology practices and psychiatrists and whatnot in HIPAA and different things like that. In terms of people, crisis situations, getting the people help they need, that is what we focus on.

Erik J. Olson :

That’s great. I love it. A lot of this podcast is focused on growing law firms and in particular marketing. Besides referrals, what are some different ways that you go about getting new clients for your firm?

John Whitbeck:

We have this sort of matrix around marketing that we go with and it’s everything from the, Yeti that I drink out of every day that we give away as gifts to Google AdWords. When we bring on new partners, we call them lateral partners, part of the selling point is we’re going to do activities such as CLEs or webinars or in person lectures. We’re going to do brand recognition things like, participation in the community, a lot of charitable work. We’re going to ensure that our social media centers around you, video, social media, is pretty much the future now. Your good old fashioned website, which I can’t believe I’m saying that, I remember when there was no internet. Your website is the center of the universe in your practice and everything you do tries to drive people to it. I really believe that referrals are probably the best measure of your success as a firm, when you are trying to get that 50-50, which is what our goal is, 50% referrals, 50% coming in from other sources like online SEO, whatnot, you’re doing really well. That’s about what we’re at.

Erik J. Olson :

It is interesting that you say that the 50-50 split, I hadn’t heard that from one of our other guests, I like it. I think a lot of times, especially the law firms that rely on just referrals, they may hear that as well. Are you lowering your referral expectation? I think that is not the case you’re raising the expectation of other lead sources, is that right?

John Whitbeck:

Yeah. Lead sources are interesting because we’re constantly trying to improve our conversion. Leads comes in, and intake in our firm is a big deal. We have an entire group called client services and all they do is our intake process. Then they serve as a concierge type, what do you need? Are you doing okay? Do you feel like we’re being responsive enough? And after it’s over, how is your experience? We use the NPS system to in terms of rating. We are really committed to the client experience. When we are doing our intake process, our data that we look at is how are we converting leads as we call them into calls, calls into consults and consults into clients.

John Whitbeck:

There is a lot that comes in online that that does not convert. That is the hardest part, referrals are pretty much automatic. Their brother, their sister, their best friend, their new boyfriend, whatever it is that is referring them. They want to talk to you and they’re probably going to hire you. Folks that are finding you online or other sources are shopping around a little bit. Sometimes it is as simple as, the consult fee is a reason that people don’t want to come in. We’re constantly trying to improve that. What is our ways we can increase those conversions, so far for us it’s worked really well.

Erik J. Olson :

That’s great. One of the things that you mentioned a few minutes ago was social media and how that’s really had an increased role or increased visibility when it comes to your marketing. What is one thing that’s working well for you right now in social media?

John Whitbeck:

Like I said, everything you do in social media is you want to drive to your website. We tend to find the biggest hits on our social media come from our blogs. That is by far the most productive use of our time. Our attorneys write our blogs. We don’t have ghost writers. We have a requirement of the attorneys, it is a loose requirement, we don’t punish them if they don’t do it. We want you to write a number of blogs, we want that branding. I will sometimes get a really interesting idea, how does COVID 19 affect your custody case? Or, how does mental health impact your divorce case? Things like that. I will sit down for 20 minutes and put something down there. Those things tend to get the best ROI in terms of your time and your money spent on social media.

Erik J. Olson :

Nice. How do you take that blog, which traditionally lives on your website, how do you get that to produce in social media land? Facebook, Instagram, things like that.

John Whitbeck:

LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook… There is a great lawyer, TikTok account, that I follow.

Erik J. Olson :

Which one is it?

John Whitbeck:

Law by Mike or [crosstalk 00:08:39]

Erik J. Olson :

5.5 million followers I’m familiar.

John Whitbeck:

It is amazing what he does is incredible. That’s how you use social media. Basically big four, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn for business. It is as simple as posting it, then I promote. I am very active personally on social media and those are the ones that get the most hits. In the other world of marketing that exists out there, heavy digital, politics and nonprofits. Social media is a lot bigger than it is in the legal world. People just don’t find lawyers on social media as much as they do in other areas where you’re heavy marketing.

John Whitbeck:

I think we really need, as lawyers, to commit to that. We’re always 10 years behind everybody anyway, we really need to commit to that. The modern client in Gen Z and millennial generation is going to find us only on social media. They’re just not going to find it, There’s no… Full books are gone. Gen X clients are sort of, a hybrid combo. Clients are very sophisticated, you got to keep up with it and we do a really good job of that at our firm.

Erik J. Olson :

Ii is great advice. One of the words that you used before was you have to commit and you mentioned that your lawyers, you have a requirement for them to blog. It’s not necessarily a force, but you have an expectation of them that they blog. For something like, Law by Mike who has 5.5 million followers on TikTok, at the last time I checked, and 500,000 on Instagram. I found him just by looking for lawyers and he popped right up. People are discovering lawyers on social media. What he is doing, that is a massive commitment. I’ve seen stories that he is posted on Instagram when he talked about how we do got done filming all day. Imagine filming all day, once a week, a couple days a month, it’s a commitment. How have you balanced the commitment that is required to what you expect results wise?

John Whitbeck:

This goes directly to the heart of our firm’s philosophy and how we do business. Our goal is to be the national domestic relations law firm that serves both men and women. That commitment requires lawyers to admit, and myself included, that we’re not the best business people, period. What we do is, we try to strive for as much lawyer less operations possible. For example, we have a CEO, controller, HR, websites, and whether the copy machine needs to be serviced and ordering, letterhead, all that in a small firm is typically overseen by the managing partner or multiple partners. We eliminate all that. When I’m talking to a lateral partner that I want to bring into the firm and I want to bring their practice in the firm. I say, “Think of all the hours you spend on stuff that is unrelated to practicing law. Wouldn’t you love to get rid of that.” That is our firm philosophy.

John Whitbeck:

We recognize that the best use of a lawyer’s time is doing legal work. The best use of staff is doing non-legal work. We try to push as much of the non-legal work often to positions and pay people with their worth in order to avoid that. That’s how we… the commitment. My marketing team, we have a full-time marketing director, they handle all that and we show up, make a video and we’re done.

Erik J. Olson :

That’s great. I like how you’ve articulated the separation between the business of the law firm and running the actual practice.

John Whitbeck:

That’s right.

Erik J. Olson :

When it comes to your marketing, what is something that you’ve recently realized has not been working the way that you would like it to?

John Whitbeck:

Google AdWords. We’re doing really great. To give you an idea. We started this firm April 15th, 2020, and we had two lawyers and now we’re up to 20 on Monday. Our online presence has been exceptional. I always feel Google AdWords could be better, it is a great product. Google’s ability to reach folks is incredible, it is mind boggling. There is so many people using the word divorce and there’s so much competition out there. There’s a lot of domestic relations firms, that differentiator is always hard to find. I am never satisfied with X number per month, I want more. That would be the one area I would say I’d like to improve on. When you are 10 times larger than you were over a year ago you’re on the right track.

Erik J. Olson :

You are doing well, but I know the feeling you want more, right? It’s never enough. You look back…

John Whitbeck:

Yeah. As a litigator, when you’re in domestic relations, you can’t just be about the business of law and making money and everything. You’re do dealing with people all the time. I want there to be zero complaints in the firm. There is always going to be clients that complain. There’s nothing you can do about that. There’s always going to be unfortunate, opposing counsel who are hard to deal with there is nothing you can do about that. If it is one a year, it’s one too many for me. We are always trying to work towards that. If I have 50 new leads coming in a day, I want a hundred. That is my personality and our firm philosophy.

Erik J. Olson :

I love it. I think that is great. Speaking about more, you mentioned that you want to be a national law firm. That will probably take a little while. I’m guessing you have some sort of a plan in place. What is your next few steps?

John Whitbeck:

Yeah. Our lateral moves are designed to get into markets that we want to be in. I grew up in the great state of California. I’d love to have an office in my home area, in the bay area, outside of San Francisco, Alameda county, Texas, Florida, New York are the big ones. We have an office in Oklahoma city and we have an office in Wilmington, Delaware. These are just because we found incredible lawyers who are willing to join loved on our philosophy, loved what we were about. That is what we do. We try to find like minded individuals that understand the business of law it is something harder than the practice of law. We want to get them back to practicing law and take that over. That is how we got Maryland in place, Maryland DC. Our Richmond office, which is our launching pad to the entire [inaudible 00:15:35] of Virginia and doing cases all over now. It all comes from that.

John Whitbeck:

What I say, we want to be national. It is about acquiring these law firms and merging with them and building this national domestic relations brand with a small town feel. Domestic relations is a very intimate part of the law. We’re not going to be this large corporate firm. You can see, I am wearing a quarter zip. Our firm is all about people. When you walk into a Whitbeck Bennett office in Oklahoma, there is three lawyers. It is not this giant corporate feeling. It feels like a small town law firm. It is just happens to be branded along with this law firm that originated in Virginia. We need to keep it that way. That needs to be the feel for a client. Their not feeling like they are ignored. They feel like they’re the most important in the world to us every time they come in.

Erik J. Olson :

Because they are. That’s great. I love it. I have a question, one question about that strategy, when you open a new office in a new city, you mentioned Richmond, which is hour and a half away from me. Are you opening in virtual co-working space or do you actually get your own space?

John Whitbeck:

It is a couple of both. I would’ve never hired a remote employee two years ago. I didn’t have the experience with it and as a lawyer, you figure they’ve got to be able. We’re getting to a point where we’re almost going to be about equal in terms of remote and employees. Yeah. For example, I have Virginia attorneys that work on our Virginia cases that live in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and [inaudible 00:17:16] of Ohio. That world, that old school way of thinking is done. I don’t want to rent more space. I don’t want to get a bigger office. I want my smaller intimate setting for clients. In order to do that you got to figure out, either rent space that the client doesn’t see, or you let people work remotely.

John Whitbeck:

This remote thing is going to change the practice of law forever. The other thing too, is court is still a little bit remote. It’s sort of moving back there. If any judges are listening in Virginia, please stay remote because the opportunity cost of court to a business is significant. For clients, it is much easier for a client to be in their living room or in my conference room and have the intimidating domestic relations case on the TV that it is for them to go to the building, go through security, get dressed up, go in the courtroom and freak out that they’re about to go through the hardest thing they’ve ever gone through, as opposed to, sit down, I’ll grab you a cup of coffee, and we’ll flip on the TV in about five minutes. Think of the experience, if you’re going through the worst thing in the world, a loss of a loved one is probably the only analogy you can give to a divorce. Think about the comfort of doing that from your own home, in some instances, or in your attorney’s office, who you trust, big difference.

John Whitbeck:

This remote thing is something that we are really committed to and our employees love it. Having someone in Richmond, working on Leesburg, or someone in Pennsylvania working on Oklahoma. This is so efficient. It’s great. We love it.

Erik J. Olson :

John, I love your energy. I love your vision. If someone would like to reach out and ask you a question, or maybe they have a case for you, what is a good way to get in touch with you?

John Whitbeck:

Email me directly. If you’re a potential client in the states that we serve or states we don’t serve, we have relationships all over the country or your a solo or small firm practitioner looking to possibly join up with a larger organization. Email me directly jwhitbeck@wblaws.com. Our website is wblaws.com. And then 805-1-6-3-9-6-4 is our main number. I would love to talk to you directly.

Erik J. Olson :

Awesome. Thanks so much. All right, everybody, if you would like to check out more episodes like this, we have our entire backlog of managing partner podcast episodes, at arraylaw.com/podcast. Each one is organized by state and by practice area. You can find exactly what you’re looking for. If you are interested in digital marketing for your law firm, my firm Array Digital can be found at arraylaw.com. We explain our services, which are website design, SEO, online advertising and social media. Thanks once again.

John Whitbeck:

Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

Website Design, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Online Advertising, Social Media & Digital Marketing.

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