THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 169
Interview on 03.01.2022

Hosted By
Erik J. Olson

Featuring Attorney

Susan Butler



Managing Partner of
ShounBach

About Susan Butler

Susan Butler is the Managing Partner at ShounBach in Virginia.

Susan serves as a Neutral Case Evaluator and Conciliator for the Circuit Court of Fairfax County. She is admitted to practice law in Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Connecticut, and before the United States Supreme Court. She is a member of the Virginia and Fairfax Bar Association. She was an elected member of the Virginia State Bar Council from 2008 to 2014. She is a former faculty member of the Harry L. Carrico Professionalism Course of the Virginia State Bar, and is the co-chair of the VSB’s Law School Professionalism Course.

She has been selected for inclusion in Super Lawyers list since 2010 and is listed in Best Lawyers in America in the Family Law and Family Law Mediation categories. She was selected to the Virginia Lawyers’ Weekly Inaugural list of Influential Women of Law. She has been a member of the VSB Board of Governors section on Family Law since 2014 and is the current vice chair.

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

Watch the Episode

Episode Transcript

Erik J. Olson:
Hi 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 firms, how they’re growing their firms, and what they’re doing to keep their case pipeline full. And today I have with me, Susan Butler. Hi, Susan.

Susan Butler:
Hello. How are you?

Erik J. Olson:
I’m great. Another Virginian. I love it, when Virginians come on, I’m in Virginia Beach and you are in?

Susan Butler:
In Fairfax, Virginia. Northern Virginia.

Erik J. Olson:
Northern Virginia, my old stomping grass. Let me tell the audience a little bit about you. Susan Butler is a divorce lawyer and mediator, and is the managing partner of ShounBach. The firm focuses exclusively on family law, including divorce, custodies, support, mediation, and estate planning. She is a member of AAML, which is American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, IAFL, International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a CDFA, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and a certified mediator. That’s a lot of stuff. She serves on the AAML Mediation and Amicus Committees, and is co-chair of the Virginia State Bar Law School Professionalism Course. Welcome to the show.

Susan Butler:
Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

Erik J. Olson:
Well, quite accomplished. Yeah, you’re a part of a lot of groups I would imagine that helps not only with things like continuing to learn about the practice of law, but also referrals, whatnot. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your law firm?

Susan Butler:
Sure. I started practicing in Virginia in 1996. I first practiced in Connecticut and then came down here. I am a member of the Virginia, well, Connecticut, Virginia, D.C., and Maryland bars, although at this point I really practice only in Virginia. My firm has 13 attorneys, we recently acquired an estate planning firm during the past year, and that has been a fantastic addition for us. There’s a lot of crosspollination between the practice groups and it has really been a fantastic addition.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s really great. So what was that like? The acquisition and then merging it to, I’m sure that a lot of that work went to you to make sure that it was seamless as much as possible.

Susan Butler:
Well, the real ease of the situation was that the group was already in our suite, they were subtenants in our suite. So we knew them, we got along with them. It’s like living with somebody before getting married, it made it a lot easier as a transition piece. And we were already referring clients back and forth between the firms. The clients of that firm knew our suite, knew our building, because they had been here. So it actually was a lot easier than it might otherwise have been, but it has worked out really well.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s fantastic. Congratulations.

Susan Butler:
Thank you.

Erik J. Olson:
That is not an easy thing to go through. I’ve gone through a merger before, but never an acquisition. So I would imagine the acquisition is probably a similar situation, but certainly emerging of cultures and clients and business philosophies and I think it’s beneficial if you have that long dating period, if you will, with the co-tenants, right? So I’m sure that helped a lot.

Susan Butler:
Definitely. It eased it along quite a bit.

Erik J. Olson:
Good. What are some different ways that you go about getting clients?

Susan Butler:
So we actually have a pretty good data bank of how clients come to us. When they call in the first time we ask the call takers, ask how the person got to us. When we first meet with a client, we ask the same out of curiosity, but also so that we can keep track. And on our website, if someone calls in directly from the website, there’s a different phone number. So we can actually track that they’ve come from that particular source, but that’s not always the only source. There’s a lot of clients who come to us through multiple channels and then they just happen to call from the website. Picking a divorce attorney is like picking a doctor, but it’s a very personal situation and relationship.

Susan Butler:
So very often the referrals are from family friends, past clients, other attorneys, sometimes even judges and retired judges and courthouse clerks. So they come from a variety of sources, but very often its multiple ways, somebody hears our ad or sees our ad, and then they happen to be talking to a friend whose sister used us and then they go to the website. So it’s often multiple touches before they finally call.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s a great point. And I’d like to dig into that a little bit because we hear about this all the time, different lead sources, which is what we call in digital marketing. Right. And there’s always a debate, should it be the first point of the lead source, where do you attribute the lead? Is it from the very first time they find out about you? Is it the last time? Is it the accumulation? You could debate it all day long, but in the end you want to hit these perspective clients, if you will, get their attention from lots of different areas.

Susan Butler:
Right.

Erik J. Olson:
And the more times they hear about you, the more times they come across you, the better, right. So if they get a referral, they may not take any action, but if they see your ad and then they start to notice you on social media, it’s ding, ding, ding, and then at some point, and it depends on the person and maybe their case, but at some point they’ll reach out to you. Right?

Susan Butler:
Right.

Erik J. Olson:
But if you just rely on one way of getting clients, it’s usually not going to be as effective as being omnipresent. Is that what you found as well?

Susan Butler:
Absolutely. I think it validates somebody’s choice, right? If they’re hearing it from multiple places. Believe it or not, one of the metrics we track is Yelp reviews. People actually pick lawyers based on Yelp reviews, which is mind boggling to the old like me, but you can’t ignore that. But it’s validation of someone’s choice to hear your name from multiple sources, to have those multiple touches.

Erik J. Olson:
It’s interesting, you brought up Yelp. We got called by a Yelp representative recently, and I said, “Well, I don’t think businesses like Yelp.” But it seems like end users, potential clients do. Are you somehow advertising on Yelp?

Susan Butler:
No. No, but we do ask clients to post reviews when a case is finished, if someone is happy with the result, we ask them directly, if you have something nice to say, please post on Google, Yelp, wherever. And we give them in the email the link goes [crosstalk 00:07:30] and people are nice enough to do it and it seems to help.

Erik J. Olson:
Smart. I would say smart on two points. And so for any managing partner that’s listening, this is definitely something that I would recommend, exactly what Susan’s doing. Number one, ask for reviews and then number two, make it easy, give them hyperlinks so that all they have to do is just click and write, and it could be as quick as 15 seconds. Just click the link, and you’re probably already logged into a place like Google or Facebook, write the review, done.

Susan Butler:
Yep.

Erik J. Olson:
So you got to make it easy. Then it’s interesting that you do that because a lot of managing partners, they know that referrals are a big source of business, but they don’t actually have a program or some mechanism for getting more of those referrals and reviews and ratings go hand in hand with referrals. Is that an automated system that you have? Or is it more like, okay, the attorney knows or the paralegal knows, the case is done, now’s the time?

Susan Butler:
Yes. And then we just ask each attorney as cases close and you do your closing letter, please send this block of text with the ask, personalize it, but you have to ask. And most clients are happy to be done with their divorce, or whatever the situation is, but you have to ask, and most clients will be nice enough to do it.

Erik J. Olson:
If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.

Susan Butler:
Right.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. So that’s really interesting that you have, that process at the tail end of the case. What about in the beginning? When someone finally reaches out to you after seeing or hearing about you, is there some formalized, nurturing process that you have between when they contact you and when they become a client?

Susan Butler:
So generally people will call in and talk to one of our call takers, who would be a paralegal or legal assistant or our office manager, will take that initial call, will do the conflict check, ask how they came to us and then set the appointment. Most people want to come in within the week, sometimes a little further out. But in that interim period, a lot of people will go to our website, will look at the information we have on there, frequently asked questions that help them in the process. It’s more helpful if they do that than if they Google California law and come in with expectations that aren’t realistic.

Susan Butler:
But then generally, and we keep track of the rate of someone comes in, do they retain most people who come in retain at that first meeting or within a couple days? And we keep track of all the attorneys, what’s their rate of retention? How many people come in the door and then actually sign a retainer agreement. And for most of our attorneys, it’s above 80 to 90% of people who are in the door and they are happy with the meeting and they retain.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s quite impressive. That’s a very high ratio. It sounds like certainly by the time they reach out and contact you, they’ve done the research, they’re ready. Do you feel like they know a lot about your firm at that point? What are the final things they need to know? Or is it just a matter of just coming in and meeting the person, meeting the attorney?

Susan Butler:
Well, it’s very personal as I said earlier, people have to have that comfort level. For a good year, year and a half, we were doing those meetings by GoToMeeting or Zoom, but people want to see you face to face, even if it’s by video, because they want to have that comfort level. By the time they’ve gotten here, they have some familiarity with who we are, most people have looked at our bios on our website, have done some digging around and asking questions. But most people will come in with a list of questions, a literal notepad of questions that they want to ask, because every case is so fact specific. No two families are the same, no set of assets, no child custody issue is the same, they have very specific questions when they come in. And so having that interaction I think is very helpful, and I think helps put people at ease. Very frequently people will leave saying, “Oh, I feel better. Now that I’ve talked to you, I feel better.” So having that information is helpful.

Erik J. Olson:
Absolutely. Well, there’s a path, they know that they have someone qualified who can help them through this area of confusion in their life. Yeah. I would imagine it’s a significant relief when people meet with you for the first time. So you had an acquisition this year in May.

Susan Butler:
Right.

Erik J. Olson:
So not that long ago, we’re recording this November 1st, so only a few months. Are you planning on future growth? And if so, what are those plans?

Susan Butler:
So one area that we are looking at is related to the estate planning group. In that particular group right now, they don’t do a whole lot of probate litigation and the rest of our office, we’re litigators. We settle cases, we mediate cases, but we’re litigators, and so we have one of our partners from the family group is now working with the estate planning group. And she had a particular interest in estate planning, so she is moving into that group and straddling the two, but she’s a litigator. So I foresee us developing estate and probate litigation as a portion of that group. And so that’s an exciting area to branch into.

Erik J. Olson:
I don’t personally know the difference between estate litigation and probate litigation. How are those two separate?

Susan Butler:
Well, I’m probably not the best person to ask, but probate litigation would be when the estate is going through probate, after the person has died, what happens with the person’s assets? And you have family fights just like you do in a divorce. In the estate portion, we have people who are doing things like special needs, trusts, more planning.

Erik J. Olson:
Got it.

Susan Butler:
And there can be litigation related to that, but the back end of it is the probate litigation.

Erik J. Olson:
Okay. Yeah, totally understand.

Susan Butler:
I probably completely messed that up. So my partner will straighten me out when we’re done.

Erik J. Olson:
Well, it sounded great to me.

Susan Butler:
Okay.

Erik J. Olson:
No, that’s great. When it comes to your marketing, what is one thing that is working well for you these days?

Susan Butler:
So I would say based on the charts that we look at, definitely direct referrals are big and website, Google, Yelp, the various online channels, but we actually still do some print advertising. You probably remember from your days up here, Washingtonian Magazine.

Erik J. Olson:
Oh yeah.

Susan Butler:
Now a Northern Virginia Magazine. They’re the lifestyle magazines, restaurant reviews, they publish lists of top lawyers. We advertise in those print magazines. People still read them. So that’s one thing that’s maybe a little more old school. We’re not doing Yellow Pages anymore, but we do still do some print advertising and it seems to work.

Erik J. Olson:
I agree. I think it’s a good tactic and I don’t think it’s something that should be ignored. So we’re a digital marketing agency that’s all we do is digital, but I have right in front of me, the Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

Susan Butler:
Yep.

Erik J. Olson:
And it’s once a week printing that gets mailed to me and we run an ad in there. So even we believe to a certain extent that print and the traditional mechanisms work, especially in this day and age when everything is online. Right. I’ll hand my cards, and that makes an impact. Sure it’s a pain, but when was the last time that you got a handwritten card? Right. Most people don’t get handwritten cards except for maybe their birthday. So it makes an impact. So I think these traditional offline mechanisms that they have a place in this world still, and it’s the icing on the cake is to be different. So I think that’s great what you’re doing. I am familiar with the magazine, I know the demographics are probably [inaudible 00:16:53] a little bit higher when it comes to salaries and things, probably your clientele. Right?

Susan Butler:
Right. And actually you mentioned thank you note writing. We had printed on nice card stock, just a flat note with our logo and names on the back and white space on the front. And after we have a referral from someone, we write a handwritten note and send it out in old fashioned mail to all of our referral sources. Our receptionist keeps a chart of where the referrals came from and we ask the attorneys each month send out those notes, because it does make an impact because nobody gets handwritten mail anymore. So that is something we do.

Erik J. Olson:
Good for you. And then conversely, what is something that hasn’t exactly worked for you when it comes to your marketing, something you maybe tried and then recently said, “All right, we’re not doing this anymore.” Or cut back on?

Susan Butler:
Pay per click. We have tried a number of times and everybody who tries to sell us on it, says, “Oh, we can track it.” And this and that. And we have really not seen any noticeable results from that. So we actually have stopped doing that.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. I’m hearing that from a lot of the managing partners that we interview, we’re seeing it with our clients. I do think that just like with the Washingtonian Magazine or the print periodicals, there’s a place for it. There’s a reason for it, but it can’t be the only thing that you rely on. Because it doesn’t have the return on investment like you used to. Right. So we were actually debating it internally, and I did a little bit of research and 2014 the click on ads was about 6%. 2020, it dropped to 3%. So 3% are clicking on ads, even though that’s the top of your Google search results, 97% are skipping over that. And it makes you question, well, why? Why is that? And we believe here that it’s a trust factor. People trust what Google says are the actual results because that’s crowdsource, if you will, from the internet and people versus someone just plunking on a credit to get that click.

Susan Butler:
Right. And we can tell from our website metrics who comes to us through an organic search, who comes to us through a different channel, and 70 to 80% of our website hits are through organic searches. So that’s something that we’re also keeping track of.

Erik J. Olson:
Good for you. Well, how do you figure that out? What software are you using for that?

Susan Butler:
It actually comes from our web host company. They are pretty good at giving us that information.

Erik J. Olson:
Gotcha. All right. Looks like the lights went off in your studio.

Susan Butler:
I think I didn’t do that.

Erik J. Olson:
It’s fine. I got one more question for you.

Susan Butler:
Sure.

Erik J. Olson:
If someone wants to pick your brain, has a question for you, maybe has a case for you. What is a good way for them to reach out to you?

Susan Butler:
Email is probably fastest. It’s Sbutler@shoun S-H-O-U-N.com or by telephone 703-222-3333.

Erik J. Olson:
All right. Thanks so much, Susan.

Susan Butler:
Thank you.

Erik J. Olson:
[inaudible 00:20:11], everybody. If you would like to check out more episodes like this, you can go to arraylaw.com/podcast. We have over 150 interviews organized by practice area and by state. And if you are looking for digital marketing for your law firm, please consider my firm, which is Array Digital, we are at arraylaw.com. We provide website design, search engine optimization, online ads and social media. Susan. Thanks so much.

Susan Butler:
Thank you.

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