THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 174
Interview on 03.18.2022

Hosted By
Erik J. Olson

Featuring Attorney

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin



Managing Partner of
NOVA Legal Professionals

About Corrie Johnston-Sirkin

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin is the Managing Partner at NOVA Legal Professionals in Virginia.

Corrie has been named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers from 2016-2020 and received a Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent Judiciary and Peer Review Rating for the highest level of professional excellence for her legal knowledge, communication skills and ethical standards

American Institute of Family Law Attorneys named her one of the “10 Best Attorneys” for family law in 2019 and 2020; Richmond Magazine named her one of Virginia’s Outstanding Young Lawyers; and she was named a Fellow of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel Fellows.

She is a former Editor of the Young Lawyers Division of the NJSBA Dictum publication. She has authored articles such as “Ethical Divorce Financing: A Guide for Practitioners” and “Don’t Believe Your Eyes: Spoofing.” She co-authored “Divorce and How It May Impact Your Business” for the Primerus Paradigm Magazine.

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Episode Transcript

Erik J. Olson:

Hey, everybody. It is Erik J. Olson for another episode of The Managing Partners podcast. I am your host, and today we are going to be talking to yet another managing partner about how they are running their firm, growing their firm, and keeping their case pipeline full. And today I have with me, Corrie. Hey, Corrie. How you doing?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

I’m doing really well. How are you?

Erik J. Olson:

I’m doing great. Well, let me tell the audience a little bit about you. Corrie Johnston-Sirkin… Am I saying that correctly?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin is a mediator, collaborative law attorney and family law attorney. Her areas of practice are divorce, separation, equitable division, spousal and child support, child custody, support modification, collaborative divorce, mediation, and prenuptials and postnuptial agreements. Throughout her career, Corrie has practiced exclusively family law. She’s a child of divorce and a divorce parent, so she knows family law from the inside and out. She has received numerous awards and has achieved an AV rating, which is the highest rating, by Martin Dale Hubble, a testament to the fact that her peers rank her at the highest level of professional excellence. I love that bio. Very nice. Welcome to the show.

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

Thank you.

Erik J. Olson:

Well, besides that awesome bio, can you tell us a little bit more about you and your firm?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

Sure. I was a solo for four years and we formed NOVA Legal Professionals last year with my partner, Alisa Chunephisal. And we’re both divorced moms, so we both practiced family law for a long time and we help people transition from where they are to where they’re going to be in the future, what their new life is going to look like. And we deal with people with one of the most difficult times of their lives, so we really try to be there for them and provide them the support. And there’s a reason they call us counselors at law, because we definitely do a lot of counseling, we do refer, get therapy, things like that, but it’s definitely a very emotional practice.

Erik J. Olson:

I can only imagine. And also, I really like the fact that in your bio and in your intro, you talk about your own family law situation. I think that makes it very relatable, that makes you relatable. I would imagine that you tell that story quite often to prospective clients and clients, is that correct?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

I do. And I actually am one of those few attorneys that went to law school to practice family law, stuck with it, and is still practicing family law a little over 11 years later. So that’s very unusual. Normally, people had different interests, they wanted to do something different, and then they kind of find their way to family law. It’s always been my focus. And I have a psychology sociology background, those were my undergrad degrees, and so that helps as well to kind of have that full picture.

Erik J. Olson:

You’re right. Most of the managing partners that come on to this podcast, they started without having a practice here that they wanted to focus in. They were kind of general practitioners. And then over a course of a few years, it kind of narrowed in. It seems like everybody eventually narrows in, but I would say, at least for the people that we’ve interviewed and it’s been about 150 or so at this point, you’re right. There aren’t many that go into law school knowing what practice they want to focus in on. It’s unique. Let me ask you about your firm name. It’s a little different, because usually it’s the last names of the managing partners, and then if you add a partner, you have to change your name. So was that name available? Was the domain name available when you went to look for it?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

Yes. So my partner and I did an extensive search. We knew that we were going to practice in Northern Virginia. I’m in Manasas, she’s in Fairfax. We practice in Loudoun and Fauquier counties, too. I go to Culpepper because I’m from there, but that’s our main focus. And we really wanted something that would grow with us. So if we wanted to bring on a new partner, that we could do that without having to make major changes and something that wouldn’t be marketable in the future because we probably won’t be practicing the law until we’re 90. Some people do, but probably not us. And so once you build a presence and things like that, if you have to bring names in and out, it’s much less marketable, much more difficult to do those kind of things.

Erik J. Olson:

I completely agree from a marketing standpoint, you want to pick a name and stick with it. And if you’re going to change, it should be infrequent. But it definitely seems like in the law industry that you get a new partner, you change the name slightly. Usually the main partner [inaudible 00:05:07] at least the first name is the same, but I think that’s a really good approach and it sets you up for the long term. That’s great. Well, let me ask you a couple of questions about future growth, and that all starts with clients. How do you go about getting clients?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

So like most attorneys, we do have a lot of referrals. I do some marketing groups as well. 1 Million Cups is one of the local. And it’s nationwide and it’s really awesome because it’s very different. It’s not a, “You have to refer X number of people.” And those kind of things. Right now, we did the Google local services, ads. Getting completely vetted with all of our attorneys takes time and effort, but it was totally worth it. So that’s kind of the biggest thing for us right now is the Google local services. And we have a lot of reviews, so that’s super helpful. It makes a huge difference.

Erik J. Olson:

Incredibly helpful to get those reviews. The more, the better. We tell all of our clients, “Always ask for reviews.” Always. Make it a habit, build it into your process. The local services ads, we’ve seen with our law firm clients that it’s kind of hit or miss. And you’re right about the vetting process. You don’t just give Google your credit card for those and you’re advertising. There’s a vetting process. It’s not like sitting for the bar exam or anything, but you have to jump through a couple of hoops. Have you found that for each of your attorneys or with LSAs, the local services ads, it’s always been consistently good for you?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

No. So it’s been a up and down. Now, for Manassas specifically, there are fewer that have actually gone through the process. And even for us, the first go round, something happened and an email didn’t get received timely and we didn’t respond. And so we had to start the process over again. It was wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Prince William County is a little less busy than Fairfax, and so it is better for us in Prince William than Fairfax, but it’s one of those things that kind of tweaking what you say and how you say it and you using some people to help you with those kind of things makes a world of difference.

Erik J. Olson:

Great point. And speaking of which, how are you going about handling your market these days?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

So right now we are kind of doing it ourselves. We grew very quickly. Now we have the two partners and of council and a paralegal and we’re all busy. Family law is very busy right now, so we’re kind of handling it in house.

Erik J. Olson:

Okay. All right. Good, good. So family law definitely saw a spike through COVID. That’s what I hear.

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

I mean, the statistics don’t really play out for a big spike, but when it comes to the situation with the courts being closed, we didn’t stop. I have been in court, on trial. I stopped from March to June. I was back in court on a regular basis since June of 2020, so we really didn’t stop but we weren’t having long trials, we weren’t having the big hearings. And so all of those have kind of compressed now. And so family law attorneys are really busy with a lot of trials right now.

Erik J. Olson:

That’s really interesting. I had not heard that before, because all I hear about when it comes to coronavirus and trials was it’s really kind of from personal injury and those weren’t happening.

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

We’re still in the courthouses masked up and afraid because we weren’t vaccinated or anything, but those kind of things… I mean, when it comes to your children and being able to just survive, these cases were still going on, you wouldn’t have a multi-day trial, but we were definitely having emergency hearings, pendente lite, so that there was support during the pendency of the divorce, all those kind of things.

Erik J. Olson:

I gotcha. Okay. I mean, it makes a lot of sense. I was under the impression that it was totally shut down. I didn’t realize that for particular cases…

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

For other people, not for us. We just kept on going.

Erik J. Olson:

Good for you. Excellent. So you mentioned Google local services ads, and we talked about that already. What is something else that is working particularly well for you right now in your marketing?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

I think being consistent with posting on all of the major things. So we have a social media person who helps us and taking those selfies at the courthouse, which is super difficult to get people to do who don’t like to be in this kind of spotlight. My partner does not like it. So I kind of rope her in as well as the of council. Whenever we’re in there together, I’m like, “Selfie.” And they’re like, “Okay.” And just making sure that all of our reviews are posted on all of the places you get a Google review. It needs to be on Instagram. It needs to be on Facebook. It needs to be on your website. Those kind of things show what kind of work you do for your clients, and being consistent has made a really big difference.

Erik J. Olson:

So a couple really good points there. So one, taking selfies, taking pictures of what you consider to be mundane stuff. The courthouse that you go to, you’ve probably been to 100’s of times, but I’ve never been there. And if you take a picture of the courthouse or maybe your associate takes a video of you walking in, you can kind of feel like an idiot sometimes. But there’s value in that because you’re exposing a part of your day, which believe it or not, other people find interesting.

Erik J. Olson:

I was just out the main part of our office, I told you this before we went live, doing an Instagram real, where I was doing one of those where you point at the words. And I mean, talking about feeling like an idiot, I got music playing, I’m trying to hit the note. I never heard of the song before, but you put some things out on social media that you probably wouldn’t normally do in normal life, some things. But then also just documenting what you do and you attract potential clients. So if it weren’t for the business, I wouldn’t do that. You probably wouldn’t do it either.

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

As a normal attorney, I wouldn’t stand there doing a selfie in front of court room one.

Erik J. Olson:

Exactly.

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

And sometimes there’s different policies in different courthouses, so you have to be kind of careful. I’m like, “Hey, I’m just taking a quick picture.” When I’m filing, sometimes I’ll take a picture of me filing with the ladies. And you’re right, because for somebody who doesn’t practice there, who doesn’t know, it can make it feel more comfortable that, “This is what my attorney is going to do. This is where we’re going to be.” To kind of walk it through.

Erik J. Olson:

That’s a really good point. It’s like a preview, because if they see that you’re comfortable in that setting and they’re with you, then no big deal, right?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

Right.

Erik J. Olson:

So that’s a good point. I really [inaudible 00:12:55] you’re doing that. The other thing that you talked about, which I think is a very, very good point, is the reviews. So if you get a review on a place like Google my business, typically, it stays there. But what you can do is you can take that review out. You can just copy the text, maybe put it on a nice graphic, and that becomes an Instagram post. Tell the world. Let people know. Put it on your website. Try to take that good review, that positive vibe, and spread it around.

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

It’s a little more hilarious. We had a recent one, he was like, “I’m writing this review for my mom.” And, “This was the best.” And, “Now, wife, I’m happily with married, but if we ever aren’t, this is my attorney, not yours.” And it was great. I mean, you can’t make that up.

Erik J. Olson:

No, you can’t. That’s hilarious. All right. So I asked you about and we talked about some things that are going well in your marketing. Now conversely, what is something that you have tried in the last couple of years, maybe, that just didn’t work out the way that you thought and you stopped doing them?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

Those lawyer referral websites. No. It hasn’t worked for us. We heard from a lot of other attorneys that, “It was a good process.” That, “You should try it.” And then when you actually go down to the nitty gritty, the return on investment of, “Okay, this specific person called from this specific thing. And did it result in a consultation, a paid consultation? Did it result in a client?” I mean, that’s like four, five steps down in order to really look at the numbers versus the sheet that they sent you that says that you got 47 contacts. Well, if 40 of them didn’t result in anything, then your return on investment is really low.

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

And they were saying, “You had 60 clicks.” Or whatever, and over the course of three months, we had one paying client and our numbers for consultations with who we close, if we want them to be our customer, is very high. So we’re like, “Okay, this is not the place for us.” And any place that requires you to sign a long term contract without any ability to kind of get out of it is kind of a red flag at this point.

Erik J. Olson:

Interesting. I’ve heard mixed reviews on the referral websites, the aggregates, because what they’re really doing is people are searching for these services and you can either try to get in front of those people in a place like Google or the aggregate sites, where they aggregate all the lawyers in a day, they are the ones that get in front of them, but you pay a fee for that, I’ve heard mixed reviews on those. But your point is incredibly valid. The number of clicks, the number of phone calls, the number of originating staring levels of interest is almost noise, because what really matters is who’s actually connecting with you. So just because you got, I think you said 40 clicks, on your side, you may only see 10 of them for some reason.

Erik J. Olson:

And I’m not saying they’re playing games, there probably were 40 clicks, but only 10 of them actually got resolved on your website. And then maybe only one or two of them actually submitted a form or downloaded a white paper, whatever it is that the call to action is, those numbers really, really decrease. So when you get those kinds of numbers from any kind of marketing agency, clicks, phone calls, impressions, that’s really high level, top of the funnel stuff, but then you really need to look down and figure out where the work’s coming from, where the clients are coming from.

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

And even with Google, I mean, they’re charging you for phone calls and they do record part of it. And you listen to the recordings and you’re like, “That was a telemarketer.” And it’s on there and one of those things you paid for, so you have to get on it. And I didn’t realize for the first month or so that I could actually do that and look at those, and so I paid for a whole bunch of that really wasn’t anything. And Google’s pretty great, when you click dispute, you’ll find out in a day or two, whether they agree with you or they don’t agree with you. And most of the time, they agree with you because when you actually listen to it, it’s [inaudible 00:17:52].

Erik J. Olson:

So just to fill in the audience a little bit with, local service ads, you pay for the acquisition. So the acquisition’s like a phone call or a clickthrough, something like that, and they’re going to charge you. So it’s different than pay per click. With the pay per click, you get charged and that’s it, it’s done because they sent someone to your website. But with the phone call, it’s recorded and you can contest it, which is a nice feature. But there’s a negative, which is you’re going to get charged 20, 30 bucks or something like that for each of these phone calls, or maybe more, and you feel compelled to listen to them probably after hours, because you got a day job. And then you’re kind of doing this accounting, like, “Oh, that one’s disputed. That one’s okay.” It’s something else you have to do. So it’s not easy, especially if you want to get your money’s worth.

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I mean, if you’re looking at your numbers, return on investment, you have to actually dig to get those numbers. It’s not something that you can just open it up and then [inaudible 00:18:57].

Erik J. Olson:

That’s right. And if you’re not paying attention to that, then you probably won’t get the ROI that you expect.

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

And it’s going to creep. Your costs are going to creep up and up and you may not be getting the same level of returns as it creeps up.

Erik J. Olson:

Totally agree. Now, if you had a crystal ball in front of you and you could predict the next couple of years, when it comes to the growth of the firm, what do you envision is going to happen in, say, the next two or three years?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

So we’ll probably bring on an associate or two, that’s probably our next step. But we kind of like being smallish and big enough to handle enough cases and to take care of our people, but we don’t want anybody to be a number. You’re always going to be working with a partner and an associate in a team setting. And we love the ability to work together.

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

I’m a numbers chick. I love a good spreadsheet. If we need to dig in and find some money and those kind of things, I love doing that kind of work. Whereas, other people have other strengths and prefer different parts of the practice. Maybe they love the trial, the arguments right there in court. So playing on those strengths and then having a team that all can work together really works well for clients, too, because you do get the benefit of having the partner who really knows what’s going on with your case and the other attorneys that are aware of what’s going on. So if something comes up in an emergency, we’ve got multiple people who are on your team, who know what’s going on, who can take care of you.

Erik J. Olson:

Very nice. All right, Corrie, if someone would like to contact you, what is a good way to do that?

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

So our website is NOVALegalProfessionals.com. And our phone number is (571) 260-0999.

Erik J. Olson:

I love that website. Great URL. All right, everybody, if you would like to check out other episodes like this, you can go to arraylaw.com/podcast. Each episode is tagged by practice area and by state, so you can drill down and find exactly what you’re looking for. And if you happen to be looking for digital marketing for your law firm, my firm, Array Digital, focuses exclusively on digital marketing for law firms. We’ve specialized in websites, SEO, online ads, and social media. Corrie, thanks so much.

Corrie Johnston-Sirkin:

Thank you.

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