THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 176
Interview on 03.25.2022

Hosted By
Erik J. Olson

Featuring Attorney

John Hoelle



Managing Partner of
Conscious Family Law and Mediation

About John Hoelle

John Hoelle is the Managing Partner at Conscious Family Law and Mediation.

John is trained in the Collaborative Law model and has practiced exclusively in the area of family law in Colorado since joining the bar: first as a judicial clerk for several judges at the Boulder District Court, then as an associate for an attorney-mediator and former judge.

He is an alumnus of the University of Colorado Law School (Law Review); the National Institute of Trial Advocacy; the Colorado Bar Association 40-hour mediation training and Advanced Mediation Training; and the Colorado Collaborative Divorce Professionals Level I Collaborative Law training. He volunteers regularly for the Boulder County "Ask-an-Attorney" program and the Boulder County Legal Services pro se divorce clinic.

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:
Hey there everybody. I am Erik J. Olson, your host for this episode of The Managing Partners Podcast. In 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, I have with me John Hoelle. Hey, John.

John Hoelle:
Hey, Erik. How are you?

Erik J. Olson:
Fantastic. Let me tell the audience a little bit about you. John Hoelle is a second career lawyer and co-founder of Conscious Family Law & Mediation, a family law firm that is committed to a new way of navigating divorce, one which preserves family wealth, protects children and empowers couples to create a positive future for their families. Thanks for making the time to be on this show. I appreciate it.

John Hoelle:
Yeah, you bet. Thank you, Erik.

Erik J. Olson:
Well, tell us a little bit more about not only your firm and you, but the second career part. What’s that about?

John Hoelle:
Well, I started out my work in the film industry. Actually, I was an editor for film and television for a while. I had a very high minded idea that I would be able to bring enlightened ideas to people through mass media. To some degree, I did that, but it wasn’t really my soul’s work. At that time, towards the end of that period, I got a divorce myself and then went to… Had the calling to go to law school and to kind of use my intellectual gifts in service of helping people and came out of that process realizing that I knew something about the landscape of relationships and marriage and divorce, and that I could use my skills to help people in a new way.

John Hoelle:
So that provided the basis for creating this firm with my partner Peter in 2014. We have developed. I think where we’re unique is that we’ve really focused on our collaborative mediation process. So we’re an attorney mediation. It’s an attorney mediated process where most of the time people don’t have to hire another legal professional as they’re navigating their prenups, their divorce or legal separation.

Erik J. Olson:
Okay. So the two sides in the matter, do they work with just you usually? Is that how it works?

John Hoelle:
Yeah, typically. I mean, we recommend that folks get independent legal counsel to review any final settlements that are achieved through mediation, but because we’ve been able to sort of step through all the issues, they often don’t find the need to take that step, but we do recommend it.

Erik J. Olson:
Sure, sure. That makes a lot of sense. So as far as the second career, I’m a little intrigued because I don’t think I’ve come across a lot of lawyers that we’ve interviewed for this podcast where they had a primary, a first career, and then they went back to law school. I would imagine that that is not the norm. Is that a fair assessment?

John Hoelle:
No. In fact, it’s fairly common for folks to go the other direction. They’ll go to law school, become lawyers. They’re they’re good writers, good storytellers, and they find their way to Hollywood. There’s a lot of TV shows and movies about lawyers and the legal industry. So I think I’m one of rare exceptions going the other direction, yeah.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. It’s interesting, as you said, we use a lot of legal writers who are previous attorneys. I always kind of wondered how it is they found their way into writing versus practicing. But yeah, I guess you’re right. There’s a shift in one direction, not so much the direction you took.

John Hoelle:
Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Erik J. Olson:
Well, cool. So I would imagine that when it comes to getting new clients, referrals are probably a big source of leads and new clients for you. But besides that, what are some other ways you go about getting clients?

John Hoelle:
Well, it’s interesting since we started off with my first career, I think the thing that I brought with me from that training and professional background is a media literacy. That was helpful as we were starting to educate the market place about who we are, what we do, and because we’re definitely an innovative firm and so creating videos at the firm with my partner and I speaking, creating content, compelling, right, content that’s touching people in their sort of emotional response center maybe.

John Hoelle:
These are things that I’m well-versed in, right, in terms of my professional background in creating persuasive and compelling stories, right? So using that background, I think helped us to establish early on a web presence and an online presence that a lot of other kind of boutique law firms maybe aren’t so successful in doing. So even though we didn’t have a lot of marketing dollars to spend, especially early on, I think we looked pretty good, just given the things I was able to bring into the firm.

John Hoelle:
I’m pretty tech savvy compared I think to a lot of other small solo lawyers or small law firms, family law firms. So our website looked really good, our web presence looked really good, and so we were able to get really strong in terms of… So that paid off, right, in terms of search results. So our sort of organic search results were really strong in our hometown right out of the gate. So that was a big help. So couple of years in, we were right at about 50-50 in terms of our good clients, really good prospects, good leads, finding out about us, connecting with us and becoming our clients, about 50-50 in terms of word of mouth and just cold internet search.

Erik J. Olson:
Oh, wow.

John Hoelle:
We’re still at about that today.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s really good. That’s impressive. Yeah, I think, like you said, your background in filmmaking and storytelling, that plays a huge part. People love to understand who it is, who they’re about to do business with. So that’s great. Good for you.

John Hoelle:
Thanks.

Erik J. Olson:
How are you currently handling your marketing? Are you doing it in-house? Do you have somebody you work with?

John Hoelle:
We’re sort of just on a precipice I think of bringing somebody in-house. As I said, we’ve been around for about seven years, and for most of that time, building a business and growing slowly. We’re at about 10 people right now. We’ve got five attorneys, three paralegals and some client services, operations folks. We’re just now moving from Boulder, Colorado to opening an office in Denver, which is a sort of our big brother community next to us.

John Hoelle:
So we’re right now making that leap into we really need somebody who’s kind of focused on that side of our business, right, making sure that we’re tapping into the market of people who can be served by what we’re offering so that they know about us. We’ve had people kind of on a part-time basis doing that in-house for us, maybe like our… Somebody that we hire to help with our client services also does some marketing work for us. So we’ve had kind of something in-house, but not high level.

John Hoelle:
We’ve had a number of people that we’ve worked with on a consulting basis. So we’ve gotten a lot of info, but because I think we’ve been in the cracks between we’re a little too small to have a full ad agency contract with somebody or a full-time and marketing person, but we need sophisticated marketing advisement, right? So we’ve been looking at maybe a fractional CMO, chief marketing officer, to help us, guide us with strategy.

John Hoelle:
I think we’re about to pull the trigger on a fellow that we’ve connected with that I think we’re going to be able to work something out to bring him in-house so that we have that in-house strategy, kind of mine and helping somebody at the wheel basically, because we kind of haven’t had that and we’re now we’re really hitting the place I think where we need that.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s great. That’s great. Now, you mentioned expanding to Denver.

John Hoelle:
Yes.

Erik J. Olson:
Are you going to have a physical footprint there?

John Hoelle:
That’s the plan. I mean, right now, again, we’re all working remote. We do have an office in Boulder that some of our folks work in, but we’re not really seeing clients in person. So we’re in process to find a physical location in Denver. That is the plan. Part of that is a marketing thing, right, where even if we were to… Even if things were to stay entirely remote, right, which is maybe a possibility, again, we’ve this has been a successful model for us, we have been growing, we have not had a problem maintaining high quality service for our clients during the pandemic.

John Hoelle:
But we do have a firm that’s been helping us with some SEO, and I talked to them, I said, “From an SEO perspective, as we crack into Denver, what would be the best approach for, in terms of doing… Getting a physical space, what kind of physical space, and we might want to scale up somewhat rapidly depending on how quickly we penetrate the Denver market. So we don’t want to get into something that’s all too small in six months, right?”

John Hoelle:
It sounds like that definitely because the coworking spaces have really taken off too and we’re familiar with that mode. Apparently, Google knows what that is and they don’t really give you a lot of credit. You don’t really get the local search result credit if you just have like a membership at a temporary office spaces and a mailbox there. They know what that is. So you’re to get the local optimization if you do that. So that’s a strong reason, to be frank with you, that we’re looking at a more traditional either a sublease or a full-time lease in office space in Denver so that we have that… We’re showing up on the map.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. Yeah. So I understand what you’re saying in about lots of different businesses using the exact same address, right? Yeah, Google’s very smart. It knows what’s going on. I’m quite sure that if you have different suite numbers and those are legitimate suite numbers that are registered with the city, then at that point you can get the full SEO, local SEO value out of it. Yeah. But-

John Hoelle:
Yeah, it’s interesting. I wonder if different places, that it might function differently, right? Depending on kind of what the space, how it operates, right? Because I tend to think you’re right. If you can get the little card in the mail and establish that you have a unique thing. But again, I think even if that were the case, having a bunch of businesses all at the same address might… I don’t know. It seems like it maybe doesn’t give you the same bang for your buck.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. It’s one of those things where no one really knows exactly how Google operates, right? They’ll give you best practices, tips and tricks, but at the end of the day, it’s their own proprietary algorithm and they don’t share exactly what that is. They just give you best practices. So you kind of have to read between the lines. Some people will say it’s not a biggie, some people will say it is a biggie, right? But I would agree with you that certainly if you have a standalone address that there is no other business there, then it’s indisputable that’s a legitimate standalone business. So that could help a lot.

John Hoelle:
Yeah. What we found is that the pay-per-click click approach, which we’ve tried on a couple of occasions now for periods of time, it really doesn’t work for us. I think it’s because our clientele in particular is on the high end of… They’re on the sophisticated side of things and they sort of know what’s an ad and what’s not. In fact, being an ad on a Google search result might even kind of be a ding against us, right, in terms of our trustworthiness. So the local organic search results are really important in our estimation.

Erik J. Olson:
I completely agree with what you’re talking about. We run ads here, and ads, there’s a place for ads for sure. But they are low trust. So you use the exact words that I would use. They’re low trust compared to something like the local results or the organic results where Google scours the internet to find the best match with the highest trust, frankly. It’s like a referral engine on steroids. But yeah, yeah. I think you’re spot on there. We’ve seen mixed results when it comes to PPC. For some firms, it works really, really well. Others, not so much. So that also can be hit or miss. But certainly, the organic always, always hits the SEO. Well, what are some things right now that seem to be working very well for you in your marketing?

John Hoelle:
Yeah. Well, a number of things. We’re sort of on the what you might call the backend side of things. We put a lot of effort into that for a period of time, right? Leading up to the pandemic, I was part of a leads group through BNI was the one that I was part of, which is pretty well-known. I think that helped us just get a bit more of that referral network across different professionals. That worked well for us. But an ongoing participation in that didn’t seem kind of worth it during the pandemic.

John Hoelle:
We have a regular email newsletter. I think that is something that is working for us in terms of people kind of getting a sense for us and that we’re legitimate and that we have things to offer that we’re providing to people on a monthly basis. We also have done a series of underwriting campaigns with Colorado Public Radio, which is an NPR affiliated here in Colorado. We’re on the low end of probably the budget for that, right? Our ads are maybe like once a day, something like that, 15 seconds not ads, but underwriting spots for the radio.

John Hoelle:
It really makes an impression on, at least our demographic, right, the people who listen to public radio are really our market. They love hearing us on the radio. They love finding us through that source. They love supporting businesses that underwrite for public radio. There was a client that started with us. It wasn’t quite the right fit because his wife wasn’t prepared to mediate. So he let me know later he hired another firm that underwrote public radio. That’s where they’re going for their… To the places that they trust. So that’s working really well for us at least in spurts.

Erik J. Olson:
You used the word trust again and I think your spot on, right, because it depends on… When it comes to radio, radio can work, billboards can work, newspapers can work. It is mass media, right? So you’re kind of putting the word out there far and wide. But if you discriminate where you put that message, like with an NPR affiliate, then yeah, it increases the trust factor and it validates, right? So it validates that you are a pillar of the community, if you will. I think that’s why people would appreciate the fact that you’re doing that even though they may only hear your underwriting ad/ad once every couple of days. What about something that has not worked recently that used to work very well for you?

John Hoelle:
Interesting. Well, I mentioned the pay-per-click never really worked. We dipped our toe into Facebook ads. I don’t feel like that really worked either in terms of sourcing. I will say that pay-per-click, our first round, it did source a lot of leads, but they just weren’t really our… They weren’t really our target clients. So we haven’t cracked the nut on that one yet. I think your question was what did work and stopped working? I don’t know that I have a great answer for you on that one. I don’t think anything that we’ve that done that has worked that we’ve stuck with hasn’t continued to work.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. Well, it sounds like PPC kind of falls into that category, right? You’ve got in clicks, you said, but they weren’t… They just weren’t the ideal prospects. So we hear that a lot as well. Like I said before, it has a place and it can work and sometimes does. It’s one of those things that maybe it’s worth a lot of try for a little while, see if it works out. If not, reallocate the budget to something else.

John Hoelle:
Yeah, yeah.

Erik J. Olson:
You mentioned expanding to Denver. Where do you see yourself in say like the next two years? Do you see yourself having a lot of attorneys there or kind of grown both locations or maybe even going somewhere else in this state?

John Hoelle:
Yeah, exactly. The two year plan is to really be effectively serving Colorado statewide. Denver sort of is our first foray into, right, a satellite office. We’ve really determined that it does require some degree of local practitioners who are embedded in a community who are connected to other professionals, other lawyers, brokers, therapists, the people that we need to rely on to help our clients, right? Because we’re financial analysts, we work with a lot of times. Also knowing the local judges and things.

John Hoelle:
So we’re figuring out exactly how many physical offices we’ll need. Colorado has a lot of mountain towns and whether or not we’ll… I think we’re actually going to be able to serve those folks remotely using Zoom and we won’t have to set offices in every spot. I anticipate in the next two years we’ll figure out Denver, we’ll have a handful of attorneys there and then we’ll start putting an attorney in Fort Collins and attorney in Colorado Springs, some of the bigger anchor points, maybe a place like Steamboat which is a big kind of ski town up in the mountains, but it’s probably big enough to host an attorney there. So that’s our plan.

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

John Hoelle:
Thanks.

Erik J. Olson:
Well, if someone wants to reach out and ask a question or maybe they have a referral for you, what is a good way to get in touch with you?

John Hoelle:
Yeah. I mean, best place to start is our website. So we’re at consciousfamilyfirm.com. It’s a bit of a spelling test. Make sure you know how to spell conscious.

Erik J. Olson:
All right, John. Well, I appreciate your time. Thanks so much. All right, everybody. If you would like to check out additional episodes like this, you can go to our website at arraylaw.com/podcast. We have over 150 episodes where we interview managing partners from around the country and they are categorized by practice area and by state so you can find exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for digital marketing for your law firm, my agency is Array Digital. We focus on digital marketing for law firms. We provide websites, SEO, on advertising and social. John, appreciate it.

John Hoelle:
Thanks so much, Erik.

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