THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 178
Interview on 03.31.2022

Hosted By
Erik J. Olson

Featuring Attorney

Russell Knight



Managing Partner of
Law Office of Russell D. Knight

About Russell Knight

Russell Knight is the Managing Partner at the Law Office of Russell D. Knight in Chicago, Illinois.

Russell has always focused on Family and Divorce law. His interest in family law is proven by the hundreds of articles that he, personally, writes about the subject on his website. He is licensed to practice law in Florida and Illinois.

Watch the Episode

Episode Transcript

Erik J. Olson:
Hey everybody. It is Erik J. Olson, your host for another episode of The Managing Partners Podcast. In 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 from Naples, Florida, I have Russell Knight. Hey, Russell.

Russell Knight:
Hi, Erik. How are you?

Erik J. Olson:
Great. Thanks for making the time to join us. I’m going to tell the audience a little bit about you. Russell Knight is a divorce and family law attorney who owns two law firms, one in Chicago and one in Naples, Florida. That’s really interesting. So, tell us a little bit more about the firm, the firms I should say, and how they came about like this, so pretty far apart.

Russell Knight:
Well, I have owned the Chicago one for 12 or 13 years now, and about three years ago I moved down to Florida for lifestyle reasons, and I took the Florida bar and then opened up a firm in Florida. And I was flying back and forth to handle everything, and then the pandemic hit and I was able to do everything all from either my kitchen table here, or my office in Florida. And I go about up to Chicago for required in-person hearings and trials, which are becoming more and common. But that’s how I ended up having two different firms. The fact that I’m licensed in both places forced me to take a really hard look at how the law works, specific to each jurisdiction, and has made me a much better lawyer because the law has become much more conceptual than essentially me following a checklist, which I may have been guilty of before. I think I’m a much better lawyer now that I’m able to see the forest from the trees, because of both jurisdictions differences.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s great. And I think it’s really interesting how you have the two firms with two different websites, two different URLs, almost two different brands. Of course, you’re the common link between the two, but you play off the strengths of the other office, depending on which website you’re at. Did it take you a while to figure out that messaging? Or did you have it planned out when you went down to Florida?

Russell Knight:
I definitely did not have a plan for the messaging. I do my own SEO and my copy, which we’ll talk about, and it is something that’s happened organically in both locations, because people just don’t… Divorce is tough, and people do a lot of research. And so, I think I cater to that, both for Florida and especially Chicago, which we’ll talk about later. It’s been organic, what I’ve been doing, and it works too.

Erik J. Olson:
Good for you. What are some of the key differences in the clientele between the two locations?

Russell Knight:
People in Naples, Florida are exceptionally wealthy without having significant incomes. Whether that be because they’ve inherited money, or they are simply retired, that is typically the difference. Whereas people in Chicago, it’s a place people go to work. You’re not there to relax, people have incomes but they might be light on assets, and those present two extremely different sets of cases.

Erik J. Olson:
So I would imagine, yeah. In Chicago you have basically people of more or less working age with family, so you have the kids, more family law probably. Then in Naples you have the assets, you have houses, an estate that needs to be separated. Is that a fair assumption?

Russell Knight:
Yeah. Essentially. And then just the procedures are different. If you show up in court in Florida, they’ll tell you to put your first witness on. In Chicago they say, “What’s going on?” They put you in a separate room, you hash it out. So, jurisdictional difference is more impactful than just the demographics of each city. But there’s also… There’s not many lawyers down in Naples, and everybody and their brother is a lawyer in Chicago.

Erik J. Olson:
As far as the procedural differences, and we’ll move off at this in a second, I’m just curious about the differences between the two cities and practicing law in each. Is it because the laws are different, or just the way that they implement them?

Russell Knight:
It’s really just the way they’re implemented. Almost all states have adopted the rules of evidence. The Chicago judges, I wouldn’t say it’s the judges, but the system eases you into compromise through appointing guardian [inaudible 00:04:43] to represent the children, and having numerous pretrials where judges issue recommendations. Whereas in Florida, they don’t care if you compromise or not. Everything becomes a hearing or a trial, and they definitely strictly enforce the rules of evidence, which is a lot of fun if you care to memorize those rules and practice them.

Erik J. Olson:
Gotcha. Well, let’s talk about how you go about getting clients. I’m guessing it could be slightly different between the two offices.

Russell Knight:
A little bit. There’s not much competition in Naples, and so I usually pop up in the Google three pack. If you look up Naples divorce lawyer, I’m always on the first page, and then people find me typically that way. It’s also seasons just starting here, that’s another thing. People are only really here for six months of the year, so that’s how people find me essentially, by my broad presence. Whereas in Chicago, I produce a massive amount of content about Illinois specific law. It’s really my hobby, and maybe my passion. I run across an issue on a regular basis, and then I expand that into usually a 1200 to 3000 word article, that I use almost as a second brain because family law is so incredibly broad. You have to decide… The best interest of the child might involve a psychologist report or something that esoteric.

Russell Knight:
And meanwhile you’re also unwinding someone’s assets, which might involve a business evaluation, which requires you to understand how a cash flow statement works, or something to that effect. The breadth of family law is so huge, but that it’s impossible to keep in your head at one time. So, I found that by writing about it, I internalized it. The same way when we were in law school, we turned everything into outlines, and then I can refer back to it. But it also becomes my marketing, because if you are looking up how to terminate maintenance and you want to see what the law is, I have it written out there. And you could literally cut and paste, which I know people do, the law, the case law, the quotations, and then use them for your own motions. And that’s fine. I understand it. I hope when you read it, you understand it too.

Erik J. Olson:
Nice. Nice. When you’re creating that content for your sites, are you doing it based on the questions that you’re getting asked by your clients? Or is it you just think of a topic, or are you doing actual SEO research for that?

Russell Knight:
Almost always it’s a question that a client has asked. Or failing that, I just review what appeals cases have come out since I last reviewed the appeals. There’s almost always a family law case in there that addresses some issue that I probably never thought of before. Like a case has came out where, is a spouse in jail obligated to pay child support on an ongoing basis, even though they’re in jail? The answer is yes, and there’s a de minimis amount, but they also have the duty to reduce their support if they had a different order before. And I lay out the law, usually as it’s provided in the appellate case, and then I also do some independent research and plug that in as well. So, that if I ever have to touch that issue again, everything’s there. Essentially the articles become a second brain.

Erik J. Olson:
Love it. It’s like your own Wikipedia really.

Russell Knight:
Exactly. Yeah. I would say that’s fair.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. Are you handling the marketing yourself, or do you have people in your office or someone else you work with?

Russell Knight:
I do it all myself, because the marketing is the articles. I wouldn’t be able to keep up if I did anything additional. The marketing, because of the nature, Google search algorithm certainly, naturally, I presume that a ton of keywords are in each article. If you’re writing 2000 words, they’re going to be there. And then Google definitely rewards you, based on people who search for you and find you with the keyword. And if that becomes more frequent, you climb up the rankings. There’s numerous, numerous articles that I have that rank number one for different keywords, and that’s all been organic. But there’s definitely people who like game keywords and they’re above me, but people usually don’t stop on their first article when they’re researching something.

Erik J. Olson:
Well, and Google is getting smarter and smarter, so it knows if you’re stuffing keywords or doing things like that. They can figure it out at this point. So, yeah. People may gain on you, but if you’re consistent and you’re writing good content about actual human beings your clients are interested in reading, they’ll continue to reward you.

Russell Knight:
Yeah. Humans pay me. Google doesn’t. It’s that easy.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. That’s a good point. I like that a lot, yeah. So, it sounds like definitely content, SEO and Google, being found in Google is working well for you. Is that a fair assessment?

Russell Knight:
Yes. It’s absolutely fair.

Erik J. Olson:
Great.

Russell Knight:
It made me a better lawyer, it made people find me. It’s free to write it. I guess you’ve got to have a lot of free time on your hands, but hopefully if you enjoy legal writing in law school, maybe you’ll enjoy it in your own practice, for purposes of publishing it.

Erik J. Olson:
There you go.

Russell Knight:
I don’t know.

Erik J. Olson:
What are some things that used to work for you in marketing that no longer work?

Russell Knight:
Oh, this is great. I was the first person on Yelp, and it worked great, because there weren’t reviews. There wasn’t really Google reviews back then. And people thought Yelp was like, “Oh, the Yelp seal of approval.” And so, I would advertise, what was it? Like $600 a month or something? It was pathetic. And I got calls all day. And people were like, “Oh, you have good reviews.” I had good reviews just because I had reviews, now everyone has reviews. So, that definitely went away. Also, I did back linking in the old… It took three back links to be number one back in 2009. And I speak Spanish fluently, and so I was number one for literally the word, Chicago abogado. And so, I would get calls all day, every day, just because I had four back links and I had a page that had some Spanish on it. Those days are over.

Erik J. Olson:
Oh, yeah.

Russell Knight:
And honestly, I don’t do them a lot on my Naples site because there’s not much competition. And then immediately everyone started flushing out their reviews, flushing out their websites, and I don’t dominate the way I did two years ago. But that’s okay, because I’ll just do it again.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah.

Russell Knight:
SEO is always moving. That’s a fact.

Erik J. Olson:
You’re right about that. But one of the interesting things that you talked about is that you were one of the first, if not the first to Yelp, you were early in things like getting back links and Google and SEO. And if you can be early in different marketing tactics like those, then you have an advantage. Is there anything that you’re looking at right now where you’re thinking, hmm, maybe I can get in early on something like that? The next thing.

Russell Knight:
No. I don’t know. How do I get on the blockchain as a divorce lawyer? That’s the future. There’s a bunch of people that really have got, over the pandemic… Like I don’t want to be a lawyer who’s on TikTok, but I don’t like besmirched people who are. But there’s probably, with Web 3.0 there probably will be something that will be… That’s what the future is. I mean, there’s going to have to be a way for NFTs or something with that effect, to come into play. I don’t know what it is yet.

Erik J. Olson:
I think you’re right, because with the blockchain you’re talking about smart contracts, right?

Russell Knight:
Exactly. Can we make a divorce judgment a smart contract? If we can that is probably a billion dollar business, because the smart contract would get created, and then it would have to get registered with the court for enforcement if the smart contract, in fact, did not do what it says it did. In reality, the smart contract would be self actuated or self enforcing.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah.

Russell Knight:
I don’t know. I don’t know how that would work. I guess that might happen in a year, it might happen in 20 years. We shall see.

Erik J. Olson:
But I think it’s a worthwhile question to ponder. Is that something that could happen in the legal industry, in divorce, or maybe even taking a step or two back, in marriage and legal unions? Could you actually have a contract, a smart contract, that’s enforceable on the blockchain? I’m sure it’s already been thought of.

Russell Knight:
Yeah. I don’t know if anyone thought of it, to be honest. Divorce lawyers are not the most forward thinking people. We’re probably the first people talking about it, and if it is, it would have to comply with prenuptial and anti nuptial statutes, and there’s 50 laws. People don’t stay in one state like they used to. Then if you do choice of law, you have to pick which law. You could choose to not follow a state’s law, and you could choose, just like choice of law, to follow the Bitcoin divorce protocol, or whatever you choose to call it. And then that would be a question if the court you were in afterwards, if you wanted to fight that, would then have to create a constructive trust to overpower the self actualizing contract. This is all really fascinating stuff. I don’t know how to learn more about it though.

Erik J. Olson:
I also like the concept of the question that you had about NFTs, Non Fungible Tokens. Could those be used somehow in marriage and divorce? I would imagine that you could probably assign, somehow assign real world valuables to an NFT, but what’s the point? I don’t know. But I would imagine it’s going to be in the future at some point. Like how do these things get incorporated into technology?

Russell Knight:
I guess to make something… NFTs will end up becoming liens that are not registered with counties, that are not immediately registered. And so, it might be very useful, when someone owes someone money, to say, “Well, my wife has an NFT on my house until I sell it.” Or on my business, or something to that effect. I guess we’re going to have to learn more about what happens to NFTs, because if NFTs end up having utility, they will probably replace things that exist in the paper and pencil world. Just like spreadsheets replaced ledgers. Ledgers still exist, but 90% of the work gets done on an electronic spreadsheet.

Russell Knight:
And the same thing as how word processors replaced typewriters. And there’s always a point to where it doesn’t go further. We’re still using Word, even though Google Docs is probably a better product, because at some point the payoff is not sufficient for us to move to a new system. So, that’ll be the question. Will NFTs provide enough advantage? I think for all the recording that happens against real estate, and also cars, like titles, absolutely. It makes a million times more sense. What’s the difference between the public blockchain and a county reporter? The public blockchain is superior in every way.

Erik J. Olson:
Yep. Along the same lines of technology and what we are talking about here, the law, what are your thoughts on one day, maybe in the near future, maybe in the distant future, things like AI technology doing away with the need of the human lawyer?

Russell Knight:
I don’t think it’s going to happen because in the constitution they require magistrates to make decisions when the government steps in. The government steps in if you have a disagreement. So, we already talked about if there’s an automatic contract, that seems more probable to me than to having an AI draw up a contract based on you inputting information. My thoughts are that I don’t understand how filling out a form that would then create a document would be superior to the forms that already exist, that become documents.

Russell Knight:
Almost every state, Illinois is not one of them, but Florida very heavily lets low income, low asset people plug in their numbers into forms, and then just say, “Well, I’m getting divorced.” Now, that’s all well and good until you have a disagreement with your spouse. The forms won’t work. And then if you have a disagreement, you have to go to the government, the government requires some sort of magistrate, whether it be a judge or an actual magistrate, to make those determinations based on what the law is. I don’t foresee… I think that divorce lawyers will be the last people the robots replace, but I might be biased.

Erik J. Olson:
Certainly, I’ve heard from pundits, divorce… Not divorce lawyers per se, but just lawyers, intermediaries, so lawyers, real estate agents, we know that the travel agent, but yeah. I would think that certainly title, title settlement companies-

Russell Knight:
Yeah.

Erik J. Olson:
…they’re probably at risk. I think lawyers have a ways to go before they’re really at risk from AI. I think there’s a lot more to it than just arbitrating, and proceeding with the law. There’s a lot more to the craft for sure.

Russell Knight:
The paralegals will be the canary in the pipeline. If you stop using paralegals, then your job will be next. As long as there are paralegals then we’ll do this.

Erik J. Olson:
So, we’ve talked a decent amount about the future of the industry. What about the future of you and your law firm? What do you see happening for you in the next couple of years?

Russell Knight:
I don’t know. I’m doing well and I enjoy what I do, and I enjoy becoming more of an expert all the time. I guess I would just lean into that. I’m not sure that scaling further has exceptional benefits to me personally. I guess I’m trying to eliminate the stuff that I don’t want to do by hiring more people, or becoming more efficient. That’s my perspective right now. And that’s still a tall order. So, I would encourage everybody to try to hire a business code coach or try to make plans. Otherwise you’ll just end up wherever the hell you were supposed to be.

Erik J. Olson:
That’s right. You’ll get there. You just don’t know where it’s going to be.

Russell Knight:
Yeah, exactly.

Erik J. Olson:
Are you part of a mastermind of other lawyers?

Russell Knight:
No. I just talk to… I’ve had a bunch of business coaches, and a lot of them, to me, feel like they would’ve been a pastor in another life or something like that. So, you end up talking about your feelings. And so I hired just an accountant. He doesn’t want to hear about my feelings. He wants to see numbers and he wants to know what my next steps are.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah.

Russell Knight:
That’s what I would recommend.

Erik J. Olson:
Yeah. Yeah. I’m with you. Your accountant sounds like my kind of guy. I don’t want to talk about feelings. Let’s get on with the job, right? That’s funny. Well, cool. If someone would like to reach out, they have questions for you, what is a good way to get in touch with you?

Russell Knight:
They can go to either my websites, RDKlegal.com, or divorceattorneynaplesfl.com. And my contact information’s on there, and I’d be happy to take a call. And if you have a weird case, I love talking about that stuff, so give me a call.

Erik J. Olson:
Fantastic. All right, everybody. If you would like to check out additional episodes like this, you can see our full backlog at arraylaw.com/podcast. Each podcast episode is tagged by practice area and by state, so you can find exactly what you’re looking for. And if you are looking for digital marketing for your law firm, check out my firm, Array Digital. We are at arraylaw.com. We provide website design, SEO, like Russell knows a lot about, online advertising and social media. All right, Russell. Thanks so much.

Russell Knight:
Thank you.

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