THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 226
Interview on 11.03.2022

Hosted By
Kevin Daisey

Featuring Attorney

Mark Spencer Williams



Managing Partner of
Rice Law, PLLC

About Mark Spencer Williams

Mark Spencer Williams is the Managing Partner at Rice Law, PLLC in North Carolina.

Mark represents clients in civil litigation. He was the Director of Financial Aid & Veterans Services (FAVSO) at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He was also the President of the Center for Higher Education Support Services (CHESS), a consulting firm serving colleges and universities. He practices in the areas of family law, child custody, divorce, child support, equitable distribution, personal injury and other civil issues.

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

Kevin Daisey:
All right. Hello, everyone. Welcome to another live recording of The Managing Partners Podcast. My name’s Kevin Daisey, and I’ll be your host. And I’m also the founder of Array Digital. We help law firms grow through digital marketing. So if you have any questions, any issues, please reach out and give us a call. Today, I have a special guest coming in from Wilmington, North Carolina, not too far from us here in Virginia. So great to have someone on from that area. I don’t believe we’ve had a firm on from the Wilmington area. So Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. So I got to look a little bit into Mark prior. He’s got a great introduction video for each of the members on the team there on his website, which was helpful for me. And I think should be helpful for others that don’t know them yet and are considering doing business with them, have a need for their family. I guess, you’d see the person on the other side, and get to know them. So I think that’s important for websites these days and for any kind of marketing. So Mark, I got that one a little bit, but of course our guest here are about to. If you’re tuning in right now, you can go check out the website ricefamilylaw.com at the bottom of the screen, or just ricefamilylaw.com if you’re listening. Go take a look and see what they’re all about.

Kevin Daisey:
Again, we always encourage referral partners, other attorneys in different areas. Maybe you got a referral you can send over Mark’s way and vice versa. Or if you’re just looking for assistance and think Mark is someone you can reach out to that could help up you in your journey to starting your own practice, or just being an attorney in general. So Mark, you guys practice in family law, but we’ll get to that just a second. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background growing up, and we’ll get to you some more business questions here in a minute.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Sure. So I was born and raised in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Both my parents were public school teachers, and I swore I would never go into education, because I saw how hard they worked and how little they got paid. And then I wound up working in higher education for about 14 years with KPMG Peat Marwick out of Washington, D.C., helping a number of institutions of higher education as a consultant throughout the US, working with federal financial aid. And I basically, was at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and had gotten as far as I could in my career when my boss pulled me aside and said, “You need to earn doctorate.” And I said, “Okay, well, can I get any doctorate?” And he said, “Sure.” And I said, “Well, I’ve always wanted to go to law school.” So I went to law school late in life. I was, I guess, about 30, and I loved law school. I was the old guy who laughed at the professor’s jokes and-

Kevin Daisey:
Dad jokes.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Exactly. And when I got out, the plan was to go back in the higher ed, but I found I really love practicing wall, so I ended up here instead.

Kevin Daisey:
Interesting. So that kind of went sideways on, I guess, recommending that to you. So tell us a little bit. So you went to school, not thinking you wanted to be an attorney, but you did that. So what was the transition from that to where you are now? Did you work at other law firms to get your feet wet? Did you go right into practicing for yourself? Did you partner up with the firm here? What was that like?

Mark Spencer Williams:
Well, it’s interesting. My ex-wife was going through a child custody battle while I was married to her. And we had hired Charles Rice to represent her in that. So I knew him when I was in higher education. And when I got out of law school, I came to him and said, “I’d really like to practice law with you, but I don’t want to be an employee. I’m older, I’m established.” And he laughed and said, “Well cool, I don’t have any money to pay employees.” And so he had been a former Chief District Court Judge, and his great attorney, he’s now deceased, but-

Kevin Daisey:
Oh, he passed away in 2019.

Mark Spencer Williams:
He did. And we really complimented each other well. I had a background in finance and some business. And he sucked at that, quite frankly. I mean, when I became his partner, he had probably a half million dollars in accounts receivables, and-

Kevin Daisey:
Wow.

Mark Spencer Williams:
He was a great lawyer. He’d go win his cases, but rarely get paid. And so, I helped bring a business focus to the firm, and began running it while he mentored me on the law. And so, I took over the business aspects and he taught me the law, and it became a really good partnership.

Kevin Daisey:
That is really cool. And I think, that’s a huge takeaway here and anyone listening. But what I hear time and time again, and I’ve spoken to lots of attorneys, and not the ones that are just clients, but ones that are on the show, lots of them. And attorneys aren’t business owners when they come out, they’re attorneys and they know the law. And I think the ones that do well get the business aspect, or they at least know they have to figure that part out. And there’s lots of firms out there that are sole proprietors that never grow beyond that, because they just don’t have that business side figured out. And not that you should, but I think that’s an important part you brought to the table. You can be a good attorney, but if you can’t manage things and collect money on time and have processes in place, then you’re not going to do too well.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Exactly.

Kevin Daisey:
Excellent. So, when was that when you joined the firm and became a partner there?

Mark Spencer Williams:
Well, that would’ve been 2005, I guess. So I’ve been practicing for 16 plus years. And it’s so true, I remember one of the first things we implemented was we had to get paid up front. Because what we found is that particularly family law clients, once you’re done with their case, they don’t need you anymore, and they rarely will pay you. And if you try to pursue a collection action, they’re just going to give you a negative review.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. And then you probably got to spend a lot in legal fees yourself just to maybe collect it.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Exactly. So we went strictly to a policy of, if you have money in trust, we’re working for you. If you don’t, then we’re filing a motion withdraw.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. I think that’s excellent. I mean, so just kind of quick backstory. I don’t want to take up the show myself. But I used to do website development and design and websites. And we used to always do things where we’d collect money at 30 days or 60 days or 90 days or whatever. But now, I mean, we switched to a completely paid upfront model years ago, and some people think we’re insane or crazy and that won’t work, but we have 70 clients that pay us on a monthly basis for the month coming, versus we used to always do it a month behind.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Sure.

Kevin Daisey:
And then of course clients like, well, now I can pay a little bit late or 60 days or whatever. And then you’re sitting there paying for employees, staff, your space, tools, software, whatever it may be, electric. And so basically, you’re loaning them money at that point. So, we switched to that, and it’s changed our lives as far as how we could grow the business and take care of our people, our employees, and actually focus on helping the clients, because we’re not worried about how we’re going to pay for things. So kudos for you on that one. That’s huge. And so you basically charge upfront, you said something about trust. So, tell me more about what you just said to me about how you, I guess, how you approach the clients when they come to you, and they ask you about your fees or how you price things?

Mark Spencer Williams:
Sure. Well, that was back then we worked on a traditional retainer model where funds were held in trust, and we billed against them. Thanks to an attorney in Charlotte named Bill Veal who sued the North Carolina State Bar. We’ve changed our model now, and we work off what’s called a minimum fee contract.

Kevin Daisey:
Okay.

Mark Spencer Williams:
So the new client comes in and it’s going to be litigation. We just charge them $7,500 up front. We earn that immediately, and we’re required by the bar then to pledge to provide services up to that level.

Kevin Daisey:
Got it.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Once it hits that level, it converts to a hourly basis where we do get money in trust.

Kevin Daisey:
Okay.

Mark Spencer Williams:
But that has really changed our lives. I mean, Charles Rice had a great reputation. Our law firm, I think, has a great reputation now. We’re one of the better family law firms, and people want to pay for that.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah.

Mark Spencer Williams:
So a lot of times you get into this mentality where you think, that’s a lot of money. I can’t charge for that. If I charge more, people are going to go away. And I think back to my days when I worked for KPMG Peat Marwick, the partner I worked for there, Dan Hamlin, he made $5 million a year. And he used to point blank boast that we were the most expensive consulting firm in the United States, and you get what you pay for. And his attitude was, we’re going to be the Ritz Carlton, we’re going to provide best in class service, and we’re going to charge the most. And that’s really the model I’ve adopted for the law firm is we hold ourselves to a high, high, high standard, and we’re going to charge a decent amount of money. Whereas there’s competitors we have here who are always complaining about chasing clients for money, and they’re cheaper, but they’ve got double clients and they can’t, in my opinion, service that client is well because they don’t have the revenue flow to provide great service.

Kevin Daisey:
Nope, 100%. And they have a lower level client, they’re going to probably have more problems with, versus someone that can pay that. And there’s a lot of divorce attorneys that I’ve talked to. I either, and I have clients like this too. Some are on the pro bono, want to help everyone that can’t afford attorneys. And it sounds like a lot of craziness and horror stories, but that’s what they prefer to do. And then I have some that are high end divorce case only, high net worth. And they stay there, and they say, hey, that’s where they’d rather be, and be putting their time and energy. So, you got to charge what you’re worth, and it’s hard to run things and take care of yourself and your family and provide a good service if you’re not making any money. So, I think it’s a good idea.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Exactly. Sorry for the noise. We’re in a downtown historic building in Wilmington, and they’ve been remodeling-

Kevin Daisey:
Oh, nice.

Mark Spencer Williams:
The house beside us for over a year. So we live with the saws, we’re used to it, but-

Kevin Daisey:
That’s fine. No big deal. Well that’s an improvement. Anyway, so I think that makes a ton of sense. I think you guys should stick with that and you’ll see, again, like the firm down the street that might be charging less or half, and they’re chasing clients, they have double the clients and they’re probably making less money. So again, you can’t give as good of a service if you have twice the clients to deal with. And again, we do the same kind of thing. We charge a premium sometimes, but we’re giving it everything we can, and we build in services that most agencies might not, but we have to charge accordingly to do that. So, I think it makes all the sense in the world, and it’s the right way to go. And again, you have family, you have employees, people that need to be taken care of just as much as anyone else. So what are some of the things that you’ve done that’s really helped you with marketing to gain clients, to have people give you a call, or reach out? What’s worked well for the firm there?

Mark Spencer Williams:
It’s changed over time. I remember back when the housing bubble was bursting and [crosstalk 00:14:50] wanted to get divorced, but couldn’t afford to. And there was actually some law firms in town that went out of business because they just didn’t have clients. And we adapted. So whereas we used to focus only in two or three counties, suddenly we decided we would provide services throughout the state and go anywhere.

Kevin Daisey:
Right.

Mark Spencer Williams:
As long as we got paid, we’d go anywhere. And that’s an example of adapting to the market that enabled us to thrive, quite frankly. Made us better lawyers, because we started learning how things are done in other jurisdictions, other venues, and sometimes better, quite frankly.

Kevin Daisey:
Oh, nice.

Mark Spencer Williams:
And then, other things, the videos that you mentioned, we spoke with a high-end firm out of Atlanta that makes some promotional videos. And I looked at them and I thought, wow, these are great. We got a quote from them, and I thought, whoa, I just can’t afford this.

Kevin Daisey:
Well, you said high-end out of Atlanta, and I was like, “Yeah, it’s I going to be pretty pricey.”

Mark Spencer Williams:
Very pricey. I think they wanted $50,000 for 10 videos. And my daughter is in a Master’s degree in film. And so I had called her and said, “Hey, can you make some videos?” And of course, I didn’t tell her what the Atlanta firm was getting, but we paid her a much smaller amount, and she’s been making us videos. Those videos have helped bring clients, because they’re-

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. Excellent.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Educational rather than promotional. And I find that clients really appreciate that.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah.

Mark Spencer Williams:
So that’s brought us business. Last year we signed up with a company where we can do targeted email marketing, and I really like that. It’s a good CRM system where we can keep data on people.

Kevin Daisey:
Oh, nice.

Mark Spencer Williams:
And we don’t just use it for perspective clients. We even use it, for example, North Carolina requires we give notice of secured leave three months in advance.

Kevin Daisey:
Okay. So you send out notices and emails and stuff like that?

Mark Spencer Williams:
Yeah. So we have a database where they’re marked as attorneys that we have cases against. And so when we send out a secured leave notice, the system does that.

Kevin Daisey:
Excellent.

Mark Spencer Williams:
And it’s just better than mass emails.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. Well, what’s the system that you’re using?

Mark Spencer Williams:
That’s called Levitate.

Kevin Daisey:
Levitate. Okay. Never heard of that one. So there you guys, everyone listening, Levitate maybe can help you out too. And so second thing, what do you do for case management and things like that? Do you use the software or platform?

Mark Spencer Williams:
We use a program called Actionstep.

Kevin Daisey:
Actionstep. Okay.

Mark Spencer Williams:
And absolutely love it. We used to use Amicus, and when Amicus got bought out by a competitor, we started to become unhappy with the direction that it was taking. So we looked at a lot of them really like Clio, but Clio didn’t have accounting within it, and Actionstep does. So we do our trust accounting, billing, everything, client documents, everything in Actionstep, and have really loved that program.

Kevin Daisey:
Excellent. Well, thanks for sharing that. So I saw too, with your Facebook, and this is for law firms out there, especially in the family space. Not usually exciting to get people to follow you on Facebook or any of social media, but you guys have, when I looked, I think about 4,600 followers or something like that on Facebook, which is really strong for a local firm like you guys in North Carolina. So what has that been like? What’s worked for you? Do you outsource that? Do you do it in house? What’s some of the social media tips you could give maybe for what’s worked for you guys to get a following like that?

Mark Spencer Williams:
You said that you used to build websites. I actually used to do that back in 1997. I used to build websites for financial aid offices. And it was their first website, they never had one before and I coded it in HTML.

Kevin Daisey:
That was around that time 2000-ish or so, I was doing it as a freelancer. Yeah, that’s awesome.

Mark Spencer Williams:
So when I first came on with Rice, I would sit at home and code website pages, and of course we had WYSIWYG to do it then.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah.

Mark Spencer Williams:
But a lot of that stuff I’ve done myself, haven’t really outsourced the things I can’t do CSS, stuff like that we’ve outsourced.

Kevin Daisey:
Sure.

Mark Spencer Williams:
That’s just beyond my capabilities. But I would like to do more of that, I just don’t have the time. And we actually have been looking for a social media partner that we could use to promote that more.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Some of the more, I guess, nontraditional or unconventional approaches is, our people are willing to share their lives. So I have a TikTok account, and it’s not really a law firm TikTok account. It’s my personal TikTok account. And I have interest in farming and goats and chickens and boxers and mulching and off kinds of stuff, wood mills, saw mills. And-

Kevin Daisey:
I want to follow you right now, just after hearing all that.

Mark Spencer Williams:
And when I share it, some of that relates back to law firm, and it will indirectly bring interest.

Kevin Daisey:
That’s awesome. Well, that’s the good. I mean, someone sitting here running a law firm, it’s great that you’re getting you on some of these platforms, especially the ones that are new or up and coming. And I think there’s a lot of firms that stay away from that stuff and they don’t think it’s going to work, or they just don’t want to do it, or have the time to do it. But I agree with you. I have Instagram and I think I have a TikTok, I don’t really mess with that too much yet. But most of my stuff is family or adventure type stuff. I like backpacking and snowboarding and boating and fishing. And so most of my stuff has nothing to do with what we do. But I tie that in obviously somehow here and there, because that’s part of my life too. So, you’ll see like me and you interviewing probably on my social media at some point one day, and then I’m off snowboarding with family or doing something around the house. I do a lot of woodworking and stuff like that too. So I think it’s great to do that.

Mark Spencer Williams:
To me, that just brings a genuineness to the social media. It’s not all about promoting.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah.

Mark Spencer Williams:
It’s just about being real. One of the things we did maybe April at the beginning of the pandemic. I had this idea thinking about the famine in Africa, when they got together and sang, We Are the World, to do something along that line with local divorce attorneys.

Kevin Daisey:
Oh wow.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Relating to COVID. And so I contacted seven or eight of our main competitors in town and pitched this idea that we would do a joint video about COVID and how we could support the community as family law attorneys. And it turned out pretty neat. It got-

Kevin Daisey:
[crosstalk 00:23:47] looked that up.

Mark Spencer Williams:
I don’t remember how many views it got, but it was a crazy number of views. And that really wasn’t done for promotion. It was done in part for fun.

Kevin Daisey:
That’s super good. So where could someone find that? Is that on your TikTok or up on YouTube, Facebook?

Mark Spencer Williams:
Facebook, and it may be on the website, but I know it’s on the Facebook.

Kevin Daisey:
Okay. So-

Mark Spencer Williams:
[crosstalk 00:24:14] YouTube channel.

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. If anyone goes over to their website, their social media is linked on the bottom there. So you can take a look and find in that video. I’m going to go ahead and try to find it after this myself. But it’s just so yeah, so social media, how it works. And I think most people try to like, they just want followers and people to just like their stuff, but it doesn’t work that way. You have to be real. You have to be genuine. They have to have some interest in even looking at your content in the first place. So I think most people go all about it the wrong way and try to have this perfectly branded content and it’s all about… It just is what it is. I think most attorneys or even social media companies for attorneys will post tips for divorce and mostly just divorce related stuff. And it’s not always going to attract any… Most of the time, not going to get that many views. So you got to do something out of the box, for sure.

Kevin Daisey:
And TikTok is a great place, because the amount of views and stuff that you’ll get compared to like a Facebook, who now you really just have to pay to really get a lot of outside engagement these days. So versus a TikTok, you can get 100,000 views and you don’t even know why.

Mark Spencer Williams:
That’s true.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. Instagram Reels are kind of like that too. Well, I think it’s awesome what you’re doing, and getting outside of the box, and again, the following you built on Facebook, I think was pretty amazing for a divorce law firm, a family law firm. So kudos on that. What’s your plans? What’s the next couple of years look like? Any big goals for the firm? Any growth ahead? Anything on else you want to share?

Mark Spencer Williams:
We very much have been working on a way to franchise ourselves, if you will. I mean, not in the legal franchise sense. But I’ve always thought that when you spend marketing money on a geographical area, it’s just crazy if it’s spilling over into other areas that you can’t serve.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. 100%.

Mark Spencer Williams:
And we’ve spent years developing a structure with the administrative resources, policies and procedures, manuals, everything in place. But what we really hope to do is attract some people who just want to practice law, and go back to that old Mark Williams, Charles Rice model, where I provide the business sense and they be the lawyer.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. I love that.

Mark Spencer Williams:
We would like to drop additional locations in the state, and make that a reality.

Kevin Daisey:
That’s excellent. I love that. I’ll talk to you behind the scenes here when we’re done, but we have a similar model and we’ve already done that and tested that and have some pretty good a success. So maybe we can chat about that more, but that makes a ton of sense to me. And so we’ve done that with our marketing agency, as far as basically the same thing, but a different niche. We work with law firms with this company here. I have another brand that works with new different types of businesses, but same processes, same everything. But we find the folks that are interested to, not have to run their own business, but be supported with all the things that we have in place, administrative, payroll, taxes, books, everything.

Kevin Daisey:
And so they still get an opportunity to make good money and run their own thing. But within inside our system more or less. So it’s worked out pretty well, but I’m happy to talk more about that too. What’s another way that people can connect with you, Mark? If they had any questions or want to learn some of the stuff that you’ve been doing and successfully too, obviously the bottom, ricefamilylaw.com. You can take a look at that. But if someone wants reach out to you, or follow you on TikTok, what’s the best way to find you?

Mark Spencer Williams:
Absolutely. Email is always good. And it’s MWilliams@ricefamilylaw.com.

Kevin Daisey:
Okay.

Mark Spencer Williams:
You can call me on my direct line. It’s 910 304 5360. I think TikTok is definitely a not professional, it’s more personal, but the TikTok page, I think is NC divorce lawyer.

Kevin Daisey:
NC divorce lawyer. Oh, good. That’s a good one to get. I’ll put this up here. Let’s see. So is this right at the bottom NC divorce lawyer?

Mark Spencer Williams:
I believe that’s correct. I’m checking it.

Kevin Daisey:
We’ll confirm here. But I think, again, most of our audience here is attorneys, so check out-

Mark Spencer Williams:
NC divorce lawyer.

Kevin Daisey:
Okay. Yeah. So check it out. I’ve seen a lot of attorneys young and very old, have insane following and 500,000 followers, and just on there talking about random stuff, some law, some not law, some mix. But I think it’s a great place to be, and it’s a new space to get into. And it doesn’t have to be all about your business or your law firm.

Mark Spencer Williams:
It’s crazy. There was a young lady getting arrested here outside my window one day. And I just took a video of it and put it on TikTok for fun. And it got over 100,000 views in a day.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah, this is crazy, huh. But it gives you exposure. And then people might follow you, and end up seeing your other content, and it can lead a business. So it’s an interesting. Yeah, I guess you can’t really target as much as far as who sees it and where they are, but still most law firms, their problem is obscurity. They don’t have the eyeballs, no one knows who they are. So, I don’t think it’s great to get out there and do stuff like that. Well Mark, anything else you want to share before we roll out of here? I appreciate you sharing everything today. I think, what you have there with your firm, the plans you have going forward are very smart. The social media that you’ve done and the success you’ve had there, the videos, I think all that’s great stuff that everyone on the show here should follow.

Kevin Daisey:
And the videos are, again, are super important, because they get to know, same with the social media. They get to meet you and feel like they know you. And they might not be a client right away. But once they have a problem or they have a situation and they say, “Hey, I’ve really got to feel like I know this guy, and I’m going to reach out to them.” And that can be for any attorney in your firm too.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Well, I’d just say we welcome collaboration. We learn from others. And so, if there’s folks listening to this that want to talk and share ideas and see how we can help each other, we would love to have that conversation.

Kevin Daisey:
Excellent. Well, you all heard that. Please reach out to Mark if you feel like there’s something you can talk to him about, or if you have questions, or maybe you have referrals, reach out, connect with him and check out what he is up to. So, for everyone listening, this episode will be available. We have about almost 200 episodes up on there now, at arraylaw.com/podcast. You can sort by state, or by practice area, or both. We’ve had attorneys in almost in every single state, every single practice area you can imagine. So if you’re looking for a specific episode that might help you, you can go and see all the divorce attorneys for instance, or family law. Or if at a certain state, you can find people there too. This episode will be up soon on there and on our podcast, so be looking forward to seeing Mark featured out as that episode comes out, we also have the managing partner’s newsletter.

Kevin Daisey:
Mark, you mentioned emails. We have a newsletter of about 1,000 to 1,500 attorneys and managing partners. We send out marketing tips. We feature episodes like yours here. And we also have the book club. So any attorney that’s written a book, most of them have written books to help law firms operate, run, be efficient. We feature books by our guest. So there’s always a book feature in the newsletter as well. So, be on the lookout for that. If you’re not signed up for it, you can go to our website and sign up for it. And then if you need marketing help, things like we talked about here with Mark. That’s what we do. We do law firm marketing websites. So we still do websites Mark, it’s just I don’t have to do them anymore, like I used to back in the day. But if you need that kind of help, reach out to us, even if you have questions, we’re happy to help guide you in the right way. So that’s it, Mark.

Mark Spencer Williams:
Thank you.

Kevin Daisey:
Good afternoon everyone, we’ll see you soon. Mark, can you stay on for me for just a moment, and we’ll talk backstage for a second. We’ll see you later.

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