DC tax attorney Glen Frost went from solo practitioner to 23 employees in under five years. Learn what he’s doing that you’re not.
Below is the transcript of our video interview with DC tax attorney Glen Frost. The interviewer is Law Firm Suites CEO, Stephen Furnari. Watch or read the interview to learn more about Glen’s successful practice, and discover how your solo law firm can benefit from his example.
Furnari: Hey everyone, I’ve had the privileged to work with over 300 law firms and in 10 years I can think of only three firms that grew to more than three associates. And all of those firms have at least three partners and two of the three have been involved in contingency cases. You can make a really awesome living as a solo attorney, but if you have the ambitions to scale up, hire associates and add on other lawyers, it can be really challenging.
So, recently I was at a networking event to celebrate the opening of our new location in Annapolis, MD and I had the good fortune to run into the DC tax lawyer Glen Frost. The room was filled with young lawyers working for firms, I naturally gravitated to Glen — and I don’t mean to say this in an unflattering way, but Glen is a pretty unsuspecting guy and fit right in the room with the rest of the lawyers. But he described to me how as a solo attorney he built a massive law practice. And in the world of small firm law practice, Glen is a unicorn. He has 11 other lawyers full-time and an additional 12 non-lawyer staff members. Has offices based in DC, Maryland and Virginia and represent IRS tax disputes nationwide and I have been chasing him down for months for an interview because I want to know the secret for success. And I know the fans of our content will love this information as well. So, here we are. Welcome, Glen!
Frost: Thank you for having me.
Furnari: No problem. You had a bit of non-traditional trajectory into law practice. So, tell me more about your background, your education before starting your law firm.
Frost: I have a bachelor degree in accounting, a master’s degree in forensics accounting. I worked for an international accounting, Grant Thornton in their audit division and afterward I decided to go to law school and get a master in taxation as well.
Furnari: Did you work for a law firm after you graduated law school, or did you go directly into solo practice?
Frost: I did. Because I was already a CPA when I went to law school, I worked for two different law firms while I was in law school, doing similar practice to what I’m doing now. I practiced at two firms after law school as well and then made a transition into being a solo.
Furnari: That transition, I always find that fascinating how lawyers end up being self-employed. Was that something you did intentionally or was there some factor in the market that made you decide to go solo? My personal story is, there was a down economy and a lay off propelled into self-employment, but it was something I always wanted to do. What about yourself?
Frost: I have always been an entrepreneur, I’ve always had various businesses and I saw an opportunity, I saw a market that wasn’t tapped. There is a lot of really good work and a lot of really good clients I thought I could help and I had a different methodology than other firms I had worked at. I was young, willing to take a risk and went out and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Furnari: How long has it been now since you made that decision?
Frost: About five and a half years.
Furnari: You have a traditional time for dollars law practice. You are still trading time for dollars, it is not a contingency based practice. Most of the firms that had been able to scale up had some form of contingency based revenue coming in, which a lot of times gives them a lot of money to scale up. So, what do you think makes you different from the vast majority of other small firm lawyers, who never got beyond a one man army? Is it a mindset, the preparation, the willingness to take risks?
Frost: I think it’s a lot of work, it’s very hard work. I had a formula when I started my own practice. I would spend half of the time actually practice law, building clients, and the other half on different marketing efforts; whether was going to networking events, working on websites or other SEO stuff. That half-and-half formula I stuck through since I have started my own practice.
Furnari: Is it still like that today?
Frost: Yes, very similar to that. I spent a substantial time on marketing and advertising and networking.
Furnari: There are a lot of lawyers who can spend half of their time or more of their time on marketing and have it not generate results. You mentioned to me before that you tried a bunch of different marketing tactics and saw what worked and what didn’t. Where did you learn about marketing and how did you decide which marketing tactics worked?
Frost: When I went all on my own I tried every marketing method, except radio or TV. I tried to track that and determined what worked and what didn’t. I found website and SEO it did work, but perhaps the best was the personal relationships I made with other lawyers, accounting firms, financial advisors, other business professionals. I found that the best types of work were coming from those professionals. My networking with them is, “hey if you have a tax question, or if you need any help with anything, just call me and I’ help you through it.” I’m not going to bill you, I will help you through whatever problem you have. Giving to people I feel that more comes back if you openly give to people.
Furnari: I would agree with that. It is a tried and true advice for networking, you have to give before you get. The networking stuff you were doing on your own and that is not costly. Other tactics require budget and skills that a lot of lawyers don’t have. Did you work with professionals or have a budget set aside to do those other tactics?
Frost: Yeah, I didn’t really budget. I put some money in it and saw that there was a return on investment (ROI), so I kept cranking it up gradually.
Furnari: How long would you say it took for you to see an ROI in terms of marketing spend? Because sometimes it can be long.
Frost: I’d say that’s about right three or four months, that’s when you start to see returns. With the face-to-face marketing, it might be longer. You might go in to a lunch, dinner, or meet somebody at a networking event and they might not refer you a case for two or three years. Try to keep in touch with those people and that you are still looking to find referrals to them as well.
Furnari: how do you do that? Do you have a system for that?
Frost: I believe I have a system. For instance, we send out holiday cards and gifts as well. I also have a large annual party inviting referral sources and friends and their families to a large party. This year we had about 550 people or so.
Furnari: That’s a serious event. So, when you started your practice, did you have a goal for a practice before starting it in terms of size? Some solos don’t seem themselves having a big practice, some don’t know where they want to go. Did you have a goal set, like I want to be here, and to get here I need to have a firm of this size?
Frost: I don’t believe I had a goal, but as an attorney and a CPA I look closely at financial statements monthly and determine what is working and what’s not working. So, my goal was “let’s expand if it makes sense”. If we can increase the bottom line, then absolutely expansion should be done.
Furnari: Lot of solos start their practice on a low budget. What about you, did you start with a serious cash investment, or did you bootstrap?
Frost: Fortunately it didn’t really cost. In the very beginning, I used another lawyer’s office to meet clients, I worked a lot out of my house, only for a month or two. Literally, all I need was a laptop and maybe some case management software and very small investment to get it going.
Furnari. How long did you work like that before scaling up on your expenses?
Frost: A month or two and then I moved to a virtual office. I realized I had too much work for myself and I hired a law clerk who was in law school and was also a CPA. Realized then another month or so later that I needed more people and I made the first associated hire.
Furnari: It is interesting there are lots of different philosophies about your first hiring. I know that Lee Rosen who manages the divorce discourse website recommends not making that first hire until it’s really painful, and you’re doing about $300,000 in annual revenue, which is a lot. Lots of times there is this gap between making your first hire and being able to pay for that first hire. You know that you need to spend more time marketing, but you may not necessarily have the revenue in place to fully support that person and your personal expenses. How did you manage that gap?
Frost: I do have other businesses and other resources, luckily I didn’t use them for the law firm. I saw that the work was there, fortunately, with my practice, I can also do accounting work and tax preparation, and so there is certainly plenty of that out there and I knew that I would have enough to support an associate and myself and the overhead as well.
Furnari: So you were doing some accounting work and tax prep while you were building the law practice?
Frost: Correct. My practice is a little blended. We do different accounting and tax preparation for people as well, and I represent a lot of lawyers and law firms. We also do the traditional tax law work. When you get into that is a little gray line between accounting and the legal work.
Furnari: Your practice are on a regulatory base and I have seen a lot of firms been successful with regulatory based practices because you always need to comply, do you think that that factors into how quickly you have been able to grow?
Frost: Yes, there were a couple of initiatives by the IRS. One was their foreign bank account reporting initiative, and they have been cracking down on taxpayers who have businesses, trusts partnerships overseas, foreign bank accounts overseas. So, that really started in 2008 with this banking program. Really making it an important part of my practice.
Furnari: So, I know that you are a native networker and you know a ton of lawyers and you know plenty of solo and small firm lawyers that have plateaued. You’ve got a lot of business acumen and I think that’s what makes you a little bit unusual. I’m curious, what do you think most solos are doing wrong that want to scale, but something is preventing them from scaling up?
Frost: There are a couple of things I think. The marketing is very important. I tell all my associates that you should be doing at least one marketing thing a week. You should be out there going to an event, going to lunches, do at least one thing a week. I do one thing a day at minimum. Do just one thing a week, it will pay off for you in the long run. Marketing is key and I think that the finances are key. It is important to have a good bookkeeper on hand, it’s important to look at revenue and track those things and determine what works.
Furnari: You have talked about marketing a lot and the types of marketing tactics are not revolutionary. I think a lot of lawyers are looking for that magic solution that’s going to solve all their problems from a marketing perspective. What would you say that’s working for you, that separates you from those other lawyers from a marketing perspective?
Frost: I think you need to be an expert in your field, you need to be specific, you need to have a niche and you need to be on the top of someone’s mind for an issue. “oh you know who I know that knows about that”..Boom. let me pick up the phone and call that person. Because I have such a niche, I think that made my practice successful. I see a lot of practitioners that are kind of a general practice, and will take any case that comes in. I think that sometimes it can tarnish your brand.
Furnari: What about those who are in a niche and are still stuck? I’m putting you on the spot, but what I’m seeing that separates you from other lawyers is that sheer consistency of your marketing. It’s nothing revolutionary but you are spending half of your time doing marketing. You do an event every day. And I am not sure you can say a lot of lawyers do that, would you agree?
Frost: No I don’t think so. I am constantly brainstorming, who can I meet, who can I network with, who is a good potential referral source. constantly brainstorming. I create lists of that stuff, I try to track who I meet. Is part of a big product.
Furnari: What do you think that is the one thing, or key person that you hired that really rapidly accelerated your firm’s growth, looking back?
Frost: I have two partners now, but pretty much managed my practice. To go through my practice areas: we do IRS collection, tax litigation, criminal tax, foreign bank accounts, and a lot of tax audits. I hired, a few years ago, partners that would manage some parts of my practice, which have allowed me to step away from some of the day-to-day management of the cases. Sill involved in higher level strategy issue, but step away from some of the day-to-day management and focus on running the law firm and marketing.
Furnari: When you made those hires, did you see an acceleration in the growth of the practice?
Frost: Yes, it freed my time up. A significant part of my time is client intake and development. I speak from 15-20-25 prospective clients daily. Not all of them are great clients, and it doesn’t always make sense financially for them to hire us, but I will always give them five minutes on the phone and give them advice and point them in the right direction. That is a marketing method as well and that pays off as well. you never know when they might tell a friend or when they have a more serious issue that they need to hire us for.
Furnari: So, this is how you are spending your day now, doing marketing activities and then operating in a sales and client development perspective? Developing that relationship between your firm and your clients, your that liaison between the team and the clients.
Frost: Yes, exactly, that’s what I do primarily. I am involved in some of the strategy for certain cases.
Furnari: Essentially go back to when you hired your first law clerk, you were getting tied up in the managing this bigger entity and you needed to bring in higher quality people. Let’s go back a little bit, was anything you did that you can say made a big difference, maybe it was that first or second hire or usually, there is something that clicks and things get easier?
Frost: I think that once you start bringing in people that have a lot of experience, 90% of the decisions can be made by them and frankly I have people that work for me that are smarter than I am. That’s a great thing. That frees up time and energy.
Furnari: For small firm lawyers who have the ambitious to grow a substantial firm like yours, what’s the one thing that you recommend they do now?
Frost: I think a lot of small firms want to hold on to doing everything. They don’t want to let go. In order to be successful and to grow you need to delegate. I had the mentality, that anything someone else can do for you, to have them do it. Get it off your plate, I spend all day literally d delegating tasks, I have assistants that respond to emails for me, review my emails. I try to delegate and free up time wherever I can. I think delegation is key to grow.
Furnari: If you are solo and you start to feel the pressure and you need to alleviate, then what is a good first hire? An assistant, virtual assistant, a law clerk, an associate? That first hire is the hardest one right?
Frost: Yeah the first one is the hardest. I was fortunate because I think I hired a second-year law student and she was a CPA and I told her look I was giving her the opportunity and that half of her work was mostly administrative but half would be legal as well. I come from the mindset that you have to come from the bottom and learning how everything works and working your way up that way and she is still with me today as an attorney and CPA at the firm. I was very lucky to have her in a hybrid role.
Furnari: A lot of lawyers struggle with delegation because we are in the perfection business. Whether you’re an accountant or a lawyer, it’s the same, you can’t make mistakes. Which is your suggestion to lawyers, that you have to overcome that when delegating?
Frost: You just need to hire people that you trust, and people that will do a good job. If somebody is not living up to expectations, you need to find somebody that will.
Furnari: Glen, I think that any lawyer around the country could potentially do business with you. How do people find you and what types of things do help other lawyers with?
Frost: To back up, we have offices in DC, Virginia, Maryland and Miami, Florida. I do have clients abroad all over the world, I have clients that are all over the country. We practice primarily in IRS controversy work, so we do represent people all over.
Furnari: Who are a good referral source in terms of attorney’s, where the can send business to you and you likewise back to them?
Frost: We do a lot of work with different business attorneys, bankruptcy lawyers, family lawyers, you know. All different types: tax is such a broad area, it comes into everyone’s practice at some point and time.
Furnari: Okay, awesome, I know that you can find Glen at www.frosttaxlaw.com. Pretty reachable guy, so he is a native networker. Thank you so much!
Frost: Thank you, I enjoyed being here.