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Melissa Shanahan

#254: How the Sausage Gets Made: A Healthy Firm Requires You to Dig Back in From Time to Time

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Conversations around knowing “how the sausage gets made” are rampant in law firm owner communities. There’s a notion that owners don’t need to know how the sausage gets made within certain elements of their businesses, and that they need to stay above the fray as owners, and Melissa is sharing her thoughts on this today.

The truth is there’s a fine line between knowing how the sausage gets made and neglecting something important inside your business. So, if you have a whisper that something in your firm isn’t quite right, or you aren’t getting the answers you keep asking for, it’s your responsibility to dig and keep digging until you resolve it. 

Join Melissa on this episode as she shows you why it’s your job as an owner to understand how the sausage gets made in your firm. She's explaining why people who have experienced new success tend to think they no longer need to get in the weeds of their business, what a healthy amount of digging into your business looks like, and the importance of owning your hunches to ensure a healthy firm. 

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats when enrollment opens again!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• How many law firm owners believe they’re above digging into certain elements of their businesses.

• Why it’s your responsibility as a law firm owner to understand how the sausage gets made.

• Indicators you can use to assess the health of your firm.

• What it takes to fix a piece of your business that needs fixing.

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #254.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast, powered by Velocity Work, for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going, take planning seriously, and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Morning, everyone, welcome to this week's episode. I say good morning; it's early morning here. We are headed out for family vacation today, which is super exciting. I'm getting this done so that I don't have to record an episode next week. I'm not that ahead of the game, y'all, so this is what we're doing, this is where it fit before vacation, so here we are.

We are headed to Florida. I haven't been to Florida for vacation as an adult ever. I've been to Florida plenty for work trips, so this will be fun. The reason we're going is because my son is four now, and he's never seen an ocean. So, we're going to take him to the ocean. I can't wait to see him see it and experience it for the first time. We are super pumped and ready to roll.

I am talking to you guys today about something that I hear a lot from law firm owners and in law firm owner communities. It seems harmless, and it's kind of rampant, but it's the conversation about “the sausage being made”. You don't need to know, as an owner, how the sausage is made within certain elements of your business.

Sometimes I'll see comments in threads or I will hear in conversation this idea that, as an owner, you should not need to know how the sausage is made with certain elements of your business. And so, it’s almost an air about people who have elevated themselves to a certain point of success in their firm, and it's generally, when I'm saying this, newer success; they have not had success for a long time.

There's newer success, and they'll say something like, “Well, as an owner, I just don't need to know how the sausage is made, that's for other people. That's what I pay people to do.” And then, there's owners who are digging into their business and they're hearing from other owners that they shouldn't be, because that's just getting into the weeds of things.

What I've observed in the conversations I've had, three this month, this has come up, or a version of this has come up, where they feel shame. Owners that I've talked to feel shame for digging into an element of their business because they are learning on purpose how the sausage is made. But they're hearing from people around them, “You really shouldn't be digging in that way as an owner. That's too in the weeds. You need to stay higher level.”

I have thoughts about that, and I'm going to share them here. Because there is a fine line between not knowing how the sausage is made, and neglecting something important inside of your business. There are plenty of examples of highly successful business owners who dig in to learn how the freakin’ sausage is being made, when they just have a hunch something isn't quite right.

And so, that's what I'm going to talk to you about today. Number one: Do not be affected by that, when someone says it. Do not think that you shouldn't be digging into your business. Really, that whole statement is about people who are too controlling, and stay inside of their business and micromanage everybody.

And, don't get that confused with the healthy nature of digging into your business, in ways that you thought you were done with and now you're doing it again. That's okay, if it's for a really good reason; which we're going to talk about today.

So, throw this statement out the window. Very rarely does this make sense to say to someone that I am working with. I work with a lot of law firm owners, and the kind of people I work with are not the kind of people who I need to say to them, “You don't need to know how the sausage is made. Get out of that.” That's not a thing. I don't say that to anyone.

Recently, I've had a couple of law firm owners mention that they're doing what they're doing anyway, they're doing what they think is right. But they have a bit of shame around it, or their head is hanging low. Like, “Yeah, I'm digging back into that. I know I probably shouldn't be the one to do it. I know I should probably hire it out. I know, that's me...”

Both times they've said, “That's me digging in to learn how the sausage is made, and people say you shouldn't do that.” And I was like, “Wait a minute. What?”

So, here are the scenarios. One law firm owner came to me and said that they had fired a longtime employee who had been handling intake, among some other things as well. Seemingly doing a good job about it, like conversion rates were really high from lead to conversion, and she just didn't have doubt in that person. But she did over time. She was really struggling to understand why she wasn't making more money, and what was the barrier.

She fired a marketing company based on what this intake person had been saying. I mean, they had regular meetings. This isn't a person who's neglecting this side of her business. She really trusted this employee. They let go of their marketing company, and it was like, “Man, from lead to conversion we're doing okay, so what is the deal here?”

And so, they hired a new marketing company; which happens to be really great. I don't know if the one before was great or not, but the new marketing company is really great.

Then, someone just mentioned something to the side about, “What about the leads that come in from the website?” This is knowing how the sausage is made. From the owners perspective, she kind of cocked her head and she was like, “Well, what do you mean?” The leads are coming in from the website, “Of course, we have leads that come in from the website. I imagine that those are considered leads.”

Anyway, this sort of opened up a can of worms. The owner went to dig back in and start to look around, and realized that there was a ton of opportunity; calls hadn't been returned. What the employee was essentially doing was only counting a lead if they were interested. If they were going to likely sign up, then she would enter them into their software as a lead and then convert them. So, of course, her conversion rate looked really high.

Now, mind you, you have to imagine they weren't doing bad. They weren't doing poorly; they were doing okay in terms of their numbers. But she just knew that there should be more. It didn't make sense to her that there shouldn't be more leads than what they were getting, so that they could convert more cases.

But anyway, as you can see, all of this was a bit behind a curtain, in terms of the details, and the ins and the outs of how the process from when someone contacts the firm, and then the conversation, and then when they're put into the software. The whole intake process was basically run by this woman, this employee.

And so, writing's on the wall here, right? That person eventually is let go, once confronted about some of these things; didn't really have two legs to stand on, was really defensive. So, that person was let go. And now, this law firm owner is digging back in working very closely with the marketer, and is experiencing some ease and flow for the business that she has not experienced in a very long time.

Now, does she want to be back in that process and doing it all the time? No, but it's what she needs to do. And so, here's what I would say, “Do not stay above the fray in your business if you have a whisper that something is wrong with the way something is operating in your firm.”

That may not even be that huge of a deal, that something's wrong, but you just have this hunch that there's something off. You start to wonder, are the people around you really owning their part in the way that you would own their part if you had their role? But you just have a hunch that something's off?

Now, in those moments, you have every right, and you absolutely should, it's your responsibility, to go poke around and do a bit of an audit and see what's going on. And use that information to make decisions about how you're going to move forward so that the firm is healthy.

And people who have this sense that they're above that, that that's not the focus of their job as an owner, listen, I know it's not fun. But if you have a whisper of something going on and you have the mentality that it's not your thing, and so you're just going to bark at someone, and repeatedly bark at someone over time, and not actually sit down and poke around, or do an audit or have a meeting, or you're requesting to see certain things, where you just look into it more deeply, then you are not being a good business owner.

So, I think you can kind of understand what I'm saying. I hear it a lot more from owners who have newer success. So, they've been successful for a year or two, where they kind of have some freedom back, they've done some things right, and they are feeling like they're in a flow with things. Those are the people who typically say things like, “Well, I don't need to know how the sausage is made.” That is ridiculous.

Yes, you do need to know how the sausage is made. It doesn't mean you have to make the sausage, but you need to know the ingredients and you need to make sure that there's checks and balances. Now, you can do this through KPI’s.

If KPIs are looking really good, and in this instance the KPI’s were looking good from a conversion perspective because it was messed up to begin with, right? It wasn't being handled properly. But that's a KPI; that KPI was looking healthy.

However, the new cases number isn't going up like it should be, and it looks like they need more leads. So, they're trying to do things to get more leads. They had a lot of leads, but their conversion rate actually wasn't as good as what it seemed like. And also, of course, revenue isn't where they want it to be because they’re not getting the growth that they would like to see, that we had planned for, that we had goals set around.

So, KPI’s can be a huge indicator. I mean, facts, not feelings, right? If you have facts, and you can dig into the numbers on something, the numbers tell a story. The numbers tell a story. So, that is usually your hunch to go dig in to something in the business where typically you might stay out of it.

But nevertheless, my whole point here is, sometimes you go back in there and you figure out how to make the sausage. You make sure that people are making the sausage the way they need to make it, and that the ingredients are all there, etc., etc.

Okay, the other is also to do with intake. It is, essentially, a firm that the owner attorney, the majority shareholder/owner, is stepping out more and more of casework; which is fantastic. And the time that he's getting back is going straight to intake. He's revamping intake.

Now, there are practice areas in the firm that he doesn't actually support. He is not an attorney for some of these practice areas. He's attorney for one particular practice area. However, he can sell the other practice areas. He could sell that to leads.

For example, he doesn't practice family law, but family law is a practice area in his firm. So, when a family law lead comes in he can sell this new lead on his firm, and being able to be the right firm for the lead. So, he's going back into intake, and he hasn't been in there and years. Actually, maybe ever. I don't know. I don't go that far back in history with this particular client.

But he's digging back in, and he is going to… There's no question in my mind, there's no question in his mind. He is going to revamp that department and do intake, and create success with intake, and then document his processes that he is using. And then, he's going to train someone else to be able to take over sales and intake.

It is, no question, the best use of his time, at this time. So, he is going back in. He is going to make the freakin’ sausage within this particular area, and then revamp it. And, his firm will be so much better for it.

It's also the intake department, but it's another example of how it can really pay off to go dig back in. So, where in your business do you have a whisper that something just should be different, it should be better and you're not sure why.

But we all know. You're the kind of person, if you're listening to this podcast and you made it through law school and you have your own law firm, you are likely the kind of person that even if you don't know how to figure it out, you do know you will figure it out.

And that is what it takes to go in and fix a piece of the business that needs fixing. People who just say that they want to stay above the fray, that's getting too into the weeds and they should pay someone to handle that, good luck. Really, that is not how this works. You as an owner are going to have those times where you dig back in.

Something else I'll tell you. The firm I used to work for was a $50 million/year in revenue plus, firm. The CEO was extremely difficult to work for, but he was brilliant when it comes to business. I saw him, two different times, where he mentioned something to a department head and was like, “What is this? I don't like what I'm sensing that's coming out of this department. Fix it.”

A little bit of time would pass. Not very many chances did they get with that, and he would literally go to the other wing of the building, sit down in their office and say, “Pull out all your stuff. We're looking at it together.” It wasn't pleasant, by the way. He was known for a temper. But it was, “Pull it all out. I'm not leaving this room until we figure out what the eff is going on.”

His approach, I think could have been different. I'm not saying that that's how you should be. But he was like a dog with a bone, and that is how you should be as an owner. And you know what? He would. He would uncover something, and he would find some root cause of what was going on, what was behind this. Why isn’t this working the way that it should? Why am I getting feedback like this? From someone… whatever it was.

He would not leave that room until he figured it out. And honest to God, it didn't take him that long to figure it out. So, that's him stepping in. And if you can imagine, the CEO of a company that size is walking in to someone that he has meetings with once a month… he's not around them a whole lot… he is going and making himself known. He will sit in that room, and he will not leave until they uncover it.

Sometimes that would lead to someone being let go, and sometimes it wasn't. But he just was not willing to let this something… this something behind the scenes… continue to go on until he figured it out. That really taught me… Though his approach, again, I think could have been better and smoother... that really taught me early on that you do not sit around or continue on when you can sniff something.

You go after it. You get into it. You dig into it. You figure it out. You don't have to be the one to fix it. You can be, but you don't have to be. But you are the one that has the awareness, and you are the one that is putting things into place to fix the issue.

Alright, the whole point of this episode is to initiate the fix. Dig back in. You don't need to stay high level just because you're the owner and you've had some success, and that's below you now, like you're past that. No, as an owner, that's not how this works. Sometimes this is what it's like. And the faster that you own that, the less resources are wasted on this thing that you had a hunch wasn't quite right.

Alright, where are you hearing whispers in your business? Where is there something that you know is not quite right? Where are you not getting the answers that you keep asking for? Go dig back into that department. Go dig back into that business. Go sit with that employee, or whoever is in charge of whatever it is you're talking about. And do not get up until you uncover it together.

Pull reports. Look at stats. Figure it out. Have conversation, and don't stop until you figure it out. Because you will.

Alright, everybody. The last thing I think I should tell you before I go, so Mastery Group enrollment is opening soon, May 8th, to be exact. And if you aren't on the waitlist you won't be notified about it. Our waitlists are the people who we know have expressed interest and they want in, and so that is who we email when enrollment opens.

If you would like to know when enrollment is opening so that you can join, go to and get your name on the waitlist. Once your name is on the waitlist, we will keep you in the loop. This is your opportunity to work with me and my team.

If your firm is doing under a million dollars, this program is absolutely going to benefit you. So, get your name on the waitlist. I can't wait to work with those of you in this next cohort and getting everybody in to Mastery Group.

We do a really good job with onboarding to make sure that once you come in we help you identify the data that you need, and get comfortable, find your footing inside of the program, in the member area, so that when it's time for your very first Strategic Planning Retreat… Virtual, of course… you're ready to roll.

Alright, everybody. Have a wonderful week. I'll see you here next Tuesday.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/Friday Wrap. If you go to, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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