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  • Writer's pictureSusan Tatum

Setting Business Owners Free with Business Transformation

with Doug Brown, Chief Learning Officer Summit Success

In any expert-based firm, your focus can change as you experience growth. Doug Brown is the Chief Learning Officer at Summit Success where he teaches law firm owners how to do the things they didn’t learn in law school; how to run their business. He formulates a plan with these business owners to determine what they’re building, what they want from it, and what is getting in their way.

Notes from the Show

Doug Brown is an executive coach, speaker, strategist and a self-named “recovering lawyer”. As the Chief Learning Officer at Summit Success, he helps transform law practices into a business that will set their owners free. But even if you’re not a lawyer or law practice owner, the discussion Doug and I have will really apply to any expert skill-based firm experiencing growth.

You can hire out office manager positions to an hourly staff if you can afford it but as Doug points out, you cannot outsource your job as the CEO. So can you afford someone like Doug as an advisor to teach you how to be a CEO for your growing firm? Most lawyers and business owners look at the money going out as expenses but the value of learning how to run your business efficiently is not an expense but rather an investment. Doug claims the ROI for investing in an advisor and change in mindset is dramatic.

When working with his clients, Doug tackles three big picture questions:

What are you building and why does it matter?

How are you going to get more time and more money?

What is getting in the way?

From there Doug gives the tools for these law practice owners to learn what they didn't learn in law school, and that is how to make the business run for them?

Doug and I also talked about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and he shared some really interesting paradoxes that make up this profession.

You need to:

  • Be stubborn but flexible

  • Be confident but humble

  • See the big picture but also the details

  • Be convincing but truthful

  • Be kind but firm

  • Be teachable but independent

  • Be a risk taker but a risk preventer

The best teachers are lifelong learners, and Doug proves this with his tips on being the best teacher for his clients. I got some great notes and information in this episode and I hope you did too! You can reach Doug via LinkedIn or Email and learn more about him at his website.

What's Inside:

  • What are the skills to transform your business to run itself?

  • Can you outsource operational positions in your business?

  • What does it take to become an entrepreneur?

  • Can you afford a consultant and or advisor for your business?

  • The path to achieving business goals and changing your life as a business owner.

  • What is the best way to drive change?

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:38

Welcome, everybody. Today I'm talking with Doug Brown, who is an executive coach, speaker and strategist. And he's the chief learning officer at Summit success. welcome Doug.

Doug Brown 0:48

Hi, Susan. So happy to be here.

Susan Tatum 0:51

It's so good to talk to you again.

Doug Brown 0:53


Susan Tatum 0:54

Before we dive into all of these great questions that I have to ask you, you want to take a few minutes and tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Doug Brown 1:02

Yeah, taking a few minutes might be the hard part. But I've been practicing, so maybe I'll do okay. My I am a what I affectionately referred to as a recovering lawyer, and I'm an executive coach, and my business is helping law firm founders and owners who have built successful practices, learn to transform them into businesses that will set them free, so that they don't have to have their hands on the wheel all the time, teaching them the things that they didn't learn in law school and didn't necessarily learn as a lawyer building, building a practice. So that's, that's what I do. I am, my background is as a lawyer, and then I was in house at a corporation, where I learned all the things that nobody learns in law school, like marketing, and how to manage people and, and technology in the whole piece. And so I use all of that to help my clients learn what they never learned in law school, just like a high performance athlete will have a coach to help him or her reach the top of their game.

Susan Tatum 2:08

Right, right. And I do want to say, for the listeners who are not lawyers, or law firms that the things that you and I have talked about Doug, are applicable across the board for any kind of service firms, I think,

Doug Brown 2:23

yeah, one of the things I think we'll probably get to later is, it's really important when you're trying to market and fill your business to be really specific about the people that you work for. And one of my challenges my clients have, well, if one of their ideal client comes along, who's not in that group, will evaluate them, and maybe you can help them too. And that's very much what I do, I focus very much on the group that I mentioned. And then I'll occasionally have an entrepreneur who will come in, or an accountant or another advisor will say, Can you help me? So well, let's have a conversation, maybe what I do for lawyers, I can help you do as well.

Susan Tatum 2:58

I want to emphasize what you said about how about focusing, because that's that is that's one of the things that that I work with my clients on getting them to, to, to be hyper focused on who their ideal clients are. And it's for marketing purposes, and business development, all kinds of communication things. And you hit the point exactly is, this is just where you're going to focus your efforts, it doesn't mean that somebody else comes in, you can't take that business, if they're the right client for you.

Doug Brown 3:30

And you know, having gone through that myself, that's a really scary thing to do. Because when you're just starting, you're like, well, if they've got a pulse, they can be a client. And and then you realize that you've got all these different clients, only a third of them are really good clients, the rest of them either not paying you or not the work you want to do, and you wonder why you're unhappy. And you wonder why you can't be efficient in your marketing and in your operations. And then when you finally the way I describe it, maybe you do too, is when you take a hose and you put a really fine nozzle on it, you get a lot of power out of it. And that's exactly the same thing with focusing your practice whatever your profession is

Susan Tatum 4:09

I that's such a good analogy. That really, really.. I hope you don't mind if I am going to use it

Doug Brown 4:15

you can use it. I've probably borrowed it from someone else.

Susan Tatum 4:18

All right, so we're talking about lawyers, experts of any type that they started a business. They're really good at law or their subject matter area. They have built a business or they you know, they've they've got the income coming in. They're reaching the point where now they have to run a business and not just practice law. What what are what are the problems that pop up, then?

Doug Brown 4:51

Well, the the problems are really common to businesses where there's a founder is when you are starting a business or a law practice almost everything has to revolve around you. You make all the decisions. You're the reason people come to the firm. And so you're kind of chief cook and bottle washer, you have to do everything. And it's difficult to take a step back. Because if you value control, you're afraid of making mistakes. You worry that if you take your hand off the wheel that's going to drive off a cliff even if you have a team and so they know that this idea of scaling a practice which is you You know, growing it without necessarily have to add add overhead is a good idea. The heroes people like us talk about working on your business instead of in your business. And they liked the idea, but they don't have any idea what that actually means like, Okay, what do I do? If I block this time to do this? What is it that I have to do differently to run my practice like a business? And a lot of them don't, because they don't know what playbook to run. And they default back to working in the business because well, I have to make money or they just simply don't professionals value feeling competent in the work that they're doing. And learning how to be a CEO of your law practice is, by definition, something you haven't done before, and you're going to feel insecure and doing. And so you have to be comfortable with that. If, and so when you're not you default to just not doing it, and you kick the can down the road, hoping that what you've been doing in the past, is going to vault you to some new level of success.

Susan Tatum 6:42

So what do you see with your clients and other people as well as I mean, what happens when they're sort of getting out of there. But what I call it when some change is necessary.

Doug Brown 6:57

You know, change is difficult, and for most people, and it's especially difficult for lawyers, because we are trained to do things based on precedent, and do what's been done before and don't make mistakes. So there's a number of things that I've seen, and I taught entrepreneurship for many years in an MBA program after I was in the corporate world. So which was really fun, because not only had I done this, but now I knew why everything..happened. So it's having the mindset of entrepreneurship, which I'm sure we'll talk about, it's understanding that some skills that you may not have developed naturally, you need to get curious about and invest in. So for example, your ability to manage people when you're not in an adversarial model, is really important, because the adversarial model doesn't work for managing a team that works kind of in the courtroom, And

Susan Tatum 7:57

Yeah it's totally against what year you've been taught to do?

Doug Brown 8:02

Well, it is because the framework that lawyers struggle with certain kinds of conflict conversations, because there is no structure outside of the legal world. In the legal world, you're an adversary, the other person is an adversary, there's a judge, you're trained to do that. But when you've got difficult interpersonal conversations, whether it's with an employee, or maybe even with a client about money, there's no structure there. And so without a playbook or a process or a roadmap, it can be very uncomfortable for people.

Susan Tatum 8:35

That makes me uncomfortable just to think about it. So for a company to be able to afford your help, or to bring in somebody to run the company for them would be a company, that firm would have to be of a pretty substantial size, to be able to justify having a person that isn't isn't billable, that's just making sure the business runs well?

Doug Brown 9:04

Well, I think there are two different things. The majority of firms are reasonably small. So they're under 50 10 And sometimes under 10, I think it's 75% of the firms in the country are lawyers five or less. So they're not going to have the resources to bring in somebody who's or who's a coach CEO or an office, you know, or a Chief Operating Officer, the midsize firms actually will. But they'll generally bring in somebody who will be an office manager, or somebody to help with client experience. And that's good, because it can take a lot of admin time off and actually make the lawyers more productive. But there's no way to outsource your CEO job, because you're responsible for the firm. You know, the challenge I think that many lawyers have is they think they can't, quote, afford to invest in having somebody like me come in and advise them. And what I can show is when you make that investment, it's not an expensive investment, that the ROI is dramatic, dramatic as in you can make 30% more money, you can work at least 10% Less. Because the outside perspective and expertise gives you a tremendous ROI. So I work with solo practitioners, I'll work with lawyers. There's one firm I've worked with where they are two partners, four associates, I've worked with both partners and all four associates. And they're getting the ROI and they are five lawyer firm. So they see the value in having an outside person, help them with their development with getting more done in less time with not burning out with how to have a simple and repeatable system for something like client intake, how to identify the best clients. So they're not bringing people in, who don't fit their model. And so there's very granular ROI. And the problem that most lawyers have isn't that they can't afford it. It's that they think of everything as an expense by the hour, they're not used to investing in themselves in their practice.

Susan Tatum 11:35

So do you in your work with your clients? Are you helping them find like an office manager, or you're telling them, you're helping them to decide what they need, what support staff they need? And then getting processes put together?

Doug Brown 11:50

Well, I start, I start at the beginning, I work in a very, I'm almost like a concierge for very few number of clients. And I go deep with them. So we start with what are they trying to build? And why does it matter? How do they get more time? How do they make more money, and then we figure out what's in the way we work on that. So it's anything from building capacity, which is time management and productivity. It includes a systems of how to do screening for the best client and the best client intake. As an example, it could be a system for how to actually collect on your accounts receivable, because you're nervous about calling clients who haven't paid or how to talk about money with clients in the first instance? Or how to deal with opposing counsel who are difficult without escalating unnecessarily. And and then yes, and we'll talk about what kind of person do you need to solve this particular problem? Is it an office manager? Is it a paralegal? Is it another attorney? Is it a virtual or real assistant? Because those are the pillars of growing, you have to have capacity? You have to have some repeatable systems, and you have to have the people to run it.

Susan Tatum 13:01

Right. So you've mentioned you taught at an entrepreneurial school?

Doug Brown 13:11


Susan Tatum 13:12

Let's talk about what it really takes to be an entrepreneur. I think that's something that you've got some experience with.

Doug Brown 13:18

Yeah, you know, I studied this for a while. And like I said, it was, it was fun than teaching it after I had done it, because I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. And there are some really cool paradoxes of entrepreneurship that I like to talk about, you know, you need to be really stubborn but flexible, you need to be confident, but you can't be cocky, you have to be humble, you've got to be able to see the big picture, but also very detail oriented and know when to do both. You have to be able to convince anybody of anything, sell. But also always tell the truth. I have to be kind, but firm. Have to care what people think but not too much. You have to be teachable, but also be independent, independent. And you have to be a risk taker, but also know what it takes to prevent risk. So there's all these cool paradoxes of what it takes to really be an entrepreneur, and it really isn't for everyone.

Doug Brown 14:24


Susan Tatum 14:25

but I have found that those who have built up a law firm or a law practice or even a practice leader inside of a larger firm, they've got some of these traits. And what's really fun is working with them, helping them see that and then developing the ones that would have the most impact to help them get where they want to go. Because I found when lawyers understand why it's important that they have a process that they can learn how to do it. It's not that they are not teachable. It's just that they haven't had the structure that they need.

Susan Tatum 15:00

Yeah, they never they didn't teach it in law school. Right?

Doug Brown 15:01

Well, because the people teaching law school don't know either.

Susan Tatum 15:05

I can't argue with that one. What so are lawyers in general, risk takers are not risk takers.

Doug Brown 15:16

Generally, they're not. They may see themselves as risk takers, but in general, not as much as they think.

Susan Tatum 15:27

pretty conservative.

Doug Brown 15:30

That, well, if you think about it, it makes sense. When you are training to be a lawyer. People count on you to be right. They want the outcome. There's this, you know, of course in them Miranda warnings, anything you say can and will be used against you. Well, that's what the culture is like, if you show weakness, or you show or you fail at something, there's always the fear that some other lawyers gonna use it against you in the future. So there is a whole culture of wanting to be certain wanting to be right and not to not wanting to make mistakes. And you have to be confident in being uncertain. In that the fact you're gonna make mistakes. And that's difficult. And by the way, not just for lawyers, accountants have the same problem. Financial Advisors have the same kind of challenges because of the level of regulation that that they're under, and the implications of them making mistakes.

Susan Tatum 16:37

And you don't want you don't want your accountant to say, we're just going to run this experiment with your taxes and see what happens.

Doug Brown 16:44

Right. That's, the clients don't like that. But but the truth is that, that when you have the courage, and you know, where to take the risks, largely about running your business, you know, I don't get into advising lawyers in how to advise their clients. That's their judgment, that's their expertise. But they can take risks and in how they're running their business. In I mean, even some lawyers think, well, I see this often when they're trying to grow and marketing. Well, if I don't answer the phone, the clients gonna go to someone else. Yeah, maybe. But what about the clients you've already committed to that are hoping that you're going to actually get their work done? What about them? Yeah. Well, maybe we need a different solution so that you can get in touch with people without having them disrupt, you know, your, your day. And I'm like, Well, if you were in a meeting with a client, and the phone rang, would you stop and pick it up? No, I wouldn't do that. Right. So my clients get value in the those sorts of questions just to help them see things differently. Because it's very easy to get pulled into a pattern of behavior that you can't even see is counterproductive for you.

Susan Tatum 18:23

Yeah. You know, I think a lot also about the match between a business coach or a consultant and their clients. And I would imagine that you having been a lawyer puts you is a definite advantage, because you've been there, you know, what they are going through. It's they can't argue that you don't know what you're talking about, because you've done it. And so there's some credibility and trust, if it's there, that that came along with your history.

Doug Brown 19:00

Yes, I think that's true. I think a lot of it is I know the code of how to talk to lawyers, and how lawyers process information. They also liked that I've been in business, and I've helped grow and turn around multiple different kinds of businesses, so that they valued that perspective. And they value that I've actually been trained, and I know how to teach important things to adult learners in a way that they can process and consume. because there's lots of lawyers who are out there, you know, hanging out a coaching shingle. But that doesn't mean you know, how to teach what you know.

Susan Tatum 19:43

Well, that's where I that's, I I'd love to hear your thoughts about that a little bit more, because I feel the same way about consultants, myself included, we're not most of us don't know how to teach, or we need to learn how to teach. So talk to us about that.

Doug Brown 20:01

I could probably do a whole show on that. You know, I I look back to when I had, you know, my training in becoming a professional speaker. And I think so much of it is about understanding your audience, and where they're coming from, and how they see the world and being able to frame your content into digestible nuggets that they can process and an understanding that there are different communication styles, there are different learning styles, especially for adults, they need ideas that they can take and play with and try and experiment, they learn much more by doing, they're much more visual and auditory than they are reading out of a book. Which is why the one on one model works so well. Whereas in a class, you can get lost and you wondering why this doesn't apply to me. I'm not like that person. But the those who are really going to achieve know that the one on one ability to to tell them the truth, and call it BS, when it's BS in a polite way. That's critical. And I think that the best teachers are also lifelong students. They are learning all the time. They don't know what they don't know. And they don't necessarily pretend to have all the answers. If I don't know the answer to something. I'll, you know, I know how to find it. And there are times that like the lawyer might do with a client or consultant might do saying, That's a great question, I need to think about how I can best answer that for you. What's the best resource coming back.

Susan Tatum 21:48

So not taking an answer?

Doug Brown 21:52

Well, yeah. Because my, my, my yardstick for me is did my clients actually make the transformation that they talked about when they came to me?

Susan Tatum 22:04

So Did they change?

Doug Brown 22:06

Did they change So we start off, it's like, where are you now? Where do you want to go? Why does that matter? One of my clients, when we first talked to successful lawyer runs a firm. I said, what would it be like if you could have the outcome you described? Well, what if, if I could have more time with my, my child to enjoy her growing up and she got teary eyed? That's powerful. So that's the yardstick. So she's on a three week vacation right now, several years later, and her office is taking care of itself. And she's getting that time. That's a win. And she's making more money hasn't better firm, but she has a better life.

Susan Tatum 22:44

So you said, breaking things down in teaching or getting people to learn breaking things down into digestible pieces? Does that have to do with our attention span these days? To be able to? And then and then getting like, teach, teach, tell them something and get them to implement or get them to take action? I'm trying to get some free teaching here Doug.

Doug Brown 23:14

Okay, that's, that's fine. I think And research shows that adults learn by experience. And so if I can ask them questions that get them to take the last step and have the aha moment, be able to say, instead of your right, that's right. I hadn't thought of it that way before. Okay, now, what can you put an action between now and the next time we talk to test that out and see how it works for you? I could tell them what to do. But it's far more powerful. If they say, Well, I could do this. And I could try that. Yeah, well do those things and try this thing with it. So when they reach the point where they can speak it, they see that it's important. Now they're learning with you. They're not just consuming information from you. And so it has to be and and yes, there's an attention span issue. There's both time and cognitive load and resource that at any given time, there's only so much you can learn. That's why TED talks are 18 minutes long. If you give too much and too short a period of time. They won't forget the last thing they'll forget everything.

Susan Tatum 24:37

Yeah So I like I like what you're saying about get them to come up with the action that they should be taking? Or, you know, I think a lot of what we see is it's always better to have it be their idea, or I think maybe you and I talked about this Doug about the done for you services can be not anywhere near as powerful as a done with you service.

Doug Brown 25:08

Yeah. And in my early days of working with lawyers, I approached it more as a consultant. Let me solve this problem for you. And that wasn't enjoyable for me because it's not the work I love to do. And I don't think it was super helpful for them. Because they weren't really bought in. It's like okay, fine. I've delegated this, go solve the problem. But if you're really going to grow a business, the change starts with you. You have to learn New mindsets and practice them and develop some new habits and become an even better version of yourself. And that's not something you can outsource. It is something that you can learn and create new habits so that over time, you've made the change and become a better leader, the better owner, the better spouse or or parent. But that only, you know, I can't do the work for them. And the coach doesn't do the work for the athlete. The athlete has to do the work.

Susan Tatum 26:10


Doug Brown 26:11

And, and, and interestingly all the best athletes have at least one coach, if not more who are helping them see things they can't see, and pushing them to perform beyond what they felt was possible. And I use a lot of analogies, and I think everybody could use that mean, it used to be people thought that, well, I'm not gonna get a coach, I'm not broken. Yeah, but that's not why the top athletes get coaches, it's not why the best entrepreneurs surround themselves with the team, they don't think of themselves as broken. They know that we are better together than we are alone.

Susan Tatum 26:51

I agree with you, I think I see more of a willingness to or an openness to coaching, business coaching. I, you know, I have had business coaches for decades, literally. Because it's something that just, it's just an interesting thing, if somebody can push me a little bit more and bring another point of view, and I, I just think that's great. But there are a lot of people who it's almost like, you have to experience a coach to appreciate what they can do for you. And then people and then getting them to do that can be difficult.

Doug Brown 27:28

You know, I've one of the observations that I've had is that lawyers who come into a coaching relationship with a life experience that was very team based, I've seen it with veterans, because they see the value of team and leadership and working together with people, people who were college or professional, college or even high school athletes. Or even those who are used to have a particular structure in a world outside of their profession. That depends on the team. Those people really, they crave it. And they know because in their life experience, they know that nobody really achieves greatness, you know, all by themselves. There's always somebody behind them.

Susan Tatum 28:23

Yeah, whether they admit it or not.

Doug Brown 28:24

The best ones admit it. Yeah. The best ones not only admit it they celebrate it.

Susan Tatum 28:28

True, good leadership. Well, I did not get to all the questions on my list, but we're used up all our time.

Doug Brown 28:37

Oh, look at that

Susan Tatum 28:37

went too fast. I sure appreciate you being here. This has been I've got all kinds of notes that I took. And I'm sure the listeners is going to find this helpful too. I know I do.

Doug Brown 28:48

I'm so enjoyed our conversation, I really do hope it's useful for for your viewers.

Susan Tatum 28:54

I know that it will be in anyone who wants to follow up with you. How's the best way for them to do that?

Doug Brown 29:00

Oh, right. Well, my email address will be in the show notes. It's And one of the things I'll give you for the shownotes is I have a little free download on the on the formula to make change happen in your life. And how you can use that to make change happen for yourself and those around you. It's really simple and powerful. So I'll drop a link. I'll give you a link to that after the show. And I could put drop that into the show notes. And also put my LinkedIn is there as well. And if people are interested in learning more about whether coaching might work for them, I do have a limited number of Discovery sessions available each each month so they can send me an email and apply for one of those.

Susan Tatum 29:48

Awesome, thank you, Doug.

Doug Brown 29:51

Thank you

Susan Tatum 29:54

and enjoy your time up there in Cape Cod.



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