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In today’s episode, Jim and Tyson chat with criminal defense attorney, Dustyn Coontz! They dive into being brutally honest about being who you are. If you’re interested in learning more about running a law firm with ADHD, learning to focus only on specific things at a time, and working through the pandemic, check out this week’s episode.
Dustyn is husband to Stephanie, dad to Lily (a human) and Archie (a dog), and an eternally optimistic fan of the Detroit Lions. He also owns Coontz Law, a firm dedicated to protecting ordinary Michiganders against the Government.
Currently, he spends his spare time humbling himself by taking taekwondo classes with Lily and learning to play ice hockey. Dustyn is on a lifelong quest to maximize the gifts of his ADHD.
4:52 law clerk to a probate judge
9:42 when I got the diagnosis
12:08 Adderall rules
15:47 hard to say it tactfully
19:18 little gaps
Jim’s Hack: Running a law firm is often like operating on a two-track system. It’s easy to focus on fixing the problem and go on to the next thing. Instead, take what you’re doing this one time and make it, so it doesn't happen again or have a written out policy/procedure on how to fix that one thing. Doing this in the moment will better benefit you rather than trying to fix everything all at once.
Dustyn’s Tip: Check out the Sparketype personality test. It helps you better understand how you work.
Tyson’s Tip: For people who need to hire, start the process of hiring today. Get your job ad posted for free now.
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Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I'm Jim Hacking.
Tyson: And I'm Tyson Mutrux. What's up, Jimmy?
Jim: Oh, Tyson, I had so much fun yesterday. We went to Disneyland in Anaheim, California. I got to fly the Millennium Falcon and we all made lightsabers. It was super cool.
So, Disneyland versus Disney World, which one is better?
Jim: Oh, Disney World is 10 times better but it's still a lot of fun. There aren't as many rides. It's not as big in California. But the new Star Wars Galaxy Edge and Rise of the Resistance, those experiences were a ton of fun, especially for someone like me who was seven when Star Wars came out.
Tyson: Nice. That's awesome. Very cool.
Well, I was supposed to have been a full‑blown pilot by now. Last week, my checkride got rescheduled. This week, my checkride got rescheduled because of the weather, so. But I'm almost there, man. One of these days, I'll be able to fly us both out to Disneyland or wherever that we want to go so--
Jim: That’s awesome.
Tyson: --that's coming very, very soon. It’s very, very soon, so.
Let's go ahead and get into the show with our guest. Our guest today is Guild member-- excellent Guild member, been around for a very, very long time, Dustyn Coontz. Dustyn, as he said, he's a criminal defense lawyer in Lansing, Michigan. He is the-- I Love his bio, husband to Stephanie, dad to Lily (a human) and Archie (a dog), and he's an optimistic fan of the Detroit Lions. And we'll get into the rest of his bio later on.
Dustyn, welcome to the show.
Dustyn: Thanks so much. It's good to be back, you guys.
Jim: Dustyn, you know, you've been such a great member of The Guild and of just Maximum Lawyer, in general. But why don't you go ahead and start by telling everybody sort of your experience after law school, sort of why you went to law school, and then what happened after law school up until the point that you opened your firm?
So, towards the end of law school, I thought I was going to be in the Air Force JAG corps. And then just some old medical stuff, when I was in middle school, came up and ended up making it so that I couldn't be in the Air Force. And then, I was kind of left struggling to find a job. But, while studying for the bar, I took the first offer I received which was as a law clerk to a probate judge. Made an obscenely low amount of money doing that for a little over a year.
But, by far, the greatest boss I've ever worked for was that judge. She put me in contact with a pretty well‑known criminal defense attorney in Flint, Michigan that she was good friends with because she knew that's what I wanted to do. Worked there exactly a year and a half, 18 months, the day before I opened the doors to Coontz Law.
Tyson: So, what's the journey been like for you? Has it been easy? Has it been hard? Tell us about what it's been like growing the firm to where you are now.
Dustyn: Yeah. I mean, not to be trite about it but if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, right? It's not easy but it's been incredibly fulfilling for me, going on four years, almost, since I've opened the doors to Coontz Law. And criminal defense is kind-- not kind of. It's hard. It's a tough business. You're dealing with people who are statistically - learned from my therapist, statistically, disproportionately high percentage of sociopaths. People who-- you know, I do believe in my clients, right? Like, I believe in their humanity. And that, most of the time, you know, people are people and people make bad choices and sometimes those bad choices are criminal. But it's hard to collect. It's hard to charge a reasonable fee, you know, to get paid what you're worth in the first place and to actually have people be able to afford that. So, yeah, it's been tough but worth it.
Jim: Dustyn, what surprised you the most when you started your firm? On the business side of things, what were the adjustments you had to make or the changes in thinking?
Dustyn: Hmm, I think--
One thing I heard from my boss in the job before was, “You're taking too long” on whatever thing I was working on. I remember, in particular there, was one brief I was working on and I had been working on it for like a week, pretty intensively. And he was just like, “We need to get this thing filed. I don't know what you're doing, you know, how is this taking you that long?” And it was taking me that long because I was doing law school research and law school briefing and you’ve just got to move cases. I mean, you have to do a good job but there's a point at which you just need to get the thing filed. And that became all the more real to me when, all of a sudden, I wasn't getting a paycheck. I had to have the capacity to take on new business. I had to move my cases along.
Tyson: I don't know if you're wanting to get into this or not, but I know that it's in your bio, so I wanted to bring it up. You’ve put in here, “Dustyn is on a lifelong quest to maximize the gifts of his ADHD.” Do you want to talk a little bit about that and how that's affected you?
Dustyn: Yeah, 100%.
I think last time I was on here, it was the first pandemic summer, right, like June or July or something of 2020. And shortly after that is when I received my ADHD diagnosis. And that was such a turning point for my entire life.
It was something that hadn't even occurred to me until I heard Marshall Lichty, on the lawyers podcast, several months before that. And as he was reading, I guess, some of the symptoms, especially as to high‑performing people with ADHD, just like every box, like, “Oh, yeah. That checks out. That checks out. That checks out,” I'm like.
And I remember coming into my house and telling my wife, “Hey, I think I have ADHD.” And she’s like, “What? What are you talking about?” And then that was the reaction I got from family members when I told them I was formally diagnosed with ADHD. “You were great in school. What are you talking about?” Because everyone thinks like it's like the kid who's doing cartwheels in the back of the classroom. That's the ADHD kid. But they're also kind of the daydreamers, right? And when you're high performing that can also mask a lot of the things but--
Anyway, I think it was August 6, 2020, I received the diagnosis. And it really flipped a switch that helped me put a label on the things - both that I was really good at and the things that I was really, really bad at. And I think just being able to name it, it made it easier for me to make the adjustments to maximize the gifts and mitigate the weaknesses.
Jim: And so, how did that change the way you practice or the way that you ran your firm?
Dustyn: Yeah. So, I think--
Well, okay. At that point, my firm was me - one kind of just jack of all trades assistant. And even that was kind of a new thing for me. And then I was using some answering service or another at the time. I went through a few of them.
And when I got the diagnosis and when I realized, “Okay. I need to narrow the range of things I'm focusing on in order to grow this firm the right way because, if I'm spread too thin, I'm not going to be able to focus on any of it. But if I can turn on my hyper focus for just a few things then, you know, we can really start cooking.” So, it motivated me to hire an attorney for the first time. And then, from there, just seeing where there were more gaps in the firm and hiring people to kind of fill the gaps. It's stuff that I hear all the time, for instance, on The Maximum Lawyer Podcast or all, you know, business books and podcasts that I read and listen to. But just being able to figure out why that was so important for me, right, not just in general but me, it was a huge turning point for me.
Tyson: So, Dustyn, how did you communicate that to your family members? And how do you communicate that to your team members? So, you bring someone on new, do you let them know? Do you let them find out? How do you deal with that?
Dustyn: So, my mom will tell you that she found out, with the rest of the world, when I posted to Facebook. So, that's how I communicated to my family, I guess. And she was pretty pissed about that but-- I just said, “I don't know. You know. You raised me. You ought to know this.”
So, I don't know. With family, it's not-- really not much has changed. Although my mom and my wife at least understand a little bit better why I don't return their texts right away or, you know, within a couple of days. As far as team members, yeah, I'm very upfront about it. I tell them that because I want them to understand where my gaps are, and what their role is within the firm, and how that relates to me.
Jim: Dustyn, I'm sure that, you know, coming up with that realization and that assessment of yourself was very freeing. And you mentioned, in your bio, that this is now a lifelong quest. What lessons do you have for people who think they have ADHD or do have ADHD when it comes to running a law firm?
Well, if you think you do and you haven't been diagnosed, I really highly recommend making an appointment with a psychologist or a psychiatrist. I went with a psychiatrist because in the event that I did have ADHD and medication would be helpful, then it could be prescribed. And that's exactly how it happened. And I will tell you that Adderall rules. So, definitely make that appointment.
And then, I guess, as far as running a practice with ADHD, you can't do it very well alone. You need people to complement you - more than just complement you, liberate you to do the things that you're really good at - the things that you are equipped for. And, again, we talk about that kind of stuff all the time in terms of leverage and time management, but I think it's even more critically important when you have ADHD.
Tyson: So, tell us more about your firm. What are your plans for the future for your firm? Are you plan on scaling? What do you want to do with your firm?
I have a pretty clear and bold vision for what I want. I think, summer of 2019, I created this 10‑year vision. And what I came up with is 10 years, 10 area codes, 10 offices. So, Michigan, the lower peninsula has 10-- well, it has 11 area codes but two of them are like in the same geographic area. And the thing about criminal defense that makes it so tough to scale is it's so court intensive. And what I learned is you can only take up so much of a pie in a particular region. And, if you're driving three hours to court, then you're not getting anything done. I mean, you can't scale like that.
So, kind of what I’d envisioned is having a hub office in Lansing, where we are now, and then these little spokes in all of the other area codes by the end of 2029. And then, kind of, each little spoke has an attorney, an assistant, client care coordinator. And still evolving as far as the exact details go but I'm hoping we have office number two launched by the end of this year.
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Jim: We're talking today to Dustyn Coontz on The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. Dustyn is a criminal defense lawyer in the great state of Michigan and we're really happy to have him on.
Dustyn, I know that a lot of our members, particularly those that do have jobs that involve a lot of court time, were sort of hit hard by the pandemic. We’ve talked about how you sort of worked with your ADHD. Do you want to talk about how you worked through the pandemic?
Dustyn: It's hard to say it tactfully but there were a lot of things I enjoyed about the pandemic. Now, of course, if I could trade the millions of people who died to not have the good things that came my way, of course, I would rather have not gone through it. But because, for a long time, all of my court hearings were virtual, I didn't even have to put on a full suit. I just stayed at my desk, in my basement. And, you know, stuff that used to take three hours when you factor in travel time, sitting around, and waiting for your case to get called on the docket time, time just kind of shooting the shit with the client, all of a sudden that takes the 15 minutes that the hearing actually takes and, meanwhile, I can be doing work. Yeah, it was great. It really allowed me to focus on documenting some systems and, I guess, laying the groundwork to start expanding.
Tyson: You know, I kind of want to go back for a second because, whenever you just said that, it made me think of something. Can you tell the difference-- because you mentioned Adderall, but like can you tell a difference in your ability to document and create systems from like pre‑ADHD diagnosis and post‑ADHD diagnosis? I know I'm going backwards, but I am really curious to see if like-- if you can notice that difference.
Jim: Speaking of ADHD and bouncing from topic to topic.
That's quite all right. So, my comfort zone, my sweet spot. So, is it easier? I think so. I think it is. I think I'm just more attentive to little details, I guess.
So, the systems that I was creating, back in the early days of the pandemic, it was-- I would do like-- I’d get like a solid 95% of the way there but like the 5% I left out was pretty critical. And so, I think just like just being able to spot those like small gaps in these things I create. That's definitely improved.
Jim: So, we were talking about the launching of your next office. What is that looking like? How is that coming together? What are you enjoying working on that? What’s sort of giving you a headache?
Dustyn: Well, I think, it's not going to come as quickly as I’d originally wanted. And, actually, the reason is, I think, because of a lot of those shortcomings in the systems I built - the little details that I overlooked and we've grown quite a bit since I originally built those systems. So, right now, we're kind of-- it's actually kind of like a secret within the firm. Only a few select people know that we're doing this and are working on this behind the scenes but we're kind of burning everything to the ground and rebuilding the way we work and how we manage our cases. And I need to get that right. And I need to have somebody who's a better operator than I am. So, the COO, you know, type person who can complement my skill set but also be in a senior leadership position. I think that's pretty necessary before we start trying to replicate what we're doing here in a different part of the state because we had some things fall through the cracks. Like, we've had a couple of recent driver's license appeals that didn't get timely filed and they weren't things that I was personally working on. They were things other lawyers were working on. But, Jim, I've heard you say a few times, “Everything bad that happens in your firm is your fault.” And I 100% believe that. And it's my responsibility to set people up for success.
And so, it's like little gaps in, “Okay. We didn't have a checklist or like a filing deadline in there.” So, all that to say, I want to get our systems right and get the right people here before we start growing even, I guess, scaling across the state because, yeah, that'll come with new opportunities, but it also comes, I think, with possibility for things to spiral out of control as the problems - our shortcomings are also scaled, if that makes sense.
Tyson: So, Dustyn, you say something in your pre‑interview questionnaire that I want you to address. You say, “You have to do the hard work at making your life what you want it to be and it starts with a brutally honest assessment of who you are.” Will you address that?
Dustyn: Yeah, totally.
So, when we talk about building the firm of your dreams or the life of your dreams, you do have to have the end in mind, right, but you also have to have the start in mind. And it's not just-- it's even more basic than like, “Okay. What's the first step I need to take?” It's like-- it's “Who am I?“ Right? Because that-- I guess, that's your mode of transportation, right, is you. So, you need to know what your strengths are. You need to know what your weaknesses are. You have to be honest with yourself about what your weaknesses are. And the only way you do that is by figuring it out, right? It's by seeing a therapist. It's about thinking about these things, journaling about these things, talking to people that are close to you about them.
And, you know, for me, like we already talked about, the ADHD diagnosis was kind of that first step, in brutal honesty, because it allowed me to say like I am biochemically wired in such a way that all of these like little paperwork things, like I'm never going to do that. In one sense, you can stop blaming yourself for it but, in another, it's, you can also like give up like the false hope that you're going to get some of those things figured out. And you just need to try harder. What you need to try harder on is figuring out who you are.
Jim: I think that's such a great point, Dustyn. I think whenever I'm talking to law firm owners, I'm always struck by how much of an influence their personality has on their firms. You know, if they're-- like, for me, I'm sort of compulsive, right? So, like, I have this sort of almost compulsivity about wanting to sign up as many cases as possible, almost like in a maniacal way sometimes. So, it's really something.
And I think you're right that you don't need to just fix your weaknesses. You need to-- and I think it's not even all that helpful to call them weaknesses. I think we just have, you know, our strengths. And then, like you said, there are just some things that we're not built for or built to do. And I think that just naming that, in and of itself, is a huge step in the right direction.
Tyson: All right.
Well, we are at time, so I do want to wrap things up. Before I do, I want to remind everyone to join other people like Dustyn in the big Facebook group. There's a lot of great activity going on there, on a daily basis. If you want a more high‑level conversation with people like Dustyn, join us in The Guild. Go to maxlawguild.com.
Get your tickets to the conference, there's only a few months left. So, maxlawcon2022.com. Make sure you get your tickets there. And while you're listening to the rest of this episode, if you don't mind giving us a five‑star review, we’ll greatly appreciate it.
Jimmy, what's your hack of the week?
Jim: So, when people get their green cards, I always tell them that they have to operate on two tracks. One is make sure that you don't lose your green card. And the other track is set yourself up for citizenship.
I think, when it comes to owning a law firm, we have to operate on two tracks. And what I mean by that is that, if you are creating a system or if you're fixing something, don't just fix it once. So, you have to live in the present and the future. Fix it now but also fix your systems.
And I think it's so easy to just focus on fixing the problem, then going on to the next problem, instead of saying, “Hey, how can I take what I'm doing this one time and make it so that either it doesn't happen again or that we have a written‑out policy and procedure on how to fix this one thing?” If you do that on the micro level, in the moment, it's probably going to be better than affirmatively sitting down and saying, “We're going to fix everything at once” because that can be overwhelming. But if you operate on that two‑track system, then you can just fix things as they come. And, eventually, you'll have covered most things. You'll never have covered everything but it's,-to me, a much more organic way of doing things.
Tyson: Very good. I like it. I like it. Good advice.
Dustyn, you know the routine. Do you have a tip or a hack for us?
Dustyn: I do. I actually made a list of several just to be ready.
But I'm only going to talk about one. So, it's this thing called spark type or sparke type, S‑P‑A‑R‑K‑E‑T‑Y‑P‑E. It's yet another personality test type of thing but it's different because what it--I don't know, measures, I guess, or helps you figure out is how you work. So, it's got-- there are like these 10 different types that you can fall into.
And we've all done it within my firm. And I think it's been really helpful in helping me figure out how to manage how people are working and the types of things they're working on. And so, for me-- well, for everyone, you get a primary, a secondary, and then an anti‑sparke type. So, your primary and secondary are the thing-- when you're doing these things, you're really set on fire. You're in your zone. And when you're doing your anti, it can be pretty draining.
And so, like for me, my primary was scientist, and my secondary was advocate, and my anti was performer. So, like, with the first two, you know, I'm at my best if I'm like in my lab, in my office just for hours, uninterrupted, you know, zoning in on one thing. And if I'm advocating about something I believe in or a client I believe in, like that's when I'm at my absolute best. When I have to go through bullshit and, you know, perform, then it's very draining for me.
So, just kind of figuring out-- again, just being able to name the things you probably already innately know about yourself is really helpful to then figure out what you need to do to do your best work and live your best life.
Tyson: Well, that's really good. I think there's a lot of great nuggets inside of this episode and I think that that's one of ‘em.
So, I'm torn about what my tip to be for the week. But I think I'm going to give a couple. One of ‘em is more of a challenge, not necessarily a tip. So, Christopher Nicolaysen and Paul Yokabitus have both completed 75 Hard. It's a program created by Andy Frisella. It's an app. There's a book associated with it. There's a podcast.
Andy Frisella is one of those guys. He’s an acquired taste. So, I will start with that. But there's a challenge where you go 75 days straight of doing two workouts a day. One of them has to be outside. You have to take progress pick. You have to read 10 pages. You can't listen to it. You’ve got to drink a gallon of water. You’ve got to follow a specific diet that you choose. And then, you can't have any cheat meals or alcohol.
I am not going to start that yet. I'm going to start it after the conference because I want to have some bourbon with people, but I'm going to start. But I just want to put that on people's horizon. So, that's not my tip of the week.
My tip is actually this. I've been thinking more and more about hiring a lot lately. We just posted three new job ads. So, we're constantly hiring. I know a lot of people are.
But, for people that have never hired before, it can be really, really challenging and you hesitate. So, my tip is to just put a job ad up, just do nothing else. You don't have to hire anybody. But my tip is to just-- I want you to least start the process, and start to think it through a little bit, and get a job ad up - just get it up. Find someone else's sample. Whatever it is, just get it on Indeed. It's free to post it. Don't do the paid listing, just do a free one, and just get that ball rolling because, once you start to exercise those muscles, you'll start to actually do things. So, that is my tip of the week.
Dustyn, thank you so much. And thanks for coming on and being vulnerable. Really, really appreciate it. It's not the easiest thing for some people to talk about. So, really appreciate it. Hopefully, people get a lot of good advice out of this.
Dustyn: Hope so. Thanks so much, you guys.
Tyson: Thanks, Dustyn. Appreciate it, man.
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