In today’s podcast episode Jim and Tyson joined attorney Jonathan Barber who has partnership and by niching down was able to open himself up to clients not only nationwide, but worldwide.
Jonathan Barber is the managing attorney of Franchise.Law, a boutique franchise law firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jonathan and his partner, Jason Power, exclusively represent franchisors, working with over 100 franchise systems across the country. The firm operates on a subscription model where franchisors receive unlimited franchise legal services for a flat monthly fee that is tied to the size of their system.
Watch the interview here.
2:48 starting out teaching
4:50 creating a partnership after 6 months
6:07 niching down to franchise law
7:57 a strong support system
11:10 the team setup
12:30 negotiating your domain
14:45 what is franchise law
17:40 tech stack
22:22 subscription fees
Jim’s Hack: If there’s something you struggle with and you’re not talking about it, reach out to a friend, colleague, or fellow maximum lawyer and share that. Half the battle is being honest with yourself.
Jonathan’s Tip: Join the Guild. Click the “gear” in whatever you’re working in. Whatever it is, go in and adjust the settings to make your life easier.
Tyson’s Tip: Other people are going through the same thing right now, with kids going to school virtually and everything being more stressful than usual, we’re all in this together.
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Run your law firm the right way.
This is The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
Your hosts, Jim Hacking and Tyson Mutrux.
Let’s partner up and maximize your firm.
Welcome to the show.
Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim Hacking.
Tyson: And I’m Tyson Mutrux. What’s up, Jimmy?
Jim: Well, Tyson, I see you got your Filevine shirt on. So, that’s always good to promote one of our longtime supporters. I’m excited about our show today. We just got off the Monday Morning Call on Tuesday. This is the day after Labor Day, so we had to juggle some things around a bit.
Our guest today, as you know, is Jonathan Barber. He’s a franchise lawyer. And he’s the go-to guy when it comes to franchising. I’m excited about having him on the show.
Jonathan, thanks for being here.
Jonathan: Yeah, thanks for having me, guys. It’s been a long, long-time goal of mine to powwow with you guys in the podcast since I think I started listening, probably early 2017, and I looked back and saw I joined the Facebook group in August 2017. And I distinctly remember I listened to all the podcasts that you guys had over like a two-week period in like February or March of 2017. And I think it was like 50 at the time. And you kept saying, ”Join the Facebook group. Join the Facebook group.” And I think they were like, 100, 150, 200 or something, maybe, at that time and I kept thinking, “No. I’m not going to join this Facebook group. I’m just going to get a sales funnel. And, you know, they’re going to start hitting me up for coaching and this that or the other.” And I joined it was like, “Oh, man. I’ve really been missing out.”
Jim: Cool [crosstalk].
Tyson: That’s hilarious. But it just shows how demented you are that you listened to all the episodes over that short of a span. That’s really funny that you thought that there was like a sales funnel attached to it. There is zero sales funnel attached to it. Not at all. It’s just a good group of people getting together.
So, before we get too far ahead, talk about your journey. How did you get to where you are now? You’re in a partnership now. You’ve got a really cool business plan. I think it’s really neat. Jim and I, learned more about it a couple weeks ago when we had a call with you. So, tell people about how you got to where you are now.
Jonathan: Yeah. So, I graduated from Liberty University School of Law in 2015. And it’s a relatively new law school. I think I was in the– maybe the 11th or 12th graduating class. Huge University but pretty new law school. And, when I graduated, I passed the bar right away and I had been hunting for a job in North Carolina. My wife has had a pretty extensive corporate career. And so, she got a job down here like instantly.
And, actually, during like my third year of law school, so I was driving down here all the time while finishing up. But then, we moved down here and I applied everywhere. I networked like a fiend with recruiters, other attorneys. But I think there were only like three attorneys in Charlotte that went to my law school. And they were– I don’t think they’re doing very well. So, yeah, there’s really no one that I could hit up for a job at the time, but I applied everywhere from in-house positions to big law firms, small law firms. And I really hit the ground running. I ended up teaching business Law at a community college right up the road, just to start making some income while I was trying to find a job as an attorney.
And my fallback was going to be I’m just going to open my own law firm which, back then, would have been a really, really bad idea. I didn’t know half the stuff that I know. I knew nothing of what I knew today about running a law firm but I eventually ended up on Craigslist and I found an ad for an independent contractor, attorney, an associate I guess. And it was with this firm, Shelton & Power. And they ended up hiring me. I trained with them in everything.
Jason Power, who’s my now law partner, he was the Power in Shelton & Power. And I still joke that the last time I wore a three-piece suit was when I sat down across from him in his jeans and this T-shirt and interviewed to work in his law firm. And he had exclusively practice franchise law for eight years or so at the time. And I dove right in, learned everything about it. We became great friends.
And I, eventually, learned that for a while he had been planning on parting ways with his law partner of several years at the time. It was just an unhealthy relationship. And we went out to lunch one day and he told me that he was done. He was getting out and asked if I wanted to go in 50/50 with him on a new firm. And, you know, I’ve been licensed to practice law for six months and that sounded really cool. So, I gave him a tentative yes and told him I had run it by my wife who she was definitely my sugar mama at the time with her big corporate job. And she took a lot of convincing, but she gave me the go ahead. And I think I remember like her putting a time limitation on it, like you have to start making money by X or something like that.
But, anyways, we left that old firm, started a new one on May 5, 2016, Cinco de Mayo. So, every year, we celebrate that Margaritas and tacos with the whole team. And maybe shots of tequila. We launched Barber Power Law Group on May 5, 2016. And my first kid was born, emergency C-section, June 4, 2016. So, that was a summer of not really getting anything going, a lot of wheels spinning. I was off to a really slow start.
But then, fast forward, we kind of niched down to just doing franchise law. We cut off doing business work. I was doing a lot of referral service, litigation, and stuff like that to make money to meet my life’s demands and timelines. But then, we ended up rebranding to Franchise.Law in 2018 or 2019 and just doing franchise law. And so, we flipped that switch on. And a lot of that was due to due to a lot of books that I read about, you know, it’s better to focus on one thing. And, really, a lot of the stuff that you guys talked about.
I remember back then you would have Jim arguing that you can only do one thing, and you would have Tyson say, “No. You could do personal injury and criminal defense. You could totally do that.” And then look at yourself now [laughs]. So, that’s a little bit of background.
Tyson: Jim convinced me. He finally me. Yeah.
Jim: No. The market convinced you. I didn’t convince you–
Jonathan: That’s true.
Jim: –and your lifestyle got better when you picked one and you pick the one that was better for your lifestyle.
Tyson: No doubt. No doubt.
Jim: That’s a lot to unpack there, Jonathan. I mean, the first thing, based on what you said, that caught my attention was the idea of the sugar mama or the sugar daddy on the side when you go out on your own and the cajoling and begging that must be laid at the feet of said sugar mama or sugar daddy. I remember that, for sure, with my wife when she was at the law school. We knew that we had our mortgage paid and I knew that we had our health insurance. And that’s what gave me the freedom to even contemplate going out on my own with kids. So, that can’t be underestimated. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Jonathan: Yeah. I mean, very, very fortunately, my wife is a stallion when it comes to corporate audit. And she worked her way up and was doing very, very well for herself and for her family. She really started that career while I was in law school. And we got married in the middle of law school. And she really, really supported me through law school, and graduation, and taking the bar and then everything. I didn’t work at all while studying for the bar. I just did that full time. So yeah, we had that safety net. She even supported me while I was doing that first job as an independent contractor attorney just eat what you kill. And I think I look back and I did not make very much money at all because I did not know how to kill things.
So, I learned business development, really, trial by fire. But we always had that. You know, that was covered. We had insurance. You know, she was actually in the hospital for a month or so before that C-section. And so, that was, you know, a really difficult time but we always had her income to take care of us. And without that– I mean, I see some of these guys coming out of law school and just jumping right in and starting their own firm and they don’t have that safety net. I mean, I get real concerned because I don’t know, you know, what are they going to do if they have a bad month, right? There’s just nothing. Nothing. No backup.
Tyson: So, Jonathan, I’m curious how it went with– whenever you partnered with who you partnered with because you normally see lawyers that partner with like former classmates or like right out of law school but, I mean, you’ve partnered with someone that has significantly more experience than you do. So, what was that relationship like? And what was the experience like once you all launched?
Jonathan: Yeah. So, um, I was supposed to start a firm with four other guys that I was graduating law school with. And I was the only one that passed the bar so that dream kind of went up in flames but probably better because we had this whole idea of like, “Yeah, Well, you’re really good at real estate, and you’re really good at wills, and you’re good–” so we were just one of those general practice and probably the way we would’ve done law.
Jason, if you guys are ready to meet Jason, he listens to the podcast as well. He and I are kind of the same person which, I guess, is probably a good and a bad thing to some extent. But our personalities are incredibly alike. At the time that we were starting a firm, he just really wanted more transparency and a partnership and I was, look, I mean, I’m an open book but, you know, I was having my first kid. His first kid was a year old. Fast forward, my kids are now four, two, and four months. And his kids are, I think, five and three. So, we have young kids and we’re sort of in that same season of our life. We have the same goals for what we want the firm to really do for us personally and our families. Yeah, I mean, I joked because I still get like young lawyer discounts and he doesn’t [laughs] but, other than that, I mean, we’ve had a really, really great partnership.
Jim: So, talk to us about your setup. What do you have for team wise? What do you have technology wise, Jonathan?
Jonathan: Yeah. So, it is Jason and I, and then, we have– my wife, left Bank of America, as our Chief Executive Officer. She brings all that analytical background to the firm. And she does a lot of our processes. And she tells us when certain clients are not profitable and we need to fire them and things like that. She handles all the invoicing, the billing, and a lot of the backend stuff and just does that really well. Then, we have a director of marketing who handles a lot of our intake and kind of all our marketing campaigns. And we have a paralegal who has been with us for, I think, two and a half, almost three years now. Always had other paralegals come and go. He’s really become like a specialist in franchise law and he’s fantastic. And that’s our current team right now.
Tyson: All right, so–
Jonathan: I could go into our tech stack. We’ve got a wild tech stack but that’s kind of evolved over the years.
Tyson: We’re going to have to get into that in a second because I do want to hear what that is. I want to talk about how you get your clients because you’ve got sort of a diverse mix of clients. You’ve got ‘em on both sides. But like, first, before you get to that, how the hell did you get Franchise.Law? I mean, did you just look into it? I mean, like talk about that and then talk about your marketing.
Jonathan: Yeah. So, you know, we probably own like 50 URLs that we just acquired over the years. Everything from like Charlotte Franchise Lawyer, North Carolina Franchise Attorneys, and everything you can think of. And it’s like, January 2018 or 2019, as the .law thing was taking off and I had a friend, Chris Clark, who bought clark.law and rebranded his whole firm as clark.law. And he does like small business and IP work. And I thought it was a really cool-looking brand.
And there are other attorneys out there in our space that brand themselves as like the franchise lawyer or whatever, stuff like that. Franchiselaw.com was taken. So, I just checked and reached out to like .law people of the universe and was like, “Hey, you know, what would it cost me to get franchise.law?” And they, you know, went through their whole sales pitch and everything, and negotiated and, you know, bought it for like two grand or something like that.
But we committed that we were going to rebrand the law firm as franchise.law. And a lot of that came from, you know, talking about– you guys had various people on the podcast at different times who would say, you know, “Well, we want to get away from Barber Power PLLC because then people are coming for Barber, people are coming for Power and we want to run it more like a business.” And that was our thinking.
And, you know, I’ve had to challenge several people along the way who have said, “Oh, well, that’s not going to work real well for SEO” and things like that. And it turns out it does. So, if anyone wants definitive evidence, .law domains are great for SEO purposes.
And then, it’s really funny, like the biggest trade association in our space is the International Franchise Association. A huge, huge organization. And its URL is franchise.org. So, we joke, “You go to franchise.org for them. You go to franchise.law for your legal needs [laughs]”.
Jim: So, Jonathan, I think that when we have our usual cast of characters on the show, most of our listeners understand PI law or criminal law. Talk to us a little bit about franchise law and maybe what your firm does for franchisors/franchisees and then sort of your role in that.
Jonathan: Yeah. So, franchise law is a mix of like statutory, regulatory law at the federal level. And then, there are 15 states that have their own franchise laws. And then, there’s 27 states that have business opportunity laws that are really kind of like mini franchise laws that you have to navigate but it’s all mainly regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. So, it’s a federal practice area, much like immigration, or tax. So, we are able to practice in that limited area of law across state lines because it doesn’t really interact with state law very much.
And then, attorneys that get paid a lot more than I do to just think about things have written articles about how it falls under those exemptions in various states, you know, for unauthorized practice of law where it’s representing a client in a very limited matter and whatnot.
So, what’s real cool about it being a niche practice is that I’m not just limited to North Carolina because there’s a fair amount of franchise activity here but it’s much better to be able to open myself up to clients all over the world, let alone the United States.
On the franchisor side, we create new franchise systems. So, we draft franchise disclosure documents for businesses that want to franchise and sell franchises. Then, we register them in those 15 states or get them exempt in those other 27 other states. And then, we assist them with the franchise sales process, to an extent. They have to update their franchise documents every year. That’s an FTC requirement. Other states have other requirements they have to adhere to. And then, we work with them on their disputes with franchisees.
I do a limited amount of litigation. I don’t really like it because, you know, I’d have to either pro hac or associate with local counsel all over the place. I really like to limit that to just here in North Carolina where it’s easy. I don’t have to travel. But we do a fair amount of arbitration as well and mediation quite often, so that’s mostly on the franchisor side. So, we work with startup franchisors. And we work with ones that already exist.
And then, on the franchisee side, we mainly, when not conflicted, we work with people that are buying franchises. They get the franchise disclosure document from the franchisor. It’s kind of like a securities private placement memorandum but more interesting and longer. We review it for them, give them a legal opinion, answer all their questions for a flat fee and send them on their way.
We do a fair amount of both when we’re when we’re not conflicted out.
Tyson: All right. So, I’m sure we you’ve got people salivating whenever you mention your tech stack. So, let’s go ahead and get into your tech stack. Let’s hear about what you got set up. Pull the curtain back a little bit.
Jonathan: So, sometimes, late at night, I just pull up Zapier and I just plug in different apps and see what they can do with each other [laughs]. No, I’m kidding.
Tyson: Listen, Zapier is amazing. I–
Jonathan: It’s not a late at night thing, okay? It’s like a Friday thing.
Tyson: Yeah. I’m with you.
No. Right, like a nice– or like in the– like, early afternoon. You’re like, “Okay, I’m getting a little worn out. Let’s go to Zapier. Let’s figure out what I can do here.”
Jonathan: Yeah, right? So, we’re fully on G Suite. We work with Clio. I’ve looked into Filevine a little bit. I don’t know if that’s really appropriate for our practice area but, you know, I’m always open. We made a huge switch, a few years ago, from MyCase to Clio and it was a very difficult migration, so we don’t really want to migrate again. But we use Slack for all of our client communication. Lawmatics is our front end on everything in conjunction with Acuity for scheduling. And all these things are linked together through Zapier.
Our website is Blue Shark Digital, 100%, all the way. They have done a lot for us with the website to where submit a contact form, it notifies us but then it also automatically shoots it into Lawmatics and creates a prospective new client which triggers a couple of automations in Lawmatics now depending on whether they’re a franchise or franchisee.
We have everything up in Google Drive. So, my paralegals can work from anywhere. We use Google Drive File Stream. It allows us, basically, to have our entire server in the cloud. And we’ve got it backed up. And then, a lot of just little things in the background.
We kind of live out of a software called Redbooth. It’s like Trello but with more task assignment and analytics. It’s really, really cool. If any of you guys have never heard of Redbooth, I would definitely check it out. But we’ve been using that. We used Trello for maybe a year or so. And then we made the switch to Redbooth, I’d say, maybe a year and a half ago or something like that. And it’s phenomenal. It keeps everything moving along. It’s really great for templated task lists and things like that. And then, it has its own integrations through Zapier as well.
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Tyson: Hey, Jimbo.
Tyson: This chat bot thing, how’s this working for you? Do you know much about it?
Jim: Yeah, I do. And it works really, really well. You can script out whatever you want them to talk about. It’s a total pick your own adventure. And the nice thing is, is that once it hits a certain level, because they’re 24/7 now, it just kicks it right over to a live person once they’ve gotten to that part of the path. So yeah, that part works well.
Tyson: Well, all right, I was just curious. All right. I’ll let you finish.
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All right. I’m rhymin’.
All right. Jonathan, what’s the three-year future hold for your firm?
Jonathan: Yeah. So, you know, I’ve had strategy calls with you guys, kind of talking about the direction that we want to go in and I think, to an extent, representing franchisors, we take the role of being a firefighter. And I was listening to one of what was supposed to be a Max Law Con presentation that was given to that Guild. It was on the podcast a little while ago, it’s the subscription model one, and she was talking about how you really have to narrow down the scope of representation.
Backup. Backup. Our franchisor site is all on a subscription model. I’ve got to start there. So, our franchisors, for a fixed fee each month, get unlimited access to us which is a good thing and a very bad thing at the same time. But we are essentially firefighters on-call and we do a lot of firefighting. So, we go through kind of like seasonal burnout. And it’s really important for us to take vacations and kind of check out like I just did. Just getting back from a vacation today. And getting back into the office, I already feel really recharged, and re-energized, and ready to get back into it.
But our franchisor work is great because it’s recurring monthly revenue that, you know, is a great thing for meeting your bills and everything. But then, our franchisee work has a much higher ROI on it. So that’s kind of the two sides of the practice that we balance.
In three years, I don’t know, we were really going to be beefing up marketing on the franchisee side, not necessarily killing off the franchisor side but testing it out to see just which side really kind of provides what we’re looking for in getting out of the firm. Man, I could talk all day about operating and marketing a niche law practice where you just do one thing. But I think that even within that you can find ways to really make your firm serve your personal needs so.
I mean, I can’t really tell you exactly where we’ll be in three years. We’re getting out of our lease and going entirely virtual sometime between now and next September. That’s when our early out is but I’m already trying to negotiate it out with our landlord. We just have a huge office space and it’s a huge monthly expense. And when we left the old firm, we signed the lease to ourselves and thought, “Yeah, we’re going to blow this up and have all these attorneys. It’s going to be a powerhouse.” And then, very quickly, you realize you don’t need that to actually have a powerhouse. You can have a powerhouse where everybody’s working in pajamas, really.
Tyson: I just love that mindset. I just love the fact that like you’ve been really trimming down over the last, I guess, a year or so and like it’s really great. Like all that money can go straight into your pocket or you can reinvest into the firm. You can do whatever you want so that’s pretty awesome stuff.
All right. So we are at times we do have to wrap things up, although I would love to just keep chatting because I think your business model is really cool. But I do want to remind everyone to go to the freakin’ Facebook group. There is no sales funnel. Get involved there. There’s a lot of just great information being shared on a daily basis. Also, if you don’t mind, just take– while you’re finishing the rest of this episode, getting the tips and the hacks, give us a five-star review on Facebook. We would really appreciate it. Help spread the love. And then also, join us in The Guild. We have a lot of great people, like Jonathan, in the Guild. And so, join us there. Go to maximumlawyer.com.
Jimmy, what’s your hack of the week?
Jim: Can we make a funnel? Like, can I work on that? Like, can that be [crosstalk]?
Tyson: Yes. Do it. Hey man, if you want– but if you want to beat the funnel, all right, if you want to beat the funnel, get in now to the Facebook group. But Jim’s going to create a funnel.
Jim: So my hack of the week is, if there is something that you’re struggling with, whether it’s a personality defect or something that you’re stressing out about and you’re not talking about it, you might consider reaching out to a friend, or a colleague, or a fellow maximum lawyer and just sharing that like opening up about it. Half the battle is getting honest with what it is that you’re struggling with.
I’ve come to see something that I’ve been struggling with. And I got honest with it about honest about it with my sponsor and with my therapist. And I’m just sort of starting to walk through that and work through that. So, don’t suffer in silence. If there’s something that’s dragging you down, make sure to share it with someone else because just giving voice to it helps you put a box around it. And then, it becomes something that you can actually deal with.
Tyson: Great advice, Jimbo. Really good advice.
All right, Jonathan, what is your tip or hack of the week?
Jonathan: Join the Guild. Participate in the Guild. It has provided valuable insight. You guys drop serious knowledge. The other leaders in the Guild are just phenomenal. Seth will just call me and just really call me out on very big, missed opportunities to market my practice and those are always really fun.
But, I guess, my real tip would be, you know, we’re always talking about new software coming out. I know, Jim talks a lot about the shiny object syndrome. And I suffer from that as well. But we have enough awesome software out there, I’m not going to recommend anything new. But I will recommend that everyone just take a little bit of time and click that little gear in whatever you’re in. If it’s in Gmail, or Lawmatic, whatever you’re working in that you’re already paying for it, just go in and dig into the settings and see what you can do. I mean, there’s stuff in there that you wouldn’t even think of that can really make your life easier.
One of my biggest things that I hate sending an email and I’m like, “Crap! I didn’t mean to say that. I need to quick change that.” So, in the Gmail settings, so when you send an email in Gmail, you get five seconds to cancel it. If you go into the settings, you can bump that up to 30 seconds. So, I went in there and just increased it to 30 seconds. I changed a bunch of other settings to kind of tweak things, but I would encourage everyone to dig into their settings.
Tyson: Man, you’re not lying. Like I undo emails daily. I’m like, “Oh, I meant to add this, or I meant to do this, or I meant to do that, or no, I didn’t want that to go out” like it is– going from five to 30 seconds is so great because, think about it, like five seconds, you’re still looking at the screen and then you look away, it’s gone, right? Like 30 seconds, you can look away, think about it for a second. “Oh, crap, I’ve got to go back and click the undo button.” I mean, that’s a game changer. It really is great so that’s a good one.
All right, so here’s my tip of the week. So, a lot of us have kids that are going back to school right now and like it can be chaotic. It can be very stressful. And just know that other people are going through this and people are being very understanding.
Right now, my wife and I were talking. She was getting really stressed out and I was like, “Amy, calm down. We’re all going to have like– because our kids are starting school today, right? And it’s all virtual. And so, the technology wasn’t working. I was like, “Hey, we’re not the only ones going through that, all right. It’s okay. Just step back for a second. It’s no big deal.” And you know what, even if it doesn’t work, if you can’t get it done by the time school starts or whatever, they’re going to understand. They’re going to get it. So just know, just step back, breathe for a second. It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s fine. We’re all in this together, so.
All right, Jonathan, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been way too long to get you on this thing so I’m glad we got you on here but thank you so much.
Jonathan: Awesome. Thanks, guys.
Tyson: See ya.
Thanks for listening to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
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Have a great week and catch you next time.