Hitting The Mark

Marc Lewis, Owner, Lewis & Llewellyn LLP

Episode Summary

Marc Lewis is one of the top attorneys in California, whose San Francisco-based firm is hired by Fortune 100 companies to resolve a wide variety of complex, high-stakes business disputes. Even more interestingly, in addition to his complex commercial litigation practice, he is a passionate advocate for victims of sexual abuse and has created a spinoff brand that can be found at the highly descriptive url sexualabuselawfirm.com. That brand spinoff has a very distinct, very emotional, very convincing tone of voice. I chat with Marc about his two brands and how he tackles them from a branding and marketing perspective without confusing his clients.

Episode Notes

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Full Transcript:

F Geyrhalter:

Welcome to the show, Mark.

M Lewis:

Thanks for having me, Fabian, I appreciate it.

F Geyrhalter:

Oh absolutely. I'm glad you could make it. You're a civil trial lawyer and have been ranked as one of the top 100 Attorneys in California. Several members of the Fortune 100 I read on your site, hire you to resolve a wide variety of complex, high stakes business disputes. In fact, there's one Fortune 100 tech client that has hired you to resolve over 200 separate matters, which is rather impressive. For the past eight years, you have been running Lewis and Llewellyn in San Francisco. It's a San Francisco based law firm and interestingly enough, a few episodes ago on Episode 14, I featured another lawyer with his firm on the show. He's a young entrepreneur. He runs a law office in San Diego that he built into a brand that really totally goes against the norm. So his firm's brand is built on boldness in an industry that is pretty much known for sameness, right? And blandness.

And the firm calls their client portal, Lawyers Shit, which I kid you not. It's completely crazy. It's hilarious and quite amazed at the same time, right? But he took very bold move and he can do this since it's a very young firm that caters mainly to creatives and he would likely never be hired for litigation's given his branding, right? So there's a positive and a negative, but it's literally on the opposite spectrum of where Louis and Llewellyn would come in. And that's why I love having you here. And I know that branding is very important to you. We had the opportunity to chat when you and I met in person a few months ago and branding clearly shows on your firm's representation online that it is important to you. What role does branding play in your area of practice or for you personally, as you've been growing your brand?

M Lewis:

It's a good question and yet we can't really get away with this type of branding that you mentioned before. That's not our brand. And our core brand at Lewis and Llewellyn is a sophisticated high stakes trial counsel for key business disputes. And our brand is critical to our success because it's how we stand out amongst a very crowded field of attorneys that provide that same service. And so really what our core brand is with our business litigation is offering the same type of aggressive, talented, zealous advocacy that you'd find at really the leading law firms of the world. Just on a smaller scale, which allows us to be more responsive and more nimble and usually almost always delivering it at a lower price point. And so, those are really the key parts of our brand and it's critical to get that across.

F Geyrhalter:

And I'm sure it's built on a lot of personal trust, right? And then that to me is something that I always find fascinating because law firms traditionally, and also with your firm, very often use the name of the partners, the founders of the firm. And there's this fine line between personal brand and yet the actual firm as a brand. How do you walk the line? Or how do you encompass that on your daily journey with your clients? You versus the firm.

M Lewis:

Yeah, yeah. There's no distinction, it is one and the same. You're absolutely right. And I think it's the reason why most law firms bear the names of their founders. And it's especially salient for us because Paul Llewellyn and I are the faces of the firm and we are the brand. And we are the lawyers here leading the charge at the firm. And so we really believe, and this is from Paul and I all the way down the chain, that the brand of our firm is really the identities of our individual lawyers and our entire team, in fact. And you'll see, if you visit our main website. You'll see each and every one of our 14 people with a full description of who they are and what role they play on our team.

Because we're proud to stand behind our brand of our incredibly talented team. That's one of the ways that Paul and I have been so fortunate over the years is to have just a terrific team of people. And that's what we're selling is our team and so we really think it's important from a branding perspective and a marketing perspective to put those people out in front and right in the center of the bullseye to show potential clients and even occasionally opposing counsel, who we are. And why they should either hire us or be afraid of us.

F Geyrhalter:

And obviously your personal values of you and your partner in the firm, very much designed the core values of the firm, I'm sure. And during the hiring process, who really fits into the firm, it all must come back down to your own very strong personal values of what you believe is right and wrong and what you want to fight for.

M Lewis:

Yeah. I think that's absolutely right. I mean a bit more detail on us is that when Paul and I founded the firm a little over eight years ago, it was just the two of us to begin with. And you mentioned how important personal identity is. Well the first four or five people that we hired at the firm were individuals that we had previously known and we were very, very close with preexisting the firm's inception. And so precisely because of that, we decided that we absolutely wanted to promote our brand as a brand of individual lawyers and what we have to offer, in general. And because of that, we are very involved and monitor closely what our brand looks like and then how we can manage that. And because it's difficult, right? Because we both want to hit a mark of being a top notch civil litigation boutique and that has certain hallmarks to it.

You have to be traditional in some respect. Everybody on the website is wearing a suit and there are certain things that people expect to see when they see a law firm website. But part of our brand is that we're trying to do something different, which is, be a more nimble firm, a leaner firm, trying to be more strategic and offering just a slightly different model than what the big firms offer. So that's what we try to really reflect with our core brand, which is a little bit of the same and then a little bit different. And giving clients the trust that we offer a product that's worth purchasing.

F Geyrhalter:

Well in talking about personal values and also talking about how you are different. In addition to your fairly complex commercial litigation practice, you are a passionate advocate for victims of sexual abuse. And you have created a spinoff brand that can be found at the highly descriptive URL sexualabuselawfirm.com. Now that brand spinoff, so to speak, has a very distinct, a very emotional, very convincing tone of voice.

And just to quote from the site, which I have in front of me, it says, "As parents of young children, we find the statistics regarding the prevalence of sexual abuse to be profoundly upsetting. As lawyers, we are compelled to devote our professional expertise and resources to ending the epidemic of senseless abuse. We seek to effect real change in the lives of those impacted by abuse, as well as society as a whole. By strategically bringing lawsuits that shine a spotlight on the individuals and entities that condone cover up or turn a blind eye to sexual abuse." Now this is well crafted, very consumer facing, very emotional brand voice and also design throughout the entire site. It must've been a very different journey from when you created the law practice brand. How was that process like?

M Lewis:

Yeah. And that's a great question. And before I get to the branding question, just a bit of a backstory on that.

F Geyrhalter:

Please, yeah.

M Lewis:

You know, so we opened the firm, like I said, about eight years ago. Both of us, Paul and I, having a very extensive background in complex civil litigation, mostly for businesses. Occasionally, high net worth individuals. And so we opened the firm, it was a smashing success from the beginning and we were far busier than we could have hoped for, even in our first couple of years. During that startup phase, we were also approached by a potential client who was very close to the firm on a personal level. She had been the victim of a horrific pattern of sexual abuse when she had been a middle school and then high school student here in the Bay area.

She came to us to help her find a lawyer to help her pursue a claim against the school district that failed her so tragically. We looked high and low for a law firm to take her case. We approached the best plaintiff's personal injury firms in the country and none of them wanted to help her. They were all worried that the claims were too old, that too much time had passed, that the statute of limitations had run. But in understanding her story, we thought, this woman deserves our help and there was nothing better that we can do with our talent and our degree's then to help her fight for justice. So we brought her on as a client. We filed the lawsuit in Contra Costa County, here in the Bay area and it was a groundbreaking lawsuit. The school district claimed that, yes, the statute of limitations had run. But we defeated that argument by saying that she only became on notice of the claim during the course of a very recent police investigation, which revealed the negligence of the school district.

The case then settled and it was at the time, the highest award for a case of its type in California. And so that spawned publicity and we were approached by several individuals in similar situations. And we decided as the firm, that we could do both. Most commercial civil litigators wouldn't say, "I'm going to stay in my lane." And we decided, you know what, we're going to start something new. We've already started one new thing, but that doesn't mean we can't start two new things. So we decided to continue working on these cases. We're very selective about the cases that we take and our paramount goal is to help people that need our help. And we know what we've learned over the years, to circle back to the branding point, is that the target demographic or the target market for our sexual abuse practice is totally different from the target market for our core business practice.

For example, our core business practice. Usually we're getting referrals from other civil litigators or in house counsel, folks that have lived with litigation for their lives. They know the ins and outs of litigation. On the other hand, our sexual abuse target demographic are just people and it's victims, it's families victims, and it's much more of a lay person audience. And a lot of times these individuals are encountering the tragedy of sexual abuse for the first time.

So we found it very important to put front and center on our abuse website. What is the process? When can we help? What are some resources? How can we help you cope with this, even if you don't ever even hire us? Right? So it's an initial touchpoint for people who are very often in the worst thing we'll ever encounter in their entire lives. And what we want is to put our potential abuse clients in a position where they feel comfortable talking to us about this. That their [inaudible 00:13:41], if they tell us what happened to them, which is an incredibly difficult process to go through, that we'll listen and that we can help them get to a place that they need to get to.

F Geyrhalter:

And the way that you basically educate your audience that it's never too late and here are the ways that we've done it in the past. I think that hope that you provide them with in that educational experience on your site, that is something that they really need at this point because they haven't really heard anything like that in the past, most probably. Because they didn't even know that they could still speak up. Because a lot of the cases that I read on your site, not all of them but some of them, are obviously from the past, right? I mean, that is like 10 years ago, 20 years ago, plus.

M Lewis:

Yes. That's our core specialty for our abuse practice is cases in which significant amount of time has passed. That's the niche we've really carved out and it's one in which we feel incredibly passionate about because we know from our work on these cases, just like you said, how difficult it is for a victim to have hope. How difficult it is for a victim to know that he or she can have a voice. And that's again what we are trying to encompass in the website there. And the brand is that to say, "Look, we'll help you, we'll do your voice. You can come talk to us and we'll make sure that you have a voice." And if you read anything in the literature about some of the systemic problems stemming from a abuse, is precisely what you said, is that they don't have hope, they don't have a voice.

They're worried that nobody will believe them. They're worried that nobody's going to listen to them because so much time has passed. They're worried that they're going to get blamed for what happened to them. You name the effect of abuse and I can guarantee you that we've encountered that. And again, that's something that we try to convey through our materials, which is, we've done this, we know how to help you and we know how to talk to you. Because that's something that we had to learn. And it's a different skill than knowing how to talk to the head of litigation at a Fortune 100 firm who, like I said, has probably practiced at the apex of civil litigation for three or four decades. And so to be able to communicate differently to either of those audiences is something that we have really tried to master. And we tried it. And the starting point of both of those conversations are the two different brands.

F Geyrhalter:

Well, and that begs the question though with keeping these two brands separated clearly but you also align them, right? I mean the call outs on both sides that educate the audience of the synergy between the two practices. How does that secondary brand, the sexual assault law firm we just talked about, how does that affect relations with new and current clients from the main firm? I am sure that there is in my eyes, I hope to be a positive effect on the way that they see your main brand.

M Lewis:

Yeah. I would say that that has been the biggest struggle that we've dealt with in terms of a brand identity. We wondered initially and this is going back about six years, how do we tell or communicate to our business clients that we also do the sexual abuse work? Because you would imagine that a lot of business clients would be slightly put off by the abuse work. Not because they have a problem with the cause, I think everybody can get behind the cause. But in the sense that you only want a heart surgeon when you go in for heart surgery. You don't want somebody who also may do some ears, nose and throat, even though it's slightly related. So we frankly had numerous heart to heart conversations with some of our most trusted business clients. And we talk to them about what we intended to do and the support for it was overwhelming.

And I think it's for a few reasons. One, was like I said, "It's a cause everybody can get behind, which is fairly non controversial." But then two, we are different and there is a recognition that we're not like every single firm on Wall Street or in the Valley or what have you. And then third, this isn't really a branding issue, but our business clients like that in our abuse practices, we're able to get many more opportunities for some of our younger lawyers to do new and interesting and different work that may not exist in the business litigation context without going too deep into the rabbit hole of litigation. There's a different dynamic in the abuse cases where a lot more of them have more depositions, more court appearances, they may be more likely to go to trial for a number of different reasons.

So, the abuse practice helps our lawyers keep their pencils very sharp in a way that is unique to that industry or that vertical and it doesn't necessarily exist on the business side. And our business clients like that we play on both sides of the field, both the plaintiff's side and the defendant side. Because it really helps us keep, like I said, "Our skills and our pencils sharp when it comes time to litigate."

F Geyrhalter:

It makes perfect sense. And I'm almost certain that it positively affects your company culture as well, right? I mean, does it perhaps even help recruit new hires when they learn about that side of the company?

M Lewis:

Yes, absolutely. It's something we talk about from the very first interview we have with any potential lawyer or any potential staff member that joins our team. We have to make sure that our clients feel comfortable with this type of work. In a way we wouldn't want, for example, to inadvertently hire someone who has been so closely touched by this issue that it would be a trigger for them to work in our environment, right? So we get that out front and center and it's wonderful for the company culture because everybody is passionate about it. Like I said, it says on the website, most of us are parents of young children and we get our firm family together multiple times per year and it is absolutely something that we can all agree on and we can all put our backs into.

F Geyrhalter:

I think it's interesting that before when we were going into one of the biggest brand pain points that you had in the last eight years really, was figuring out from a brand architecture point of view, how do you divide these two brands or do you not? And what is the synergy? And you actually came to a conclusion to create this [dissymmetry 00:21:29], you'd have them separated by talking to your clients. So you literally, you just interviewed them and said, "Look, here's something that we're thinking of doing. How do you feel about that?" Right? So the internal discussion only got you that far and then you actually reached out to your clients to get the answer for your brand pain point.

M Lewis:

Yeah. And as far as that goes since then, the response from the business clients has been even more positive as we've gotten more accolades and more press coverage for the work we've done on behalf of victims. We'll now get approached by business clients leading with, "Oh, congratulations on this verdict." Or, "We read about one of your wins in this other space and we really are proud of you and we're proud to be affiliated with you." If you put the shoe on the other foot, what do we talk about with our abuse clients about our business practice? That's a separate question because a lot of our abuse clients, if they're talking to several lawyers in the interview phase, many of the other firms that offer this service only represent victims, right? They may only do sexual abuse cases, they may only do personal injury cases.

And so part of our brand on the abuse side is to say, we've carved out a specific niche of winning in very difficult abuse cases where there's some hurdle to overcome, like the Statute of Limitations, if a lot of time has passed. And we're all extremely well trained and highly educated business lawyers that have developed this additional expertise. And what we'll bring to you is a level of sophistication in lawyering that you won't find at a more classic plaintiff's firm that rely typically more on volume. They bring in a lot of cases, try to settle them quickly. This is, of course, a stereotype or a generalization. But that's how we try to stand out that we have a niche product that we market just to a specific type of victim. And we really focus on that as our core on the abuse side.

F Geyrhalter:

And I think it's so interesting when you first think about it. You immediately think, "Oh my God, these are so separate, this will be a conflict." And the more you actually practice it, then the more you let these two brands work together, the more you realize that it really works well together and it actually benefits each other. And I love those stories when people do something that is very different that other people would be afraid to do and then they learn that it actually is a very, very beneficial brand move to do that.

And I'm sure that like you said, "On the one side you deal with large corporations like Oracle, Yelp, Tesla, and then you deal with sexual abuse victims who on the flip side love the fact that you can work in this Fortune 100 space." And if you can do that, of course, you can help them, right? It's it's really great how this all came about. Now back to focusing on Lewis and Llewellyn, what is a word that can describe your brand? So if you think about all the law firms and then you think about your particular brand essence, how would you describe the brand essence, in one or two words?

M Lewis:

That's such a difficult question. Always asking a lawyer to do something in one or two words is a really challenging task. I would really say trust. And I really think because it operates both directions. Over my career, I've really come to the realization that the foundation of a good attorney client relationship is trust. And it really does go both ways. And so I want to make sure that I can be shown and displayed as a trustworthy person in the very first communication. And that similarly, the rest of my team can make that same impact from the moment of first impression. And to communicate that first and foremost then, I want to make it very clear to the client that trust is a two way street and that I've got to be in a position where I can trust my client, as well. And so I think that's really where we start and it is hopefully where we finish.

F Geyrhalter:

No. That's a really, really important point, that the two way street, that most people don't think about when they think about a law firm brand. But trust going both ways is crucial for any litigation to work in favor. Now look, we talked for a little bit about two very different brands that you build. One is more of a brand than the other, right? One is more of a practice. The other one is turning into its own consumer facing brand. You've been at this for eight years. I think you started as an intern in the White House. Is that correct? I saw that on your LinkedIn.

M Lewis:

Yes. After college, I went straight to DC and was an intern in the Speech Writing Office for President Clinton. Ended up staying on there as a staffer and was all set to go to join the Gore Administration and then Florida happened. Life got in the way and the law came calling. But yeah, that was absolutely my first career. My first passion really was working as a speech writer in the Clinton White House.

F Geyrhalter:

That's amazing. And I'm sure some of that speech writing talent now is being infused into your brand copy. But from back then, when you were at the White House to today, having built these two brands, what are some pieces of brand advice maybe, as it even surrounds the idea of building trust with a brand. Or any brand advice that you have for founders? And I know you work with a lot of tech start ups, as well. Any thoughts, any last pieces of advice that you can share based on your impressive journey?

M Lewis:

Thank you. I appreciate the compliment. I think the key to our success has just been trying to be everywhere all at once. And you know, the key to our success, I think from a branding perspective, has been to really be top of mind when a client needs our help. And it doesn't matter whether that's a high stakes business dispute or a sexual abuse case. You really have to use a bludgeon to hit people over the head and make sure they know what you're doing and that you're out there and ready to help them. You have a lot of people that the service they're offering is a product, right? We're a service provider. And so we need to be top of mind for any potential client at the very moment when the issue arises for them. And so our branding philosophy is to have a very clear brand for both the abuse practice and the business practice. And then to try to get that brand out in front of as many eyeballs as we can, so that we're top of mind when when something comes up.

F Geyrhalter:

I mean, being top of mind and having clarity in your offering, it is actually very similar to consumer products, as well as service offerings because that is what it's all about. People need to know that they can find you, how they can find you and what you stand for. What you're all about, made it be an organization or made it be a nonfat yogurt. It's a very similar path and I even think that with B2B services, as you provide them, there is a lot that one can actually borrow from how consumer product advertise and brand themselves.

M Lewis:

Well and that's precisely, I mean, you and I met at the NPR event for how I built this. And you're precisely right. And that's why I got so much out of that as a founder and an entrepreneur, is to really learn the lesson that the principles of marketing ... And we call it in the law, we call it business development, right? That's what we really talk about. And the main principles are really the same. And it's super helpful to hear the stories of everybody's struggles as they try to succeed on this road of entrepreneurship. And you know, that's just something that we continue to hammer on every day.

F Geyrhalter:

Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree. And as you know, we have many entrepreneurs and many founders who listen to this Podcast, as well. And for those who are interested in finding out more about your firm or about the sexual assault law firm practice, which by the way, I would invite everyone to find out more about. Because it is just, it is a story well told and it is a very inviting and well designed site. Where can they find both of your practices?

M Lewis:

Yeah. So the firm name is Lewis and Llewellyn. There's a lot of L's.

F Geyrhalter:

Yes. Please spell that.

M Lewis:

It's Lewis, L-E-W-I-S. Llewellyn, L-L-E-W-E-L-L-Y-N. Or you just Google Lewis Llewellyn Attorneys and you'll find us there. And then our abuse website is sexualabuselawfirm.com and either of those cross link to each other as you mentioned. But yeah, it's Marc Lewis, M-A-R-C, L-E-W-I-S. And that's usually if you do a little Googling, we're told that we can be found quite easily, especially now. So thank you for asking and that's how you find us.

F Geyrhalter:

Oh absolutely. And that was a good strategy with the very descriptive domain name for search engine optimization, as well. It seems to work for you, which is really, really great.

M Lewis:

Thank you.

F Geyrhalter:

Thank you, Marc, for having been on the show. I know when we met, you were a law firm in midst of tech companies and consumer product entrepreneurs. And you stood out in a very great way. And then when we started to talking about your own brand architecture, hurdles and what you went through. And especially with your sexual assault law firm practice, I knew I had to have you on and I'm so glad I did. It was a really nice conversation. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day and for being on the show.

M Lewis:

Thank you Fabian. I really enjoyed meeting you back in San Francisco and I look forward to keeping tabs on you as you continue to succeed.

F Geyrhalter:

Thank you. I appreciate it.