This interview was originally published in January 2017. At the end of that year, Landerholm Immigration, A.P.C. was named to the Law Firm 500 list of America’s Fastest Growing Law Firms, ranking #50 out of 200 U.S. law firms, with an annual percentage growth rate of 217%. Recently, the firm made the Law Firm 500 list again with an annual percentage growth rate of 178% for 2018. How did they do it? Read on….
The Rainmaker Institute’s Director of Sales, Adam Reiman, sat down with Otis Landerholm of Landerholm Immigration, A.P.C., an immigration law firm in Oakland, California. They had a frank discussion on how improving his intake process has transformed Otis’ law firm and his life:
Adam: To begin, please give us a 30,000-foot view how things are going in your law firm. It’s been a rocket ship ride for you as you have become this force in Northern California immigration law. So, give us your state of the union.
Otis: Well, I guess I’m happy to report that last month was our law firm’s best month ever as far as profit and gross revenue. It was the first month that we broke what they call the million-dollar barrier, $83,300. We actually hit about $85,000 for the month.
Otis: I’m excited about that and a lot of that is due to the really great work that my staff is doing as well as to the improved systems for bringing clients inside, which the Rainmaker Institute helped us implement. Right now I have seven full time employees and I’m looking to bring in three more in the first quarter of next year. (Update: the firm now has 15 employees.) So I guess the 30,000-foot view is one of growth, one of optimism for the future, and of real gratitude for how far we’ve come.
Adam: It must be such a great feeling for you and really makes you feel good about the future.
Otis: I’d like to give the financial piece a little bit of perspective because it was 2013 or so where I had one associate and one staff member and we were struggling. And I remember coming home and my wife was in tears and we were like, you know, it just wasn’t working. We were losing money every single month, we were struggling to hit $11,000 a month, and it just completely wasn’t working.
At that point a decision was made to really start focusing not so much on the day-to-day, but really to start focusing on the business and start treating it like a business and start figuring out what can be done to help the firm start functioning and to be financially sustainable and to actually meet our income needs.
After making that decision, one of the first hard things we had to do is increase our prices and we had to take a good honest look at the amount of time that we were putting into different things. We had to get serious about our efforts to bring clients into the firm and what we were doing and what we weren’t doing to kind of systematize the acquisition of clients.
Adam: Since we went back in time, let’s talk about your inspiration for hanging your own shingle starting your own law firm and why you decided to specialize in immigration?
Otis: I was a Linguistics major and a Philosophy major in college. I was studying Spanish, French, and Russian and got the travel bug. I lived in five different countries and traveled in 22 different countries and basically became a serial immigrant.
I really enjoyed meeting people from different parts of the world and connecting with them, learning their language and learning what makes them tick.
And so, it was that experience then that led me to law school as well as my family background in the legal industry. My grandfather was a very successful and well-respected attorney in the Pacific Northwest. He was the founder of the Landerholm Law Firm, which is the largest law firm in Vancouver, Washington. My older brother is an attorney in Portland, Oregon. I’ve got an aunt who’s a judge in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve got lots of family who are lawyers.
But I really wanted to kind of branch out on my own too and found my passion for immigration law after having lived in so many other places and also seeing the complete contrast between how easy it was for someone like me to travel to so many places, but to see how many people, struggle and even die every year trying to come into this country. It was so simple for me to travel to so many countries and yet it’s so ridiculously difficult for so many millions of people in other countries to do the same. And I just think that it’s a messed up system and that’s really what my office is here to help change.
Adam: Let’s talk about what makes your law firm unique in comparison to some of your competitors and what makes you guys stand out above the rest of the crowd?
Otis: I really like to have a client-centered law firm. I really don’t want to just focus on a client’s legal issue, I want to focus on what other aspects are holding them back in their lives and really address the whole person. That also helps us produce very good results on our cases. So, we have developed a very strong reputation and have had a lot of success on some very complex cases and I’m just very proud of that.
One other thing that we do is we’re organized now within the legal team so that for every case, I appoint one attorney and one paralegal to help me prepare the case as well as possible. I know that a lot of firms do that as well, but we hold legal team meetings every Tuesday and Thursday from 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM and we always are going over any new thing that’s happening on our cases, we’re right there to address it.
We do a quarterly case audit where we’re sending information to our clients proactively instead of waiting for them to call us. I think that it’s these small touches and attention to detail that sets our firm apart and it really helps us produce the results that our clients deserve.
Adam: Is there a particular client experience or result that you can think of that you are especially proud of?
Otis: There’s a case that we won recently that had been in litigation for four years and the father who was the principle person who is in immigration court really had no case. The way to strategize his case meant first getting a visa for his minor daughter who after really going into depth with his whole family and getting the picture of the whole scenario, you know, other law firms may have said that this guy is just not eligible, right?
But, because he wasn’t eligible at first, we had to win a visa for his daughter who happens to be eligible based on some atrocious issue that happened in her life when she was seven years old. She was a victim of sexual assault when she was seven years old and it made her eligible for a visa. And so first, we applied for her and it was a long two-year process just getting her that visa and then once we had her paperwork, we could have her file a petition for her father that ended up winning the dad’s removal case and he was facing deportation throughout this whole process.
So the ability to kind of work with the whole family and look into the whole fact in order to strategize the best way to keep a client on U.S. soil is something that I love doing. It becomes like a big puzzle. You know, how can we maybe delay a case right now long enough so that we can fix somebody else’s immigration status so that now we can go back and fix our client’s status.
Adam: You’re in a totally unique and special group in immigration law. You all have sort of this servant’s heart that we don’t see every day. And I’m sure you probably go to bed at night thinking, man, I wish I could take more. But there’s only one Otis.
Otis: My dad was pastor of a church and a psychologist, and I grew up with this idea that we’re here to serve our fellow human beings. And so that is really fundamental to who I am and what I believe. But at the same time, you’re not really helping anyone if you’re taking so many cases and not sleeping and you’re so overwhelmed.
So I’ve gotten more serious about what it means to give good service, what it means to handle a case really well. It means making sure you have enough time to do it properly and that means limiting the number of matters that you’re taking and also means charging what you need to charge for it.
Otis: So, there is this fine balance and it’s a tension you know, it’s a happy tension, but it’s a tension.
Adam: What sort of pushed you to make a decision to join forces with Rainmaker and how are we helping you grow your business?
Otis: The first thing that I added when I joined the Rainmaker Institute was the lead conversion system. And I want to explain how beneficial this has been to the functioning of our office.
In 2014, our process was when a potential client would call our firm they would be given a 15-minute case evaluation with me. And I would jot down notes on a little slip of paper. And I would write down their name, e-mail address, their physical address and a little bit about which type of cases that they had and a few notes. And then I would take that slip of paper and hand it to my office manager. She would pick up her stack of my notes once a week, input the data into a spreadsheet and send a thank-you note to the clients I had spoken with.
This took hours of her time, not to mention being completely inefficient for being able to track this stuff. She had to keep a spreadsheet, lick envelopes, and do all of this silly stuff and then, once a week she scanned in all of these little slips to have a record of who called us. Completely ridiculous.
The lead conversion system we have now is so state of the art, it’s a billion times better from where we were. Now when a prospect calls, I have two or three people on the call and they know exactly what questions to ask to predetermine, prequalify, prescreen who is a potential good fit for our office and who isn’t.
Then, they put that information right into the system and if the person books an appointment, that’s right in there. They are automatically sent a whole series of e-mails thanking them for booking their appointment and explaining the benefits of working with our firm so that no envelope needs to get licked, no stamp needs to get put on there. And it’s just done and simple and the result has gone from having maybe four or five consultations a week, to having about 100 consultations a month, or 20 a week.
So having an intake process in place has had the effect of quadrupling our business.
Adam: That is just amazing.
Otis: You quadruple your business and you increase your fees so that you can afford good staff, and all of a sudden you have to hire an associate and paralegals. You get to hire good people and train them and now you have meetings and now you’re rocking and rolling, whereas before you’re just struggling to bring in enough cases to even make it. So, yeah, it’s a huge difference.
Otis: And we’re constantly tweaking it. One thing I love about working with the Rainmaker Institute is that every month we’re on the phone and we’re discussing things that should be optimized this way or let’s try a new approach like this with that area of the business.
The other great thing about the system is that my intake folks are automatically tasked with who they need to follow up with. If there’s a priority on a specific task, they follow up, they know which task has a certain priority because there are certain cases in our work that are more urgent than others. I mean it really automates so much and it’s helped us move forward tremendously.
So, that’s where we started with the Rainmaker Institute and that was working so well that then we’re like, man, what else can you do for us? And we wanted help with the social media work of our firm. If you have a social media manager right now, that’s great, but I still encourage you to just go to a Rainmaker Retreat or get on the phone because they can do so much more than what your average social media person does that just goes into Facebook and makes a few posts every now and then.
Otis: We now have 20 blogs happening for our firm every single month and every one of them is posted in seven different places — on all the social media websites and on our website. And we’ve got them in English and in Spanish. It’s just like a massive system that is shouting out to Google and to potential clients online that here we are, this is what we do, and this is how we can help you.
I published my first book and that has gone out everywhere. We have a free version of it that’s downloadable on our website and you can find it on social media and you can find it with Google search. And all of that is thanks to the social media and blogging efforts that the Rainmaker Institute does for us.
Adam: Wow. We just we love seeing good things happen to good people because at the end of the day, what you represent is more than what we see every day. And that’s because of your focus and your dedication and your willingness to try new things and clearly the results are speaking for themselves.
Otis: The direction that our office is going has allowed me to really look at my goals and really look at what do I want to do in this life, as a lawyer and a human being. And I’m able to dream a lot bigger than I used to dream and that’s the best part of it.