Episode Synopsis: When you begin your own practice, you need to learn how to market yourself. After years of handing out business cards and writing out hand-written letters, Steve Murrin, the “Biker Lawyer,” has adapted his civil practice to reach people across social media and through word of mouth. Murrin shares how he uses his passion for Harleys to connect with potential clients and the need-to-knows for building your client base.
Podcast Transcript: The following is a transcript of Episode 14 of The Advocate’s Key podcast hosted by attorney Scott Key. Other episodes can be found at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, and Spotify.
Steve: The lawyers I was battling with would ultimately be my peers, people that were in the trenches seeking justice for a defendant. That’s who I would be aligned with, ultimately. So, I never made an enemy. We fought hard. We were respectful. There was no trickery. There was no buried speedy trial demands. There was no withholding evidence. It was all open and honest, and ultimately, that paid off.
Scott: That was my good friend and colleague, Steve Murrin. I can’t tell you enough how much I love talking to Steve in this episode. Steve’s a good guy, a fantastic lawyer, a brilliant marketer, a good friend. And here, in what you just heard, is the epitome of Steve Murrin’s career. And Steve Murrin is a guy. When he was a prosecutor, he did his very best for the state of Georgia. Being an absolute champion for his client. But along the way, he did things right. He was honest, he was open. He didn’t engage in any trickery. He fought hard, but he was respectful to his opponents. And that paid off for him immensely when he went into private practice.
Steve is a savvy marketer that includes everything from an embrace of all things social media, including TikTok. But at the same time, Steve sits down with the pen and writes a thank you note to somebody or a note of encouragement to somebody every single day. I hope you take at least a portion of the enjoyment of listening to this podcast as I did in making it. And so, without further ado, I give you Steve Murrin. Well, Steve Murrin, how are you?
Steve: I’m well. I’m well. It’s good to hear from you. I haven’t seen you in a few months. You’ve been well?
Scott: I’ve been good. I see you on, I live vicariously on Facebook through all the cool things that you’re doing. I know you live in the Atlanta area, but it looks like you live in some cabin in Montana like somebody’s cabin in Montana and you’re taking bike trips a lot and you’re hunting and fishing and you have, looks like a lot of cool cars and stuff.
Steve: Yes. I am a travel junkie. And I have to be in metro Atlanta, although it is the rural part of the suburbs. I enjoy an outdoor life, a strenuous life as Teddy Roosevelt would say.
Steve: And we have a little farm, a little gentleman’s farm, 40 chickens screaming and yelling, and a couple of beef cows. It’s a fun life, yeah. A gentleman lawyer, a gentleman farmer.
Scott: So, that’s old school. I mean, that’s like… Those are the people that founded the country, basically.
Steve: Right. Bill Daniel gave me the inspiration. And I live a couple of miles from his old farm.
Scott: Yeah. The Bill Daniel that wrote all the treatises and all the practice guides and stuff?
Scott: Did you ever practice in front of Bill Daniel?
Steve: Many times. I used to walk with him in the mornings at 5:36 when he would drive his Oldsmobile Delta 88 into the Martin Luther King parking deck crossing the courthouse. My wife and I worked out in the gym across from 136 Pryor, where the DA’s office was. And he would go down and he’d do 10 laps around the courthouse before he went inside. It took him an hour.
Scott: And so, for those who don’t know who Bill Daniel is, I mean, he’s an inspiration for, basically, a program that trains new criminal defense lawyers how to practice trial law. And he wrote, like, basically the book on criminal defense practice in Georgia. And I never had the opportunity to practice in front of him, but I understand that he was quite a character.
Steve: He was. He was a gentleman farmer who was an intellect. He was one of the founding members of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He was a bee farmer. And he lived in the very northern reaches of Fulton County. He’s passed now. But he started a practice treatise that is still written to this day. It’s the Bible.
Scott: How have things been during the pandemic? Has your practice changed? Are you doing things differently than you were?
Steve: It is. If your practice hasn’t changed, something’s wrong and it should have changed permanently. We are…many of our employees are remote and probably permanently so. I came in every day with an admin and a paralegal, everyone else stayed at home. And we quickly learned how to Zoom and Teams. We FaceTimed constantly. And, you know, it turned into instead hitting the intercom mostly to scream down the hall to a partner for status or find a file, we just, you know, hit the Zoom button. And hopefully it’s changed the way we practice law in America.
Scott: And why do you say that? What do you think is better as a result of… I mean, I think I know the answer to the question, but what do you think is better as a result of what we’ve learned from this pandemic that we’ve been in?
Steve: Well, it’s the fact that, you know, the courts can dispense justice remotely, sans jury trials, the calendar calls, the motion practice, the first appearances, the arraignments, the drudgery of all that leads up to a trial can be done in the comfort, you know, suit and tie on top, underwear on the bottom, right? Sitting at your desk, a cup of coffee in hand. There’s really no difference. And hopefully, we’re not gonna go back to the 300 lawyers in a room waiting for a late judge to spend the day on a 400 case calendar. Those are things of the past, I hope.
Scott: Getting up early in the morning so that you can reach, like, Valdosta to say, “Hey, we’ve got a couple of outstanding discovery issues. We’d like to pass this over to another term.” Yeah. Hopefully those days are over.
Steve: Correct. We’ll see. I find that the rural courts have done a pretty good job of managing the Zooming and the Teaming. And we did squeeze a couple of trials in when we were around a lull this summer. And of course, now with the Delta variant, we’re back up again. Bib just closed its doors, Whitfield closed. A lot of the counties are closing again for the outbreaks. But I found that the courts did a great job.
Scott: Overall, the courts did a great job and I hope they continue to do a great job. I hope that they’re not gonna start summoning people back in in an effort to move cases by inconveniencing people enough so they just give up. I mean, I hope that’s not… I hope we’re not heading back to that reality again.
Steve: Yeah. Those sort of problems. I mean, my prosecutor friends tell me they’re absolutely overwhelmed, they’re drowning. My criminal defense friends tell me they are shooting ducks in a barrel on plea bargains. My judge friends tell me that they’re working till 10:00 at night and they’re getting, you know, nasty emails from administration and chief judges on moving cases. There’s all kinds of logistical problems, speedy trial demand problems, and cursory of defendants that are just rotting. And so there are some problems that we’re gonna have to work through, but so far, so good. We’ll see.
Scott: Well, I’m gonna back up to usually how I start the podcast off. And I don’t ever introduce guests. I ask them to introduce themselves. And I asked a question of everybody that could literally be just a factual question, but it could also be a deeply philosophical question or somewhere in between. Who is Steve Murrin?
Steve: Interesting. I got a call recently from a stranger who was on my Facebook profile. And I’ve got kind of a popular Facebook presence. And they said, “Your Facebook identity is biker, lawyer, Christian, and proud Irish-American. What does that mean?” I said, “Well, I thought that up in a glimpse,” but in turn, that’s really who I am. I find myself to identify as a biker probably before I identify as a lawyer. Lawyer is just how I put food on the table, not who I am. I don’t have lawyer tattoos but I certainly have some biker tattoos.
But I enjoy the practice of law. It’s the greatest profession on the planet. I wasn’t born into it. I was born to be a plumber, I always say that. I’m a plumber in lawyer’s clothing. I have a very blue-collar Queens, New York background. Grandparents all from Ireland. So, a scrappy neighborhood with, frankly, low expectations. Nobody really goes to college. You become a cop, a fireman, a postal worker, as my cousins all did. And I stumbled into college on an athletic scholarship. And then I didn’t have a plan mapped and I kind of stumbled into law school. My dad took me to a couple of lawyers’ houses as a kid. That made big impressions on me, and I think it was by design, ultimately. And I think back to those times and that had a lot to do with me leaning towards the law, not so much to dispense justice because, you know, it really was, you know, this dude had a Maserati in the garage. When you’re eight years old, you want one of those.
So, I was a prosecutor, thought I’d be a career prosecutor. Started in New York in the Greene County DA’s office and worked very hard up to chief assistant. And yeah, my wife at the time just got sick of the winters and we moved. We saw Atlanta, the Olympics were coming. We moved here. No friends, no jobs, no nothing. You can’t do that in reverse. You can’t move from Atlanta to New York and build a successful practice and a life without much struggle or at least much help from, you know, wealthy relatives. We came here with nothing. Black lab and some used furniture in a U-Haul. Paul Howard was gracious enough to give me a job the first month I was here. I met him in an elevator. I had the job by the time we got to the fourth floor.
Scott: The original elevator pitch as they call it.
Steve: That’s exactly right. I just looked at this big, tall, good-looking black man and said, “What do you do?” He said, “I’m a lawyer, of course.” He said, “What do you do?” I said, “I’m a lawyer.” And he said to me, “You ever tried a murder case?” And I lied and I said, “Hundreds of them.” I think I had tried six or seven at the time. And he said, “Follow me.” And he walked past the security and walked past some secretary and he clicked both himself into an office. It had like these cameras. I didn’t know if he was the court clerk or if he was the head of the janitors. I had no idea. And then it turns out he was the DA. He talked to me for five minutes. He said, “Great. You start tomorrow. And you’re gonna have to follow this woman around who’ll teach you civil procedure, I mean, criminal procedure and where the bathrooms are.” And that woman I followed her for six months, and that was Gwen Keyes.
Scott: Who eventually became the solicitor, right?
Steve: She did. And then she became the first black female District Attorney in the state. Made history. Was the DeKalb County District Attorney for many years. And went to Washington to head the legal department at the EPA, I believe.
Scott: So, how long were you with the…and of course, Paul Howard was the DA of Fulton County forever until…
Steve: He was. We were the biggest and most well-funded DA’s office in the state, over 100 lawyers and 300 staffers. And Paul was successful in increasing the budgets and parceling the office into specialty units. And we modeled ourselves after the LA DA’s office. And we sent the team there to study them. And they did a good job.
Scott: Other than fibbing a little bit about how many murder cases you tried, what exactly did you do in that elevator ride to get the job?
Steve: It’s funny. I sensed that he was desperate for good lawyers. He disclosed to me that he had 20 or 30 lawyers walk out, retire. Nancy Grace of Court TV or whatever her show she is on, that show. She had just left the office. And a lot of people had left to go on to greener pastures, I suppose. Under the Lewis Slate administration, they thought…who knows? Maybe they thought they’d be fired or they didn’t like Paul’s style. But I just knew that he needed lawyers.
And we had been to Savannah, we had been to Raleigh Durham. We were looking to move somewhere and Atlanta was our pick because it’s just bigger and it’s more urban and had more opportunity for us. But it really was a New York bravado, I think. And he very much liked to stand up and say, “Well, this is Steve Murrin. He’s chief assistant just returning from Greene County, New York. A New York lawyer, he’s very…” He was very proud that he had a New York lawyer on the staff. And he looked for talented people that had trial experience. And he hired a lot of great people. My three years there, gosh, so many judges and so many successful lawyers came through there kind of as a boot camp that I’m friends with now. And I look back, it was the golden years of my career. We tried cases. We wait for juries and be picking juries in the next courtroom. It was by fire if it was anything.
Scott: And what did you do in your three years there? Did you start off… I mean, I know that you were following Gwendolyn Keyes around. But were you assigned to a particular judge the way that’s done now or was there like a major felonies divi…? What…
Steve: There was.
Scott: What was your day-to-day?
Steve: Gwen was very smart. Gwen said, “All right. Go down and sit in the city court for a day. And there’s a dude down there named Andy Mikkel. Don’t drink vodka with him, but sit in there and watch.” And I did. And then she’d say, “There’s a judge, his name is Bill Daniel. He’s over in the annex. There’s a murder trial, go watch him try that one.” So I spent about a month just watching. All right? The different courts, the juvenile court, the municipal courts, and, ultimately, the grand jury and the superior courts. And when I cut my teeth, I was slung into the Honorable Constance Russell’s court.
Scott: You’re right. That’s a trial by fire.
Steve: Oh, my God. She was the toughest judge I ever met. She made me a better lawyer. I said, “Good morning.” She said, “Are you ready to try cases?” I said, “I’m ready.” She said, “I don’t wanna hear none of that New York stuff. And I’m new here. And I don’t know. And I gotta ask Mr. Howard, we’re picking a jury, you know, Monday morning.” God, I picked about 30 or 40 juries in front of her. And she was very fair. My adversary was, God rest his soul, Calvin Lamar. He’s since passed. We fought tooth and nail and bumped chests, just about got into fistfights in that courtroom, and we’d go drink beers afterwards. He was a wonderful… He was a young scrapper from, I think he was from College Park. Grew up tough and it was a real wonderful time back then. Different now, but it was trial by fire, like you say, Connie Russell. She retired now. I thought she’d go up to the Supreme Court. She was a Harvard wit, a real great grasp of the law. She retired and off she went, faded into the woodwork.
Scott: I did a couple of cases in front of her before…I mean, over the years, I did quite a few, but I did…for whatever reason, I got a couple in front of her in her last six or eight months there. And she was just as tough at the end as she was at the beginning, for sure.
Steve: Yeah. I think she’s at a big firm now. I’d love to see her again. But I thought, for sure, because of her, like, staunch interpretation of the law and she didn’t really waver much or put her personal position or opinion into anything. And really, she was a Harvard graduate, UVA undergrad, Harvard Law School. I thought for sure she’d go far, Court of Appeals, Supreme Court. She’s just the type, you know, the tough.
But it was great. I went there. It was two, three years there. And then Paul asked me to go up to the major case division and work on some gang cases, some murder cases. And that’s when the pressure really got turned up, and not from the office, but from the wife. The thought of having kids and funding college funds, and all that stuff. And ultimately, I decided to start a practice.
Scott: Well, what are the big lessons you took with you? So you were there for about three years and you just tried case after case? What were some of the big lessons you took with you when you went into private practice?
Steve: Well, honestly, I could see that the lawyers I was battling with would ultimately be my peers. David Wolfe, Bruce Harvey, Don, Jodi Dick, and Calvin, and guys like you, people that were in the trenches seeking justice for a defendant. That’s who I would be aligned with, ultimately. So, I never made an enemy. We fought hard. We were respectful. There was no trickery. There was no buried speedy trial demands. There was no withholding evidence. It was all open and honest. And ultimately, that paid off.
Not a year goes by that I don’t bump into somebody I never recognize and they say, “God, we tried a case, remember?” And I pretend I do. And I say, “You are a nice guy. I remember you were fair. And you didn’t really jerk around. I didn’t get that from a lot of prosecutors. I appreciate that.” “Oh, very great. Wonderful. Wonderful. Nice to see you again.” So, I guess it works because that’s, frankly, who fed me cases when I hung my shingle were the criminal defense peers. I took scraps. I had bills to pay. You start your practice like anyone else. Have a marketing plan and you try and execute the marketing plan to raise capital. And it was a fairly scientific process, but it’s trial and error. I took a $50,000 Yellow Page ad. Can you imagine, with Yellow Pages?
Steve: And I thought, “Oh, my God, I’m never gonna be able to afford these payments.” And I did. I credit carded them and sweated every month and hoping the case would come in. I had a lot of good friends that gave me good advice on starting a practice.
Scott: Yeah. And what was that? What’s some advice about starting a practice did you remember?
Steve: Well, I remember I was told that, first of all, pay attention to your taxes, right? I most immediately saved three and a half cents for every dime I made into a savings account that I identified as tax account. I don’t wanna get caught with my pants down at the end of the year. It was paid quarterlies off the bat. Invested in technology. I leased a nice copier and I bought a telephone system. I made the office…I bought some oriental rugs and couches. And frankly, I’ve always collected motorcycles. I had a couple of Harley’s in my office. And I budgeted a percentage of my income towards advertising. I used something called a Client Development Fund, which was to be out and about meeting people.
My thought was, and it wasn’t very internet savvy back then. It didn’t exist. I read a lot of self-help books and, you know, practice manuals, press in the flesh, right? Hand out business cards. I said, “I’m gonna give out 30 business cards a day.” And it’s really easy to do that for a week. Now, this is in 1999, 2000. So, the first day you give it when you pick up dry cleaning, you get some bagels in the morning and give two girls by the counter your card. Get your car wash, give those guys a card. You go to the grocery store, the clerk. The first day is easy.
Steve: The second day, you already hit your dry cleaners. You gotta change grocery stores. You gotta go to different places to meet different people. And ultimately, after a couple of months of doing it, it becomes impossible to give out 30 business cards. People say, “Yeah, yeah. I got your card already.”
Steve: Exactly. And they’re gracious. They take it anyway. Some don’t say anything. But that was like the pay-per-click of the day, right? It was business cards.
Scott: So, it sounds like part of the value of that was, okay, yes, you’re giving the business card out and that person now has your number and if they or somebody they know has something where they might need you, your card is out there in the environment. But it sounds like also part of that, the value of that is that step where it kind of forces you to go to different places to meet different people.
Steve: To expand your new word now, but it didn’t exist then, your social network, to expand those individuals you’ve come in contact with. That six degrees of separation back then was beating feet, right? It was walking around, talking to people, the waiter, right? The parking meter guy, the police officer directing traffic, the third-grade teacher. Those people were your potential clients and their family and friends, right? And I had literally had a chart. I had a corkboard in my living room. And on the corkboard, it had a flowchart of where I had been, who I had given cards to. I devoted about a half-hour every night to trace my marketing. I did Yellow Pages, I joined a bunch of clubs, homeowners association, chamber of commerce, all that stuff. And you could very quickly, as the revenue stream begins, see what pays off and what does not. And it’s not IBM, but it’s a fairly scientific cost-benefit analysis on revenue.
Scott: So, obviously…I mean, you theoretically could…I mean, you could theoretically pass out business cards just like that today. I mean, that would probably work. No one’s handed me a business card in forever and I find myself in courtrooms with a court reporter asking me for a business card and I never have one with me. And it seems like I didn’t….I was always with a business card at some…and I don’t know when I…I don’t know if I’ve fallen into bad habits or things have changed. But if you were leaving the Fulton DA’s office today and you were going to set that exact system up or this year’s version of that system, do you think it’s the same system or how do you execute that today, you think?
Steve: You execute it on the 11 social media platforms that have come of age over the course 15 years. I’m speaking to the motorcycle industry council at the Marriott tomorrow. And part of my talk is how they reach new buyers.
Scott: Well, I knew you first. I mean, my earliest memories of running into you in court were, first of all, I thought you were great at what you did. I watched you do a bond hearing one day in Henry County. And I don’t know if you remember the name of your client or what the case was about. But I remember the way you did the bond hearing and you had a really effective argument. I think it was a… In fact, it wasn’t a bond hearing. The DA was trying to revoke your client’s bond. And I remember you standing up, and I think we were in front of Judge Howe Craig.
And I remember you saying something along the lines of, “Look, he’s not a choirboy. I’m not saying that he’s gonna be the president of Rotary. He definitely messed up.” And you said, “Here’s what I’m asking you to do instead of revoke his bond. I want you to take the bond that he has and not only double it, but I want you to triple it.” And I remember the way you made that argument and the DA at the time was Blair Mahaffey, and I can tell that you guys got along maybe from prior cases you’ve done. But I remember the way you made that argument, it made Blair Mahaffey laugh. Because I know if you’re saying triple the bond, you knew that your client probably had five times the bond amount if, you know, five times of that had been increased.
But you made him laugh. And then when the judge asked Mr. Mahaffey what he thought about your proposal, he said he didn’t have a problem with it. So, you had a presence. I mean, I remember that. And for whatever reason, we talked and we ended up going to lunch after that. And I remember you had a convertible and you handed me some ridiculous-looking Tibetan hat to wear on the way to lunch. And that’s my earliest memory of meeting you. But then, you know, after that, I kind of knew you as the biker lawyer and I knew that you were big into that sort of thing.
And I remember that back at the time you were issuing…you were doing constitutional challenges to helmet laws. And so you would show up to court with, like…I think you were trying to make the point that the helmet law was overbroad and so you would come in with a box of various helmets. You had like a Viking helmet and you just had ridiculous helmets to talk about the overbreadth of… So, I remember that first time seeing you in court, the ridiculous hat I wore in the convertible on the way to lunch somewhere in McDonough, Georgia, and you showing up to court with various helmets.
Steve: Yeah. The helmet thing was really a loss leader. I handled helmet ticket cases for free. And that was known throughout the state that I would do that if you got a ticket for wearing an unapproved helmet or no helmet. There was a lawyer in Atlanta that would drive to Waycross and defend you. And it was a pain in the ass, Scott, let me tell you. I did dozens and dozens of these trials. We appealed many of them, some to the Court of Appeals. Never winning. But if you got in a wreck and a biker, if he’s a biker, he’s been in a wreck or will be in a wreck, and if he hasn’t, it’s a matter of time. The lawyer that handled your helmet case for free, a couple of hours, you’re his lawyer.
Steve: And probably his kids and his grandkids’ lawyer too.
Scott: And because you’re not just the lawyer that handled this thing. You’re not just, “Okay. He’s the lawyer.” You’re also, like, part of his tribe too.
Steve: Yeah. The funny thing is, I have very few sport bike riders, Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki. I mean, I get those clients. But for the most part in the Harley Davidson world, there’s a social element to that purchase, to that lifestyle that transcends all the other aspects of that individual’s life. They put a deck on the house, the carpenter is gonna be a biker. They need their rugs cleaned, that company is owned by a biker. And it’s just part of the culture of the Harley Davidson machismo, the Harley Davidson history, all of the brand loyalty that they very successfully has built into that motorcycle. I mean, they make clothes, they make coffee, they make beer, for God’s sake. People are very loyal. And Harley has about 40% of the motorcycle market in the United States despite them being a pretty small company. So, we tap into that. We align ourselves with that very closely.
Scott: So, going back to my original question before I sidetracked this, what would you…what’s the equivalent of 30 business cards a day? I mean, I know you said it’s the 11 social media outlets, but what would you do today?
Steve: I’ll tell you, I’ll give you the 10 right now.
Steve: Now I stick here on my desk. Facebook, YouTube, Whatsapp, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Now, here’s a stat. We track our cases very closely with an exit survey. When you walk out of my office with your check, you’ve sat down for 15 minutes with a lawyer. We’ve talked about, you know, client contact, and satisfaction with overall results, and electronic communications, and lawyer calling you back. We also track, from the very beginning, how you got us, how you hired us, and why, because we have had horribly failure marketing campaigns where we spent tens of thousands of dollars and it doesn’t garner a client. You learn from that, right? You just paid $10,000 for a lesson.
But in 2018, we tracked basically six social media platforms and how we use those platforms, and how the client interacts with us. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Pinterest were basically it three years ago. And they had a little over 600 million monthly users, right? And if you think of the planet, there’s eight billion people on the planet. Now, the 10 I clicked off to you, when you track their monthly users, that number exceeds 12 billion. There’s more users than people on the planet. How does that work? Well, that’s cross-use. People use three different platforms. So, there’s some snaggle in the statistics, but it goes to show you, not only are we relying on a more varied social media platform, but we use it more universally, and per capita, more people use it. More people use social media in this country than don’t use social media.
My children say, I remember when they were in grammar school, they’d come up and say, “Dad. Guess what? You’re an immigrant.” “No, no, no, son. Granny and Pawpaw were immigrants. They came from Donegal, Ireland.” “No, dad. No, that’s not what we’re saying. You’re an internet immigrant.” “Well, what does that mean? Sit down, kid. We gotta talk.” Well, we think in bits and bytes, right? The kids zeroes and Xs, theoretically. You don’t. You convert that in your brain. Like a bilingual person that speaks English primarily, they think of a house as a house and they convert that word to la casa when they wanna speak Spanish. Same thing with a lawyer. A lawyer that’s older is an immigrant to the internet data age and we think in business cards. A lawyer who’s younger thinks in TikTok.
So, I have to convert my brain, 57 years old, into an electronic data medium. It doesn’t come automatically to me. I wasn’t taught that. But kids today and young lawyers now, the associates that work for me, we ask a question, and the phones come right out of their pockets, right? They jump right on the ThinkPad, the iPad, the laptop, you know, as I’m trying to grind my brain to what chapter of Title 16 we’re talking about, they’ve got it on their fingertips, on their watch, for God’s sakes. Did you ever think that would come about? Right? The Buck Rogers style? So, the lesson is, not business cards anymore, it’s social media platforms. That’s what I would do differently.
Scott: So, what’s the equivalent of the new grocery store, or the new dry cleaner or, you know, the place that you didn’t go yesterday? And in a related question. These are two very different questions, but they’re kind of related in my mind. It seems like it’s a lot easier in this age to accidentally annoy the person, in other words, like, if you see the clerk at the grocery store and you’re now offering them your business card for the third time in X number of weeks and you can see that look on their face, like, “God, this guy is like kind of being cheesy with the business card.” How do you not do… It seems like it’s easier to make that mistake in the digital age.
Steve: Absolutely. As I look to the groups, right? The clerks in the grocery store, the produce manager, the 35 people that keep us fed, the same thing is in my, I call it Facebook groups. I belong to about 150 groups. I’ll look at one right now. Okay. So, there’s a group, Hot Rods from Hell. It’s a hot rod guy. Social media platform specifically geared to muscle cars. They got 2300 members in Georgia. And I’m not into the market directly, but when you scratch my identity, you see quickly that I’m a lawyer and I represent people who were injured in car wrecks.
So, you post too much on that or if you push your business too hard, you’ll get a note from the administrator, like, “Hey, this is not a business platform. This is Hot Rod guy stuff.” You wanna talk about, you know, your Kreger rims, or your new supercharger, that’s great. So, there’s a line you can’t cross on a lot of these social media platforms. And I’m careful not to cross the line. But the obvious implication is that I’m a lawyer. I have two identities, me, Steven Murrin, an American Biker Lawyer. Those are two separate entities on Facebook and on Twitter, on Instagram.
So, I manage those. I have a little help from a younger person to manage those. And I’m careful not to overstep boundaries in any particular medium. We don’t ever discuss politics. We don’t ever get into issues that are… I’ll give you an example. When the COVID broke out, my partner and I dedicated $20,000 of our marketing budget to produce and disseminate masks. We found a supplier. We printed masks. They obviously had my logo on the mask. They were high quality. They cost me about $3.80 apiece, another $1.20 to mail. And if you sent us any message on any social media platform, we will put two masks in an envelope and ship it to you, no questions asked, in a period when they were hard to get. And we got a heck of a lot of thank yous and a heck of a lot of, “We really appreciate it.” People that couldn’t afford masks, couldn’t find masks, people who were afraid to know what to think, people who just want some shit in the mail for free, right? Who knows?
Scott: Which is me.
Steve: And we did get negative feedback. We did get, “You F’in lawyers are a bunch of sheep. You lawyers are promulgating a big lie in this country. You lawyers are…”
Scott: Because it hadn’t been politicized at the point that you started sending them out yet?
Steve: No, it hadn’t, but it was starting. And we got flack over it. And we considered a second round of masks, another budgetary vote here. And we decided not to do it. It was giving us, as much as we thought we had helped people, there were some very few numbers, but very loud mouth social media keyboard warriors that were giving us negative feedback. So, you got to kind of adjust to those markets, and you gotta find your place and not overstep boundaries. I have competitors that’ll, you know, bitch about politics, and “Screw Biden,” and “Trump’s a big liar,” those kinds of things. And that’s a giant mistake.
Scott: Because you’re gonna alienate really good people that would potentially wanna hire you.
Steve: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you get caught in the trap of, “Hey, American Biker Lawyer, what do you think?” And you got to kind of avoid that. You got to ignore it a little bit to keep the business because your business is not political. All you’re gonna do is alienate a potential client. And my business is one client away from retiring. You know what I mean? You hit that mass torts that, you know, that giant catastrophic. There’s not that in criminal law. You can get a big lick here and there, big six-digit fee, occasionally, wealthy client, you’re the perfect fit, but you’re never gonna get the million-dollar fee every couple of years or the retirement case. There isn’t the retirement case, it’s not a thing in criminal defense.
Scott: Not at all.
Steve: That’s the thing. I could name a dozen lawyers that hit a case and you never heard from them again. They just faded into the sunset, took their, whatever, $30 million, and that was it.
Scott: Well, how long did you do criminal before you started taking on, you know, civil plaintiffs cases? Was that from the get-go or? Was that a gradual thing?
Steve: Well, I took a lesson from a guy I knew from my church. I’m Catholic. And I had this guy that kind of reminded me of me, same upbringing and same kind of business model. His name was Daniel Kane. They’re still practicing. And Daniel took me under his wing in the first months of private practice. He leased me space up above his office off the park downtown of Nassau Street, Centennial Olympic Park. And me and Joshua Laufer split the office together. Crazy Joe, God, we had fun. And…
Scott: And Josh is out in like…
Steve: In Savannah.
Scott: …Charleston or somewhere now, isn’t he?
Steve: Well, he’s a Savannah guy, but he has recently taken residence up in Davie Wolf’s space in the Victory Building.
Steve: He’s exclusively doing federal criminal defense now, and we talk. I was in his wedding 20 years ago. But we had a great time. And the annual status over tea taught us lessons. One of the lessons that he taught us was, “Don’t ever say I am a divorce lawyer, I am a criminal defense lawyer, I am a personal injury lawyer.” Say, “I’m a lawyer and whatever you need, call me.” And when you have that person call you, make sure you’ve got a guy. “What do you mean you got a guy?” Well, you got a guy or a woman, right? That does divorce. Like Cathy Altman, she was my guy. You need a divorce? Call Cathy.
And that was back when you had to, for a referral fee, work for a percentage of the fee. So, I have to do some intake and some background work and help Cathy out. And she would cut me a piece of the fee. And those rules have since changed and I constantly am reminding older lawyers that referral fees do not need to be earned commensurate with the work performed on the file. The Bar Association has approved the straight percentage referral fee lawyer to lawyer as long it’s disclosed in the fee agreement. And I do that every day. About 15% of our gross income comes from referral fees. Where we did no work on a file, passive income, dished a divorce to my guy, and he collects a fee and sends me a third.
Scott: This is probably too tackle a question, but what did you do when someone says, “What kind of law do you practice?” I mean, almost no one asks you that question. But occasionally you’ll run into like a stockbroker or somebody who’s kind of sophisticated and they’ll go, “What kind of law do you practice?”
Steve: Well, when somebody asks you that question, they almost always have an ulterior motive because their nephew got arrested or their wife was in a wreck and you already know why they’re asking you that question, so you meld your answer to the query, to the conversation, to the contact. I received a call this morning from a guy in my Harley owner group. Cobb County PD raided his house this morning and dragged his teenage son out by the scruff of the neck. Internet crimes. And he called me up, he said, “Steve, I’ve known you…” He’s been on my vacation home on motorcycles. He’s broken bread with me on my back patio. And he said to me, “I’m not sure what you do, but maybe you can help me because I’m in a panic. My son was just arrested.” And I said, “Blankety blank? That’s exactly what I do.” So, you keep it very generic because, you know, we get referral fees all the time.
And listen, we got a call, we laughed about this. This past summer we settled a pretty large case. I sent a young Laura Waycross about $120,000 fee. A secretary called and said, “Oh, we’re calling for Mr. So and So. We’re sorry, but you sent this check to us in mistake and we’re gonna return it to you.” And I said, “Well, perhaps you can read the cover letter.” And there’s silence and then I get put on hold. And then the lawyer picks up and he says, “Who is this?” I explain it to him. And he had referred me a motorcycle injury case three years before, and we record that very clearly in the intake sheet. We just closed him in a retainer agreement. He totally forgot about it. He had never received a referral fee in his life. And I could tell, in the course of our conversation, that guy, he was a 30-year-old lawyer, he was crying. He was so struck by this money that fell out of the sky, he started to weep. It was very touching.
But the lesson is, you know, the network of lawyers that you align yourself with is the fun thing. The gackle seminars are great, the cocktail hour, we have a wonderful time. Visiting Steve Salter down in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s awesome. But the reality is, it’s a cash cow. The more lawyers you know, the more referral sources you have. The more friends you have in the legal community, the more opportunity for cases you have for cross-referencing cases. You should have five divorce lawyers, a couple of closing lawyers. You should join LinkedIn and make contact with a corporate guy or two. And make sure they know what you do so that when their neighbor breaks their leg, you’re the sole.
Listen, we have changed our business model. I hid my cell phone from clients and lawyers for years. That was for my assistant coach to call me and tell me he was swapped in the lineup in my son’s little league game, that’s all the cell phone was for. But we’ve learned and adapted. I give out my cell phone number all day. It’s on my email. And you have to be, you have to have connectivity. Clients, they will ring your office phone, they’ll get a girl, it’ll go to a voicemail and they go right to the next lawyer they know. And you’ve lost the retirement case. At the very least, in criminal work, probably less so in… I mean, very least in civil work PI, a little less so in criminal work because they’re calling you because they know you or want you or got a good right recommendation. But people are impatient. They go to the next lawyer very quickly. And putting your cellphone out into the world. Well, you gotta do it, in my opinion.
Scott: Well, how do you enjoy your long bike rides and your hunting trips and that if you’re constantly inundated?
Steve: Well, you have rules. I get up at 5:00 in the morning and I go to bed at 10:00 at night. And I put that out there. Somebody’s… The neighbor said the cops are at your house and they’re calling me, or the neighbor’s daughter was in a wreck in college out in UGA. I say, “All right. Listen, have them call my cell. After 5:00 I’ll be home, but at 10:00, I’m in bed, back up at 5:00, I’m not picking up the phone.” And I’ve learned how to use the iPhone, the mute, the silent, the shut-off. And it’s automatically set at 10:00, it doesn’t make a noise.
Scott: Are you finding that your business is coming mainly from your lawyer network or mainly from your other groups where you have a common interest like bikes or hot rods or…? In terms of tracking, what do you think is more important? I mean, maybe you’re probably gonna tell me it’s all important. But where do you think it’s mainly coming from? Do you think it’s mainly other lawyers or do you think it’s mainly these other groups that are maybe not lawyer-affiliated, but they know you are a lawyer?
Steve: Well, let me tell you. If a lawyer is listening to this podcast and he has not already and he doesn’t tonight, write this down, he’s a fool, she’s a fool. You have to understand where your cases are coming from. You have to have a general marketing plan that is in writing, it could be on a scrap piece of paper, and it could be in a computer algorithm, it doesn’t make any difference. But you need to decipher what works and what does not work. We track where our cases come from. And frankly, over 50% of our cases, and this increases every year, the number goes up and we track it every year, over 50% of our cases come from word of mouth.
Now, that’s not to say the person who slid our card, or gave our contact, or told the injured party to call us didn’t find us on the internet, or meet us at a bike show, or get a piece of merchandising from me at some motorcycle event, right? But the lesson is, the older I get and the more mature my practice becomes, the more word of mouth becomes important, because exponentially our tentacles are out in the community wider and wider and wider, which is why practicing law really is a second-generation endeavor. Building is tough. Inheriting one from your dad is awesome.
I used to kid my law school peers, I said, “I’m gonna go and work at my dad’s firm in Boston. I’m gonna inherit my dad’s practice in Manchester.” I went to law school in Massachusetts. I said, “Yeah, yeah. I’m gonna hunker on down, take over my dad’s practice. The problem is I know shit about plumbing.” And might take a little laugh. But it really is a second-generation business to be on Easy Street, at least. If you’re gonna start off from scratch, man, it’s tough. It’s a 20-year grind.
Steve: And it’s not a bad thing. You meet a lot of great people and it is a lot of fun, depending on how you choose to do it. But the point is, you gotta write it down, you gotta know where they’re coming from, and you gotta track what makes your business and where you’re failing.
Scott: So, I’ll kind of rounden the corner a little bit because this is definitely a topic I wanted to cover with you. I know that you’re…I think you’re active in the bar, you’re one of the lawyers’ assistants, I believe, with the state bar. And so in terms of just practice and, you know, I suppose this is a universal for all lawyers, but maybe particularly in criminal defense and in personal injury. Where do you see people making bad choices that kind of…where is it that you think we go off the rails?
Steve: It almost always starts with money. Greed. It starts with personal indulgence. And people have their weaknesses, to be unkind about it. People have frailties. And they turn to bad habits. It could be cocaine, it could be prostitution, it could be alcohol, it could be gambling. How many lawyers do you know have just flushed themselves down the toilet with one or a combination of those things?
Scott: A lot. I mean, more than non-lawyers could imagine, honestly.
Steve: It’s unbelievable. It’s a high-pressure job. We have disposable income. Lawyers make great money if you do it right. And to use that money effectively for your family, for charity, to give back, for retirement. Those are important lessons that typically are not taught in law schools. You learn that from your mom and dad, I think. But nonetheless, you know, these lawyers make a few bucks and they think they can take an indulgence, or they’re taking why they shouldn’t be taking. I’m also on the Young Lawyers Committee where I basically adopt two young lawyers a year. And they come to me in my office, they don’t know jack shit. They need my retainer agreement. They borrow my old books from last year. They want computer programs or advice on how to start their practice. And some of those lawyers take my advice, some of them don’t.
But for the most part, the lesson on the money is save for taxes, pay them quarterly. Don’t take the fee until you earn it. Pretend they’re gonna fire you tomorrow. And in your retainer agreement, and, God, have a retainer agreement for every client, have a schedule upon which you take the money and earn the money. And earned upon receipt may pass muster with the bar, but I don’t think it should pass muster with lawyers. Somebody gives you 10 grand, they have buyer’s remorse, their cousin is a lawyer, they’re gonna do it for free. You didn’t earn the fee policy, give them their 10 grand back.
So, a lot of lawyers, criminal lawyers especially, take big fees and they’re underneath, you know, a Cadillac payment, they’re underneath the big house and Morningside mortgage, they’re underneath marketing budget, they get desperate. And I see lawyers doing a lot of unethical things. One of my favorite morbid things to do is to read the disbarments in “The Daily Report.” It’s a terrible habit, but I can’t help myself. I almost always reach out to the lawyers that are disbarred. I have a habit from childhood. I write one, sometimes more, handwritten Catholic school script letter a day. I have a little personal placard cards, it has my logo on it, it has my cell phone, my Twitter handle, my Instagram feed, my Facebook identity.
And I take a ballpoint pen and I write, “Dear, Scott. I saw you on the cover of ‘The Daily Report’ today. Great verdict. Really happy for you. Heard good things about your practice. God bless. Steven.” I do that. I do it to judges that I no longer have a case in front of. I do it to executives. I do it to lawyers that are disbarred. “All is not lost. There’s life after law. Stick with your program. Get to your therapist. Best of luck to you. If you ever need anything, call me.” You’d be shocked how many people call me. And I had a lawyer once called me tell me he was dying of cancer. He had 60 open active files he wanted me to come and take them all. He was in Hapeville. And we did. We went down there. We boxed up every file he had. Mostly it was dogshit. A couple of gems. Went to his funeral. And it was just because I wrote him a letter. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. But he had had a little trouble with the bar because he was old and I saw he was reprimanded and I wrote him a note telling him I was thinking of him and if he ever needed anything.
Scott: And so tell me a little bit more about this one letter a day. I didn’t know you did this. And tell me when…
Steve: You’ve never gotten a letter from me?
Scott: No, I haven’t.
Steve: I’ve done this…
Scott: Which may be good.
Steve: My mother was a letter writer. I am a fan of proper English and I love formal script. And I think it is a lost art. The email is easy. The text message you got, I could get my kids on the phone if I were dying in a ditch. But they’ll text me. So, the letter-writing. When you get a postmarked letter…
Scott: Oh, it’s right here. It is wonderful.
Steve: It’s wonderful. I just had a case in South Fulton city. The judge was unbelievable. It was a stupid little case I took for a friend. We appeared by Zoom. We resolved our issues. I’ll never have another case there again. I’m not a speeding ticket guy, or DUI. But I thought the judge did just such a fabulous job. The management of the Zoom hearing, the disclaimers at the beginning, the sharing of documents. It was the best job I’d ever seen. I pulled out my notecard. I wrote to judge a thank you note. I commended her for her efforts. I knew it takes a lot of work to get that good habit. I knew I… And I said, “I’ll probably never see you again. I don’t do these kinds of cases. A family friend deal. Kudos to you. God bless. Steve Murrin.” So, who knows? Will I bump into her at the lawyer’s club meeting? Will I get a speeding ticket going to the beach? I don’t know.
But nonetheless, you gotta think it’s gonna brighten that judge’s day. And those 10:00 nights, setting it all up, the audio, the video, you know, the training, the staff managing it. You gotta think it made her feel a little better about what she had gone through to get there. So, it’s just a good habit. It literally takes me less than 30 seconds. I do not feed the letters through the postal machine in our mailroom. I lick a stamp, because I think that gives it authenticity. My DNA is now on 4000 people’s desks for good or for bad. And I have gotten letters back that are touching. People will sit down and they’ll write you a thank you. It’s just a habit of childhood that I’ve carried through to adulthood. That’s how I met Robin MacDonald. Robin MacDonald is…
Scott: From “The Daily Report.”
Steve: …the greatest journalist I’ve known in the law. I saw an article she read on the tow car trial. I drove my motorcycle up to Walker County, Georgia every day and I watched the trial. And John Bloom befriended me and took me to lunch. And Tom Cheran and I became pals. And he introduced me to his brother. It was a crazy, wonderful time despite the tragedy of that case. And then I read Robin’s book that she wrote about it, and I wrote her a note. And I thought it was a fabulous book. And then she said, “I’d love…” She called me. She said, “I’d love to do an article on you.” I said, “On me? I’m one of the most boring guys on the planet.” But she came and she did a little article on me that appeared in “The Daily Report,” “The Harley Lawyer.” And my phone exploded. My phone blew up. People read the article. Just from that little probably 35 cent stamp at the time, 30-second afterthought to thank her for the book I enjoyed, turned into probably $100,000 marketing campaign for free.
Scott: Plus even if it had produced none of that, it’s still a good thing to do.
Steve: It’s the right thing to do.
Scott: Yeah. And that may be one of the things where our children should be immigrants in the letter-writing world, you know, to try to translate it back to this direction.
Steve: It’s impossible. I’ve tried it with my children to write to their aunt, to give Grandma a note, to send a birthday card to the cousin out in Wisconsin. Forget it. They’re not immigrants, right? They are bits and bytes and Xs and Os. There’s no going backwards. Maybe that’s a good thing.
Scott: Well, Steve, it’s been great. I really appreciate you taking the time to be on the podcast and talk to me. I learned a lot about you that I didn’t know, and some great lessons in here. I really appreciate it.
Steve: Thank you, Scott. It was wonderful talking with you.
Scott: Thanks for listening to “The Advocate’s Key.” For more information and content like this, including a transcript of this episode, be sure to visit scottkeylaw.com. And please rate, review, and subscribe to this show wherever you get your audio content.