Employment lawyer Alan Crone appeared on the Conversations with Achievers Podcast with Robert White! They talked about all things business, while Alan even broke down how different the legal industry is from most other types of businesses. To listen to the interview, click the play button below. We also have the interview transcribed, if you would prefer to read it!
Defining and Aligning Mission-Driven Law Firms with The Crone Law Firm’s Alan Crone
Hello, Robert here, and welcome to another edition of Conversations with Achievers. You know, many of you, I guess, all of the listeners have one or more attorneys as resource persons in your life. And we’re blessed today to have Alan Crone with us. He’s the CEO of the Crown Firm and headquartered down in Memphis, Tennessee.
So, he’s probably got a little of the south in his mouth, and I’m looking forward to finding out how he built his firm and what’s happened along the way. Alan. Welcome to Conversations with Achievers.
Well, thank you very much. I am honored and flattered to be on a so-called show. I don’t know how much of an achiever I am, but I’d be glad to share what little of success I’ve had with your listeners.
Well, I think many of my listeners, if there was really a big-time major project, you might go to one of those huge firms. But most people have relatively small law firms, in my experience. I think knowing a little about you, you’re kind of in between, right? Kind of like a regional firm.
That’s right. We represent employees, executives, and entrepreneurs. And people ask me all the time, well, do you represent businesses? And I say, well, we represent people, some of whom own businesses. So, we really try to be your personal law firm, and we really focus on employment law, legal disputes that affect your ability to make money.
Well, I sure like that simple definition. I think that would resonate with our listeners, frankly, people that like to make money and have some fun doing it, I think would define a lot of the people in my world and the world of the listeners to this show. That’s a great one. Well, how do you go from being you get out of school, you pass the bar, you start practice. What was your journey like?
Well, Robert, I’m a recovering politician. When I first got out of law school, I was a Republican activist. And if you’d got young 20 something Alan Crone at a party and asked him what he wanted to do, I would have told you I wanted to be in politics. And I did that for a while.
Right out of law school, I went to a big, huge firm, did that for a couple of years, and, frankly, kind of set out on my own mutual it was a mutual decision because I was distracted, frankly, by politics. And I really enjoy the chess match of politics, but I also enjoy the public service nature of it.
And I kind of knocked around for a few years, and then the governor, when I was about 30, the governor asked me to come to Nashville and help him with some employment law issues. By that time, I had kind of settled on that as my specialty, and I did that for about a year.
And then I started having a family, and rather than become a defendant in a divorce action, I came back to Memphis and started my own practice with a good buddy of mine. I was a chairman of the party here for four years and then kind of had a break.
And I’ll be honest with you, I always say I kind of lost my forties, my forties I spent really not understanding what I wanted to do, why I was doing it. I was kind of disenchanted with the law practice.
And long story short, I ended up ending that law practice and starting another one with another friend of mine, and did that until 2015, when I jumped off the wagon and went back into politics and served a year on the City Council, filled out a term for someone.
And then my good buddy Jim Strickland was elected mayor of Memphis in 2015. And I spent the next four years from 2016 to 2020 running this firm, but also being his senior policy advisor and special counsel. And my office was right next to his, and I was involved in everything the city was doing.
And for a political junkie like me, it was the best four years professionally I’ve had. I just enjoyed doing it. But I realized at the end of that that I needed to focus on my business. And they say you’re a product of the choices you make.
And where I found myself in 2020 was my firm had some direction. We were an employment law firm, but we kind of did a lot of things. And we really have focused on just helping folks with their employment law situations. Like I say, that can be advising a business on how to comply with the employment laws, somebody whose job or career is threatened by maybe a non-compete or wrongful termination or those sorts of things.
Now we’re really focused. My personal professional mission is to transform the American workplace, and we do that one person at a time by putting people first, and we do it one case at a time, and it’s a big job.
But your relationship with your employer, whether you’re self-employed or you get a W-2 from somebody or in the new economy, you may have a bunch of different checks coming from a lot of different places.
But those relationships, they are life sustaining, not just financially, but in America. What you do is who you we really take that seriously, and we want to hold people know some good old Republican values here. People say, how can you be a plaintiff lawyer if you’re a Republican?
And I say, look, HR compliance is not just the right thing to do because it’s the law, but it’s good business. We’re in it for that. If someone is going to discriminate against someone, we’re going to hold them accountable. But if someone wants to do the right thing, then we’re going to help them that way, too.
So, my job is to end employment litigation. The nice thing about that is we live in a fallen world, and people don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. And that’s why lawyers like death and taxes will always be around.
So you’re a problem solver on both ends of the formula between the employee, and sometimes you’re counseling an employer and sometimes an unhappy employee.
Yeah, and I would say most of the time we’re representing an executive or an employee. But a lot of our executive clients have become entrepreneurs, and so we end up representing their businesses as well.
But, yeah, we primarily work I say we work the compliance side of the street, whether that’s proactively with an entrepreneur or retroactively with an executive or an employee who’s suffered some indignity or some problem in their career.
Well, I sure see the kind of migration from politics to the work you’re doing and how you hold it. In both cases, it’s about serving people. So, I get the consistency there, I guess, even though the daily activities might be a lot different.
Well, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t in politics. I always said to the city attorney, look, when I walk into City Hall, I’m not a lawyer. I was there as an operations person for the mayor. And a lot of times it’s the same skill set as how do you get from place A to place B. How do you solve a particular problem?
Usually involves communication issues in both worlds. Oftentimes when you get into a political dispute, you realize that there’s a lot more common ground than you think. And sometimes in an employment dispute, you realize that a lot of the problems is that folks aren’t constructively communicating with one another like they of this, I think, a lot of the same skills.
Alan, it’s a good time for me to ask you in building your most recent firm, what has really worked for you in terms of developing your work or protecting it? Or I assume you’re in compliance. We can start there. But what has worked for you in building a regional law firm?
I tell you what I think you got to come to work with every day if you’re in my position, and it doesn’t come naturally to me because I’m a lawyer and a politician, and when I say this, you’ll say, that would be hard, is humility. I think if you’re the CEO of an organization, you have got to be humble, and you’ve got to come to work every day putting the mission of the company ahead of your own mission and put the employees and the customers or clients or whoever you’re serving ahead of yourself.
And every time I do that for a sustained period of time, my organization sees success. And when I start making it about me, that’s when I run into trouble.
So, I think that’s the first club that’s got to come out of your bag on the first T is you got to be humble. And part of that is realizing, I can’t do it all. And that’s hard for a lawyer because we’re kind of taught in law school that we’re supposed to do it all. And you watch legal movies and legal television, and Perry Mason doesn’t have anyone sitting next to him.
He’s got Paul Drake and Della Street. But that’s about it. He’s doing everything himself. And that’s not the way to build a successful to as a CEO, you got to bring people in, and then once you get more than one person in your organization, then my job is to make that person look good.
And if I’m making them look good, if I’m getting my clients where they need to be, then the business is going to succeed in spite of me.
A number of years ago, I spent really 2014 to 2020 in China. But before that, I was mentoring executives and running leadership training programs and bringing cultures together. And I put a website together, and then I would ask a few clients what they thought of it, and they kind of uniformly threw up. They just vomited all over my efforts.
And they said, this is standard kind of salesy talk, and it’s not who you are, it’s not what you do. And that turned out to I didn’t like the feedback, of course, but I try to be humble. I work at it. And I realized that these are people that love me and support me and pay me a lot of money and I should listen to them.
And what came out of that was a simple outreach to some clients and their success stories being the central part of how I communicated about me at that time. And one of them happened to be about a law firm that happened to be here in Colorado. Many of my clients are really all over the world, but this was one of my few clients in Colorado, and it was interesting to see the partner problems in the firm.
They’d gotten to the point of not liking each other, not trusting each other, and having really horrible relationships that just showed up around performance issues. How about you? Is that something you have to manage closely or that you’re relatively successful with?
I get along fabulously well with my partners because I’m it. I have all the equity. But let me say this about that. I think that whether you’re talking equity or not, particularly with lawyers, you have to be aligned.
On your mission. And so many law firms, particularly folks law firms, that are headed by a group of people in their fifties and sixties, we grew up with this notion of, it’s my practice, and, you know, the firm is just there to support me.
And, you know, a lot of law firms, particularly small and mid-sized firms, there are a bunch of guys, women that get together maybe because they like each other, maybe they all kind of roughly practice the same thing, but they’re not a cohesive unit. They’re not really a firm. They’re a number of practices sharing space, and they divide the money up into such ways
So, I’m a big preacher on mission, and I think if you have an organization that has a mission, our mission is to transform the American workplace. And everybody here knows that. And we make our hiring decisions on that.
And if you’re a talented trial lawyer and you practice, I don’t know, automobile accidents and you may be very talented at it, but this isn’t the place for you because we don’t do that and we’re not going to try to put that square peg in a round hole. You’ve got to hire towards it and then you got to talk about it and you’ve really got to make it a real thing.
And if you get into a dispute, then you bring it back to that mission and say, okay, well, how does this choice you want us to make? How does that further our mission? And a lot of times that question ends the debate. Well, it really doesn’t, or it really does. Here’s how it impacts the mission and this is the ROI and that sort of thing.
I think money is a big issue. A lot of times those firms that we’re talking about, they may not have a clear objective distribution method. It may be okay, you got two senior partners and they kind of decide from on high how everything works. I had a partner once. For a brief period of time, he always talked about he told this story, and I didn’t realize what he was saying to me.
I was young. I didn’t really realize those are the best realizations. But he kept telling the story about when he was a young lawyer, he worked for a firm here in town that had a senior partner who was a benevolent dictator, and they had a compensation committee of one person, him.
And he would dole the money out based on the way he thought it was fair. What I didn’t realize this fellow was telling me is that was the model that he thought worked and that’s how he wanted to proceed.
And that wasn’t my understanding of it either. So, I think you’ve got to have really clear and frank money talk with your partners. Whether you’re a law firm, a medical clinic, or you’re selling widgets, you got to have that money talk before there’s money on the table because I always say 10% is a lot when you’re paying it and it’s nothing when you’re receiving it.
People have to be able to do their own calculations. They have to understand and know and there can’t be any surprises when it comes to compensation. And I think that’s again a specific law firm the answer to this is going to be different but I think it’s lack of mission, lack of alignment on what they’re doing and then a lack of commitment and understanding about how the money is going to be split up.
And a lot of law firm compensation plans wouldn’t fly in any other industry or profession because American capitalism the person who does the work doesn’t necessarily get most of the fee or most of the purchase price whereas lawyers believe well if I do all the work then I’m entitled to the line share of the fee. They really don’t think about, okay you’ve got the fee.
And part of that is for the salesman part of that is for overhead part of that is for the person who does it. Part of that is equity. And those are concepts that the American law firm just really hasn’t grappled with because we’ve got such an incredible monopoly.
I heard this the other day and it’s true. Law firms, well the legal profession in general, let’s take a personal injury case. In a typical personal injury case, I have the total recovered. A third goes to the law firm, then you take the expenses out, you give the client what’s left, maybe of the law firm’s fee, a third goes to whoever referred it, and the third goes to up. The rest maybe goes to the firm and then gets chopped up.
And everybody’s happy with that. That tells you that there’s a lot of inefficiency in our profession.
That’s a really good point. Manufacturing people would look at that and go, are you kidding me?
But there’s just so much money to be made, particularly in contingency cases, personal injury cases. A good personal injury firm is settling dozens of cases a month for six, seven figures. And so, the margins are really good.
And what’s going to happen eventually is private equity is going to come in. And you’re already starting to see that with the bigger firms being able to take advantage of an economy of scale and cashing out, some of the smaller firms out, if and when private equity can get into that game.
And in Utah and Arizona, there are experiments going on in that regard, you’ll see a tremendous change in the legal profession similar to the ones you’ve seen in the medical profession.
Well, this has been a great conversation, and my approach in working with companies in terms of the outcome that we’re working toward is focus. Does everybody know what we’re up to here? All the time. And then alignment, and I use a different word than mission, but it’s in there. In my case, it’s purpose, vision and values and then commitment.
We’re very aligned, Alan. But thank you. That’s great counsel for any business. Look, we’ve got to wrap this thing up. How can people get in touch with you? How can something happen between you and our listeners that would be mutually beneficial?
Well, we’ve got a great SEO operation, so if you Google Alan Crone attorney, Memphis, you’re going to get me. Our website is cronelawfirmplc.com. And then you can go onto Amazon and you can find my book, The Law at Work, which is written for normal people.
If it were written for lawyers, it’d be like this thick necessary words. But we got twelve chapters in here that help you understand how employment law works, not just for companies, but works for people. And also give some strategies on how to respond in particular situations where you may not need to go get a lawyer.
Got it. Alan, thank you so much for participating, for the gift that you are in your profession, but also to our listeners. I’m very grateful.
Robert. You’re a great American. Thank you for having me on.