Relationship-Driven Business Development with Michelle Hoover

In this episode of Lawyer Business Advantage, Michelle Hoover, of Hoover Krepelka family law, shares her unique approach to business development that has led to Hoover Krepelka becoming one of the largest family law firms in California. Listen to the insights of a true law firm marketing pro!

Alay Yajnik: [00:00:33] Welcome to Lawyer Business Advantage, your source for biz dev tips, wisdom and inspiration. I’m your host, Alay Yajnik. We’re unleashing your inner rainmaker in three, two, one….

Alay Yajnik: [00:00:48] And it’s my pleasure to welcome to the show, Michelle Hoover. Michelle Hoover is the Director of Community Relations for Hoover Krepelka and Hoover Krepelka is one of the largest family law firms in the state of California. Michelle, welcome to the show today!

Michelle Hoover: [00:01:04] Thank you.

Alay Yajnik: [00:01:04] Really appreciate you taking the time to jump on with us. I’m excited for our conversation today because, you know, you have a different role. You’re the Director of Community Relations…you’re not necessarily a practicing attorney. So I would love to hear a little bit – and our listeners would love to hear, too – about your role at the firm and a little bit about the firm.

Michelle Hoover: [00:01:26] Ok, very well. Well, thank you, Hoover Krepelka started in 1960. Our attorneys began practicing at that time. So this year marks the 60th year of practice for our founder, Bob Hoover.

Alay Yajnik: [00:01:38] Congratulations.

Michelle Hoover: [00:01:38] Thank you. And so we’ve been through several partnerships and hundreds of employees over the years and thousands of clients. So we are constantly learning, growing, but always focused exclusively on family law. So considered an expert in that area. And our attorneys also serve as Judge Pro Tems. So they’ll sit in. They’re invited by judges to help settle cases before they go to trial. So the level of expertise that we have at the firm is exclusive to family law. So at this point, we have about 16 attorneys oncoming in March 2020. And I, as the Director of Community Relations, help support those attorneys with trusted advisers that they may need as they’re handling cases that are exclusive to family law. I was also handed the marketing piece when I started six years ago. So all the website and online marketing, you see, had been under my direction over the last six years. And then also with this growth has come a real need for community services for many of our clients and specifically domestic violence. So my job is also to build strong partnerships with community service providers that our clients may need while they’re going through divorces.

Alay Yajnik: [00:03:03] You know, Michelle, it’s a really interesting role that you have. I haven’t actually seen it at any other law firms and was hoping you could just elaborate a little bit on on two things. One is the domestic violence aspect and building that support network. And also examples of resources that your attorneys need that you support them with.

Michelle Hoover: [00:03:24] Certainly. Originally I came on and it was going to be a part-time position to help with networking. We believe in person-to-person contact and building and maximizing those relationships. So we needed a little bit of help in that area. So the idea was, “OK, well, come on in and help network.” But it turned into something much more as we grew. Because again, we only handle family law. We’re constantly in need of strategic advisors: mostly in financial services, real estate, property division and other areas of law. So with the increased caseload comes the increased need to align ourselves with trusted advisers that can help service our clients and support our attorneys as they’re working with them. So I’m kind of the quarterback, if you will, in that area. We have attorneys that really enjoy networking and are out there and have their own Rolodexes of advisors. And then we also have a mentorship program for first year attorneys coming in who may just be starting out in building their network. So those are the ones that I would primarily support as they’re getting going in their careers.

Alay Yajnik: [00:04:29] Yeah as they’re ramping up. Well, that’s really awesome in a couple respects: the first is you guys actually have a formal program for first year in our focusing them a little bit on business development, which is terrific. Too many attorneys wait too long to get into that. And when they do, there’s no structure in place for support system in place. And the other is, you know, your firm has clearly recognized the value of strategic alliances and trusted advisers. And you spend a lot of your time building up those relationships, which is terrific. And I’m sure that adds a ton of value to the services you bring your clients as well.

Michelle Hoover: [00:05:03] Exactly. And because that is my role, I’m a dedicated resource within the firm to do that. It does allow me time, because I’m not practicing law, to create those strategic alliances with the domestic violence intervention programs and other organizations that maybe are important to our employees. We have people in charge of nonprofits that work with us, and we want to help build their interests from a firm culture and be involved with the causes that our employees care about as well, in addition to what our client needs are.

Alay Yajnik: [00:05:37] So you have a lot of hats that you were hitting at the firm, sounds like.

Michelle Hoover: [00:05:40] Yes.

Alay Yajnik: [00:05:40] OK. So let’s spend a little bit of time with the marketing hat on. Is that OK?

Michelle Hoover: [00:05:49] Certainly.

Alay Yajnik: [00:05:49] So as a marketer, I would love to get your perspective on the value of business development and how critical of a skill that is for attorneys to know in this day and age.

Michelle Hoover: [00:05:59] Yes, because you can either go one way or the other. You either are forward-facing and building your own clientele or you’re extremely focused on law and maybe you work at a larger firm that has that marketing background for you, for your business development. But if you’re authentic in doing your job well, keeping in contact with the clients and the teams that you’re working with, and holding onto those relationships and helping other people grow and what their needs are. Anybody you’ve worked with…just maximizing the teams and clients that you’ve worked with is going to go a long way. So always maintaining integrity and treating people with mutual respect where you can continue those relationships beyond the specific matter you’re working on. That will never fail. But specifically for business development, if you’re a newer attorney starting out, this is a critical skill because you’re going to need these relationships down the line to be on their radar when they need to refer to you.

Alay Yajnik: [00:06:59] And, you know, an attorney that’s young in their career might say, “But Michelle, I signed up to practice law. I didn’t sign up to go get clients. I don’t even like talking to potential clients. I like working on the law.” Right? How do you typically respond to those kinds of questions?

Michelle Hoover: [00:07:15] Well, I’m not asked them often, so thank you for that. It is – luckily right now, in this day and age, it is so easy to align yourself with the proper online support and vendors that you have an online presence. And really you don’t need to talk to anybody if you’re just doing that. However, clients really want to, kind of, peek behind the curtain and find out what is behind this attorney. “They have all these star ratings and I see their ads everywhere.” And you can spend to look good online. But what are you really about and how are you connecting with your clients and your advisers that are going to need your services? So you need to have a little more depth than just an online presence. And so that’s, I think, what we’re going to get into this conversation today if my instincts are leading me in the right direction.

Alay Yajnik: [00:08:02] I think so. That’s an awesome point. You know, it’s really tempting to think about, “OK, well, I want to build my book of business. I’m just going to, you know, apply for Super Lawyers and put up a nice website and pay for traffic through Yelp and Google Ads and whatnot.” Then to your point, there is a second level there of the business development process that needs to be addressed.

Michelle Hoover: [00:08:27] Correct.

Alay Yajnik: [00:08:27] So as the firm has grown…and you guys have been around for a long time…I’m curious to find out how your marketing tactics have evolved and what are the tactics that you think are the most effective nowadays?

Michelle Hoover: [00:08:40] This is a good question. If you circle back to 1960s, 1970s, there were such limitations. Attorneys essentially couldn’t really pay to market. You couldn’t pay to advertise. Or if you did have an ad, it had to be a certain size. So we’ve gone from not being able to advertise at all to being able to purchase any size ad or be anywhere you want. Your dollars can take you wherever you are, visibility-wise. So what is what is that perfect balance? For us, we have we found that the currency of gold is really your personal connections. So those long-term relationships: the more you have, the more you’ve been in practice and the more you focus on building that – that’s always going to be with you and carry you.

Alay Yajnik: [00:09:30] And it’s always important if you’re building, I would say, a really robust practice as opposed to just – you know – kind of a fly by night, short-term thing. If you’re building something to last, you know like Hoover Krepelka has been around for so long, relationships have probably played a key part in the firm’s longevity. Am I right?

Michelle Hoover: [00:09:50] Correct. And those relationships we like to celebrate. Anybody that refers in, we want to look at who that is, be sure we’re thanking them, and maximizing that relationship. Is this somebody that we have a need for their service for? So really holding on to that. And then when we’re working or we are in court – doing your job so well is is very important because people will notice. And connecting with integrity, because you could be in court and the whole courtroom’s watching. Oftentimes we would get referrals from people who are actually seeing what’s happening and how the attorney is litigating. They’ll come to us after and say, “Oh, my goodness, may I have your card? We like how you did your job.” So in addition to just nurturing who is in your network, making sure that you’re always composed and out there in a visible way, in a positive way. People do notice that and it does lend to your credibility.

Alay Yajnik: [00:10:52] And that is a fantastic point. One of the criteria I have before I bring on an attorney as a client is I just want to make sure that you’re a good attorney because it all starts there. If you do nothing else as an attorney, but you’re just an amazing attorney and that’s all…you could still have a pretty good practice. You don’t need to be a great, amazing marketer.

Michelle Hoover: [00:11:12] Exactly.

Alay Yajnik: [00:11:13] On the other hand, if you’re the best marketer on the planet, but you’re not a good attorney, that’s not going to carry you very far. If you have to pick one thing like – be a really good attorney and focus on that. And then augment that, sounds like, with building some really strong, deep relationships that are high quality.

Michelle Hoover: [00:11:31] Yeah, exactly. You could be practicing and it can be small and you keep in touch with that client. You keep in touch with the tax person that worked with you on that job. Start small. Take them out to lunch. Figure out what they’re about. Listen to causes they might be interested in. Or could you do a program together, whether that be a panel or host a reception together? There’s many ways. If you just have two contacts you work with on one matter, you can really expand that, focusing on the quality of those connections versus quantity.

Alay Yajnik: [00:12:02] I love that approach of focusing on quality and building those really deep, deep relationships that are based on mutual respect and collaboration. And you guys bring a third element to that. At Hoover Krepelka, you have a real focus on community. So I’d love to understand how that developed because not all law firms have that, especially not all family law firms have that, and how it’s impacted your firm’s growth and business development.

Michelle Hoover: [00:12:26] All right. There’s a really good question. It was somewhat accidental, but from the beginning, it was very important to our founder Bob Hoover to always offer a one hour consultation to anybody, regardless of their ability to pay, regardless of their intention to retain. Being an educator and providing that service for people facing divorce has always been one of the cornerstones of the firm. So by us being a resource, this need authentically developed where we had people going through domestic violence scenarios. So that need…why stop there? Let’s make sure we have resources on hand with different centers that can help our clients safely escape and develop exit strategies. So it’s been kind of an authentic wave where as the firm grew, the needs increased. And so we needed more and more community partners. With that, it’s not just us referring there for our clients needs, but it’s looking at those organizations and saying, “Well, hey, listen, we have a bit of a platform. How can we help further your cause?” And then jointly working with these organizations to create awareness and opportunities. So whether that be us sponsoring at a gala silent auction items or many easy ways for anybody to get involved with the philanthropic efforts. And at the end of the day, that’s why we’re here, right, to improve the lives of others in the global scheme? So it’s a very easy way to combine your business for a good cause. I would encourage anybody to really consider what causes are important to you. How can you be involved? Is it time? Is it strategy? Is it venue? Is it collaboration? So we’ve, I guess with growth, really had the need for different community services and really want to be a partner to those. So we use our new office space as a venue. We use our business and social club as a venue. There’s many ways to help people with community focused initiatives.

Alay Yajnik: [00:14:37] I think that’s that’s fantastic. What thing I love about that is you acknowledged that it was not necessarily a deliberate thing, but it was authentic. It started off with Bob and his ability to give people a free one hour consultation. That kind of flies in the face of popular popular business development opinions around free consults.

Michelle Hoover: [00:14:59] Right.

Alay Yajnik: [00:14:59] But you guys did that. You built your practice on it. And that led to other opportunities to get involved into the community. And kind of a sideline…you mentioned your new office and using that as, potentially, a platform and an opportunity to deepen relations. And congratulations, by the way, on the new office, Michelle.

Michelle Hoover: [00:15:22] Thank you.

Alay Yajnik: [00:15:22] It looks great. When you were choosing that space, how did this notion of community involvement and maybe even business development play into some of the decisions you made with regards to the new space?

Michelle Hoover: [00:15:39] It came out of need. We had outgrown our original office and then had to have another office that was next to it, same complex. So we were operating two separate offices because we couldn’t all fit under one roof. So it was a matter of finding the real estate and the right the right office for us to expand to. It ended up where we wound up in the same complex, and then just put everybody under one roof. And then at that time, we really had the floodgates open. And it had more need and more cases coming in, and so, we are now bursting at the seams at the new place.

Alay Yajnik: [00:16:16] Oh, my. It’s time for another move!

Michelle Hoover: [00:16:22] Exactly. Where is the point? Where is the growth point? You need to talk to someone like you to figure that out. The other component of that really, though, is developing our talent and nurturing the talent that we have here. So providing growth paths for our employees. So we’re making sure – we don’t want to necessarily have to turn away a new case coming in. We want to be well equipped to handle that. So we don’t want to say no, but we need to grow. So that’s where we are. We’re growing and accommodating as the needs are presented.

Alay Yajnik: [00:16:58] Awesome. Yeah. And I expect there’s going to be more and more of those opportunities over time as your firm continues to grow and prosper. I would love to hear: so as a law firm marketing expert yourself, what advice do you give to attorneys who are just getting involved in business development?

Michelle Hoover: [00:17:18] Certainly Person-To-Person. Again, we talked about you can you can buy everything online and there’s some tips we can kind of walk through that I’ve learned that are easy and cost effective to do. And the person to person capital, the social capital, that’s going to be your most important resource. So, you know, consider joining networking groups. I know that sounds – a lot of people don’t like to do it. Go try, give it a whirl, try a couple. But for us, that’s where our really long-standing referral partner base has come from, something we’ve been doing for the last 15 years, if you will. And it makes work exciting. We have friendships built with that, too, and we’re excited as our referral partners start to prosper as well. So it’s a great way to really deepen your relationships and your exposure and build, if you will, a support team that’s going to help refer to you when you’re not there. So it’s like a sales team, if you will, when you have those connections and your networking groups, the formats work, especially for attorneys we find ProVisors has been an excellent, excellent organization for us. Again, we need to make sure we’re referring to top tier advisors. So with ProVisors, I think their focus is about 30% of each chapter should be legal. So that gives that gives you a very good open door to other seasoned attorneys.

Michelle Hoover: [00:18:46] So life connecting is great. Power lunches. Find out who needs your services the most. Figure that out. So for us with family law, we don’t practice estate planning. So estate planning advisors and attorneys are the best resources for us. I can never have enough. So I make sure we have strong alliances there because I need to refer out to them every day. So then what do they need? Well, they may need a lender, so, you know, maybe form a triangular partnership and power lunch and make sure that you are getting to know everybody personally as well because they could look good online, but maybe if you haven’t really interviewed them and vetted them that might not be someone you want to refer. So you want to make sure that you’re confident in the partnerships that you’re building. So doing the live face-to-face meetings, you really can’t go wrong with that. And then now with Zoom meetings, that’s that’s another way you can kind of get a face-to-face feel and understand peoples’ tones, intonations and what they’re about. So that’s an easy way if you’re not able to make the time – to make sure you’re connecting with people that are going to be good alliances for you.

Alay Yajnik: [00:19:54] Boy, oh, boy. I hope you on the on the listener side, were taking notes because Michelle just went through a fantastic outline on how to get started with business development and some several best practices were in there. Michelle, thanks a lot for for going through that with us.

Michelle Hoover: [00:20:09] Sure.

Alay Yajnik: [00:20:09] And your firm just continues to grow. So I would love to hear from you: what excites you about Hoover Krepelka as you move forward?

Michelle Hoover: [00:20:19] Thank you for that question. The thing that really brings tears of joy to my eyes is nurturing and developing our employees. So recently we were able to promote several people who are so deserving where previously there wasn’t necessarily an upward career path for them. So we’ve really looked at our infrastructure and how do we retain our talent? What are they needing? So it’s really listening to what employees needs are and how do we how do we keep our our A-Team? So this has been exciting to be able to be able to promote from within. So we’ve got a couple exciting announcements coming up as well, so stay tuned with us.

Alay Yajnik: [00:20:59] All right.

Michelle Hoover: [00:20:59] And the thing that we’ve done for a long time is we have that clerking program. So we do hire from within law schools, mostly university or Santa Clara University School of Law. And if a student is interested in perhaps pursuing family law, they can come clerk with us and see if that works out. So we have many, many success stories of law clerks coming in and then proceeding. In fact, our partner, Travis Krepelka and Jim Hoover also have clerked and now they’re partners of the firm. So if someone is interested in exploring family law, we can help mentor them through the clerk program and then through for a first, second, third year, we’re happy to be there. I’m their personal PR person. I can help them with anything they need that’s outward facing or a client needs something out – community related. I’ve got them. So I’m kind of their built-in marketing person. And then we have oftentimes – we like to hire superstars. So they’ll come in, work with us for a couple of years and start their own firm. And so it’s an open book of how to manage a case, how to successfully move forward. We want to help and grow. Whether that be with us or starting on their own. So the thing that does excite me the most is being able to provide a career path for our employees. And that is rewarding. So the roll expansion and upward mobility that we’re now able to offer, and it’s taken some fine tuning and growing, but really, it’s our team. And Bob Hoover always had a saying, “If you see a turtle on a fence post, it didn’t get there by himself.” So it does take a team and really nurturing that team and growing the team.

Alay Yajnik: [00:22:46] And Michelle, if there is a superstar that’s listening and they do want to get started in family law, how should they connect with you?

Michelle Hoover: [00:22:53] They should contact – it’s actually Michelle Casillas – she’s the office manager and it’s And she prefers e-mails. No phone calls.

Alay Yajnik: [00:23:06] Got it. OK, fantastic. Michelle, thank you so much for being on the show today. Really appreciate it. I learned a lot and I know our listeners did as well.

Michelle Hoover: [00:23:17] My pleasure. Thank you.

Alay Yajnik: [00:23:20] And that’s a wrap. To get more episodes, webinars and free stuff, visit My name is Alay Yajnik. Thank you for listening. And remember, there’s a rainmaker inside everyone, including you.

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