Burn the Ships

about this episode

“God, have mercy on the man,

Who doubts what he's sure of.” - Bruce Springsteen

Introduction music by the up-and-coming band The Beeves! These guys are legit.

episode transcribed

Todd Burnham 0:00
Hi, this is Todd Burnham. I am a licensed practicing attorney. But just because you're listening to me doesn't mean that I represent you. This is for informational purposes only if you're good with that, then let's roll.

Chris Braden 0:23
What do you do when you move to a new state during a recession with no contacts, no job, no money, little experience, and a family to support? You lean on what you know you continue to learn, grind every day, and you keep getting better. Join Todd Burnham as he outlines how he started Burnham law in his basement and grew to seven offices relying only on his experiences and inspirations from being a college athlete. His unique style of motivation and raw sense of humor are a welcome change from the business advice you're used to hearing. Whether you're a new or seasoned attorney, trying to grow your practice or an entrepreneur in any service industry, Todd's story is sure to inspire you to take action and follow your instincts. This is Deep Bench with Todd Burnham. Hey, Todd, how's it going, buddy?

Todd Burnham 1:11
I'm doing well. Chris, how are you?

Chris Braden 1:13
Good. So we kind of redid the intro. And when I was reading it said you started Burnham Law without a well defined business plan. What's that mean? Did you like? Write something on a napkin or just fly by the seat of your pants? Or would you do?

Todd Burnham 1:27
Well, it's interesting, because people will say that you need a definitive business plan. And you need to pick your marks for year one, year two, year three.

Chris Braden 1:35
And decade from now where do you want to be?

Todd Burnham 1:36
Where do you see yourself? I think that's an antiquated way. And I'll say this, maybe that for certain businesses, that's great. And it makes a lot of sense. And you can foresee what's going to happen when you're dealing with law, and especially in the beginning family law, then you're dealing with personalities with people with, I have no idea how good this opposing counsel is, you go through every different scenario. And you start, you've got to get a feel before you can do anything. So if I say I want to get into, I want to go into Denver, right, year one. And if you have no idea how to get there, or if you haven't experienced what competition is like in Denver, if you don't know any of those things, then you're just setting yourself up to push too fast or too slow, or and you're not going to get a feel for where your business wants to go. So more so than a business plan, I think is just one having concept and a good feel of your business. Right? You're working in it, if I'm working on the cases, I'm still paying attention to the number of calls, I'm still paying attention to the number of closed cases. And I have an idea in the beginning of how much each case generates presuming that we are doing excellent work. It has to start with that. But after that, if you don't have a feel for it, then you're just looking on paper, and you're just looking at stats, and you're not seeing when opportunities come up. And so years ago, I've had these moments several times, and it's super scary, you're super alone, you have super obligations, you have super fears of failure, and you have to trust your gut. And by trusting your gut, I mean, if you have a feeling that you should be doing more, or there's something you can do, then you have to commit, it's called burning the ships. I still get these emails back from people that I sent this email out to. And it's really just committing 100%. So it's a story I don't I don't have it in front of me. But it's a story about a bunch of thieves basically are going to steal some gold,

Chris Braden 1:37
Like some pirates.

Todd Burnham 3:34
Some pirates, right, hundreds of years ago. And they know that they're facing an armada, like 1000s and 1000s of people of warriors. They're guarding the treasure chest or whatever. And this leader brings with him 500 people, you know, we're talking about like 300 here, right? And so it's nighttime after the scout comes back and says yo, there's 1000s and 1000s. We are in trouble. They all talked about it, they're really afraid of to keep moving forward, there's a lot of fear, we're going to die, let's get the heck out of here. And in the morning, they woke up and said all the ships that they came over in, were burned. There was no way to leave. You are only going forward. And that's what the leader said to him like he look you have one way out of here. And it's success over all gonna die. And it's extreme, but it's it resonated with me, and I shared it with everyone. And it's kind of a running joke now but back then it was everything. It was everything. It had everything to do with my family, my children, my wife, my mother, it's personal. Do I believe enough in what we have here to expand and expose it all? Because aim big Miss big. Aim small, miss small. And, you know I get goosebumps thinking about it because it puts me back in those spots. And it's this Same kind of thing it is a balance between your gut, your heart and your head, and in your head is going to keep you safe. No, no, no, don't do that we need more money in the bank, the gut says, Trust yourself, you got good people with you, you can do this and you're not going to fail. Because here's the thing, even if it didn't work out, I'm not gonna quit, right? I'm just gonna have to make it work. If you don't quit, you won't fail. It's just Edison fix. So keep moving. Keep moving. A friend of mine, Andy Nathan, who owns fortnight collective, one of their their mantras is I think it's something to the effect of keep moving, literally. So you got to believe it's the mindset, everything about starting a business and expanding a business and making decisions in a business, in law. And in the law that we deal with. It's it's really gut, and it requires you to know your people know, and legitimately and genuinely care about their lives, will that person be there for me in my foxhole, when we need them? If you have those people, then you can almost probably achieve anything you put your mind to, especially in this area.

Chris Braden 6:12
So when you make these bold decisions for the company, do you talk to your wife about them, like for me, I'm married. But when you're all committed all in, it seems like you have to drag a lot of people with you, not only your wife, but your employees. And another thing about it is when you're all in, I think really what that's doing is you're really committing yourself to your customers to you're like, you know what we're all in, we burn the ships, I'm here for you. We're seeing this through, and we're going to do an amazing job for you.

Todd Burnham 6:40
This is a service industry. So I don't think anyone cares how I got there, right, I just want to make sure that we're the best at what we do. And so that's one of the things that you have to create to begin with, you have and we're talking about this next episode,

Chris Braden 6:51

Todd Burnham 6:52
You've got to be an expert.

Chris Braden 6:53

Todd Burnham 6:53
Period, you know, you can be a marketer. But if you don't get results, then the marketing doesn't matter, you have to be the best, or you have to just keep getting better,

Chris Braden 7:03

Todd Burnham 7:03
And if you keep doing that, then you're going to get better, because it's practice. I mean, this is an Allen Iverson practice, we're talking about repetition, you're always going to be better coaching, lacrosse, you're always going to be better with your left hand, after you throw it against the wall 1000 times the first time you look like you've never picked up a stick. So that's that piece. So knowing that we established that to move to open an office or decisions like that, and I talked to my wife, probably about everything. And you know, and a lot of times because I respect her opinions...

Chris Braden 7:35
It's a great sounding board too. They're not gonna hold back any punches on you.

Todd Burnham 7:39
No. And I'm really fortunate now not to have people around me that are just gonna say yes, but Katie is going to tell me what she really thinks. And it's probably one of the most important aspects and that I've been able to have is have someone that I completely trust that I value her opinion, and it's not coming from a place of fear. She's really I mean, I don't know how I did it, but I'm pretty sure she's like a Buddhist or, you know, she's just like very spiritual.

Chris Braden 8:05
She's got a lot of Zen going for her?

Todd Burnham 8:06
She does, it's, you know, I take her karma a lot. Like give me some of that. But it's, it's really like, you have that person in your life. That helps.

Chris Braden 8:15

Todd Burnham 8:16
But in the end, it's, do I believe in myself? Or am I just hoping? Am I just hoping for the best here? Am I just gambling? Or they're the people that I'm with, are they what I think they are? Like this past year, for 2020. We had, I think seven Super Lawyers or rising stars. That's incredible. You know? Now and some people would have waited to open it off is oh, we we are established now, no, and trust what you believe about your business, that you are an expert, and you know these people and you know, their abilities, etc. And follow it.

Chris Braden 8:51

Todd Burnham 8:51
If you can tap into that. That's the key that everything, everything is knowing your business, but you've got to feel it.

Chris Braden 8:58
You're absolutely right about that. And I think really, if we're being honest, not everybody has the guts that you have to do that. I think a lot of people are timid or even more than that. They overthink

Todd Burnham 9:10
Analysis paralysis.

Chris Braden 9:11
Yeah. So like, when you decided to burn the ships or even in the description, it says no well defined plan. Well, there was a plan, probably the plan was do a good job and make some money. Yeah. So when you're creating your business plan, how does it evolve you like, Okay, I'm going to Denver, I need x like, how do you like execute your plan?

Todd Burnham 9:33
You've got to think, okay, who's going to lead it?

Chris Braden 9:36

Todd Burnham 9:36
Am I going to be there? Or do I have someone

Chris Braden 9:39

Todd Burnham 9:39
And so and that's like with every office that we've opened, every person there is someone that I think for a number of reasons, are exceptional at their craft.

Chris Braden 9:49

Todd Burnham 9:49
And their ability to communicate with those in that office, in person in Fort Collins might not be the best person for Colorado Springs, right. And then you have people that are willing to move for you, so all these things come into bind, and then other people have to buy in. I got like Stephanie Randall, she moved from up here to Colorado Springs, because she believes, man that's like.

Chris Braden 10:13
Well, she's gutsy like you too.

Todd Burnham 10:14
She believes. And so

Chris Braden 10:16
She does.

Todd Burnham 10:17
Yeah. And you just try to stay humble, but hungry, and you keep doing that. And then from there, you you say, Okay, I've got the person. Now, how much is gonna cost? And it's not like you, you got to look at payroll, and then you got to look at the rest. And you've got to just put it in.

Chris Braden 10:34

Todd Burnham 10:34
And you say, Okay, these are the numbers we got. Get me three more. I'm on the phone at seven o'clock at night, eight o'clock, putting the kids to sleep texting with vendors, you've got to keep it lean, but also professional. And so we do some things differently, like the way that we outfit our offices are with rock posters. We don't have...

Chris Braden 10:52
Mostly Dave Matthews.

Todd Burnham 10:53
Well no, down in the Springs. Look here let's talk about some random. I'm so old man. But I mean, you're just doing things differently. And it mirrors the theme and the the culture that you're trying to create.

Chris Braden 11:03
That's true. It does. And you've done a really, really good job with that. So Boulder was the first office right or Denver,

Todd Burnham 11:11

Chris Braden 11:12

Todd Burnham 11:12
Erie, Colorado.

Chris Braden 11:13
Okay. So we're in in Eerie, then Boulder.

Todd Burnham 11:16
Bad move.

Chris Braden 11:17

Todd Burnham 11:17
Because yeah.

Chris Braden 11:18
I mean, it's close to Erie.

Todd Burnham 11:19
Exactly. That's the bad move.

Chris Braden 11:21

Todd Burnham 11:21
So you make it you're just like, Oh, I'm gonna do that. And, and it makes sense. But then you're really competing, because in that situation, I'm, I mean, Erie really far away from Greeley. But on that side of between Boulder and Weld, right? I'm like a mile away from having two Boulder locations, right? So I've just saturated my market. And if I wanted to focus and try to really contain one county, then you just need one lawye.,

Chris Braden 11:47

Todd Burnham 11:47
Or something to that effect. I mean, every office has a certain amount of people in a certain because that's the number of cases and if it gets bigger,

Chris Braden 11:55

Todd Burnham 11:56
Then you negotiate with your landlord. We're doubling the space in Colorado Springs.

Chris Braden 12:01
Yeah, I heard about that.

Todd Burnham 12:02
We open Cherry Creek, and we're downsizing DTC. But I also experienced almost a year of pain from paying for office, that's way too large. So you have to and you got to make these decisions, like real time and think about growth in the future, then you've got to know your numbers.

Chris Braden 12:20

Todd Burnham 12:21
Where are the calls originating from? And we'll get into marketing eventually.

Chris Braden 12:24

Todd Burnham 12:24
So I mean, that's my jam. Now. I love SEO. And it's because of moving offices. You're looking at all these different things. And then you become Oh, man, I'm starting to understand the numbers. I'm starting to understand what our clients want.

Chris Braden 12:38
And when the analytics change with the areas so like, what happens up here in Boulder is, not I can tell you that is not same as in Colorado Springs.

Todd Burnham 12:47

Chris Braden 12:48
It's a whole different population.

Todd Burnham 12:49
It really is. And you gotta know and respect and really cater to the people that you want as clients.

Chris Braden 12:57
Right. So maybe not being an attorney. This is kind of interesting to me, because I know you have a lot of attorneys like to settle, but you have a lot of like litigators on your team that they like to go to court. How important is it for an attorney to have an office close to you know, whether it's El Paso County Court or Douglas County? Does the any of that even matter?

Todd Burnham 13:18
Let me just clarify one thing, the attorneys that we have don't want to litigate, but they're willing to. They're certainly willing to.

Chris Braden 13:25

Todd Burnham 13:26
There's a difference, you know,

Chris Braden 13:27
Well, they crack a smile if they get to, right?

Todd Burnham 13:29
Yeah, if they if they get to, and they like the case, that means that they believe they have a winning case.

Chris Braden 13:34

Todd Burnham 13:35
Good lawyers are ones that are able to settle the weaker cases and the stronger cases and making sure that it's everybody feels some pain, or everybody gets a win win, but it's never sometimes but mostly, it's not. It's not like that for us. You want those lawyers in those geo spaces to know the courtrooms that they're at.

Chris Braden 13:54

Todd Burnham 13:55
So I think that's really important. No, the not everybody has six offices. So people in the springs are going to have different law firms that they go against regularly.

Chris Braden 14:03
Or judges and stuff like that.

Todd Burnham 14:05
Same deal. And so then part of our strategy to was having exposure for our firm like we do, Stephanie, and Mary, our child and family investigators, and they're appointed by different courts. So you get some exposure for the firm that way before you even get into that market.

Chris Braden 14:19

Todd Burnham 14:20
You just get more exposure and you do it in a way that you're going in knowing that you're going to add value,

Chris Braden 14:26

Todd Burnham 14:26
You're not going in just out we're gonna go into this office, a lot of thought goes into it and many almost mistakes happened but really happy with what we got.

Chris Braden 14:35
So I guess moral of the story, burn the ships if you're fully committed.

Todd Burnham 14:39
If you're fully committed, you've gotta go all in. Otherwise be happy with being a little bit more safe.

Chris Braden 14:46
Status quo?

Todd Burnham 14:47
Well, I mean, some people that's that's their happy place. Some people like that and that's great.

Chris Braden 14:52
Right. Lots of people to be honest with you.

Todd Burnham 14:53
And those people can be solos or have a small law firm and they can specialize in something and do really good work. I'd like to think that, no I know, that every one of our offices is like that. So I feel really good about that. And I think that people that want to stay in one spot, I think that that's great, too.

Chris Braden 15:10
The comfort thing you're talking about your perspective changes as your life changes.

Todd Burnham 15:14
Yeah. No, it does. Yeah. And, and I think that's if your perspective changes, then I would think that you're growing.

Chris Braden 15:21

Todd Burnham 15:21
So it's a different mentality. People are parents, it's not the same. And so it's not the same. The, for the law firm, it's, you know, we have more modern, it's not the leather bound book, you know, the books and mahogany everywhere, you know, like, I'm just not into it. And I don't want to do that, if that's not who we are.

Chris Braden 15:42
Well, and I think really just, I've heard the stories of when you were young, and now the company has grown, you have a lot of people relying on you, and you're still committed 100%. But I always think you know that those people are depending on you. So that's a different form of motivation and pressure.

Todd Burnham 15:59
You know, what, more money more problems? Yeah, exactly. Yeah,

Chris Braden 16:02
Maybe Jay Z.

Todd Burnham 16:03
It probably was. It was Biggie. So I think that it might look that way. But understand, like we put, it's not like we it's not like I'm on a yacht over there. We put money back into this to keep building it the right way. And the pressure and the stress that I felt five years ago making a move into Denver. It's not any different than what I feel right now. Except I'm just dealing with it better, I think, because I have more experience. And I've had more trust in myself, as I've burned the ships and saw that I wasn't burning in them. That's true. And so once you get that you start getting a little confidence.

Chris Braden 16:41

Todd Burnham 16:41
And you say, this feels right to me. And then most of it after a while just becomes intuition,

Chris Braden 16:47

Todd Burnham 16:47
And if you can tap into that, you're going to make mistakes, but you're going to, you're going to turn them around quicker. You're going to move on from that faster, you can be more efficient, because you're focusing all the time on just getting better.

Chris Braden 17:00
So good stuff, Todd, any parting shots while we're getting out of here?

Todd Burnham 17:04
Nah, man. Thanks for making the trip up. Appreciate it.

Chris Braden 17:07
No problem.

Todd Burnham 17:09
Hey, thanks for listening. Make sure you subscribe and until next time, keep getting better.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai