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In today’s episode Jake Minick talks with Jonathan Dichter of DUI Heroes in Washington state. Jonathan is an expert storyteller, with a background in acting and stand-up comedy. These entertainment traits shine through in our conversation as Jonathan dives into the best strategies for building a DUI firm and his secrets to success. Jonathan is the author of Innovative DUI Trial Tools which is a national strategy guide for DUI Lawyers all over the country. Jonathan’s firm is devoted to clients charged with DUI and regularly teaches CLEs on DUI.

Highlights:

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Jonathan reveals how to run an exclusive DUI practice

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Get insider info on DUI Heroes’ mission and 7 “we believe” statements

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Discover how to differentiate yourself from the competition and why Jonathan does not worry about making his business model an open book for other DUI lawyers

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Discover the difference between starting a conversation with “how are you doing?” and “how can I help you?”

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Get Jonathan’s #1 tip on how to refer clients to other professionals such as alcohol assessors, insurance agents, and interlock providers

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Learn how Jonathan’s team communicates with clients on a firm level as opposed to through individual response

Transcript:

Episode 9 Transcript

Jake Minick:
Hello fellow freedom fighters and welcome to another episode of the NC DWI Guy Podcast. Today we have a very special guest on the program, Jonathan Dichter who is from DUI Heroes, managing partner of DUI Heroes. Been an attorney that practices in the DWI arena for over 15 years, is the author of Innovative DUI Trial Tools, the most recent fourth edition which is a national strategy guide for DUI lawyers all over the country. He’s also written a DUI Survival Guide for his clients to help walk them through the process, has been very involved and engaged with the National College of DUI Defense, frequently teaches on DUI topics with all kinds of different associations, number of seminars with NACDL. We are very excited to have Jonathan on the program today. Thanks for joining us, Jonathan.

Jonathan Dichter:
Wow, you make me sound a lot more impressive than I think I might be James. But no, no, no, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Jake Minick:
Definitely an undersell. Very impressive coursework and all kinds of different teaching aspects, certainly with the pretty hefty text that is the DUI Trial Tools which again, lawyers all over the country look at.

Jonathan Dichter:
I appreciate it. I’ll tell you though that the one thing that isn’t written anywhere in there that only lawyers will appreciate, and this isn’t a story I really tell people but you’ll get it where I felt like finally maybe I know something that people might be interested in learning from me. I was sitting in my office, I had developed a storytelling CLE that I was going to teach for the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and my legal secretary came back in and she said, “There’s a lawyer from Colorado on the line. He wants to talk to you about your CLE and maybe about cross examination,” or something like that.

Jonathan Dichter:
I said, “I don’t know anybody from Colorado but Sure, I’ll pick it up,” picked up the phone. I picked the phone, it was Larry Pozner. Larry was about to give a talk to the National College for DUI Defense on cross examination for DUI and he said, “Jonathan, I don’t do DUIs. I know how to cross examine, but cross examining in DUIs is a really unique thing.” And if you saw that presentation of the National College in October, about I’m going to say 30 to 40% of his PowerPoint slides were direct lifts out of my book because I just sent him the information I use on cross examination and he just used it, and that’s great. I loved it. [crosstalk 00:03:15]. Larry Pozner is using my stuff.

Jake Minick:
Well, that’s the kind of [inaudible 00:03:20] I feel like those trial notebooks are so helpful with. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel every single time when you’ve got the right cross examination questions, the right framework for closing. Reinventing the wheel is just not the right call in every single case.

Jonathan Dichter:
Yeah, it’s about fine tuning as you go. One of my associates is prepping what’s going to be her first, first chair DUI jury trial right now. And as I’m guiding her through that process I told her, “The way you’re thinking about this is backwards. The way you should be thinking about this as I start, the first thing I do is I draft the opening line of my closing argument, then I figure out what I need the state to forget to prove and I work backwards instead of forwards.” She turned everything on its head and started doing it that way. It’s just about thinking about it … Yeah, always, always. I find there’s about seven or eight different ideas and they’re all variations on a theme, then you just tweak it a little and you add new things here and there where they work, try them out and see what sticks.

Jake Minick:
Well Jonathan, tell us a little bit about what brought you into the DWI arena. Was that something that you wanted to do, criminal law out of law school? What was the reason for walking down that road?

Jonathan Dichter:
My whole journey to arrive here was a series of unfortunate accidents. I was raised by a doctor and a nurse, and I wanted to be a emergency room physician and I was actually … I started in medical school. I did through a six year medical program. About a year and a half into that program, I realized that the more advanced sciences did not click with my brain and I needed to switch gears. I went home and I told my mom and dad, “Hey, I’m not going to be a doctor anymore,” and they said, “Okay. Well, what do you think you’re going to do?” And I said, “Well you know, in my spare time I’ve been doing stand up. I think I might want to act,” and my mom fell off the couch.

Jake Minick:
I’m sure there was a lot of applause on that, right?

Jonathan Dichter:
My mom literally fell off the couch at that point. So when she came to I said, “Or, maybe law school.” Then they said, “Oh yeah, that sounds like a great idea.”

Jake Minick:
That was a good way to set it up. If you set the bar low and then move into that, that’s a good way to tell the medical family that I’m going to be doing something else. That was a good way of easing the blow.

Jonathan Dichter:
I say all the time, the only thing people hate more than a defense lawyer is a stand up comic and I’ve been both, so it’s … But, I changed my direction. I went to law school, I got a political science degree from the University of Akron in Ohio, moved out to Seattle to go to law school and when I got here, I figured I’ve been doing the stand up thing, I’ll do entertainment law. And, that’s what I … All right. Then I took contracts and on the second day of contracts I said, “Crap, I do not want to do this for the rest of my life.” So, what else am I going to do?

Jake Minick:
Were you doing stand up during that time while you were in law school?

Jonathan Dichter:
No, not so much. I mean, I had an open invitation to a couple of clubs nearby because I knew some of the people that owned it because I’d been doing the stand up circuit and I’d done a little bit of voice work and things like that, and I had done some radio work. But no, I-

Jake Minick:
I it seems like that was really going to be a helpful background in terms of law school, especially in terms of the courtroom and just being comfortable up in front of people, learning how to break the ice.

Jonathan Dichter:
Yeah, it really is and that’s partially why contracts did not appeal to me, because contracts are dead documents and not living people. I spent a summer, that summer interning for my dad’s attorney. At that point, my mom and dad were living in rural Oklahoma. This was a little tiny law firm that did everything; oil and gas lease, family law, personal injury, you name it. And, they had a criminal appeal that came with a municipal ordinance violation. It was an appeal of a trespassing case and they said, “Well Jonathan, you just took criminal law. Why don’t you do this?” I said, “All right, cool.” First year law student, just finished my first year had my … I’m excited to be a law student, shirt on and everything.

Jonathan Dichter:
I went out to go investigate this case and I drove out to the little town in Oklahoma where this took place. I won’t name the town just in case there are people from the town that are offended. But I can tell you that driving into this town … I had to go into the town to get some of the records and things. Driving in town, there were two signs at the city limits. One said, and these were both machine produced, professionally designed signs that were at the town city limits. And I’m going to remind you that this was the summer of the year 2000. The first sign was, Welcome to [blank 00:08:24], Oklahoma. This is our town, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The second sign in very, very impolite language warned minorities not to be on the streets after dark.

Jake Minick:
Dang, that is crazy.

Jonathan Dichter:
I decided at that moment, I don’t care what my client did or didn’t do, this town is not going to win because I’m not okay with that. I did some research and found a really fun loophole in the ordinances and sure enough, I wrote up a brief and we got the thing dismissed and it felt amazing. So I came back to law school and I started studying criminal law, and I found a real knack for it. And much like everybody else in their second year of law school, I applied for my limited license to be an intern, what we call a Rule 9 intern here, limited license practice. And like literally everybody else in Seattle, I applied to be a prosecutorial intern with the King County Prosecutor’s Office and like everybody else, I did not get that job.

Jonathan Dichter:
The story I like to tell is, I stood in the lobby of the King County Courthouse in Seattle and I made a pact with God at that point that if the prosecutor’s office didn’t want me, I’d spend the rest of my career making them sorry for that decision. It’s a great story and I wish it were true, but it’s not. What actually happened was I said, “Crap, I need a job,” and I kept looking, and eventually I got picked up by a small public defense firm that did Municipal Court public defense. License suspensions, reckless driving, assaults, shoplifting, DUI. I did that until I got my Bar Card and at that point, I was the public defender for a small city north of Seattle basically. The firm I work for held that contract. They were a subcontractor and that was my territory.

Jonathan Dichter:
I worked there for a couple of and then a private attorney who had just started up a firm came in and didn’t know where to stand in that courthouse and asked me for help. I helped her out, and she ended up hiring me to be her associate. I worked there for about two and a half years and then in the summer of 2009, I got an email laying me off like everybody else in the summer of 2000. I found myself in a really weird position because I had literally just put a nursery together for my daughter who was on the way, I had about zero dollars in my bank account because I was waiting on a baby, and now I had no job. I called every attorney I knew and said, “Who wants me?” They all said, “We would love to have you, but you’re too good at this point and we can’t afford you.” Then I said, “If I got to open a firm …” I went to every bank in town and they all said, “As soon as you’ve been in business two years, we’ll lend you whatever you want.”

Jake Minick:
That’s always the favorite answer.

Jonathan Dichter:
So, I got a small business loan from the First National Bank and my grandma and I opened my firm, which was originally Dichter Law Office on August 1st, 2009 and we already had a client. I had one client at that point and it was a DUI case. At that point, I had been a member of the National College, I had been learning about DUIs. DUI was one of the focus areas of that other firm, and so it became my new focus area. Over the course of the first three years, our DUI volumes increased to the point where on the third year in business, we did not get hired on any cases other than DUIs in that entire year. So I said, “Okay, well I’m wasting marketing dollars marketing for non-DUI cases because I’m not getting them, so I’m going to push all in on DUI,” and I did. My firm became exclusively DUI. We went through a variety of different evolutions of our firm and our firm’s image.

Jonathan Dichter:
About three and a half years ago, I brought on my first associate. About six months ago, actually almost eight months ago now, I brought on my second associate and just recently promoted the first associate senior associate and that’s our team. We have a legal assistant as well. Then January 1st of this year essentially, we pulled the trigger on something I’ve been working on behind the scenes for quite a while, which was a complete renaming and rebranding of my firm. Dichter Law Office is still the business name, but we’ve now registered a trade name doing business as, we are now duiheroes.com, DUI Heroes as well, either one, .com or without the .com. And that change, I’ll tell you from an aside on a business perspective, making that change the first month that we invested our marketing into that, we saw a revenue bump of about 200%.

Jake Minick:
That’s incredible. Just based on that name rebranding.

Jonathan Dichter:
Well, it was an entire rebranding package. What I mean is we changed the name of the firm, we had the website redesigned by our website guys, we had a new firm branding video produced. We had a variety of different new … We had new logos designed, new social media designed. I started doing my own social media organic content. This was a concentrated concerted push and that paid off.

Jake Minick:
How long had you been doing just exclusively DUI cases prior to that? You started that in, what did you say? About-

Jonathan Dichter:
I started that this year. Well, I started the … DUI Heroes was this year, and I started doing exclusively DUI about seven years ago, so about 2013.

Jake Minick:
Okay, yeah. I mean, that’s [crosstalk 00:13:55].

Jonathan Dichter:
And we were successful. We were a successful firm to begin with. As the small firms go, our numbers and our revenue were fairly significant. We did a really nice job, then this change is now allowing us to push to that next level. We’re doing things nobody is doing with DUIs at this point. We’re doing things in terms of marketing and the way that we’re handling our cases, the way that we’re presenting our cases, the way we’re taking care of our clients, the way we … We really have brand cohesion, our core values. We’re doing things nobody else is doing in this industry. And in fact around the country, there’s fertile ground for people that do what we do who have a business growth mindset to look at this and push forward with it in similar ways.

Jonathan Dichter:
About a couple of weeks ago I chatted with an attorney in Boston for about an hour and I laid out exactly everything I’ve done to get to where I am. When we were all done he was like, “I’m going to straight up copy most of this, but I’m curious why you’re telling me everything.” And I said, “Well number one, you’re not in my market. Number two, even if you were in my market, I wouldn’t care because you’re not me, so you’re not selling me. What I’m selling is me, my process, my firm, my people so we’re not selling the same product anyway. And number three, people helped me get started when I got started. We’re a very friendly bar out here.” And most importantly to me is by the time my cohorts and colleagues, by the time they get as good at what I’m doing as I am, I’m going to be doing the next thing already. And I don’t mind if people are a step behind me. I don’t mind. That’s okay. I’ll help you out.

Jake Minick:
Yeah, I think in terms of that focus on DUI and having done that now for such a long period of time, really everybody in the team understanding this is what we do, this is how we’re going to be … These are the type of clients that we are going to be serving. I always think about it in terms of in the medical world, the general practitioner versus a brain surgeon. You’ve got this [inaudible 00:16:17] of specialization that is jus a differentiating factor in and of itself. In terms of your marketplace, how many other firms are concentrating just solely on DWI cases, or even maybe primarily on DWI cases?

Jonathan Dichter:
You know, you’d be surprised. I’ll say that you used that word starting with S, specialization. In Washington, we have to say focus area. We’re not allowed to use that word.

Jake Minick:
Same thing here, it’s a … You got the bar rules. But yeah, in terms of right, your …

Jonathan Dichter:
My exclusive focus, right? You’d be surprised. There are actually a number of firms in my area. I’m in the county just north of King County, which is where Seattle is and so we’ve got a fairly large metropolitan area. There’s I’d say, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 or 40 firms and/or sole practitioners that are focused on DUI. In terms of exclusive focus there’s fewer, but you’re still looking at a good dozen or so. In the area, the nice thing is that there’s more than enough business to go around. Also, the nice thing is that we all present different things and more than that, I present something different than everybody else.

Jonathan Dichter:
You talked about my team and my team having all these different pieces to it and that was a huge game changer for me, was when I started using a team based concept. When you have multiple attorneys at a affirm, the common business practice is intake, client hires, file goes to lead attorney, lead attorney is lead attorney on case and you just farm them out to the attorneys down the row or whatever or the person who brings them in gets to keep them, whatever it is. I don’t do that. I refuse to do that. I think that my clients are paying a significant sum of money to go through a tremendous ordeal for themselves, and they deserve the benefit of everything that we have to offer them.

Jonathan Dichter:
So when I hired my first associate, now my senior associate Rachel. When I hired her, I hired somebody with eight and a half, seven and a half years rather, as a municipal court prosecutor under her belt prosecuting DUI cases in the municipal courts locally. So, she has a different mindset than I do and she is one of the most detail oriented issue spotters I’ve ever seen. So when I’ve got a police report that needs to be reviewed, I give it to Rachel. Then seven months ago I hired Katie, and Katie was the former lead prosecutor for three years … A prosecutor for over eight years, but he former lead prosecutor for three years in the Snohomish County Drug Court Program. She’s my person who knows more about addiction, and substances, and healing than anybody else. And I’m our storyteller.

Jonathan Dichter:
So what we’ve got is, you’ve got three different people with a set of overlapping skills complementing each other instead of copying each other. People said, “How are you going to find somebody who’s just like you?” I said, “I don’t want somebody who’s just like me. I already have one of me. I need somebody who can do different things.” So what we tell our clients is, and it’s the truth, we don’t give them our individual email addresses. We give them our team email address. It goes to everybody here at the firm, myself included so that whoever’s in the best position to answer their question at that moment gets back to them, usually within a few minutes.

Jonathan Dichter:
And at any given stage of a case, the one of us that is the right one to have the case in their hands has the case in their hands. We do weekly case staff meetings where we touch every single file and we talk about every single file. Every active client we have, we talk about them. What’s next? Who’s going to be on that? That way, they get all that benefit and nobody else is doing it that way. [crosstalk 00:20:32] a huge selling point.

Jake Minick:
Yeah, I think it is. I mean, I think that a lot of people preach a team concept and I would say even true in my own firm, preach a team concept but there’s definitely more of a point man strategy in terms of how we approach things and I really like that idea of everybody being involved. It’s been nice for us in terms of the team model to be able to have mock trial days where we’re living each case and in any case that’s going to trial, being able to bounce that off of the collective brain capacity of all of the attorneys at the firm. But, I like that idea of you’re getting truly the entire team and not just an individual attorney. When you’re asking us a question, you’re asking the collective brainpower of the entire firm.

Jonathan Dichter:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, and it’s a huge selling point. I’ll tell you, we don’t have any competition in our industry because we do something different so nobody else is selling our product, therefore we don’t have any direct competition. We have colleagues, we have people that do similar things. But if we had a direct competitor in terms of branding and marketing, et cetera, it would be a specific firm in Seattle. I’m not going to mention them by name or by ad, but they’re the only other firm in the area that has a brand behind them and that brand for them is a 1-800 number. That 1-800 number is very, very well known in this area because they’ve been advertising it on morning radio on the Rock Station with the Rock Jocks for over a decade. The thing about it is, is that their strategy in terms of managing their cases is not as robust and the training their attorneys go through is not as robust. The education their attorneys have in terms of DUI specific education and experience is not as robust.

Jake Minick:
Yeah, I think that’s really a difference maker right there.

Jonathan Dichter:
Well, I ask people when they ask me, “What’s the difference between you and them?” I say, “They’ve got a cool 800 number. I have a book that’s on the shelf of hundreds of lawyers around the country written about doing what you need me to do. Which would you rather have?”

Jake Minick:
Yeah, I think being able to separate yourself with education … One of our core values is having a student mindset and just trying to constantly be upping the game. We’re never going to become experts in this in terms of our own mentality. We’re always going to be students trying to figure out another way of presenting these type of cases. In terms of your firm and the way that you deliver differently, you talk about how you’ve not got any competition. What does that look like in terms of day-to-day at the office, whether that’s in terms of client interactions, in terms of your core values, in terms of where you specifically put your time and energy in terms of training? What are some of those differentiating factors?

Jonathan Dichter:
Sure. I’ll say that this evolution into who we’ve become, and who we’ve become, I’m specifically talking about the DUI Heroes model at this point. But, this evolution into this really started years ago. I want to I guess tell you a brief story that leads into where we’re going if that makes sense.

Jake Minick:
Great. Yeah, thank you.

Jonathan Dichter:
This is a story from gosh, I’m going to say my third or fourth year owning the farm on my own. At that point it was just me. I didn’t even have a support staff. I mean, it was literally just me running the shop. I had a client by the name of Catherine. Catherine had come to me on a second offense DUI. Her first fence was alcohol related, second offense the facts were pretty lame. She had got in a little fender bender getting off the highway in the middle of the afternoon. Officer came and investigated it and said, “Hey, why don’t you guys go pull over there into that parking lot and I’ll come talk to you.” She was on a number of mental health drugs at the time, very nervous, very anxious. He noticed that she seemed very jittery and very nervous around him so rather than call out a drug recognition expert or anything like that, he asked her what medication she was on and when she listed off her medications, he just arrested for DUI, took her down to the station and had her blood drawn.

Jonathan Dichter:
Well, she ended up in my office and as a lawyer … Two little asides from this story. The first thing is, there’s a project that I’m working on, on my own that is separate and apart from my law firm. It’s not something I’m going to be doing for profit or as a business or anything, but it deals with the idea of changing the mindset of the community about how defense lawyers work and who we are. And, changing the mindsets that people understand that we are not the bad guys, that we’re the ones who take our client’s worries, and fears, and tears, and heartache home with us. That those of us that really care about our clients go through it with them and nobody sees that. So, it’s about the concept of sharing those stories that have made a difference to us individually as advocates.

Jonathan Dichter:
Then the second aside is, any attorney will tell you this. We are supposed to care equally and like our clients equally regardless of who they are or how they come to us, how they present themselves. For the most part, that’s true, but every now and then you get a client you like a little bit more, or you connect with a little bit more, or it’s just, “Oh gosh, I’m so happy to hear …” Catherine was one of those clients. She was somebody I loved hearing from her. She called us almost every week and most cases there was nothing going on. Part of the reason was because she was very, very anxious and very nervous, and it helped calm her down.

Jonathan Dichter:
Well, her case moves forward along in time and we set it for a series of pre trial motions the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I go down to the courthouse and we’re the only case on the calendar, and she’s not there. It’s weird, so I call her. I don’t get an answer and I say to the judge who’s there, and this Judge Carol [McCray 00:27:18], she’s now retired. I say, “Judge, I got to be honest. This is unusual for her and I’m going to ask you first not to issue a warrant.” She said, “No, I know this is unusual for her. I’m the judge who was monitoring her probation on her first case, I’ve gotten to know her. This is unusual. Have you heard from her?” I said, “No, I haven’t heard from her in about a week and a half or so.”

Jonathan Dichter:
As I started describing not having heard from her and that it was unusual, I started getting a little pit in my stomach and I said to the judge, “You know judge, I got to be honest. I got a really bad feeling about this. I don’t have anything else on my calendar today. What I’m going to ask the court to do is strike the motion hearing. I think I’m going to call the Everett Police Department and I’m going to go do a welfare check with them. I want to make sure she’s okay.” So, I take myself up to this house in the middle of a neighborhood in Everett, which is a next town up from Seattle on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I get there and there’s an Everett Police Department officer already there. He greets me and he says, “So you’re here looking for Catherine.” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “And who are you?” And I said, “I’m her attorney.” He says, “Okay. Well, I ran this address when I got here. We were here a week ago, she’s dead.”

Jonathan Dichter:
I said, “I’m sorry, what?” He said, “Yeah, she’s dead.” I said, “What happened?” He said, “I don’t know.” So I went up to the records department and I got a copy of the police report that day, and one of her roommates had found her just laying in bed. All of her pills were gone she was just … She went to sleep and didn’t wake back up. And I filed a motion to dismiss because you got to do that to clean up the procedural nature of it and all that. I filed all this again, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and I just sat in my office staring at the walls. Catherine was not the first client who I had lost in my career, but it was a hard hit.

Jonathan Dichter:
And my phone rang. I picked it up and it was judge McCray. Judge McCray said, “Jonathan, I just got your motion. I saw the police report and I wanted to call and say I’m really sorry.” And I said, “Well judge, I appreciate that. I wish I could say this was the first client I’ve lost but sometimes as defense attorneys, people come to us in the worst situations of their lives and it’s a situation where you just got to deal with it sometimes.” Judge McCray said to me, and I will never forget this. I’ll be honest, I did not look up the rating of your podcast and I apologize if I’m about to say something I’m not supposed to. Judge McCray said to me, “Jonathan Dichter, don’t bullshit me.” And I said, “I’m sorry judge?” She said, “I’ve been watching you for about the last five years in my courtroom. You care more about your clients than most attorneys can ever hope to learn how to, and this was a really nice lady. How are you really doing?” Okay, all right.

Jonathan Dichter:
I leveled with her and I told her it was a really tough thing. Judge McCray did not have to go out of her way to make that call in first place. She sure as heck didn’t have to go out of our way to tell me that that’s how I was being seen by the legal community. But, it altered the course of my practice because I realized that that level of caring wasn’t a deficit, it was a strength. It wasn’t something I was doing wrong as a lawyer, it was something I was doing right as a lawyer.

Jake Minick:
I think going your point of just being able to change the perception of criminal defense attorneys. And again, I’m not sure exactly what that looks like in terms of your side project, but having that level of compassion I think is a lot the difference making in the public perception, is to see attorneys that are not just … Everybody imagines that criminal defense lawyers are in it for the money, which is absurd because there’s not-

Jonathan Dichter:
That’s personal injury lawyers.

Jake Minick:
Yeah, [inaudible 00:31:38]. Or, that people want to for some reason, get in it to undermine the judicial system or whatever it might be. The compassion elements I think is something that sets a lot of criminal defense attorneys apart. I think that’s the reason why a lot of people get into it. Now, maybe some people lose their way a little bit in the trying to find out how to make a living, trying to figure out how to make ends meet and so you lose some of that. But for the most part, there is a lot of compassion within the criminal defense bar.

Jake Minick:
But I also think that in terms of making your individual market different and again, not having ever seen you in the courtroom but having watched the video, your brand video that is on your website. That is clearly one of the most important pieces of your practice, is the client interaction. Not necessarily what happens in the courtroom, but this is a human being that I am representing and is going through addiction. This is a human being that might die because of this [inaudible 00:32:57] that they have.

Jonathan Dichter:
Yeah, so this journey began there. That became something that altered the course of things, and it continued through into last year. Last year I was fortunate enough to be a part of a marketing conference in Atlanta that I went to and while I was there, I redesigned my own mission statement, vision statement and core values. My mission statement evolved into … I’m going to share with you.

Jake Minick:
Yeah, that would be great.

Jonathan Dichter:
I’m going to share all these things with you here. This is the mission statement of my firm at this point, DUI Heroes works every day to provide the highest quality, innovative, caring and unyielding DUI and criminal defense representation to our clients, treating them with compassion and humanity in order to help them through the unrelenting traumatic stress of being charged with a crime. We help our clients when they cannot help themselves by treating them with the respect and caring we would want if we were in their position. We go a step beyond all other attorneys’ offices to create the best possible customer service experience for our clients at all times, regardless of how our days are going, or the stressors in our lives outside this office. After I wrote that, I sat down and I wrote seven we believe statements, and I remind my-

Jake Minick:
Before you get into that, I just think that that is such a important mindset to have in terms of everything in there. And I know education is important to you based on all of the CLEs that you’ve attended on your website, all of the CLEs that you’ve taught, the fact that you have authored the Innovative DUI Trial Tools, but that’s not in your mission statement, right? It’s all about recognizing the client as a human being. One thing that I always think of is the client that gets amazing courtroom representation and gets an amazing result in the courtroom, but has a crappy client-attorney experience is going to leave that attorney-client representation disappointed. The client that doesn’t get the outcome that they’re looking for but gets incredibly compassionate and caring representation is going to walk away from that experience and tell every person that they meet, “This is the person that you need to go talk to.”

Jonathan Dichter:
One of the kindest reviews that a client left for me on Avvo years ago, I read it and I was blown away by the kindness of it and the generosity with the praise which she heaped on me. She wrote it two weeks after I lost her jury trial. And that’s … Go ahead.

Jake Minick:
Yeah, some of that stuff is just not within your control, clients recognize that. But, what they do recognize is that what is within your control is five star service all the time. The phone calls, the emails, everything that you’re doing to help them get the information that they need, to help get the answers to their questions, to help them feel like you understand and care about what happens that this is such a life changing event. That all is really what drives the client experience in terms of being able to come away from it feeling not just satisfied, but wow.

Jonathan Dichter:
Yeah, and that actually really nicely progressed into those we believe statements. What I like about these is they summarize what my business is. And I say my business because much like some other industry leaders I’m familiar with, I remind my people frequently that this is who we are as a business and if you’re not okay with that, that’s okay. That doesn’t make you a bad employee, it doesn’t make you a bad lawyer, it doesn’t make you a bad anything. Please tell me that you don’t agree and I will happily help you find your next position. I will give you a wonderful reference and I’ll give you two months severance. Nobody’s taken me up on it yet because everybody buys in, but-

Jake Minick:
I love the fact that you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is. I mean, if you’ve got that is not a culture fit, it really doesn’t matter how experienced they are, what they can bring to the courtroom. If they don’t fit in with your culture, it’s not going to end well.

Jonathan Dichter:
Well with our rebrand, one of the things that we added to it … We used to have a packet for our clients, an opening packet. Welcome to the firm, here’s a list of the things you might need. Here’s the different agencies we work with. Some lawyers, they give out a little pamphlets from the different agencies, the little business cards. We went a step beyond that, we put it into a nice packet of paper. Well, now we went a step beyond that even and now we have a very nice, fully designed, branded, full color essentially magazine booklet. Eight and a half by 11, full color both sides, bound and printed and on the back cover are these we believe statements so that every client knows who is representing them.

Jonathan Dichter:
They are, we believe a DUI charge shouldn’t destroy a person’s world. We believe a person struggling with substances is someone with a problem, not someone who is a problem. We believe it’s our duty to protect our clients’ hopes and dreams for the future. We believe that client care, which is what we call it, is far more effective and human than case management. We believe that sharing our clients’ stories is the pathway to justice. We believe innovative storytellers are always more effective than any other advocate in any case. And lastly and this one is larger than the rest, we believe in our clients.

Jake Minick:
I love that.

Jonathan Dichter:
It’s of crucial importance to me that our clients carry this with them. They get a branded folder with this client handbook in it. It’s not a guide, it’s not a defendant’s guide, it’s not a, whatever. It’s a client handbook. It’s, here’s who we are, who you’ve hired to take your hand and guide you through this process and here’s how we view you. Then we talk about what that really means on the business side, and-

Jake Minick:
How do you incorporate those belief statements into what you guys [inaudible 00:39:37]?

Jonathan Dichter:
Real simple, client commitment is one of our first core values, care and client relationships. All of our clients, we refer to them by first name. We allow them to refer to us by first name. Clients who call me Sir, or Mr. Dichter or attorney Dichter, no thank you. Jonathan is just fine.

Jake Minick:
I totally agree.

Jonathan Dichter:
Quality care and representation. We make sure that we just care. One of the easiest ways to do that we’ve found is to recognize one thing that almost nobody tells their clients. This attorney I was talking to a week or so ago asked me, he says, “Take me through, what’s a potential client phone call look like for you? They call and they say, ‘Hi, I got a DUI last night.’ What do you tell them?” I said, “The first thing I tell them, and everybody at my firm tells them this and they honestly feel it, honestly believe it and honestly want the client to know it is, I’m really sorry that happened. That sucks. That’s a terrible thing to go through. I’m sorry you’re going through it. Let’s see what we can do to help you.”

Jake Minick:
Yeah, I think that one of the … To piggyback off of that idea, one thing that I have found inconsistent, and we try to always communicate with clients with a smile in our voice, with a cheerfulness in our voice. But to some extent, there are certain times when somebody calls in and they basically … The right approach isn’t, “How are you doing today?” If you know why they’re walking into the office and then you act like you don’t know why they’re there by saying, “How’s life going? How are you doing today?” It is totally a off-putting … It’s like, “You have no clue what I just went through. I was in handcuffs last night. I was in the back of a police car. Did you not realize why I’m on your calendar today?” So, having your entire team realize this person is at the bottom of life and it doesn’t mean you can’t help encourage them to move forward in the right direction, but you also have to be there with them for a little bit.

Jonathan Dichter:
Here’s a million dollar piece of advice for any DUI attorneys listening. This will increase your value to yourself and to your clients by $1 million over the course of your life. I guarantee it, or you guys can return the podcast to James at no cost. So, here’s what it is. James, based on what you just said I know for a fact that you were either in the same room as I was, or you were listening to the same talk that I was in October in Atlanta when Chris Voss from the FBI talked about not asking clients how they’re doing that day. I agree with that completely, but I’ve taken that a step further because the question is if you’re not going to ask them how they’re doing, what are you going to ask them? Because, it’s our natural instinct when somebody calls us on the phone to interact with them on a personal level. So, here it is. Stop saying how are you and start saying, How can I help you?

Jake Minick:
I love that.

Jonathan Dichter:
It’s the same greeting. It means the same thing, but one of them is way more respectful of what the client’s going through, and going back to our core values, that keeps going. Integrity, trust and honesty is one. I tell my people, “We are honest and open with our clients. We are honest and open with opposing counsel. We are honest and open with the courts, with potential clients, we’re honest and open with each other, and we’re honest and open with ourselves.” Leadership, we lead by example from the top down. You only got four people in the office. If one guy is slacking off, that’s a fourth of your entire staff and if that one guy is me, we got a problem.

Jonathan Dichter:
But this is the big one that I think really helps push that emotional component forward, gratitude. Recognize the fact that when that person who was in handcuffs the night before calls you on the phone, or walks into your office, or sits down with you and says, “Help me,” they’re doing one of the hardest things that any human being has to do, which is asking for help from somebody else. How amazing of a gift is that, that they’re trusting you, somebody they’ve never met before, asking you to help them. So, we practice that every day and we are absolutely grateful to our clients and to the system for being there to let us do the job. They honor us by allowing us to be there for them.

Jake Minick:
Yeah, I think that you’ve put that in such a, I think wonderful way of how you view clients. Throughout our conversation, I get the sense that this is again, not something that is done when the client is present in the office and then as soon as they leave you’re having your bitching session with the other attorneys at the office. I think in terms of changing the culture of criminal defense, maybe this is one of the biggest things that we can do as a bar, is to really avoid complaining about clients. I think we have a tendency to … Everybody wants to complain about their work and for better or for worse as a criminal defense lawyer, your work is a human being. Your work is your client and we all want to blow off steam, let one another know, “Hey, we’re dealing with this same thing.”

Jake Minick:
But, if we can change the way that we talk about our clients behind closed doors, that will shine through when we have clients sitting in the office, when we’re out in the community. Like you said, being open with the court, with the DA, with your client, with your team. When you have the ability to say the same thing in the behind the scenes area where only attorneys are allowed as you would say in front of your client in the courtroom, we’ve completely changed the way that the public will perceive us in that step of not complaining about the client.

Jonathan Dichter:
Yeah, I know. That’s exactly what we talk about all the time, is the fact that it’s not just about how the clients’ perceive it, it’s not just about how the opposing counsel perceives it, we have to perceive it that way too. I don’t know if you’re picking up on this. Number one, I have a background in performance. I am an actor, but I’m not that good of an actor. I really believe this stuff. I don’t know if it’s coming through in my tone or in the way that I’m talking about it, but this stuff means something to me. This is what I’ve dedicated my career to doing and these are the people I’ve dedicated my career to. These are people who I’ve sat in jail on Christmas Eve with crying. These are people who I’ve sat with their families crying. These are people who I’ve celebrated their victories. I have heartbreak at their failures.

Jonathan Dichter:
These are people who I have stood beside, held the hands of while their hands are quivering and shaking. These are people who I have had to teach and coach my associates that it’s okay that sometimes, the best thing a hero can do is stand with their client until they can’t anymore, and that’s a great example of another emotional impact. This was a rough one for me because it was a new thing for me. I mean, I’ve been doing this 16 years, new experiences sometimes are hard to come by. The new experience I had was, I had to guide one of my associates through the loss of one of our clients the first time ever. And it wasn’t just the loss of one of our clients, it was another client like Catherine. It was another client who had … She had worked her way into her heart. She’s one of those clients that was terrified of the process. Would hold our hands in court, would hug us whenever she left, would thank us for giving her hope.

Jonathan Dichter:
This is someone who unfortunately very recently during the snowstorm we had here due to a variety of different circumstances, not the least of which was just some horrific depression leading to some poor choices, found herself wandering in the snowstorm and was found facedown three days later just on the side of the road. We saw a newspaper article about it. It was heartbreaking and I had to sit there with my associate while my associate was in tears saying, “You didn’t miss this. This isn’t something you could’ve foreseen or protected her from. You allowed her the hope that she had, and maybe this came at a different time than it would have. Maybe this is something where maybe she just didn’t feel as alone anymore.” Sometimes that’s all we can do.

Jake Minick:
Yeah, sometimes that is. And I think beyond just what happens in the courtroom, I think that that is one of the things that allows you to separate yourself, is recognizing when you look at somebody as a human being and when you look at them in terms of coming into your office with that humility of I need help, our level of help doesn’t just end in terms of what happens in the courtroom. It is all about, what are we trying to aid the client in terms of redirecting their life, in terms of coming out of the legal situation a better person than when they went into it? In terms of just piggybacking off of some things that you said earlier, I think that one of the things that is most important in terms of that action plan or detail oriented, here’s some of the places to contact is really getting a sense of, how can I give the client the resources that they need to improve their lives?

Jake Minick:
This is a real opportunity. There’s very few times in life that you get to have a true moment where everything has crashed. There are very few times where you get to be the first person that somebody talks to, the first person that they open up to about, “I have a drinking problem. I have a drug problem. I have an issue in terms of losing control.” That’s a difficult thing to tell somebody and to be that first person to be able to say, “I’ll do everything that I can to help you, but I also have these other professionals that I can recommend that can be life changing for you.”

Jonathan Dichter:
Let me give you another one of my big practice tips on this factor, and this is a huge difference compared to many other people who do what we do. I don’t know what your practice is or isn’t, but most DUI attorneys and/or criminal attorneys have a resource list, right? And it’s like, “Okay, you’re here to meet with me James about DUI and look, one of the things I want you to do is, I want you to have an alcohol and drug evaluation. Now, here’s a list of 10 local agencies that may be near you. I want you to find one that works with your insurance and I want you to go have an alcohol and drug evaluation.” Pretty standard, sound about right?

Jake Minick:
Right.

Jonathan Dichter:
Yeah, stop doing that. Find the one agency that you want every one of your clients to go to. Contact the owner or the managing clinical director of that agency, form a relationship with that person, get them to understand that you are their client, not your clients, you are their client. Then when your client is seeing you and you say, “Look, you have just paid me a significant sum of money so that I will help you with this, which means I’ve already done the legwork. I don’t want you to look at this list, I want you to call this person. They are waiting for your call already. You tell them you’re my client. They have a process specifically for my clients and they’ll walk you through it.”

Jonathan Dichter:
In my client handbook, I have one alcohol and drug evaluation treatment agency, I have one insurance agent, I have one interlock provider, that’s it. And more than that on the business side, these agencies that I’ve been working with, that I’ve been working with for the most cases almost the entire time my firm has been opened. I met with each one of their either regional directors or sales reps or whoever. I met with the vendors specifically. I looked at them face-to-face, I shook their hands and I said to them, “Look, I’m good at what I do and I’m going to get better at what I do and I’m young. I just turned 42 last week. I still got 20, 30 more years in me. Right now, I on average will refer out for evaluations about 100 to 150 clients a year.”

Jonathan Dichter:
Now, at $200 an evaluation and $200 for an alcohol and drug school and a DUI victim’s panel, at a minimum, figure $400 a client times 100 clients, that’s $40,000 a year. Now multiply that by 20 years, that’s $8 million. And I and I tell the person very simply, “I will hand you $8 million over the course of the next 20 years on one condition, you understand that the first time one of my clients comes to me with a complaint about you that you don’t handle immediately and appropriately, you will lose my business for the rest of my career.” I have held to that, because I’ve done that to one of my agency. My interlock agency, my original one lost me and I’ll never refer another person to them again.

Jake Minick:
Right, because it’s incredibly important because you are providing value to people. One of the agency that we work with here in Asheville, I had a client that came into my office probably about three or four months ago. I had gone through the treatment with them and just was singing their praises. Without being required by the court to do additional treatment with them, she was on her own doing follow up after care, after her case and everything is closed. She just is constantly singing their praises, preaching about them. At one point I was like, “You know they’re not here in the room right now, right?”

Jake Minick:
But, that’s the kind of person that you want to send your client to, is somebody where it’s … Because, they’re going to relate that value back to you to some extent. I mean, they’re going to … If it’s a crappy experience at the alcohol assessing agency, “They didn’t have any involvement in the treatment. Why did you send me over there? They couldn’t get my treatment turned into the DMV, they played movies the whole time. Why don’t you know more about this?” That’s a legitimate question.

Jonathan Dichter:
Yeah. And when it comes to something like interlocks, which are getting way more ubiquitous in our industry, this is a moving target. A lot of our clients are having struggles with these things because the technology is different for every car, clients have different demographics, different health conditions and those things are having trouble with them. I don’t tell them, “Look, this interlock agency is going to be a problem for your experience.” I tell them, “This interlock agency is the one I refer to because when you run into a problem, you will call me, I will call Zack and Zack will call you, and your problem will be fixed.”

Jonathan Dichter:
Now, hopefully there aren’t any problems and hopefully everything works out supposed to. But if you’re driving a Tesla, or you’re 82 and you have emphysema or who knows what and the interlock goes wonky on you, rather than have to wait a week for it to get fixed and have it beeping, and buzzing, and embarrassing you and then end up dragged into court for conditions of release violation or wherever, I get Zack on the phone with them in 10 minutes, and Zack fixes it. Because, Zack’s my rep Zack knows, “Look, your company is going to make a boatload of money off me if you just do the one thing I ask you to do, which is treat my clients like gold,” because they are. I don’t see them as money. I see them as humans, but I can let other people see them as money to get them to treat them like humans. Because you can’t expect everybody to care the way that you do, but you can entice them to do it if you remind them why.

Jake Minick:
Yeah, I mean, that’s really powerful. I love the way of communicating that in monetary form over the long term. Again, do it for the right reasons but if not, here’s the … Business-wise, here’s a reason to make sure that you’re treating everybody the way that they should be treated. Because if you don’t, I’m going to find somebody else to help my clients in the future and I’m not coming back to you. You have forever to build up trust and then one time to breach it, and that’s the end of the relationship.

Jonathan Dichter:
Yeah. I tell them, “You don’t get a second chance at this because I don’t get a second chance at this.” I have one thing, really when it all boils down I have one thing, which is my credibility. My credibility with my clients and the first time I breach that with a client, I will never get it back because that client just won’t trust me.

Jake Minick:
No. And not only will you not get it back, but that client will legitimately tell a lot of other people about that. It will hurt the reputation of the firm. It’s the same thing as you were talking about earlier in terms of having that being an open book with the court, being an open book with the DA. You can spend 10 years building up your reputation and then in one-

Jonathan Dichter:
That one time you do a sneaky shady thing, that’s it, that’s what you’re known for.

Jake Minick:
Yeah, that’s what you’re known for.

Jonathan Dichter:
The thing that I am in all honesty proudest of in terms of the content I’ve created, things like that, it’s the only thing that I like enough that I framed it and put it up on the wall in my office. I’ve got a copy of my books there and those sorts of things, but it’s an article that was never intended for the eyes of clients. It was an article that I wrote in about six hours. I was asked by the publisher … The Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has a quarterly little pamphlet they put out called Defense. Something happened with one of their articles and it fell through and I had written something months prior and the editor sent me an email, “Do you have anything you can put together for this?”

Jonathan Dichter:
I said, “Sure, I’ll put something together,” and I wrote an article about client care called I Will Stand With You. To me, what I wrote was second nature. When I finished writing it I said, “This is the worst thing ever, because this is all really simple stuff that everybody already knows and I don’t know why the hell I’m even submitting this thing.” I got such positive feedback from so many lawyers thanking me for writing it and reminding them of it. One of the county Public Defender’s Offices nearby contacted me and asked me for my permission to make it a part of their hiring packet as required reading. And the basic premise of it, I can sum the entire article up in one basic premise. It’s just something you got to remember which is no matter how bad your life is today, the person sitting in front of you in your office is having a worse day than you.

Jonathan Dichter:
I don’t care if you’re going through a divorce, I don’t care if your Paycheck Protection Program loan didn’t come through, I don’t care if the SBA won’t give you a economic impact loan, I don’t care any of those things. I don’t If you’re going to lose your house, if your wife left you, if the dog left you, whatever. The person who is sitting there had a worse day than you, and if you can just remember that and think about what you would feel like in their position. There’s a reason why we have the golden rule in closing arguments. There’s a reason why we are never allowed to ask juries to place themselves in the position of our clients. Because, there is no way to not empathize with them at that point, but there’s no rule against us doing it. In fact, I think we’re required to do it.

Jake Minick:
I love that. I’m totally stealing that. That’s going to be-

Jonathan Dichter:
Help yourself.

Jake Minick:
Yeah, that’s going to be definitely a part of the conversation with the team in the morning huddle tomorrow. it’s going to be-

Jonathan Dichter:
I’m happy to send you a copy of the article. Feel free to distribute.

Jake Minick:
Yeah, please do. I think that that may be a good place for us to stop, just thinking through that idea of the person sitting across the desk from you is having a worst day. Remembering that, and letting that be what sets the tone of your conversation because compassion just springs out of that. There is no other way to respond to a situation when you can legitimately and truthfully tell your mind that this person that is sitting across from me is in a worse place and needs somebody to help them and that’s why they are here. Totally changes the relationship, complaining now about that person is out the window. I love that. I’m going to steal that. Well I-

Jonathan Dichter:
Feel free.

Jake Minick:
I appreciate it Jonathan in terms of the conversation. Definitely want to have you back on at some point to-

Jonathan Dichter:
I feel like we barely scratched the surface.

Jake Minick:
We barely scratched the surface. I’d love to get the storytelling model in terms of using that model within particularly a jury trial setting. Definitely would like to talk through that, but really appreciate you being on the show.

Jonathan Dichter:
Absolutely. I appreciate you having me. It’s my pleasure to do it and to offer what limited perspective I have. I mean, we’re all learning this as we go. I’ve got 16 years of learning behind me and I’ve got 20-something years of learning ahead of me. If it wasn’t for other people teaching me things for me to steal, I wouldn’t have half the stuff I have. In fact, in the foreword or the acknowledgments rather of the Innovative DUI Trial Tools when I had to write the acknowledgments, I think there’s just a list of people and I said, “I have shamelessly stolen from each and every one of these people.” I’m pretty sure they shamelessly stole from others and you’re going to shamelessly steal from me, so by all means.

Jake Minick:
That’s, the mentality of a student mindset. I mean, other people have figured this out.

Jonathan Dichter:
Yeah. Just take what other people have done and do something new with it.