Donald W. Hudspeth knows the business of law as well as the laws of business. That’s because he’s been a business owner who transformed himself into an attorney practicing exclusively business law. In his 20s, Hudspeth owned a chain of five taverns in Western Kansas. He spent 10 years learning the bar business before getting married and deciding that the business wouldn’t be the best for him and his wife together. So they went into business as a family, opening a chain of bath shops in malls in the Phoenix area.
That’s when business started changing. Big box stores like Wal-Mart started selling the same products Hudspeth was selling at lower prices and with more convenience. He decided that his current businesses weren’t sustainable and made his jump into law. “I was well on the way to being a millionaire and that’s when a million dollars actually meant something,” he says. “But I looked at the numbers and I had to say that this was not sustainable. I had always thought about going to law school and that’s what I did.”
He attended Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law when he was 36 and graduated at 39. At that time, many first- and second-year associates were like privates in the army, working extra hours and taking lower level assignments for less pay, Hudspeth says. That wasn’t for him, so he clerked for Mark Harrison, President of the State Bar Association at the time.
Once again, Hudspeth found himself at the center of a changing environment. His employer went through several reorganizations throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, culminating with the Resolution Trust Corporation crisis in 1992, when many of the firm’s banking clients dissolved. And once again, Hudspeth found himself looking for a new path. After considering his previous success in business, he decided to start his own law firm.
“I said to myself, ‘I’ve run a business, I know about having something in common with business owners, I’m going to go out and start my own firm targeting business owners.’ I will say, on that I was a little bit ahead of the curve.” That was both good and bad. In the early days of his new firm, Hudspeth took any clients that would pay him, even if it was $300 for eight hours of work. But, as his clients got bigger, so did the firm. And, as their population grew representation of business owner clients received more attention and that became a new practice area.
Hudspeth was at the right place at the right time. He also came across some good fortune along the way when a client told him to explore the internet. He developed a website, and being early in SEO target marketing for the first five years of his practice there were 25+ business law terms on Google and Yahoo and Hudspeth’s firm was No. 1 in just about every one of them, he says. “Today, we continue to be the top or near the top business law firm for business owners in search results.” Hudspeth continued to explore how internet marketing could help his firm and decided to start a blog. He writes about a variety of business topics to increase both the reach of his website and the credibility of his firm.
From these publications, Hudspeth started a radio show, Law Talk, which led to his first book, Inside the Firm: The Art of Choosing a Lawyer. “I was putting on my business hat and I said, ‘What would I be looking for in a law firm and as a lawyer, what would I tell the client to look for,’” he says. “So, my first book rose out of my thinking of what I wanted to say to my clients and what they may want to know from me.” One of Hudspeth’s proudest accomplishments was seeing that Harvard Law Library had purchased a copy of that first book. Hudspeth launched a second radio program, “Law on the Edge.” He then wrote a second book, Black Hat, White Hat: ONE MINUTE LECTURES on Law and Business, which discusses how to balance business decisions with the law.
“One thing I realized in the practice of law, and I’m exaggerating a little bit, is that the client almost never follows the legal advice completely and to the letter,” Hudspeth says. “There are practical considerations. The decision is a balancing of law and business.” The anecdotes from the two books, along with his third book, WHEN PARTNERS SEPARATE, Partnership Disputes and Business Divorce, have helped him create a series of short videos posted to his firm’s website. Each video tells a story highlighting different common issues Hudspeth has seen clients go through over more than 25 years as a practicing attorney. Like the blog, the videos also contribute to credibility and SEO, which are key parts of the firm’s marketing strategy.
“Over the years I have had over 10,000 clients. Think about that wealth of information a practicing business attorney may have,” he says. “Some of those clients may be just like you and have just that same situation.” So, I can tell you what the law is and I can tell you what’s happened in other cases. As a business owner, I know what the client wants from a lawyer. I have that connection because I’ve been there.” The firm’s tagline is ‘The Business of Our Firm is Business.’ “We also say we do business law for business owners; we don’t do anything else,” Hudspeth concludes. “That’s a marketing advantage.”