2 12 Characteristics of Successful Personal Injury Lawyers By Ken Hardison President of Law Practice Advisor Kenneth L. Hardison, 2009 There s a theory that many successful lawyers and entrepreneurs admittedly follow. If you copy what those who have achieved success do, you too can achieve that success. Now, there s obviously no guarantee in this statement, but I do think there is some truth to it. Although there s no way to completely duplicate what those before you have done, there are certain concepts that you can follow in order to better your chances of achieving similar success. After all, it makes sense. The same holds true in everyday life. If you follow the principles of safe-driving, your odds of getting in a car accident are dramatically decreased. If you follow the principles of a healthy diet, your odds of getting certain diseases are decreased. So, why couldn t there be certain principles and characteristics that better your odds of achieving success? After years and years of successfully running my own firm, and meeting countless attorneys that have achieved their own success, I noticed that there are some similar characteristics that a large portion of these lawyers have. It s also important to note that these characteristics are acquired. There s no characteristic that these PI lawyers have, that every lawyer can t acquire as well. Here is my list of the 12 most common characteristics that these PI lawyers have, that I feel increased their odds of achieving their success. I truly feel that if you acquire these same characteristics, your odds of success will also be increased. CHARACTERISTIC #1 Successful Personal Injury Lawyers Understand that Marketing is their Number One Job Marketing is the most important part of any law firm. After all, marketing produces clients. Without clients, there are no settlements-no clients means NO LAW FIRM!
3 Successful PI lawyers don t let fellow lawyers, employees, and the day-to-day duties of running a law firm distract them from their number one job: marketing their business. Successful lawyers don t allow their firm to run their life THEY RUN THEIR FIRM! CHARACTERISTIC # 2 Successful Lawyers Know the Lifetime Value of a Client Successful PI lawyers know that a satisfied client will always tell their friends and family what a great job you did. They also know a dissatisfied client will tell the same people and anyone else that will listen, what a terrible job you did. A satisfied client will tell 2-5 people, while a displeased client will tell Which would you prefer? Satisfied doesn t necessarily refer to the case s results. By satisfied I mean their whole experience with your firm was positive. This includes the way they are greeted by the receptionist and staff on the phones, to how their lawyer treats them. Do you explain everything in layman s terms, so they really understand what s going on? Do you return their phone calls promptly? Do you treat each client with respect? Do you keep them updated regularly on the progress of their case? Successful PI lawyers do all of the above to ensure that their clients have an exceptional experience with their law firm. Just imagine that if each client you represented referred 1 new client over the next 10 years. If you handle 1000 clients per year, with just 1 new client from each referral over the next 10 years, that would be an additional 10,000 clients or 1000 clients per year. If the average fee is $5000, that is $5,000,000 in fees annually! Cut that number in half and it s still over $2 million per year in extra revenue! Characteristic #3 Successful Lawyers Create a Firm with an Infrastructure of Systems and Procedures. Successful lawyers understand that much of what they and their staff do is repetitious. They usually handle a large volume of cases and have a large group of staff per lawyer. Because of this, it s important that there is consistency and organization in all the work that is done.
4 In order to manage the large volume of work, they use good case management software. The software is full of checklists and reminders. These systems efficiently move each case forward. Successful lawyers also use standard operating procedure manuals. The manuals instruct the staff members and lawyers in a step-by-step process on how to accomplish specific tasks. These systems and procedures are excellent training manuals for new staff and lawyers. They help promote efficiency in the office by minimizing the down-time that comes with new hires. Systems and procedures also keep a lawyer from becoming dependent or held hostage by any one employee. Successful lawyers understand the importance of these concepts and strive to systematize and create procedure manuals for everything that is done in the law office. Characteristic #4 Successful lawyers know the difference between Advertising and Marketing their law firm. Successful lawyers understand that lawyers who just advertise are doomed for failure. Knowing the difference between the two can put your law firm on the path to success. What is the difference? Advertising is the systematic planning and implementation of a variety of communication activities intended to bring lawyers and clients together. Marketing is a strategic effort that involves learning exactly what your client wants, why they want it, how to give it to them, are you giving it to them, and then evaluating the process to get better results. Basically it is a long term endeavor, and advertising is only a small part of the communication-side of it. Visualize marketing as a wagon wheel. Each spoke represents an element of marketing. Advertising, market research, media planning, public relations, customer support, sales strategy, etc. are all spokes on the wheel. All of these elements must work together towards a bigger goal. Marketing encompasses the big picture of your law firm, and how it will succeed rather than the immediate result of an action. It is a process that takes time. Ideally, an efficient marketing plan will allow you to position your firm in a manner that lets you build a favorable niche that attracts new clients and retains established ones. Successful lawyers understand these differences which makes them more efficient and effective in growing their law firms.
5 Characteristic # 5 Successful lawyers understand that they must differentiate themselves from their competitors. Successful lawyers have a unique selling proposition (USP). They understand that you must create a marketing message that answers the questions: Why should I choose your firm over all of the others? What is in it for me? I ve emphasized this at every marketing conference I ve spoken at. The key is to push your benefits to the potential client. Remember it is not the features, but benefits that sell your practice. The feature is I have over 30 years of SSD legal experience. The benefit is You will be represented by a lawyer that knows SSD laws like the back of his hand. If you do not have a USP you are wasting a large percentage of your marketing dollars! Characteristic # 6 Successful lawyers measure their marketing efforts and understand ROI. John Wannamaker once said, Half of my advertising is wasted, I just don t know which half. Successful lawyers know what part of their marketing plan is working- and not working, and make changes accordingly. They measure their advertising by several methods. 1) Use different tracking numbers for each advertisement or type of advertising. 2) Ask each new caller where they heard about you. At the end of the month you count all of the leads and new cases. Run a spreadsheet to see where your new clients and prospects are coming from. Successful lawyers don t just stop here. They look at what they spent on a specific type of advertising and compute the cost per case. Then they calculate the average fee per type of case to get their Return on Investment (ROI). ROI is your return on every dollar spent to get a case. For example, you take in 100 cases in a month. Thirty of those cases were generated from TV ads costing $30,000 that month. If your average fee on an auto accident case is $5,000, then $30,000 of advertising generated (30 cases x $5000 fee = $150,000 of fees/$30,000 of advertising) = $5. Thus, every dollar you spent on TV ads generated a $5.00 ROI.
6 If direct mail generated 10 cases, but you only spent $3000 per month, then your ROI would be as follows: (10 cases x $5000 fee = $50,000 in fees/$3000 in advertising) = $16.6. Thus, for every dollar you spent on direct mail you generated a $16.60 ROI. This is 3-times as much ROI as you get from TV in the above example. Successful lawyers understand this and plan their marketing accordingly. Characteristic #7 Successful lawyers work more ON their business than IN their business. Successful lawyers understand that working cases day in and day out without working on marketing their business is a dead end street. You must allot a certain amount of time per week (minimum 8 hours) to grow and develop your law firm. This includes developing marketing ideas, analyzing results, and doing ROI reports. Watch for trends in new-client generators, productivity, and monthly gross and net income. If you have not read E-Myth or E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber, go get and read them as soon as possible. Characteristic #8 Successful lawyers have a clear vision of where they want their firm and themselves to be in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years and 10 years. A ship that sets sail without a clear trip charted will wander hopelessly around the ocean until it eventually gets lost or wrecks. Successful lawyers understand that if you don t know where you want to go, you will never get there. This is seeing the Big Picture and having the short and long term goals of your law firm mapped out. Successful lawyers re-examine where they want their firm to be during the last quarter of each year. Your vision may change from time to time, but that s absolutely alright. Once you have a clear vision of your law firm s goals, share it with all of the people in your firm. This allows them to fall in line with your vision and map out their own role in achieving those goals. Characteristic # 9 Successful PI lawyers continuously explore new strategies of attracting new clients.
7 Successful lawyers never rest on their laurels. They never believe they have it all figured out. Successful lawyers recognize that people change. Nothing stays the same. Just ask K- Mart or Yahoo. Both were industry leaders, but both failed to adapt to a changing environment. The point is no matter how big you get, you can and will fall if you don t adapt and change with the times. One change we have recently seen in marketing for law firms is the wide use of the internet and social media. The smart PI lawyers are embracing these new avenues of acquiring clients and will be way ahead of their competitors over the next several years. You must continuously explore new strategies and methods for acquiring new clients if you are going to survive in this competitive market. I think every PI lawyer should have at least 5 methods of attracting new clients, and I would strongly suggest using 7 or 8. Never put all of your eggs in one basket. Characteristic #10 Successful lawyers understand that your employees are your firm s most important asset. Successful PI lawyers know that their team is no stronger than the weakest member. They also know that you should hire slow. Hiring new staff and lawyers is a large investment. The cost of training alone is astronomical. This took me many, many years to grasp. A bad employee with a bad attitude is like a cancer. And, like a cancer it must be cut out quickly, or it will spread to your other employees. Successful PI lawyers fire fast. That s not to say that they don t develop professional relationships and respect their employees. But, they don t become so close as to inhibit their ability to fire an employee if they had to. 4 Rules For Successfully Managing Employees 1. Let them know up front what your expectations are. 2. Ask them what their expectations are of you.
8 3. Give them the tools (fast computers, good software, a comfortable office, etc.) and adequate training so that they can be successful in their job. 4. Give them feedback often. This means good and bad. Do the good in front of everyone and the bad in private. Also, do it frequently, so you don t blind-side them. Characteristic #11 Successful PI lawyers know how to create client loyalty. Successful lawyers know the importance of client loyalty and know that it is different than client satisfaction. While a loyal client is generally a satisfied client; a satisfied client isn t always a loyal client. Excellent service leads to client satisfaction, and client satisfaction is an essential element of creating client loyalty. A loyal client is satisfied and feels a personal tie to you and your firm. Client loyalty is a concept that includes five things: 1. The overall satisfaction of the client s experience from doing business with a law firm. 2. The willingness to build a relationship with you individually and your company. 3. The willingness to be a repeat client. 4. The willingness to recommend others to you. 5. The reluctance to switch to another law firm. Like most lawyers a good portion of my clients come from referrals. Past clients that refer other people to my firm are considered my loyal clients. After all, they wouldn t recommend my firm unless they met the five things on the list above. Successful lawyers know that developing loyal clients won t cost them a cent, and it will dramatically increase their revenue. If only half of the existing clients refer just one new client, and half of the new clients each recommend another client, and so on, the result in revenue will be incredible. Do the math. If you took in 1000 clients in one year, and only 250 of those clients are loyal, you will get another 250 clients from them, without spending a cent on advertising. If there s one thing that successful lawyers know, it s how to develop and keep client loyalty. By following some very common sense rules - and setting the stake in the ground for all lawyers and employees who work for you, client loyalty is easy to develop.
9 Here are 10 easy things you can do to develop client loyalty: 1. Greet Clients Promptly 2. Apply Good Conversation Skills 3. Focus on Building a Solid Rapport with Your Clients 4. Be Sincere and Show Empathy to Others 5. Use Good Phone Technique 6. Enjoy People and Their Diversity 7. Call People by Their Names 8. Wear a Smile When You Meet With the Clients 9. Fish for Negative Feedback 10. Live By the Golden Rule Characteristic # 12 Successful Lawyers have mentors and associate with other successful professionals and business people. Successful Lawyers recognize the importance of surrounding themselves with successful people. They also take every opportunity they have to learn from them. The easiest way to become successful is to find someone who has already achieved what you desire and pick their brain. Ask them to become your mentor. Pay them if you have to. The cost is more than worth it when you consider all of the time you save from the mistakes you avoid. Associate with likeminded people. You are who you hang out with. If you chose to spend time with pessimistic underachievers, you will become one. Likeminded successful people also understand each other. You learn things through casual conversation. You become more successful through osmosis. There really is a lot of truth in what our parents told us: You are the same as the company you keep! Kenneth L. Hardison, 2009