This was not the first time I’d heard this.
A lawyer friend, Steve, called to discuss a new case, but he began with a warning: “This client has been to a lot of other lawyers and they’ve all rejected her case.” This might be a short conversation, I thought. Then, the conversation got interesting.
Steve told the tragic story of a 26-year old engineer crushed to death by a truck that was operated by a co-employee at a construction site on a state-owned highway. Steve explained that a number of other lawyers rejected the case because a worker cannot sue their co-employee and in such cases, the widow’s only recourse is workers’ compensation benefits.
My response was quick, “Steve, your client has a case” under New York’s Labor Law section 241(6). This law requires a flagger to guide construction vehicles as they are backing up at construction sites and the property owner (New York State) is vicariously liable for violations of this law. I explained that even though the widow of the deceased engineer cannot sue her husband’s employer or co-employee, she can bring a claim against the State of New York.
Steve seemed shocked that no other lawyer told him this. And I knew we had some work to do. This case resulted in a multi-million recovery (and a nice referral fee for my lawyer friend).
Why This is a Story that Needs to be Told
10 years ago, we opened our new law firm. I saw an obvious void in the marketplace, namely, there are very few medical malpractice lawyers in upstate New York and we wanted to fill that void. We focused our marketing efforts on medical malpractice and in particular, cultivating and nurturing referral relationships with plaintiff’s lawyers.
Things worked out…kind of. Over the past 10 years, we’ve been blessed with referrals of malpractice cases from 573 of our firm’s referral partners, e.g., lawyers who send us work (yes, we keep track of them). We couldn’t be more grateful, but I realized over time that other lawyers didn’t think we handled other types of injury cases. Our referrals were almost exclusively medical malpractice.
In hindsight, this was a mistake. It’s not only malpractice work that we love—we love any kind of complex injury case involving catastrophic injuries or death. We love working on any case that seems almost impossible to win. These cases are challenging and very expensive to litigate, but when you win, there’s nothing more gratifying.
An Unlikely Story with a Surprise Ending
About the same time that our law firm opened, one of our referral partners referred a motor vehicle wreck case that seemingly was dead on arrival. The police accident report was clear that our client was driving an ambulance that crossed double yellow lines directly into the path of an oncoming pickup truck. According to the police report, our client was solely at fault for causing the wreck and making matters worse, he had no recollection of the wreck due to a traumatic brain injury.
Seemingly at a dead end, we investigated anyway by sending an accident reconstruction expert to the scene of the crash. The results weren’t what we expected. Our reconstruction expert told us that the yaw marks (markings in the pavement that indicate the point of collision between 2 vehicles) in the roadway were inconsistent with the conclusions in the police accident report concerning the location of the collision. In fact, the physical evidence at the scene revealed that the collision occurred in our client’s lane of travel, which placed sole fault on the other driver. We sued the case and eventually our client recovered.
Here's the point: complex litigation for severely injured persons is what we love doing. You might have a case where you see absolutely no basis for liability and you’ve decided to reject the case. We might be able to help. We invest a lot of time and money investigating complex cases, many of which we later decline. And that’s okay--it’s just part of our business model.
Our Ambitious 3-Year Vision
The 3-year vision includes the number of team members, number of clients, types of cases, and revenue and profit. As Gino Wickman points out, “a lot of managers don’t share their picture of the future with employees” and if your team members don’t know where you want to take your law firm, you won’t get there.
“The 3-Year Picture allows your leadership team to paint a powerful picture of the future…Once everyone sees this vision, it is more likely to happen.”
Gino Wickman & Tom Bouwer, “What the Heck is EOS?”
So, we are changing things up. We changed our firm’s name from “John H. Fisher, P.C.” to “The New York Injury & Malpractice Law Firm, P.C.” in part to let the world know that medical malpractice is not the only thing we do. The 3-year vision for our firm is to generate at least 50% of our revenue from catastrophic injury cases that are not based upon medical malpractice. This is an ambitious goal considering that almost all of our revenue is currently based upon medical malpractice cases.
Why are we sharing this? It’s important that you know that we handle much more than medical malpractice. We accept truck and train wrecks, auto vehicle collisions involving severe injuries and construction accidents involving New York’s Labor Law sections 240 and 241(6). And our referral fees are generous; for the right case, we might agree to a referral fee that is 50% of the total fee.
How is Your Law Firm Unique from Every Other
We have financial resources to handle even the most complex case and our litigation team is exceptional. How is this different from any other law firm? Well, we handle only a very few cases, limit our practice to catastrophic injuries or death, and we are vigilant about moving them to trial. It’s what we love doing.
And here’s where we try to be unique: we are fanatical about updating our referral partners about the status of referred cases. If you don’t know what’s going on with the case, we’re not doing our job. You are our partner in the case and we do our best to update you every step of the litigation. You will receive updates via email, text and the occasional phone call, and you will always have access to my cell #, 518-265-9131.
So, the next time you’re about to reject a difficult or complex case, give us a call. Let us spend the time and money investigating the case and if there’s nothing we can do to help, you won’t owe us anything. It’s a win for both of us.
Why This is Something Every Lawyer Should Do
Do your referral partners know what type of cases you handle? You might assume so, but are you sure? There’s a good chance some of your referral partners don’t know what kinds of cases you accept and if so, you’re missing out on a lot of referrals.
So, what should you do? Document the 3-year vision for your firm on 4 pages. Write exactly what you want your law firm to look like in 3-year, including the number of cases and the types of cases. Once you’ve created your firm’s vision in writing, share it with EVERYONE YOU KNOW, including your friends, family, referral partners and vendors.
“Once clear, [the 3-year picture] will give the context in which to set goals for the next 12 months.”
Gino Wickman & Tom Bouwer, “What the Heck is EOS?”
You want everyone that you know to become the partner in your vision, and if you do, they will want to help you co-create your vision. Seem unrealistic? We shared our 3-year vision with one of our referral partners in NYC about 3 months ago. Suddenly, we began receiving referrals of this firm’s motor vehicle cases in Upstate New York. Turns out, our referral partner did not know that we handle motor vehicle cases until we shared our 3-year vision with them. This made a big difference, and it can for you too.
Why Do You Practice Law?
Your referral partners need to know why you practice law. Is it just to make money? If so, you will never be successful. You need a higher purpose that has nothing to do with money. And your referral partners need to know what that higher purpose is.
This is why I practice law. Several years ago, I handled a truck wreck involving a collision between 2 tractor trailers about ½ mile south of the Canadian border in the northern most part of New York. The case was extremely challenging on liability and had been rejected by some of the best plaintiff’s lawyers in New York.
During the case, we did night-time reconstructions of the accidents with highly paid experts. Truth be told, mistakes were made and the reconstructions had to be repeated on 4 occasions. We just kept moving forward and tried to do better each time, but I was frustrated and tired.
A Story with a Happy Ending
Finally, after a couple of years of work, the case settled and our brain damaged client, Dale, came to our office to settle the settlement papers. As I walked into our conference room to greet him, Dale got out of his chair, gave me a bear hug and whispered in my ear, “I love you.” That, my friend, is why we practice law, namely, to make a profound impact on the lives of severely disabled persons.
Of course, we need to make money, but that is a very superficial reason for practicing law. When I see a disabled person on the street and they thank us for improving their life, that is when I realize that it’s all worth it. That is why I get out of bed in the morning.
Why do you practice law? It’s time to share your “why” with your friends and referral partners. Is anyone else doing this? Not really, and that’s exactly why you should. Let me know if we can help and if so, let’s build amazing law firms together.
Photo by Polina Zimmerman