I have run a personal injury law firm for over 20 years. In that time, I’ve grown it from one employee and about 20 clients to easily the largest (and I believe most successful) PI firm in North Carolina. Today, we have more than 45 attorneys, 14 offices, and approximately 200 employees. We’ve recovered over $750 million in gross for 30,000+ individual clients in North Carolina. (And that’s not counting the $1.25 billion we had a lead role in recovering in a class action lawsuit against the U.S. government on behalf of 18,400 farmers who were discriminated against.)
I’d like to think that I have learned something about how to grow a personal injury law firm.
In this post, I’d like to share what I know about how to grow a personal injury law firm by bringing in the right cases – no matter where your firm is located or what size your practice is.
It Starts with Getting the Cases
No matter how good a lawyer you are, you can’t be successful without first bringing in the right cases. Bringing in the right cases depends on two key factors – effective marketing and a robust intake process. A fully optimized intake process is key to helping you find and sign high-value cases.
Marketing Brings in the Cases
On the marketing side, there is no shortage of possible options or vendors who will help you spend your advertising money. The key is setting the right advertising budget and finding which options work most effectively within your budget. I believe most firms are too conservative and don’t spend enough money on advertising. Under spending on advertising is a ticket to slow growth.
Based on my experience, I believe it is wise to budget 10–20% of your projected annual revenue for marketing. This might sound high, but I view marketing as an investment and a cost of doing business, not an expense. I spend 10–20% on marketing because the return on investment is significant. Personal injury was and still is a high-margin field, and you should receive in fees a multiple of what you spend in marketing down the line – at least two or three times your investment. If not, you are picking the wrong marketing opportunities (more on that in the next section).
I don’t like to be burdened by debt. Yet I feel so strongly about the investment potential of marketing dollars that I borrowed money when I had to get to 10–20% of projected revenue for growth. This might seem imprudent, but I’d do it again, and I’d recommend others do the same.
Think about it. If I can borrow a thousand dollars, even at 20% interest, and make three thousand dollars a year later, I’m $1,800 ahead. And if it takes as long as two years, and I only double my money in case revenue, I’m still way ahead. Commit to spending an adequate amount on marketing, and you can grow your practice.
How to Invest Your Firm’s Advertising Budget
How to spend your advertising dollars most effectively is an important consideration. The answer depends on where you are, what kind of competition you face, and what kind of cases you want. There’s no shortage of options – TV, the internet, Yellow Pages, billboards, radio, public relations, sponsorships, direct mail, print ads… the list is long.
As a general matter, I believe TV spending is still most effective. But it is expensive, and you have to be able to spend near the top level in your market for it to be effective. Direct mail can be very effective, but it is impractical in many jurisdictions due to waiting periods or because the underlying data is not available.
Finally, utilizing the internet is a must these days. But how to most effectively spend in the internet space raises even more questions simply because there are so many options (such as Google search ads, display ads, content marketing, etc.).
Just like investing in stocks, I believe it makes sense to diversify and use a variety of marketing channels. The key is investing in the right marketing channels in the right amounts at the right times. That can be tricky in an ever-changing world. What worked last year may not be as effective this year. Competition may increase, driving up ad costs, or consumer preferences could change (as in the migration from Yellow Page directories to internet searches).
You may have heard the old adage that “50% of my marketing budget isn’t working; but I don’t know which 50%.” Fortunately, you can do better than that. With the right analytics and measurement tools in place, you can keep track of all your advertising spend to ensure you meet your standards.
Maximize Intake to Sign More Cases
Marketing is essential to bringing in the right cases, but you cannot neglect the importance of intake to uncover even more cases. You need to have as close to a real-time handle as possible on where your leads and cases come from. For us, this begins by always asking potential clients at intake, how they found us. Because a well-branded law firm will be known to consumers on many fronts, it can be hard to attribute a call to one specific marketing channel. However, uncovering how they heard about us and why they decided to call gives me critical intelligence. In other words, you need data, not feelings or impressions, to drive marketing decisions for your law firm to grow.
I can measure what seems to be working, and measure it against what we spend on advertising. That way, when conditions change, I can investigate the reasons why and do something about it or move in a different direction.
Optimal intake practices are also critical to getting good cases in the door. Yet these vital practices, like thorough training for your receptionists and clearly communicating next steps to potential clients, are often overlooked.
Intake may not be as glamorous as marketing, but it is a key driver for law firm growth and profitability . Good intake is the difference between hooking a fish and getting it in the boat. There are no prizes for the fish that got away. It is heartbreaking to see a great case get away, particularly since it is likely going to enrich a competitor. And unfortunately, the better a potential case is, the harder it may be to land, because the prospect knows they have options. They aren’t going to settle for a firm that doesn’t appear to have its act together.
Marketing and Intake Are Worth Your Investment
Growing a successful law firm is a result of investing in the right marketing and intake strategies to bring in high-value cases. But you’ll want to measure and analyze where your budget is going so you can focus on the right things.
Having great intake software can make this measurement and analysis much easier for everyone on your staff. In my next post, I’ll dig deeper into what separates a great intake department from an average competitor.
Jim Farrin is CEO of GrowPath. He is also Founder and President of the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin. His law firm has recovered more than $1 billion in gross for over 43,000 clients over the last 20 years.