The following is a transcript of Episode 1 of Championing Justice. You can listen to the full episode here, or watch it on YouTube.

Darl: Hello, welcome to the first episode of our new podcast: Championing Justice. My name is Darl Champion, and I’m the founder and owner of The Champion Firm. We’re a personal injury law firm based in Marietta, Georgia, and we represent clients and personal injury cases throughout the entire state.

We handle cases ranging from complex catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death cases to more run-of-the-mill, routine, smaller to moderate-size cases. 

Now the purpose of this podcast is to provide information that will be helpful to other personal injury attorneys. Whether you’re running your own personal injury law firm or you’re working in a personal injury firm, we’re going to cover a variety of topics that will be relevant to you. 

Some of the things that we’re going to cover have to do with the substantive side of law. There might be legal developments in Georgia or changes in the law and new statutes that get passed, new cases that come down, and what that means to you and your clients. Some of our topics will be focused on trial presentation, jury persuasion, voir dire techniques, and others will be focused on the business side of things: how to run a business, how to hire people, how to train them, how to market, and how to pay your employees.

Now, for this first episode, that’s what we’re gonna cover. We’re gonna talk about the origin story for The Champion Firm and all the lessons I’ve learned because of the many, many mistakes that I’ve made over the nine years of running the firm. And fortunately, we’re not only still standing, but we’ve been incredibly successful. 

But the lessons that I’ve learned will be helpful to you so that hopefully you don’t have to go through the pain of those mistakes and you can learn the lessons just by hearing what I’ve learned over the last nine years.

Now for our first episode, I’m both the host and the guest, but our future episodes will include a variety of guests ranging from other practicing trial lawyers in the state and around the country. We’re going to have jury consultants and trial consultants, we’ll have former judges and we’ll have other people who work in the personal injury industry who have information that’ll be helpful to you both on the business side of things as well as in the practical side of working up cases and pushing them to trial and then presenting them at trial.

So one of the reasons that we’re going to cover business topics in this podcast is that if you don’t have an effective business and you’re not financially stable, you’re not going to be able to get justice for your clients. If you’re worried about keeping the lights on, paying your bills, paying for your employees, you may feel pressure to settle cases. You’re not gonna be able to pay the people that you need to push the case and to prepare for trial if you’re constantly worried about keeping the lights on.

So we will devote some topics to that particular area. And within the business topics, we’re gonna cover everything from how to hire employees, how to train them. We’re gonna cover marketing, social media, SEO, everything. Everything that I’ve learned in the last nine years of running my business will be covered in this podcast. 

If you’re someone who likes to watch your podcasts on YouTube, Championing Justice also has its own playlist on our YouTube channel. We’ll link that in the show notes for you, or you can go to We welcome feedback.

If you ever have any feedback to give us about a particular episode or want to suggest a topic, topic, you can feel free to email me directly. My email is 

I would like to address one thing, which is why should you listen to me? What knowledge do I have that could potentially be helpful to you? And that’s a great question. 

So, for one, I’m not trying to sell you anything. The personal injury industry is filled with self-appointed gurus who charge thousands of dollars to give advice. And I always question when people… are doing that if it’s really effective or if they’re just doing it to try and make money. I’m not trying to make any money off this I just want to share what I’ve learned so that the advice that I have will be useful to you and maybe you can avoid making some of the same mistakes that I’ve made. 

The second reason you should listen to me is I’ve built a law firm from the ground up. June 1st will mark nine years since I started The Champion Firm. I started with no employees renting a single office from a family law attorney. attorney. Now we have over 20 employees. We have five other attorneys, plus myself, and we’re soon to be adding a sixth attorney, so we’ll have seven total. We have a team of paralegals, legal assistants, an operations director, a marketing director, a legal nurse consultant, and a whole team of staff members who support us and work on our cases. For the last three years, we’ve averaged nearly $22 million a year in recoveries for our clients. 

Third, I’ve made a ton of mistakes over the last nine years. Mistakes have taught me a number of important lessons, and I’m somebody who likes to do things my own way, which is why I started my own firm, and I don’t like to be told what to do. I don’t like to follow conventional wisdom. So what that means is I try a lot of different things, and I’ve tried a ton of things over the last nine years, and all the lessons I’ve learned from that can be helpful to you. 

Fourth, I think I have a unique perspective. Our firm is unique in that we’re not a high-volume settlement mill, but we’re also not a super niche boutique firm that’s only handling, you know, five or six cases. We handle cases of all types and all sizes. Last year we settled a wrongful death case for $17 million. We’ve had numerous multi-million dollar settlements this year already, but we also work on smaller more run-of-the-mill cases like your routine car wrecks, your routine slip and falls. So that gives me a unique perspective about what works and doesn’t work and a variety of different types of cases.

So now let’s dive in so we can talk about the history of the firm. You can learn a little bit about me and why I started the firm and how I built it into a firm that has generated over $100 million in recoveries for our clients over the last nine years.

So, before we talk about my legal career, I want to tell you a little bit about me and how I ended up going to law school and becoming a lawyer. So I grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina. It’s in the eastern part of the state. Went to college there and majored in political science. And for anybody who majors in political science, it’s you either go to law school or go to graduate school. And I decided to go to law school. And when I did so, I thought I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney. I really liked the subject. subject matter, you know, admittedly I saw things on TV that I thought were cool, and I thought that’s something that I would be interested in.

So in 2004, I started law school at Mercer, down in Macon, and was fully prepared to do everything I needed to do to be a successful criminal defense attorney. I applied for jobs at both the public defender’s office and the DA’s office, and got a job as an intern at the DA’s office after my first year of law school. And I worked there the entire summer after my first year and realized pretty quickly that although I liked the subject matter of criminal law, I didn’t really like the day-to-day practice of it and everything that that involved. So I knew that I was going to want to shift my focus. 

And so in my second year of law school, I started looking at civil trial firms. Firms that have represented plaintiffs in personal injury cases. And after my second year, I got a job at a very successful plaintiff’s firm in Macon, worked there the summer after my second year through my third year and just really enjoyed it and knew that’s what I wanted to do. 

And so after I graduated law school, I had a two-year clerkship with a federal judge in Macon: Judge Hugh Lawson. And that was a phenomenal experience. I learned a ton of things working there, but about the time I was finishing my clerkship is when the economy was tanking: 2009. And the only real job that I could find, and I was more focused on financial security at the time, was a job at a defense firm. 

And so I came to Atlanta, got a job at a mid-sized defense firm. It’s now a very large defense firm, but at the time it was a medium-sized firm. And I can honestly say that on the second day I wanted to quit. I did not like anything about what I was doing. I did not like what I was doing. I didn’t like billing hours, but more importantly, I didn’t feel like I was being true to myself because I really wanted to be a plaintiff’s attorney. And I still remember like having nightmares about like losing out on the opportunity to be a plaintiff’s lawyer.

In retrospect, it was probably a little silly because it was just a small blip in my career, but I wanted to change jobs as soon as I could. So about six months in my time at the defense firm, I got a job offer at a really successful plaintiff’s firm in Atlanta and jumped on it right away, worked there for four years. And I always knew that I wanted to have my own business from the time I was little. I just didn’t know what that business would be. 

So when I went to law school, I knew at some point I was gonna have my own law firm. And I kind of struggled with the timing of it and when I would launch my own business, own firm, I think it’s one of those things where if you think about it too much and overthink it, you’ll never do it. And after about four years of working at the plaintiff’s firm, I had made partner and the circumstances just seemed right for me to start my firm.

It was June of 2014 or just before June of 2014. I didn’t have a ton of business, but I had generated some cases and I had some cases that I knew I could take with me and I decided to start my own firm. 

So when I started my own firm or made the decision to start my own firm, my wife and I had a one-year-old at home who was soon to turn two, didn’t have a lot of money in the bank, only had, I think it was like $15,000 in the bank. I had five cases that I had originated that I was able to take with me and then there was another five. five or so that the firm that I was with didn’t want to let me, and they let me take those. I rented space from a family law attorney over in the Galleria area. And it was just me for about the first three weeks. 

And that’s when I made my first mistake and the first lesson that I learned: I decided that I would put a job listing on Craigslist for a paralegal. 

And you’re probably thinking, “What could go wrong?” with hiring a paralegal off Craigslist? Well, it turns out a lot of things can go wrong if you hire a paralegal off Craigslist. And if anybody’s listening and you hired a paralegal off Craigslist, I apologize if he or she is great. The one I hired was not. First day, she was about two hours late. There were all sorts of issues over the next few weeks of her working with me and I actually fired her three weeks into her tenure at my firm. 

So when she left, I kind of just kept doing things on my own, didn’t think about hiring anybody else, and ultimately decided to hire an intern a couple months after that. Hired an intern, and then things started picking up, the referral business was picking up, and I decided then to really make my first real full-time hire. And I hired a paralegal. She had actually worked with me at my old firm and she came over and she was the only employee we had for that entire first year. It was just me and her. 

We had two offices then at that family law firm and almost all of our business, actually really all of our business at that time was coming from referrals. It was coming from attorney referrals. It was coming from people that I would go out and meet in the community. And I was really just kind of doing everything I could to meet people. 

I was attending networking events. I joined a rotary club. I joined a networking group. I would do everything that I could to just get my name out there. And admittedly, it wasn’t super focused. It was kind of a shotgun approach. And that I was doing everything I could because I was in survival mode. Again, I didn’t have a ton of money when I started the firm. And when you don’t have a ton of money, you are doing everything that you can to make sure that you can build your business. 

So, it’s the end of year one, I was thinking I needed to have my own office space, so we started looking at office space, started looking at making my second full-time hire. We moved out of the family law firm, we found office space in the Vinings area. We moved into a very small office. It only had three offices and a conference room. And this kind of gets into my lack of planning because I almost instantly outgrew it. 

Added another paralegal so that at this point, beginning of year two, it’s me and two other paralegals. And that’s when a lot of things fundamentally changed in my practice. 

So, beginning of my second year, I started getting referrals from one of the large advertising firms in Atlanta that was looking to refer cases out for litigation. And I thought it was a great opportunity to take on cases and to build my business. And so I started getting the referrals and what started with just one or two here and there, and we did really good work on the cases, got great results, and then it really picked up. And that kind of fundamentally changed my practice. And as we’ll get to in a minute, that kind of led to a lot of mistakes that I made along the way. 

So when you’re trying to just survive as a business, you’re thinking very short term. You’re not thinking long-term about one, three, five, 10-year plans or anything like that. You’re literally thinking, “I just need to get cases to make money.” And that’s particularly compounded when you’re in a contingency fee practice because you’re not billing by the hour. You don’t have that guaranteed income coming in. So you’re just trying to take as many cases as you can when you start to try to ensure that you’re gonna have a stream of income coming in. And that’s what I did. 

And so this leads to the second lesson that I learned after starting my firm. And that was to be intentional. It’s very important if you’re starting your firm either from the beginning or you’re running your firm. It may be an established firm and you’re thinking about, you know, maybe pivoting and changing direction. You have to be intentional about what it is you want to do. Because if you don’t have any direction in your business, you could end up somewhere that you don’t want to be, and that completely happened to me. That is 100 % what happened in my scenario, and it was something that ultimately we were able to fix by pivoting.

But I really, you know, as we started growing that attorney referral practice and getting a lot of cases from one firm, I really became heavily reliant on one source of business. And so through year two, a lot of our business was still coming from referrals. It was coming from the firm that started sending us cases for litigation. And I made some hiring decisions that again, you know, you get what you pay for. I had an immediate need for work, for people to actually do things,

 but you don’t have the money to pay people when you’re in a contingency fee practice because it’s gonna take time for those cases to resolve. 

So, you know, I had made some hires that probably weren’t the best fit for the firm and ultimately decided that adding a partner would solve it all. And the reason I thought that was a good idea was, you know, if you’re looking at getting somebody who’s really experienced and having to pay them, they cost a lot of money. Well, if you bring on a partner and form a partnership, they have equity in the business, and you don’t have to have a large financial outlay to pay them. Their potential upside is why they will come and work with you.

And so I formed a partnership at the beginning, I think it was the beginning of my third year, and the reason it didn’t work was largely me. It was because, again, I wasn’t being intentional and didn’t plan out what it was that I exactly wanted. But adding and informing a partnership when so many fundamentals in my business were broken was an absolute recipe for disaster. 

And I don’t wanna use any hyperbole to make it sound like it was just this total disaster. It wasn’t, it just didn’t work out. It just wasn’t a good fit. The other person’s a great attorney, a great person. It just wasn’t a good fit.

And again, it was largely my fault because I didn’t plan out what it was that I wanted out of my law practice because I wasn’t being intentional. This also comes back to I was kind of letting outside factors dictate the direction of the firm. Cases were coming in, I just took them, I had a need for work, I didn’t really sit down and analyze, is this where I wanna be or this is where I wanna go? 

So again, having a lot of cases that, without having fundamental processes and procedures in place and not having a lot of other things that I needed to have an effective business, this kind of leads me to my third lesson, which is don’t be afraid to say no. 

I took way too many referral cases from one source and that created a lot of problems in my business. And when you’re starting your firm, there’s a tendency to feel like you have to say yes to everything. You’re worried that if you say no to a referral source, they’re not gonna send you any more cases. And that’s simply just not the case. I’ve found it to just not be true. 

Certainly in our practice, when we refer cases out. out, if a lawyer doesn’t want to take it, that’s fine with us. Some of that comes from my experience of kind of being in their shoes, but you know, I don’t think that saying no is ever going to be viewed as a negative. 

But there is one sort of exception to that: If you have a dedicated referral source and you are their sort of outsourced litigation team or their outsourced litigation department or one of their outsourced litigation teams. There may not be an expectation to take every single case, but there is an expectation you’re going to take a lot of them. 

And you’ve got to take a lot of the ones that are going to require a lot of grunt work. If you are just cherry-picking the best ones, that’s not going to put them in a great position because they can’t just give one person those other diamonds in the rough or the great cases that are great on the surface. They’ve got to mix it up and they’ve got to diversify the cases they’re sending out so that their referral partners are getting a mix of some ones that require a lot of work, probably more work than that individual case may be worth, but maybe they’ll get rewarded with a large case. 

But again, if you’re totally reliant on one source for that, you’re not going to be able to say no, and that outside factor is going to have a tremendous influence on the direction of your business. 

All right, so this gets us up to the start of year four in my firm. At this point, I’ve got one child at home, our second child was being born, and I admittedly was having some sort of, I was probably too young to have a midlife crisis, but it was causing me to really reflect on things in life and what I really wanted over the next several years, and I think that’s common for people anytime they have a major change in their life, whether it’s turning 25 or turning 40 or having a child born, they may think that things are just different and so they start to think about these big picture things. And I certainly started to do that too and really started to question the direction of the firm and whether we wanted to be a firm that was heavily reliant on one particular source. 

And at this point, one-third of our cases were coming from this one particular source. So it’s the middle of 2017. I’m starting the fourth full year of my firm. Our son is due in November and the partnership that I had formed just a year earlier is dissolving. I that only lasted, I think right at 12 months. 

And so we were going through the process of kind of unwinding everything. I had changed the name of the firm. When we did the partnership, it changed the website, obviously all the branded items, everything we had had to be changed. And so that was a stressful process. And again, one that could have been avoided had I been more intentional. But it was still a good learning experience for me to go through that because it probably taught me a lot of things about, you know, what I ultimately would want out of my practice.

And so I was really starting to question at this time whether I wanted to have a lot of litigation referrals from one particular law firm. At this point I think about a third of our cases were litigation referrals from one law firm. And although we were making money off them, I wasn’t having the professional satisfaction and fulfillment that I thought I should have. And when that kind of coincided with the partnership breaking up and our second child being born, I was thinking about these big-picture things in life and decided to make some changes. And at this point, I was starting to think about, do I want to just pull the plug completely on those referrals? 

But one of the things that was really a big problem in my business business then was we had systems and processes, but they were sort of like things that we just did and everybody kind of knew that we did them, but they weren’t written down anywhere. There was nobody enforcing them. There was nobody training on them. There was no clear way to onboard employees. And so all that we were doing at this point was just hiring people and just bringing them into the firm without a set structure in place. And that caused a ton of problems for me. 

So this gets me to lesson number four, which is you absolutely need an office manager or operations manager, and you need this hire to take place early in the life of your business.

The reason why is if you bring somebody into a business that already exists and there’s already a culture that exists, there’s already people doing things a certain way, it is going to take them longer to gain the trust of the people in your firm. It’s gonna be more difficult for them to gain the trust of the people in your firm. And it’s going to cause just a lot, a lot of problems. And I can tell you firsthand, that was something ultimately that I experienced when I brought on an operations manager who’s still with me and she’s phenomenal, but it was a bumpy ride in terms of getting buy-in from people in the firm, getting them to do things a certain way, particularly if somebody’s been at the firm for more than a year and has kind of gotten used to doing things a certain way. 

You could imagine if it was like a sports team and they have done things a particular way, they’ve practiced a certain way played the game a certain way for years, and

 then you bring in a new coach. It takes some time to unwind those habits. 

If you can get an operations man office manager in early in your firm, you can kind of build the firm from the ground up and have all those things in place so that when you grow and add cases, those systems are already in place, the people are already in place. When you hire people, there’s already a process in place and it’ll make things go much more smoothly. So again, lesson number four, hire operations or office managers and do so as soon as possible. That is lesson number four. It doesn’t mean it’s the fourth most important lesson though. It’s probably one of the most important ones. 

So lesson number five is related. Your non-attorney hires are just as important, if not more important than your attorney hires. And I actually saw a great post on LinkedIn recently, that Brian Glass put, and it had to do with the importance of your non-attorney hires. 

And it took me a long time to realize this, and I finally came around a few years ago, but you need to build up support staff to work on cases. That includes paralegals and other support staff. And I didn’t really do that very well when I started the firm. 

You know, a lot of the focus is when you’re a law firm is hiring lawyers. I need to hire lawyers. I need lawyers working on the cases. Well, if you have well-trained staff who are doing what they need to do, who are great with clients, and you have those processes in place, they can take a lot of work off the attorney’s plates, make them more efficient, and allow them to do a much better job. 

With the non-attorney hires, something else that’s incredibly important is that you hire a marketing director for your firm. Now, if you’re a solo practice if you’re adamant that you’re only going to have one or two employees for the entire life of your firm, maybe this advice doesn’t apply to you. But if you’re going to have more than I would say five employees, and you’re going to be trying to develop your business, you absolutely need a marketing manager. And the reason for that is you can’t spend all your time on business development. 

When you’re working on cases, you need somebody who’s working on the marketing area of the firm. And even if you’re not working on a high volume of cases, let’s say that you’re a small firm and you know, you’re a niche practice and you only want a select few cases at a given time, you still need somebody to help you get that message out to help you develop that business while you are working on those cases.

So this gets us to a really kind of pivotal point in the life of the firm. It’s between years five and seven. And that’s when the firm really evolved. I cut the cord with the advertising firm that was sending us a lot of litigation cases. They are very good people. They do business honestly and ethically. I’ve still got friends who work there, but it just, it wasn’t a fit for what I was looking to do.

And so I decided I wasn’t going to continue to go down that road because of all the problems it created. And I decided to be more intentional. So stopped taking those cases and decided to focus more on two things: 

One was really diversifying my attorney referral list. When you’re getting all your cases from one source, it’s kind of easy to be lazy and to not try to develop that other business. And honestly, that happened to me. I wouldn’t say I was lazy, but you do get complacent because you’re thinking, “Well, I have this steady stream of cases, I just need to be working on them.” Plus, again, I didn’t have processes and procedures, didn’t have an office manager. I was having to spend so much time working on the business, I couldn’t develop those other referral sources. So that was one of the things we did was really focus on diversifying our attorney referral sources.

And the other thing that we did was we decided to focus on direct-to-consumer marketing through our website. Now we don’t have billboards, we don’t have radio or TV ads, and that’s not a criticism on anybody who does, you know, who advertises through those media. That’s just not me, that’s not who I am, and that’s not anything that I’m ever going to do. 

And so we thought that SEO (search engine optimization) and focusing on our website and social media, would be a great move. And so I hired my current operations director, Carol,

 in 2019 at the beginning of 2020, which is around the start of year six. She’s still with us. She’s a phenomenal operations director. And I hope that she’s here for a very, very long time. If anybody’s listening and tries to steal her from me, I will fight you. 

Now at this point, we also hired a marketing director. We had had a couple of marketing managers over the years. None of them really panned out very long. But at the beginning of 2020, we hired a phenomenal marketing director. Her name was Emily. And she really laid the groundwork for a lot of our marketing efforts and brought a lot of organization to the chaos that we had. And so Emily started as the marketing director right after COVID started. 

And one of the things I decided to do when COVID shut everything down was actually invest money in my business. A lot of people were probably you know, they were worried about their finances and worried about what’s going to happen. Is this ever going to be over? I opted to take an optimistic look at things. And I thought, “Yeah, this will last maybe six months, max.” Turns out I was wrong. But still, the investment in the firm did pay off. We had some good cases in the pipeline that I knew would probably be resolving.

So, we hired Emily right after COVID started. She got to work on a lot of market marketing initiatives. We switched case management systems to Filevine. We had been on Clio. We decided to do that when there was a huge lull in things and let the paralegals kind of manually transfer the cases over. 

About the summer of 2020, I think it was right before Labor Day. We settled which, what at the time was the largest settlement we had. It was a case that settled for $10.2 million. And that was a direct hire case. I was able to take that money, invest more money into the firm. We bought a building in Marietta, which is the current headquarters of our firm and where we operate out of. We have 11,000 square feet and I have a couple other law firms in this space with me.

 As we focused on SEO really in that 2020 timeframe, I just want to emphasize this wasn’t the first time I had invested money in SEO. I, like a lot of law firms,  I threw money at it for years. 

And this gets me to lesson number six, which I think is incredibly important for anybody who is looking to invest money in SEO. And that is marketing takes time, especially search engine optimization, especially if you’re starting without a very strong foundation. I would recommend that if you’re looking to go in and invest with an SEO company, company, you need to commit to at least two years of staying with that company and making a consistent investment over those two years. 

A lot of people get frustrated three, six, nine months into it because they’re throwing money at it and they’re not seeing the return. Well, if you don’t have the financial ability to stick it out for the long call for at least two years, I wouldn’t even go down that road. I would look at doing other things with your money from a marketing standpoint. But again, and this isn’t just exclusive SEO, all marketing takes time.

A lot of personal injury lawyers, and I would say personal injury lawyers in particular, are probably the worst within the legal field and maybe the worst in any business period at chasing shiny objects. They see somebody else doing something, whether it’s putting up billboards or being on the radio or whatever it may be, and they see somebody else doing something and say, “Well, they must be getting results from that. I’m going to go do it.” And so they start chasing these new ideas, these shiny objects. 

They have vendors who are approaching them and soliciting them about investing money in some new marketing tactic, and they just throw money at the problem. So it’s very important that whatever marketing efforts you have, you give it time to work. And if you have a marketing director on your team, that person can manage that relationship and ensure that you’re getting the results that you should get, ensure that your investment is being put to good use. 

And you can also take more ownership of your marketing. You don’t want to be in a situation where you’re just throwing money out the door at contractors because they will gladly take your money. And even if they don’t get results, there’s plenty of other lawyers in the country that will will give them money and that will throw money at them and they’ll just keep doing that. 

If you want to break that cycle of dissatisfaction of constantly investing money in SEO agencies and not getting results, find somebody who’s good, who has a demonstrated track record and just stick it out with them. There is nothing that one particular agency is doing that is magical,  that is some secret software they have that nobody else knows about. A lot of these people are doing the same exact things and it just takes time to work. And if you give it time, that’ll give you a competitive advantage over everybody else who’s switching. 

So, lesson number seven, and this is something that took me a very long time to learn, but when I learned it, it was completely groundbreaking in what it did for my firm. And that is, you need to hire for fit and hiring for fit means two things: One, it means hiring for fit for your firm and second, hiring for fit for that particular role that you need filled.

Now when we talk about hiring for the firm, it’s important that you hire people that fit your culture, that have the personality, the work ethic, the skills that are going to fit with the team. When we talk about hiring fit for role, it’s ensuring that there’s a match between the person’s qualifications and what needs to be done. 

Now a lot of people will hire based solely off resume. They’ll look at experience alone and say, “Well, this person worked at such-and-such a law firm. They’re a good lawyer. This paralegal must be great.” So they hire them and it doesn’t work out. And I hear that story time and again. And it’s really difficult to find paralegals and other staff members anyway, because there’s just not a lot of really great candidates out there. And so people end up making desperate hires based solely off of resumes. And they throw a lot of money at people and they get somebody in the firm that either doesn’t fit the firm or doesn’t fit that particular role. 

So for example, and I’ll give you an example of of fit for a role, the skills needed for a pre-suit paralegal in interacting with clients, the things they need to know about the pre-suit process, organizing the files, those are very different than a litigation paralegal who is gonna need to be responding to discovery and doing all the other tasks that are necessary to work a case up during litigation and to take it to trial.

If you try and take somebody who’s a great litigation paralegal, they could be the greatest litigation paralegal in the world, but they may totally suck at being a pre-suit paralegal. And vice versa. You may have a pre-suit paralegal who’s phenomenal, she’s great, but when you put her in a role to be a litigation paralegal, she’s terrible. Same thing with attorneys, and I’ve certainly discovered this too. 

A lot of people have specific talents. And there’s some people that are good at a variety of things. They might be good at, you know, jumping between a pre-suit car wreck case and a medium-sized case and a large case. But those people are few and far between. And you’re gonna have a very difficult time finding those people to work in your firm. And if your firm’s built on that idea, it’s gonna be very painful process for you to find people and to train them. 

If you have somebody, for example, who’s great at briefwriting, they may not have the skills to be an effective attorney when handling a pre-suit car wreck. And again, vice versa. You can have somebody who has great client communication skills, they’re great at managing client expectations, but they’re really not that great at researching and writing. 

You need to identify, before you hire the people, what do you need out of this role? What job tasks do you need performed? And then go out and find that person and the skills that they have and fill the role. 

And the other thing that’s related to hiring for fit is, and this was a big mistake that I used to make, was I would have the attorneys not only working on every single kind of case, some paralegals working on every single kind of case, but everybody kind of worked with everybody. There was no team setup, or pods that some people call them, where people were assigned to one another. 

And that may seem like something obvious, that you need to have teams or pods. It wasn’t obvious to me and the reason why is again our business model is somewhat unique. We’re not a super high-volume settlement mill where we’re going to create these pods and have people work with them on all these cases. We had such a mix and we kind of work on a lot of cases together and collaborated that it didn’t really dawn on me to create the team setup. 

But when we did start hiring for fit for the roles and pairing those people together and people that were being hired fit the firm and their culture, the results changed dramatically in the firm in a lot of different ways. 

And so, when you’re hiring for fit for the roles people, I would encourage you to look past the resume, look past experience, and find people that have the good traits that you want in the firm. Hire people that have good personalities, that are happy, that you’re gonna wanna work with. People that are organized, that are self-starters, that are diligent, people who care. I mean, that’s something that you can’t teach. And so if you bring those people into your firm, also at an entry level, level position, then when you have a paralegal leave, they can move into that role and fill it and you can continue to train them and they can advance within your firm. 

Now, another lesson that I learned related to employees, and this is lesson number eight, is you have to be very careful about how you structure your bonuses. And in the personal injury world, bonuses are a huge part of compensation. The work that we do is very different than what you would see at an hourly rate firm or defense firm. And so because of the contingency finature of the practice, a lot of lawyers try and keep base salaries low and then compensate based on individual productivity for attorneys and then for staff have some other compensation structure.

And prior to a few years ago, I did not have a clear bonus. structure. For attorneys, it was totally discretionary. It was based on individual performance and firm profitability, and I would look at the end of the year at everything and just kind of give what I thought seemed fair. I tried to err on the side of being overly generous. 

When it came to staff members, it was kind of the same thing. It was a lot of people that I had hired, I would try and tell them, you know, we try to keep base salaries low, give large bonuses, and then I would just give a large bonus if we had a great year. If we had an average year, the bonus wasn’t as big. 

Having an unstructured bonus scheme is a horrible idea. The reason why is it creates outsized expectations and is a recipe for disappointment. And I’ll give you an example: If you have a paralegal, and let’s say they’re making $60,000 a year, and you have a phenomenal year, and you give them a $40,000 bonus, that’s a good bonus. It’s a great bonus. I mean, most people should be thrilled with that. 

But let’s say the next year they get $25,000, and that still would be a good bonus by any objective measure and any business outside personal injury, but they’re gonna look at that and say, “Well, I didn’t get $40,000.” 

And the same thing with your attorneys. They’re going to consistently compare what they got in a prior year with what they’re getting in the next year. And that’s just the way people work. And that’s not a criticism of it. It’s just basic human psychology. When you give somebody something and there’s no clear expectation set about how it’s calculated, it does become a floor. And people look at that as, “Well, it should be built on over the next few years.” And when it’s not, they get disappointed. 

So one of the things we decided to do a couple years ago was create an attorney bonus structure. And so instead of just having what some people call a black box bonus structure where nobody knows what it is except for the owner, we had a very clear structure where attorneys get a percentage of cases they resolve. If they’re a lead counsel on the case, it’s a particular amount. It’s a lower amount if they co-counsel the case with me. And there’s an origination credit. And there’s other incentives for taking cases to trial to encourage people to do that and, you know, also to compensate for the extra time associated with that. And that’s been a huge factor and a lot of success we’ve had over the last few years. And I think has been very popular with our attorneys.

Now with staff, what we decided to do instead of paying them, you know, a low salary and it wasn’t low, but it was, you know, traditionally what plaintiffs firms will tell people is, “Well, we’re going to pay you less than what you’d make at a defense firm, but you know, by the time you get your bonuses, you’ll make more.” 

That creates problems with recruiting people because most staff people care about what they get on a monthly basis. The bonuses are great, but they can’t depend on them, so they don’t really factor that in. And when you’re giving them large outsized bonuses, again, it just like creates this expectation. 

So what we started doing was raising people’s base salaries for existing employees and for new hires, paying a higher base, and then creating a ceiling for the bonus of 10% of their base salary. So, when you have higher-paid paid paralegals, they have the opportunity for a higher bonus because it’s based off of a percentage. And whether it’s where it falls between zero and 10%, that part is discretionary and it’s based on firm performance and individual performance, but at least there’s an expectation there and there isn’t some belief that the bonus could be $30, $40, $50,000. 

As part of that point, structure, what we did was we implemented a 401(k). We already paid full health insurance for all our employees, but we didn’t have a retirement plan. So as part of the retirement plan, we have a match, but we also have a profit share component. So at the end of the year, based on how the firm did, employees get a percentage of their base salary in their 401(k) as well, even if they didn’t participate in the match. And again, that’s something that I think has been popular with employees. 

So we did away with the total discretionary bonus for all attorneys and staff and created a plan and a structure that I think has made everybody more happy. It’s allowed us to recruit people better by having clear expectations and it’s made the people who work here more satisfied as well. 

So now this gets us to about years eight to now coming up on nine. That’s where we’re at now. We’ve become much more self-sufficient and been able to generate more cases and more direct hires. 

One of the things that marked a huge shift in our firm and has fundamentally changed a lot of things about who we are today has been the move away from getting a lot of referrals from one particular firm and really diversifying our case sources. Now when I made the decision to move away from that, I was very concerned about what that would mean financially because we had become so reliant on that source, but really we’ve had way better years than I ever could have imagined when we made that switch and we’ve had a tremendous amount of financial success from actually moving away and doing things a different way.

So not only did it have the effect of improving my overall professional satisfaction and the amount of enjoyment I got from the practice and allowed me to be more intentional, but it had a much better financial benefit as well. 

So number nine, and this is the ninth lesson, is it’s important to focus on quality over quantity. So when we talk about quality over quantity, it means quality of cases. It means quality of clients. Bad clients can absolutely make you miserable and your team miserable and cause you to have a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction in your practice.

Quality over quantity also means marketing sources. It means focusing on quality sources and the media that you’re using to advertise through. 

It means quality of the referral source, if it’s an attorney or client, and developing relationships that make sense, not only from a financial perspective, but on a referral relationship, you want to make sure that it’s somebody you actually like and have things in common with and that you’re going to actually want to do business with. Somebody that does business the way that you do business, has high ethical standards, and is professional. 

Because if you’re dealing with folks that are sending you cases and maybe they don’t do things the right way, you may get cases with that client. You may get cases where you get them and the medical treatment’s kind of sketchy and it doesn’t make for a great litigation case if they’re sending it to you for litigation because they haven’t been able to settle it. So in all things you do, focus on quality over quantity. 

And lesson number 10, and this is our final lesson, and this one has been very important to me because when I started my firm, I had a lot of fears. I had a fear of failure. I had a fear that I was gonna go out of business and move back in with my parents. I even called my mom and told her, “If this doesn’t work out, we’re moving back in.” And I was somewhat joking, but it was kind of nice to have that safety net there. 

But there is a lot of fear when you start a firm and you’re running a personal injury practice because you don’t know where the next case is coming from, you don’t know where, you know, when the case is going to resolve, it’s a contingency fee, you’re having to pay people to do a lot of work on cases. 

And so that can cause you to make a lot of fear-based decisions. And I can tell you this is one area that really it not only stunted the growth of my firm, but it really caused me to make a lot of bad decisions. When you make a fear-based decision, that is going to harm you far more than any bold decision that you could make and I’ve certainly experienced that firsthand. 

When I’ve looked at being aggressive in particular areas and focusing instead of looking at what could go wrong look at what could go right I’ve had much more success. I’ve been much more happier with the results. And so I would encourage you that if you are either starting a firm or running a firm, that you try to avoid making decisions based on your fears. 

And you cannot live in your fears, you have to look at the things that could go right and if you’re intentional with it, you can create the structure of the firm that you want and build towards that. 

So where are we now? 

We’re about to have our nine-year anniversary of starting The Champion Firm. We’ve got five other attorneys, as I said earlier, our sixth is starting in August. We’ve got five paralegals, a team of legal assistants, a receptionist, an operations director, a marketing and intake director, an intake specialist, a legal nurse consultant, I may be forgetting a few people. Oh, we have here filming the podcast, a video content creator. We have a digital marketing manager who works remotely. She lives in Virginia. And so that’s where we’re at from a personnel perspective. 

We’re still obviously working on a lot of things. You know, running a business and running a firm just like practicing law is a constant evolution. You’re constantly learning. And it’s really a journey and a process more than a destination. And so I know that we’re going to have a lot of fun, that I’m going to continue to make more mistakes in the future and hopefully grow from them. 

From a compensation standpoint, we’ve shifted from the discretionary secretive bonus structure for attorneys and staff to something clear and concrete. We’ve switched to pairing paralegals and attorneys and having teams. We’ve switched to hiring for fit, again fit for the roll and fit for the firm and having a clear firm culture and values. We’ve added a retirement plan with a 401(k). We pay our employees full health insurance.

One of the things that a lot of people asked me about this because this is a big topic is, “What do you do about remote work?” Certainly when COVID hit there was a lot of people working remotely and a lot of hesitancy to return to the office. Some people would say I’m kind of old-school in this regard; I like people in the office. I think having in-person interaction is great for firm culture. I think it’s great especially for attorneys and staff to be able to just pop in, you know, to somebody’s office and talk to them about a case. And there’s a lot of things that are learned just by being around people and just kind of absorbing information that you hear. 

But we did recognize that people want that flexibility. So, what we’re doing here is we’re going to be started doing was allowing people to work from home one day a week, but it’s optional. It’s not required. 

And to somewhat incentivize people to come into the office if they wanted to. So for example, if you have somebody who just wants to get out of the house five days a week, you know, we wanted to provide an incentive for people to choose that, to choose coming in, and overstaying at home on a particular day. We decided to give people one extra hour of PTO for each week where they don’t use a work-from-home day. So if they, for the entire year, let’s say they don’t work from home all 48, 49, or 50 weeks, they’d have 48 to 50 extra hours of PTO. And so that’s been something that I think the flexibility has been helpful. 

The other thing is we don’t have rigid hours in terms of when we expect people to be in the office and when we expect them to leave. We have what our operations director calls core hours. And so that means we want people to arrive within a certain window and they depart within a certain window. And obviously there’s flexibility if they have an appointment or whatever and they need to leave early. That’s fine. 

But what we do is we expect people to be in between eight and 10 in the morning and to leave somewhere between four and six. And again, there’s some people that like getting up early, getting their day in and getting their work done and leaving a little bit early, especially if they need to be rush hour traffic. We have some other people who like to sleep in a little bit more, who like to come in closer to 10 and then stay a little bit later. This allows that accommodation, allows that flexibility, and it also encourages that there’s at least overlap between the times people are here so that you’re still getting the benefit of that in-person interaction.

From a marketing standpoint, we have a very diverse marketing strategy. We’ve been investing consistently in SEO for close to three years now with the same agency. I’m actually very proud of myself for not switching agencies constantly, because again, I was guilty of that. But we’ve been with the same agency. We’ve been happy with them. 

We’ve really diversified our strategy. We do a lot to try and get client referrals We’ve done a lot of things from an attorney referral perspective. We started doing monthly CLEs at our office That’s been successful. 

We’ve started the podcast, of course, our first episode here, which again, this is going to be focused on information helpful to personal injury attorneys. So, you know, that’s another thing that we’ve done from a marketing standpoint, not to get leads necessarily, this isn’t a lead generation tool, but as part of just branding is getting our message out, it’s telling our story and who we are and why we do things the way we do, and talking to people in the industry who do things the way that we do them as well, and who can provide that information that’s helpful to people in their practice. And if you do that and share that information, that to me is part of branding and part of marketing and can be helpful to your practice. 

We’ve invested money in social media. We’ve got a marketing team now. As I said, we’ve got a marketing manager who also is our intake director. We’ve got a video content creator and our digital marketing manager. So we have an entire team of people who are working on marketing. And this is important because I think if you’re running a law firm, you need to take ownership of your marketing. Too many people contract out with agencies and just wanna throw money at a problem and hope that they get results. And what you see is cookie-cutter social media posts, people that don’t really understand your business, they’re just kind of creating filler content for your website as well. And so, you know, I would encourage you if you have your own law firm to really focus on owning your marketing strategy and the implementation of that strategy, and that’s going to require you to hire one or potentially more people to do it.

We also have three office locations. We’ve got our main office in Marietta, which is where we’re based out of. We’ve got an office in Midtown Atlanta, and we have an office in Canton [Producer’s note: This location has since moved to Woodstock]. 

And, while we continue to work on things I can tell you without a doubt that where our firm is at now, it’s totally different from the firm that I had three, four years ago when our operations director was hired. She really came into what I would call somewhat organized chaos. She may just say it was total chaos, but it really wasn’t that bad. I mean we had had success. We had gotten good results for clients, but we didn’t have those processes and procedures in place for handling things and how cases would be run and to ensure that everybody was kind of singing off the same sheet of music. Now we do, we’ve done a lot of the things we’ve talked about in this podcast which have had tremendous positive impacts on our business. 

So that’s where we’re at now. I still have a lot to learn. We’re still working on a lot of things. We have a business coach that we’ve had for a few years working on implementing a lot of things as we continue growing the firm. 

Running a law firm is not a destination. It’s definitely a journey. And it’s something where I’m gonna continue to try new things. I’m gonna continue to make mistakes. 

I’m gonna do things that don’t work. I’m gonna do things that do work. And I’m certainly happy to share with you all what works and doesn’t work from my experience. I’m happy to certainly share it on the podcast, but if anybody ever has any questions and wants to either go to lunch, go have a coffee, whatever it may be, or just have a, you know, a quick phone call, feel free to call or email me. 

My email’s I’d be happy to set something up. 

We’re really excited about what we have in store over the next year. We’ve kind of planned out a rough content calendar for the next 12 months. We’re looking to film the podcast every three to four weeks. 

For our next episode, we’re going to have a trial consultant talking about the work they do and providing information that’ll be helpful as you work your case up in litigation and present at trial. It’ll cover a variety of jury persuasion techniques, everything from voir dire through closing argument, and that information will hopefully be helpful to you just as well. 

I hope this information was helpful to you on the business side of your practice. You can rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you’re listening from. It really does mean a lot that you’ve taken the time to listen to this. 

Again, if you have any suggestions for future episodes, feel free to send me an email. I’d love to get your thoughts on it. 

So thank you all for tuning in to the first episode of our podcast, Championing Justice. We hope that you will tune in to future episodes and that the information that we share with you will be helpful both on the business side of your practice, as well as the day-to-day representation of clients as you seek to get justice for them.

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