This is the first of a series of blogs on Developing and Funding a Plaintiff’s Personal Injury Practice.
Starting a plaintiff’s personal injury practice from the ground up is not an easy thing to accomplish for a number of reasons. First, there is a considerable amount of competition amongst the plaintiff’s personal injury bar. Attracting potential new clients to the firm is a challenge for all lawyers including ones who have been in the practice for many years and who have a number of established relationships. You will need a clear and focused marketing strategy if you intend to build a successful personal injury practice.
Second, most people who practice plaintiff personal injury have a large component of their cases in the area of motor vehicle litigation. The majority of serious personal injuries take place in the automobile. As most of you will know, Ontario has a unique set of no-fault rules and these rules change periodically. The practice is very paper intensive and you will need to develop various systems for document gathering and file development for your practice to flourish.
Third, you will need to develop a strategy for dealing with the significant financial demands of establishing your practice. Since nearly all plaintiff personal injury lawyers work on a contingent fee basis, you essentially have no choice but to do the same. This means that you will have to be prepared to wait to be paid for your services until the conclusion of a case while at the same time dedicating the resources necessary by way of time and disbursements to develop your files appropriately.
Lastly, once your firm begins to enjoy some success, you will inevitably begin to suffer growing pains as you try to attract and retain your firms most important assets; its people.
Marketing Your Practice
Standing out from the crowd is one of the most significant challenges you will face when trying to establish your personal injury practice. Marketing your practice will not happen overnight, but it can be accomplished if you develop a plan and remember to dedicate a certain number of hours to executing that plan each and every week (even when you start to get busy). It is easy to begin to feel overwhelmed with the work that you have now, but you always have to consider what is going to happen two or three years down the road if you are not opening at least as many files as you are closing.
Like most people, I religiously tracked (and continue to track) where each and every client got my name. I soon realized that all of my business came from one of four sources:
- Other Lawyers and Community Groups
- Existing and Past Clients
- Health Care Practioners
Other Lawyers and Community Groups
Other lawyers can be a great source of business. The trick is getting them to refer to you as opposed to someone else. Below are some strategies that I recommend that you follow:
Try to develop relationships with lawyers that do not do personal injury work and who have exposure to the general public. The vast majority of people are not acquainted with a variety of lawyers. For them, they consider the lawyer that assisted with the purchase of their home or with their immigration matter to be “their lawyer”. This is the person that they call when someone they know is injured in an auto accident. A busy residential real estate lawyer will see literally hundreds of people every year in the course of their practice. The majority will not be interested in handling a serious personal injury matter but will get a number of calls of this nature over time. You need to make a personal connection in order to win their trust. Do not forget, when a lawyer makes a referral to you, they are also putting their reputation on the line. Developing that personal relationship can come from a variety of avenues. One of the easiest things to do is to join your local law association and become active in planning and participating in events. If you are a “new lawyer”, attend all of the new lawyer events and let everyone that will listen know that you are developing a plaintiff’s personal injury practice. Also, make sure you specifically ask for them to make referrals to you.
- Speaking at CLEevents where your name is printed in the O.R.s and other mailings will help win you name recognition. Also, speaking at conferences is a great way to demonstrate your mastery of personal injury law.
- Join the Ontario Trial Lawyer’s Association and similar organizations and become active in their various committees and seminars.
- Network in your community by volunteering with your local brain injury society, MADD and other similar community groups where you will have an opportunity to socialize with other professionals in and out of law who do not practice personal injury litigation.
- If you have a client that you need to refer to another lawyer for an immigration/criminal/matrimonial/real estate matter, use it as an opportunity to make phone or e-mail contact with the lawyer that you refer it to. Introduce yourself as a personal injury lawyer that has a need to make this type of referral from time to time and ask if they have an existing similar type of relationship with a personal injury firm. If not, you may find that a mutually beneficial relationship can develop.
- Find out what other personal injury lawyers are paying as a referral fee and do likewise. Also, when asking for referral business from another lawyer, mention that you pay a generous referral fee.
Stay tuned for the next part in the blog series on the other ways to best market your practice.
About Dale Orlando
In 1991, Dale graduated with a B.A. in Economics from McMaster University and in 1994 went on to obtain his law degree from the University of Western Ontario. Dale joined Loopstra, Nixon & McLeish as an articling student and continued as an associate on his call to the bar in 1996. Dale is one of the founding partners in McLeish Orlando LLP. He is a Past President of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association and is a member of the American Association for Justice and the Advocates’ Society. Most recently, Dale has been selected by his peers for inclusion in the BestLawyers Registry for 2012. Dale’s practice is dedicated exclusively to personal injury and wrongful death cases, acting on behalf of injured people and their family members. Dale looks forward to helping people who have suffered serious personal injuries. He finds that it is the most fulfilling and rewarding type of work that you can do as a lawyer. When Dale is not at work he enjoys playing recreational hockey and spending time with his wife and four children.