Running Your Law Firm Like A Business feat. Chad Dudley
Chad Dudley of Dudley Debosier
Susan Barfield (00:00):
Hello, everyone! Thank you so much for joining another Case Works stream. Really excited today to have the opportunity to connect with Chad Dudley. I’ll give quick intro, and then I’d love, Chad, for you to share a little bit more information about your background. But Chad is an expert in law firm management, marketing and technology.
Susan Barfield (00:22):
Chad is not only an attorney, but he’s the Chief Operating Officer for his firm Dudley DeBosier. What I learned a little bit about the firm is that they now have over 50 attorneys with offices throughout Louisiana. But also, in addition to all those things, Chad also founded Vista Consulting with Tim Mckey back in 2009. Vista consulting works with personal injury firms all across the country on all aspects of running a law firm. And, in addition to that, Chad is the CEO of CJ Advertising, which represents personal injury firms throughout the country.
Susan Barfield (00:59):
So one, I’ll take a breath and stop there, Chad. If you could share a little bit more about yourself and tell us what got you into becoming an attorney and personal injury?
Chad Dudley (01:11):
Well, first of all, thanks for having me. Great to be here. Yeah, I became an attorney back in 2000, and my first job out was with a plaintiffs firm, and got assigned to a toxic tort case with about 4,000 plaintiffs. I was put in charged of handling our discovery responses. I was quite an ordeal, and I learned that…
Chad Dudley (01:35):
The defense attorney, on the other side, really knew her stuff. She was on top of her name. And I realized she was very adept at building databases, and tracking all of our clients, and what their medicals were, where they lived. And she’s awesome. I said, “You know what? If I’m going to keep up with her, I better learn some of this stuff.” So I went down this path of learning how to build databases and so forth.
Chad Dudley (02:01):
Then, after that job, I went to other gigs where I employed those skills. And then, ultimately, ended up running, being a CEO for a personal injury firm. Building dashboards and looking at the data of how a personal injury firm could work. That let to my partners and I starting our own firm, and also Tim Mckey and I started in Vista Consulting back in 2009. Both of those grew, and we’ve probably worked with around a hundred law firms across the country of every size.
Chad Dudley (02:35):
Personal injury firms. Over the years I’ve helped them with everything from coaching, to strategic planning, to buying and selling firms, to transfers of ownership, to increasing their average fee. Basically everything under the sun that plaintiff firms do. I just love it. I’ve always enjoyed it.
Chad Dudley (02:53):
In 2018 I stepped out Vista Consulting, Tim Mckey runs it today. Got out of it because we purchased CJ Advertising, which is an ad agency that only represents personal injury law firms. CJ represents probably about 50 different firms across the country right now, and help them with all forms of advertising. My background brought the operational side, so when CJ works with firms, we’re not only helping with their advertising, but also help them build and grow their practice.
Chad Dudley (03:26):
I love what I do. I feel lucky to be able to do this and get paid to do it. And I love talking about it.
Susan Barfield (03:36):
Yeah. That’s awesome. You kind of touched on this, but it’d be great to hear a little bit more. I think you said when you became an attorney, and the other attorney, you had 4,000 plaintiffs. And one of the key takeaways was the technology and the infrastructure to be able to manage the database of those clients and to move them through the pipeline.
Susan Barfield (03:58):
Any other secrets you can share with us? Just having done the different aspects, and running a law firm like a business?
Chad Dudley (04:06):
Well, I’ve worked all different sizes of firms over the years. I’ve worked with solo practitioners, I’ve worked with firms that are built kind of like us where you might have dozens of attorneys, multiple locations. And, regardless of the size, the firms that are disciplined about how they track their files, and how they move their files forward, how they communicate with their clients… Yes, if you’re a smaller firm and you say, “You know what? I’m just going to talk to my clients whenever I feel like it.”
Chad Dudley (04:36):
If seen firms that they can pull it off, they have one attorney, “I’m going to call them”, and they’re able to do that and manage it on a small basis. As soon as they hire that second attorney, things get different. Because the first attorney’s concept of talking to clients and keeping them informed is always different than the second person. It’s important for them to get together and say, “Okay, this is what we mean by that. This is how we’re going to execute on that.” And they talk about, well, how do you move files? How do you make sure that you’re aggressively pushing files.
Chad Dudley (05:09):
And all plaintiff attorneys say, “Yes, that’s what we want to do”, but getting serious about it and setting standards for, “Okay, well. How long is it going to take us to get medical records? What do our demand packages look like? What is contained therein? Do we do medical chronologies or do we not? What are the standards of handling a file at our firm? How long do we negotiate before we file a suit? And if we file a suit, how long do we push to get discovery answered, and get defendants deposed?” And so forth.
Chad Dudley (05:41):
How disciplined is your firm in those regards? That’s the difference between the firms that are able to grow in a responsible way and maintain a good quality of life versus the firms that are running around, stagnant, but running around, and head on fire, and everything’s chaos.
Chad Dudley (06:01):
So, when I go work with firms, we look what standards are in place. How good are they at enforcing those standards, and giving visibility to their teams on those standards. What are they missing to better represent their clients?
Susan Barfield (06:18):
Sure. That’s great. Case Works, effectively, that’s what we do. We’re the outsource solution for law firms, you kind of touch on this, for firms that just don’t have the technology foundation or the infrastructure, kind of what you were describing. It’s very much a protocol-driven process. So, you need a process in place and the technology to be able to scale. What you do for one client, if you have that process, you can do for a thousand, as long as you’re following the same process start to finish.
Susan Barfield (06:47):
I’m curious, what drove you to starting Vista Consulting?
Chad Dudley (06:52):
Well, back in 2009, I had built… Basically I was in charge of running a personal injury firm. And what I noticed is that, like any firm, you have some attorneys that perform better than others. And, what I decided to do was, “Let me go follow the top three performers at our firm” Where are the attorneys that get the best results on most consistent basis, have the best relationships with their clients, get the most referrals, and tend to move files the most aggressively. And let me just follow them around for a couple days. How do they structure their day? What are the things that they look at? What are the things that they do on a consistent basis?
Chad Dudley (07:32):
How do we simplify? Because, our firm, like a lot of firms, had these checklist that they’d go through. And these checklists were piling up on people, and people were overwhelmed with these checklists. So, okay, can we simplify it? And what I noticed is that there is a handful of things that they were doing and I said, “Okay, can I build a dashboard to measure how well everyone else does this five things?”
Chad Dudley (07:55):
And then, let’s get everyone visibility, like, “Okay, this is how often I talk to clients. This is how often I touch the file and do this things. This is how I touch my negotiation files. And this is how quickly I can get demands out.” And you put this things in place. So, when I did that, the performance of the firm, average fees, the common debts, client satisfaction, all these things just went through the roof, everyone became great.
Chad Dudley (08:28):
And we had other firms say, “Hey, that sounds awesome, tell us what you did.” And we told what we did, and they finally said, “That’s awesome. Can you just come walk us through it?” And then Vista Consultant was born.
Chad Dudley (08:40):
Where we go to a firm and say, “Okay, we’ll do an assessment on the health of your firm”, and then we would share, “This is what we see in terms of where your firm can improve. Tell us what you’re feeling, being in the firm.” And we’d come up with a list of what are the things that are going to move the dial the most for this particular firm, and we’d get to work on it. And Vista Consultant was born.
Chad Dudley (09:04):
Back in the day there was not a bunch of consultants out there that worked with personal injury firms. And now, over a decade later, a bunch of different companies are getting into that space. And we feel like trailblazers in that. And very, very cool.
Susan Barfield (09:25):
Yeah, that is cool. What would you say that… You mentioned five things. What were the common denominators that you saw across the attorneys that where very successful in how they’re able to move those cases?
Chad Dudley (09:37):
One of the first things was the frequency with which they spoke to their clients. The high performing attorneys spoke to their clients on a very regular basis in the first 90 days of the case, and they built this relationship with their client. Most of them were speaking personally with them at least every 15 days, talking about getting a good feel for what are the injuries, or are they still having pain, which doctors are they treating with, is there any other things that they need to be aware of, is there a traumatic brain injury involved. They’re in tune with what’s going on with the client’s treatment in a high number of client contacts in the first 90 days.
Chad Dudley (10:12):
And then, after the first 90 days, they’d still talk to clients. Not on as frequent basis, but still very regular, and in tune with what’s going on with the clients world. Client communication was a discipline that they all employed.
Chad Dudley (10:28):
The second thing is that they touched the file more frequently than other attorneys, and they touched it with intention, meaning they’d pick up a file and go, “What can I do on this file in the next 30 days to add value to it, to get it resolved or get a trial day? What can I do to keep moving this thing forward in the next 30 days?” They’d be intentionally execute on that. We looked at that.
Chad Dudley (10:54):
The other thing was being disciplined about, “Here’s the files that are in negotiation”, have a package out, and knowing exactly where they left off, and able to access that information in a very quick manner. The attorneys that had to go pull a hard file, find out where the last communication with the defendant was, or the defense adjustment was and, “Okay, what’s the client number again? What’s their number? Did I…” All that kind of stuff, when you multiply it by the number of files, would just bottom down. They were very on top of which files were in negotiations, where they left off and the easiest way to keep those things going.
Chad Dudley (11:33):
And then, in litigation, very purposeful about the dominoes that they would push over to get the defendant to do what they want, which is pay x amount of dollars to their client. If they sent a demand and the defendant didn’t give what they want then, “Okay, we’re filing a suit. Okay, they still don’t do it, all right, we’re going to make them answer the suit. Okay, still don’t doing it? They’re going to answer next step of discovery. Still won’t do it? We’re going to the defense to deposition. Still won’t? And boom, boom, boom.” And very disciplined about what was the next domino to topple to get them do it. They didn’t wait around and let things linger.
Chad Dudley (12:10):
So, we saw these things and go, “Okay, how can we measure? Then how can we show how does everybody on the firm do on these things?” And that was the early dashboards that we built, so someone could say, “Okay, well, I’ve spoken with 90% of my clients in the last 15 days, and we’re still treating them. Okay, I’m doing pretty good.” And then someone else might be at 20%, and we go, “Okay, we got to go coach that guy, or find out what’s going on.”
Chad Dudley (12:33):
That’s the path it took.
Susan Barfield (12:37):
Data transparency is key, for sure. And that which gets measured, certainly improves. This is great. Let me ask you this.
Susan Barfield (12:46):
The process that you’re referring to, and a lot of the information that you’re sharing is specifically personal injury relatable. What about mass tort? It’s really [crosstalk 00:12:55]
Chad Dudley (12:55):
Susan Barfield (12:57):
[inaudible 00:12:57] I think a lot of what you’re saying applies for the mass tort firms as well.
Chad Dudley (13:02):
Correct. I work with law firms. The tools don’t necessarily change, but what you do with those tools may. Same thing with mass torts. I’ve worked with mass tort firms, saying, “How often are we going to communicate with our clients?”, right? “And who is going to communicate with them?” In mass tort claims, it’s usually less frequent than an auto, or PR, or single event claim. It might be, “Okay, we’re going to communicate with them once a quarter. And we’re going to communicate with them via text or via email.” And if there’s a special event that occurs in the case, then we’re going to do special communication and that’s covered.
Chad Dudley (13:42):
But, having a plan of how they’re going to do it is important. So many mass tort clients, their complaint is, “I don’t know what’s going on with my case. I can’t reach anybody.” And how you’re going to manage client communication, the other thing, going, “Okay, well, what are the different aspects of the case in terms of keeping these things moving forward? What do we need to do? What are the metrics we’re going to measure.” For mass torts, is a little bit different.
Chad Dudley (14:06):
We do the intake process, okay that’s great. And there’s a whole conversation on intake, but once you get them in the door, for most mass torts, it’s like a second intake that goes, “Do we have proof of use? Do we have proof of loss?” And, “What are the signature injuries and are they present on this case or not?”, and that batch, make it pass the second intake. Because a lot of people you sign them up and then they don’t have proof of use, proof of loss, and they get handled differently.
Chad Dudley (14:36):
You set up the same concepts, but they’re just a little bit different [crosstalk 00:14:40]
Susan Barfield (14:41):
Yeah, absolutely. And I think what you’re talking about, client communication, I think a lot of people underestimate the value of reaching out and connecting with people on a regular basis. Even if it’s just to give a quick update and share, maybe, some news about the litigation and how it’s progressing.
Susan Barfield (15:00):
Because, one, Case Works spends a lot amount of time on trying to keep these plaintiffs well-informed and engaged throughout the process because people move, they change phone numbers, addresses, and then you can’t get a hold of them, and then you spend all those resources trying to reengage an unresponsive client.
Susan Barfield (15:20):
It helps, also, to drive down any due rep issues, if you’re contacting or communicating with them on a regular basis. And then it’s just a great client interaction, and then they’re out and they’re raving fans. And the likelihood that they’re on Zantac, for instance, the likelihood they know someone else that took Zantac, may have cancer, is probably pretty high.
Susan Barfield (15:40):
I think the client communication is key.
Chad Dudley (15:45):
Yes, absolutely everything you just said, because that’s the truth. Gosh. Client communication is really the secret sauce. The not so secret sauce. It does so many great things for the client, for their case and for your firm. It is so often overlooked, downplayed by law firms. We talk to our clients.
Chad Dudley (16:15):
So, the firms that are high-performing firms, take simple concepts like that, “Okay, we’re going to talk to our clients”, and they get fanatical about them. “We’re going to talk to clients. We’ll have these eight crucial conversation with the client in the first 90 days. The first call comes within 24 hours, we’re going to cover this. And here, we’re going to talk about this. And then we’re going to make sure that there’s never a seven day period that the client doesn’t hear from me, that the attorney or the legal system first 90 days.” And then, “Okay, at 90 days, we’re going to have this conversation with the client because they tend to get kind of worn out about the whole process by about 90 days.” And then, once the demand package… “We’re going to have this. And here’s how that…”
Chad Dudley (16:57):
So they get fanatical about the concept. And other lower-performing firms are like, “You talk to client whenever you want and see how the conversation goes.”
Susan Barfield (17:07):
Sure, right. On the websites it says that you’ve seen something at other firms. What are the top things, or maybe even stakes, that you’ve seen at some of these personal injury firms? Besides the lack of communication with their client. But, what are some other mistakes [crosstalk 00:17:24]
Chad Dudley (17:25):
One of the first things is that there’s very few firms… In the past 30 days I’ve done planning sessions with probably about 20 or 25 law firms, where firms sit down, we look at what is happening. Where do they want to be at the end of 2022? On December 31st of 2022, what do they want the firm to look like? There’s so many firms out there that don’t do that. And that sounds like a small thing, sounds like a pain in the butt, but it is so important for…
Chad Dudley (17:55):
Again, if there is one partner or one owner, they communicate to the rest of the team, “Here is where we’re going as a team. Here’s the firm that we’re trying to build.” If you have multiple owners, it’s important for them to get on the same page and say, “Here’s the firm that we’re trying to build”, and communicate that to their key people. I think, first and foremost, I see a lot of firms make a big mistake in never stopping to think what they’re trying to build, or what direction they’re trying to go.
Chad Dudley (18:22):
The other big mistake is just staying in a ball and not… “Okay, I’m just going to work on my firm, I’m not going to listen to podcasts like these. I’m not going to go to conferences, I’m not going to go talk to other people that have built firms that resemble what I would like to build, and get inside. I’m not going to hire a coach, I’m not going to hire someone to come in and accelerate that growth.” And that’s a big mistake. They make it so much more difficult than it needs to be.
Chad Dudley (18:50):
Some firms have struggled to conquer some things and it takes them a year, when if they’d just gone to the right conference, listened to the right thing, got the right coach, it would’ve taken three months.
Chad Dudley (19:03):
I see that over and over.
Susan Barfield (19:05):
Sure. Have you ever read or followed the Entrepreneur Operating System?
Chad Dudley (19:10):
Yes. [inaudible 00:19:12] Back in Vista, we look at a lot of the concepts they proposed. It’s funny how many parallels there are to what we recommend in how firms operate. From running meetings, to the accountability chart, to tracking metrics and discussing. All these different elements of EOS. We’ll say they lined it out so clearly and concisely, and traction some of the other books. Huge fan of it.
Susan Barfield (19:47):
Yeah, what you were just saying just reminded me. Everyone being on the same page, rowing on the same direction. I think that’s key in understanding what your quarterly rocks are, so that you can achieve… Quarter over quarter, make sure everyone’s meeting their goals and adjusting if need be.
Susan Barfield (20:03):
As far as technology goes, do you consider yourself as an early adopter of technology?
Chad Dudley (20:11):
Yeah, I think so. I’m always looking how can we make this more efficient. Is there technology that we can leverage to make this flow smoother? But I’m also of the school of going, “Don’t overthink it to the extent that it’s going to take you three months to built some custom platform that [inaudible 00:20:34] data.” If you can just get someone to plop it into a spread sheet and see it now, then let’s see it now, and then build something crazy cool later. Let’s get the functionality first, and the purpose it serves.
Chad Dudley (20:47):
I would say, yeah, we’re always looking at how to improve what’s happening in our industry, and improve what we do. Because, if I wasn’t, it’d be contrary to everything that I’ve preached.
Susan Barfield (20:59):
Sure. Has your firm started to see social media or other technology-related personal injury cases?
Chad Dudley (21:05):
Yeah, absolutely. And I think what we’re going to see with social media is that we’re loomed to it, in one sense, by technology. In the sense that last-touch attribution dominates most of our analysis for many firms. Going, “Okay, they could’ve watched a YouTube video, then went to their social media page, then went to some other platform, and then ultimately filled out a form or clicked PVC link.” And then came to us and then our form submission or PVC gets last-touch attribution, it gets credit for it, and law firms have had visibility. But, what other digital properties did they touch before they became a client?
Chad Dudley (21:47):
There’s platforms out there that will do it. And, as those platforms merge, we’re seeing it’s more complex than we thought. Because, just like Amazon, or other big internet companies, they know that they went to these different digital properties that they own if your cookies are on, and say, “Okay, six months ago, you went to our social media page. And four months ago you went and watched one of our YouTube videos and… And then, actually, you signed up for one of our promos, and then you called us.”
Chad Dudley (22:17):
So, there’s more to the story that we’re learning. I think we’ll continue to see that, and see that social media plays a little bit bigger role than a lot of us gave it credit for in the past couple years. And we’re also seeing more innovative use of social media, connecting with audiences that you just want to interact with because you’re putting out a brand that they’re attracted to. We’ve seen a ton of that.
Susan Barfield (22:41):
Yeah, absolutely. I think this has been a very timely recording. I think that people are starting to come back from the holidays and they’re going to begin looking at, as you just mentioned, where do they want their firm to be this time next year. So, how are they going to take the strides and the steps to get there?
Susan Barfield (23:00):
I’m sure there’s going to be firms and attorneys that watch this reporting and would like to connect with you. So, how can… If anyone needs help and needs assistance, and wants to run a firm like a business, how do they get a hold of you and contact you about consulting?
Chad Dudley (23:18):
The simplest way would be my email, email@example.com, shoot me an email and we’ll get you plugged in.
Susan Barfield (23:27):
Yeah, that’s fantastic. Well, Chad, gosh, this was such great information and I certainly appreciate you taking time to connect with us today and talk a little bit about what you do and your background, and then how you could help other attorneys and firms grow their business, and maybe, not make the mistakes that you’ve seen in the industry.
Susan Barfield (23:44):
Anyway, thank you so much for your time today, we greatly appreciate it.
Chad Dudley (23:49):
All right, well thank you.
Susan Barfield (23:50):
Okay, thank you.